In Pakistan, tech entrepreneur’s face challenges unknown in the developed world. Precarious law and order situation, load shedding, corruption in government departments, lack of platforms to raise capital etc. make it difficult for graduates to fulfill the ‘build your own million dollar IT start up’ dream. Even then, hundreds of IT related start ups have sprung up in Pakistan in last few years. IT exports grew by 97% during last 5 years and combined IT services exports are expected to cross $3.7 billion mark during the 5 year tenure of incumbent government, thanks to these entrepreneurs who continue to make a mark in the world IT market.
Among the 17 companies whose IT exports exceeded $1 million mark in 2013, perhaps the most exciting story is of ‘ivoke’, an interactive digital agency that works with brands and helps them to market to local as well as global audience.
After studying entrepreneurship in University of Miami in USA, Zain Ashraf Mughal, ivoke’s CEO and founder came back to Pakistan to launch his IT related start up and partnered with a young technology entrepreneur and a social activist, Muhammad Gohar Shafique who started his first consultancy company at the age of 20 from his dorm room at Lahore school of Economics.
Starting from their garage in 2012, they hit the million dollar revenue golden mark in just 2 years and today they operate from their 2500 feet commercial office in DHA Lahore with 30 full time staff and 60+ part time employees who work from their home.
Their recently launched web app “Eccountant” was picked by google Pakistan at Startup BBQ for Google for Entrepreneurs and was a hit at start up web summit in Dublin.
What makes ivoke and other such IT companies special is the fact that they not only earn foreign exchange for Pakistan by offering services to global customers but also help other local Pakistani brands to make sales to global audience and multiply their revenue which in turn results in increased hiring by them, more foreign exchange for the country and more taxes paid to government.
Pakistan has an a lot of potential in I.T because of increasing availability of internet, especially after recently launched 3G/4G services. Positive contribution from government such as starting incubators and accelerators, declaring IT industry tax free, provision of laptops to students etc. has helped this sector, said ivoke’s Director and Founder Muhammad Gohar Shafique, when interviewed for the purpose of this article. He however cited legal complications such as registration of a new company and getting and enforcing patents as the main problems for those looking to launch an IT start up and having the basic two requirements: ‘idea’ and ‘finance’.
Even though 90% of IT start ups close down during their first year, Zain Ashraf believes that if the idea is right and the motivation to build the dream is there, ivoke’s success is not difficult to replicate. Such is his conviction for the cause that he along with Gohar has launched a crowd funding platform ‘seedout’ to help young Pakistani entrepreneurs. ivoke also helps students through internship programs and by an open door policy for advice on launching an IT start up.
The global IT services market has been forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5% over the next three years, to reach a market value of US $1,147 billion by 2017. If Pakistan can get a slice of this huge cake, it can solve many of the economic woes of the country. Students need to learn to be job creators rather than just job seekers. The government needs to step up its efforts and the universities and colleges need to train their students accordingly. Many Pakistanis ask how they can help themselves and their country when the economic situation is grim. Entrepreneurship in IT sector may just be the answer.