By now I’m sure you have read all about TIECon 2007 — newspapers covered it very comprehensively.
What you probably didn’t have was an insider perspective on it. So allow me?
TIECon was organized by the TIE chapters in Pakistan, supported and promoted by Rozee.pk among a number of other companies, and featured some of the top-VCs operating in the region, and Entrepreneurs of the country.
A collection of the “who’s who” of the business sector was also present, including Kewan Qadre CEO Techlogix, Saquib Shirazi, CEO Atlas Honda, Zouhair Khaliq, CEO Mobilink, Seema Aziz, CEO Bareeze, Jehan Ara from Pasha, and a host of other notable industry veterans.
Other attendees included many hopeful entrepreneurs from both startups in stealth mode or others such as Amaana.
Hit the link for my observations from the event.
The purpose of the event, by “Lighting the Fire”, was to motivate a culture of entrepreneurship within the audience. Within that, I think it did the job very well. One VC after another delivered motivational speeches to get the audience charged up.
In addition to this, these were some of the notable things I found in the event:
- The event as a whole was very well organized, and there was never a moment of friction in the activities, so kudos to that, and kudos for getting the people together
- Amir Adnan did not set a foot in the VIP enclosure, preferring instead to roam the hallways throughout the event meeting with young people and discussing their passions. That down-to-earth humility was a delight to see, as its rare to find a successful person willing to talk whole-heartedly with everyone.
- Saquib Shirazi, CEO Atlas Honda, gave a fantastic 5 mins synopsis of making strategic decisions. Saquib probably has to be one of the best presenters and speakers of this industry.
- Asad Jamal, CEO ePlanet Ventures, gave a comprehensive overview of the high tech investment areas and industry outlook, covering all areas from covergence, to Enterprise Mobility, to Web 2.0 and more.
- Dr. Akram Chowdary, M.D. HiTechVC, had a great breakout session in how frank he was.
- Harpal Randhawa mentioned the importance of thinking about helping society first, and making money afterwards, and this struck the right chord with the audience.
On the other hand, the trouble with the speeches, which was immediately noted by audience members, was that all of the VCs talked about Growth Capital and success in growing small established firms into multi-$B ventures.
The second thing the audience members noted was that most of the presenters “become entrepreneurs” and started startups usually at the age of 32-35.
The VCs for the most part did not have any good answers or pieces of motivation for that young fresh college student who wanted to know about starting firms from nothing. When asked about it, they usually preferred to say “Well we dont cover startup capital so you could ask someone else about it”.
The message, it seems, was still the same for entrepreneurs getting into startups:
- Friends and Family Capital still remains your only source of investment at an early stage.
- Dont think of starting until you have experience and well-established existing client-list who you could contact with your new venture. Salesmen have the best chances here.
- Always start a business when you have most of the pieces you will need — either you will have experience, or you will have smart friends, or you will have rich friends, or you will have business relationships with people willing to trust your venture. In any case, you will need people around you who can put in favors for you at the time you want. Startups who cannot find free work through partners, or initial set of customers through relationships, will find it very hard to break the “first sale” barrier.
- You should have enough support from Friends & Family capital to carry you through the inception phase of your new idea — which in the case of Mobilink according to Mr. Zouhair Khaliq was 10 years.
What’s wrong with this?
Actually nothing, but some of these constraints start hindering the growth of high-tech ideas.
High Tech capital investments are large — Dr. Akram Chowdary had to raise $250,000 to get started, which he said he did by taking a loan against the house he owned and borrowing $10k – $20k from each friend.
Straight off the bat, it is rare for people in Pakistan to own property here — the obscene property prices aside, the culture is usually one of “hand-me-downs” where the family, grandparents or parents will name property after an individual which he inherits after a certain time. Even if they did they wouldn’t be able to get a business loan in this country until the property was on the business name and the business had been operating for three years.
Secondly, it is even more rare here to find friends at a young enough age who would be willing to put in $10-20k in you.
So within the range of friends and family capital that an average young entrepreneur might raise, pure high tech innovations usually cannot be made.
What we really need is an active Angel Investment community partnered with Incubation Companies. Those are the crucial set of people who can bridge the gaps between ideas and growth-stage companies. We also need a way to connect all the parties together in a virtual silicon valley-esque environment.
Other than that, though, I agree that without experience in the industry you want to operate in you will not be able to make much headway with your business.