One Idea Can Change Your Life & other things that (typically) don’t work in Pakistan.

Gone Too Soon

I don’t really know what happened to Benlays Doodh Patti. I do remember that for a brief period, all the ex-pat Pakistanis I knew could not live without it. It was some thing so simple yet so profound. DoodhPatti is to Pakistan what Coffee is to Americans. People were willing to pay 14/$ for a 24 pack thats a $1.7 a serving or PKR 272 in todays effective rate. (Imagine the FX impact)

The box even says trade mark protected. Lo and behold it is.

It is registered via a law firm in UAE, which was easy to locate given that PoBoxes seldom change any how will skip that.

The contact info

Whilst I dont know the history of who Benlays was and what they did, their address for SITE and phone numbers turn up Ahmad Manufacturing Company. . Same address same every thing. Suspect some textile group had in the past tried to diversify and realised it either didn’t work or the margins weren’t the same as textiles. What ever the case may be it no longer exists.

So what is the point of this history lesson and going down this rabbit hole? It’s fairly simple, that successful outcomes for products and product driven businesses are exponentially low in Pakistan. Have you ever wondered watching shark tank how one good idea, productised, commercialised and launched in retail or franchised results in millions of dollars of wealth creation? Our problem is both of innovation and lack of commercialisation. Lack of commercialisation because we have little to no co-packers, we don’t have the home-to-commerical transition infrastructure, where it does exist it is next to impossible to find. Our existing brands are limited and some are dying too(See thread below). Yet we all know some one who makes an incredible sauce, chutney, mix, rub or some one who has other ideas/gadgets or totkas that can be commercialised. But we rarely ever see any one breaking out and commercialising products.

Now more so than ever both for local consumption and for export we need people to rise to the occasion and start with producing shelf stable products as a start. We need both import substitution which people like Dipit are doing, seemingly a Shan Foods venture.

Shan Foods on

Speaking of Shan they are available on so clearly they have found their way across the pond. Yet from smuggled Goodrej, Dabur and Amul and himalaya all the stuff is available in Pakistan. Why cant we get our iconic brands any where? Besides Shan that is. So coming back to the idea, that one idea can change your life, how does that item continue to work in the US and not here? Why can people be a one hit wonder, take the example of Scrub Daddy not in the food category though or Bantam bagels going from Shark tank to Starbucks. Not like we don’t have a consumption hungry population from CPG to FMCG demand being super high. Yet we do not have domestic FMCG or CPG brands being developed or growing. We have the same players who continue to grow.

Our problem is many fold, from lack of product development expertise, to developing packaging to material sourcing, product testing, sampling, distribution, supply chains. None of these are easily available to most people. If you had the next killer Achaar, how would you go about even bringing it to market so it doesn’t look like it fell off the back of a truck? From perfecting the recipe to labelling to nutrition guidelines to shelf stable testing to getting quality accreditation and sourcing and production. Some thing to think about, is to maybe build the infrastructure to allow fo this to happen. Build perhaps a co-packer? So think Cloud-Kitchen but industrial scale. Having a common core infrastructure so that you get economies of scale. Not just for food services even though the bulk of my examples are in that space. At large we need an enabling environment for people to take an idea/product and be able to commercialise it.

Before we start trying to develop Kombucha , Keifer Grains & Greek Yogurt we must learn to be able to produce Lassan Adrak Paste and or Canned tomatoes ala Italian ones which we pay 170 PKR for, we need a whole sale commercialisation revolution and folks who can help with GTM Strategy for these areas. We have an acute shortage of food services experts. We have no locally branded products that at-least I can name in each of these categories that comes to mind instantly

  • Locally produced Sponges
  • Locally produced Tooth Picks
  • Locally produced Ear Buds
  • Locally produced Phool Jharu
  • Locally produced Poncha/Mop Brand
  • Locally produced Buns besides ( Dawn/Bakeparlor)
  • Locally produced Masalas (Laal Mirch, Kali Mirch , Dhaniya – Besides Shan/National)
  • Locally produced Hair Oil
  • Locally produced Packaged Beef Products
  • Locally produced Cream cheese
  • Locally produced Canned Tomatoes / Canned Fruit/ Canned Mushrooms/Peas
  • Locally produced Cosmetics Brands

We need to give people hope that if they try hard enough and if they have a great product that some day (soon) we will have the infrastructure(process/technology/financing) to allow for them to break out of their social and economic predisposition. It seems like, unless you come from money you really cant or shouldn’t be in the products business/manufacturing etc.

For a nation obsessed with food, recipes and then some why aren’t we encouraging an entire generation of kids obsessed with building unicorns to moving to building recipe mixes or food products at scale. Halaal BBQ add-ins for example. We haven’t gotten past juices that too aren’t 100% indigenous and we continue to not evolve or innovate. So what does it take for us to leap frog so that our ideas can change lives? That for once things start to work for us too. We are caught up in such systemic disadvantages that to break the mould we need whole sale changes in no small part from education to government to the boys in brown and no I dont mean UPS.

Understanding & Building for the Dopamine Generation

Median age by country in years in 2017 (U.N.). The youth bulge is evident in parts of Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

There is one App that has taken the youth bulge by storm every where, that is TikTok. At its core its simple short-form entertainment that has some Chinese pixie dust(aka Algos) that bring virality to content by creating crazy in-platform exposure. This generation is all about instant fixes, when it comes to tiktok where videos are sub 60 seconds, these short videos have created and curated a new type of addict and addiction masquerading as entertainment but driven by the consumption economy. When your users are spending of 52m/Day on the app clearly byetdance the 70bn$ company that owns tiktok did some thing right.

Youtube, Instagram and Snapchat have a similar but different consumption/virality vibe and also creating their own versions of dopamine filled experiences. So what is it? That is driving audience to this consumption economy?The way it works is simple, Kids these days look up to influencers(we had national heroes, sportsmen/women, business titans, celebrities who took ages to make their mark in a space), the premise has remained the same but the thesis has changed, those people that have millions of followers and can do whatever they want because they have a pretty good amount of money are all the rage. Every one wants to be like them and follow what they do and are led by them like a cult. This is not really promoting scientists or particle physicists, from the outside in, it may even seem like a steady dumbing down of what passes as stuff worth watching or following.

In short, all you need is one hit to get noticed and the kids know that between their chosen platforms, they don’t need any special skill set and “it could happen to them” The definition of a good piece of content is also changing. Also it just doesn’t need to be mindless content, to test this hypothesis I combined some pre existing content on sufi music, I made a short 55-second video about the origins of it and got 6800 views in a day as a first time tiktok user not even having an account prior to this. Truthfully its not a bad place to be, instant recognition by views? In the end it’s pretty simple, all these kids are trying to do the same. Its like one of those toy claw machines where every one wins atleast one prize, for one coin put in you can try till you win a big prize but if you loose you are guaranteed the the base prize always. TikTok has personified and cashed in on this. How hard can that be? There are short form items which tiktok is good for then there is youtube for every thing else mixed with insta and snapchat.

If you don’t know drops and kiks I suggest you familiarise your self here first. Things are changing fast, as are monetisation avenues and engagement platforms. The new normal was barely normal before Covid-19 came around and forced an entire generation to work from home adding crazy growth in online content creation and consumption and in turn fuelling new brand creation and growth avenues. Their perspectives on consumption, education, work, products, content is miles apart from where traditional businesses and marketers are focused. Locally, regionally and globally the trends have fireballed into an ecosystem that most people don’t have a window into. Heres a starter pack that I’ve put together for you. (of all places twitter recommendations)

New Media – Digital Distribution – Engagement Tech

Nerd Stuff – New Tech – Platforms

Content Creators – Content  Driven Merch – Gen D Collectives – Agencies

Food & Nutrition

Misc Stuff

All these are examples of brands, products, icons, influencers that are creating, making, selling and consuming in their own bubble/ecosystem for the most part without outsiders having a real window into the business of GenD(dopamine driven)++. Some have cracked the nut, there are specialists agencies managing “talent” being run by a much younger crowd, not owned by the existing media outlets and brands, they have developed their own origination and consumption patterns, whereby select “merch” is listed and “dropped” to a select audience, and people can pay to queue jump, these things are not sold in stores.

Do you see the opportunity for the post corona world? Do we have our own local versions? Is any one building a list of these influencers? Are our Sahab based agencies that profited off sleaze-ball agency owners and their cronies in tv channels by profiteering off rack rate khanchas, ready to manage this talent and brace for the new era of consumption and influencer driven advertising? Are our less than adequate news channels ready for a generational competitor? Whilst a host of the media end of this landscape is and will remain a fairly western phenomenon, a large part will be our ground reality as well. Most of our influencers are any thing but, due to a lack of original content and programming the audiences they command are a mix of folks with pent up frustration, aggression and voyeuristic tendencies, so not too removed from the stuff being promoted in LA.

In our case the mass market has a window into other peoples/rich influencers lives and some thing to look up to, they feel like they can relate to them, albeit that sentiment maybe universal. But there are major influencers with audience followers in the millions who are not leading or promoting the glamorous life, they are rural tiktokers with massive fan following. The audiences sizes for example give one an idea that if brands were able to harness the raw power of these following and if these influencers were business savvy they could turn their audiences into an economic power house, from brand building, licensing, product endorsements and perhaps money left over for some education. Its a dystopian view when you go to to discover the latest local videos.

Similarly on instagram the following folks, are being followed from Pakistan most, some of them are not even Pakistani. This gives you an idea around the flavour of the content being consumed and what the audiences crave.

Moving on to youtube and looking at audience metrics we see a different kind of trend in channels driving large section of views(some are still traditional). Whilst most aren’t, yet A host of this content is religious or sensationalist news. Not necessarily targeting just the youth alone but a huge chunk of it is being consumed by them whilst a host of it is being created by younger creators. Interesting trends emerge when you go from TikTok to Instagram to Youtube, the audience mix, the monetisation capacity, the content, the demographic mix all changes completely as the format of engagement changes.

So whats the moral of the story here. We like all other countries with a young population and an ageing population have not only social issues coming up, we also have major societal issues, whereby there is zero adult supervision in what is being created, consumed, distributed. This will bring with it, its share of complexities, issues and also opportunities. There is also a real social divide happening where there is a stark socio economic disconnect between the influencers and the people following them that in the current socio economic condition(s) only lead to a bigger online and offline divide between the citizens of the country. With such chaos comes opportunity and we have a host of pre existing examples globally to learn from on how to navigate this complex dopamine powered web. The real winners will be those who can get ahead of the curve and integrate this new reality in their existing and post corona growth strategies. If you don’t get in the line of sight of Gen Z/Dopamine today you will be irrelevant in the years to come.

Beyond, Bike Pay Bhijwain & Cash Uthain Commerce (Send via Bike and Collect Cash Commerce)

Visualise the following. You are launching a business, any business, the end product needs to make it to the consumer and the consumer needs to pay for it. Easy enough, even the US hasn’t solved for this seemingly simple concept at scale and at an affordable price-point. Dont confuse Amazon with the US and play along. Instead of looking to the West for inspiration, time to look East. The Chinese ecosystem has many things no one has, for sure 2 things the Pakistani ecosystem lacks API driven PAAS(Payments As A Service) and programable Logistics/Logistics of Things. So what does this have to do with any thing? Look around you, as nearly every thing is shut down and businesses struggle to survive we need rails to enable the post covid business ecosystem in this country.

Follow along.. Startups in Pakistan or businesses have to solve for both of these issues on their own, most days. Thus ideas that look good on paper don’t scale, because they are DOA(Dead on Arrival) due to the lack of any pre-existing infrastructure to plug into. Conversely if you are in China you can deploy your product or services by plugging into and using pre existing API Rails- what you get in return are cheap easy payments and same-day/next day delivery out of the box. White labelled, transparent. At such a scale that it doesn’t matter who does what leg of the payment or delivery. The price point is so affordable that every one wins as the eco-system grows. The Chinese figured this out long time ago thus witnessing astronomical scale and growth on e commerce and deliveries.

If we look at payments alone, we have nothing in Pakistan that works independent of the VISA or Mastercard Rails, (Granted we have One-link) every one has to pay MDR, but as of Feb at the new rate of between 1.5-2.5%, we barely have functioning IBFT that has no payment hooks built in, let alone prior to Corona even those carried charges not very palatable sans modern day tech bells and whistles. Across the pond Alipay and WeChat Pay are sub-50 basis point & highly available + they have their own verification protocols and one click payment options or alternatives. We continue to use verified by visa and others and burn FX on imported solutions. Our Goal should be to replace Visa and Mastercard with local payment schemes (PayPak any one?) and get on with life.

We can learn from the issues in the West, that despite Paypal, Stripe , Square and the likes thereof , every one still relies on expensive transactions on some one else’ss credit card rails. So masoom Pakistan is no different but just like we leapfrogged from land lines to cell phones we can emulate the China model on this one, or some thing close enough.

Popular Chinese Digital Payments

Switching gears and looking at Logistics, Alibaba and others in China invested heavily to make sure there were competitive logistics solutions and rails. If we look to the US and Amazon and try to wait or imagine some one will come and build self owned end 2 end logistics rails, likely that will never happen. Whilst Amazon has built an unmatched first mile, last mile logistics service, it has been at the cost of FedEx and doing enough value additions and dollar spend along the way to make sure UPS, and USPS cant keep up. In China there is enough logistics on demand capacity for any one to stand tall on the shoulders of other giants if they decide to ship their product from any where to any where and get paid instantly for it too. We are still struggling to decide who will get an “in principle agreement from the SBP” our ffing tax rupees pay for the folks we need to demand they get with the program vs getting in line and pleasing the makhanchoos who are nearing retirement and continue to be so afraid of the NAB that they better not do some thing exotic. *(tons of good people around too hence what ever progress to date, but its SBP its not Tesla so we must also be realists) These things wont fix them selves, book a tour to the SBP if you havent been. Then ask your self why we need govt policy level intervention. For a comparative see the above image, for benchmarking.

Chinese Ecosystem & Players
Global Tech Ecosystem & Players

Whilst we are busy fighting the correctness of prose and vernacular of Ramzan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem we should actually be focusing on thinking that if we start a company, a business a service today, we have the luxury to build on top of the work of giants that came before us. We can stand tall on the shoulders of used smart phones and their processors to build mining rigs for example, or use existing networks of others to build adjacencies like using easy paisa agents as a distribution network and reimbursement network.

We take all this for granted, but we are standing on those shoulders like it or not. Evaluated in the our current context we are missing two key shoulders to stand tall on for e-commerce innovation or new biz innovation. PAAS(Payment As A Service) and LOT (Logistics of Things). Both are ecosystem plays, both are driven by less regulation more openness more standardised data exchanges. We are in the wonder-years for both ecosystems. Nothing concrete has been done industry wide, as we are all busy leg pulling and un-doing any thing of substance plus given our genealogy of rent seeking behaviour, we just want to dominate the market and take un-godly profits thus we don’t work collaboratively. We believe in holding all of the pie vs growing the pie.

Show me 2 Desi businesses in Pakistan that have thrived by working together? and the sum of their collaboration being larger than each individual group. This precludes GBM(Growth by Marriage) or MBIB(Merger by In Breeding). Since Ali Baba and JD actually dont have a Baba or Mr جیدی and consequently no vested interests of family or dynastic issues, they have continued to grow, we cant get past Sahab, Sir, Boss.

At a policy level, we now have an IT Minister who you should try and Google, but if you must, you can click on the link to his official profile and fill me in as to what the credentials are; to be justified, to be appointed and why the current Govt refuses to put some one from within their party ranks to the IT Ministry. Is it because they know they will make a cluster out of it and giving accountability to constituents that bring in 3bn$ of inward FX would be a tough one to defend online?

Im sure, MQM would be happy to take some other ministry. Refusing to allow some one credible to help align the national narrative on tech, the government is doing a dis service to all. This Govt has the most Spammers( I meant , SAPMs to the PM. They are like a shadow govt. That shadow govt has its shadow lackeys who are advisors to the advisors to the PM. First we used to have members and secretaries now we have self established foundations and self appointed elves who are running around advising the advisors. Yet there is nothing definitive viz a vi policy around Digital Pakistan. We need less Webinars more work “less narrative building” “less cutting pasting” & “less self-reflection”, abhi juma juma aath din huey hain aur advisory cadres “reflect” kar rahay hain. This is Telenovella level shit.

بھائی کام کر لیں ، چلیں آپ کو تھوڑے سے آئی ڈیاز دییتے ہیں تاکہ آپ بوٹ شوٹ سے آگے بڑھیں

To quote a dear friend, “the state has a role to play, but the state continues to politico-hire/acquihire consumer tech folks from sales, they should at least hire some one from enterprise grade tech who understand ecosystems and frameworks. Else we will continue to build bots and leaderboards to self assess self proclaimed achievements” (JDIQ 2020 April)

On the subject of ecosystems and visions beyond ones own self interest, an other lingering issue every successive incumbent IT Board/Advisors/Mushir/Wazeers in tech have had, is to start competing with the general population. Some one tell me what business we have as govt to setup portals for volunteer doctors, for example whilst you have at-least 5 or 6 commercially available tele-health startups/post startups, with scale who could have just turned on the switch to register all the expats. I dont even want to know the effort it took to replicate/emulate pre existing services also the govt is now competing with the same startups who pay tax rupees to the exchequer but this portal wont. This systemic desire to self build to show momentum to count stars in front of the sitaray walas is not optimal.

ham ko ma.alūm hai jannat kī haqīqat lekin
dil ke ḳhush rakhne ko ‘ġhālib’ ye ḳhayāl achchhā hai

Enough digression but there is a reason to share why we are where we are as we continue to be driven by self interest. Before we get #DigitalAnything or #DigitalAnywhere, we need to be self aware, state needs to promote its constituents not compete against it.

We have mis guided ministers and ministries in the logistics space, using the postal service to compete with private players as opposed to working together to enhance the first and last mile of the country. Private parties can bring the tech, the scale and the governance, state can bring the manpower and access to physical distribution in every city of the country. Match made in heaven, one parties precision other parties tax subsidised existence. Similarly for payments, govt needs to get out of the way, SBP is working on their own thing, National IT Board is doing its own consultations, #DigitalPakistan is allegedly also doing some thing. Also don’t forget Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is working on a Micro Payment Gateway with the SBP. When will any of this see the light of day besides consultants circle jerking each other?

Look nothing against any one, but China solves most of its ecosystem issues by having local understanding and local momentum. In our case almost every body solving for #digital #payments #logistics is a recent #Wapistani, beyond the cute hashtags there are serious consequences to this. Basic rule of thumb, Jang Akhbar parhwain and have them write a summary of what the Awaams core issues are?

Whilst Malcom Gladwell’s 10k hours of doing some thing to become an expert has been widely contested, there is some “truth” “Sadaqat” in the fact that most of these people haven’t even lived in Pakistan for 10k hours consecutively before arriving on the scene. In the end not much real Rails are being built for the consumers or for the businesses that really need those Rails- Instead some fantastic social media posts are being generated. As if some one previously left a play book behind. Oh Wait. Yes we already also had that happen:) More on that an other day.

In short, hiring two riders by every business to do localised deliveries and collecting payments wont solve any thing. Baji main larka bhaij dayta hoon cant scale either. Do you think the Chinese used some ghutka eating boys to get where they are? Ride hailing tried to scale it and now the after effects of the gig economy are also all over the place. Like Splatter marks at a bad homicide.

Most of the startups and consumer tech people only know eye balls and don’t know monetisation, Google Pay Still hasn’t turned a dime in India, Deliveroo never made any money and never intend to really get past building scale. We have to look at businesses that have true scale potential whilst being profitable, we need to help build those businesses by creating the rails that they can ride. We need to get past visions of building unicorns, we need to build stable companies that have the ability to self sustain and scale.

What we need to focus on is to find our anchor apps/products or try to have a use case that allows an app to have super app scale. Then we need to go down the path of Mini programs which are lightweight apps that run inside another app (like WeChat, Baidu or Alipay). So that consumers don’t need to download stuff through app stores and constantly look for wifi to upgrade. They make it possible for one app to perform the service of many apps. In a place where not every one has access we need to plan ahead for low friction once we have people with smart/er phones.

Sadly we don’t have any local apps with said traction but we have some that are close, only if the telco dons egos were smaller than the size of the downloads we could get some where. But an other alternate are News sites and their apps given the insane news consumption. It’s time for our #DigitalKalkars to evaluate a new cure and prescribe less of what they already know and more of what others have already done successfully(In China)

An outside-in approach would be for some one to come in, look at all the apps that drive traffic & are local, acquire and build a super app via a single update consolidating say the top 5. Similarly use other peoples digital channels with large audiences. Since whatsapp Biz APIs continue be missing in Pakistan, its time to go build our own tech and migrate our folks across by providing better value, not by danda or shutting down whatsapp locally (wink). Be it news be it any thing else, once aggregated, then work with payments and logistics players to try and take a different approach to solving for PAAS and LOT. Every things needs a platform to scale. Time to get to work, less tweets more products. Build scale and bypass the regulators, apologise later. Every one is willing to forgive some one who helps every one grow.

The New Normal | D2P(Direct to People) the ‘Only Mile’ that matters.

Every ones home and will be for the foreseeable future. Most things humans want or need to survive must find its way to them. Businesses are realising the true need for Digital First. Not applying new models to old physical only data sets. Not just for optics but for survival. Direct2People (D2P) is the digital and physical model of engagement, If you can migrate your product, your services your business to a one to one engagement + delivery channel you have won. The ones that identify, curate, capture and build on LMD(Last Mile Data) will emerge victorious. Not all have the infrastructure to own this space, but those who can, will.

The Only Mile that matters is the one that brings every thing to the end user. You have to build to capture the Data that flows in this mile to your advantage as well.

Some things that will be the new normal, in the given situation will be the emergence of C&D2Consumer (Cloud & Dark every thing to Consumer). In Pakistan it may be a first, in the region it may be an expansion route, given a host of this had already started on the Dark aspect of fulfilment. Globally not many can still do it profitably because the end economics was fuelled by VC $ and a limited path to monetisation. COVID has had a sobering affect to all that fuel. Given where fuel prices are perhaps a naturally intertwined phenomenon.

The Opportunity | Gali Ki Dukan AKA Corner Store

Dark is our friend, with social distancing and crazy queues every where, there are many ways to ride this opportunity. Instead of building at-scale dark stores and going crazy investing in the physical realm, the fastest most scalable way is to build a fulfilment co-op. Meaning “you” become the order taker, but you use an army of nation wide stores to be hyper local. Doing D2P deliveries to folks in their neighbourhoods. Since no one is coming to the store, shutter down and convert it to a small scale fulfilment center. Be the best value adder for that conversion. But before any of this, the corner stores need a smart phone and connectivity and accurate SKU information (yet an other opportunity). Content is king in most realms and before you can take orders or sell to any one, you need to have content against which to sell. This is a multi tiered opportunity, it is an opportunity for the FMCG + CPG brands to get off their rear ends and focus on delivering content, like they deliver goods via distribution to the retailer, and also act now to have a mechanism to see order flows + volume info being fed back. Many areas to solve for here, startup worthy in each piece of the value chain. From fixing manual order taking, from generationally defeatist value eroding distribution models that “with hold” cash from the market and bad payment cycles. All can be solved for by increasing the bottom line for all and increasing employment and sustainability in crisis mode. None of this will be easy. If it were easy every one would be doing it.

The Opportunity | Local Advantage

FYI, don’t wait for a Careem or a FoodPanda to come and solve for it, they are struggling to pivot in moving from ride hailing to grocery hailing to rashaan hailing to “just use our Gig economy workers/our daily wages guys who we are now calling heros”. Sadly who really aren’t full time employees so we must band together so our Mckinsey esque financial models driven by VC cash can start making sense again for the investors. That can wait. We have the established players like Imtiaz, Naheed, Chase, Jalal Sons, Al-Fatah, Utility Stores, CSD, Rainbow Cash and Carry, Carrefour , Metro and a host of others. Yet no one is organised beyond the today, beyond making hyper profits based on stretched supply and crazy demand. No one is looking to invest in core infrastructure. The likes of Carrefour opening store fronts on other E-com players sites also shows their lack of readiness and actively enabling future competition by handing over their order data, fulfilment and Last Mile Data to the Chinese, today. Talk about not learning from Amazon. That has systematically copied what its sellers were selling. A must read if you haven’t already. So whats the opportunity? Its to invert the funnel away from the market place player(s) and go towards establishing your self as the DarkStore. You already have the product(s) you just need to enable sensible order taking, a marketing push and a stellar customer experience where people dont have to line up three hours in a store. Further you have got to learn how to build subscriptions and use it to your advantage on being the offline groupon when you go negotiate with the FMCGs and others better than just todays expected demand in growth. Banks will be your friend if you can show pre-booked demand. As an example, Imtiaz has been at it since 1955 as a kiryana store, legend has it the now owner, went to Singapore in 1978 and saw the Al-Mustafa Store and successfully replicated the model. Whilst that model has clearly given them scale, its very localised and not a billion dollar scale, for example they don’t even have online ordering in any compelling format. Yet across the Pond, FB invested 4.9BN$ in JIO telecom so that they could mobilise access to Whatsapp for full-filling orders via reliance retail (JioMart) to potentially 400M Indians and bringing 30M Small stores online. I am sure there are many other things that underpin that deal, but that is the potential of having the right retail channel and systems in place today so you can exploit explosive growth from adjacent industries, like in this case from Telecom or Social Media. We are missing the boat on getting started on this journey, the time to act is now. Regionally Talabaat also got in to Dark Stores in Dec 2019 in Kuwait, arguably the population the size of Bath-Island in Karachi, but it validates the model if done right. So what is missing? In my view its strategic growth capital. To make all this work you need lots of it.

The Opportunity | Reforming of the Know-IT-All Bank & their Sponsors

Banks who have been miserably un able to digitise any thing in our fair land should work with established players(those who have 1 set of books) or get into funding those, who can convert/build out dark stores using existing infra and take a bet on them. There is only so much asset backed lending you can do. Need to move away from real estate to retail fulfilment and fund the future. What are Banks doing as we speak? They are making a pretty penny on taking free money from SBP and forwarding it as payday-loans to SAITHS, (Super Ancient Incoherent Totally Haemorrhaging Second-generation) businesses who do not have resilience and want government handouts and also don’t have the moral courage to pay it fwd into the businesses that made them wealthy in the first place. Interestingly enough, just looking at some basic of Bank Shareholding, we should have had at-least a few rising to the occasion given their trading/wholesale roots and familiarity. But this also tells a sad tale of how control is exercised under the guise of open market economics yet a few groups/families/Saiths, as is universally true also, control the destiny of Pakistani businesses quite incestually. But there is hope some may actually turn out to be more progressive than their founding fathers and go beyond the rent-seeking industrial complex. Our challenge is our opportunity. Some already operate in organised wholesale locally and internationally, yet have done nothing to inspire confidence locally. Thus for those who have capital, what a time to make a true opportunistic move and make a killing, because these banks aren’t setting up venture funds any time soon or promoting things they don’t know. They have been talking about it, but zero execution. Sadly the pretend VCs in the organised sectors as bad as the Banks because they havent been able to figure this out either. Most are hired help/front for other peoples money/other saiths, aid groups and families.

The Challenge | Lack of Real Expertise, Talent & Desire to Change

We continue to lament as a nation of what could have been had x happened or y happened, time to move past that. We need to try doing things because COVID has happened and like it or not, there will be mass lay offs. Our bread and butter industries like textiles in the export sector may see net growth, post people looking for non-china origin global supply chains, but in the short term a lot of damage has already been done. We need to up-skill an entire generation and scale up a host of existing businesses technically, or create new models that are digitally supported and build on a remote working/dis-aggregated DNA. The poster child employers of the yesteryears that solely relied on 1000s of helping hands and dirt cheap labor have a new reality about to hit them. We need to have massive dis-intermediation that needs to happen from Agriculture, Real Estate, State-Owned Infra and Sitara Power. So that new models can be tested rapidly and built out. The Challenge will be to convince those who have access to capital + those who have access to data + those who have access to logistics infrastructure to come together in a meaningful way, all under-pinned by world class technology driving the commerce + trade in the D2P space.

The Reality | Don’t Let a Dark situation Cloud your judgement

Take the example of restaurants, from the corner dhaba that feeds its locality to the ones in the urban and sub-urban areas of the country. Are all closed, the real estate going to waste, all the traditional ABL(Asset Back Lending) has come to its knees if no one can use the asset or make it productive. What will happen when the banks/foreclose on say a restaurant that had leveraged its real estate, well it cant be put to use any time soon as no ones coming out for the foreseeable future. So what good is a paper weight asset to the bank any way? Enter cloud kitchens, maybe start aggregating all the loans you have to restaurants and get them to work together to retain their brands and Launch A Cloud Kitchen. Similarly all the industrial/commercial real estate that will become available can be used to retrofit to get in to the dark store model nation wide. Some one has to start having these conversations to preserve value for the Banks Shareholders and to give a non aid economic injection to the country. Due to a lack of talent , skills and expertise we traditionally keep on going back to the same. This time around though the reality is different, a lot of mergers will happen for those who have cash to fuel them, a lot of banks will loose their shirts and aggregation of banks is eminent also. Telcos need to figure out how they will participate in this NEVC(New Economic Value Chain) Local Heros are already emerging, they need help with scale. Some one must evaluate how they will lend a hand to the explosive growth that will come in new segments especially in the D2P. This new economy will also need Dark Warehousing, not controlled by Pathan Loan Sharks Masquerading as Private equity.

Don’t Wait For | Digital Pakistan to happen, instead make it happen

Whilst the DigitalPakistan initiative has its heart in the right place, there is too much chaos in the bureaucracy and too many vested interest for it to really have any short term strategic impact and any long term policy shift to help digital businesses be any better off.

1. Bureaucracy doesn’t let things move
2. Lack of Implementers and directionality for DigitalPakistan.
3. There is more focus on pleasing the powers be & getting visibility than on work
4. Sharing re-purposing India + Vietnam Google decks will only fool so many people so many times

So how do we over come this, coupled with a really poor business environment? We must stop kidding our selves and raise issues to the Razak Dawoods and Hafiz Shaikhs of the world, point them in the direction of structural changes that are necessary vs the mafioso lobbies that are busy getting exemptions and handouts. I don’t think our appointed custodians have accounted for the lack of trust in the system by founders and regulatory systems in both directions that will contribute to the slowing down now and in the post COVID Pakistan. How can a system prosper where people are spending more time in compliances than innovating and growth? These authorities abound in the name of Tax, SECP, SBP, EOBI, PRA , SRB and the list goes on and on. DigitalPakistan should focus on helping businesses go Digital By removing the menace of incompetence or corruption or both when dealing with the sate by bringing transparency, or a new body to regulate digital business and its controls and taxation. People have traditionally loved for govt to do and be in every thing, because people want more and more subsidises, govt schemes in the name of development. They want everything : education, health, employment, communication, infra, defense, security from govt. The result is increase in the number of ministries and a bureaucracy bursting at the seams and no net new innovation. Digital must mean that these traditional shackles are removed and that the those who have been appointed to help get visibility to start helping. Currently the old lobby and mafia has all the headspace and air time of RD and HS. Shout out, raise your voice, collectively be heard to drive change. If you keep quiet, DigitalPakistan wont make a bot to verbalise your internal feelings and flag it as important and send to the power be. The channel you have that your parents didn’t is digital, with a government that largely keeps score online now is the time to bring the fight to them online, esp since you are sitting at home thinking if you will have a job in 2 months.

Some Missing Ingredients | Life Ka Operating System

Whats to come? Micro-mobility, payments, grocery, public transit and inter-intra city with social distancing factored in for all the above. Except it’s an expensive and most days a difficult cake to bake yourself. How this is packaged, super app or not, is any ones guess, is it needed? For sure.

Does it need some serious infrastructure plays to be enabled.

Who will do it?
At some point in time external consolidation Capital. Till then any one who can put the most pieces together will win. Don’t forget, in the D2P space the biggest thing that will drive change and growth will be payments. For all the Dark Stores, Cloud Kitchens, Last Mile Data and Analytics, if people cant transact, the scale will for ever be linked to access to paper money.

So whats a basic guide to try and build & execute this?

1)Let small merchants like shopkeepers, street food vendors, tea sellers etc. accept payments on any SBP/Approved/Linked National Payment Gateway app like without needing to download those apps (so that they can also participate in your Dark Stores/Cloud Kitchens)

2)Build, borrow, copy or steal a mechanism to bring trust. One way to do it is to ask merchants for their mobile number and CNIC to generate a VPI (virtual payment Identifier) on behalf of the merchant and encoding that in the QR code (whilst documenting every one and creating trust)

3)Provide merchants an app to track their transactions. Again, nothing really novel here. But it has to be frictionless, audio or less than smart phone enabled also.

4)Deploy and use other peoples agent networks, co-monetize them to reduce your CAC so that as every ones home but wants services they can digitally engage and pay at some level. This is the toughest part, it sucks to manage remote/large field agent work forces in Pakistan. COVID wont make it easier but it may allow for attitudes to change when there aren’t enough jobs to go around. Be ready to harvest other peoples workforce.

5)Merchants do not pay transaction fees with CASH so fee-based business models will never be viable in Pakistan. So how does one plan on making money? Lending, of course . Take a page from AntFinancial which they have yet to make work in Pakistan.

6)How this works is, making small ticket loans to merchants underwritten by your transaction data delivered through directly via offers in the app. Also have plans to sell insurance, invoice discounting and other services down the line. What this gives you is a tax/revenue treasure trove and drives every one to documentation over time.

7)Since traceability is going to be such a big thing and already beginning to be large, there is both profit and karma in making this data searchable, it can only be searchable when it moves to cashless.

8)Given FB isn’t coming to PK any time soon nor is whatsapp opening its API for payments or order-taking, Googles NBU being powered by Indian hegemony, think of the next best thing, use this time when people are home to drive them to an alternate mode of communication. TV Advertising is your friend, every ones home. Learn from VEONS class act of a blunder on how not to do a super app.

9) Im not for govt or sitara intervention but perhaps use this down time for some colossal shift in messaging. For example the less than known G42 in Abu Dhabi that seems like an AI Power house is a thinly veiled psyop funded by petro dollars that controls ToTok has some examples for those willing to put national interest ahead of every thing else and learn some new tricks besides how to increase the value of a plot in 24.8043° N, 67.0577° E.

10) Invest in Tech. But remember Tech McKinsey

Theres a lot to be done, some sequential some parallel, but to do any of it, a strategic game plan is needed. There are many missing pieces, therein lies the opportunity. Whats your D2P Strategy? Do you even have one?

“Hope is not a strategy.” Vince Lombardi

COVID | Can Our Valued(banking) Institutions Deliver a SuperApp

TL;DR Small Banks are done, unless they take seriously bold steps, Big Banks are done if they don’t burry their legacy issues and upgrade their boards. Software comes much later.

Who would have thought COVID would actually be a delivery mechanism to force this nation and many others to adopt Digital Payments & beyond. Till last week there were some payments that even I had relied on a trusty check to do (like card payments) etc for the sake of paper-trails/end of year tax man reviews/audit requirements, given that any one who pays taxes in this fair land is the most likely to statistically also get f**d by FBR (F**d by Registering).

Best taken up an other time, given that right now Sugar Mafias also need forensic info and PM intervention but salaried/SME class individuals in the tech and connected sectors who continue to earn USD for the exchequer get nominated to form the basses of more tax burdens and harassment. Whilst Agri Mafias in the organised sector operate as organised crime, the average person continues to be strong armed by the government. But there are ways to go about all this, un-surprisingly if (a) Bank or Bank(s) Got their Act together it would get easier for governance and accountability.

Keeping all the above in perspective, technically a Bank or Bank(s) are genuinely suited to completely rise to the occasion and own multiple legs of Payments, E-commerce, Logistics, Peer to Peer Settlements, ContactlessPayments, National Verification of Resource Distribution, Taxation, and a host of other Last Mile Data Plays(LMDPs) by building a Super App by either a connected ecosystem or an owned/invested ecosystem.

But before building a Super App they, have to do some thing less remarkable, build super common sense. Evaluate the hand that this tragedy of sorts has resulted in. Interest rates will continue to go down, traditional business will suffer, G2C will be on the rise, P2P will also continue to rise, traditional avenues of earning gang buster revenues will also subside, lay-offs are eminent. Every ones plotting the curve lines of infection but no one is assessing in our local scenario, the enablers that need to ensure we get out of this with a fighting chance.

P2P daily wagers/ala ride hailing is nearly dead, or will eventually die unless it “pivots” to using its network effect to do some thing else. Asking the govt for a hand out is not the best way forward. So where does a Bank fit in to all of this? Let’s evaluate (some of ) the many constructs of this connectivity pie.

Banks already know who is on the ATL (Active Tax Payer List). Larger Banks with branches have distribution channels already, this will help with cash-in cash out. Banks need to adopt the Easy Pasia / Jazz cash model, go to any bank branch be able to send money to any one nation wide, hassle free with one person at the Teller with a Smart phone without predatory pricing (See pricing for Telenor here and Jazz Here) for the common man and incentives built in for him/her to be driven to savings or to use the Banks Super App for other incentives in his/her life.

Same said employee or other bank employees can be incentivised to be the Cash-in agents by night fall when Bank Branches are closed. There is a reason the under 5k Bank Branches cant compete with the 100k Easy Paisa type locations just yet. This needs a dramatic shift in thinking, partnering and building networks. Easiest is to sign up who ever is open 24/7. Petrol pumps being the missed opportunities and thousands of Pharmacies and Hospitals etc. Many other examples. Par agar sab bata doon to Bank Kay CEO ko kis bath kay paisay miltay hain? If you are the Ceo of a Bank and your ego allows you can always email/call for a quick chat, most likely i’ll learn some thing new out of it.

Banks have the regulatory sensibility to manage the additional transactions and report on them and evaluate them and review them whilst also building a treasure trove away from Easy Paisa and Jazz. In one clean sweep also taking out the aspirational Fin-techs who are either awaiting their licenses or who continue to play in the SandBox and given the uncertainty around lock downs will likely die under the weight of their payroll before ever having tested their use cases.

Whilst not ideal for the startups in some ways, but the very idea if they get acquired for the pre-built tech that the Banks cant build, Banks who are so conservative by nature and fearful of the regulator at large, will actually benefit by that fear, so long as the have a CEO who can take the lead in using available capital on not deploying loans alone but by thinking like an agile startup(i know cliche) but use the muscle of the 800 pound gorilla that the Bank is.

Banks also already have a deadly weapon, security and trust based call centers. Make a note, who ever owns and get the call center space right, will succeed like a Gangster(Read Banker). So what is the winning formula? Super app can come later, when you can get your developers and fancy CIOs and UX people in a room, but before all that you need to get your head out of your rear end and start making notes about

  1. Scale (Infra/People/Branch Tech/Hardware)
  2. Security (ensuring Bank CEOs passwords arent discussed at airport lounges by the CIOS.)
  3. Ensuring SBP to allow using cloud infra or solving the aws/gcp issues
  4. Have a board that has people in their 30s and 40s to help guide you on what a super app is or means. (You having your 20 something year old PA Ship EarPods to your Hotel in Dubai does not make you an e-com or super-app expert)

There is a very clear reason why Pakistani Banks typically lag behind the curve. Because our current breed of Bankers mostly have been trained at Citi Bank 20 yrs ago, when there was no Digital etc, what they have successively stolen or emulated from Citi are Product programs & Risk Policies amongst other stuff. If Citi ain’t done it, they ain’t doing it(by and large) .

They don’t have the capacity to figure this out as they continue to vie for Inter-Pakistan banking one-upmanship CEO roles. In the end if your ambition is to have the larger Merc and the bigger house, you cant solve for any thing else. But truth be told, it cant be easy being the CEO of a Large Bank, it has tremendous regulatory pressures and massive political under currents and now the ask/demand to innovate. 30 yrs ago when these CEOs started they likely didn’t sign up for this new evolved role.

The professional environment is to blame equally, as is the ownership of Large Banks. One Bank owned by grocery/ala retail lineage is heard discussing optimal use of janitorial staff being shared between branches and other one with Institutional Holding akin to the Vatican has been trying to do payments and retailer signups for 2 years. It is not easy at all to be in their space. That is for sure, the momentum of the legacy they have inherited continues to weigh them down. Most certainly due to really really shitty board composition, lack of women, lack of younger people, lack of tech savvy people, lack of people who actually interact at the Branch level. SBP Should mandate a customer advocate to be part of a Bank Board Committee to really discuss the plight of the end users.

Moving along, banks use their own capital to invest into tech companies, invest into ride hailing/bike hailing convert their staff/merge the Apps, build an ecosystem, tie into logistics and by virtue become the clearing house of invoices, thus verifying input taxes on both ends of the transactions and slowly documenting the economy. Who would have thought, take it one level further, tie up with POS vendors nation wide, starting with KLI retail, at check out, print a QR receipt that also passes back, beyond payment info retail purchase data, Now the bank can plot for a bigger land grab of data and informed decisions.

From seamless goods and services payments to taxation to credit scores, to effective loans to knowing where goods and services are in the country(distribution/logistics/warehousing) to where they need to go and by having credit profiles on customers in real time, make real time decisions to do bullet financing and institutional items by connecting all the supply side(input data) to demand side(payments data) and sitting between the two to become the largest clearing house of information and data.

All this is in addition to taking a large chunk in a Bykea/Others Locally, building capital to build grocery co-ops, a utility store but private, so you get volume leverages, mixing logistics capacity and shipping by partnerships or investments to know the flow of (commercial/retail) goods in transit to be able to develop a map of Flow of Financing (Needed) In Transit. All this starts from a vision and not a big one either.

Masoom Bykea is asking for Govt support, they are doing right by their riders and daily wagers 100%, but they should be talking to Banks to build a super app by being one Leg in the journey. Last mile will only win you KLI even in the post COVID world, first mile will win you the rest, Chose your partners wisely, stop hiring the refried bean equivalent of easy paisa castaways into your banks.

sitāroñ se aage jahāñ aur bhī haiñ
abhī ishq ke imtihāñ aur bhī haiñ

None of this can or will happen over night, it starts when the banks stop circle jerking on fire side chats and the CEOs disaggregating the innovation and fund piece of the Digital journey into a separate investment and strategy arm. Look, we all know branch staff lay offs are coming 3 months from today, best to allocate freed up capital to hire the right people so momentum and jobs can be created at the same time with a great big data play on the back of it.

Right now even after the post NYC cluster , HBL is very decently poised to harvest this COVID opportunity, similarly Al-Falah, given their sponsors at home(Abu Dhabi) also have a bleak economic outlook, at-least in PK they have 200M consumer possibilities, with their airlines, banks, construction collapsing, those sponsors must be saying a silent prayer on getting Pakistan right;by virtue of staying true to the Bank even after being (taken advantage off) in the past

Both Banks have great stewards at play, depends who is willing to take bigger bolder bets and is less pussy footed in front of their boards and owners. UBL could have been, but sadly doesn’t look like it, unless there are changes eminent which we dont know about. Rest frankly are under whelming in the large bank space.

The traditionalist in you will say, “oh but none of the above is the Banks job”, but neither was advertising or news papers, Googles, but here we are. Similarly heres a glimpse of what is to come in the crisis mode the govt is in.

With a population of approximately 220 million and an average household size of 6.8, there are approximately 32 million households in the country. An income support instrument that seeks to benefit 12 million households (more than a third of all households in the country), is bold, ambitious
and transformational, just in its sheer scale.

  • First, 4.5 million households are already part of the Kafalat programme. This is the original base of the BISP programme, that are part of the National Socioeconomic Registry (NSER) and qualify for the monthly PKR 2,000 grant.
  • Second, 4.0 million new households will be added to the original Kafalat list, by relaxing the selection criteria and including more households from the NSER. This is a remarkable single time relaxation, as it will add more than 10% of all Pakistani households in a single stroke.
  • Thirdly 3.5 million new households will be added to the EEC list of grantees, through an open call for applications using SMS and verifying credentials against the NSER itself, and additional criteria for selection.

What does any of the above means? It means there exists an opportunity to developing proxy economic profiles for the new and existing applicants through the use of data. The four telecom operators have detailed level transactional data of 165 million registered cellular subscribers.

This data comprises of a range of network and usage characteristics like phone models, last changed IMEI, geographic movement, base station records etc etc. Like the Govt created the USF, they need to Mandate all the telcos to make this data available (with controls) to Nadara who can feed it to Banks and others for nation building. As the consumers data belongs to the consumer and to the sate as the custodian of its people. In times like these, this data monopoly should be broken so that citizen services can be developed for the long term. Still not having a NADRA Consumer API hurts, so even that must change. Also ANT aka. TMB has been sitting on every thing post acquisition, nothing has happened, if any thing Telenors APIs and service aggregation has taken a toll.

For the Banks and other business this is a time to self reflect and think through as well. My good friend and African/Global Venture Guru + Jollof Curator Victor Asemota Said it best.

We havent forgotten the Agri Mafia, or the opportunity a Super App or a bunch of connected APS/Ecosystems can do for the Agriculture supply chain. Granted Banks cant do every thing but they can deploy their cash to the startups that are on the cusp of solving for these issues.

Instead of micro finance Banks like Finca doing 50-70% markups(I could be wrong but my assumption stands in that range) and others not doing better than 27-38% markups to the poorest of the poor, will never dis-intermediate the ARTI whose loans cost the Hari is 12-14% markup in addition to the opaque value skimming he does. Namely from

  1. Providing loan to the kissan knowing his local halaat (Death in the family, medical emergency, shadi biya- floating markup)
  2. Making him(kissan) buy in to his(artis) seeds(which he gets a 12% margin from source)
  3. Pledge future stock without price information to the loss of the Hari
  4. Be his only source of market access
  5. Transportation line losses passed back to the Kissan so massive theft to the poor grower in weighing

Side note: The morons buying cricket teams from screwing over farmers or enabling the above highway robbery, on the industrialised farming side should totally say a prayer for them selves; because of the poverty they have unleashed to the masses.

So the Super app opportunity goes down the value chain and across the country, Super App may also be mis leading as it needs to be a set of connected services with one interface, i.e the Bank. Could be through call centers, an app, a web site or my fav distribution channel the 3000 PKR feature phone with data built on KaiOs.

Lots for the Banks to evaluate if they come out of their ivory towers and their foreign destination board meetings, the opportunity in Pakistan is as great as it will ever be but also the most challenging it has ever been. The time is to take tough decisions and lead from the front vs sucking up to the board. Time for the best Banking CEO to rise from within.

Logistics & E-commerce supply chain essentials in the Time of Corona. + Other Considerations.


  1. Allow all primary and 3P Logistics (including distribution companies of essential services, like food, vegetables, meat, medicines and consumables) to work on a closely monitored and managed schedule with LEAs(Law Enforcement Agencies)
  2. Ensure they follow basic health protocols and undertake volumes for distribution from principals who are either manufacturers or stockists or importers of these essential products.
  3. Allow all 3PL companies who do medical and health care deliveries & supply chain management particularly for hospitals.
  4. Instead of Making a list of all the parties(3PL) in the country and then allowing them one by one, allow all who are supporting clients in the following sectors
    • Pharma Companies
    • Retail Grocery Chains
    • Hospitals
    • FMCGS/CPGs who are producing soap/sanitizers
    • Local Manufacturers who are producing soap/sanitizers
    • Online Stores of known national and international retailers who have their own stocks or supply lines and will not fulfil orders based on market place many to one order flows (Many clients, one full-filler i.e the store)
    • Food distributors/Food Warehousing
    • Producers/Manufacturers of base ingredients for food supply chains
    • Mandi and fresh produce/growers
    • Water distribution companies, Nestle/Dasani/Aquafina/Culligan etc (door step delivery not to be stopped)
    • Meat and poultry producers/abattoirs and refrigerated shippers and store operators and their supply lines
    • Animal Feed and feed suppliers in the national supply chain for livestock
    • Livestock suppliers/breeders
    • Armoured truck companies (to take and replenish goods and cash)
    • Humanitarian and Aid/relief related activities by local, regional, global bodies
    • Importers of raw materials for formulations of medicines and critical food items
    • Printing packaging, box making and other producers of such items that aid in the supply chain.


  1. As an initial step, allow all fresh food , essential house hold grocery, soaps/sanitizers.
  2. E-commerce players and online store fronts and market places who do direct fulfilment or warehousing or storage on behalf of manufacturers or deliver directly from manufacturers.
  3. E-commerce shouldn’t mean people selling lawn/running 23rd march (week discounts), it should mean essential bread basket suppliers and market places who genuinely do one to many shipments or have the capability to do order taking and then rely on their 3PL partner to fulfil or do it them selves. Put an embargo of not ordering less than minimum basket size so people order carton load so multiple rider deliveries and touch points are not encouraged.
  4. Ideal to encourage e-com stores to do consolidated last mile so contactless deliveries are done outside door step. So quick response teams can go out city wide routes and effective fulfilment of needed quantities, it would also discourage corner stores to use their own riders and potentially leading to not following health protocols. But in times like these its best to set SOPs vs trying to outlaw every thing. People are opportunistic and will continue to try and out smart most controls for a quick return. Focus on making sure the masses have access to products due to a vibrant supply line.
  5. By day 4-5 you will see national fault lines appear in the supply chain logistics and thus likely a run on physical stores when people here stuff is not coming in, Thus use E-commerce retailers to promote access to fresh produce + packaged goods 24/7 and allow 3PL companies to do the needful even if round the clock services are to be maintained for delivery. Similarly a Federal policy to allow and support the same. Lock down enforcement doesn’t care for provincial notifications, it only care for laathi charge if people are outside, so the government should sensibly give coverage to the brave souls going cross country in trucks and ensuring deliveries vs ostracising them out on the roads. Similarly for last mile personnel.
  6. Use the CSD(Canteen Services Department) of the Army who is one of the largest national retailers to make 3 standardised Packs of goods, like a Ramzan box, 2,5,7k PKR, tie them with a national booking line(phone order taking) as they don’t have online capability to take order(maybe a google form) and tie them up with National 3PL to do bulk load deliveries as they are present nation wide. Get a combination of NLC and other players to tie up. E-commerce/Digital doesn’t mean a slick website, we have to get creative.
  7. Enable Via Telco’s the ability for National retailers to register for wallet accounts, so consumers can pay them electronically. Setup retail inward payment accounts so they can tally the payment with payers phone number (to check off delivery vs payment)
  8. Allow Bank to consumer retail cash delivery 10-20k PKR by partnering with Banks and 3PL players as people will start running out of cash. Also incentivise people to move money from banks(ibft) to wallets. Even consider giving a tax holiday to put cash into a wallet so the underground money can come to the economy.
  9. For those who don’t have wallets or degraded internet access(allow them to come to telco, franchises, 3rd parties like one load partner or 1link partner) locations to pay bills or cash in or cash out.
  10. E-commerce is not limited to grocery and essentials we have to include digital payments and also think about the marginalised population who doesn’t have bank accounts and relies on peer to peer payments coming in.

Other Short Term Considerations

  1. In sub-urban and rural settings, internet usage will drop when local or nearby markets and communities close, because a host of people charge their phones by paying 10-20 Rs a day to battery bank setups and store owners to charge. Thus easy paisa style payments will fall when this happens. Thus allowing franchise stores of Telco’s and others who do cash in cash out besides retailers may be key to allow for this vital supply line of electronic money to keep functioning. In times of crises this money supply is essential to buy products and services.
  2. Also allow mobile phone companies to give people larger top up credits based on their usage history. To encourage social distancing so they don’t have to go for reloads as much as possible.
  3. Partner with Google/fb to subsidise bandwidth
  4. Partner with Karandaaz/ Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to channelize grants to digital micro loans
  5. Do the same with ADB and IDB.
  6. Setup a #DigitalPakistan campaign to have expats donate FX/Setup a website to show live contributions, setup an account at a Bank here and tie with SBP to show $s incoming, tie with National charities to hand those funds over to them. Be the conduit. (Simple is to setup a page where people can charge their credit cards/billed in USD) Tie up with HBL or some one.
  7. Zero rate data for online learning sites for children who are stuck at home (Like Khan Academy and others)
  8. PTA to extend indefinitely all DIRBs pending applications that are delayed not for the lack of wanting to pay tax to the govt but the systems inability to churn out a tax invoice.
  9. Telcos to make SMS free for first and last mile players, banks and others.
  10. NADRA to cut down verification charges to Zero.

Based on the 1977 Gazette of Pakistan the List of Essential Commodities is already available as below.

Winning Formula. Till Real VCs do us part.

In the general course of listening to pitches and meeting various startups a curious trend is emerging amongst the funded ones. Especially those who were funded locally by local groups. Whilst I do not want to generalise the phenomenon is one that is growing and clearly took me by surprise.

There are multiple categories of local investors lets define a few types so you are familiar.

  1. Pathan Loan Shark PE (PLS-PE) Meaning the last generation was involved in Loan Sharking, second generation white washed it with some overseas qualifications and degrees, professionally managed Insta and plethora of awards and accolades/re-branding in progress, taking semi-old money and converting it in to the “House of X” “ This Group” “That Group”, these guys never were the 21, but they sure are dicking every one over with their sub 21% loans++)
  2. Returning Allegedly Successful Serial Investor – Pakistani From Abroad (RASSI-PFA). This is about a 5 year old phenomenon give or take. Unverified Overnight Pakistanis who no one knew in Pakistan before they left, who no one really knew after they re-emerged, come to town with 1-2 White Guys, slowly started hosting events, did a few first deals three under 200k around- Boom they arrived. Offshore shell companies galore, likely their source of funds is all Pakistani Money Parked Overseas. (PMPO) . They aren’t the JP Morgan returning types, details are sketchy, most ppl know its local money being funnelled back but since it is some form of funding in the absence of real VC money people will take what ever comes their way. Plus bro they have white guys.
  3. Daddy’s Umm Money Daddy’s Umm Marzi.(DUMDUM). This is a cross over between the above two, young scion comes back with a degree, figures out they have a better deal in PK because daddy has privilege, daddy is typically and industrialist but, in most cases{پیچھے سے امیر}, rich from behind. (RFB). Money comes from textiles, agri, oil, govt concessions, construction, export oriented generational family money. Some political types also in this, best to stay away from those and the ones that have Rawal-P (R)  blood line.. Those are also emerging.  The core game has been to take as much equity as possible and then go into acqui-slave models. Daddy’s political cover and access to easy regulatory approvals would have one imagine that this variety would have created dominance by now, but the apple has truly fallen far from the tree and the second generation is still pretending to invest with real money and since they have limited insights need daddy’s blessings in the end. They may wear the big boy pants and suits, but the fear of daddy’s chittar makes sure the real decisions come from Abba jis office and his trusted munshis.
  4. A – Usually New Technological Yuppie (AUNTY). This is what one would classify as the AID based Islamabad/DC/London centric crowd. John Perkins in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman Describes them as “Economic hit men(Not all are men though esp in this category) (EHMs) are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.” Domestically this follows some part of type 2 above, a seemingly new face shows up on the ground, with “its complicated” on their fb status, a closer look shows that , before they became a VC/fund organiser their LinkedIn goes from  community developer of some tier 4 fashion boutique or such or Bank Teller at “first community bank” to Chief Disruptor of this NewHipCo in PK. Source of funding un known. Dinners and bottle service galore.. They engage in quality content production and high-fiving liberals, if you get in their path you get labelled as backward or movli-tech. They continue to aspire a generation of startups in a completely mis-guided fashion.

But I digress, enough explanations, each of these categories and some more; deserve an entire post on their own. But what is worrisome is not who is doing the pretend VC game, it’s how it’s being done.

So local VC type 1-4 above, invests in a PK Pvt limited company. Say 100k USD in PKR, some times not all cash either, in kind or services, or charge the Startup for use office, utilities, legal services, sundry items etc all provided in kind or letting them use their profile as a board member against future considerations.

Typical target companies are where local PRK is spent on the startup (health care, agri, agri tech, services, product and companies building tech for other companies and a host of logo shops + content shops). The founder then is encouraged to open a Singapore Entity by the VC. Up to this point there is no real traction in the business it is largely fuelled by Aids/Grants/Other competitions and typically has some element of social enterprise or is minority led etc.(not always but more  times than none). These 1-4 connected types get them free media exposure, access to grants and special monies the common man has no access to in the right circles to create Visibility and an illusion of success sans balance sheet data.

5000$S Later a New Hold Co is setup in Singapore that owns 100% of PK Pvt Limited. In that NewCo, the investor owns their share. The founder goes to all incoming investors (largely introduced by grant giving organizations or development funds) and proposes the following:

  1. My seed investor wants out this is not their core; my valuation is now 2x 3x as we have a term sheet they have gotten from a 3rd party(wink wink). You can invest into the Holding Co in Singapore and we can clean out the investor and you can get majority. In-fact we will help you do it, our  seed investor has agreed.
  2. My Seed investor is willing to put in another 50k at a new 2x Valuation, but I have an option to buy his share out but for the new valuation, hes happy to stay too. But if You  want, you can just invest in Hold Co I will talk to them and  will take them out and you can own 100% of what they have up to the point. They are happy to continue, but you see; if they stay, they back my valuation as should you. If you are interested.
  3. My Seed investor is happy to dilute down, you can come in at the original valuation but I had a consulting arrangement with them for which they need to be paid 100k USD, because I had a separate contract with them on this “sorry”. But they added so much value and funded all my travel to these grant competitions and my SanFran visits and insta posts really I have to make them whole.
  4. Unknown to the startup the money coming in from SG into Holdco, is the investor just repatriating previously un-accounted for FX from PK, on the way in, they will register it and then have the option to legally make it all white. Since they own Majority, and the startup has say less than 15% its still cheaper to route the money through this system than other less than kosher means. Plus if the startup works it kills two birds with one stone.

If you haven’t figure it out, the Pakistani investor is investing in Pakistan, in PKR, the new investment coming into Singapore is giving them the ability to retain their 100k USD in Cash in Singapore. Effectively doing a PKR to FX Swap. Who knows if they had originally invested the 100k equivalent in PK or not, but they are cashing out offshore.  None of their share will come back to PK, they are essentially helping startups to create opportunities to either:

  1. Clean funds offshore if there local funds were sketchy or undocumented/esp if they provided in kind services at a value of 100k vs actual money
  2. Create a larger upside as their in-kind stuff cant be measured
  3. Splitting the difference with some founders and finding a way to both take out the tech and the company and its future investment and revenues out of PK. Whilst re-patriating some %age back and showing that as FDI and having it repatriable over time as its registered on the way in.

Trust Desis to find a way to have a value lever on even these startups. 95% of starts Are Not doing this, but the ones that are; are on a glamour ride and winning contests and jet setting actually don’t have business fundamentals. These 4 types of investors are driving them to their own agendas. By the time real investors and real VC money shows up people will be so tired of having being taken advantage of and the startup community will have such a dodgy reputation that people will be afraid. Because the other 95% aren’t really getting the exposure, it’s the so called funded and 1-4 aligned ones that have visibility and so called traction its this 5% that will shade the view for all others. Lets hope that some of the 95% variety get real funding and re write the story the way its supposed to be.

I used 100k USD as an easy example to illustrate the mechanics of the transaction

The more responsibility I gain,
Further away I want to run.
Life pushes on my shoulders,
And it no longer seems like fun.
Coleen Brown.


TL:DR Let us start off by defining what this post is not. It is not a critique of any thing besides the content and the context that it was published under and its likely implications. It is also a recognition that you cant make every one happy but you have our respect for going down this path and accepting the Challenge.

This document has varying degrees of focus and at some places no focus at all, I sincerely hope #DigitalPakistan is a collection of action items beyond HashTag wisdom. No denying the history lesson or to recognise the strength of our country, our people and our resilience. What does #DigitalPakistan bring to the table? that we already don’t know? What ministry is this part of? What is the official make up of all the team members of this initiative. There are murmurs of capitalists lingering in the hallways of power whilst this is being done. Is it a policy initiative only? Does the PMO expect Tania to do this alone? She has braved enough initial feedback by her self. Where is her team? Why? When so many SAPMs also not make her one? But beyond the intergovernmental f*ups, lets look at the content.

Know thy constituents.

Digital Pakistan, a glocal movement”

This document starts off with defining Digital Pakistan as a glocal movement. Glocal, an adjective, by definition, is “reflecting or characterised by both local and global considerations. The term “glocal management” in a sense of “think globally, act locally” is used in the business strategies of companies, in particular, by Japanese companies that are expanding overseas. Heres some history to go with it…The concept comes from the Japanese word dochakuka, which means global localisation. It had referred to the adaptation of farming techniques to local conditions. It became a buzzword when Japanese business adopted it in the 1980s. The word stems from Manfred Lange, head of the German National Global Change Secretariat, who used “glocal” in reference to Heiner Benking’s exhibit: Blackbox Nature: Rubik’s Cube of Ecology at an international science and policy conference.

So when you are putting out a national level policy directive or an initial guidance document it must make sense to the masses and the constituents both in context and content.

We should build what works for us. I can’t imagine mobile phone usage/growth/adoption in Pakistan without prepaid services. If Telcos had tried the postpaid route(and modified global models), many dead carcasses would be on the ground due to indebtedness. Our peculiarities matter. Glocalization is good but lets do this one step at a time with context and a feel for the local market. You cant helicopter in and rescue the ones who already have a life boat, look for the ones that dont.

Lets look Deeper at the content..

(1) Access & Connectivity
(2) Digital infrastructure
(3) eGovernment
(4) Digital Skills & Training and
(5) Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Even prior to and independent of this announcement, nascent conversations and even the usage of the #DigitalPakistan hashtag was prevalent. Many public and private stakeholders exist today that partially overlap with Digital Pakistan. However, an overarching body to help keep “the bigger picture” in mind to cohere messages and calls to action, and ensure that outcomes are aligned with the mission, tends to be missing.

A Document that starts of by defining the #Hashtag DigitalPakistan vs the listed 1 through 5 Areas of the vision, does not give me the comfort that the team putting out this document has a sense of what all the constituents and citizens of the ecosystem want and expect. It seems like a document thats heavy on expat-pleasing vernacular vs substance. Look, I want this to succeed as much as the next person. I have invested time, effort, physical presence in to relocating to Pakistan by actively participating on the ground. But this reality distortion field(document) is not going to help any one the way it stands now. By trying to appease other actual government constituents, this seems like a communication that is white washing the issue and doing diplomacy as opposed to national information infrastructure building. The PMO should not be building consensus within their own ranks at our cost. Not every one is going to be tweeting #goodjob #bestofluck and asking on how to participate in this vision. Some of us are going to ask #whatnext?

As a mission-driven initiative, Digital Pakistan’s focus is primarily on ensuring that desirable outcomes are achieved. Specifically, this means that Digital Pakistan’s success should primarily be measured on whether such outcomes are actually achieved; the concrete implementing body and / or method is secondary.

I read with interest the above items in bold. Let’s take it from the top, is this a vision? is this an initiative? Is it a Program? Where is the Mission? Who is defining the outcomes and achievements or did #DigitalPakistan just concede space to existing state actors, bureaucrats and others to say;

” hey, we want to do good work, it doesn’t matter if your actual ministry or cell or division does the work.” The buck has to stop with some one. So what I’m reading is ,that its ok if the end-details aren’t worked out; what is important is the work starts. Thats not a good starting position. Displacing accountability before doing any thing real is already at the detriment of the people at large.

In some ways, I do agree, that inter departmental politicking will be bad but this document at-least up-to this point does-not define any thing substantive. Besides clearing their air between seemingly hostile intergovernmental constituents I cant get a feel for where this is headed.

A key part of Digital Pakistan is therefore assuming the mantle of custodian for a set of principles and values defining what Digital Pakistanis. By further helping shape and advance the Digital Pakistan narrative, we hope that the plethora of initiatives and widespread energy spent by various
stakeholders is channeled productively
, in return, making each individual effort more successful.

Key Digital Pakistan Principles

1.#shaamil- Responsible and inclusive access to information and information technologies are a fundamental right.
a. Affordable access to any required hardware devices (e.g. low-end smartphones)
b. Universal data access (e.g. connectivity in geographically remote areas)
c. Affordable data access (e.g. mobile subscription plans)
d. As free flow of information as possible

A) Affordable access to hardware..well this seems to be out here because the govt already reduced tax for feature(ish) phones in the first week of Jan. This is a post effect engineered win for #DigitalPakistan. The whole regime on phone taxes is a different issue in-itself that needs better management on control and chori vs taking irrelevant half baked policy decisions on Low end smart phones. You never make a high end play using low end thinking.

B) Universal data access, we already have enough basic access to get the ball rolling. Had Google Station not been shut down, id imagine this to be out of that play book. Clearly 4g reigns supreme even for Google.

C) Again our carriers are doing a good to great job on this, we have some the least expensive data plans in the world. So what does #DigitalPakistan bring to this. *Note, ask any cell phone carrier and they will tell you that between 6pm to 11pm their data utilisation is off the charts. Also ask them what percentage of total data is being used for Youtube. So who are we really helping without having effective policy controls in place for ad-revenue/taxation and incorporation help for the giants? This is a gift that will keep on making other people rich(non-Pakistanis) if not linked to substantive policy decision to course correct.

D) I dont get this, this akin to saying, eat healthy to stay healthy, what does #DigitalPakistan have to do with it?

2.#hunarmand – 21st century skills to reap benefits of technology
a. Digital literacy and how to operate e.g. a smartphone
b. Skills for digitally enabled jobs (e.g. home-based selling of goods via social commerce)

#ifhashtagswereoutcomes this vision/document would have already won. Nothing wrong with the above, but if operating a smartphone is the hook, whats the kicker? Who will define it, how will it get done? For any one to migrate from operating a phone or point a to b, literacy to skill for digital jobs, we have a long way to go. Home based selling is a good story to sell but social commerce has key infra requirements that are seemingly outside the remit of this group. The postal service has had 300m$ plus of losses, if you want to work on actionable social commerce take that money and build out a distribution network that works. For social commerce to work, basic commerce has to work, tax nets and input items need to be managed, you can not continue to tax the working middle class over and over again. We are facing some of the. worst poverty numbers and highest inflation ever, hashtags arent going to feed any one any time soon.

3.#pehchaan – Simplify interactions between citizens, government and the broader economy.
a. Development of a “Pakistan Stack” as technology and data infrastructure connecting these different spheres.
b. Using digital technologies for easier and more transparent public expenditures, tax collection as well as prevention of tax evasion
c. Driving towards the ‘Ask only once’ principle i.e. aim to ensure that citizens, institutions, and companies only have to provide certain standard information to the authorities and administrations once

I can get behind this for sure. Digital Identity for better taxation, transparent services and govt/data/infra Rails, Spot on. But again this is old wine in new bottles, nothing has been done by transforming quick wins like OneLink etc to be coupled with Nadra etc to offer these services. I understand criticising this is easy, but we have quick wins possible, Instead of focusing on political wins like reducing dumb phone taxes alone, focus on other top priority areas like building an ecosystem for feature phone development incentives for local software companies.. Tax theft is easy to prevent, beyond intentions, link all banks to id cards and all bank data to a national tax system that is managed electronically, that blocks the tax evaders electric supply, their gas, their ability to have a cell phone and their kids to go to school.

4#digitaljugarus – An inclusive digital revolution must be an economic boon for all,
a. Fostering mass employment creation through digital platforms like marketplaces,
freelancing communities or ride hailing companies.
b. Creating an appropriate legal, financial and regulatory environment for technology
startups to flourish.
c. Be the conduit for linking local digital skills supply with global demand in areas with high global demand like machine learning or python.

For all the right things this basic document is trying to organise(admittedly this is better than any thing the IT Ministry ever came up with) it is marginalising the key contributor. The Community. This kind of imported terminology vernacular is completely out of place & border line embarrassing. It is also completely out of touch from the reality of free lancers young and old and those who want to evolve from truly basic operations into a SMEs, SMBs and Operate under a formal structure.

A) The government doesn’t need to get into the market place game/business, there are plenty out there and there is roughly between 1-3bn$ worth of free lance GreenBacks that are locked out of our eco-system, this money is parked offshore not because every ones a crook but due to lack of systems/payment processes in place. These guys are not Jugarus, how dare you? They are active contributing members of society who were let down by every one, who by them selves figured out to monetize their skill digitally, before there was a #digitalpakistan.

B)This item is the need of the hour, many cheers for having this in this 2 pager, but what is the 90 day action item that will make sure this happens? You realise all the companies your(various ministers) want to tax overseas are being gated from local presence because no one gets their legal framework ask. Not saying you make it to suit Google alone but there are many others who would jump on the opportunity.

C)The supply that is already there is operating in the free market and making dollars through freelancing, unless you up-skill the masses, there is no new value or economic input that you will impact by being a conduit of any kind. ML and Python take some time to scale, viz a vi training, there is investment $$s that need to go into it too. Google loves Python, if we fix the regulatory items, we can surely get some love from Mountain View? Maybe even others. But why limit to what you know get larger stake holder involvement, figure out what freelancers are bringing in the most moola and then adapt. Why prescribe items where there is limited hw, given one model already works. Scale that first. #askforhelp

Key Areas of Work

(One of the most fascinating aspects of the digital revolution is the vast scope and diversity of how it Impacts everyday life. As such, Digital Pakistan’s work and internal capabilities & capacities to advance the mission are multifaceted. In general, the bulk of the work can be grouped in five broad categories:

1.Channeling of and representing the Digital Pakistan Movement
a. Ongoing communication and evolution of the Digital Pakistan Narrative
b. Defining (annual) themes (e.g. jobs, education, government services) that can help channel the majority of efforts by Digital Pakistan Foundation but also other stakeholders towards focus areas

2.Information dissemination (e.g. enable other parties to make better decisions and / or Identify potentials). This includes:
a. content creation for layman and stakeholders (e.g. videos, white-papers, text, illustrations)
b. Train the trainer courses
c. Basic training courses (< 40h training)

3.Policy advancement or intervention (e.g. creating dialogue, lobbying)
a. Identifying key aspects of policy that can help accelerate adoption in Digital Pakistan’s focus areas (i.e. “What should be done that isn’t being done”).
b. Advising on existing or proposed policies that may stunt the digitization agenda (i.e. “What shouldn’t be done that is being done”)

4.Technology development. This includes:
a. “Quick Proof-Of-Concepts” to show potential real-world impact of certain ideas with the goal of being (eventually) replaced with permanent more scalable solutions
b. “Cornerstone technology development” that is built and / or operated by Digital Pakistan or potentially contributed to the Government of Pakistan for operations and has long-term strategic value to the overall mission

5.Building bridges and facilitating dialogue between citizens, government, local industry, and international players

1- If all we are worried about is the narrative then we shouldn’t be in this game. The word Digital Pakistan shows up in this 2 pager 17times. Have we run out of substance at launch? This is looking like an echo chamber to provide self assurance that some thing is being done and a quality angrezi document was produced. More than 50% of your intended audience cant make head or tail of this. Further when you translate this from English to Urdu, it will actually loose most of its opacity. As a first/launch document(you used an image and talk about transparency no text version made public), I cant even define what this is, is it a policy framework, is it a document to tell the “awam” what is coming? Is it there to show some thing is being done? Most of the items are dated, given past efforts have also come without action plans, time lines and ownership the awam will loose patience in a short time. This document it self says, dont worry about who does the job? What kind of a cop-out is that? You havent even started yet.

2- Dont get how information dissemination alone, translates to helping others make better decisions. What lay person uses white papers ? What does train the trainer have to do with the context of this point. Perhaps I am lost, but this is gibberish to cover a checklist of things that are said publicly that if googled make the general awam happy with some thing being done may be a good PR stunt but add no value to the bottom line.

3- If you are in government and you have to lobby to tell people what to do or what not to do, that tells me you are not empowered (yet). We dont need any more policies, in-fact we need less regulation any one who thinks and or wants to add an other layer of policy direction will meet with challenges far larger than their existing comprehension on the subject. Advisors have already destroyed this country beyond repair, Not saying this will meet the same fate, but we need an execution mind set.

“””maiñ ne us se ye kahā
har vazīr har safīr
be-nazīr hai mushīr”””

4- In plain speak you want to do MVPs and show things work, you also want to play a role in enabling tech that brings out long term changes. Great. But you will have to compete with NITB who are launching Islamabad specific app after app, and other state run orgs, who spend public money on accelerators and such. Also an IT Ministry that has no minister. So yet again the “awam” will pay the price of complete anarchy at the govt level. Zero planning, loose threads and a prayer. (This is one of the vaguest statement in the entire document).

5- P@sha does a decent job, other trade/functional bodies do too. Strengthen what you have, learn from what others have organically built in this country. Within their repertoire they also gave you the first incubator, that actually kick started the ecosystem and brought Pakistan to the attention of major other players who didn’t get involved before that. The Nest i/o with full admission of my bias, launched 021 disrupt, where you arguably had your first mass address to the community too. Strengthen those bonds, help facilitate that, get rid of PSEBs of the world and build out stronger support bodies. Less is more esp when it comes to regulation and growth. We are rooting for you on this. You have shown by your actions that you are looking to build an inclusive ecosystem. But this document does a dis-service to an otherwise stellar vision shared earlier publicly.

“You have to take the bull by the horns, you have to have a clear articulate strategy for each milestone”

Much like your selves I for sure don’t have the answers, but I didn’t sign up for public scrutiny by being a govt employee, no less as some one who is an active participant in the ecosystem, what Id like to see are items around:

1) A Concrete Payments Strategy

2) A Software Export Strategy & Plan Including Tax Incentives

3) A Legal Framework for foreign tech company incorporation

4) FX regulation on incoming freelancer payments and ability to hold up-to 50% of incoming USD for onward USD Expenses (hosting/subscriptions/tools etc)

5) A ban on predatory loans being made via apps locally (30-70% interest)

6) A regulatory control over what Jazz/EasyPaisa and others charge as fees for transfers (SBP needs to come into action here).

7) Single CNIC based Free lancer registration with a FreeLancer Bank Type so incoming funds are not held by banks from these freelancers and they are not made to feel like criminals when they go to get their money, they should be made heroes vs being given shitty treasury rates.

8) A legal framework to regulate predatory apps and services like Bigo live who could potentially be responsible for FATF style bans if left unchecked. (Pro Tip, call the telco payment companies and ask how much of Bigo Live/similar apps, enabled transactions are passing through their system.)

9)A policy on Nano-Lending (we are solving the wrong payments problem, we need to solve the nano-lending and the fiat currency change problem)

10) Create a policy of equals with China on e-commerce and cross border taxation, without controls, the willing and un-willing will import the hell out of drop shipping systems and use local postal delivery to burn FX on importing items. Regulate to promote local growth. Dont confuse it with enabling people to sell online. This is causing a trade deficit.

There is a whole lot more, but this is a good start, work on national info and payment rails, similarly tax rails. We need less lip service and documents and more actions. Most of the items here are a great first pass, but missing substance and the document feels like its talking down to the tech constituents of this country. Do not under estimate the people who are contributing hard $s to the economy, you can learn from them but don’t learn at their expense. We need actions now, because the ones we elected sadly were not capable. You have a long journey ahead. From Jan 5th 2019 and the formal launch of DigitalPakistan 76 days have lapsed and if the net outcome is 2 pages, I am but compelled to ask difficult questions. So lets hope you guys deliver on #DigitalPakistan vs this turning into a #DigitalJuloos .

It is time for Change, It is time to Change.

Drive around the country, drive around in big cities and small, look at the names of the streets/roads/avenues. We cant get past sports men, leaders of yesteryears(most of whose f**kups have really put us where we are) yet they all continue to get an honourable mention, some in their life time most posthumously. Not to forget war vets and other leaders of a different ilk. Some educators thrown in for good measure, a few poets, some judges, some “notable family/scions” some of the 21 Club fame. What is missing are the businesses, the true industrialists (pre nationalisation even) and those who have done well in trade and commerce. A nation that cannot create business heroes, will continue to  produce zeros. We have not let businesses thrive, we have not let people come out on top due to innovation, of those who have “allegedly” become big names, all have small dirty secrets of tax evasion, bribery & influencing the law in their repertoire. But generational wealth washes the sins of your grand daddies, so you can start fresh.

We have to genuinely ask the question about who is representing us in the govt machinery? Where are their interests? Are they aligned with any national outlook or just personal. Let us start from the basics, what do we need to build business heroes? we need businesses, what can launch businesses at a national level, the ability to have:

A) Access to land
B) Less regulatory burdens
C) Ease of doing business (Not just BS around it)
D) Not having STATE compete with commercial enterprises

Let us look at it simply, Why do we need a National Bank? Why do we need Sindh Bank or BOP? Why do we need LDA/CDA, Why cant these things be privatised? Similarly Airports? Railways, PIA. Heathrow is private, the Toll road in Canada is private. We have to encourage people to come and do business, we need smiles at the airports, not to have them look like Thanas and pissed off morons manning the counters. Some times I wonder what side of the immigration desk is the crook?

In the same spirit, lets look at ease of visa. Why the hell do we not have visa free entry for just every one? Do the screening on arrival, its time to increase trade and FX. If they come they shall bring in $$… This small mindedness around national security and spy agents and others, is a glaring admission of not having security really where it needs to be, intelleignce where it needs to be vs the generational bullshit we feed our selves, that we have to take the extreme measure of stopping every one. No ones coming to steal nuclear secrets, people are coming to attend weddings, business meetings, trade missions, just to see whats going on. This whole nadra site for visas is more confusing than it is easy. If i need a chamber letter and invite and then submit it a the airport pre arrival, it is just pure stupid on so many levels that it is not visa free entry…

Lets look at this scenario, some one comes from the US, we submit their docs, they land at night given thats where the GCC carriers typically come to our shores. By night the person leaves the airport, gets stopped on way to PC as it says “no foreigners in cantonment” move the ffing cant out of the city then. Let every one come, dont scare them dont make insane rules, think this through. Make room to do business. Sorry it may inconvenience a few but it will open up the economy.

Tell every one we are open for business, open for trade, open for cultural exchanges, open for some expat in Dubai who on the weekend wants to visit friends or just come have some authentic food. Have tour operators, certified by private entities who can do food tours, who can do city tours who can do business tours, who can do pop up meets with families who want to take in airbnb style guests. Atleast start the conversation. Make insurance mandatory from local firms on tourists. Make money, dont send them back… Silly tourism ministries and cutlural exchanges where our ffing ministers go over seas wont fix this, instead of saying come see our northern area, bhai open the airports, make it cheaper for flight charters to land. It starts with first getting your internal security right, work past the hype, tell every one to come. We are solving the wrong problems.. Our internet is open(so far) dont block returning expats phones, remove shitty systems for tax payment of phones, fix the root cause dont make people suffer for your governmental and security apparatus failures.

Before any of this, take a piece of paper, if you are in government and write, “I will not be over smart any more, I need to fix my domestic issues around security and stop making claims, I will do some thing productive in my life time and my career”. Change happens with the realisation that you need to have change.

We are in the worst economic cycle we need to have open borders and open flights to get FX coming in, when people come in then companies will follow.

Threatening Google and FB and begging Netflix to come when really they cant even travel here makes me wonder how stupid our government machinery really is, are these guys in line for the Darwin awards?

Ease of business should be so simple that an incoming person or a local resident should be able to either go online and provide an ID and be able to get started and open a bank account. People should be able to come in and spend 200$ – 500$ and open a business account. This is the stuff we need to do to kick of a mini foreign SME revolution. Simplification of SECP nonsense and SBP SROs is next inline with taxation and just getting started. Reputed and regulated money changers should follow next. Allow banks to do it too. Hint Hint, any one coming with Dollars should be able to spend them with ease, period.

Stop building govt spend based incubators and accelerators, start building farmers markets, fresh produce packaging efficiency, local product displays, food sampling stations so people taste, eat, get hooked and buy and take back. Package it right, they will come.

Before most of this fix this airline situation please, next stop this bullshit around a soviet era steel mill, donate the land to any one who wants to put up a factory, give loans to SMEs without domicile BS. Clean up the govt machinery and make it fair to get into govt. Make it mandatory for govt employees to have to send their kids to public schools. KGS and Aitchison aint it. If Ghabrana nahin hay to make this the bench mark. Stop all foreign govt travel, open Pakistan for business. Let people come see us at our best or worst, enough pitching. Start showing, showcasing.

Oh whilst you are at it, f**ing fire all of the airport security staff that allows people to smoke in bathrooms at all the airports. Take bids let people make and build out airports. Just put in the rules. Starting from getting your basic act of security of non-smoking enforcement. You want me to believe these circus acts can manage security even with visa restrictions, they cant even stop people on the right side of the Quaid from smoking. Loads of introspection required. Mann all your airport counters, stop hiring retirees.

On to my fav subject of the govt competing with private enterprise, tell your ministers that the state doesnt compete with private enterprise, it helps them flourish. Pakistan post cant compete with Private mail operators and shouldn’t, just like DHA shouldn’t even be around to compete with private developers(of which there are none, Malik Riaz is a state within a state, like DHA) Similarly Pakistans largest enterprise/startup listed and otherwise is full of retirees who are veterans of an other state institution. In a country of 50% or more 25 yr olds, learn to Ffing retire and let others get a chance. This holding of secret ballots hand shakes, systems, exams, referrals etc is all non-sense holding us back. You had one shot in active service, don’t make the nations young pay for your power hungry desire to never retire. (R).

Be honourable do the honourable thing.

Have bankruptcy laws. Its not too hard, weve been at it for 70 + yrs get the basics figured out. Fix the tax structure, tax agriculture, why the f**k dont you, because of your vested post retirement zameen interests and of those who are in power and have massive agricultural land. Reform will only happen when it starts from within. Iss hamaam mein sab nange hein.

Extension dain to bhai achay kaam ki. Extension dain to make late payments, for helping succeed. Its simple, we all know what needs to be done, starts with having a voice and raising it, Do not continue to live in this country on rent, and dont let the 1% collect the rent. Make them pay, its time for change, be vocal.

Stop all the khaipias on flights from Dubai, Srilanka and Thailand to khi.(No dis respect, but action starts from calling out the issue, if you take a flight you know it, you have seen it. Open other avenues so a generation of these guys do other stuff, put their business sense to productive use.

Misguided religion much. Carry Agent:) Wow.. This is whats wrong with us. Steal with one fine swoop and include god in the other.

Who is bringing the pans? the garments without the paperwork? Who is paying off the customs guys at the airport? opening bags on the belts? swapping items? I have been put through the secondary scanner but the guy bringing in a 75 inch tv walked past:). I pay taxes, he steals from the govt, he is under invoicing, making us loose FX and paying $ equivalents to get on those frequent flights to bring in goods that are all vastly illegal. Dont raid the markets, stop this shit at the airports first. You want to stop these Mffers, not the tourists who bring their phones on roaming to make calls and spend money. Solving the wrong problem is the larger problem for us. Mr IK the exam question is, are you going to do any thing to change the status quo?

Every ones under invoicing, but the guy who is not, cant compete with them? Do you see the problem? You want to fight FATF, go stop all the hawala that is going into trade, at the point of import find out how those goods were paid for? auction them when there is no money trail. Google the price of an item it takes 2 minutes. Auction when found to be illegally imported. Stop the gift receipts and under valued shipments. Oh whilst you are at it, stop Alibaba/Ali Express from sending 90% of their goods to retail based sales and B2C thats coming in duty free and depleting FX. You dont have to look hard. Stop being taken to task by traders bodies and market associations, they are all crooks if they want time and concessions. If they strike you strike back. Basically the issue is no one is used to 5% or 10% or 15% margins, the guys at the top want a windfall. The only way that happens is at the cost of the rest of the nation.

It truly is time to promote people to do business, trade, to get into exploring new ideas, making business easy for all those who want to do some thing. But more so than SMEs make it easy for big business to establish a strong hold, allow large infrastructure projects. Equity like land smells like shit when you pile it up, when you distribute it, flowers grow in it. Spread the wealth. #nayapakistan

Ps. If you are an expat Pakistani and want to suggest that we focus on the positive things the govt is doing and that IK is one person only. You only have a vote if you bought the Pakistan Bano Certificates. Your once a year guilt ridden trip to see your ageing parents and bringing gifts does not qualify you to an opinion. Dont send us #prayersandwishes send #greenbacks or come and participate from within. Change seldom happens from tweeting. No roads will be named after you for your Hashtag tantrums!

The road less travelled. Pakistans likely export angle (Amazon, Ebay & Others) and how local businesses can benefit from it.

No, I don’t have any outsider, let alone insider info on Amazons plans on the Pakistani market. I also have no pictures of meetings with Amazon staff, past present or future. What I have is the media view on the tough love Amazon is getting in India and the relative change of direction Mr Bezos is orchestrating by  stating that the e-commerce giant will use its global footprint to export $10 billion worth of ‘Make In India’ goods by 2025.

This gives a good insight of whats to come and the directionality of the market. Interestingly Bezos also stated that Amazon is going to invest $1 billion in digitising the small and medium businesses in India. By that measure keeping that their GDP is roughly 7 times larger than ours, we need about a 150M$+ run rate to ramp up our own digitization and infrastructure to get similar export access. But what is missing is, we have no Amazon in Pakistan.

Our sellers cant even really, authentically sell or setup fulfilment by Amazon unless the use intermediaries or ship and store with Amazon state side or other nearshore destinations where Amazon is engaged in FBA. Other complications include, identifying the product, listing it, setting up a legal entity to collect the payments, exporting from Pakistan and other launch based items that gate the average person, exporter, product developer to really not get in to the value chain, instead they offset their product by consigning it to some body smarter, more resourceful and some one who can take their product at 35c a dozen and mark it up to 5$ a Dozen and sell on Amazon/Ebay. This value addition doesn’t see the FX delta come to Pakistan and doesn’t add any special value addition skills to the net-producers domestically.

With amazon ads business nearly in full swing allowing a company to customize and curate a multipage digital storefront, our producers are missing out. They will continue down the path of middlemen. Stores aren’t new, but the company has added features like shoppable images and the ability to schedule updates like new releases or seasonal changes. Imagine if just for the textile industry or additional traditional large scale non value added exporters this channel was made available?

The simple view would be that you would have an Ideas Store on Amazon or an Al-Karam store on amazon plus all the others who are engaged in selling bed-sheets and towels and others D2C(Direct to Consumer). They can continue down the export path to be vendors of record for Macys and others but once they start earning US D2C margins the ball game will change. This is just in the higher end of the value chain. Imagine all others who are not as large but want to explore the global market(s). Imagine if they could hold inventory at FBA and others used this to drop ship using their own brands? You now become a multiparty supplier as apposed to just a manufacturer of record. The game changes significantly as does the growth multiple. Not like no ones doing this already from Pakistan. Shan has a store on Amazon, but the average Shan Masala retailing in the US at under $2 and selling on the Shan Amazon store for over 6$ doesnt Make sense. Interestingly Shan has 800gs pink salt for $3.50 Whilst competing stuff sells for higher. and more confused pricing for amazon prime and refined salt etc. Also most competing products are listed in Ounces and Lbs. Its interesting but clearly shows the disconnect even large brands seemingly have. So there is a lot of upside potential here.

So where do we start? Amazon isn’t coming to Pakistan just yet, based on what ever data they are crunching, their bet has been India and GCC ( But can we get smarter, can we use the .AE route to reduce one more middle man and get on to the Amazon bandwagon? Lets back up a little bit, before we get down to having visions of grandeur we must learn from the Amazon example in India and them digitising small businesses to the tune of 1bn$, in its simplest form it means having accurate product information data, moving toward Harmonized System (HS) for classifying goods is a six-digit code system. It means getting the producers ready to make the product Amazon (export) ready, in turn making it globally ready.

It also means linking the money chain, from export to bank to return payment to FX transfers. I would be shocked if Amazon didn’t get into a Stripe model to allow direct merchant on-boarding, albeit a localised version because they are present in India. Hypothetically a vendor could sign up locally, price in USD/INR equivalent, collect the net sales proceeds locally and the only person doing FX conversions is Amazon, imagine the float and the local payments play, if Amazon got in to a captive wallet and expanded it into a system to pay for inputs by local manufacturers and vendors.

Only time will tell where this is headed but sadly looking at the state of our export chain and value addition we are almost stuck in what we did generationally without really taking the leap of faith on doing some thing different, the only thing that has grown is the countries over reliance on the same sectors to export to earn FX.

Even the domestic market is too big to ignore long term. In the short term there are other bigger bets to make and Amazon is making those, we should no less be prepared and be ready to exploit these companies and these systems when they are accessible to us. Or figure out smart ways to plug in to the existing FBA value chains and store fronts. As a starting point all the Pakistanis Immigrating to Canada/Australia and other locations, nothing is stopping them from setting up a bridges to provide cheaper arbitrage for the Made in Pakistan Narrative. Kamyab jawan should find plug-ins to extend beyond just rhetoric .

We need to bring our own plug-in for selling on Amazon, instead of buying into dubious VPN based setups and being completely out of the value chain and at the mercy of the evangelical church equivalent of used car sales people promising our manufacturers sunny outcomes. By getting on to FBA programs and taking unassuming college kids to partake in get rich schemes of doing Drop ship form China to Amazon store fronts. Granted some of those work, short term for the person researching top selling products/categories on Amazon and doing drop shipping etc, but it adds no value to local manufacturers and to our FX items. In turn most of the money made this way is retained offshore.

We have to think of a longer term play, starting from working to increase over all exports, to increasing the value addition. Simple example is Pakistani Pink Salt, imported in to Dubai by Indian players, re-branding and adding world class packaging and marking up by 200% for retail sale in the US and Canada. This phenomenon is still on-going. (This article will you give you some more insights) We have yet to protect such things, lets take a que from New Zealand AND Manuka Honey ( Some other things now that we have gone down this path that the government or other individuals should consider are Kashmiri Chai (Either ready to brew like instant Cofffee) or As a solidified crystal or using other packaging mechanisms for delivery and even popularising some thing local. Along with brand protection for an entire segment.

We have some amazing startups in Pakistan that are working hard to bring unfair advantages to businesses both local and international in the global trade space. From knowing your markets to one click research to expanding your footprint, data is your friend. One such startup is a hidden gem. If you have access to figuring out whats selling where, how since when along with trade based regulation and laws, half the battle is already won. Not sound like a product endorsement but if would truly help a new generation of exporters online.

Its not just Amazon, but if for instance you saw the pink /Himalayan salt exports go up from Pakistan and you could enhance the upstream value chain in real time by packaging and then re-exporting would you not try to take a go at it? Coupled with having the ability to sell on amazon or ebay for that matter? But the first you need a view into the space. Whilst research on Amazon tells you whats selling on Amazon, it also gives you additional insight if you can see country by country, region by region, export and import types and vendors/manufacturers etc.

For instance, Traderjoes the notoriously famous food chain out west in the US has an entire team that does global food sourcing. Has any one even tried from Pakistan? are we just too lazy and too focused on traditional trading partners and markets? Are we ready to enhance our value chains.

All the money the govt and aid agencies are dumping into stupid projects should be redirected towards helping local industry achieve export related certification , local presence and certification outfits etc so we can up-skill and up-scale at the same time. Kudos to those who using their scale have already done FDA and other certifications and exporting into those markets. None of this will happen by waiting on international players to come to our door step. Some international players who have come, come at a price of giving exposure to Chinese led products even on their market places(I explored that in an earlier post). So whilst the Chinese have it right, they came to our market and allowing their exporters to export in to Pakistan, we have to figure out a way to export our goods out of Pakistan into other markets. If we continue to let others treat us only as an import first destination we will have no control over our trade deficits.

The time is now to really revisit what we have to offer as exporters and figure out a sustainable path to value addition. Waiting for others to come and disrupt our market, will lead to a different kind of disruption that we are likely not prepared to handle.