In Conversation with Kamran Akbar – Founder of Hactric Solutions
There are a lot of people who want to open up their own companies right after graduation but many of them don’t succeed. Today we bring you an interview of someone who started his own company right after graduation and now has 20 to 25 full-time employees currently providing services in the Digital Marketing and Software development domain. Kamran Akbar is the founder and CEO of Hactric Solutions (Pvt) Ltd., based out of TechOne NUST. Let’s take a look at how his journey started and how he scaled his company:
Q. Let’s start off with you telling us about yourself and the basic idea behind Hactric Solutions.
Alright. So about me, as you know that I graduated last year in 2019 and basically the idea was that when I came to NUST I was in a search of, that although I got very good grades in my intermediate and later I learned that I eventually topped in all of Punjab but that wasn’t something that I was really looking for. So after coming to NUST my purpose was to get great exposure from the big world. So from the first day, I was thinking about; why did I come to a big university like NUST? The atmosphere is like you’re doing so many things but you don’t even realize that you’re doing something.
So, the idea was conceived from the fact that Pakistan lags far behind in terms of IT exports in comparison to India and many other countries. We got incubation in NIC where we participated in a hackathon and we came in the top 2. Then we registered ourselves in 2018 with the SECP as a private limited company. Now, starting from there, it’s been more than two years that Hactric Solutions (Pvt) Ltd. is on its way. The purpose is that we work in the IT ecosystem of Pakistan and we improve it so that our graduates, they can get a work environment according to their exposure which I think if I had had such freedom at the time I was graduating, I could have done better.
Q. What inspired you to start Hactric Solutions. Like you saw a company which was already operating or was it a personal goal? So how did you manage to build Hactric Solutions and what do you think is the end goal of Hactric Solutions?
Basically, it was that I started studying business and that is something that really happened to me and you understand that. In business, there is no limit meaning that sometimes it seems to me that it’s not like I haven’t done jobs, I have done internships, I have worked with organizations, I still study and a lot of time gets spent on this. So, I felt like if they would give me this task and I would try to do it in a different manner or that if I would do the task in 2 hours, then what would I do with the rest of the 10 hours? There was the personal factor that I would be left a little confined.
Right now in Pakistan, there are more than 2500 software development companies that are registered. Still, our exports are meagre. So, ultimately my inspiration was that I want to do something that has no limit, where you can excel every day and in terms of business, I do what I love to. For me, right now about 2 hours ago I came to the office and I am the last one to leave the office. Like I go by 9 or 10, but it doesn’t feel like I am at the office till 10 o’clock and what I’m doing. If I do some other work like this, I get bored. So for me, after graduation it’s been more than a year and it hasn’t felt like I’ve worked a single day. So, it’s really like a fun interaction with people, you talk to people and you get ideas which keep you motivated. You get to hear new ideas, you think about something, you work on it, products that you’ve made are used by people so you feel confident, proud that you made this and it is adding value to the people. This really inspired me, and again when you’ve studied this ecosystem you see that there is a huge gap.
Q. How has COVID-19 impacted your company?
Companies have reduced their employees, whereas we expanded and our revenues have increased as well. As the COVID started, we had a meeting like 20 CEOs on Zoom in April and we thought about what had happened and what we should do next. That was the sole agenda. So, I suggested over there that all the work you do in the USA, UK, Russia, you should do in Pakistan. For small business, e.g. if there is a small shop at the street corner, you should go to them and make them a small website. He won’t give you millions but he will give you thousands. Slowly these thousands will become millions and you will be able to pay your employees and your operational costs will come out of it. Ultimately by the end of the COVID, if you empower around 20 shops and small businesses, you not only save yourself but you have empowered 20 other businesses and it will turn into a community. So, this was our vision and we have done this. We are very proud of it that without any profits, considering only our operational costs, we worked and we empowered a lot of businesses in this COVID and they are happy Alhamdolillah and we are happy Alhamdolillah.
Q. Which brings me to the origins of Hactric Solutions once again. In terms of funding, please tell me how did Hactric Solutions start? Was it bootstrap or seed funding or so forth?
We read somewhere that if you can’t make money without money then you can’t make money with money. So it had settled somewhere in my subconscious, and hence we started this company with zero funding. It’s just a thing that we just started. I would say that our team was good. We were three people: We were all of different dynamics. One was a pure tech guy, I was from IT management because I had already spent one-year studying management, and one was the person who was a good content writer, graphic designer and digital marketer.
So we three started and it felt like we didn’t have any expenses at all. You have expenses if you have to pay someone or something. So that’s how it just started and other than that we never really focused on funding anyway because that is a very long process. You make presentations, it takes them six months, years or maybe 2 years and then they actually get something. So we started with zero funding and Alhamdolillah every single day we got clients, revenues and we used that to expand the team so funding wasn’t really an option for us because if we waited for that maybe we’d still be waiting today. So in that sense, it was very good for us.
Q. Since you have been in NIC and TIC (TechOne) as well. So, if you were to compare the opportunities being offered in both areas. So why did you choose TIC and why not NIC? If you could highlight the advantages and disadvantages of both environments.
For me personally, I found TechOne forces people to generate revenue at the very start of their entrepreneurial journey and that creates a sort of self-reliance which enables startup founders to meet their expenses on their own. Because nothing is free here so you ultimately have to find revenue sources to sustain your stay there. This helped a lot in my journey and I consider TechOne to be an entire ecosystem. In regards to National Incubation Center, they certainly have a stronger PR and social presence than TechOne but they have a very exhaustive cohort with many sessions being held every day which doesn’t give you much time in the day to focus on the end product. But then again, both places provide a different sort of exposure which has enabled us to be here where we currently are.
Q. So we’ve talked about startup culture, let’s talk about your company’s flagship products that you would like to highlight.
Alright, our major revenue stream and our main focus is our software development service. We do app development, web development majorly. We do UI/UX designing according to the needs of the software. Similarly, our other stream is digital marketing, we are doing pretty good in that. Our 3rd focus is R&D, where we experiment on new technologies and ideas and spend a certain portion of our revenue for continuous innovation.
So our first flagship project is ForiTaleem, which hasn’t been launched yet but we have launched a small part of it called Learn-E. We launched that in COVID because our ForiTaleem idea was totally changed due to the COVID, just like what happened to AirBnB, we faced something similar that our model was that someone would come to your house and teach you. In 40 days, we had a meeting, we designed an idea, and developed it and launched it within 40 days.
What Learn-E does is that it’s a simple mobile application which helps schools to connect to their students remotely and it gives you an interface to record your lectures and put custom lectures on it. Then it has an online diary and an online examination system. It’s pretty easy, and flexible for those people that do this work in underprivileged areas. It has a well-managed grading system, attendance, catering to all the students needs so the parents, teachers and students all are onboard. So it was a good product for COVID but its biggest use was after COVID which is that it will have recorded lectures on it and your child can come to school, take their classes and go back and log in and has a record of the lectures at home for revision, minimizing the need of the tuition/academy system culture. So it is a good value addition for schools.
We work with schools and they, in turn, accommodate their students. Right now in this COVID period, we launched this application on 20th June. We have covered more than 2500 students in 10 different cities and around 25-30 schools have registered with us in this period.
Q. How should a final year student build his own startup while managing his own studies like you did? What were the things you focused on to build Hactric?
There is no single advice. Firstly, if you haven’t found in the 3 years of university which sort of person you are, not about interest which is secondary, you just need to explore yourself. Can you write well? That is a strength. Hard-working is a strength. So, if you’ve explored yourself and you know that I am someone who can go into this entrepreneurial side, then the first thing you need to do is to find like-minded people and who can make a good team and the skills should never repeat. 2 people doing the same work aren’t needed.
Make a small team of like-minded people. 3-4 people but a good team. Share your idea with them. Take them into confidence in your vision. If they think like you then you’ve done half of the work. A good diverse team doesn’t even need funding. Then there comes a very very important role i.e. CEO. Right now the person with the idea just becomes the CEO but it is an extremely important role. Students don’t know what a CEO actually does. CTO they know, operations they know, CMO as well but not CEO. He has to be mentally strong. There will be so many downs in the start that you won’t be able to sustain yourself or your team. Just be very mentally sharp. If you’ve done this, you’re on the brink.
The IT industry isn’t of a single country, it belongs to the world. We haven’t even begun to focus our full-potential to excel in the tech segment. Like we’re conducting this interview, this wasn’t even thinkable 4-5 months ago. People didn’t even know Zoom or MS Teams. So in the next 10 years, you can’t imagine what will happen. There will be so many opportunities.
Work in your domain. The CEO brings the business, manages the connections. Don’t waste money that you make, invest it in R&D and save it for the bad days and don’t limit yourself. Do stuff that brings in revenue. The market is full of opportunities, never limit yourself and keep striving for innovation in the field you are working in. Be consistent and above all, take risks because, in the end, that is what matters.