Dilawar A.Syed is a well known name in the Pakistani Tech circles. He is not only a successful entrepreneur but also has an impressive career. Prior to joining Freshdesk, a startup that helps companies reach out to their customers through multiple platforms using a cloud-based product, Dilawar worked as the Head of Strategy and Operations at Yahoo and played a key role in transforming Yonja Media, helping its users expand their reach three-fold. He also serves on President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Dilawar recently participated in a Fireside chat hosted at LUMS by LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship (LCE) where he shared his experiences and gave some great advice to the attendees.
Given the political turmoil in the country, especially in the wake of recent political activities, many Pakistanis feel that they are at a disadvantage in terms of perceptions, facilities, infrastructure and economics. One of the key topics of the chat was to discuss how local businessmen can succeed when faced with these problems. Dilawar’s approach was positive. He pointed out that political unrest was something Pakistanis had little control over and yes, while the political unrest in the country did indeed create problems for locals, it also presented an opportunity to develop a problem solving attitude and find ways to overcome the adversities.
“Switch off the TV and focus on what you can do. When you pitch to foreign investors and businesses, make sure you acknowledge the risks and problems, show them that you are prepared and have a plan in place. Tell them exactly how you will deal with 10-hours of load-shedding or an unexpected strike.”
Dilawar urged the participants to focus on doing. Passion is the core but unless entrepreneurs today have mission driven approach, there is little chance they will be able to make a difference.
“In the next 10 years, we need to create 36 million jobs to accommodate the population. I beseech you all to start thinking of businesses with special attention to impact. Startups should create jobs and have significant impact on the society.”
He also shed light on the extremely competitive services industry where companies from all over the world are neck to neck in trying to win customers. In Dilawar’s opinion, it is a much better idea to build a world class product that has its own market. Of course, the product can only succeed if combined with aggressive marketing.
“For a not so high end product, Google is your best friend. Another good idea is to get good local marketers as the front end, especially if you are selling in foreign countries. Your customers can become your strength; in fact no one sells your products better than your old customers. ”
The subject of foreign companies was also broached during the conversation and Dilawar commented how foreign companies were preferable because investors to have a company operate in the same system of governance that they are used to. Moreover, it isn’t very hard to set up a parent company in countries like US and have their subsidiaries operate in developing countries like India and Pakistan.
Freshdesk which operates in Chennai, has succeeded because as Dilawar puts it, the team had the hunger and the drive to rise to the top. He stressed that revenue growth is the single most important factor that leads to investment and there are many opportunities that can be accessed provided the entrepreneurs spend time on the business model, lowering customer acquisition cost and have a talented marketing team. He further pointed out that platforms like OPEN are an excellent idea and that there is a pressing need that academic institutions work in partnership with entrepreneurial talent so that we can produce the skilled resources we need to build tomorrow’s Pakistan.
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