- Tuesday, 14 April 2015 10:59
Blue Chip talks to a young man who turned a dream into reality.
Blue Chip: Let’s start with giving our readers some context about you as well as about Eocean
Syed Asif Jafri: I am an entrepreneur from Karachi, where I was born and raised. I got my business degree from CBM in 2004. After having worked in many multinational organisations such as American Express bank, Unilever and Telenor, I founded Eocean in early 2008 as a corporate entity. We didn’t accept any outside capital. The company started as a Mobile value- added services company. We provide a variety of mobile platforms and technologies such as SMS, Short codes, IVR, missed calls service, Robocalls and mobile advertising etc. Today we are one of the leading companies both in terms of revenue growth and client base with a vision to launch innovative services in financial and security sectors of Pakistan.
As a successful entrepreneur do you plan to study further?
SAJ: Learning is a life-long process and one should always be keen to learn and develop oneself. Recently I have been awarded a scholarship from Founder Institute – Silicon Valley USA,(the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch programme),) to become a certified entrepreneur and I am passionate about developing an entrepreneurial eco system of Pakistan.
What inspired you to leave a successful career in Telenor at a young age and start Eocean?
SAJ: My mentor is Mr. Amer Hashmi, President of GTTN, Advisor NUST and the moving spirit behind the world-famous IT company Si3 that Forbes magazine was so impresseds with and wrote so extensively about.
I have always believed that every human being carries immense potential but it is difficult to reach the epitome of human intellect, especially when you are given a job for a specific department of any organisation. During my corporate career, I was challenging the processes and status quo which was appreciated by some of my seniors but not by many.It was like fitting a square peg in a round hole, so I started feeling that I was somehow a misfit in a typical corporate culture and needed space, where I could express and explore my capabilities, which would in turn allow me to benefit the country.
We'd like to hear about Eocean's contribution to add value to technology and digital growth of Pakistan and eventually the region?
SAJ: First of all, the best thing about Eocean is that it is a 100% Pakistani-owned local start-up, hence, from day one we have focused on the solutions which are not only commercially viable for our organisation but also beneficial for our nation as a whole. We have executed the largest anti counterfeit solution for Engro Pakistan where farmers before making a buying decision can verify over SMS if the DAP bag is original or not. Now Pakistan being an agricultural country, it is very important that farmers use original products for their crops. The focus is to expand these services in pharmaceutical sector where counterfeits are taking lives of many innocent people in Pakistan. Well this is just one example, we also executed the largest asset tracking project for Unilever Pakistan The canvas of this solution covers up to over 45,000 assets nationally, hence creating a reliability factor for local companies by multinational companies which was not there in the past. Its worth mentioning here that Allied Bank Limited selected Eocean to launch the first of its kind SMS banking in Pakistan, again leaving a benchmark for young startups to believe in themselves rather than worrying about competition. Moreover, we offered very competitive rates and better services to our clients who were charged heavily by foreign franchises in the past. More importantly, we forced the industry to improve the quality as well as the services features. Recently, Eocean also launched Airpush services in Pakistan, becoming the first mobile value added company to launch full fledged option based smart phone advertising and we believe this is the future of Mobile advertising.
What are some of your biggest achievements as a young entrepreneur heading a start-up like Eocean?
SAJ: Well there are quite a few, however, I would like to share one thing which is very important for young entrepreneurs. No matter what the world says about Pakistan, in my opinion this country is a gold mine for startups, especially in the local industry where there is less competition compared to any international market, not to forget , we are the fifth largest nation in the world. Now what I would call an achievement is that I have built yet another case study for our youth to have faith in Pakistan, i.e, I am a common man with no foreign qualifications, no feudal background, who believed in the best of moral practices and still delivered projects for Fortune 500 companies without using any unethical means. What I am saying is, you can fulfill all your dreams in Pakistan too. Now you see in the past, brain drain has been a major concern of Pakistan, and if we can have more and more successful local startups offering good future prospects, Pakistan can retain its own talent and can reach new heights where it is meant to be (inshAllah).
How were you able to raise capital and attract senior board members to Ecoean?
SAJ: The initial seed funding was availed from within the family and friends. We always believed in organic growth, hence, Eocean has become a very good example of a lean start-up. Since there were no investors, we always remained within our limits but experimented every possible thing within our given budgets and we invested our revenues back into our operations and infrastructure which helped us scale up our services from hundreds of transactions to millions of transactions in a day. Now talking about senior board members- and here is another good piece of advice for young entrepreneurs. You need to invest your extra time in networking. Never miss a good professional event and be ready to give up your weekend if you think you can meet any professional person in your circle. This is how I met the Chairman of our board, Mr. Amer Hashmi, with whom I was able to share my vision for Eocean and passion to do great things in Pakistan.
What are the challenges we might have to face in 2015?
SAJ: The biggest challenge for many ICT startups in Pakistan is free lance services of IT professionals. International freelance markets are offering great opportunities for ICT professionals, hence it is difficult to keep pace with high salaries. For sustainable growth you need to have a consistent team to develop and improve the services and processes which is not quite possible with new employees replacing old employees and your time is wasted in training and development of new resources. Hence I think the biggest challenge is to attract the best human resources and to successfully retain them. Once this is achieved, rest assured, the market will reward quality players.
Explain the process of recruiting employees in Eocean and how are you able to retain them?
SAJ: As mentioned earlier, we didn’t have enough money to afford senior employees in our early days.We used to hire interns and convert them into middle management team members through constant trainings and developments. We offered young individuals to work on projects for big companies such as Unilever, KFC, the British Council etc that would have helped them to put some weightage on their CVs besides providing a very good and friendly environment. Our top management was always available to listen to and solve the concerns of our employees, plus the respect and good organisational culture that kept our very first employees being loyal to our company.
Owning and running Ecoean ; what advice can you provide to the youth of Pakistan about running their own business and nation-building in parallel?
SAJ: This life is too short to play with your potential. Never lose sight of your dreams, no matter how tough the situation is. There is always a way to accomplish your goals. Instead of wasting the golden period of your life, try to create a successful vision for yourself. Remember every master was once a beginner and every pro was once an amateur. So just believe in yourself and start building your life now.
What are your dreams for Ecoean and how do you intend to fulfill them?
SAJ: My dream for Eocean is fot it to become the role model for startups, not only in terms of methodology for growth but also for the positive impact we can create on millions of lives with our existence and at present there are two major interest areas. One of them is online payments. More like building the local paypal of Pakistan. We already have an interbank payment network and we believe that we can leverage that channel to provide a single ID which can be utilised across multiple payment channels such as internet, ATM or any branch to make payments for goods or services. The second differentiation is mobile security. I am horrified at the fact that so many innocent lives are lost due to street crimes in the country and the predominant factor behind all such crimes is the mobile phone. If we can enable technology to curb this menace then we can make mobile phone a worthless object and surely make a great contribution towards securing many innocent lives which are otherwise lost on a daily basis. Although it’s a long sho,t but we feel that the time is ripe to enable such a solution, as there is a strong sense of belief from the State to improve the law and order situation.