Pakistani VAS companies and the dilemma of Digital Transformation

By Nabeel Hanif on
March 24, 2017
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Digital transformation, a term hardly known to mankind a few years back has now gone crazily viral across the globe, be it business voices in Davos, the banking giants in London & Wall Street, the automotive industry experimenting with AI, or the corporate catching up with billion dollar startups.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the experiment with Digital transformation is primarily led by the Telcos and this strategic paradigm shift in their business model has resulted in some extraordinary changes in fortunes for the (Value Added Services) VAS giants locally – essentially making them obsolete.

Being a passionate follower of tech scene here & abroad, I’ve been closely following the recent journey & experiments of these VAS companies and hence was compelled to write up about how this digital transformation of telco operators have landed the VAS companies into trouble.

So, how do you transform a legacy VAS company into a tech or digital leader in Pakistan?

Here’s my take:

1. Start from your strength

Being a VAS innovator, you’ve been there, successfully shipping profitable VAS products over the years and building lasting relationships within the Telco & Enterprise ecosystem in Pakistan.

Know & acknowledge that winning mentality and be ready to leverage this credibility again. Rest assured doors would open up for your teams whenever you’re ready.

2. Hire entrepreneurial & transform existing.

Hire exceptional talent, hire entrepreneurial all-rounders, hustlers, the people with crazy, wild & radical viewpoint, people who have taken risks in life/startups/products before.

These lots are hard to manage I understand but if you put up the challenge, give them resources, ensure they feel valued and you have an explosive innovation assembly line up and ready.

Transform existing: You probably still have one of the most competent teams in the country, no one doubts that!

Don’t let the oldies take the mickey out of the entrepreneurial ones. You need a right mix of diversity in your team to move ahead, rigidity needs to go and agility needs to come in. But don’t let the mix explode onto your assembly line.

And avoid hiring careerists, please!

3. Build & Ship various products quickly – Don’t be afraid.

Once you have the entrepreneurial hires & VAS winners ready. Roll up the sleeves and start building and shipping tech and digital products.

Try different verticals as per your strategic focus, be careful to not chain up your innovation machine.

Be agile in product strategy; ideation, business models, product road-maps, market positioning, beta & product launches.

Ship many, transfer ownership to the teams, create healthy internal competition around products.

4. Partner up or acquire ambitious young Dev & Design teams.

At this point, you have crazy entrepreneurial product managers driving your various products into the beta launches.

To expedite multiple product releases within a short period of time and to ensure agility of the whole product life cycle, you need to have a very gelled & competent “Dev & Design” team closely aligned to your strategic business direction.

Don’t get stuck in hiring your own Dev team at this stage as it would take months if not years to turn them into a well-oiled product shipping machine.

More importantly, don’t get all hung up at acquiring them as well, partnering up at this stage would be the better course of action. See & assess quarterly I’d say.

5. Fail fast, learn, repeat again!

You’d definitely fail in products, learn and move on. Don’t let the failures stall your craziness & entrepreneurial spirit.

Build a “fighter & a winner” culture within your product teams. Learn, Learn, Learn & fail fast. So you can pick up your spirits without wasting too much time & money.

Repeat all that again, build a lean & agile product innovation culture.

It’s only a matter of time before one of your product gets a breakthrough & makes the whole team proud.

6. Venture into the “VC” world

By now, your VAS company has transformed into a tech & digital Products business, shipping multiple products in the 1st year.

I believe, building a parallel Venture Capital arm focused at Digital is crucial to complement the overall business transformation strategy here.

Ideally, start from early-stage investments in tech and digital products ranging from $10,000 to $15,000. You already have the support structure to shore up the startup till beta launch e.g Dev & Design teams, Content, Sales, and others.

Even if the Startup fails to get traction, you would have a constant stream of entrepreneurial talent around you, pick & choose whoever suits you best.

Muscle up to invest in medium stage startups as well. This would ensure you have a sound insight into the developing eco-system locally and cement your brand name even further.

Aim to become the Greylock of Pakistan.

7. Become the envy of others

Do all of the above and you are sure to become the envy of everybody in the tech and digital scene of Pakistan and trust me, no one is better poised to exploit their market position than you guys.

Conclusion

As things stand, 2017 is the make or break for your business transformation.

Start the journey! Don’t wait around for the perfect eureka moment or building a perfect business strategy and get those crazy people onboard ASAP and get the things rolling.

 
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