Pakistan startup scene challenges ca 2014

Couple of weeks ago I boarded a plane to spend 48 hours in Lahore, Pakistan to meet and mentor startups in the Plan9 incubator.

Cup of chai at Plan9 in Lahore, Pakistan

Countless cups of chai later I was a bit smarter about the realities of the startup scene in Pakistan. No amount of research, reading news or analysis beats first hand experience. On thing I already knew about the local scene was that…

Pakistani startup scene = Estonia 5-10 years ago

What was Estonia’s tech scene like in 2003-2006?

TL;DR – Local players focused on internal market, no startup scene to speak of, no angels, no VC funds, tech entrepreneurship unknown career path, failure frowned upon.

There were a handful of big web portals (I helped build one of them), one dominant local search engine (before Google took over as it’s done in so many other countries), advanced online banking infrastructure, couple of jobs marketplaces, real estate was starting to take off online. No ecommerce to speak of and the biggest money maker was a dating site selling virtual credits. Paid ringtones were all the rage.

Banks and couple of software development houses (Webmedia, now Nortal, and Helmes spring to mind) were the largest employers of software developers with only Skype and Playtech (Israeli online casino developer with a large dev team in Tartu) aggressively hiring from the former and straight from universities.

In 2005 eBay bought Skype, making a handful of early employees very happy but the only immediate result was ASI investment fund started by 4 core Skype engineers. It took another 3-4 years for the Skype employees to start setting up their own startups.

In 2006 the government set up Estonian Development Fund which started doing 50:50 investments together with the private sector, and Enterprise Estonia gave grants to help companies tackle new markets.

Obviously the situation in Pakistan is somewhat different, starting from the population – 190 million vs 1.3 million in Estonia. Adam Dawood and Bowei Gai did a great job documenting the scene in June 2014.

Challenges for Pakistan in growing its startup scene

  • Entrepreneurship as a career unknown and seen as risky, failure = you’re done. In Estonia young entrepreneurs Ragnar Sass and Martin Tajur went through a very public failure of United Dogs & Cats yet are now building a very successful Pipedrive.
  • No local VC / angel investment culture. Tech startups are seen as risky and unknown. Better to kick off the next real estate project.
  • Hard to attract investors from abroad – weird country somewhere far away, unknown business and legal framework, prejudice, the inevitable “is it safe?” question etc.
  • Obscurity in foreign media – stories that get coverage are of bombings and corruption (and yes, these need to be sorted out as well), no big tech wonder stories, yet. Estonia was lucky, we had Skype + paperless egovernment (14 years now), national ID-card, and X-roads infrastructure powering things like e-taxes and e-voting, ubiquitous free wifi that continues to gather lots of positive media coverage.
  • Solid engineers but no business development, sales or marketing experience – Pakistani software engineers are probably as good as any you’ll find (12,500 of them work in Silicon Valley), but there’s almost complete lack of experience of customer development, sales and marketing – everything you need to take a product to the market.
  • In spite of all the hurdles there’s a small and growing startup scene in Pakistan with Lahore and the PITB building at its heart.

    My talk to the incubator companies and IT University students in Lahore covered some of these topics and learnings from Estonia.

    Plan9 is a government funded startup incubator that offers its chosen startups office space, internet connection, mentorship and access to its business network. Best aspect of the deal – startups don’t have to give up equity, just push hard to justify the choice.

    My main focus during the 48 hours was mentoring the young companies in the current class to help them figure out their go-to-market strategies and how to get the most bang for buck, often with a marketing budget of $0.

    Just like in Estonia the more promising ideas had a strong B2B focus some already launched with initial traction, others about to launch.

    I’ll continue helping the future classes as member of the board of Plan9. Interested in getting involved? Drop me a line »

Pumpkin chips

K. put us on a week long diet of no meat/fish/eggs, diary products, wheat products, sugar or alcohol (oh, and tea!) which has forced us to find new things to snack on. So I made pumpkin chips.

Pumpkin chips

Very easy too – cut them in long thin strips (half a centimeter in my case), fry in oil (olive oil for me as that what we had), a little salt, a little pepper and thyme. Pretty sure other spices will work equally well.

Dead simple, delish!

Howard Kingston: key to a successful Seedrs campaign is in the preparation

Early stage Estonian startups ping me on regular basis with a question about who are the good London-based angels and VCs to meet for their seed round.

Recent super successful crowdfunding campaign by Future Ad Labs (FAL) on Seedrs crowdfunding platform made me think of the alternatives that startups looking to raise money from the UK / in Europe have. FAL hit their initial goal of £300,000 in 36 hours and in the end raised £515,660 so it made sense to learn from them.

Howard Kingston

Howard Kingston, co-founder and CMO of Future Ad Labs, was kind enough to share his experience and tips for anyone considering crowdfunding. Do your homework before deciding to go with any of them.

Seedrs isn’t the only crowdfunding platform for startups out there – there’s also Funding Circle, Zopa, Crowdcube etc.

Full disclosure: Future Ad Labs is a client of my company, and Passion Capital has invested in both.

Why Seedrs?

Howard: We had raised a small pre-seed £50-60K round on Seedrs before our proper seed round with Passion Capital and I really enjoyed the process.

For this funding round we did the normal fundraising – went out and spoke to lots of angels and VCs, and a lot of them did end up investing but they did it via our Seedrs campaign.

One of the main reasons was that for this bridge round before series A we wanted to do it via a convertible note.

We’d been chatting to the Seedrs guys and they were like: “Hey, we’ve just developed the ability to do convertibles on crowd funding. It would be be the first one in the world, you’d get ton of press out of it.”

It sounded really good so we decided to do it!

Keep readin’ →

3 things that make a perfect morning bike commute

1. Crisp autumn morning – 12 degrees Celcius, rising sun. Favourite time of the year.

London morning rush hour

2. Flow. Never having to touch the breaks. Knowing the traffic lights by heart and hitting intersections at just the right time. Finding the gaps in traffic, running constant calculations in the head for that perfect line. Modern day man’s well executed hunting trip :)

3. Music. Drum’n’base is magic for me. No other genre beats dnb for cycling in general. Exhibit A:

Yes, I’m aware of the dangers involved of listening to music while cycling.

“A mille pärast…?”

“A mille pärast arvuti sellest nupust kinni käib?”
“A mille pärast meil selline söök on?”
“A mille pärast me õues oleme?”
“A mille pärast me toas oleme?”
“A mille pärast sa seda laulad?”
“A mille pärast ma söön?”
“A mille pärast mulle arbuus meeldib?”
“A mille pärast ma vingun?”
“A mille pärast see on põrand?”
“A mille pärast täna kolmapäev on?”

O: “A mille pärast sa nuustikuga vanni pesed?”
K: “Millegagi peab ju pesema?”
O: “A mille pärast?”
K: “Sest vann on must.”
O: “A mille pärast?”
O: “Sest me oleme vannis käinud.”
K: “A mille pärast?”
O: “Sest ennast tuleb aeg-ajalt pesta.”
K: “A mille pärast?”

O: “Emme, kas sina oled emme?”
K: “Jah.”
O: “A mille pärast?”

Otto, 3,5 aastat vana.

TechStars experience – not all fun and games

My friends at Lingvist have just written about their TechStars London experience. It’s in Estonian but Google Translate does a semi-decent job of translating it into English if you’re interested.

Lingvist

I’m glad that the team decided to publish it in their blog. Lingvist is only the 3rd Estonian startup to make it into TechStars (the others are GrabCAD (Boston) and Testlio (Austin)) and previous teams shared their experience to a smaller circle of friends. I’m guilty myself of not writing about GrabCAD’s experience in Boston as I was part of the team back then…

Update: Kristel, CEO of Testlio, touched upon her TechStars experience briefly in her blog post, as did Meelik, their dev lead.

Mis Lingvistil sellest kasu oli? Kõige olulisem saavutus oli ehk Maidu mõttemaailma muutmine ‒ et ta tuleb teadusmaailmast, siis ettevõtte juhi rolli mõistmiseks oli see ülioluline. Teine, enamikule kõige olulisem tegur, on kontaktid investoritega. Neid on seal nii mentorite, juhukülaliste kui ka Demo Dayl osalejate näol väga palju. Kellelegi su idee ikka meeldib ja aasta pärast on raha kaasamisel lihtsam inimestega jutule saada. Kolmandaks andis TS meie arendusele uue fookuse – üritasime vastata nii investorite kui ka kasutajate põhiküsimustele.

Read the full post here: Lingvist @ TechStars »

By the way, the next application deadline for TechStars London is on 7th of September, 2014.

New to inbound marketing? Here’s the best intro I’ve seen

Put together by @dharmesh, one of the head wizards at Hubspot. If anyone knows their inbound it’s him/them.

Cycling Tour de Yorkshire

Friday. A call from Kristo: “Do you want to go cycle the 2nd stage of the Tour de France on Sunday?”

Sunday morning. Wake up in Wakefield, eat a big English breakfast, jump on a bike.

Holme Moss

Finish over 6 hours later in Sheffield having cycled a big part of the stage route including and 2nd category climb Holme Moss, being cheered on by the gathering crowds. Plus we got to see winner at the finishing line and I jumped into the slipstream of Cannondale’s Fabio Sabatini and managed to stay there for 300 meters. Until he stopped at his team bus :)

What a brilliant proper Tour de France atmosphere! Now I definitely have to join Kristo next year at the L’Etape du Tour.

Next time I’ll actually get some training miles in before doing this.

Market research industry – get your act together

Market research industry is going through a phase of soul searching. There’s been a lot of “Will we still be relevant in 2/5/10 years time?” type of introspection at conferences, in LinkedIn groups, in blog posts.

Edward Appleton at the Warc Next Generation Research, January 2014
Edward Appleton at the Warc Next Generation Research touching on the topic

Being relatively new to the field I found this lack of confidence surprising. Consumer startup world where I come from has much more of a “let’s move fast, build stuff, break things along the way, learn and improve” attitude. The belief is that if you put client first, focus on a few things, and execute fast then eventually you will win.

Emergence of new approaches to market research – mobile, Big Data, neuromarketing, behavioural economics, wearable technology, predictive analytics etc – have shaken up an industry that is used to innovation at a slightly slower pace, I guess. In fact, some of these methodologies aren’t that new per se, they’ve simply now become feasible as technology has matured and become cheaper.

Nothing new under the sun

Reading Benedict Evan’s completely unrelated “Ignorance: the limits of knowledge” post during the weekend made me look for parallels with tech, media and telecoms businesses.

Keep readin’ →

This is what happens when I stop being a good blogger

I started my first blog back in 1999 (thank you Jason Kottke for the inspiration) but for the last 5 years have posted less and less for various reasons.

This is what happened in 2013 when I published just 12 posts. The screengrab from Google Analytics compares 2013 vs 2012 and if I went further back in history the trend would be very much the same over the years.

Siimteller.com web traffic, 2013 vs 2012

It’s also telling that only 2 of the 10 most popular articles in 2013 where actually posted in 2013. Good thing Google thinks highly of a few of my older posts.

What’s the lesson?

If you want to keep your site popular then…

  • Add fresh, high quality (or at least entertaining) content on a regular basis
  • Pick a niche – lack of focus means there’s no core audience, less circulation of traffic within the site
  • Promote your content, shamelessly
  • Pages not optimised for social sharing
  • Not exactly rocket science and comes down to committing to something. Always the hardest thing.

    Do blogs still matter?

    For me they do. When I look at where I get the most valuable content (both on topics relevant to my work or just on stuff that interest me outside of work) it’s 75% blogs. Sometimes personal, sometimes company owned.

    Social media is just the discovery engine, real valuable content is almost always on someone’s blog.