In your younger years (school, college, university) were you a leader or a follower?
Ibtesam Sharif: I love trying out new and different stuff. For example, in university life, I always selected my own presentations and projects instead of the ones present in the given list.
Similarly, I participated in the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2008 Software Design competition that was unprecedented from my institute. I couldn’t win but yes I did create an excitement among my juniors. UET Lahore won this competition consecutively for the next two years beating the likes of LUMS, FAST, NUST. More interestingly, in 2009, all first three teams were from UET.
When did you realize that you were ready to take the most risky and bumpy road to success i-e entrepreneurship?
Ibtesam Sharif: I think this is something natural. All entrepreneurs have one thing common: they love experimenting new stuff; you can’t just let them work on a single task for too long as in case of day-to-day job. They want to do something on their own, something exciting, something they are passionate about. It’s like a time bomb ticking inside practically waiting to explode. For me, it detonated in August 2010.
How much capital did you need to start Data-Arc Solutions?
Ibtesam Sharif: I had about a year of my salary savings when I started this startup. But frankly speaking, you don’t need money especially in our industry. What you need is brain and the WILL to do something.
A good team is very vital in the success of a startup? How did you team up with like-minded people?
Ibtesam Sharif: I agree with you. The biggest differentiating factor between an ordinary startup and a successful startup is its team. I am very lucky to have two of my friends, Haider and Wahab with me from day one. In fact we know each other even before starting this startup, Haider being the team mate in Project EWE, you mentioned above.
What are you truly passionate about?
Ibtesam Sharif: At Data-Arc, we are passionate about developing some really cool games and apps, not just limited to mobile. We have had a little success but I feel we have a long way to go.
Currently you are the CEO of your startup and also Microsoft Community Trainee Manager. How do you tackle both the Jobs?
Ibtesam Sharif: Currently, I am only focusing on my company. I have limited my activity as the Trainee Manager.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome in order to start your own venture?
Ibtesam Sharif: Starting a company in Pakistan is not an easy job, especially when you are from a non-business background.
We are all engineers at home so this was an all-new experience for me. From finding a good affordable office space to procurement of furniture, handling power failures to find a good reliable Internet connection, this was all very hectic to start with. But again, this is all part of the journey I chose for myself and it was exciting and challenging in itself. Job taught me professionalism, this company is teaching me life
Startups are very unpredictable; you have to face a lot of ups and downs every now and then, what drives Ibtesam?
Ibtesam Sharif: Ups and downs are part of a startup life but one should always be determined and optimistic. Like other CEOs, I have also set goals for my startup. The will to achieve these goals keeps me going. Secondly, I feel blessed to have people around me with similar motivation level and it really helps us as a team.
How many hours of sleep you get every day?
Ibtesam Sharif: At start, we hardly slept. I still remember working non-stop for days. I think I used to sleep for just 3-4 hours in the beginning.*laughs* Sleep timings are also improving now as startup is getting more mature.
What was your family’s response to your idea of starting your own company? Did they support you?
Ibtesam Sharif: Yes, they have always been supportive. When I told them about this idea, they really encouraged me to do this. Actually, I was afraid that they might not back this idea but their response was overwhelming positive.
Why do we see so few products based companies in Pakistan?
Ibtesam Sharif: Product Based development is risky. You spend from your own pocket without knowing the returns for your work. Moreover, we don’t have VC’s to back our ideas. But for the past year or so, we are seeing product-based companies emerging and it’s encouraging
What’s the role of Money in a startup?
Ibtesam Sharif: Money isn’t something that stops you from setting up a startup. Especially, in our industry, what you need is an idea, a machine to develop it and a brain to sell it.
True, it is important to get your living going but money can never be a good excuse for not pursuing your dreams.
We have seen your hit products GMaps and Wordness for Windows Platform. Why are Microsoft technologies and products your main focus?
Ibtesam Sharif: The primary reason was the team expertise. We have been working with Microsoft technologies from day one and Windows Platform was the easiest marketplace for us to jump in. Though, We are not limiting our capabilities to Microsoft platform. In fact we have made some really cool applications on IOS for our clients. You will also see the android version of Wordness in coming weeks along with other new titles to follow.
How important is it to love what we do in life?
Ibtesam Sharif: it is THE single most important thing when it comes to your work. Unless/until you love your work, you will not be able to pull out something extraordinary.
Do you get time to relax and enjoy the things you love other than work? What are your hobbies?
Ibtesam Sharif: I like reading books especially success stories of different startups. This also helps me get going. I also watch movies and other TV series. I am a big fan of the Big Bang Theory and Suits.
Who is your Idol?
Ibtesam Sharif: I am a big fan of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
What mistakes did you make in the past and how did you correct them?
Ibtesam Sharif: I committed a lot of mistakes in the past 3 years. From hiring wrong people to trusting friends, wrong work assignments to setting wrong client expectations, I think I have done everything wrong that could have been done. They key is not to commit mistakes, it is to learn from them and not to repeat them. One thing I learnt is not to rely on anyone in difficult time, most of them leave you alone.
What is the importance of failure in a successful startup?
Ibtesam Sharif: I am really not afraid of failure. Failures are a part of life and they give you an excellent chance to analyze your mistakes and make yourself a better person and a professional. We have developed many failed products and each of them taught us something unique.
Is Data-arc Solutions your only source of income? Is it important to have multiple sources of income in order to be stable and risk free?
Ibtesam Sharif: Yes, it is the only source and I believe that if you do quality work, a single source is more than enough.
What is an average work day life for you?
Ibtesam Sharif: My usual work days involves looking after the ongoing projects, searching for new ideas for our upcoming game titles and having frequent discussions with my colleagues about the gaming industry.
What’s the worst business advice you ever received?
Ibtesam Sharif: Someone told me “Selling is the easiest part, developing something is difficult.”
Do you have an ‘exit’ strategy?
Ibtesam Sharif: No, I really don’t have an exit strategy and have never even thought about having one.
What book do you think everyone on the team should read?
Ibtesam Sharif: I would recommend everyone to read the following titles,
– The Lean Startup
– Lean Inn especially for women entrepreneurs
– Startup Life
– Founder at Work
– The Launchpad
What movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, do you have to watch when it’s on?
Ibtesam Sharif: I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings Series. I am also looking forward to the Hobbit’s next episode.
What advice will you give to the startups and budding entrepreneurs?
Ibtesam Sharif: Always believe in yourself and never lose hope. Ups and downs are part of the startup life, use them as a learning curve and move on.
and then we ended the Interview.
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