Aamir Dawra is co-founder and co-owner of Online Bazaar Pakistan (an online fashion market). He has a special edge in entrepreneurial skills. His business is flourishing not only in Pakistan but also getting a marvelous response from the world. During his recent interview with the Technology Times, he explains about his business start-up and the online market experiences.
Brief us about yourself, professional highlights and your interests?
Yousuf Patel and I (Aamir Dawra), are both founders and co-owners of Online Bazaar Pakistan (www.onlinebazaar.pk).
Patel is a serial entrepreneur starting out in early 2000 pioneering Domain & Hosting services in Pakistan. He then ventured into a few consulting assignments in the Middle East before returning to Pakistan to partner with me and start up his second IT company ERC Global.
Like Patel, I am also a computer science graduate, and had an early start on enterprise web technologies with IBM Web Content Management solution stack. I have worked with some of the largest regional Systems Integrators and after a decade of being fascinated with e-commerce business models and seeing how people make money, I knew e-commerce was going to be my thing. Joining hands with Patel in 2010 we started ERC.
Having established ERC, we quickly realized the need to diversify which got us thinking about our second venture. As both of us had extensively travelled the globe, we felt there was a big void globally of Pakistani products availability. Our technology training and passion to give back to the country we decided to take desi global by launching a world-wide portal for Pakistani products. This was the start of online bazaar. Online Bazaar is now in its 4th year of operation - launched in beta in November 2011 and officially inaugurated in February 2012. It took off like a rocket and we have not looked back since.
Today we take pride in running the most coveted online fashion brand in the region and the best international marketing platform for Pakistani products. The story does not end here. We found the Pakistani fashion industry to be so vibrant and the demand for Pakistani made products was ever increasing we started a 3rd venture together for the manufacturing of our own fashion line Strawberry.
What is your inspiration; how did you get idea to establish yourself in tech as well as cyber entrepreneur?
Giving the Memon blood line (it’s no secret), entrepreneurship was a given; coupled with the tech graduation I guess “cyber entrepreneur” was an inevitable outcome.
On establishing oneself - I get that question a lot and I guess it’s a Pakistani thing to be “established” – but I am not so sure how to answer this given the volatility of today’s digital economy and the continuous change and innovation that drives it. When we started out, ERC Global was a part call centre and part BPO services it did not take us long to realize the need to innovate to be ahead of the game. This brought the ideas around online bazaar to light. Having made online bazaar into a regular income stream we started to diversify vertically to increase our profits while continuing to expand the bazaar horizontally.
The secret sauce in establishing oneself or rather being able to balance on the tight rope of entrepreneurship is continuous innovation and reinventing, reinvesting to move forward.
What skills do a cyber entrepreneurs must exhibit?
I really do not think there is a distinction between cyber or non-cyber entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur - period. Cyber is a means to flip an existing business model and create new opportunities on a different scale or address a different market need from the same product. Our BPO services or online retailer model is not a new business, it’s using others’ inventory or skills and channeling that delivery via a digital platform. To that extent a good understanding of technology does help, but it is not an inhibitor to becoming a cyber-entrepreneur. The secret sauce, if I may call it that, is the same - think through a business model, put your neck on the line and work like there is no tomorrow! If you have thought your business through well, you have the game. And then the Almighty Allah takes your hand and away you go!
I guess the other fundamental rule is not to go into business to make money. Just making money is a pretty sorry idea-making meaning is more fundamental and important. Our moto “Taking Desi Global” is not a mission statement alone; it’s a mantra and a meaningful one at that. It’s engrained in everything that we do!
Over and above everything else is hard work. People are not lucky by chance, I firmly believe people create luck! It’s like the saying, I believe in luck, and I have found that the harder I work the more luck I have.
How much weightage do you give to consumer behaviour in cyber venture?
Isn’t it everything? At the crux of all this, it is the customer that is calling all the shots. If you understand your customer, their needs and wants you can put all the pieces of the puzzle together. It is your customer that drives you, your business, your team, your suppliers & vendors.
Increase in usage of internet, emergence of 3G/4G, new international e-tail players coming in, are all positive indicators for e-commerce industry of Pakistan. Today all big brands are creating their online stores, which is also helping the e-tail market size of Pakistan to grow. End user is getting more and more familiar with the online shopping experience with every passing day and their trust is building up.
What are your main goals and how your online work is serving the community at large? What makes distinct Onlinebazaar.pk from other online fashion stores?
A: Onlinebazaar.pk (Taking Desi Global) was formed to provide a vehicle for global market access for Pakistani goods manufacturers, specifically fabrics and fashion; because we believe that our fashion industry has an exquisiteness and elegance in a class of its own.
We at OnlineBazaar.pk take pride in not just creating our own online store; rather we diligently and painstakingly convinced all major fashion brands to establish their online presence with us. We formed alliances with these major fashion brands and have the onus to design, develop, execute and manage their online stores. We pride in the partners we have, the likes of Asim Jofa, LSM, AL Zohaib, Al Karam to name a few.
OnlineBazaar.pk offers a wide range of designers clothing which gives more options as well as the ease to choose with a lot less effort and in less time than real shopping. OnlineBazaar.pk provides you the opportunity to select your favourite designer’s clothes without leaving the comfort of your home and the same will be delivered at your doorsteps at a very nominal delivery cost. This service is extremely beneficial for such people who live outside Pakistan and cannot have an easy access to Pakistani designers’ outfits. Thus, we can say with surety that shopping at OnlineBazaar.pk is more economical, more efficient and less burdensome for people who are familiar with the whole process.
What are the variables that govern the dynamics of successful cyber business, in your experience?
There are two ways to look into it. One is the very basic that applies to all business whether offline or online, is about superior customer service, maintaining high standard of quality products at the right price. However, when it comes to e-commerce business in Pakistan the most important factor becomes capital actually limited capital.
Excluding a rare few e-tail ventures that run on foreign funding, all other online stores currently in Pakistan are running on self-finance initiative. The local investor is interested and keenly watching the e-commerce growth, however, they are not yet ready to invest in cyber ventures. If this situation continues then we might see lots of ventures getting shut down due to funds being dried up. A wide network of Cash on Delivery service that goes beyond the major cities, within a shortest possible time frame has also become an important variable.
Is technology knowledge mandatory for cyber entrepreneur or any other professional and layman can make mark in it?
Not necessarily, but in cases it might give you a slight edge.
What measures must be taken to promote cyber entrepreneurship culture in Pakistan and where we are lacking?
Two key areas, one is the professional side and the other is corporate angle. Professional varies from individual to individual. We need a platform to guide, train and mentor these cyber entrepreneurs. The current e-tail players should also cooperate with each other by sharing their learning and experiences. We all should create a common platform where we should meet quarterly or at least twice a year to share their leaned knowledge and ideas. Currently we would not think each other as competitors. As the market size is huge and there is room for more players in all specific product line. We need to understand the pie is growing bigger and bigger and everyone could have a fairly large piece of the pie. The government can help the cyber industry by pulling in Pakistanis from areas like the Silicon valley who can spend time with SMEs like us to help us grow.
The corporate learning should also be in step with this initiative. Almost all new cyber entrepreneurs don’t have a formal corporate structure. In Pakistan especially we have considerable complexity in taxation, customs and FBR and the like. In other parts of the world, governments facilitate such business by creating trade associations and organizing focused exhibitions. As this industry is still nascent, if I had the influence I would lobby government for tax free incentives for the e-commerce industry.
What is the formulation of financial assets that one must have before setting up an online startup?
Funnily enough the easiest and lowest cost business to start is an online retailer. Websites are now developed for a dime a dozen, servers are dirt cheap and online marketing is very low cost - if you know what you are doing - facebook, Twitter the whole social media dynamic can catapult your start-up to a viable business in no time.
From launch it took us a year to set-up the value chain, once we got our business model working it took us months to get to our first million dollars and since then it’s been double digit growth.
How mentoring of young entrepreneurs could be done?
One major element that I have to call out in this field is the need for entrepreneurs to continuously seek a sound advice. Have “go to guys” to discuss and refine their thinking and ideas. In Pakistan we do not have the luxury of pulling in angel investment and hire star studded teams to construct and refine business models. So an entrepreneur has to choose his friends, partners and advisors very carefully. I would strongly advise entrepreneurs to get NEDs (Non-Executive Directors) on their boards.
When I meet young graduates today, I marvel at their energy and passion. They want to make a difference in their lives and the love the fact that most of them have a passion to do something for their country. This is in contrast to the time when I was graduating each and every one of us was looking for the golden ticket visa to the US. There are many initiatives out there that are helping graduates now. I see Nest I/O team of Jehan and Jawwad doing an exceptional job of mentoring, coaching and helping your entrepreneurs. I see a much bigger market for such incubation services … in place like Pakistan with over 190 million population, we have a huge unaddressed e-commerce market and who knows, tomorrow Pakistan will deliver a Uber or two for the world? But in essence what NEST I/O is doing is the right way to go. We need more of that, and we need it now!
Without science and technology promotion, Pakistan can’t progress and Technology Times is beholding the same slogan being a forerunner newspaper in Sci-Tech. How do you envision our efforts for S&T popularization in Pakistan?
Media has a key role to play in portraying a soft image of Pakistan. There is a much more fascinating side of Pakistan, which the world needs to see. We have one of the best human resources in all fields, especially in science and technology. We see Technology Times as an important player that can pitch this right image. You guys can provide the required thrust to young generation and be a channel to stimulate their interest in technology. But most importantly the outside world needs to be made aware of the business and investment opportunities available for global VC’s in Pakistan S&T sector as well as the e-commerce Industry.