Stop Learning – Start Earning

Seems like every one in the country is building a startup or learning to build one. Startups are cool, startups are special. But startups with daddy’s money are neither cool nor special. Its like an Arab kid a flush with oil money buying 2 dozen franchise to bring back home and one of them eventually taking off. Where’s the excitement in that, what’s the real value creation, its like buying your self a long term job and telling every one that you really cant innovate and you are better off being a cog in some one else’s large scale corporate dream.

Then we have the middle class minions who think, who believe, who aspire to build the next Whatsapp. Snap-out of it I say. We need to move past the Me2 phase of copying others. The biggest dis service being done to people who are grounded in the country middle class, is that our friends are our biggest hindrance.

Since we’ve never learnt to push back and being really honest with our friends, we encourage shitty ideas till they break the bank. So we must move past that. We have got to stop soliciting feedback from the “mamu, the chacha, the uncle who works for some guy whose successful to the one Doctor in the family, to friends whose dad does import export, or some one who has a friend the Army” That is a sure fire way to get f***d trying to do an MVP or trying to prototype an idea on a limited scale.

Resources are scarce, relatives are not. So don’t rely on relatives who know nothing about your dreams, your aspirations or your goals. Some one who has worked all their life and barely gotten by, wont :

  • Give you their vote of confidence in your chosen discipline of being an entrepreneur
  • Wont relate to what you want or empathize with your cause
  • Wont be able to share any thing practical that will help you being successful
  • Would probably want you to come back to your senses and apply to an MNC just like bhai janaans son did.

The learning you so yearn for viz a vi people around you is basically useless. Time to move on.

Its good to have role models, but look around you, outside of your comfort zone. Don’t go out on a limb and have Richard Branson as your role model, the likely hood he will give you any practical advice or of you ever meeting him are next to none. There has to be a teacher a mentor a colleague a person you admire professionally, it takes a simple courtesy call to have them help you out and take you under their wing. The worst that can happen is a no.

You can then move on to the next. Be clear in your mind what you want from the relationship, most folks who are remotely successfully are dreadfully busy(topic for an other day) so its best to capitalize on the time you get.Be grateful when people offer you the biggest gift you will ever get when you are a “nobody”, its “somebody’s” time. Also remember that when you are a “somebody” you return the favor in kind and always be grounded in reality of your own origins.I see so many successful entrepreneurs who forget this rule..

Coming back to earning, you have to get of this death spiral called pivoting, because you can re calibrate only so many times. Make it, market it, manage it. If you cant do that then some things broken in the model. You can and should go back to the drawing board, but don’t get caught up in the lies you tell your self about one more week, one more month, one more deal, one more positive review. If its not working out(take the learning) cut the cord. Move on. Do some thing productive and constructive with your time and the feedback you have so generously received.

“Being an entrepreneur is not special, making money whilst being an entrepreneur is.”

You have to monetize it…if you cant, no one else can. This is not the valley, we don’t have VCs who have cash to burn, we have limited “so called” Angel investors and some real hard core “vulture capitalists” locally. Every one wants your pound of flesh along with a deal. We rarely have the “feel good” “philanthropist” investor who will write you a check because your idea is cool and they really don’t want you to make money. There is zero to limited “patient” capital in this country, so dream and dream big, but dream about ideas that can commercially get funded and when you make it big, you can use your own money to fund your “real dreams” and “the crazy ideas”. Till then, focus on earning…$$$$$


A Master Class in being ready for all seasons

I once had a friend… Stories and theatrical presentations start like that. I was 19 , I got a call from the Trust and Estate office of a prominent Law Firm.

The person on the other end said things, I’d only heard in Hollywood productions up to that point in my life. “I am sorry Mr Siddiqi, to have to call you at this hour, Id like you to sit down and if you have some one around, I want you to call them in, I am sorry to be the one to convey this to you but AJ has passed you are named a custodian of his trust. I am sorry for your loss”.

Some how, the news of AJ leaving was less shocking then my mind trying to visualize the fact that AJ had even planned his exit, gracefully and perhaps informing the only person who he thought it would ever matter to. I haven’t and perhaps will never reconcile with his leaving. What I have reconciled with is, that it never hurts being prepared.

He would have been celebrating his 21st birthday 4 days from the day I got the call. I sat there thinking, how does a 20 year old think about death, wills and estate planning. I had barely opened my first checking account in the US the year prior and was still trying to figure out how to get a consistent signature each time.

This is the story of the most extra ordinary person I ever knew. AJ came from what some one would call wealth; I would call it a broken home. Some would call it a fortunate upbringing; I would call it a most misfortunate end. When most kids get allowance he got an inheritance, when most kids get ready to go to University he was making investment decisions, when most kids have girlfriend issues, he was meticulously planning where and what his money would be put to use for.

This money in the shape, size , state he got would allow for most people to live out their days comfortably. But not AJ, he had a mission only he knew. Whilst kids his age were calling their parents at home he was calling placement advisors and pouring hour after hour researching bonds, markets, investment properties and offshore tax jurisdictions. He repeatedly told me he wanted to do good at scale. I always wondered why. Fate had not been on his side, but he wanted to change the fate of many others.

Whilst most kids had friends, AJ had 2 friends. One of them got this call on that fateful day the other one on the other side of the planet got a similar one a few days later. 5 Days Later, I met with his lawyer. I wasn’t surprised, I wasn’t shocked, when they handed me a Will that read :

“If you are reading this, I am sorry I wont be calling again. But my friend, lets make this last message matter. I am leaving in your trust, the one thing that never brought me happiness in life, access to proceeds from investments for the better half of the last few years that need to be put to good use: not that easy, its not for you. Its for the two dozen things that will be explained to you by the gentlemen who will help you in helping me, forever indebted your debt free friend”

A trust left in my care I had no clue how to react. But that didn’t matter, every thing was planned to the last detail. All I had to do was sign and it would take care of it self. Every thing was planned out to the last detail.

The thing this episode ingrained in me was being ready, being prepared. Just like in life, in business the single biggest lesson I’ve ever learnt is the value of preparedness, the importance of thinking ahead, the necessity of not wasting hours on the past but putting some thought to the present and to the future. On that fateful day, my friend gave me the biggest gift any one could give a 19 year old, a Master Class in being ready for all seasons.

– In loving memory of AJ

Note: AJ passed from a medical complication resulting from an earlier car accident


Getting lucky in the tech game: Starring- High school grads with online degrees managing bottom of the pyramid eager beavers

Luck in every sphere of life is some thing that can grab your existence and thrust you into success; commercial, personal, business and then some. What luck doesn’t bring to people, more times than not, is class. Like luck, class is some thing that one cannot develop, just like luck, you either have class or you are class-less. If you happen to be lucky, one would hope that you have some class to share the spoils of your luck.

I’ve worked at Fortune 10, to ‘side of the road great idea type of startups’ in 4 distinct countries on 3 continents. There is some thing to be said about the shift I’ve seen from the time India was booming and outsourcing was king, the offshoring managers in the US who didn’t have a clue were the lucky ones, armed with high school diplomas the jackals of the trade who had nothing else to gain in the West, went in epic proportions to conquer India and all that she had to offer.

These offshoring managers were picked typically to manage less than acceptable teams in India who were supposedly stealing jobs away from them. Incidentally these guys were the, under 50k$ a year state side managers who hadn’t been out of Iowa let alone go to Indore. But they went, they didn’t have a choice, they has a passport; to their surprise, due to the Anglo-Saxon worship mind set that has scarred the subcontinent, these otherwise less than useful managers were the boots on the ground and some figured out that they were Kings and King makers if they leveraged this strategic stroke of luck correctly.

Long story short, the worst of the lot ended up managing some of the smartest minds in tech and engineering in India. What a travesty, for which we are our selves to blame. It paid off handsomely to the select offshore companies, their principles and titans of Indian tech industry, the average Information worker, not as much. Granted they had more options and better paychecks but from a long term perspective they would serve as sprockets in some one else’s well oiled machines.

This reverse migration of managing talent remotely is a fairly new phenomenon in Pakistan, about 10 years or so old. Pakistanis possess an other trait clearly missing in the rest of the subcontinent, we are the quintessential western worshipers, for while the Hindus have gods of every kind, and we make our own masters in this context. Given our general disadvantage, any opportunity to earn brownie points with the on-shore masters is perceived and rewarded by the said masters by creating an entire workforce that feeds off this negative energy. A class and sub class of corporate informants and thugs has developed.

In most cases the level of talent reporting back to the West is far superior, but given the balance of power most people interact with the onshore masters, just as such, in a submissive master slave relationship. In the last three years for sure and some prior to that, whilst I had been busy building offshoring centers of excellence at a decent speed and proportion, I feel I have the right to an opinion on the subject. My journey was one of scale and one of wanting to generate employment and social equality (1 person employed supports on average 4.5 Family Members in Pakistan), in my own mind the journey was left partially achieved because it had far greater potential than what the basic University of Phoenix online grad could comprehend.

But I feel that I was un-able to drive to the employee-masses that onshore doesn’t control destiny, its controlled in the clouds (not the amazon type either). Clearly there is some thing wrong with our genetic makeup we want to be shepherded even in times where we clearly should be the shepherds.

I feel very strongly about not working with or for people whose IQ and EQ are close to my pet chicken. I am on a mission to ensure that I save my self and others from over valuing the power hierarchy in startups and post startups, between investors and management, between offshore and onshore. I want to figure out a way to teach our young tech professionals and smart minds to develop anti bullshit radars to see past the shallowness of the high school grads, just because they are on shore and speak English or French or German better than the guys on the ground . It’s a need driven relationship that should be kept as such, they need offshore and offshore needs them it has nothing to do with skill(s), only to do with better economic empowerment, access to capital and the least, luck. With all others things being constant trust me, we would get equally lucky:). So its time we turn lady luck in our favor by turning the economic equation on its head and investing locally within our own.

Beyond that, being more loyal than the king is what gets our kids in to trouble. They go down the path of brown nosing and find them selves in a pile of deep sh*t, as at the end of that stream, the only thing onshore investors/startups etc value is a warm body on the other side of the phone that can solve their problems cheaper than what it costs to maintain a swimming pool each month in a good part of Colorado. Moral of the story is, we are selling our selves short, we are selling out and we need to be smarter than that. We need to promote our own eco system, we need to support our own companies, we need invest locally and take advantage of our labor arbitrage, so someone in the boonies on the other side of the planet doesn’t.

Its best to be in a class of your own, rather than expecting classy behavior from the types I’ve described above. Some one in the middle of Bum fuc* Colorado whose idea of International travel is Canada who thinks Pakistan being in Asia should be similar to Hong Kong clearly will not exude the class we expect them to, its time to turn the tables and invest locally then regionally and then globally as opposed to going globally looking for investments, trust me, you will get the capital but you will not be so lucky as to get the class of investor or partner you deserve.

“Don’t shrink your standards, link yourself with those who think and ink like you.” ― Michael Bassey Johnson

Zarb-e- Azb ضربِ عضب

One mans resolute belief, will, commitment and perseverance has shown us that, some times all it takes is one man to change the course of history and with that the fate and destiny of people. Zarb-e-Azb a joint military offensive being conducted by the Pakistan Armed Forces against various militant groups since June 15th 2014 in the wake of the Karachi Airport attack on June 8th is the only good thing I can credit the armed forces for in a long time. Such is the sad reality of optics, mostly because the retired generals were taking credit for a host of other things, which else where in the civilized world would be worthy of prosecution and not praise.

History will tell the real story, but what General Raheel Sharif is doing for Pakistan, is what others should have done a long time back. But it doesn’t and cant end with his actions. Every one has a part to play. We need a Zarb-e-Azb initiative in the education, business and corporate verticals. We need a fearless change of guard for us to ever be successful as a nation. If the General retires in Nov 2016 as planned, this country would have lost its last real chance at managing its internal and external security threats to be in a position to succeed as nation. A nation that is capable of producing more than rhetoric and political discussions in every drawing room of the country supplemented by self proclaimed, political, military, defense, foreign relations and other kind of nut jobs on television.

The last change of guard gave us this General, but it took from us a General that could best be described as a Corporate Raider, a Trader of Wall Street Proportions, almost instantly Kevin Spacey in Margin Call comes to mind, but in this case some one worthy of an award handed by a court and not The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

What the above tells us, is that we have the raw talent to make financially viable decisions, at a national level, but generally in personal interest, no pun intended.

What we need is change from the ground up in education first, only then can we ever hope to see a Pakistani being the CEO of Google or Pepsi or having a Pakistani company making it to the Fortune 500 or beyond. Perhaps the first Pakistani Billionaire in Dollar terms that didn’t come from the current hegemony that have dominated the business of politics or didn’t immigrate else where and is now referred to as an XYZ of Pakistani origin.

But we have schools, you say.… The problem is not schools, the solution no less is a Zarb-e-Azb style crack down on the politics of keeping people away from schools and illiterate, if the army can crack down on terrorists, then keeping kids illiterate should also be classified as a form terrorism. Here’s a glimpse, on why it should be , and I quote””

“Official statistics released by the Federal Education Ministry of Pakistan give a Desperate picture of education for all, especially for girls. The overall literacy rate is 46 per cent, while only 26 per cent of girls are literate. Independent sources and educational experts, however, are skeptical. They place the overall literacy rate at 26 per cent and the rate for girls and women at 12 per cent, contending that the higher figures include people who can handle little more than a signature.

There are 163,000 primary schools in Pakistan, of which merely 40,000 cater to girls. Of these, 15,000 are in Punjab Province, 13,000 in Sind, 8,000 in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and 4,000 in Baluchistan.Similarly, out of a total 14,000 lower secondary schools and 10,000 higher secondary schools, 5,000 and 3,000 respectively are for girls, in the same decreasing proportions as above in the four provinces.

There are around 250 girls colleges, and two medical colleges for women in the public sector of 125 districts. Some 7 million girls under 10 go to primary schools, 5.4 million between 10 and 14 attend lower secondary school, and 3 million go to higher secondary schools. About 1.5 million and 0.5 million girls respectively go to higher secondary schools/colleges and universities.”

We are celebrating 14th August 2015, yet we barely cut it at being literate, just barely civil enough to be not barbaric, yet no one has ever done any thing to fix the root cause. It is time for the great General to fix this mess so we can have a fighting chance at being literate, we will then worry about being business men and women or nurturing corporate leaders. For now we have to nurture the raw talent and minds of the kids we have already produced, we shouldn’t fail them.

Nothing else seems to be working, since the predecessors of the brave general have tried their hand at Fertilizer Plants, Security Companies, Construction and lets not forget Real Estate , perhaps its time they allocate some time to Education. Perhaps its asking a lot or hoping for a lot, but the time has come, some one has to do some thing, and till we ask, we don’t know if he will respond to our call.

We need to align our selves to classify “keeping people illiterate by design a crime against humanity” “an act of terrorism” and worthy of the same fate in front of military courts similar to the terrorist being tried as an outcome of Zarb-e-Azb .

Please don’t come crying: to give democracy a chance, it has had a chance over the last 60+ years. The only thing democracy did for education in Pakistan was that it ensured it got less money every year than our defense spending. So what will we defend in the years to come when the soul of the nation and its intellect has all taken a flight to the nearest shore offering the chance to settle down as an immigrant? (Part two on the life of an average Immigrant when his system fails him) (Education Stats)

Drinking The Corporate Kool-Aid

You are born, you are loved, you are sent to school. You aspire for upward mobility. You are messed up for life.

Our universities and colleges have planned the end for us even before it is time. You go to university, you spend four years trying to avoid the over zealous faculty members, you some how graduate, then the desperation of finding a J.O.B starts—one that offers you upward mobility so that you might quickly work your way up to a salary that helps you pay off all the loans your poor parents took and the instalments you’ll be accumulating throughout your life should you not be able to help them out and start paying them back ; so they can then start the process again to have money, for an other middle class task like getting a sibling married off or re-loaning their own meagre belongings to some one else in need.

You aspirations start building up, your dad had a bike or a small car, you think you went to college you should have a bigger car, a bigger house and a better version of all the things that you family tried hard, very hard in providing you. It your turn now to dig your self and every one out of this hole, that’s what going to school was all about, wasn’t it? This constant delusion of wanting more, yet not having enough plus the constant threat of needing to finance the basic necessities of life you and your family potentially need. It’s taken from you the most precious thing you ever had growing up: your “Dreams & Freedom to Dream”.

What age are you when you get out of a 4 year degree program. May be 21? In my view no one in their 20s should be concerned about mobility, let alone upward mobility. Unfortunately our colleges and what we have amassed from the west has destroyed our cultural sensitivities to no end. Partly because we have no guidance Counselling in a broken system that barely has education to offer. Thanks to both family pressures and the consistent crisis of good news around us, most graduating kids compelled to get a job right away, or to go do and MBA(More Bad Advice) and then find a job right away.

Why settle there, no one wants just any job, we all want an excellent job, oh a dream job, a job in an office, in a building, with lots of other douchey college graduates around you.Realistically the same job that will push you into a premature middle age whilst your career is just starting off. Clearly , its taboo to have any other kind of job you’re meant to feel like a failure if you take a job slinging make shift dish antennas after college or let alone doing some thing creative like painting or taking up pottery. The false urgency that guides you and many like you to ascend the corporate ladder, with a false belief that some how that is the only route to success, it is actually the failure of our educational system, societal beliefs, cultural norms and the likes there of to make you think that way. In my limited view, those are exactly the things that prevent a lot of people from being successful, including you. You bet.

I know too well what happens when you take your first job. Let me provide some reflection for you on good authority. You feel grown up, wow you have your first desk job, but I know what happens(to the vast majority): You start off by trying to figure out ways and means to impress your boss, but due to your corporate/professional immaturity and lack of professional sensitivities, you do exactly what you shouldn’t. You come in early, you do every thing you get asked, you keep on brown nosing the boss by being the needy pup that you are, asking if you can do any thing else? Hold on eager beaver!!!

We know where this is headed, soon you grow to Loathe your boss and all the useless s**t he gives you. Funnily enough all the acts of graciousness you did by coming early and executing, have actually had your boss loose all respect for you, because sadly and frankly you don’t have any initiative of your own. That my friend is the persception you create by being an eager beaver. Soon you stop caring. Like clock work you start leaving before Mr.Boss Man, why, because f**k him. Now that’s not why you aspired for a desk job, you wanted a better car a house, you had dreams to finance…..

You come to the realization that you even though your job has started to completely suck the life out of you, the nagging in your brain begins, the worry that you will loose it, you try to get by, by doing the bare minimum every day, every week. Just enough so that your cost of replacement is a pain to the business. They are trapped, you are trapped, it’s a zero sum game. You F**ing hate your job, but you need it..

Clearly this is not what you thought getting out of school, this wasn’t the dream job your MBA had promised, this isn’t even half the job your Bachelors had lead you to believe you’d be entitled to. That is the whole issue here, the entitlement belief system..

So Kiddo, take it from a pro, these are the shadows lurking in the closet of the eternal work force and the corporation you are yearning to join. Please take a moment to evaluate this advice, you have a choice, even if you have obligations to meet and monies to return. You are freer than you think, that’s one thing I can assure you. You are free, because you believe you are, not because you think you aren’t.

So Kid, lets evaluate this, you are in your 20s, there is no spouse in the equation, and no one to please, hopefully there are no kids to feed (unless you are really really st*p*d and you had kids while you were in college and you got married too). At this stage in your life, there isn’t literally any thing that should hold you back or tie you down, (except maybe your parents and the token elder in the family demanding you to find proper employment, but you know what…just let it slide). Go define your own proper.

BTW, you don’t need to be in same gali, muhallah, area, street, town, city for that matter country. Don’t stick around your home town just because the girl who you’ve been sending the easy loads lives across the street or the guys who have chai with are the same guys you always knew..

The surest of way death is doing the same obscure shi* over and over again for the rest of your life. What you need to do is find some thing else, any thing, just not the stuff you are supposed to be doing, like getting a desk job. Time for you to figure it out, go to nathia gali if you have to. Clear your mind.

Its this kind of craziness in your 20s that helps you in the long run. You will absorb skills you didn’t think you had or needed, you will see cool stuff happening around you, meet new people, not at work, far from it, but under normal human interaction, within normally driven circumstances, not a dam* meeting in a 5X12 room.

Locate the last person who told you, you need to network, evaluate where their career is in relation to their job, do they see Richard Bransons reflection in the mirror in the morning when they comb their hair, if the answer is no, you don’t need their god damn advice.

Jump off a cliff, if you have a linked in profile in your twenties. Do you meet people like this, in sterility? That is the antithesis of networking, its border line corporate stalking and like the mafias lower cadres, organized harassment. Some random Joe wont help you find a damn job when you may potentially need one in your thirties. You know who will, the strange guy you met in Urdu Bazaar, who you had a political disagreement with and then later met to fix his uncles 1989 Honda Accord, that guy will help you eventually. If you’d like to be ignored by people who in your minds eye you are trying to impress then go the social media route and give them a reason to block you out. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is awesome for a lot of stuff. Just not what you think.

Every shi**y nigh spent trying to hitch a ride or loosing your bearings at a train station or airport, every single thing you experience from this point forth is useful, you just don’t know it yet. All this the soul food, you need it and it will help you. Every iota of negativity that you experience, you are likely to now have a higher probability of having a shared experience with others around you. Stuff others can relate to and so can you. Congrats you just upgraded the lenses on your world view, you now have one, your own. It’s all useful later on. You now have an identity and a story to tell. That’s it. Go tell the world.

This is the zero point in your journey, time to be selfish, have a go at terrible relationships, think about taking some mood enhancers, but please get it over with already. Learn the stuff every moro* your age has to learn. But for gods sake don’t be a god damn paper pusher at some Multi national because they have good looking peers. Imagine how much better you can do when you have your own money? Not borrowed money to count, report on and deposit on behalf of your slave drivers foreign ethics infused balance sheet.
Start doing some thing for your self, it will be way more meaningful than doing shit for others. The economy will always be terrible, the drawing room politics will always start with “bhai aap kay khiyal main haalth kiss taraf jaa rahay hain” your parents will always think less of you should you practice a profession outside of the family approved lineage or background. But be that as may, push comes to shove if you really falter in the end, and need a job, you will find one. You are over estimating your peers and your competition, just don’t text during an interview and you’ll get the job ahead of the m*ron who did.

Please stop associating with people who want you to have a plan, who want you to get a job, who are wondering what you are doing. You don’t need them in your life. Trust me it’s far better to have no plan, a plan will emerge . Consider it a badge of honor if you are the guy whose drifting along and people say “whose this person, what the F are they doing with their life”. You are now on to a remarkable journey. A journey of self belief .

I once met a guy in Ukraine, he was Pakistani. He came to pick me up in a company provided limo(note to self, the limo/the cars, the Mercs, are always company provided, don’t ever consider them yours). I was intrigued, because I was on the phone with my wife and as I switched off to say hello to him, he didn’t look any thing that would lead me to believe he was Pakistani. He turned around and said “bhai jaan sab khair hay ghar pay, bhabi theek hain?”. I could have sworn the guy was Ukrainian. Mazhar who I know to this day, was in Ukraine since 1970, he came to Russia on a Merchant Navvy Ship, he was exploring the local market when the vessel docked, it was the 70s, he got lost and in a rush to meet up with his crew, he fell down breaking his ankle and passing out. He woke up later in a hospital in a country, where he didn’t understand a word of what people were saying around him. He told me he made some shi**y choices early on, but then he started showing up at Junkyard, because he had no place to go, no place to sleep, but during the time he started tinkering with stuff, helping the guys fix things. He became a legend with his mechanical skills, he first learnt how to speak Russian, then he learnt how to write it, then he went to college in Russia and became a mechanical engineer, he was a ship hand on the ship that brought him there, he was 19 when he came. He then started fixing odds and ends and became the handy man of choice, he was the trusted foreigner who was becoming a local, he figured out a way to legalize his stay in Russia in an amnesty that was granted there. He helped a local engineer repair old cars and eventually ended up marrying his daughter. Fast forward some years, I meet Mazhar in Ukraine, he owns a fleet of over 200 Cars and trucks in a transport company he now owns. Mazhar came to pick me up because the service ticket had a Pakistani name, and he was a few drivers short on this bitter cold morning in Kiev . I was blown away with Mazhars story. It’s a true story it took him over 30 years of trials and life experiences but he made it by every stretch of the imagination. Mazhar will probably be amused when he reads it. But this is the spirit we need. This is the happenstance we must be willing to accept if we don’t want to die fat and stupid at a desk.

The likelihood that this will all happen for you is razor thin. But it is there, you wont know till you try it. There is no guarantee . The averages say it can’t be so. But that’s a success defined strictly by having lots of cash and having a big FU house with a car park supporting some double cabins per say loaded by armed personnel. That’s how society, the environment , the ecosystem of people around us , colleges and banks and the media think of success. Disposable , visible , available items that make up the cesspool that defines success. My dear 20 some thing year old, or perhaps 30 or 40 year old, that’s the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, all this is a con, every one thinks they are far removed from it, but every body plays to this bastar*ized, hosed down view of what success really is. It’s a dream created by spending millions of dollars and investment of hours classical conditioning of epic proportions so that you have the same blue print like the other zombies out there.

Do you self a favor, don’t be a numberless victim in this life pageant , designed by corporations, fuelled by capitalists, preached by media, endorsed by governments and glorified by pundits, all for morons like you to drink the corporate kool-aid.

What it takes to be Successful in a Frontier Market? A sense of Humor at the very least.

Wikipedia tells us that “A frontier market is a type of developed country which is more developed than the least developed countries, but too small to be generally considered an emerging market. The term is an economic term which was coined by International Finance Corporation’s Farida Khambata in 1992.” Pakistan is on the S&P, MSCI, Dow Jones and Russell Investments list of Frontier Markets.

By the above measure most Executives, westerners or otherwise, have very limited exposure to a frontier market until they are relatively senior and set in their ways. (Let me also point out that going to China/Hong Kong etc does not remotely constitute any viable frontier market exposure or experience). Late in the careers of western executives, their view of the world is largely formed and they are typically winging it in the end. They typically misjudge or simply pretend to draw parallels to their own experience, which are vastly different from any authentic experience on the ground. Not to say their own experiences aren’t valuable but clearly not in this context.

Spending time early in your career in a frontier market has a lasting impact on all your subsequent management decisions and it typically avoids you eating humble pie in the end. Not only do you get a birds eye view into the markets, but it also sets you apart when thinking about markets at home. I strongly believe, now having lived and built a relatively small operating frontier market company that the flow of human capital should not happen from the Frontier Market to the West, but more importantly the other way around at least in the beginning.

In Pakistan, consider the exposure to corner stores and small kiosks selling air time for mobile phones, or the small vendors who make up the agent network for branchless banking at the heart of Pakistans most visible money transfer service. They reflect a decentralized, de-institutionalized commercial structure that’s now clearly part of the US/Western economy (think Air B&B , Uber, Square etc).

Unfortunately those who research frontier markets on Google and seek tips online have a huge void of experiential learning; if they haven’t spent time in those markets, falsely believing they are rooted in an era gone by. I believe that young executives, entrepreneurs and generally any one who wants to be successful in the future should spend time in a frontier market even if it’s for a short duration. The life lessons, challenge and ingenuity of how markets evolve when resources are scarce are equally valuable if not more when I look back and compare it to economics courses I was fortunate enough to take at LSE.

So what does it really take to be successful in a frontier market? At the very least a great sense of humor, because there is no Walmart to run to or a Home Depot, alas neither is there an Ikea typically, nor is there a Better Business Bureau to redress any complaints you may have. All you have is your sense of humor and hopefully the perseverance to manage through any and all challenges. Challenges in the frontier market space aren’t like your utility company over charging you or you loosing your credit card, the challenges are real and typically “left field” that any where else you’d almost think you were in bizzaro world. It not all bad. Its just different.

So for comparisons sake on an average day in Karachi I would be dealing with a limited strike, logistics and transport issues and trying to figure out how to get teams into work safely. Nothing less than a master class for urban warfare planning. Whilst my larger challenge was never bringing in people safely or on time, it was to bridge the gap a few thousand miles away where a strike is some thing unions do, or you see at a Yankees game. Dealing with that, is a master class that doesn’t exist any where. Perhaps time to start one no less.

Entrepreneurs who are starting off in a frontier market will have an edge over the rest, they are forced to innovate due to lack of resources typically, in trying to solve the same problems as the rest of the world but their solutions need to go further and deliver longer. The moral of the story being, no time better than the present and no place better than Pakistan to exploit the bounties of what a frontier market has to offer, just make sure you bring your sense of humor to work every day.

Q: So How is Pakistan treating you?

A: Where there is chaos there is opportunity, can you handle the chaos? If not then read on.

That is what we call a loaded question with a more loaded answer. Pakistan for business is like going out on the street and finding them lined with gold bullion. If you know which streets to walk on. If you don’t, then you have an other thing coming.

Like most markets which are under developed or developing, the balance of power lies in the imbalance of information.

But chaos is not for every one, we have simple reasons in front of us which make it ever so hard to want to stick around and see if the balance of power turns out in our favor. The environment around us in general is negative and stifling, entrepreneurship, innovation, outside the box thinking or even dreaming big are crimes punishable by the sentiments from friends and family that question your mental state of mind.

When there is a general sense of hopelessness every where, not just in government or political circles but in and around our every day lives, from employment opportunities, law and order to the “in-bred, closed mindset” of every one around us, its almost impossible to break free of that thinking.

But you must do your self a favor, you must leave, you must give your self the opportunity to experience normalcy, apathy, moral courage, humility, civility and being human. All the things that seem to be drawn out from within us the day we enter the adulthood fold in Pakistan.

It wont be easy, you must therefore be prepared to “leave”. One has to open their eyes, see new things, learn new things, garner new experiences, understand how people co exist and how people debate ideas and build consensus. All it takes is the act of going away and experiencing it, without that, you will never figure it out, even though its not astro-physics, you will only see it if you remove your self from the daily rut of where you are today.

Once you have given your self the runway to see what else is on offer in the rest of the world, you then bring those learning’s and try to disseminate them, by coming back. Don’t try to solve big problems that ail the country, try to di-sect and solve problems that will bring meaningful change. Start small, from you neighborhood, to your self , then perhaps national and then potentially regional and from there on global. You cant solve things that have an internal inertial longer than your years you have to break them down first.

The worst kind of Pakistani, is the remote analyst, when you learn what you think is enough, don’t become a TV Preacher equivalent and talk about change and revolutions on FB and Twitter. No one likes or wants any one who doesn’t have skin in the game. Decide, if you want to have skin in the game and if you are committed to change, then by all means be a commentator, but with out being a competitor ever, those commentators generally don’t have a following of any kind and yield no influence.

We have the NY Times the WSJ and CNN who do a decent job at taking a stab at Pakistan every day, we don’t want to see more of our own doing it without offering solutions.

Remember the time when you left and dreamt of coming back and to inculcate change?

Never think, that one person cant change a system. The very crux of local, social, societal, corporate change is typically driven by one person. We need more people to leave and then come back to drive that change. One step and one person at a time.


Pakistan awaits your return.

The Old Guard of Industry | Sahab, Sir, Boss, CEO, Chairman, Head, Member…..

After being away for a host of years from Pakistan and then returning back about Three years ago(full time). The biggest most positive change I saw was 20-30 some thing years olds at Multi-nationals and other large corporations were finally referring to their bosses on a first name basis. Thankfully no more Sir, Sahab, Boss etc at least that’s what it seemed like.

Far from the truth no less, across the industry as a whole. We some how misconstrued respect with ones title, designation and link it to their intellectual status in society. How badly are we mistaken and who is to blame for the ruin of the working class where professionalism has gone down the drain due to the Saith Culture on one hand and the false title inflation culture of corporations on the other hand.

This problem actually has to do with the old guard. Let me explain; I recently met an old friend a good 10 years after high school. She is very well settled but doing some thing professionally I’d never expect some one of her intellect or background to be pursuing. No less she said some thing to me that fit in so well that opened my eyes to why people make the choices they make. Its all about circumstances.

She was introducing me to her family and her husband and I was a little taken aback when I found out her husband had barely even completed high school and then had some vocational qualification, but the cover story was that he ran a textile export group(by virtue of inheritance) that was valued over 300m$. No doubt the gentleman in question was a businessman par excellence and a phenomenal person in his own right.

Knowing my friend to not being the type to marry for money, I asked how this relationship had come about. The answer I got was a the best I’d heard in a while , she said, whilst most of the people who were likely candidates for marriage(from an intellect/education/background /affinity for the same things perspective) had gone abroad for either education or work, her choices were limited to those who either didn’t need to go, or couldn’t. So she picked the one that didn’t need to, as opposed to the ones that couldn’t.

That to me is the old guard, people who have hung around for no special purpose or have continued to outlive the system(s) in place and just happened to either be in industry or got lucky by virtue of timing, presence and happenstance. Their current success or excellence has nothing to do with their skills, neither does their dominance in the sectors where they are considered vanguards or pioneers. What I Value about them is their perseverance.

They were basically hanging around, not knowing any better and filling a vacuum, when most of the real talent got sucked out of the country or didn’t have the ability to compete with respect to un-even allocation of resources, timing, access, family status , social status or business status, these old guard are the ones that made out. Essentially they were well placed societally to take advantage of a system, their fore fathers left them (in the case of the saiths) or in the case of the corporations and their local chiefs (70/80/90s) their principals didn’t know any better, the principals cared only about the bottom line. Minus a few rare instances and people most of these executives who rose from the cadres of these domestic corporate programs essentially stuck around for 2 to 3 decades, in some instance long after the companies had packed up and left. What they were successful in doing, was to get legitimacy from the brands/companies they had represented.

They are still floating around, patting each other on the back, showing up and doing industry events where they give out shields and mementos to each other. For gods, sake we have to put a stop to this. If they really want to contribute, they must retire from the social circus and elevate them selves to genuinely giving back to society. Id love to take names, there are dozens who are doing this, but a greater majority who are not and continue to be involved in the circus, misguiding the youth and rising stars of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Crushing dreams, one day at a time, with their cynicism and know it all attitude and without the background and wherewithal of what it takes to build and scale enterprises in the year 2015. In a country where 21% if not more of the population is between 15-25 years of age, they need role models from at least within the same decade. Just like packaged consumer goods, CEOs and Saiths from the Old Guard have outlived their shelf life.

They continue to cash in on that association and we continue to hero worship them. We must put an end to this Sahab/Hero worship culture. Whilst we must celebrate true success from every decade gone by, we have to engage and educate our masses to tell the difference between real success and engineered success. We must break the fold of the lingering Mafia of Saiths/CEOs, self appointed vanguards of industry and trade, the know it all’s.

We must start by making sure in our own individual capacity we help guide the rising talent of the industry and level set the playing field. The first thing that can help with that, if you really mean business, drop the Saith or Sahaab in your organizational culture, be a mentor to the ones that need you to mentor them and lead from the front as opposed to hearing from behind. Our people are smarter than this and we OWE our kids a better shot at the future.

The Digital Expert : Phenomenon

Not a day goes by that I don’t come across a Sr. Manager – Digital, Director of UI/UX & Digital, Lead Digital Strategist or some form of Digital Marketing Guru in Pakistan. Not a day goes by that I am surprised by the caliber of people who hire these self-professed gurus.

An industry as nascent as Digital Marketing globally, let alone Pakistan I am more confused than amused on a daily basis. The motivation for this blog post came from a posting I saw via Twitter: (Pasted verbatim, I cant make up this stuff even if I tried )

Required: Digital Marketing Wizard Guru & Expert

 Leading local group needs to hire an expert at making

  • Viral Videos
  • Increasing SEO/SEM
  • Reducing marketing fees paid to agencies on “google buying, facebook buying” other skype and local sites also good.
  • Experience from Agency is good
  • Max 3-5 Yrs experience

 Note: Initially you will be given a short term contract that can be extended into permanent position subject to your performance.


Where do I start. You want to hire a Guru and Expert but you want to do a short term contract:).  I mean do you go to any other expert in any other field and say hey I want an expert anesthesiologist but I want to incrementally build up the relationship by trying out the services. I want to faint , but just a little bit at a time, not all the way. Clearly you are hallucinating if you expect that.

What needs to happen is following the same instinct we follow for selecting a medical professional i.e references, the hospital of affiliation, where the person graduated from, what their track record is, do they pass an interview/screening process. So to all the hiring managers, please do our nation a service and stop screwing up on your hiring strategies, we know you don’t have an ounce of tactical and subject matter expertise in the pure play recruitment space. Just because you suck at recruitment and copy JDs from all over the internet and compress them, doesn’t mean that the potential candidates should suffer because of your compressed world view.

Now to the meatier parts of this JD, I want to hand a Darwin award to the genius who came up with wanting to hire an Expert but wants them to have no more than 3-5 yrs of proficiency at the task. This is so bad that I don’t even have an analogy to equate this to. It’s a crisis of intelligence both for companies who recruit like this and the hallucinating candidates who think that a 3-5 yr stint qualifies them for being an expert.

Who am I to judge? Ive only built one of the the largest Pay for Performance, Digital Media and Customer Acquisition teams in this part of the world. This piece is not about justifying my rant or my professional lineage, but I had to give some perspective, on why; I can qualify these JDs as a Joke at best and why every morning I scour the web for these nuggets.

My favorite piece is still to come, “Googe/Facebook Buying” wow, I said, it. Its like a crack addict admitting to the world they need some more of the good stuff. The reason why we are stuck in the “Mad Men” era of media and haven graduated to the digital school of thought in Pakistan is due to the fact that most of us don’t know any better. A 90 second synopsis is as follows, most of the traditional advertising agencies, came of age and decided, hey we need to do digital, they added some nice .Coms and .Nets and did some Facebook campaigns bought a few LinkedIn spots and placed an Ad or two via a banner exchange. Also had a cousin who had a friend who had a credit card and they bought a few Google Adwords, Wow just like that they become (pick one or many) “largest, biggest, media house, company, digital buying house “ in Pakistan. By their own admission, they probably are. They are the “biggest”, I just don’t know what yet. This led them to having their clients believe that they have some special “arrangement” with Facebook or Google to procure cheaper inventory of ads. Just like they did in traditional media, where bulk discounts were more applicable. Poor clients, fall for this every day of the week. I really do mean poor as no amount of money spent here has the ability to drive meaningful returns ever, so the client will be all the poorer for it in the vast majority of instances.

Not a day goes by that I have to resist the temptation in correcting either the candidates I happen to interview or otherwise prominent CEOs of local companies who cant stop talking about how they know how to get a deal on FB/Google Buying.

Next we come to viral videos, I literally have nothing to say there. People who either think they are viral video producers or experts in that space are most certainly not looking for placement ads online. Neither are they reading this blog, they are gifted and a rare breed who do not need to be applying for jobs or have the time to read opinion pieces. They drive those opinions by the work they do.

A quick look at the clients or agencies hiring these digital experts or one/2 person agencies, they only know Facebook, they only know likes. But they haven’t a clue on ROI , Consumer Engagement or Brand building. A cursory analysis tells me that of the vast majority of FB likes driven by such outfits & individuals in PK are store bought, meaning charging’s ones credit card online and buying likes for between 15-1500$ depending on the size, geography and type of fake likes you want to buy.

Its no surprise that the vast majority of enterprising folks I meet these days are in the category of self professed digital gurus, because the market is ripe for the taking. The end customer has no to little idea on what to expect and they are being swindled for the most part. Money spent with these agencies or with such freelancers or others is better burnt, because the ashes have a larger likelihood of being able to turn to compost and nurturing the growth of some thing from the ground. Sadly the same cant be said about their strategies.

The question to ask your self is, when you go to NYC, what does the T-Shirt say? The T-shit that every one ends up buying. Let me refresh your memory, It says “I ♥ NYC” it doesn’t Say “I Like NYC” so don’t go with the guy who guarantees you the likes on Facebook, because there is a huge difference between people Loving a brand and Liking it.

The customer service society, we are not.

The art of customer Service is an art that we need to look at very carefully. Just look around, from banks to telcos, from restaurants to every thing else in between. The common thread is the apathy in how we get treated. It seems that we don’t value the basic tenent of what makes a good customer experience, let alone a great one.

Lets examine the basic act of going to a restaurant. The experience starts from being greeted at the door, being seated followed by a server promptly taking your order. The orders are then written down(one would expect), so far so good.

Without fail, when multiple people are seated together and the server returns with the food, chaos ensues. Typically finger pointing starts as to where each order needs to go, a simple problem that perhaps is not a problem for many, but examine this critically as it sheds light into our customer service makeup.

All it takes to solve this problem is a simple note pad and a pencil and the act of noting who ordered what, so when the order comes through just placing the food corresponding to the person who ordered it. Without fail, every time I go to a restaurant in Pakistan , this is the rule and not the exception it seems. The servers are always scrambling to figure out, what goes where. Else where in the civilized world this is a common practice yet we some how fail to adopt it, frankly most of us don’t even care.

An other aspect of lack of customer service at any bank, utility payment outlet or other service oriented entity where people have to line up to interact and take turns to get their issues resolved, is the fact that we cant get into a line(just like we cant show up on time, or leave early as opposed to speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road to get some where faster). It is further complicated by the lack of training, as the staff that continue to ignore the first in first out model.

Without fail, it leads to inefficiency and more time than it would take to deal with each customer, should a first in first out model be followed. Customer service doesn’t happen by creating “gold” service lines or clubs; it starts by valuing the time of the individual being served. Irrespective of the service tier, basic service is the right of every consumer, but we fail to honor that commitment, sadly we are party to the crime.

We some how believe that technology will solve our customer service problems. Far from it, lets take the Call Center customer service phenomenon in Pakistan. If you have placed an order with Broadway or Dominos Pizza or you have had the misfortune of making a complaint via the PTCL Contact Centre, you are in for a rare treat.

Post the completion of an order, based on some random act of call back the Pizza companies call you back to check in how your service experience was. By calling a customer who didn’t “OPT IN” to be called the service provider has breached the first tenent of customer service “Privacy”.

Secondly the badly scripted or in the case of PTCL spammy or automated dial backs are a distraction with impeccably bad timing. For example on a Sunday morning at 7:30 . God forbid any one wants to sleep whilst they made a complaint to PTCL, till you press 1 on your key pad, that call back is not going away whilst your sleep may already have.

Forced rankings of customer resolution systems are to blame here. The people making the decisions to use these technologies do not or rather misinterpret the need and the deployment mechanisms.

An other big offender in this space are the mass SMS campaigns from otherwise noteworthy retail or service providers who feel that the act of buying mass SMS lists is an “OK” form of telling customers of an upcoming sale or thinking they may need roof insulation, or may have plumbing needs. In their mind, the customer was waiting for a godsend in the form a message with a Call back number.

We have to get our customer touch point data collection right, as opposed to buying carrier phone numbers and spamming them. There should be rules around the privacy of the consumers and strict regulation to manage the providers who engage in these services. The bigger offender are the telcos who now “allow us” to block offending messages by charging us a small fee. Wow, shouldn’t we sue the carriers and ask how the spammers got our numbers in the first place?

All this has to do with the mind set of the business. In an effort to follow the herd mentality of the latest and greatest technical solution, companies bypass common sense. This doesn’t draw engagement rather hampers long term brand value and growth.

True customer service for a brand would be the ability to walk into a store with previously bought unused merchandise and have the ability to return it for a full cash refund or do an exchange.

Typically businesses look the other way post the point of sale and once sold nothing is exchangeable without having a personal relationship with the staff of the outfit in question. From leading mall based retail to other more mom and pop shops the long term value of a customer is some thing we don’t think much about. Without fail people would return back to a brand if they have a unified respectful customer experience that does not involve a shouting match post sale or at the time of a service call or return.

One amazing example of such customer experience (local) is Brands Just Pret and their retail location. It has every thing to do with the mindset of the person running the show. Clearly in this case the founders intent is evident in the customer service that follows. Some others that come to mind who are very much local and getting it right are The East end and Kolachi. I am sure there are a host of others but these certainly come to mind.

We can draw inspiration for great customer service from global organizations like Costco stores, Zappos and Apple to name a few. There is always a starting point for these things and it must start from organizations reviewing who runs their customer service function and if they have real world experience in providing world class service. It’s a mind set thing, any body can get customer service right when you are dealing with higher end products, the real difference comes when mass market product and service companies get it right.

Here is a simple but powerful rule: always give people more than what they expect to get.Nelson Boswell