Dr. Umar Saif was the first Pakistani to receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of Cambridge, where he was admitted to the doctorate program when he was only 19 years old. Dr Saif worked and taught at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) for four years, where he was part of the core team which developed system technologies for project Oxygen- a US$40 million project sponsored by the US Department of Defense and an industrial Alliance of world-class companies including Nokia, HP, NTT DoCommo, Phillips, Acer and Delta.
However, the reason he has caught my attention is not above achievements. Dr. Saif co-founded four technology startups: BumpIn.com (contextual chatting), SeeNreport.com (citizen journalism), ChOpaal.pk (SMS social networking) and TicketMy.com (event tickets) after returning to Pakistan. Dr. Saifis the founder of one of the first startup incubators in Lahore, Pakistan, called SCI. His good work in SCI won him the Young Global Leader (YGL) by the World Economic Forum in 2010.
Below is a summary of his interview with Jehan Ara, President at P@SHA. He shares his insight, experience and brings forth some really encouraging points for startups in Pakistan. You can watch the complete interview over CIO Webstudio: Part 1 : Part 2.
I personally donot agree with all his opinions. Where ever I differ, I have mentioned it in braces. The reasons of my difference of opinion will be made clear in my upcoming blogs. The blog also attempts to answer some of the points raised by honorable seniors in the zumbeel mailing list.
Thanks are due to Rabia Ghareeb, Chief Editor, CIO Webstudio for using content from the site.
Why there is there such a dearth of entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
Dr. Saif clarifies that every year; there are around 4 to 5 startups from the young passing out batches of FAST and LUMS, the two universities he has himself interacted with. So, startups are there, but they do not mature from a friendly setup to a large business. The percentage of companies making such a transition in Pakistan is less than 1%. The reasons behind these sheer failures are lack of experience, no defined contractual obligations, no formal CEO and lack of proper guidance. There is no continuous cash flow and no regular customer. The motivation being a temporal thing goes down with the passage of time and eventually the setup vanishes.
So, what are the solutions?
Friends, family and fools. These must support these young brilliant, self motivated engineers to ensure these startups are successful. One thing Dr. Saif suggests is that the guys should think about the startups right after coming out of the university. Because this is the time when one has least responsibilities, can easily take risks and has highest energy level. If one is brilliant, he may get a handsome job, and then he gets married, and then he finds himself engulfed with responsibilities that inhibit him from even thinking about startups.
But even a handsome job cant give you a reasonable lifestyle. The best a young graduate can get from a job is Rs 200,000 per month out of which he has to spend for his daily necessities. To reach the figure of Rs 10 million of savings, it’s going to take at least a decade, assuming he is able to retain that job for so long. And you cant reach this figure of Rs 10 million of saving even after going to West. Indeed, moving to West results in even lower savings. Either way, people just cant come out of the “survival” stage. Stuck!
Comparing Pakistan and India:
Dr. Saif compares the number of human resources working in Pakistan with that in India. In India, the big software houses employ around 70,000 people. In Pakistan, this figure is not more than 2000. And despite of all this, its difficult to find highly talented professionals. This has two implications. First, it means that the entrepreneurs in Pakistan have very few competitors. If someone makes the right decision and is really hard working, he/she can really rock the local market. Second, its really hard to find good talent in Pakistan. With little competition, the best of the work is yet to come out from these engineers. [This should answer the point of comparing Pakistan and India. Pakistan is not even on the radar when compared to India in outsourcing. Pakistan has missed the bandwagon of Outsourcing and there is no way Pakistan can compete with India. The way to go for Pakistani entrepreneurs is product development. - Misbah]
Dr. Saif briefly explains how he grooms the young professionals who work along with him in startups. He gives very little salary this is done to ensure the guy feels the heat of entrepreneurship and has as many sleepless nights as Dr. Saif. No one can be an entrepreneur unless he is put into stress.
Dr. Saif admits that he has been out of cash during his startups and indeed in negative balance as well. And despite of all this, he still doesn’t fear any failure. “As long as my team members are as committed as me, I don’t bother about failures”. Entrepreneurs do fail!
Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. Dr. Saif clarifies that if someone is not self motivated, eager and creative, he should look for a 9 to 5 job. However, it would be a great disservice to rule out that geeks cant be entrepreneurs. [Eric Sink has written a fantastic post in which he has identified the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur. You can read it here. - Misbah]
To be continued…………….