A Conversation with Nabeel A. Qadeer – Program Manager Plan9 Incubator
Entrepreneurship and Startups is one hot topic in Pakistan these days. People are discussing it everywhere and with everyone. Wherever we have gone recently, we have spotted people talking about how Pakistani entrepreneurs are emerging as one of the best ones in the world with their amazing products and inspiring stories. And when you talk about Entrepreneurship and Startups in Pakistan, you can’t miss the contributions of Plan9 Incubation Center in the past year.
Some of the best startups that have emerged recently from Pakistan were incubated at Plan9 Incubator. This of course made us curious about how Plan9 works and who are the people behind it. To feed our curious minds, Nabeel A. Qadeer – Program Manager of Plan9 was the right guy to meet and converse with. So, The AppJuice team went to meet Nabeel to ask how Plan9 started and how does the team feel about the fact that Plan9 may be the best incubator in the world.
Over a cup of steaming hot coffee, Nabeel told us how Plan9 Incubator came into being. Umar Saif, the founder of Plan9 and also a board member originally came up with the idea to invest in a one of its kind startup incubator, a platform that would give wings to the talented youth of Pakistan so that they could fly in the pursuit of their dreams. He found in Nabeel, who had recently returned from UK, the most able person to run this incubator. “He is a special individual and a visionary” said Nabeel as he recalled the time when he made a very important decision after discussions with Umar Saif. Nabeel moved back to Pakistan to run Plan9 Incubator. “He told me that the stakes were high and we couldn’t fail”, Nabeel recalls his first conversation with Umar.
With a large investment from the government, a huge responsibility lay on the shoulders of Umar Saif and he made the right call by placing Nabeel on the driving seat. Nabeel had been an incubatee himself, understood the way incubators worked globally and had been a part of the tech industry of Pakistan. He had successfully automated business operations of various SMEs across Pakistan in the past few years.
Nabeel quotes: “We knew we had to see ourselves as a brand right from the beginning. We were the biggest Government backed technology initiative in Pakistan and if we executed it right, we’ll put a lasting mark on the land scape of the entrepreneurial scene in Pakistan”
Now Nabeel works with an amazing team to run Plan9. Among others, there is the fun and chirpy Hafsa Shorish who takes care of the PR also managing the social media accounts for Plan9, there is ever-helpful Sarah Tariq who designs strategies and produces content and the demure Mariam Shakir who handles all the research work. Uzair Shahid, Assistant Program Manager: Super responsible and highly dependable. Runs the operations of the incubator to ensure every process goes smoothly. Ebad Firdous, Animation Specialist: the credit of capturing Plan9 through camera lens and animated videos goes to him. They are all superstars in their own rights at Plan9. Plan9 is a team of handful of members who manage the incubator and make their way to office everyday with the hope of doing something big.
“We are so absorbed in our work that nobody wants to leave. It’s a self-motivated team that wants to do amazing things for Pakistan” Nabeel pointed out to the fact that the team has been working together for over a year now. He firmly believes that the credit of the raging success of Plan9 goes to his great team.
Plan9 is a team of individuals who are the very best in their own respective fields. This added to the fact that there is a culture of devolved leadership that works in a way that each member is a leader of his or her own space. “This helps each member of the team to be creative, stay motivated and give their best to the Plan9. Plan9 Incubator is a great example of a workplace that practices a loose form of laissez-faire, a proof that the leadership believes in the abilities of team members. To support the management team, a very capable advisory board meets the managing team and the incubatees four times in a six monthly cycle to review progress of the incubated teams and give their advice on their progress.
Plan9 offers a lifetime opportunity to young talent: a place where they can get the best grooming money has to offer. The startup incubator invests around $50,000 per team exclusive of the utility costs incurred by the 24 hour electricity and Wi-Fi facility in the Arfa Software Technology Park over a six month cycle. Nabeel believes in making sure that the teams get access to mentors and not just motivational speakers. He stresses on the importance of area and domain specific training and mentorship. Incubatees at Plan9 get hands on training from some of the best experts in the world. They are taught everything from learning how to pitch to becoming better at developing business models. Apart from grooming, Plan9 helps provide extremely important legal advice and build international linkages. It covers everything from IT law to patents to Intellectual Property Rights.
“The first thing we do is get our teams companies registered – Give them a corporate structure” said Nabeel.
Nabeel encourages the teams to see startups as a three stage process: if one derives satisfaction from the work that they do, almost half the job is done. The second part is discovering if the product is investable and the third, according to him, is the money it can bring.
“Money is a by-product – Don’t run after it, just keep doing good work and it’ll come running after you” – Nabeel quoted candidly.
He also shared a concern over the fact that many startups with great potential for success lose out in the first round of funding where the investors manage to buy major share of the companies, practically taking over the company, diluting the stakes of the founding management team to an extent that could be harmful once they go on to raise subsequent funding. “At Plan9, we create funding channels for the incubatees, and also help them get into the best possible deals that are mutually beneficial both for the Investor and the entrepreneur”.
As the teams of the second cycle near the final stage of incubation, Plan9 is in talks with some of the biggest names in international tech industry who are interested in the growing talent in Pakistan. In the upcoming days, Plan9 aims to grow bigger and more successful. Groopic, iTrak, Technolsys and Hometown Shoes are already gaining international attention and the growing social media following of Plan9 indicates that their efforts are bearing fruit.
“People are now linking their career paths with ours – Our success lies in our company’s success.” Nabeel happily told us.
With the third cycle of Plan9 in sight, Nabeel has big plans for Plan9. He aims to create a local Angel Club for the startups as well as expand the international one. He also hopes that he can convince people to invest in technology. His biggest goal is to get Pakistan a coveted spot in the top 10 entrepreneurial landscapes in the world. Plan9 is also reaching out to universities, holding short presentations to students to raise awareness. Nabeel’s schedule is jam-packed for the next week as Plan9 will be visiting around 30 universities all over the country, hoping to tap into the hidden talent and bring worthy young entrepreneurs to Plan9.
When asked if Plan9 has any favorite teams because we see a lot of posts about ‘certain startups’ and not so many about the rest, Nabeel laughed out loud and told us about the other teams who are also doing well. We hope to see these success stories on their social media pages soon.
We asked Nabeel what he would say to all the young people out there who believe they have the talent and potential to build a great startup and he was quick to come up with a witty reply:
“Take the initiative, open Plan9’s website, fill the damn form, hit submit, come to the launchpads and take the first step towards changing your lives forever!”