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Pakistani Startups need to raise the bar as neighboring countries move ahead with pace!

Arslan Ali Written by Arslan Ali · 3 min read>
iRAN

Left to right: Mohammad Noresi, founder of Hamijoo, Nazanin Daneshvar, founder of Takhfifan and Tabassom Latifi, founder of Mamanpaz, photographed in Tehran. (Photograph: Arash Ashourinia/Observer (Source the Guardian)

Pakistan’s Context and realization:

Pakistan is the 5th largest country in the world in terms of population and with over 180 million souls on board; we are still lagging behind on several territories regarding technological and infrastructural development. There is nothing wrong in celebrating the success of the businesses, but there is a high-level concern when the news about technology, jobs, and development comes out from just 3 or 4 cities, leaving the rest 200 in shades.

On the other hand, if we glance around our neighbors we would see that they are moving with a pace which can easily left us behind if we don’t raise the throttle right now.

India and China are already way ahead in competition. Even we are hearing about startups from Afghanistan, but what really gets the bar on the startups and businesses to a whole new level is a place we call Iran. Although several thousand miles away from the Silicon Valley, the Iranian technology and startup sector is making all the right sounds and moves past 5 years now.

Rise of the Iranian Startups:

In a recently held iBridges conference in Berlin, these startups were showcased from Iran:

  • Digikala, Founded by Hamid and Saeed Mohammadi is an online e-commerce platform, which has become the biggest in the Middle East with around 750,000 unique visitors per day and is estimated to be worth $150m.
  • Aparat, Founded by Mohammad-Javad Shakouri Moghaddam is an Iranian version of YouTube
  • Takhfifan Founded by Nazanin Daneshvar (a Groupon-type website)
  • Mamanpaz, Founded by Tabassom Latifi which offers real home cooking to its online customers.
  • Hamijoo Founded by Mohammad Noresi is a crowdfunding platform

Have Iran taken the right risks? Yes it has!

Are their businesses under threat from other IT giants, if after the sanctions are lifted and they ever enter the Iran market? Of course!

Iran’s Context of Startups, and realization:

Nima Akbarpour a presenter from BBC Click says that “lifting of sanctions will pose both a threat as well as an opportunity to Iranian startups

“Some big companies such as [leading mobile app store] Cafe Bazaar, which is an Android market, will probably face serious problems if Google were to directly enter the Iranian market,” says Mohammad Noresi, 28-year-old founder of Iranian crowdfunding platform Hamijoo, “whereas a company like Digikala will benefit from sanctions relief because it will have access to foreign investors.” Cafe Bazaar, which is run by 28-year-old Hessam Armandehi, is estimated to be worth $20m and offer more than 25,000 Iranian and international apps.

Further on, the sanctions have not congested the foreign investment in Iran entirely. There are several companies which are unconcerned about doing business in the US and hence taking risks. For example, a joint venture between South African telecom company MTN and the Germany-based company Rocket Internet has been launching startups in Iran. This combined venture is setting up some Iranian versions of eBay (Mozando), Amazon (Bamilo), and even Uber (Taxi Yaab).

Where do we fit?

I believe our generation is too much in confidence that if nothing happens, something will eventually happen. Because of the political and economical roller coaster rides in past 3 decades, we have not shifted our focus to the new generation. We are also not being able to change the academia and its related policies in line to innovations. Although several times it has been brought up and talked about, but something is always sticking on the wheels.

Hard hitting Questions:

The change, however, has started but seems like a half-baked effort. Whatever the development and innovation is happening, it is making the news from Lahore or Karachi. Very rarely, I get to see something happening in other cities.

Question is why? Why are not we developing our infrastructure and technological domain in other cities of Pakistan. Why don’t we like to do business and investments in cities such as Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad, Larkana, Sukkur, Gawardar, Multan, Gilgit, Badeen, and so many more.

50% of Pakistan population comprise of young generation under 25 years of age. We have all the resources available for sustainability and business growth. Yet we always tend to lag behind due to one reason or another. We need to get over it now.

Even if we say we have the talents and innovations, we are still lacking the right amount of drum beating for these entities. Handful of conferences (on a very small level and duration) and handful of academic activities with a very low voice on the social media happens in just two cities, Karachi or Lahore. So why not have 4 IT conferences in a year time in 4 cities across Pakistan?

The Brain Drain:

We have also turned our faces from the gruesome fact of “Brain Drain” from our country. Instead, it is evident that in Pakistan due to cultural, political and economical situations, the youngsters and professionals prefer to go abroad. This has become a business as well. As a lot of recruiters post jobs related to far east, mid east, Australia, US and America. We never realized that how many of our talent has already left the country within the past 10 years. Somehow, if our businesses start getting the right attention and there is new investment opportunities from foreign sector, those brains may return back.

The bar is raised:

Iran Startups being showcased in Germany has raised the bar for Pakistani startups. Eventually the startups here will need the same kind of international recognition. If Iran, with all their sanctions and political turmoils can do innovations and businesses, why can’t we?

I firmly believe that instead of praising heads, we need critic heads. We need to put the right amount of criticism in favor and against our technology sector. This can situate a realization drive just like the way it happened in Iran. They started to realize what they have and what they don’t have. Once they become conscious, they built their own. We also need such realistic enthusiasm. Associations, academia, industry, role models, mentors and established businesses need to come forward. We need to re-think about the idea and innovation sciences. Copy, Inspire or genuine, whatever be the idea – it should leave the minds and come out on the table of execution, before it’s too late.

Otherwise living in a pond, never made a frog anxious of anything, but we don’t want to live like that, do we?