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Disrupting Karachi

Highlights from Katalyst Labs’ +92 Disrupt Conference held in Karachi last weekend.
Updated 28 Oct, 2022 06:54pm

Entrepreneurs, investors, industry leaders and participants gathered at Pearl Continental Karachi this past weekend to attend Katalyst Labs’ national tech and entrepreneurship conference, +92 Disrupt.

The conference’s first iteration was earlier this year in Lahore and Islamabad, reportedly attracting over 600 participants and 80+ startups. With +92 Disrupt, start-up accelerator Katalyst Labs aims to provide young people “with unprecedented professional and networking opportunities”, along with encouraging an exchange of ideas between industry leaders and newbies and a dialogue on significant national trends and issues. On the occasion, Katalyst Labs Founder and CEO, Jehan Ara, commented:

“Our attendants, patrons, and anyone who is a part of the start-up ecosystem knows that events like +92 Disrupt are absolutely integral for the economy and future of Pakistan. Our goal has always been to facilitate the doers of the country and when we break attendance records every time, it just signals that we are doing something right.”

Over 1,000 people attended the conference in Karachi on October 22 and 23. The programme comprised of 20+ panels/sessions (all interpreted live for hearing-impaired individuals in sign language by ConnectHear) and 60+ speakers. The topics addressed included the responsibilities that come with ‘disrupting’ a space, agritech, digital finance, investing in Pakistan, capturing an audience’s attention in today’s age, gaming and more. In addition to panel discussions, there were workshops on press coverage, financial modelling as well as a session on Speed Recruitment, an Investors Roundtable, Office Hours (one-on-one sessions between startup founders and investors to help startups scale), an NFT Gallery and entertainment by writer/comedian Hassaan Bin Shaheen.

Here are the key takeaways from some of the noteworthy speaker sessions and panel discussions:

1) Keynote Speech by Professor Adil Najam – Founding Dean Emeritus, Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies

Professor Najam set the tone for the event by speaking about the “real” challenges and responsibilities of Pakistan’s growing tech startup ecosystem, emphasising that Pakistan is currently being shaped by “two restless and volatile forces”, the young (Pakistan is the second youngest country in the region) and climate change (“if the ecosystem is not made better by ‘disruption’, then it’s just destruction”).

Notable Quotes:

“Disruption is a responsibility”

“From now until 2045, every single election will be determined by first-time voters”

"The challenge of the ecosystem you are living in now, is adaptation. For which you will not get an answer from a bookshelf."

"How would you feel the impact of your decision on your fintech 10 minutes from now? 10 months from now? And 10 years from now? If the impact looks great, then you have got a winner on your hands. But remember, in 10 years a lot can change."

2) Bank On It: The Future of Fintech

Misbah Naqvi – Co-Founder and General Partner, i2i Ventures (Moderator)
Naureen Hyat – CEO, ZoodPay PK and co-Founder & CEO, Tez Financial Services
Omer Khan – CEO and Founder, PostEx
Arif Lakhani – Founder, Qist Bazaar
Jamshed Meherhomji – Co-Founder, Trellis
Fawad Abdul Kader – Country Manager, Paymob Pakistan

Discussing the way forward for Pakistan’s financial future, the panel touched upon the fact that instead of working on solutions that are actually needed in the country (for example financial inclusivity), start-ups are looking for ways to “build change”, without a solid reason in place. The startup ecosystem, needs to start by finding small solutions to big problems, rather than immediately set out to “create change”. Essentially, the end-consumer needs to win. They also discussed hurdles that need to be overcome for fintechs to reach their potential. These include more streamlined and aligned policies by the State Bank of Pakistan and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan in terms of incentivising paying tax and de-incentivising cash usage.

Notable Quotes

“If my bun kebab wala wants to buy a fridge today, there is not a single place you can go to and get a plan and buy it. He has no credit or salary slip… that is where Qist Bazaar comes in. It is for everyone, but mainly for the forgotten 80-90%” – Arif Lakhani, Founder, Qist Bazaar

“’Disrupt’ is bringing down operational costs, more accesses to financial support and services and changing the way we operate. Ultimately the goal is to disrupt the payment landscape in Pakistan.” - Fawad Abdul Kader, Country Manager, Paymob Pakistan

"’Disruption’ means easier access to finance, as easy as accessing our phones. Digitising that journey to make it easy, making the right product and making the right journey for the customer." – Naureen Hyat, CEO, ZoodPay PK and co-Founder & CEO, Tez Financial Services

3) Changing Pakistan’s Agri-Landscape

Javaid Iqbal – CCO, Member, & Executive Director, STZA (Moderator)
Zeeshan Baig – Country GM, Syngenta
Sanakhawan Hussain – CEO, Indus Acres
Fariel Salahuddin – Founder & CEO, Uptrade
Muzaffar Ali Manghi – Co-Founder and Founder & CEO, MCS

The discussion centred on the fact that while the advancement of technology can enable greater innovation in Pakistan’s agricultural landscape, there is still some way to go before these technologies can be implemented. Importantly, although technology can assist in improving Pakistan’s agricultural landscape, basic farming practices and behaviours need to be worked on.

Zeeshan Baig. Country GM, Syngenta, said that as of late, farmers are leaving their fields due to low crop yields and an overall discouraging environment. For instance, cotton and wheat yields have not increased in more than a decade. Meanwhile speaking of the effects of climate change, Fariel Salahuddin, Founder & CEO, Uptrade, stated that while her company was anticipating a massive shortage in livestock post the floods, these shortages have not come in yet. She did mention that going forward there will be an impact on grazing as most farmers do not have access to proper feed and let their animals free-graze. This in turn affects food security.

Notable Quotes

“To attract farmers to new farming practices and technologies, you need to show them how it works instead of talking about it.” – Sanakhawan Hussain, CEO, Indus Acres

“Since Pakistan has not conducted a census of its standing herd since 2006, no one knows exactly what percentage of livestock has been lost.” – Fariel Salahuddin, Founder & CEO, Uptrade

4) Fit to Scale: Hiring Hacks for Scaling

Monis Rahman - CEO & Co-Founder, Dukan (Moderator)
Yasir Memon - Co-Founder, Jugnu & Salesflo
Omair Ansari - CEO & Co-Founder, Abhi
Muneeb Maayr - Founder, Bykea
Halima Iqbal - Founder & CEO, Oraan
Meenah Tariq - CEO & Co-founder at Metric

The panel discussed the do’s and don’ts of hiring in the start-up space, especially when you want to begin scaling up. The points below were highlighted:

1) Hire for attitude and getting the job done, especially in early-stage startups
2) Ensure you are retaining and motivating talent in ways other than monetary benefits
3) Your team needs to have a skill set that is complementary to yours, rather than identical
4) Hire missionaries rather than mercenaries; be selective in who you bring in and hire people who believe in the company vision
5) For senior positions: Hiring talent from major companies who have a lot of experience isn’t necessarily a good thing. It is difficult getting them used to startup culture as they believe it is too “chaotic”. The solution is to upskill the people you already have and grow senior people internally
6) Being nimble is important

Notable Quotes

“If an employee is coming in only for the money and for the purpose, you will not retain value” – Yasir Memon, co-Founder, Jugnu & Salesflo

“When we were first interviewing people, it was a task to convince their families that we were a legitimate business and not some human trafficking business because no one had heard of us” - Meenah Tariq - CEO & co-Founder, Metric

"It's very easy to hire and it's very hard to fire. You need to mindfully hire people who can actually build a business with you." – Omair Ansari, CEO & Co-Founder, Abhi

5) Capturing a Distracted Generation

Sabah Bano Malik – Content Strategist | RJ (Moderator)
Hassaan Bin Shaheen – Comedian | Corporate Trainer | Educator
Kazi Akber – Digital Content Creator | Podcast Host
Areeba Siddique – Illustrator | Animator, Oraan
Bilal Hassan – Content Creator | Travel & Culture Writer | Doctor

The content creators urged future content creators to make content for themselves, rather than for other people, and watch as audiences follow them. They spoke about online male privilege, where people try to be badtameez with male influencers but actually are badtameez with female influencers. This led to the panel speaking about how they individually deal with “haters” and how others can too; pinning rude comment to the top of the comments section, so that the individual is sufficiently embarrassed to remove the comment themselves (which is often the case), ignore it, or let their fans deal with it.

Notable Quotes

"Apas mein akar lar lo tum log meri toh engagement barh rahi hay." – Bilal Hassan

“The future is for individuals to start embracing their own interests and showcasing them to a wider audience and then build their own communities around them.” – Hassaan Bin Shaheen

6) Funding Pakistan’s Potential

Faseeh Mangi – Pakistan Bureau Chief, Bloomberg (Moderator)
Alvaro Perezcano – Associate, Speed Invest
Mohamed Omer Eissa – Chief Investment Officer & Global Head of Venture Capital, IFC
Rabeel Warraich – Founder and CEO, Sarmayacar
Aatif Awan – Founder and Managing Partner, Indus Valley Capital
Ayesha Saleem – Investment Associate, Lakson Venture Capital
Robin Butler – Partner & Head of Impact, Sturgeon Capital
Kalsoom Lakhani – Co-Founder, i2i

Speaking of Pakistan’s potential to keep VCs attracted, local and global investors agreed that whereas so far the focus has been on raising funds/seeding rounds, now it is about driving those funds in order to ride out the current wave of unpredictability. In their view, the current unfavourable environment is short-term, and it will turn around as it did for other countries.

An important question was brought up about what startups can learn from the recent closure of Airlift. Aatif Awan, Founder & Managing Partner, Indus Valley Capital, emphasised that celebrating failure is important because one can learn and gain from it. He stated that, “Within the VC industry, you need a diverse portfolio of companies, and some of those will do well while others won’t.”

Notable Quotes

“There is nothing here we haven’t seen in other emerging markets. It’s very important to recognise that there will be failures and that’s okay” – Mohamed Eissa, CIO, Global Head of Venture Capital

“Raise money/capital for what you need and to grow, not for the sake of growth” – Kalsoom Lakhani, Co-Founder, i2i*

“Pakistan is still and will continue to be a place of investment. There will be more failures, but that is not an irregularity.” – Robin Butler, Partner & Head of Impact, Sturgeon Capital

7) Separating Fact from Fiction: Misinformation in the Digital Age

Jahanzaib Haque – Chief Digital Strategist and Editor, (Moderator)
Farieha Aziz – Co-Founder & Director, Bolo Bhi
Zarrar Khuhro – Co-Host of Zara Hat Kay, Dawn News TV
Amber Rahim Shamsi – Director, Center for Excellence in Journalism IBA
Shaheryar Popalzai – Head of MarCom, PureVPN (Gaditek)
Arafat Mazhar – Founder, Puffball Studios | Co-Founder, Soch Videos

The discussion centred on how disinformation has intensified in recent times and how it is becoming harder to keep track of facts. While some people fact-check information before sending it forward, most do not. Our media institutions are also lagging because at times they do not fact-check either.

There are very clear divisions, as per politics, in media companies when it comes to targeting audiences based on a political party they follow.

Notable Quotes

“When a piece of news – real or fake – furthers your beliefs, your brain creates dopamine and gives you a good feeling, which is why you are more likely to pass on that information” – Zarrar Khuhro, co-Host of Zara Hat Kay, Dawn News TV

"Disinformation has intensified. It's very hard to keep track of. Pakistan is way behind in terms of tackling misinformation. This is something that should have happened years back." – Director, Centre for Excellence in Journalism IBA

"People are now more tuned into fact checks. But unfortunately, a lot of people just don't care what the facts are. People post fake news, sometimes ridiculous things. How many people actually do the fact checks?" – Zarrar Khuhro, co-Host of Zara Hat Kay, Dawn News TV

8) Fireside Chat Between Jehan Ara, Founder, Katalyst Labs and Mudassir Sheikha, CEO and co-Founder, Careem

The two tech gurus discussed Careem's journey of how the ride-sharing app began, to where it is now, including the happenings around Careem's acquisition by Uber and what the lessons learnt so far have been. They also spoke about how to be successful in the Pakistani ecosystem – with the two keys being having a strong team and being able to move as fast as required by change.

Notable Quotes

“The people that survive are the ones that move the fastest, not the biggest.” – Mudassir Sheikha, CEO and co-Founder, Careem

"A good product doesn't need marketing (in an ideal world). A product that is solving problems and delighting people means that they become your marketeers" – Mudassir Sheikha

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*The article previously attributed this quote to Aatif Awan. We regret the error.