About 50 years ago there was a very successful company called Fairchild Semiconductor. It was highly successful and profitable, but then as so often happens, it started to channel the profits outside its industry. Despite objections of a few brilliant men, the board refused to change.
What did they do?
Instead of being complacent, they quit their jobs and formed their company. That company was Intel, and these renegades were the founding fathers of what we now know as Silicon Valley. This is a classic example of how disruptive and radical ideas lead to real innovation.
Disruptions and changes have always defined technology. The only thing constant is change. We look at history and the only time there has been a breakthrough is when people have the courage to challenge the status quo. Apple beat IBM; Google beat Yahoo!, Facebook beat MySpace all are examples of people having the courage to not only think but act. Technology is where it is because every few years there is a revolution through an idea (or an individual) that’s a game changer.
Companies in Pakistan are not bringing radical ideas
Entrepreneurship is fundamental to the success of any nation, which is why a developing country like Pakistan needs it all the more. In the past few years, Pakistan has had its share of tech startups. We’ve had software companies like Mindstorm and Alfoze technologies. Consumer electronics companies like Qmobile, Rivo, and the likes are also a step in the right direction.
But here’s the thing: All of them embrace the status quo instead of challenging it. None of these companies come with what we call radical ideas, and it’s understandable in a country like Pakistan. The only people who make things happen are people with money. And the universal truth is, people with money will always resist change, aggressively if need be.
If something is working, it’s only reasonable to keep doing it and not bother with anything new. Products sold by Pakistani companies are solely there to drive profits. The tech industry is based on ‘sales’ and not ‘innovation’. Sure there are new and convenient web services like the one where you can order food online – a luxury not a necessity. Last time I checked, Pakistan is a third world country. Therefore, we need to put necessity over luxury. For example, let’s take the online food ordering websites, they don’t make sense if they are not scalable since almost half the population is starving.
I believe when we take all the factors into account, the literacy rate, the old electronic products, the often disappointing telecom services or the increasing duties and taxes on the all of them, the situation offers a lot of opportunities as well. To innovate and to approach everything from a whole new perspective.
But like every situation, there’re two sides to the coin. The one hand is developing new technology with radical ideas, and the other is taking advantage of it. Pakistan needs work on both sides. No matter how groundbreaking technology is, it won’t catch up if there is no ‘market’. And in Pakistan, most people aren’t literate enough to benefit from it. Education is the key to becoming a real technology-oriented economy.
The government should realize that every year delay in implementing better training is another 15 to 20 years delay for that education to pay dividends.
Entrepreneurs need to understand that to make actual progress in technology; it needs to be in the right context. For instance, Pakistan’s primary industry is agriculture, a major untapped market when it comes to technology.
In the USA, a startup called FarmLogs has created web services and mobile software to give soil and heat mapping via satellite and growth analysis to make farming less labor intensive. There’s no reason we can’t do the same.
The same goes for education. Online courses, mobile camps and easy access to information are all untapped opportunities. People usually argue that government offers no incentives for entrepreneurship, and its policies are not the most business friendly. We need to stop using government policies as an excuse not to go out and make things happen.
However, I’m happy to say the future is still bright. A whole generation of upstart and rebellious entrepreneurs are slowly emerging with new and radical ideas that have the potential to get our nation back in the race. I see a future where technologies developed here in Pakistan, by Pakistanis, will be sought after by every major player in the tech industry.
I urge anyone with an idea to get out of their comfort zone and act. Simply thinking and talking will never bring change. The idea doesn’t have to be good. You just have to be passionate. Whether it’s software or hardware or both, our industry is brimming with possibilities. Pakistan is like a blank canvas, with the right touch it can be a masterpiece.