When it comes to the success of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and digital sphere in Pakistan, we are so much used to “rags to riches” stories. As a matter of fact, such stories are not only famous among Pakistani readers and hustlers, but the young readers throughout the world also love to read stories of people like Sunder Pichai – the Indian slum-dog millionaire of US-based I.T. giant Google.
Here in Pakistan, we make mention of people like Abdul Wali who hailed from a very humble beginning, who never made it to college, and who has been selling biryani or even handbags for women for many years; but, keep on learning. Now, he’s a millionaire, a top instructor at Udemy and he has traveled to more than 20 countries of the world.
As much motivating and death-defying these stories are, all success stories are not like them. At least Arif Malik’s story is not a “rags to riches” success story, but still, it is a very interesting and encouraging one. For the readers of More News, here is an interview with Arif Malik.
How did this all start?
Well, I was always interested in design and online business. After completing my basic education in the discipline of computer sciences, I came to know that it was not enough for me. I always wanted to earn money online, and my skills were already ahead of people of my age.
However, to better slake my thirst for knowledge, I opted for the Web and Design Diploma from Nicon, which was a big name in the field of I.T. education and training then. Here, I would like to mention that I self-taught myself, ferreted through tutorials on YouTube and the internet in general, and polished my skills by constant practice and implementation of whatever I learned.
Very soon I realized that I knew and exhibited better than what was included in the course and after the completion of the course, they offered me a job, but a job was never what I wanted to accomplish in my life.
Speaking of which, I must mention that my father was a government officer of high grade, and I could have easily made my space in public service, but, I had this craze to have my own online business. I had the spirit of an entrepreneur which did not let me settle for anything inferior. Since design and web-related tasks were in my blood, I decided to pursue them.
Tell us something about your success on Elance/Upwork?
Well, after completing my education in 2010 I served at different national and international ad agencies. My first job was as a graphic designer where I got 3 promotions and became an Art Director within a very short period of only 2 years.
I always wanted to run my own ad agency, and it was in 2010 that I saw potential in working online.
To me, Elance was the sesame door. It was a time when all top freelancers in Pakistan were doing Elance. It was one of the most reputable and highly rewarding freelancing websites. In those days, the Pakistani freelance community was not as bigger and diverse as it is now.
Most of the top freelancers in Pakistan were either working for Freelancer or Elance/Odesk. My strong graphic designing skill paved the way for my success at Elance.
This unexpected success and the workflow forced me to go from an individual to a team of 4 and this is how Design Guru Communications came into existence. By 2014, my company had received a lot of orders from some big names from the USA, Canada, UK, Italy, and India.
2014 proved to be the best year of my entrepreneurial life because my company had won immense fame for a very self-assuring reason. Elance acknowledged us as one of the best companies and we were ranked 38th highly paid Elance Company in the world ranking,
Although my business has gone beyond Elance and I make a lot from the projects that I get from social networks and personal references; however, Elance – which is now Upwork after merging with O-Desk – is still the biggest source of my earning and it has laid the foundation for my success as an internet entrepreneur.
Tell our readers about your company Design Guru Communications?
I started with a small team of 4 people, but very soon the workflow pushed me to have a bigger team. Now, I have my own office in Islamabad with 25+ employees. All of them don’t work from the office. I have also hired people who are no doubt among the top freelancers in Pakistan and get paid via DGCom.
Only on Upwork, we have 400+ completed projects, 300+ positive reviews with a full 5-star rating and we are 97% recommended by our customers and previous clients. We won Elance’s 2014 Performance Award and stood 6 among top freelancers in Pakistan on Elance, while our position among Pakistani companies from Islamabad, was number 1.
Working on Upwork, my company has earned more than $250,000, which even many top freelancers in Pakistan cannot achieve.
I do not like to brag about my earnings (with a grin on his face), although there is no tax applied on digital business, but, I would like to mention that so far we have earned more than half a million dollars. This fact should be motivating for other Pakistani freelancers, that, if I could achieve this, so can they.
As for DGCom; it is now providing very diverse services within the ambit of design. We are providing website design & development, logo design, brand identity design services, graphic design, print, and advertising services to a very diverse clientele from all over the world.
What was your biggest success?
I would say that becoming Payoneer’s brand ambassador and getting Elance’s 2014 Performance Award was one of the greatest achievements for me. Also, recently I was invited by KPK’s Government to join their Digital Youth Summit 2017, and I was among the chosen top freelancers in Pakistan who received Digital Freelancer Awards. I always thank Allah almighty, my family, and my friends for their support and sincerest wishes.
What was the biggest challenge so far?
A digital entrepreneur’s life is full of challenges. The freelancing sphere is smothering those who are trying to move upwards, making some space for themselves and trying to earn a living.
However, the hardest time that I have been through and which I believe is the biggest challenge for every freelancer is the first 6 months.
It is make-or-break time. A lot of people get distracted by other ideas, get discouraged by a few cancellations or bad reviews, leave freelancing because they cannot wait for the first order. Only persistence, devotion, and perseverance help you face the tough time. That’s how all top freelancers in Pakistan have done it.
You just mentioned Payoneer, can you please enlighten us about this company?
Yes. Payoneer is a payment gateway service that is very popular in countries where PayPal does not offer its services and where people e.g. digital freelancers often have to receive payments from their clients abroad.
The wire transfer was the only solution, but I have tasted bad blood. I had to withdraw thousands of dollars a month from my customers, and once a wire transfer went wrong, I had to wait for too long to chase crumb trail and finally got my money.
Payoneer works by collaborating with the top freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr, Upwork, 99designs, etc. and I believe that almost all top freelancers in Pakistan have used it at least once in their lifetime. The company issues a Master Card to a freelancer who applies for Payoneer’s services through any of the affiliate marketplaces. Now, a freelancer using Payoneer can enjoy a lot of services. They can withdraw their earnings through ATMs, transfer them directly to the bank account or simply send a Payoneer link to any customer and receive the payment.
There is no need of PayPal. Freelancers from the countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh rank higher on the list of countries with maximum freelancers, but who do not have PayPal, Payoneer is no doubt a lifesaver.
Under the umbrella of Payoneer, I have conducted 50+ Payoneer freelancer meet-ups in many cities of Pakistan, which include, but are not limited to Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, and Islamabad, etc. We arrange free-of-cost meet-ups, social networking opportunities, and workshops for freelancers.
Pakistan and India are neighboring states as well as rivals. How do you compare Pakistani freelance sphere with Indian?
Well, India is a technology-rich country, and we know that they are taking the lead because of their progressive policies. You talked about Sunder Pichai; he is an American citizen of Indian descent. Indian software exports are put to shame even in the most developed countries of the world, let alone Pakistan. Only in the year 2016, their I.T. exports revenues were roughly 5,000 billion Indian rupees.
However, we must not forget that this is a result of their government’s progressive policies and vision. When it comes to blogosphere or freelancing, it trickles down to the individual level, and this is where Pakistan takes the lead.
Pakistani individuals, irrespective of how “I.T. blind” and careless is their government, have the great potential to take the freelancing and digital eco-system by storm. You would be amazed to know that Pakistani freelancers charge more than Indians and they have a better reputation.
When it comes to the number of freelancers, countries like USA and India lead the world, but when it comes to the quality of work, Pakistani freelancers beat India.
So if a Pakistani freelancer charges $1500 for a gig, an Indian or Bangladeshi freelancer would charge as low as $50 for the same gig.
Although Government is not doing much to empower the digital youth, there are now initiatives like i2i and Empower Pakistan. Payoneer events are also focused on empowering, motivating, and training Pakistan’s Internet-savvy youth.
What is your message to young freelancers in Pakistan?
I would not say much but stress on a very basic concern. People tend to give up in their first year of freelancing. Don’t! Be realistic! Do know that freelancing is a “free for all” forum and thus competition is very fierce. But please do not give up! Do not hope to gulp the whole pie; show the willingness to take your piece of the pie and leave whatever you cannot take, for others.
I always say something, Pakistan’s freelancing and digital entrepreneurship market potential are more than 1 billion dollars.
Can’t one even earn 1 thousand or five hundred dollars a month?
I believe that those who sincerely and seriously take freelancing as a profession and passion can yield more than this. So I would urge young and tech-savvy people to join freelancing, but with determination, devotion and perseverance.