Desi Programmer @ Work

The Starting Friction

“Get an MBA degree first. You have no business sense at all!”
“C’mon. You are going to ruin your life. You can easily get into Microsoft or Google”
“Nothing can work out in Pakistan”
“Only two years? You must have atleast six to ten years of experience in industry before you do this”
“You are at the wrong place, at the wrong time”

These were few of the many remarks I received when I discussed the idea of doing my own startup last summer here in Lahore, Pakistan. Despite such kind of remarks, which took me back a little bit, I still did it. Part of the reason was that I wanted to prove a point and partly because some great people had some very logical and encouraging words.

Something told me I could do it, especially if I can find another crazy person like me. So I simply called my friend Adil Saleem and asked him if he’d like to put a bet on his career and work on something his life will depend on? He spent a week seeking advices from different people; got same kind of remarks I received and still decided to join me! We found that our skill sets complemented each other so we named the company 2’s Complement.

Once we’d made up our minds, things started getting smooth themselves. To cover our pocket expenses we started TAship at LUMS. Here, Dr. Umar Saif graciously provided us space in his NEWT Lab for our startup. At that time he said something very important:

“People say nothing can be done in this country because nobody attempts but just keeps on saying that nothing can be done here. You should definitely give it a shot whole heartedly!”

These might be ordinary words. But when a person, who left a bright career at MIT and returned to Pakistan, says it, they mean a lot!

Surely neither I nor Adil had any business sense at all. We just said that we’ll make something that will be of high value to our users and then we’ll encash that value. How are we going to do that? We had no idea! One of my greatest mentors, Belal Hashmi Sahib had said

“If you make a great business plan for a poorly done product, no matter how good the business plan is; it is bound to fail. If you make a great product, you can figure out hundreds of business plans; all of them having big potentials of successful businesses”

It seemed funny at that time but this approached worked perfectly for us. Within a month we rolled out our first product, a Facebook application for sending free SMS but had no idea how to monetize. Users exchanged free SMS with their friend while we bore the cost; so naturally users loved it.

When we got a fairly good base of happy users, advertisers came running to us. Not knowing the tricks of the trade, initially we were tricked for a few times but with some patience we were able to find sponsors who did fair dealing with us.

After about nearly half a year of starting, I can’t help but smile when I look back. The people who told us to get degrees or industry experience are still there where they were whereas we have a cash flow positive product, know how web2.0 business is done, have more sense of satisfaction than working for Microsoft, and are now working on a much bigger product which may change the world one day.

You can either keep observing the swimmers in the swimming pool to figure out how they swim or you can simply jump into the pool and learn to swim on your own. The latter is the right way of overcoming the starting friction!