“The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short tale written by Danish author about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new “clothes”, no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid.
That is the state of the tailors(advisors) who are advising the PM, the Government and IT Ministry etc. But power to the Emperor too, for selecting such tailors. Ministers come and go, this has less to do with who the person is and more about what the person needs to know to do their job in a manner that helps Pakistan.
It’s much like having a veterinarian doing cardiac surgery on a paediatric patient. The tech sector in it self is in a state of infancy and we are using the tailors and vets to chalk the course of what is to come. I don’t even know where to start. We have academic press releases and conference presentations from the Ministry of IT to the Ministry of Commerce, not one person from these ranks has either been an entrepreneur or an information technology professional nor have they the academic fortitude to debate things like the NII(national information infrastructure). The only thing they can do is cut ribbons, read pre written statements and not speak two cohesive words to address their constituencies who are victims of natural selection not doing its job in time and be at the receiving end of this wisdom.
Let us run a comparative on IT Ministerial candidates in the region with similar aspirational targets as ours. Lets start with Indonesia, their progress on the tech front is no Joke, 4 Unicorns and counting. Btw they have all kinds of payment systems and the likes of Google and FB in town. We continue to be impressed by the shiny veneer of foreign companies and sponsored trips where-in our counterparts have done lasting good for their countries. The Indonesian Minister for Communication and Information Technology and his credentials below. Just so we know what kind of tailors to get.
Malaysia that has Lazada , ie 1 unicorn in its count, has the following Minister of Technology.
Moving on to Singapore and its 3 Unicorns lets see the credentials of the Minister in charge.
I am sure you get the theme now, well versed, professional, held key strategic roles in public and private sectors. Thats a start. Also Age has nothing to do with it, we have from the young to the seasoned in the small mix profiled above.
For comparisons sake the official Bio for our representative. Just saying, if Information Technology is the name of the game; your sites not being secure is not good start. Further not sharing any profile info is probably not a confidence boosting measure for all the alleged investors and VCs and funds they are working to bring to Pakistan.
Even if being IT minister was a popularity contest, we aren’t winning it. Just see the view count on the tweet from an industry event yesterday. Clearly there should be more than 8 people(well 7 if discount my view) that care about the national IT Agenda or consider any value being created out of these “shaking hands and kissing babies” activities.
At the said event, which in it self is a great melting pot of getting the right stake holders in a single location, the Member IT(what ever the f* that role is supposed to help the tech industry) claimed a 3bn$ IT Export. According to SBP data that isn’t even half the picture, let alone him taking credit as Pakistan being the 4 the largest free lancing market.
Ironically he was saying this whilst sitting at a Knowledge Economy panel, where-in free lancing is the exact opposite of knowledge creation, it is skills based execution that over time goes to the lowest cost provider bypassing repeatable process and knowledge creation. He was hailing how India is now too expensive, sadly without realising that they are working on value addition and moving away from basic services, which to-date, we cant do.
We had other gems from PSEB, TDAP and the Commerce Ministry. The biggest gem was the e-commerce policy framework that the Commerce ministry has given itself the charge to manage. If there was a more exciting idea out there, I haven’t heard it in a while. More amusing was the fact that whilst in 2019 I can forgive not knowing PowerPoint, I cant forgive folks working on policy who are checked out from reality and local context. Let me ask you a question, why isn’t it so that people in the private sector are lining up to hire these Members and Ministers if they as bastions of Tech and Commerce and all things progressive?
At the moment our infatuation is reverse, industry and government is top loading tailor after tailor from local to expat, we can already see the new dress shaping up at the hands of these tailors. Mostly not their fault, they get doused in the romanticism of helping nation and government, sprinkled with a healthy dose of political show and tell, blended with the pixie dust of a tour-de-pindi-boys. Tough to resist.
The thread of choice of all tailors today is digitization. In the history of Pakistani ministerial and government ineffectiveness has a word been murdered more brutally without understanding the reason to undertake the crime of passion. From this particular conference to others, to the national agenda and national IT boards these games are high stakes ego battles with me before we and I before us, we are all about to get f**d at the hands of these digital weavers.
We have had zero movement on national payments issue, no indigenous clearing or payments mechanisms that sit outside the banks or the regulators. Instead of promoting home grown and building solutions, we want to just borrow examples from else where without knowing local context or use cases. The brilliance of these items is that the ones making these power point decks, have never left the corridors of power and gone to tier 4-5-6 cities of this country to understand how financial inclusion will really work, how the under banked or un banked will give up cash, which is friction free, to go to cashless which at the moment is full of friction. Again academic exercises by tailors. I am waiting in earnest to see what the emperors clothes look like in the end.
We have zero movement on up skilling talent, or real tax benefits to the tech industry, we have zero movement by the government to attract a single serious VC fund to come to PK. Domestic private equity is just a fancier version of the so called “pathan loan” (no disrespect to any one) just describing what the market calls this variety of loan sharking. So do our startups even have a chance?
Finally a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
Update: The Theme for Digital was influenced post the conference where I heard emphasis by the powers be on augmented reality, artificial intelligence, smart products + digitization..
We are going through a major hype cycle. If you are not familiar with what the hype cycle is heres a representation to quickly come up to speed.
In the absence of a real technology trigger, but just people talking about technology things; we have built up expectations on the domestic front of being a near a technical revolution that will fix and or repair the state of the nation. Whilst technology can help and change the dynamics of a host of things, talking about technology really wont. There is a lot that must change but just talking about change wont do any thing positive in the short term, it may lead to select individuals doing select things to achieve select goals, but at a whole sale level not much will change.
Lets start with e-commerce, the expectation was that as the Chinese come in, viz a vi their investment in Daraz, there will be in an overnight revolution. The revolution in my mind was the fact that there was a real exit of sorts and it did create buzz but since this was announced in May 2018, various pundits claimed the retail sector would be re-imagined, local industry would finally see the real potential given Ali Babas global scale and experience with all things tech, payments and e-commerce. As always we tend to celebrate early. In the time that has since passed the only visible item I see as a consumer is that service levels have not increased, product listings across the e-commerce sphere remain stagnant across the board and as any basic level of social media search shows the general dis-content of the online consumer on customer service. Cash is still king, no one has figured out a real use case for Wallets, if HBL/Meezan/Jazz/Telenor et all discounting were to end, some would argue there is no real benefit to the consumer either to shop online at least in KLI(Tier one markets). More alarming is the fact, that was perceived to be a win for Pakistani Businesses and Pakistani Consumers, seems like a net net win for every one else but Pakistanis. Simply if you look at the case of the Ali Baba acquisition, whilst part of the FDI may have come into PK on the transaction, what about the FDI that leaves the country daily on the same platform? that was touted to be a saviour for Pakistan and Pakistanis. The usual disclaimers apply, these exercises are not witch hunting exercises, especially in a global world and in a country that imports net net, this should not come as a surprise. But I searched for a 6.35mm Audio Jack. Total listings 362, Slight Catch though. See the Images below to see if you can spot it?
So Only 6 Items are being shipped or available from Pakistan, 356 from, you guessed it China. So is this e-commerce panacea and progress every one wants/wanted or is this merely an FX drain? Much like the many drains on AD Expense dollars etc that Ive written about in the Past. Whats the check and Balance on this cross border FX loss. The thing is, its not just one brand or entity doing this, there are dozens of Amazon drop ship operations happening in Pakistan and locally operated Chinese e-commerce players. Not to mention AliExpress it self ships to Pakistan using China Post and Pakistan Post. Who is regulating the FX component of these transactions and the many mushrooming local trading enterprises that are bringing in near commercial quantities avoiding most duties/taxes but depleting FX.
Who if any one is responsible for the customs duties on these items + the FX leakage on credit cards etc? Does any one see the irony in the so called e-commerce and digital revolution? Who is really benefiting from this? Before you jump in and say well these Ali Babas of the world create(d) employment in Pakistan , But does that employment off set the FX Losses we continue to get? Again no sense in blaming the channel, but rather the inefficient process of the institutions that have set out to regulate, they are actually stifling domestic e-commerce growth and growth at large without putting in pertinent clauses to manage around these advantageous tactics being used by the players in the market.
Dont have to look too far to evaluate what productive regulation looks like “On Feb. 01, the Indian government implemented several restrictive changes (pdf) to India’s FDI policy for e-commerce. The new rules state that online marketplaces can no longer enter into exclusive deals for selling products on their platforms nor can they have a single vendor supply more than a quarter of the inventory. The government also restricted marketplaces from influencing prices in a bid to curb deep discounting. It also forbade the marketplace for forcing vendors to use its own warehousing and logistics, payments financing etc.”
The smart move was to let the FDI come in via investments from Amazon (4b$) WallMart 15$Bn and then give the domestic brick and mortar retailers a chance to play fairly in the e-com space without discounts and venture money as the only value add.
In this new world, data is the new oil. And data is the new wealth. Anil Ambanis view has been that in India’s data must be controlled and owned by Indian people and not by corporates and most particularly not global corporates who have direct insights into online user behaviour. Clearly across the pond the regulators seem to agree. I had raised similar concerns earlier in an article around data being the new currency.
Sadly we continue to measure vanity metrics a reflection of which is evident in the current economic growth numbers. Its not e-com alone, lets look at Fintech, half the folks talking about or dispensing advice on the subject work at large scale Banks, most of which have been fined in the recent past for various KYC/AML issues globally, or have been hacked. Do we really want to, or are in any capacity to trust the same brands/institutions? I have written extensively about the fault lines and both the technical inability of the switch companies and their Incestual relationship with the Banks. Sprinkle in the regulatory teams at the Bank that are near retirement, who do not want to take any “un safe” actions 2-3 yrs before retirement, we are consistently at the mercy of self interest and the average consumer continues to get F**D. This has more to do with the political environment and the NAB related items, no public servant wants to serve time by doing shit that they know nothing about 3 yrs before retirement. Can we blame them? The relationship and attitude in the Halls of the regulator are extremely odd, I have worked with regulators globally, ours are way more special. Most have the right idea, but are not equipped to dispense justice to the cause. Thus there is a stalemate. There is virtually nothing been done to enhance SME growth. Yet the government continues to chime about helping just that sector.
Last-mile is an other flavour of the month of the Hype cycle crowd. There are many many contenders in the space and many more will come. The ones aligned with the hype cycle are the VC/Angel funded ventures that are not concerned with the bottom line but focused on customer acquisition ala Amazon style model, where over time your scale allows you to dominate. The other end of this spectrum are traditional players who will continue to thrive, because they grow organically and long after the VC money is gone. Purely because there is a growing population and increasing demand around logistics at large. But there is a hybrid model for the taking if you can effectively figure out mobile money and tie brick and mortal to last mile. Sky is the limit, in tier 2, 3 cities there is a much larger demand that can be opened up if the stars align on this. Tier one cities are still easier, the real enablement happens when you cover the smaller cities. But smaller city activation really doesn’t much to the valuation multiples, so typically overlooked.
If you have staying power today the real space to play in is a combination that will benefit from the economic value that the CPEC will create. Depends on who you ask and where you look. Domestic players have a once in a life time chance to scale businesses to meet existing demand in virtually all retail sectors by adapting technology minus the hype and by trying to create domestics multi party alliances to keep the competition in check. The only catalyst required is effective policymaking, when that happens the hype cycle will start to break and we may uncover real value.
Just like we only tax the salaried class in this country and refuse to grow the pie, we see similar items happening in relation to people movement. Last year we had about 7M domestic Air travellers and about 15m International travellers. Indonesia did roughly 34M international travellers. By the same measure look at the maturity of their online space, real fintech companies, real tech companies and real unicorns(ride hailing etc). Many similarities in population numbers and general make up, but they have completely outdone us because of having a progressive government and progressive IT Minister who understands the value of real growth vs hype. They have allocated tax $ to growing their eco system, our tax $ go into ill planned Incubation etc with out any directionality, that select on most occasions pre existing companies, white wash them, re launch them to essentially win the Incubator race that no one really cares about.What state money should be spent on is to make the ease of doing business and run road shows to invite VCs to town as opposed to taking tax payer money to attend “meetings” overseas. Had they been producing unicorns i’d have sent them easy load to continue down that path. But besides photo ops nothing of value having come from their ill thought out initiatives, I really don’t see a continued use to funding them from my tax money. All this eco system talk makes sick to the core, it’s essentially for people to hold on to a govt funded subsidy. There is definitely a better use for all this money to really support the ecosystem if some one thought this through.
“You can hype a questionable product for a little while, but you’ll never build an enduring business.” Victor Kiam
If you are a startup or established business in the content business in Pakistan, you already know that the CPM Rates from AD-Networks really suck. Yet most people continue down the path of building content alone and praying that they start getting international traffic that commands higher pay outs, that may remain a panacea because the content being pushed out is neither creative, timely nor distributed across all relevant channels. The ones who have marginal to decent successes in terms of revenue are click-baity and continue to produce 3rd tier content, driving views on objectionable and culturally and morally inappropriate content. They no less have discovered what you still haven’t. Video is king, short form content is a close second but specialized long form is also in that category. You cant evaluate any of these without knowing your audience and structuring your content for instant-mass propagation.
Lets look at a few under served segments in no particular order both content wise and technology wise.
Recipe’s: This is by far my favorite segment and one that continues to be disorganized, yet it has a fantastic number of organic traffic potential and a vast spectrum of searches. Whilst content is available both in Urdu and English from Pakistan origin sites, its haphazard. But it shouldn’t be, if you are in the content business, even if you aren’t but are looking to get in, what will set you apart is fairly simple. Google has pages and pages of documentation on it. Perhaps it’s time for you to get in to this space. Most sites, copy content off each other, half of it is in image form particularly the Urdu content, scanned recipe-book content. That shit doesn’t work online. It drowns the site. The second is English recipes but in roman, something that domestic publishers and content creators aren’t really focusing on. I wonder why? It opens the path to audio delivery on assistant.
So let’s start at the beginning.
Mark up your recipe content with structured data to provide rich results and host-specific lists for your recipes, such as reviewer ratings, cooking and preparation times, and nutrition information. Your page is eligible for different features depending on how you add structured data to your page:
Search: Add recipe structured data to drive better engagement in
Search with rich results.
Guidance: Enable the Google Assistant to guide users through your recipes on Google Home and smart displays. (This is one to focus on, every android phone has built in assistant, when will you build for that? You need to get started today, especially in a market where text search volume is lower in Urdu than it is in English, but you can surely do some basic items to make your content discoverable in audio)
Carousel: Add carousel structured data to enable your recipe to
appear in a carousel of rich results. This can include images, page logos, and
other interesting search result features.
AMP: Build your recipe pages with AMP to provide instant-loading recipes.
The Difference between doing it right vs doing it wrong:
Imagine if your content was formatted the right way. Had all the check marks, you would rule the category. At the moment, sadly whilst search volume is very high on the subject of Korma the reality of where that content is being served up from, is any where but Pakistan. Take a look below.
An other overlooked space is some thing that started very strong many years ago.
A discovery engine for Unique Places, Products & Events so no not a Google Business Listing or search for one-off things. Think of it as a grown up version of the infamous Khi Snob page + Yelp + Recommendations paired with relevant content(not mass produced) and not a check list of features or listings. Consider the size of the middle class population, consider their age, consider their connectivity. FB doesn’t serve the need for authentic consumer driven reviews nor does it curate things in perpetuity in a single place. If you were a business the way it works is that past your 1% of followers you gotta pay to be relevant.
Consider the salaried millennials, like many most don’t have big liabilities and want to explore the city and see what different parts of the country have to offer in terms of culture, entertainment, and dining. And guess what? Contrary to what Telenor, Jazz and Zong would have you believe and even sprite, its not about finding a Karahi chicken or holding a DSLR and looking cool. Beyond that garbage, options are generally severely limited when it comes to Friday night out plans. No one just wants delivery recommendations or listings for this one thing happening at this one place, or an event near you via Facebook, there is more to a city than these tv advertisement idiots would lead you to believe, based on their marketing prowess on television.
The Urban millennials who, unlike their predecessors, study hard, work hard and want to party harder. They have a good spending capacity on account of being part of a well paid working class or having turned entrepreneurs and making sizable incomes.
This crowd wants to look beyond information – provided by FoodPands or EatMubarak or discounts by BOGO apps or other credit card discounting platforms, for numbers of local businesses and go-to places. To date nothing exists for restaurant reservations and barely two or three ticket booking sites for entertainment regarding the latest films, plays and other events taking place in town. They(the urban folks) want to zero in on specific events and exciting undiscovered places that are the pride of every urban area and which are as yet, not on anyone’s radar. In other words, places that are cool and awesome enough to spend an evening with friends.
Build it and they will come. This also plays in to aspirational visitors to your site and aspirational folks who want to re-live a virtual experience when the real thing is either expensive, out of reach or some thing that drives nostalgia. But please don’t go out and do yet an other f**ing episode on BurnsRoad. Please know your audience. Don’t just make BuzzFeed type videos for food reviews only. Think bigger, think at scale and make sure you build for the mobile and voice web. Content is king, build audio, video, short and long form once you know the audience you want to cater to.
Pro tip: Build event booking, reservations, delivery and payments all into one location, don’t try to build a closed loop ecosystem, the more partners you have once you have your content and discovery strategy figured out, the most incremental revenue you will make past ad $s alone. Think affiliate networks.
An other all time favorite of mine, that is very often overlooked is the absence of a SharedBlog/Content Network in a place like Pakistan.
This is not an easy one, this requires some common sense and or some serious capital.
On the common sense piece, I’ll elaborate more:
There are a few dozen individual run blogs, sites, news portals, content plays etc that all do marginally well. Some are in the business of toxic reviews, others are in the business of the 3rd tier click baity business (you know who you are). Irrespective there are others who have good content, a good fan following; yet individually they will only scale to a point where they make money off it as a side hustle or as a very basic form of monetary growth. Yet if these blogs and their custodians got together and agreed on forming a consortium, they would give the established players a run for their money. Be the Baskin Robins of content, 32 flavors. The media companies, traditional or the Lahore variety funded by the fumes of fertilizers continue to only bring readers using paid facebook tactics or by spending ad$. You can completely change the equation and turn it on its head.
If you are the owner of a blog or content play:
Get together and choose a leader (Please don’t build a society or nominate the oldest person in the group, they likely know the least, also stay away from any brand name big media players-they will be irrelevant soon if not already)
Work together to define content standards and technical standards
Bring all your work under a new brand or figure out cross domain sharing arrangement where by you preserve canonical references
Yet build/deploy technology so advanced that if a user comes to say a tech review site, they should have the ability from your site to navigate to your partner member site for other related content like the best place to get a falouda.
This way you will own the user(and their cookie) as long as they continue to stay on the merry go round, which is your “shared consortium”
Over time you can build your own ad-network should you be that successful (I hope you are)
Stay away from hard news instead integrate dozens of sources from twitter etc, based off keywords that interest your audiences.
Focus on multi lingual content in Urdu and English
Agree on content frequency and freshness, agree on cross network integration and banner promotions.
Hire a lawyer and contract this stuff in to place. You will only get one shot a this. You can try and get UthoDaikho.com (its available at the moment ) and build the first shared content creation and delivery platform that will eventually out live, out maneuver and out grow traditional news/content players. They aren’t innovating for shit. This is your chance to all get in a room and make more money as a collective. Strength in numbers.
Be under no illusion all this is a lot of hard work, both technically, organizationally and whilst content is king, architecting this the right way is equally important. Google tells you how to do all this, you don’t even have to be above average to get the basics right.
There is one more thing you could do, if you were in this space and had cash. Just buy into the blogs and aggregate them. Give the owners a fair piece of equity and acquihire every one. Not like any real Valley VC money is about to show up any time soon. Also most folks may want to raise 500k and 1m$; the thing is, you could get some thing like this going for 1m$ total and give every one an earn out. If only people were smart enough and took the money and went on to solving other problems. The thing is, whilst they may be making 4k$ a month, in their minds eye every entrepreneur thinks they are at cusp of greatness. Make them an offer they can refuse and serve some reality on a platter and let them cash out a bit.
Key technical take aways:
AMP AMP AMP
Follow the markups Google tells you to do
Stop focusing on AD$s alone, focus on what people want and then build for that.
1000 Visitors or orders a day is not big enough, the magnitude that matters in 200 million people is far from that.
Focus on the ex-pat market, their ad$ and their engagement is higher figure out ways to build, deploy and cater to their needs.
Keep it simple, don’t over complicate it. Know your audience and ask the question, “is there a google help forum article on this”
Video is king. (But not the 2 cassette tape variety on which your mamus valima was shot) Keep it brief, bold and brilliant.
I promise to add a few more segments to this. Verticals I think would do well if executed right along with the technical marshaling you could do to smoke your competition. Ill be sharing thoughts on :
Last mile delivery + some interesting plays on integrations and APIs
a) Has an Indian reporting line hindered Google ambitions in Pakistan b) In an age and in a company where everything moves at the speed of light, why hasn’t anything happened on the Pakistan front in 5 years. c) Is there really an opportunity worth exploring in Pakistan? d) Can the government take concrete steps to bring about positive change in tech?
One would imagine that a large American multinational conglomerate headquartered in Mountain View, California would have a clear line of sight and visibility into what is happening across its most profitable subsidiary; namely Google.
In the larger interest of economic growth and upholding the tenants of ethical business I wanted to put pen to paper and share some observations of what’s really going on within Google regionally and what its consequences are on the self-professed most valuable market, i.e NBU (Next Billion Users) and most particularly in the Pakistani context.
NBU is newer phenomenon headed by a VP of Product Management. That function and role is based out of Singapore but its back-end engineering for the most part, based on publicly available data and product releases shows that the teams are pre-dominantly India based. To illustrate, Google Launched, Google Station (free internet) starting from India (now part of its NBU initiative) along with Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Philippines very recently.
Yet Pakistan seems to be visibly missing from that equation. Google did do some PR, a small typical veiled and curated announcement on its Datally product in Pakistan towards the end of Nov 2017 a much smaller NBU product. Which frankly no one needs or cares about from an economic impact aspect. There are plenty of free apps that do the same or similar stuff for years. The question this raises is largely one of potential telecom revenue reduction as the author covering the above PR announcement alludes to and challenges Google for a response based on the write up.
But thats an other ongoing issue with Google and Pakistan, most of the PR/Events and Items are highly curated, with measured talking points (mostly hand outs are given by appointed PR Agencies), as if the powers be, in the region do not want locally facing teams to openly engage on the Google platform with Pakistanis.
All Pakistan market announcements seem like an afterthought or muted. Is it because Pakistan is not on the agenda of Google in the region? Be it, due to all engineering for the region being done in India, or for that matter, YouTubes regional Legal support and complaint escalation for Pakistan also being in India, leaving publishers and content produces no leg to stand on as they work to mitigate platform challenges.
There is a lot of cultural sensitivity also missing because of the way for example how an Indian only legal team supports Pakistan origin items or queries. Surely Google can solve for this? If not, Alphabets share holders must ask the question why the directionality and tone around supporting a 200M strong population is centered around strategic bias? NBU wasnt defined by Pakistan or Pakistanis, its a Google classification, yet one of the larger markets seems to get no real love from Google. Not only that, its strong Policy and Legal teams in Singapore drive a very command and control structure, that saying some thing in Pakistan is almost Taboo. Most of the PR items in Pakistan traditionally are over managed that the PR needs PR correction to contain items given the vagueness of most releases. 9 times out of 10 due to the Policy teams, Google is scrambling on the ground to get its “PR messaging right”. A recent interaction with the government and over curation resulted in domestic media speculation around GPay being launched in Pakistan.
The way Google is setup or operates as far as Pakistan is concerned (to date), it has had a purely sales focus and an AD-Sales Pakistan Organization (similar to Facebook). That organization sits in Singapore. Do remember that in this market they have been operating for a decade give or take without on ground employee presence. Citing legal framework for corporate and employee protection, they continue to be operating from the shadows (Contractors or employees flying in and out of Pakistan from Singapore). Kudos to both Microsoft and IBM for being on the ground no less by the same measure and for many many years prior. Also increasingly to Ant Financial and a host of other global companies who are very much on ground and doing business.
The above construct causes direct losses to the exchequer when local companies have to buy USDs or use Credit cards to do FX transactions for Google Ads or FB ads or others where there is no domestic settlement because there isnt a Google entity in Pakistan, that can bill in PKR.
I have explored that thread in a past post along with tax implication for the country. Some thing the government should ask, given the present reserve situation and pose the question to these companies on local presence and incorporation. Not like they didn’t follow suit in other places like Indonesia etc where the governments policy led to Google and FB being on the ground settling tax matters. Where by the way they support aggressive government startup measures also.
Coming back to the issue at hand that the Sales organization reports to Vice President, South East Asia and India. So in affect, for all practical purposes any strategy for Pakistan as it pertains to Google has the buck stopping in India. Lets not venture guesses around motivation and intent and stick to the facts and how small but seemingly calculated moves continue to not let the Pakistani market develop and thrive, is it because the priority isnt being set so? If not, who will course correct this?
In 2015, the only time the VP South East Asia and India came to Pakistan, he made the following statement “This is an ideal time for Google to expand its footprint in Pakistan’s e-commerce and digital space, both directly and indirectly”. Basically nothing has happened since, nor has he returned. If you look at the carefully crafted PR, the use of the word “India” is missing from his official designation and the word “indirectly” is essentially a good lever to not really be present in the market thats been used in the communication. Its 2019 nothing remarkable has really happened in Pakistan Viz a Vi Google. Odd, given that Google is not one to shy away even from Moonshots.
BTW Google only came because of the generosity of one local group TPL, that had the wherewithal to promote the Pakistani market opportunity and engage with the likes of Google to explore growth opportunities devoid of any regional biases that may be present on the other-side of the equation. Plus there are signs that suggest that the said Google VP may likely have political ambitions. What could that possibly mean around prioritizing Pakistan as a market? Or being engaged locally?
What a market it is, made up of over 200m people and 65+M connected users who have been subjectively deprived of advances, both technological and operational as evident by things like Google Station and others not being on the radar. But let’s look at some specifics.
Case 1: Localization Language AD Support . For over 4 years we have been hearing via various Googlers that URDU localization is coming to Pakistan in full swing. Clearly it hasn’t as expected, we have seen lukewarm roll outs and at best “basic” ad-targeting, even the contextual mapping is not where advertisers would like to see it. The reasons being shared is that Google a Multi Billion $ company is un able to or unwilling to hire Urdu localization teams and experts , whilst they claim its being worked on it continues to hurt the largest publishers in the country who publish in Urdu and more so the small ones too. Because when an advertiser tries to do Urdu based campaigns they see a 180M reach as opposed to 7BN for english. It has to do with content also, fully understand that, yet they worked with local publishers, advertisers and industry in India and Indonesia to solve for these items and grow the ecosystem.
This btw has very little to do with Sales but more so with Engineering. Most of these engineering teams are based in India. Token Urdu speaking teams/individuals to provide support have always been present, but the market has yet to see an engineering push in relation to local requirements. Basically as there is no on ground work being done on this there is little to no interest to grow this tier.
Case 2: Google Assistant Urdu language support. Same vein as above but different item altogether. Look at the image above to understand the dis-service to Pakistani users, audiences and likely economic gating by not rolling this out. 65Million 3/4g Subscribers, Let’s assume that 30M have an android device and 50% of those would benefit from voice assistant services. Yet no road map in sight. This selective engineering bias is not limited to language localization. Is it likely gating things like the Bolo literacy app that Google launched in India? Alphabet should be asking if Googles moral and philanthropic responsibility starts and ends with India? This is a phenomenal effort no less on Googles part and we must value the impact it will have. But should this not be more inclusionary? Does it even have the URDU rails or other language rails for the region to offer a similar service? Is that even on the roadmap?
Case 3: No roll out road map and launch market inclusion for Pakistan when Google rolled out AMP and PWA. I know it on good authority, even before the AMP carousel was turned on for PK independent publishers and enthusiasts were delivering AMP content from Pakistan. Way before many mature markets. Yet it was launched in India officially and other markets, but in Pakistan it just started showing up in SERPs. Incidentally, AMP results for URDU were mainstay for publishers in Pakistan but over night URDU AMP pages started falling off the radar, sans BBC Urdu and continue to be a hit or miss for local publishers.
Im sure if one looked further you’d find more examples. I strongly believe that Google as an organization has enabled massive economic opportunities in Pakistan. Having said that, since around 2014 there seems to be an un-said gating process along with little to no prioritization in decisions pertaining to Pakistan. You can gather your own facts and evaluate them. All this information is available in the public domain.
Now let’s focus on the opportunity piece. How does Pakistan really turn this into massive operating opportunity? It’s simple, invite Google to the table, engage with them, publicly ask questions about services and features as they pertain to Pakistan. Don’t shy away from asking the question(s) around India based management and engineering teams leading the charge for decisions in Pakistan and the low priority responses provided on open ticket items. Also don’t leave these conversations or any conversations up to advisors. Just because they take selfies doesn’t mean they are qualified to handle a national debate on tech growth.
From a government perspective, the next frontier for growth, financial inclusion and e-commerce is Payments. With the remarkable up-take GPay(formerly Google Tez) has had in India, it would not be lost on them to launch similar services in Pakistan. I have written about payment enablement at length earlier too.
Given that the SBP Mandates that all electronic transaction data reside in Pakistan, it must work with all international players looking to enter the market to ensure that they build technical provisions to host and pass-through banking data within the geo-graphical remit of Pakistan. Allowing this to go unchecked will create huge national security implications. In the case of ANT financial and others, bringing them in to the regulated sphere by virtue of them having to acquire a stake in a Micro Finance Bank was the right move.
An enhanced policy frame work must be put into place for any international payment or wallet providers even the ones that have applied for EMI licensing to adhere to this. Any such operators, be it the ambitions of the ride hailing companies who want to capitalize on their existing clients to the likes of Google all must be able to segregate the domestic transactions and work with the SBP to ensure they can piecemeal their domestic data, locally and not mirror it in the cloud and that the whole processes should be independently auditable.
This is most pertinent because not doing so will kill the local Fintechs and wallet companies who have adhered to these provisions in the rules from day one. This is nothing new, the EU also launched similar provisions called the GDPR to which all the tech companies had to comply with including Google. That spawned of an entire industry within it self and in Pakistans case it will create a host of new jobs and economic activity.
Secondly a subsidized no-fee or near-0 fee models like the ones Google used in India, must be discouraged. Long term whilst Google can support a race to the bottom on no fees, Pakistani Fintechs will die in a blood bath. We are only starting in this effort, so we must not tilt the scales in the direction of one company or companies the fuel the likes of NBU initiatives on the back of strong advertising revenue backed balance sheets. Pakistani Banks will also be the net-looser in such a scenario.
Multi party partnerships are the way to go and also to keep the likes of ANT in check, players like Google must be invited to the table.
The issue is, Tez or Gpay was made in India for India pre-dominantly by an Indian workforce. So if Google is serious about Pakistan, or product localization, it must rise to the occasion and get past token Pakistanis in its teams and build engineering capacity either domestically or outside of India to remove any bias. The SBP should work with the local tech industry, academia and Google to solve for that issue. But first Google has to show willingness to engage. It does become very difficult when most of its top Product, Engineering and Sales Leadership likely will have visa challenges. Thus we must look at the Pakistan opportunity not from an Indian specific lense but from a Google and Alphabet one.
The government has the opportunity to embark on real engagement with Google past MOUs. Those don’t help any one. It must seek professional help in ensuring ease of business for the likes of Google and full support across the board. It must stop making committees with people with android phones alone as the baseline criteria for understand Googles complex makeup and for once shun the old guard. We must learn to call a spade a spade and also fix our operational issues.
Provide massive tax breaks to the likes of Google to encourage them to bring in talent from Mountain View and across the world to operate in Pakistan. Incentivize them to open shop locally. Work with them to use their best in class payments rails and help leapfrog our own ecosystem. Partnerships will only make things successful long term. But these partnerships have to be mutually beneficial.
It’s time to engage and time for Alphabet to introspect if its leadership which truly is world class, needs to reevaluate its Pakistan playbook by redrawing reporting the lines drawn in sand. I have one simple ask, how many of the 20% personal time projects at Google in India are focused on solving items for Pakistan?
One thing across every major mall
in America is the presence of Thai food. Whilst Mexican and Chinese restaurants
might be more abundant that also has to do with population dynamics. With over thirty-eight
million Mexican-Americans and around six million Chinese-Americans, it’s no
surprise that these cuisines have exploded on the American foodie scene.
Comparatively, there are only about
300,000 Thai-Americans—less than 1 percent the size of the Mexican-American
population. Yet there are an estimated 5,342(today) Thai restaurants in the
United States, compared to around 54,000 Mexican restaurants; that’s ten times
the population-to-restaurant ratio. It
just got me thinking, why is it so. Is this really new age “gastro diplomacy”?
Remember Arthur Anderson? I do. In 2001, I read a WSJ piece which I recalled recently, and was amazed at the far sightedness of the Thai Government. They were raising 10M$ to bring between 1000-3000 restaurants in 5 years to the US and 8000 globally to serve authentic Thai Cuisine. Back then I wondered why?
This didn’t happen overnight. Since the 1990
the Thai Government methodically sent qualified chefs all over the world, they also
setup in-country institutions for culinary arts. They set up manufacturing
lines across the nation and re-tooled old utensil factories to deploy
neo-modern cooking utensils fit for a new class of yuppies, enthusiasts and
The global movement of McDonaldizing Thai Food. Now that’s an idea and something to be proud of. Something we need to still copy and emulate as the government of Pakistan. Instead of making insanely dumb committees and task forces, with a vast majority of dumber people and has-beens who besides self-enrichment have done nothing at scale in this country or any other. The yes sir, ji boss, bull$hit is back.
Without being side tracked, in 2001 or there about the Thai were exporting 6bn$ in food related exports worldwide, meaning ingredients, herbs and spices. In 2017-2018, Pakistan is struggling to export rice greater than 1.3bn$. Spices and other Pakistani-ethnic foods don’t even show up on the radar. You want to see the kicker? Thai exports to just their foreign restaurants were as $1.5bn in 2000…
Some one really needs to just copy this model and get started. Its been tested over time and given dividends in all the areas our current government aspires to draw in-bound dollars. Tourism, Tech to name the two top of mind items. But it should be exploring entire ecosystems of industries as opposed to one offs.
Just to re-cap, in 2001 or there about the Thai were exporting 6bn$ in food related exports worldwide, meaning ingredients, herbs and spices. In 2017-2018, Pakistan is struggling to export rice larger than 1.3bn$. Spices and other ethnic foods don’t even show up on the radar. You want to see the kicker? Thai exports to just their foreign restaurants were at $1.5bn in 2000… Some one really needs to just copy this model and get started. It’s been tested over time and given dividends in all the areas our current government aspires to draw in-bound dollars into. Tourism, Tech to name the two top of mind items. But it should be exploring entire ecosystems of industries as opposed to one offs.
Why did the Thai government do this?
The predominant motivation for the venture, according to the government, which was to hold a stake of less than 30%, was the frustration caused by the fact that people cooking Thai food abroad just weren’t doing it right. There are too many western distortions in what purports to be Thai cuisine.
The restaurants themselves were to be established with start-up funds of over US$10m and split into three price bands, upscale, mid-price and fast-food, and be called Golden Leaf, Cool Basil and Elephant Jump respectively. Experienced franchise partners would run the companies on a day to day basis, but according to the then, Thailand’s deputy commerce minister, Goanpot Asvinvichit, the government will be playing a “strong role” in the conception of the menus, and overseeing quality. How ever mis-guided that sound(s) then or today, It catapulted an export revolution.
Knock-on effect in export markets and tourism
Market watchers had expressed concerns as to just how much Thai food can be digested in the west, but a glance at export figures shows that as the taste for cuisine in specialist restaurants grows, so did demand for “authentic” Thai ingredients – both for foodservice sales channels and home consumption. Clearly this has been a global winner by way of execution.
Indeed, the government played this right, they had intended and made sure that at least 70% of the foods used by the Global Thai Restaurant Co. are exported from Thailand. As stated earlier, the country already grossed over US$6bn from food-related exports annually, and over US$1.5bn from supplying restaurants with both food and cultural merchandise, and the Thai food industry gained a significant boost from the venture and continues to grow to this day. An idea well played out.
As well as the profitable growth in the ethnic food sector, and the related export boost, Thailand also gained from the intrinsic link between exotic food and its destination: the tourist trade is booming even when the politics was at all time low. During 2000, the country welcomed nearly 10m tourists, double the amount that arrived in 1990. In 2018 those numbers were at 22M. The increasing availability of long-haul flights is a major factor of this, but so too is the advertising provided by popular local restaurants. Imagine the mix at play, all well thought and executed correctly to now stand in 2019 at the top of the game. It did not happen by accident it happened by deliberate planning and by way of some thing every Pakistani feels strongly about. FOOD…
Over the course of this exercise
it has been fairly evident that People who enjoy Thai food are more disposed to
visit the country, and tourist officials are widely distributing leaflets and
brochures in eateries. Its an ecosystem of one. One mission, one drive, one end
result, brand Thailand.
Further evidence of the close
link between Thai food and the country is in the establishment of cooking
schools in Thailand to cater for the tourists’ desire to learn more abut the
cuisine. One such example is the Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts on the
popular island of Koh Samui, but similar centers have mushroomed in the tourist
hotspots in recent years. We need to learn from this. Whilst Indian food is on
the up and up in the West, similar examples of Pakistani food are far and few
What have we been doing and what should we be doing?
We continue to focus on the wrong thing, set in motion by the wrong set of people leading self driven agendas. We need to think outside the box. Pakistan doesn’t have a PR problem, we have an “Idiot” problem, we are taking our versions of political idiots and putting them in charge of solving economic problems. Actually this whole model could be copied by any half decent so called local group or company that has the where with all to think beyond its table stake businesses of being a rent seeker.
The Thai Govt didn’t import the London Bukhar equivalents to dream up these things, they didn’t invite other patrons of high-business and high-friendships to devise new ways to save the Thai Economy. Do remember they have had 12 Military Take overs; yet continue to be perceived as a safe destination, rampant with ease of doing business, tourism and now a center of high tech innovation.
Whilst Facebook goes through its own set of challenges from data, privacy, security, hacked elections and congressional outings. FB in Pakistan especially in the new year poses a very clear and present danger and strategic challenge to its users in the country and their in-ability to understand its basic constructs around privacy and security.
Many if not most folks using Facebook in the 1% neighborhoods of Pakistan, at large, do not secure their profiles. More times than none, FB is a huge vanity play, where Madam wined and dined last year, what her social butterfly calendar leaves no room for mere mortals is a must see for all. This leads us to the less than secure privacy settings on the profile and most importantly images.
Which brings us to the brave new world of proximity, filter bubbles, wifi-signatures, Friends of Friends and other algorithms at play. In a social experiment done a little over one year I have come to the conclusion that this a very poorly thought out vanity play of not knowing and not securing your privacy settings.
Even if you are a tech noob, you must pay attention to this one of a kind, non-business driven post, because you are most certainly putting yourself, your information and your family’s social movements under the eye of people you have both met and most certainly will never meet.
So you have a rotating stock of security guards in your house, the average house has a trusted old cook/driver(substitute the person you rely on) and in the current day and age you at a base case give them your wifi password, if not verbally you enter in on their device. Which is a good thing to do, 100% giving access to free internet, to make calls, consume video, if they are so inclined learning new things is a social good that comes out of this activity of making sure they are also connected to their loved ones.
The lesser known fact is, if they don’t have your password in writing, your internet will now be shared by using their mobile phone within their social circle. It takes about a week of using the same internet connecting/wifi location and geo-location for FB to magically start showing you people you may know in your feed. Plust folks who have your mobile number saved or may have a text message from you. (Now imagine the circle of interaction, your delivery guy from last night, your last Careem or Uber text exchange, your call to reserving a restaurant etc etc)
You may be one of those who never looks, but the opposite is also true, your un-secure profile is now visible to every one using your common/shared internet as a base case or with text/phone interactions with your self. FB has denied this for ages, but let congress find the answer to that. Not you and me.
So all of a sudden all your December night parties and Qawwalis and your cute pictures with your BFF are the proud hyper local Vogue Magazine outside your house at the daily congregation of all your employees and their friends.
You may be ok with this and have an initial reaction, akin to calling me names saying, that your house hold help is like family. But this family has an extended family and now all of begum sahibas friends and in turn their friends and everyone who is tagged in any picture is on the front page of the neighborhood daily. So long as their vanity play is turned on and privacy is set to off.
Now look at both the social and scoio-economic impact of this, as much as you’d like to tell your self you are fair to your staff, imagine their plight when they see you sipping a cold one on the Amalfi Coast at the pool side. Clearly this stems all kinds of social , cultural and economic issues over time. There is a sense of dis-content, further inequality and alienation when the life style they see couldn’t be further from the truth they deal with daily.
This post is not to vilify domestic help in any way or marginalize those already dealt a hand by fate, that is not easy.
As part of turning on a free Wi-Fi for 200+ days the #1 traffic source after 9pm was Facebook. It took 3 days net, for every one to realize that there was free internet. Looking at traffic data, landing pages (traffic it self being encrypted) high end phone would rarely connect to the Wi-Fi and if they did they would stop using it, most of the connection was from sub 100$ devices. FB was king at 9pm and YouTube around 10pm. Total bandwidth being consumed was in the 100s of gig quotient(particularly high for Youtube).
Lets now look at the safety element on this, once people know who you are and really do want to target you and track you, your FB timeline/pictures are a good place to start. Given basic skills if they only continue to watch and you continue to post they will know your kitty party locations and spots, times of day, week of month and time of year type info, where you are , who you go with. If like most normal people your images are tagged, all they need to do is copy paste the name in to FB and then latch on to your friends etc. Done with enough compulsion over time, this a starting place for people to start stalking in the digital age.
FB has graduated from old colleagues and high school sweethearts from tracking you or checking out how well you are doing, there is an entire underbelly of folks who are tracking and trading in the business of FB driven personal content. In and around you and in and around where you live and go to work every day. The level of sophistication varies and will only continue to grow.
In most cases your vanity play is allowing them to do this, all you have to do is hit the privacy button and make your content available to only those in your network. That would be a first pass at making sure, the Culligan water delivery guy is not sending friend requests to begum sahiba on his next trip to your place.
Further there are entire WhatsApp groups that then trade the links to Madams pictures and parties, being shared from say your Gali Cluster to the next cluster one street down and one street across then across towns and nation wide. This is a serious cause for concern, you may be ok with people admiring your looks, but with your profile links also making it across, it now adds a devoted fan following larger than some celebrities. The groups are trading content via links as most do not use the app to go to the site, they use the browser. Plus they also use screen shots and pass these pictures around.
This not just true in the case of groups and group members trading in begum sahibas pictures or her friends, even though that is the prevalent category, there are categories of sahabs cars, his houses, his vacation spots his “daru” collection etc all being circulated in groups. Most groups have 0 conversation and only message exchanges. People use voice notes to comment on the pictures and the vacation spots or putting annotated voice prints adding their meta tags so other group members can quickly catch up. Whilst most of this may be sans a criminal intent(like more voyeuristic), but truly people do not realize the likely implications over time. You are putting your self, your family, connections and almost any one else that’s tagging you being exposed to an ecosystem completely outside your own comfort zone and you have no idea what it is.
Startup idea for this would be a FB health check and help to those who want to keep their mimosa outings to not be outed in places they didn’t even know existed. Sort of like a wealth manager but for online health check and privacy management.
“Who would you impress if the world was blind?”
― Shannon L. Alder
The fear mongers are out. The verdicts are in. In 100 days supposedly every thing was to be fixed and the generational crap shoot we have been down should have been reversed. A round of slow clapping and applause to the educated class who continue down this path of not accepting that, this shit storm has been in the making for decades and that if they are the beneficiary from past governments and contracts and “concessions” they have to for once, for the love of country and not greenbacks get off this bullet train to disaster. Clearly self interest reigns high. I meet the so-called investor types, industrial money and old money. The only thing common across most of those, is ill-gotten money. I will loose some so called friends and associates over the post, but I am happy to loose friends and gain a flourishing country, by calling out the BS.
No doubt there is economic decline, but it didn’t start and finish in the last 100 days, the current government is fairly silly in even having such a yard stick and talking when they should be working and nation building as opposed to optics building. With the sad state of FX reserves, free lancers and the tech folks who can actually contribute to fixing this national crisis are looking to bail, so it would seem. Given all that’s going on and with payment aggregators being unable to send money across to PK this situation is only going to get murkier. Unless the Banks and the regulator steps in. This is a crisis of confidence. We need to get some seriously competent and confident people guiding the government and not the generational multi-party idiots we have always had.
Let me illustrate why such is the case. We supposedly have an IT Minister and now also an IT/Tech Task Force of turning around the state of affairs of the industry. Couple of things to point out, this body whilst it has some very competent people also has others who may be competent in other facets of life but clearly a “wasta” inclusion is so evident in this group. We have a Retired(R) Naval individual perhaps I missed the memo on the Navy doing some block buster Tech Innovation and National Defense Sales and Commercializing stuff for export. To the best of my knowledge Arms Sales are in the Range of 300m$ a year. The free lancers in Pakistan are doing about 1bn$ or more in work, net-aggregate. So who should be advising whom here? We continue to include irrelevant people in these real time conversations, who have no role to play.
Then we have a representative from the Pakistan Engineering Council. Allegedly they represent the graduate engineers from across the country. All I will say about them is a reference to the Image below making the rounds from their 2018 elections.
We also have some has-been box pushers and CD/Software sellers who have never done a days worth of honest entrepreneurship and or value creation domestically. If you worked for a fortune 500 Company per se in Pakistan, whilst you made out well for your self, the only thing you have done or are good at is working for your sponsors to take their product(Namely Software or Hardware), sell it domestically and export the resulting revenue back to them. Meaning your net contribution in life has been at the expense of the Nation and a net FX loss. So why the state or these committees continue to idolize these folks is beyond my imagination.
This is not a laundry list of knocking down people and or individuals, it is a walk down memory lane of how we continue to F*k up things whose intent is generally good. As a side bar the Task force has not yet met up since the mid November announcement and formation. Some of the government efforts are mis guided on this front they continue to deploy good people in bad positions.
In short, get some folks who know what they are talking about who have done demonstrable things in the space and can make impact at scale. If you wanted to make a real task force you would invite real change makers who understand technology, scale commercialization, payments and growth. Id like to find out the median age of the Task force, you do not have a single millennial in the task force. If digital is your way out of this mess, than at-least get some digital natives to be a part of the narrative. Some of these folks struggle to use a smart phone. We are trusting them to drive the national narrative on technology.
We should be done with the Sahabs and the Bureaucrats and the Academics. We have held on to that formula for the last 50+ years, that shit has not worked. There are very many respectable people in these groups and committees but that doesn’t mean they will have any impact. Starting with the overqualified minister in charge this ship needs a new steward.
So what is the way out? Clearly I do not have an answer, but if any of these government types and task forcers had their eye on the ball they would be using the public money already (wasted/applied/used (depending on where you stand on this narrative) on all these nation wide incubators to stop doing these dumb hack-a-thons and force-creating startups that wont amount to much. Some will but they would have done so any way, most wont. We aren’t in SiliconValley we cant continue to fund these Starbucks conversation at the cost of the tax payer at these various Incubators. As a tax payer I have a serious issue with these locations not being optimally used, optimally staffed and optimally run. If nothing else turn them in to co-working spaces, people need space to work, stop hosting events to fill your social calendar again at the cost of the tax payer. What is one good commercial product to come out of any of these state funded incubators? Whats the benchmark of their success? Who is the net beneficiary in these setups? Do the people who are tasked with running these have any credible experience or success to be imparting advice and mentorship?
Sadly, mentorship is the most over used and least understood concept at these incubators any one who can speak fairly fluently or by virtue of their connections or recognition by virtue of their employer and job, literally show up and start imparting advice, which has no basis in reality and is of very little to help these incubatees. But no one seems to call this out. Perhaps a topic for a different day. The one good thing is nationally ready infrastructure to be repurposed for the good of the people.
So public money has already been spent how do we reclaim what we have spent and done? How do we move in to cash-in on the next wave of tech. How do we think past BPO and force creating me2 startups or incubating them. Because we continue to emulate what we see vs innovate at scale.
Some time back I wrote about the Onavo Mindset, luckily we have an other chance. Seemingly a wave is coming, not too many people are ready for it, but its a wave that likely on-boards the Next Billion Users. Luckily you can build for them and cash-in and cash-out in a big way.
Right about now, you are going, Wtf? We all know about Android, and whats the point of preaching about building android apps, actually the world is slowly moving in a different direction. Its the voice driven revolution fueled by feature rich phones that work and feel like smart phones. Its a revolution fueled by your imagination and building services for the first time internet and “device” users. So what is it?
Its KaiOs, if this is the first time you are hearing about it, trust me it wont be the last time. In India the revolution has already started, powered by voice and free data. We aren’t too far away, realistically what you build for Kai, powers any one and any where and you can continue to make money independent of your location. Don’t hold your breath on our committees and our regulators and our leaders and our ministers. Go build, be ready for the revolution. There is a reason Google invested 22m$ in KaiOs. Go to your incubator, knock on their door, they used public money, most are smart enough to recognize they have an abundance of space, politely ask them to use this space for working on your next KaiOs idea. Or any other idea. The time literally is now, you do not want to get into this space once its too late. Googles working on localization across India, meaning local language support. If we were to venture a guess, Urdu is likely not too far away. Try to understand the space, most particularly voice. On its own and tied to KaiOs that will be the future that drives the next generation of growth and services.
Looking at the data we are doing well in the gig-economy space. A 2018 study by the Oxford Internet Institute re-affirms the fact that we are on to some thing good here.
We need to capitalize on this trend, we need to put our minds and our resources to good use. We need to learn from the success and mission driven narratives of people like Yasser Bashir who have built worth while national narratives around putting good tech to good use by being great corporate employers and investors in growing the ecosystem by virtue of things like PyCon . I can cite many many examples at the risk of people saying I’m biased. Full disclosure I only know of Yasser’s work and do not know him beyond interacting at industry events. But I do not need to know him to know his work, thats what I am getting at. Its a mindset thing. Thats what we need to focus on.
A lot of good things are happening in and around us, we need to get past the petty and focus on the real stuff. We need to work on giving ideas and opportunities to those who can translate them in to growth and FX, we need to highlight and make inclusive committees and offer their memberships to people who can do good at scale. Not because of party or personal affiliation as is evident presently.
There is a reason old money hasn’t scaled in to tech because they worked in the “rent seeking” economy and model, they have no desire to create wealth across the nation, so why do we continue to include them in our national narrative around tech? The most tech, their kids(second third generations) know are iphones and ipads. Not like, they don’t have the money or the access to replicate global success in Pakistan, they are just not comfortable in allowing the creation of wealth that transcends their own families.
My question to all those who aspire to change their own fortunes and the fortunes of their teams, colleagues, their country. Why must you spend all your collective energy in complaining why not take charge and try to do some thing different. Aisa Kai ko nahin Kartay?
A lot of talk has been on going and various claims have been made that Cashless/Mobile payments will lift the economy into its renaissance and document a lot of things that are in the grey today. All great banter, but concrete steps seem to be missing as to how the various 100 day actions or larger actions will be accomplished without focusing on the crux of the issue.
Even a betting man bets on multiple horses to diversify their odds but it seems we as a nation are focused that the Finance Minister some how; with so much other pressing items in tow, will over night wave a magic wand and things will self regulate. Had that been true, we would have had better sense prevail much sooner in the governments of the yesteryears.
Clearly we have the Central Bank, we have the Securities and Exchange Commission and we have some other players that if better sense prevails would enable by the flick of a switch(or in this case by sensible regulation or de-regulation) enable giants at our door step get into action.
On the one hand we have the likes of ANT who have already established their market lead/foresight by acquiring a Bank to get into the mobile/cashless payments race. Clearly they are giants in the space. But with all things regulatory and fit and proper tests and what not have you the time it takes from the day of the announcement to when the transaction closes, its just an engaged waltz between the investors and the investees, whilst the celebrity status seeking CEO of the carrier has spared no social media play; in the book to some how take credit for the transaction or make bold claims of when the AliPay services come to town.
It would be misguided to take these claims to be 100% on the money, most importantly because the Bank is not run by the carrier or like the carrier. The carrier commodity business, is fairly mundane and even the established folks are looking to come out on top by angling for the future. Nothing is wrong with that, they can have Pictures with Jack Ma circulate in local and foreign media, it only helps the image of a nation struggling so hard, but clearly to those in the know or those who can see beyond the optics that the Telco doesn’t drive the destiny of the Bank per say and the counterparts in China whilst they own the smaller 45% have this business down to a science and the real action will come from the Bank and their Chinese brethren. Every thing else is just noise.
I share the above not because I care about the optics or who is doing what, but because of the opportunity it presents. There is no way the Telco gent is over committing, he’s probably put in a buffer of sorts end of 2018 is fairly vague. Today in mid September all it takes for some one else to do this or get some interesting FDI going beyond people buying a Bank, takes very straight forward regulation that allows all the existing banks or at least the 11 or so Banks that own 1Link to be a stakeholder in the race to Cashless.
Change is coming, change is here, ANT did the industry a solid favor by going down the banking route, it made others(Banks and Telcos) uncomfortable and out priced most of the domestic competition, maybe along the way they or others buy one of the local wallet plays just for shits and giggles, but given their war chest, they could admittedly spend 2m$ and build 8X the user base in ½ the time its taken every one else. Its pure customer acquisition Math.
So here’s what worked across the border. Universal payment gateway/interconnect/interface. Its not rocket science. It exists today, it could be the rails that every one needs and wants, but no one is willing to get behind. Cant believe why with all the economists and banking evangelists and others advising the government, no one has put pen to paper on this yet.
The Banks are big and boring, they collect 10 Rs to X rupees per IBFT transaction and others, 1Link is the god send they all have that made them “Online” Meaning the shit that you don’t have to go to your own branch to bank any more. + You can transfer money via atm/web to other accounts. This gives bank additional “channel revenue” they don’t have to work hard for or perhaps never really worked for. No one wants to change a sure thing. True for the retail channel minons at the banks as well. Change has to come from the top.
But instead of every one building their own products and failing fairly miserably, to the Banks with an interest in 1LINK the best thing to do, is to call a Board meeting, invite both the regulators, the Central Bank and the SECP sit across the table and agree on a frame work to do inter bank transaction across the banks initiated by either party(Meaning Interoperable across the network). Further more have the Central Bank pass regulation to make sure this interconnect available ASAP and give 1LINK and its CEO the mandate to publish an OPEN API for any one to enable financial transactions following stringent fiduciary guidelines and KYC measures. Which BTW are fairly robust for any on with a SIM Card. SECP to make sure every one else plays ball and enabling a corporate structure that allows 1LINK to make good on said ambitions.
The Banks may loose money in the immediate short term, but as owners in the only service provider in the country that provides the rails for all future financial transactions, they would have taken the bull by the horns and made good on many fronts. 1ST would be to launch a service before the end of the year, second, sit back relax and let all the global players come in (if they don’t have the ambition to cash in on this them selves), like they did in India to use UPI and make a pretty penny when the value of 1Link grows leaps and bounds.
But first hire the requisite talent and take ownership of 1LINK across the Banks to really make it a world class institution. DO not please go out and hired a 60 some thing Banker past his prime to head 1LINK, or a box pusher or typically available talent in Pakistan, just because you are comfortable as the BANK to hire such talent even in your own roles. Do the country a service and not a dis-service, hire a professional global head hunter to recruit the talent to build these rails. There is no shame in being out of your comfort zone and asking for help.
You really want to do some thing transformative? take ownership of 1LINK buy out the other Banks if they don’t see the vision. Imagine listing the company down the road(yes further regulatory approvals will be required). Imagine the likes of Google and Whatsapp payments deciding to use these rails, you would provide the channel to them to compete against AliPay, or even allowing AliPay to strengthen its position by riding on top of these Rails. All situations point to a happy ending, only if the CEO and Boards of the banks try to understand what this means beyond building digital studios and doing asset backed loans. Where’s the fun in that?
There aren’t many sure bets in the world, this clearly looks like one. This opens the space for all the small tech/fintech startups and e-commerce companies that are forced to do COD, or those businesses that need, identity or trust issues to be managed, with 1LINK coming on side the way described above, it could be further integrated with Nadra to provide those Identity solutions as the SIM is verified today, Imagine the business applications that would be made possible if every one played ball.
The OTT services and their possibilities are endless, the Banks and their large institutional and family based shareholders must take their management teams to task and ask why no one has proposed this in any board meeting thus far? When was the last time, the Bank as a shareholder in 1LINK devised a strategy or met with the other owners to figure out whats next or have the CEO of 1LINK provide a strategic document around its API play.
Why does it take a 3rd person with admittedly very little background in Banking or Payments drag every one to discussing the possibilities?
The Banks today have this gift in the form of 1LINK, there are plenty of other quick start methods that people will bring to play and 1LINK will be made as irrelevant as it is today, if other interconnect or multi party rails come and they sure will, its just a matter of time and market need.
If the Banks don’t play ball the Central Bank should pass regulation to make the inter operably mandatory, and either Privatize 1LINK or give it to an independent Vendor or 3rd party Operator to run and manage with a clear Mandate or a new non-banking consortium that is able to buy out the shares at todays fair market value so as to not do a dis service to the population of the country, which is not even remotely touched by the foot print of all the banks combined.
The solution, what ever it may be and I am sure more financially sophisticated ones exist should be considered as long as they allow the country to unlock the value from this gift that we have and allow the startups and the youth of this country to benefit from having a level playing field where they can build out their companies and solutions and services to their hearts desire, whilst being able to exchange and transact in real time.
Here’s to hoping the Banks get their act together and appoint amongst them some one sensible enough to take the charge and similarly for the regulator to sense this opportunity and make it ever so easy for international or domestic parties to ride the rails to better financial inclusion and more transparency and larger taxation when every thing rides through documented sources of money transfer.
Last but not least, if an international player comes to bare, remember that the undocumented IT-Free lancers to the tune of XBn$ who use all kinds of un official tricks to bring in money back to Pakistan could use this and all of a sudden you’d have XBn$ of inward collections, only helping every one involved in the process being happier, richer and safer whilst appreciating our Bankers fondly.
“Remember when nurses, carers, teachers and students crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither.”
Think of it as the Uberization of mmmm Content. (Sorry Careem, you still need to build Careem Food Delivery and some other things to play catchup or out Uber, Uber in some other regional/clever ways.(Payments??)
The average media company will not be able to compete with Uber or Careem given the war chest of funding these 2 have. This story gets more interesting and exciting in the region(GCC/ASIA) where the 24/7 Breaking/Live culture and an average 50% population being under 25 yrs old, there is a huge potential to build a content ecosystem within the apps and beyond, with a special emphasis on “ride time enabled” content. Meaning make the most of your ride time and focus on the user.
Google, FB, Go-jek and Grab in their ways are figuring out plays outside of Pakistan and GCC in this space, as is Uber. But what about Careem? There is no news on any partner API or ecosystem opening up just yet for content. If we look at whats happening around us, aside from related partner services, Grab is also bringing news, games and other content to its app, which got a getting a design facelift to reflect the change. In the past, Grab’s app had opened to a ride-booking screen, but now it will load a list of services and content to reflect a more diverse set of options. There’s actually nothing new there. That approach is very much similar to Go-Jek, the Indonesian rival to Grab and is expanding across Southeast Asia and first pioneered the concept of on-demand services in Southeast Asia. Meaning Grabs ME2 approach is fairly visible. The Grab refresh also takes cues from China’s Meituan, a super app company that invested in Go-Jek and is going public in Hong Kong, and blockbuster Chinese apps WeChat from Tencent and Alipay.
Woaa. Back up one second. We already have Ali Pay coming to town with Wechat and the likes not too far away our market + the greater Middle East(Careems home turf) is in for fun times for the consumer. So its an amazing time for content service provers also, not to be mistaken for the Click-bait variety but folks who have a handle on contextually aware services and geo fenced offerings.
All this will only happen when the likes of Careem have open APIs for the content providers to work and suggest how to partake and build service offerings. The availability of “said” Api will also help any one else to offer a Careem booking from within their APP or service for Example. Careems too busy (hopefully not) with the engineered news of Uber buying them and their folks being involved in their own fund raising and keeping up with valuation fever that It seems like the agility is dying down.
Dont get me wrong, on its primary service, Careems value proposition in Pakistan has been so compelling to me that It forced me to downsize car ownership. For my travels in the region, its the goto APP as well. But beyond that there is nothing compelling to grow the user base, engage with it, provide additional services and or use the “network effect” for content or any other type of delivery. (Albeit all these services will have to be opt-in enabled)
So heres a very simplistic view, as opposed to buying other peoples content. Careem can basically build or buy a media company to focus on this demographic or buy multiple ones to get into the Media content production business. You ask why, because their target demographic is fairly clean. Unlike a traditional media company they have the ability to cater to their audience mix because they know in real time who they are.
Out of the 14 countries it is in, Its primary market is Arabic speaking + English and Secondary Market is Urdu + English. They do not have localized language items(topic for an other day) not to forget an other goldmine that they are sitting on which is the Women demographic.
Supposedly just in Pakistan 30% of their rides are to women. The largest growth segment in the Middle East and Pakistan is CPG, thus the CPG Women Audience is what the likes of Google and FB have been un-able to crack in our part of the world due to sketchy data. This brings captive users to that ecosystem. What better than your own content delivery network to monetize this? Especially if there is an IPO coming soon. Millenial audience based Media/content plays could be had for 10-50-100M$ and for sure add more revenue than the supposed 175M$ revenue Careem is grappling with in this primary service line. Its burning more cash and the content space can prove to be a true monetization channel coupled with an ad-network + partner content & service delivery. Uber may be out of SouthEast Asia but there is no end in sight in the Middle East or Pakistan for them. Their success may be limited but their check books aren’t. Over time if they come out with more services that engage the users more, its only a matter of time they will outspend every one else.
You may say Careem already has fashion/retail ambitions via Dukkan Careem or the acquisition of Round Menu being indicative of launching a food delivery service. Both are a bit late and without Careem Pay launched really dont complete the ecosystem. The content play can happen in parallel or even before.
Uber already experimented with Info Cards and Hyper local info and timed podcasts per ride, but it can go much farther and deeper. Media companies will suffer in the region at the hands of the super apps coming from our Chinese friends, already traffic to media sites/content is down to all time record lows and the advertising giants will have a tougher time down the road trying to monetize that content. But our Chinese friends are winning that race. Careem and others have an edge, they know demographic and geographic location and if they viewed their app/or future super app as an audience engagement tool they could arguably in the short term add more value per ride to the users and advertisers both, whilst bolstering their profits. Maybe its not profitability they are after and all they care about is market share. What better way to use the same network to build larger market share? Its like monetizing your captive user base multiple times a day, even when they aren’t taking a ride. Talk about down time monetization(DTM). No one has tried to crack that nut yet. Careem could.
Go Jek and Grab already have plays in the space, Careem doesn’t have a visible play. No one to the best of what I can gather has a media play or captive content development strategy. The former are in services/payments/and APIs already. Careem needs to also be in the Rails Business , perhaps it already is and will surprise us all.
Some thing I never understood that could help build out an insanely profitable content business has not yet been done by Careem. Imagine this use case, Careem today is relatively exclusive to the smart phone based user and those who can use the app via english interfaces(mostly) in Pakistan at least. That leaves the other non-smart phone users out.(100m+) Why doesn’t Careem use the likes of Shop owners and Easypaisa guys to book rides from their location for people who show up to a location bearing a sign “Careem Ride Stop” or “سواری دکان ” any one can come, wait for the store owner to book a ride on behalf of the patron, if they had an API, send a txt msg to a dumb phone of the user, who could respond back to accept the ride terms, once they did, car showed up, once ride ended their easy paisa account could get charged or they could pay cash.
Seems like some thing fairly logical, the ride booking agent could get 5/10 Rs to book a ride. Imagine the kind of mobility this would add to under developed areas and what range of entrepreneurs this would sprout. Supplemental Income also. Similarly guys with smart phones in densely populated bazars doing real time ride bookings and pickups, outside of schools, universities, hospitals, airports…
With this level of interfacing with offline customers, they could get accurate user demographics(happy to explain the nitty gritty to whom ever is interested) and by working with carriers and having in car devices and zero rated or free internet run video/other content to every user even those without a smart phone. Imagine a Careem powered TV network or news network or content network, entertainment, cooking, food/lifestyle and a captive daily audiences. Its some thing the Media companies only wish they could do. Monetize eyeballs you already have and open your audience for others to monetize.
Its time to think outside the box to really capitalize on this. Perhaps buying a media or content play is too ambitious at the moment. Or maybe they have too many things going on like launching payments and food delivery to really evaluate this. But with their South East Asian friends already getting hot and heavy in the space and with the coming of the Chinese to Pakistan, disruption is coming.
Googles already hedging its last mile bet by investing in Go-Jek, I hope Careem is doing some thing similar as it would be a pity if they eventually went bust in the region.
They have done a great service by way of creating direct/indirect employment but there is potential to do a lot more. Democratize access to news/content across the GCC and Pakistan, 2 regions that need it the most. Its also a public service of sorts, imagine as Careem grows and its youth centric audience grows, it would become the largest Media Influencer in the region. Especially if they produced localized video content for incar/hyper local use from reviews to restaurants already in its menu business and then do deliveries and drive sales for its ancillary businesses. Heres to hoping that all these guys stop copying each other and figure out new use cases and build fast and build strong. All this applies to Uber too but since Careem bet on Pakistan wed like to bet on Careem.
I suspect you know what the top 20 free apps are on the Pakistani App Store? Go on, guess. WhatsApp? Uber? Facebook Messenger? All solid guesses – but there is a surprise entrant, at least for me and is already wreaking havoc on the charts. Its 20 on the Apple App Store and 9 on the Google Play Store.
According to SimilarWeb, top spots in both stores are claimed by Bigo Live – a live-streaming video app made by a Singaporean team. During the first week of June NASDAQ-listedd YY Inc announced that it has invested $272 million in the Series D preferred shares of Bigo Inc as its lead investor. For perspective the AntFinancial Telenor deal was circa $180M.
Other investors that participated in the round include YY chairman and acting CEO, David Xueling Li, who invested in Bigo using his personal funds. Dont be mis-led by by Nasdaq etc, YY is a major Chinese video-based social network with over 300 million users. It features a virtual currency which users earn through activities such as karaoke or creating tutorial videos and which is later converted to real cash.
Launched in 2005 as duowan.com (NASDAQ: YY), it originally targeted gamers, before broadening to include video streaming and chat features for uses such as concerts, fashion and sports. Users exchange “virtual roses” as a form of currency, with top users said to earn as much as $20,000 per month.
What does this have to do with voting or polling stations? Not much today, but heres the surprise kicker, this is what most of the youth of our country and countless pervs/stalkers are busy doing online. It has a few thousand listings under Pakistan meaning thousands of people are running live cams and men and women alike are cashing out using virtual currency. In a country that bans paypal, kids and pervs alike have figured out a way to circumvent the system or build on top of it to use the app but payments off platform to “talk/engage with” others supposedly like minded people.
Youd think its the same as snap but its not. Its impact is so far reaching it is pulling hordes of domestic internet/mobile traffic. Thats how I stumbled upon it looking at whats causing the seismic shift in online traffic and who after “true caller” in Pakistan was taking the lions share of traffic. Lo and behold we have Bigo.
Forget Snapchat, this app is the next big thing with teenagers in Southeast Asia and countries like Malaysia are having serious ethical moral debates around its usage and lack of controls and potential harm that it can bring to the youth if they come across unsavory individuals and the exploitation kids can face if adults are not aware of whats going on. No one is saying or implying that it is being used for explicit stuff. But since its almost growing underground not many people are even aware of what it is.
Users range from teenagers to twenty somethings and the broadcasts mostly feature them going about their lives, just with a camera pointed at them. Conversations go on between users and the broadcaster. The desire to spontaneously share details about your life that drives millennial juggernaut Snapchat – and, consequently, the desire of others to witness that – looks like a key factor to Bigo’s appeal.The content runs from surprisingly mundane to mildly racy. Unsurprisingly, those accounts get showered with virtual gifts. That is the kicker here. Get paid to share/broadcast your life, your moments, your voice, your actions etc. Not to forget full video if you so please and depending on your fans.
So what do people do with the app why is it so popular?
The Bigo app relies heavily on game-like elements, where the more you participate (following other users, broadcasting, and so on), the more experience points you get. Experience point, kind of oxymoronic, get rewarded for nothing.
You use those to climb levels and that seems to help push your streams to more viewers. According to the app, “the best way to get [experience points] is to send more gifts.”
This is where it gets complicated. Bigo virtual gifts, Some of the virtual items available for purchase. There’s an internal currency represented by “diamonds,” which the user can buy directly through micro transactions.
You can “gift” virtual items to the streamer, from rings to tiaras to sports cars – items you buy with your diamonds. The items you gift are translated into “beans,” which the streamer can stock up. The more popular the streamer, the more beans they tend to collect. You see where this is going and the potential for exploitation. Surprisingly listings from Pakistan that have high beans are supposedly women broadcaster accounts.
The streamer can then cash out those beans for real money. The current bean exchange rate on the app is 210 beans for US$1. To cash out, the bean hoarder must have at least 6,700 beans in their account. That translates to about US$32.
Not a bad payout for mostly sitting around and talking to your phone’s front-facing camera – Could be I didn’t analyze all the points systems and missed some thing, but clearly this thing is wildly popular and has huge demand and the Chinese have beat every one to the punch.
Imagine when Chinese payment companies come to town and those who are already integrated in terms of payments will increase the transaction potential for every one involved thus raising the stakes further and making this phenomena even more wild.
The Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission has been urged to probe into the ”Bigo Live” application and to take action.
Senator Datuk Mustapa Kamal Mohd Yusoff when debating the motion of thanks on the royal address at the Dewan Negara sitting said the application was deemed a a threat to the development of young generation, especially schoolchildren.
The kids are busy with this stuff and thus further involved in their own reality than the reality around them to do with politics, elections, votes and or to participate in a joint future given that more than half the population of the country is under 25. If the download rates are any indication and the type of channels and engagement is representative of whats going on, then clearly we are mis-directed if we feel these kids with participate in their own future.
Right now the data points to them wanting to become social media darlings aware from the peering eyes of their FB/Twitter family and friends in a cocoon that is seemingly not mass market yet so they are ok for now being on here.
Like true-caller, that no one suspects on the amount of traffic it draws, this is going down a similar trajectory. (More on TrueCaller in a future post)
Whats actually going on in the app?
The users’ young age lend an inherent creepiness in the core concept. Obviously, no one is forcing all those people to broadcast but the combination of overexposure-happy attitudes and transactional nature of the app makes watching those streams (and the accompanying chat messages) a little uncomfortable.
Google searches of popular streamers from other South Asian countries(given they are most popular on the leader boards), make this seriously worry some as you see forums pop up dedicated to sharing pictures of popular streamers (mostly female) with people who seem to know them or where they live or work in real life.
This has less to do with the app itself and more with how people tend to handle their online presence nowadays, this doesn’t make this any less creepy, Bigo has apparently cracked the nut where its incentivizing people to share en mass. The app it self is not doing any thing wrong, the same app can be used to run video tutorials.
Whats the potential for businesses?
Given that this a product that has already displaced online traffic away from traditional online publishers and content producers not just in Pakistan but across South Asia, perhaps its a good medium to use for content distribution from print/news/tv to the millennials given thats where they are.
Huge payments play to be had especially if in-country payments are added for real services and not just beans for your face on screen. Further its time for domestic and international businesses to figure out how they will compete with this and many others to come.
The one thing that is positive is that there is still time to get in line and figure out what else is coming to us by way of CPEC and OBOR and if these are the signs of the direction stuff is taking, we must have digital equivalents to engage our youth in some thing productive. For a country that makes every ones Footballs and software, its time for some thing indigenous to come up that is good for all.
Or if some one had the Bigo logo on a ballot paper and a campaign on the app, Id bet they’d stand a decent chance to win. Perhaps we have been solving the wrong problem all along?
The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much. Annie Leibovitz