Despite the fact that my by-line in this article says that I am a partner at Ishtehari, even after 10 years I still do not have a clearly defined designation that describes what I do and the lack of which allows me to try out those quirky but pretentious job titles that ad agency types love to throw around in meetings and introductions as a conversation opener. I have tried all the usual suspects; chief storyteller, content ninja, digital prophet and other permutations, combinations and variations of the ‘chief’ format. The one that got the best response (and which most accurately defines my role) is idea midwife.
Although this title may sound unique (and perhaps a little insensitive to real midwives), anyone working in a senior creative role in an agency does pretty much the same thing. We help deliver ideas and although we may have had a hand in their manifestation, they are not inherently our own. Ideas come from a wide variety of sources, including insights, conversations and the pain points of team members themselves. They have a life force of their own and it’s not important whether they originate from a creative director or a peon.
For most of us, in this age of disruption, the hero of the moment is Mark Zuckerberg rather than Steve Jobs. We aspire to meteoric rises on the back of a widget, app or service. These days, it is sexier to have built an Airbnb rather than a WPP. In similar vein, yours truly (this humble idea midwife – if there is such a thing as humility in the advertising world) has been toying with some ‘start-up-esque’ ideas that could fly given the right set of wings.
Unfortunately, they have remained on my to-do lists and I simply have not been able to give them the lease on life they need. Now perhaps is the time to do so. They say the most innovative businesses are born from a recession. As the economy slows down, the best thing I can share are ideas – and here are two of them. They are half-developed but I hope someone can adopt and grow them. I know execution matters, but this is me doing my bit. Take them, refine them and make a scalable business out of them. I ask for nothing in return – although a generous cheque right after your record-breaking IPO would be nice.
Idea 1: Elsie – Crowdsourced Photography Services
The Insight: We love posting pictures of ourselves on social media, but selfies feel too vain and not everyone has an ‘instagram husband’. The Opportunity: When I take a photograph in a public space, it is always a challenge to contain it in a frame devoid of other people (most of them taking horrible selfies I might add), so the chances are that you are likely to be in the photo I took of the Eiffel Tower or of Dolmen Mall. Even better, you are in ‘candid’ mode, which means you are looking much more natural than you usually do in other photos, making this one a great addition on your Insta. If only there was a way to connect your need for candid photos of yourself to my presumptive capacity of to take a photo of you in a specific environment. How it works: People upload their photos on a central photo repository and index them by GPS coordinates and exact timestamps. So, if you found yourself in front of Cactus Bar on the Koh Phangan full moon party at 12:15am on January 1st 2020 and are looking for a photo to record this, you can try searching the repository in case there is indeed such a photo there and if you like it, you pay the photographer for a soft copy (so that he or she makes a few cents or dollars) and you get an awesome picture of yourself – all without having to resort to a selfie. Roadblocks: Massive privacy concerns need to be addressed through the strict curation of public-places; i.e. use of the app would be limited to pre-determined public spaces (parks, tourist spots, etc. where amateur photography is common). Furthermore, to encourage people to upload their photos a degree of critical mass need to be achieved to attract buyers to the platform.
Zambeel Manager – Spend Tracking and Saving
The Insight: Many of us own more credit cards than we need and dispose of less financial acumen than we require. As a result, although we receive the SMS alerts we receive on our credit card spending, we remain largely oblivious to exactly how much we have spent - especially if we have several cards - until the actual statement arrives. People like us are also notoriously bad at saving. The Opportunity: In Pakistan, every bank or credit card provider directs you to their own app to have a snapshot of your credit spend to date. The problem is that most apps are too cumbersome and what we need is an aggregator that can tell us exactly how much has been charged to each separate card and then assist us in seamlessly classifying these spends in different buckets. How it works: We need a finance tracking app that has access only to the universal info all credit cards usually provide – i.e. the SMS alerts. You give the app permission to read your text messages and ‘train’ it to recognise the formats in which the different banks send these alerts. The app can also be trained to classify your purchases and will also track your deposits as well as your cumulative savings. Roadblocks: Pakistan is a stubbornly cash-based economy and this means that the above can never be a mass-market solution, because only a small chunk of the population uses plastic money. Financial information safety can also be a huge concern, although this can be addressed, ensuring the app is not connected to the cloud/servers. Apple iOS support will be dicey, as they don’t usually allow apps to read text messages.
I have seen enough episodes of Shark Tank to know that an idea without execution is a pipe dream. So it is likely that you will want to flesh these out further if you choose to pursue them. Since both are personal pain-points for me, I would love to be your test subject and/or first customer. Also, this way we can stay in touch and it’ll make for great storytelling if we… I mean… you scale them up to a multi-million dollar business.
Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.