Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Making it to Silicon Valley

Published in Jul-Aug 2016
In profile: Sheops, TEDdict and WonderTree – three of the start-ups which made it to the GES this year.

This year, as they have done consistently since 2010/11, a number of Pakistani start-ups will participate in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) to be held in Silicon Valley. They will also be able to pitch to investors at the Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) event. Doing so is nowhere as easy as it sounds; GES and GIST are highly prestigious tech events and hard to get into; only 1,000 participants from all over the world may attend and a mere 15 are invited to pitch.

I met three of the entries from Pakistan, and only one somewhat resembled the entrepreneur stereotype of 20-something males with messenger bags slung across their chest. The others? Well, nothing says ‘Pakistani tech entrepreneur’ better than a 38-year-old mother of two, right? Or a trio of CEOs who have never been to school, and of whom, only one can sign legal papers because the other two are underage. No doubt about it, this is one eclectic bunch.

Sheops

This women-only marketplace happened as a result of a stolen mobile phone. “I went on an online classifieds space to buy a temporary replacement phone and the usual began to happen: crank calls, ‘frandship’ requests, solicitations. It was so irritating because this was such a minor purchase – surely I should not have to ask my husband to handle it for me?” questions founder Nadia Gangjee. That was when she decided to create a harassment-free environment where women could buy and sell from each other. She started with a WhatsApp group of friends who put up perfumes they weren’t using, clothes made for exhibitions, even their kids’ ‘pre-loved’ furniture. In a week the group hit its limit; in 12 days she was running three groups.

Nadia Gangjee, Founder, Sheops
Nadia Gangjee, Founder, Sheops

To handle the rapidly increasing membership, Gangjee moved the groups to a closed community on Facebook where only women were allowed, but as before, the group grew too big, too fast and issues began creeping up. “People would cheat or not honour orders so I decided to make a web platform that I could control.”

Her first attempt was a disaster because she was scammed out of ownership of domains and source code for her custom-coded website by her then-business partner. [The business partner has since clarified that the dissolution of the partnership was due to common co-founder conflicts. “The accusations laid out against me are baseless and untrue. She had access to a few assets while I had access to a few. All the source code was with her too. The partnership was mutually ended. I wish her the best of luck for her future endeavours."]

However, with the support of The Nest I/O she rebuilt her community of women and started a new site. After incubation she was introduced to Arpatech, which signed on to invest after a single 45-minute meeting.

How it works: Unlike regular marketplaces, Sheops is limited to women. “She operates, she shops, she opts, Sheops,” says Gangjee. Prospective members are vetted to ensure they are not men or using fake accounts, because apart from the harassment issue, in certain cases women don’t want to buy from men, or have men involved in the transaction. “We offer public stores, which can be viewed by anyone, and private stores which are restricted to members.”

Sheops offers integrated logistics and payment systems to streamline the shopping process. When someone puts in a purchase request for the first time, Sheops representatives call to verify that it is a genuine buyer. A Sheops delivery person picks up the product from the seller, takes it to the buyer and brings the payment to the office. Every two weeks Sheops transfers payment to the seller. “We pick, ship and deliver,” says Gangjee. “The seller has to do nothing.”

Having only recently launched, the start-up is not earning anything other than commissions on sales, which are kept to either a percentage or a cap if the percentage value exceeds Rs 2,000, but Gangjee is positive ad revenue will start coming in soon.

Why Sheops is going to GES: One might wonder what is so special about a shopping portal that it would get a place at GES. In Gangjee’s view it is “because it is not about becoming a billion-dollar business; it is about giving women who cook, craft and create an outlet to sell because they can’t go and ask the local shopkeeper to stock their products. Sheops is going because Sheops is empowering.”

TEDdict

Excitable siblings who chat at the speed of a runaway train, Ayesha Babur, 19, Abdullah Babur, 17, and Asadullah Babur, 15, have been homeschooled all their lives. “We didn’t follow a curriculum. We read books, went to expos and played sports. If a problem needed to be solved, we figured it out ourselves,” says Ayesha, pointing out that all three recently sat for O Level exams.

Homeschooling meant they paid more attention to conceptual learning compared to peers who studied in regimented classrooms. “We analysed how the brain learns,” says Abdullah. “We did a lot of research on international education systems, emailed professors, and investigated different education models.”

(L to R): Asadullah Babur, Abdullah Babur, Ayesha Babur, Founders, TEDdict.
(L to R): Asadullah Babur, Abdullah Babur, Ayesha Babur, Founders, TEDdict.

“And because we wanted to make learning addictive,” says Asadullah, “we came up with TEDdict, for the technology, entertainment, design addict.”

How it works: “Most learning websites focus on teacher-to-student interaction,” says Ayesha, noting that in real life, kids often get together for group studies to learn from each other rather than from a teacher.

Being a gamified environment, there is also an element of competition, which Asadullah says is the reason games like Farmville are so successful. “We use the coin system,” he explains. Every month members receive a certain number of coins which can be exchanged for lessons, meaning exchange isn’t strictly reciprocal.

“I will teach you maths, you teach him physics, he teaches me English,” says Ayesha. “TEDdies don’t barter, they trade lessons for coins. The more help you give, the more coins you get.”

An additional gaming aspect is the use of leaderboards to show ratings. “When you help someone your ratings on the public leaderboard rise,” says Ayesha. “That’s motivation to do more.”

Revenue is generated by issuing progress reports. “Parents and teachers like knowing how well their kids are learning or where they need more help,” says Abdullah. “For between one and three dollars, they can get a detailed analytics report that shows exactly where their child stands.”

Why TEDdict is going to GES: Because “there are hardly any peer-to-peer learning portals,” says Abdullah. Ayesha adds that “meta-learning, or learning about learning is still in experimental stages. Edmodo and Google Plus are kind-of, sort-of the closest you can get to TEDdict.”

WonderTree

As young men who put off finding jobs in order to develop a start-up, two of them faced quite a few challenges from their families. Yet, it was a family challenge that generated the idea in the first place.

“My older brother is a special-needs person,” says Muhammad Usman, 23, Chief Technical Officer, WonderTree. “One day I saw him playing a car game on the console and he was better at it than I was – so I figured why not turn it into a therapy aid.”

The idea won the Karachi Grand Innovation Challenge held by Pakistan Innovation Foundation, Alif Ailaan and I Am Karachi. Soon after Usman and the original developing team graduated from university; two went their separate ways while Usman and Ahmed Bukhari, 24, Chief of Research & Development and Analytics, WonderTree, came to The Nest I/O.

(L to R): Muhammad Usman, Muhammad Waqas, Ahmed Bukhari, Founders, WonderTree.
(L to R): Muhammad Usman, Muhammad Waqas, Ahmed Bukhari, Founders, WonderTree.

Usman’s neighbour, Muhammad Waqas, 28, came on board as Chief of Marketing and Strategy. “I had my own digital marketing agency and I planned to carry on with that as well; but one month in I closed shop and turned all my attention to WonderTree.”

How it works: As a therapy aid, WonderTree games help players develop hand-eye coordination, physical movement, reflexes, mirroring, attention retention and decision making. To play, users must download the game for a monthly subscription fee and have a laptop, television and kinect device.

The team works with a panel of physiotherapists, the Institute of Professional Psychology (IPP), Karachi Vocational Trust (KVT), and Network of Organizations Working with People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP) to develop the games. “Initially we were quite haphazard,” says Waqas. “Then one of our mentors, Adil Moosajee, advised us to set up a board that we could consult regularly. That really helped.”

In an environment where most games are available for free, WonderTree is confident their subscription model will work. “A package costs $25 a month,” says Waqas. “For Pakistan, that’s 50% less than what you would pay to a therapist annually. From an international perspective, research shows a special-needs child requires $10,000 to 30,000 a year. On our platform the top cap is $1,000.”

Why WonderTree is going to GIST: To qualify for GIST a start-up must be able to impact a whole economy and be globally implementable. On that basis (and because according to their research there are only two other companies in the world that provide a similar product) WonderTree made it through the first round against 1,074 entries. In the second round they had to come up with as many votes as possible to make it to the top 15.

“At first we shared posts to get the word out. We garnered 500 votes. The other start-ups were at 5,000 and 10,000 votes. So we changed tactics; we set up teams in several universities and instead of asking people to vote for us, we asked permission to use their email address so we could vote on their behalf.” Several days of intense voting later they landed in the top 10 and were subsequently invited to present to Silicon Valley investors for funding.

As each start-up team speaks about their experiences with The Nest I/O, it becomes clear that the most valued support received was not the (admittedly important) free space and free internet; it was the mentors, the guidance and the wholehearted sharing of knowledge.

“A lot of people dissed Usman’s idea at first,” says Waqas. “But here we found selfless encouragement from people who had nothing to gain in return from us.”

Gangjee points out that she only discovered her ex-business partner’s scam after she came to The Nest I/O and began to understand how websites worked.

As for the TEDdict kids, through The Nest I/O they went to Sri Lanka and won silver at the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) Awards. Now they are going to the heart and soul of tech development in Silicon Valley. With unabashed enthusiasm only teens are capable of, they cheer, “It’s like we hit the lottery!”

UPDATE: The winners of GIST Tech-1 Pitch, Start-up Stage, were announced on June 23 and 24, 2016. WonderTree placed third to win $3,000. First place was won by Monkey Junior, Vietnam, for an interactive reading application. Second place went to HiGi Energy, Malaysia, for converting invasive water hyacinth and agricultural waste into an environmentally friendly, smoke free cooking fuel.

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Comments (61) Closed



Sam Aug 08, 2016 03:17pm

Good luck to all of you.

Zak Aug 08, 2016 03:47pm

Pakistani brilliance.

Pawan Aug 08, 2016 04:06pm

Great Work & Good Luck

Umair Aug 08, 2016 04:46pm

Impressive!

Arshad Beg Aug 08, 2016 04:47pm

Nice work, great minds!!! Good luck to all of you.

Anas Aug 08, 2016 04:59pm

Wow - Fantastic!

Abdullah - Silicon Valley Aug 08, 2016 07:24pm

These startups are great but there is a long road to make money.

Wani Aug 08, 2016 08:39pm

Superb

Mario Carvajal Aug 08, 2016 08:48pm

This is good to see. Effort is all. But we must admit that domestic politics puffs these up.

Saurav Aug 08, 2016 08:59pm

Soon 'peace' going to be a dream in Silicon Valley also.

Truth serum Aug 08, 2016 09:15pm

Good God. Don't tell me. Are they making software for ISIS.

altaf minhas@aol.com Aug 08, 2016 10:14pm

check this one

Sid Aug 08, 2016 11:59pm

Good job all, this is the kind of competition we should invest in our region. Enough of hatred and bullets.

isht Aug 09, 2016 01:23am

@Abdullah - Silicon Valley steve jobs once said, "i never did it for the money" so they must be really passionate about what they are doing. if they are, they can earn millions !

Nasir Hameed Aug 09, 2016 01:29am

@Abdullah - Silicon Valley

If we encourage enough young minds into enterprenuership, some will eventually go and make money and create jobs in Pakistan.

TruthOnly Aug 09, 2016 01:35am

Keep trying and best of luck!

Monique Aug 09, 2016 04:39am

Wonderful. Brilliant. Enjoy yourselves, life and the future.

Monique Aug 09, 2016 04:45am

Good luck with your futures.

Hassan Zaeem Aftab Aug 09, 2016 04:56am

@Wani Yes I would like my fellow countrymen to shine like ever green plant Ameen.

AuK Aug 09, 2016 05:28am

All new economy concepts and great ideas. Many of today's multi-billion dollar enterprises started as modest concepts. The drive to carry your idea forward is very unique and hard to find. Keep up the great work guys, and keep those new ideas flowing.

ZAK Aug 09, 2016 06:12am

@Zak lmao

ZAK Aug 09, 2016 06:12am

@Zak enjoying quetta

vijay b Aug 09, 2016 06:47am

@zak, you comment on creative stuff too??

Maxx Aug 09, 2016 11:01am

@Abdullah - Silicon Valley Follow your passion and dreams...money will follow. If you chase money it will be a dream forever.

Sameer Aug 09, 2016 12:47pm

Wondertree is the bomb. It is pure intelligence at work that gives back to the community in a good way. Tededict is not going to make much of an impact since there is no need of peer based learning in current educational scenerios...for if the later were true...we'd see every one on VU. Women enterprenuership should be empoweree and encouraged.

P.C.Pandey Aug 09, 2016 04:42pm

Great,keep it up.TEDDict is a great concept.Wish all the best to Young talented Minds.

Fazul Muhammad Aug 09, 2016 10:36pm

Great Efforts

Fahad Aug 09, 2016 11:31pm

very impressive! Good luck to all of u.

Ravi Aug 10, 2016 03:26am

It is wonderful to know the young generation from Pakistan doing great in Silicon valley.

Pakistani-Khi Aug 10, 2016 04:45am

I feel some Indians indigestible jealousy here as well, while some are wise and understand that the creativity has no boundaries.

Zia Khatri Aug 10, 2016 06:38am

Alot has to come from Pakistan. Watch out!

SAID123 Aug 10, 2016 11:12am

Talent any where should be appreciated . if you are causing pain to whole world ,how can you pakistanis expect something good to be said . whole world watches you with negative perception. This is all result of your deeds. you people are making the whole world suffer

Ahmar Qureshi Aug 10, 2016 12:09pm

Innovation and a pure share for care towards Education. Best of luck & wish you success!

Zia Aug 10, 2016 03:44pm

Good Going guys

Faisal Khan Aug 10, 2016 04:47pm

brilliant and original Ideas, best of luck to you all.

Afzal Aug 10, 2016 04:51pm

Good going! I am sure they do not have money on their mind yet, it is the urge to innovation. Wish them success and the drive to move forward. Thanks to their parents as well.

Tamilselvan Aug 11, 2016 03:48am

@Zak . Only wish Pakistani brilliance is used for constructive purposes like the Indian brilliance instead of becoming a crucible got world terrorism.

Rabia Naz Khan Aug 11, 2016 09:45am

Brilliant! This shows how a small idea can be transformed into a big business. Good Luck!

Abdullah - Silicon Valley Aug 11, 2016 08:09pm

@isht Steve Jobs was really passionate about building something new , which inspired him to build Apple computer. These people are building bridging services which is different from new innovation. Bridging Services model does not scale beyound it's organic limit but the new innovation model can multiply thousands of times.

Zohair Hemani Aug 12, 2016 12:22pm

I really like the HOMESCHOOLING idea that those 3 little kids are doing. I personally met them last month and they are doing a great job!! Goodluck!

raj Aug 13, 2016 08:44pm

@Abdullah - Silicon Valley , money will eventually come but these guys are doing what they love to do and lets appreciate.

Khan Aug 15, 2016 05:18pm

It is wonderful to see the young generation shine. This is how nations grow and communities flourish. We still hope that Pakistan's name will be shine all over the world. You all are the great inspiration to everyone globally that if you decide you could achieve your dreams not matter how unrealistic they seem. Be courageous and persistent our best wishes with you all. Congratulations to the families.

Saad_iba@yahoo.com Aug 16, 2016 03:36am

Can't wait to see these ideas flourishing into sustainable reality! Enormous potential. Wish you all the very best !

ramesh Aug 16, 2016 07:07am

Stop celebrating for every silly reason.

Prakash Manivanan Aug 21, 2016 08:33pm

Congratulations, I hope you guys do even better in the future. Prakash (India).

Zayn Malik Aug 23, 2016 10:00pm

@Truth serum This place is not for uneducated, poor, whites. Try the Trump convention.

DQue Aug 25, 2016 11:50am

best of luck guys!!!

vish1 Aug 25, 2016 07:13pm

All the best from India. May you become the role models for aspiring young Pakistanis...

Rup Aug 25, 2016 08:30pm

Good luck to all the new entrepreneurs

Indian Voice Aug 26, 2016 10:57am

Great news! On Seperate note, Why can't India and Pakistan keep aside Kashmir issue and talk on development? We all know that Kashmir issue will not be solved for many years to come, so why not first start talks on development and other non-disputed areas. If the rapport builds up between India and Pakistan then Kashmir and other disputed issues will be resolved automatically. We can't talk holding each other's neck, but to hold hands. Anyways, we are happy to see Pakistani brothers & sisters doing great internationally.

anil sahu Sep 06, 2016 07:49pm

@Pakistani-Khi why jealousy.? indians doesnt need to as we have many start ups in silicon valley. the world already knows the capability of indians in IT. so we wish paks success in IT

nikus Sep 06, 2016 11:55pm

There was one Pakistani startup in Auto sector, which made car Sitara to beat Tata's Nano. Where is it now?

KUMAR.ANIL Sep 10, 2016 08:20am

Best of luck, youth,innovative, energetic minds of Pakistan...From India...

Shakeel Ahmad Sep 14, 2016 09:37pm

Continue to bring pride to our country.... Pakistan tech industry is depending upon your success and how you represent us!

Zak Sep 19, 2016 10:32pm

Excellent.

techscribe Sep 21, 2016 12:12pm

Pakistan does have talent. Good luck to these young entrepreneurs from India.

indian Sep 23, 2016 01:16pm

indians startup are more innovative and brilliant...

Sohrab Khan Sep 23, 2016 08:56pm

@Indian Voice agree with u

Human First Sep 28, 2016 10:07am

@Pakistani-Khi Dont need to compare with Indians as you cant be nowhere near on innovation at Silicon Valley but congrats to these people. Good job!

Roopak Sep 30, 2016 11:24pm

Congratulations to all of the the great Pakistanis for their success at Silicon Valley. We hope to hear from you.

Ali Vazir Oct 05, 2016 02:23pm

Excellent, inspiring and positive article, not many found nowadays. Thank you Aurora. Keep up the good work you and the brilliant kids of Pakistan.