What do people usually do after getting a good degree from a reputable institute? Well, they usually settle on a good job that feeds them well. Azm, an MBA Marketing graduate from LUMS, is clearly an exception here because he had two options either to get a job or run an already stable family business. Surprisingly, he chose none, he took the road less traveled by − the path to entrepreneurship. Azm Dar is the true representation of thousands of those Pakistani budding entrepreneurs who are working hard to improve the economic state of the country, by not consuming but creating the jobs.
Azm was incubated in the first batch of Plan9 and later got accepted at the biggest Scandinavian accelerator program ‘Accelerace‘. His product ‘KickStoro‘ was released in the 4th quarter of 2013. We did a conversation with him to get to know more about his personal experiences and his product.
Q1.So you already had a family business and an MBA Marketing degree from LUMS, you could have easily gotten a very good job. Then why take such hardship on yourself?
Azm: I had worked a couple of jobs before this, like teaching at Bahria University and NUST Business School and had some money of my own saved up. I thought, “Why not build something of my own”. Other than that my family was doing okay and I had no serious responsibilities at home. I also wasn’t married so I didn’t have to worry about a home to run, wife, kids and all that. I was doing well and getting by. The financial situation was favorable for me to go towards entrepreneurship without risking everything.
Q2. Was your family supportive of your venture?
Azm: Not really, my parents were worried about my future and wanted me to be stable as soon as possible. In fact, my father gave me a year’s time to sort out everything for my business. He thought that it wouldn’t work for me and I will be back to family business in a while. However, I stayed persistent, got incubated in Plan9 and then went to attend ‘Accelerace’ program in Denmark. My family is more supportive and proud now that they’ve seen, all the way I’ve come through.
Q3. What is KickStoro and What is the story behind name change of product?
Azm: KickStoro is basically an e-selling solution for small and medium businesses to sell their products through Facebook. We actually named our product “StoreTailor” in the beginning but then we felt that it sucked and changed it to “Roxical”. At further stages of development we decided that Roxical wouldn’t do either so “KickStoro” is what we all agreed upon.
KickStoro gives the users all the basic tools they need to start selling through the social media site. It can be added to a page as an app so you won’t need to make separate site or use another website to sell. Your fans can directly buy whatever they like from your Facebook page. We have also developed some shopping and posting features for Shopify and Tictail.
Q4. A good team is a crucial ingredient for a start-up to succeed. How did you find/build your team?
Azm: That is a fact! I personally feel like this is the most difficult part of the entire process of starting a venture. It is important that the enthusiasm, passion and vision of the team members fits together perfectly. Possible sources of finding your teammates can be incubators and other such professional and social platforms which bring people together. One can even find a potential future co-founder among ones friends or extended social circles.
This was a difficult stage for me, it was particularly challenging since I didn’t have a technical background. I needed people who were highly motivated and at the same time complemented me by filling in the skills I lacked . Eventually, I came across Usama, who had the tech skills we needed. In addition to him, my friend Mujtaba joined the team. So these are the three KickStoro co-founders, including myself. It took me 3 months to search and build my team.
Q5. How many users does KickStoro has currently and how you are planing to take it forward?
Azm: Till now we’ve had 600-700 sign-ups. We do believe that the potential market for our service is huge, especially in the developing countries, where Facebook businesses are growing successfully. Our main focus right now is to make our product better and get more users.
We have some very great features in the pipeline but I can’t disclose the details at the moment, you’ll have to wait and see. Plus, KickStoro is getting an upgrade within a month from now.
Q7. You were incubated in the first cycle of Plan9, how was your overall experience working there?
Azm: It was a great experience getting incubated there. Plan9 was unlike anything that has happened in Pakistan before. It sounded like a good opportunity so I applied and, luckily, got selected.
All I had was an idea. Plan9 fostered that with a number of helpful tools and facilities. I came from a non-tech background and this incubator not only taught me a lot of necessary things but also gave us a social environment where we met others and built our own little productive teams.
Q8. Some projects are lucky enough to be selected by the incubator Plan9, while a lot more have to face rejection. What do aspiring entrepreneurs have to do to take their dreams to the next level?
Azm: First of all I’d like to add something here that I usually say, “Nobody can tell you how to reach success”, which means that you don’t have to give up on your dreams just because it didn’t get selected by one set of judges. This in no way means that your dreams are invalid or that your are bare of potential. Entrepreneurs have to be brave and a little crazy. Refuse to accept defeat and keep working on that idea of yours!
Azm quoted Dr. Sheldon Cooper by saying, “There is a fine line between wrong and visionary. Unfortunately you have to be a visionary to see it.”
Q9. Tell us about you experience at Accelerace.
Azm: To be a part of Accelerace was truly an opportunity of a lifetime. We attended comprehensive sessions by some of the best experts from the Valley. Furthermore, we got a chance to pitch our product idea to real investors and companies on the “Demo Day”. One of the best things about Accelerace is that each team gets assigned their own separate mentor. Moreover, we were continually pushed and challenged to brainstorm and come up with solutions more efficiently.
Q10. Do you ever get frustrated when things don’t work in your favor?
Azm: Naturally, I do have some moments where I get fed up and start thinking about quitting. It happens to all of us. There are highs and lows in every venture, but you’ve got to pick yourself up and start working again with a renewed determination and enthusiasm, remember why you go into it all in the first place.
Q11. A lot of entrepreneurial activities and events are happening in Pakistan now – What’s your take on that?
Azm: I believe that this kind of activity is really good for us. It is a favorable growth trend, actually. Events like “start-up weekends” are good social and learning platform for young and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Q12. How much do you think that ‘getting a degree from LUMS’ and ‘being an exchange student to Denmark’ has helped you? Do you think people with different educational background achieve similar success?
Azm: LUMS has helped me a lot and having studied in Copenhagen earlier has definitely made my profile better. The learning business students get from LUMS is priceless. I am a fan of the case-study method that is applied there, the program genuinely enhances people’s ability to learn. However, one doesn’t necessarily has to be a LUMS graduate who has studied abroad for a semester or two, to get such opportunities. People of all backgrounds can be where I am today or even soar higher. There is a lot of diversity I see in the people around me who are enjoying similar and greater success.
Q13. What are the important DOs and DON’Ts of entrepreneurship you’d like to share with aspire-rs (based on your own journey)?
Azm: DO select the co-founders very wisely. DO focus on your product and keep making it better. DO keep working hard and following your dreams. DON’T expect that anyone is giving you any money for your project. DON’T run after the investors (because you’re probably not getting any until your idea reaches to a certain level of initial success).