Ahmad Awais is a phenomenal cyber entrepreneur who has rich experience of 9 years of running successful blogs like wp-pakistan.com and Freakify.com.
Ahmad writes openly about different tech topics as well as shares content about blogging and web designing. He completed his degree in Electrical Engineering from UET, Lahore. Ahmad is also part of Pakistan Entrepreneur Association. He shared his opinion and experiences with Technology Times in a recent interview
Tell us briefly about yourself?
Ahmad Awais: I am a UI/UX Designer and Front-end developer at WordPress. I have about 11 years of development and 6 years of design experience, which led me to become a front-end engineer.
I like computers, problems and using the former to solve the latter. I believe in elegance over adequacy, thoughtfulness over impulse, and in the wonder of the world as we can see it.
I like to design and develop cool pieces of technology. I have had been designing web pages since the early days of tables and spacers. And No – Ive never used the scrolling marquee with Comic Sans fonts.
Well, when I was young my elder cousins were studying Java and HTML while I found myself scared of even trying different things with computer we had back in 1997. But to overcome this issue, I kept trying to push forward. If my recollection of lost isnt misleading me, I developed my first website when I was 8 years old.
Then afterwards, due to misguidance or should I say no guidance at all, I went ahead and chose Electrical Engineering in UET Lahore. It was only after first semester I realized, I had committed a mistake and I belonged to the Computer Engineering section.
Well, later I found out Computer Eng was actually a sub field of Electrical Eng through Wikipedia, and that what only matters is how good you are with your programming skills and design aesthetics.
So, I started a blog called Freakify.com, which was later bought by a US Design firm along with other blogs I owned in 2013. It provided me with enough capital to start a company on my own.
I did complete Electrical Engineering from UET, Lahore with 3.5 CGPA but being so much involved with software engineering, instead of pursuing a career in EE I chose to join a software agency as a senior software engineer. Left that job to join another firm and in a matter of a year, I found myself working fulltime for WordPress running my own company, which now has about 14 employees. Its an agency with a group of startups and joint ventures 90% of which is relevant to WordPress. WordPress is a content management system which empowers more than 24% of the internet and more than 60% of CMS share worldwide.
Where do you see yourself after 5 years?
Well, thats a tricky question. I love open source and I see myself contributing to WordPress even more than I do at the moment. I also love giving back to community, what I learnt so far. So, I have big plans for making sure WP-Pakistan community survives and grow big, bigger than ever by then.
More over my goal is to provide easy to use solutions in relevance to WordPress. WP is flexible enough and with WP REST API I see myself building SPAs(Single Page Applications) using it, to provide SaaS(Software as a Service) based solutions
How you recognized the need of creating an online platform i.e. WP-Pakistan.com and what solutions does it offer?
WP-Pakistan.com is an initiative to curate a WordPress focused agile and active community of developers, designers and bloggers in Pakistan.
A Tribune report shows that in Pakistan there are more than 4 Million users who are directly or indirectly related to WordPress which is more than Pakistani Twitter users. Both WordPress.org and WordPress.com are one of the top 50 most visited sites in accordance to Alexa. These stats motivated us to build a local WordPress community, where developers, designers and bloggers could collaborate with each other.
Pakistani freelancers rank us fifth at Elance/oDesk in reference to top earning countries. If you go around to explore development and design agencies throughout Pakistan in major cities like Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and now Peshawar, you can easily find an average of 3-5 WordPress developers in development teams there.
At what level you want to take your WP-Pakistan.com, being an entrepreneur?
We have big plans for WP-Pakistan, which includes Workshops, trainings, meetup groups and what not. We are building a platform on our own which has three simultaneous phases
• Concept Phase 90% complete
• Design and Development Phase 35% complete
• Funding Phase 20% complete
The ultimate goal is to provide Pakistani WordPress designers/developer/support gurus a platform from where they could show off their skill-set and get hired by local and international clients in an unconventional approach.
How Freakify.com is helping the community and contributing towards awareness as far as technology is concerned?
We have conducted 34 workshops, a good deal of seminars and with 7 sponsors a WordPress week in Lahore, which catered more than 750 people. Raw data of students who attended our WP focused workshops is more than 1000 which feels pretty awesome.
How did you manage to cope with the difficulties that hindered you in attaining your objectives, both professionally and psychologically?
Being in Pakistan it makes it real hard for entrepreneurs like me to be effective as our competitors are in countries like US/UK. The biggest problem I face online is the absence of proper payment solution to process international payments. Due to the issues of legislation Paypal is not supported here. Due to Paypal certain other solutions like Stripe, CC processing, Authorize.net etc are also not supported. Consider the situation when you have what it takes to build a product and sell it online but the only bottleneck you face is payment. There is no way to process international payments from clients. Local clients are lagging by at least one generation and are not equipped with budgets which international clientele has.
To cope with this situation, I have to look up for joint ventures, people who could charge on my behalf and then send me my share, which can never turn into an enterprise level business effort. Other options I choose to process my payments with include Skrill, 2CheckOut etc. which are no way near to what Paypal/Stripe offer.
But the point is we need to keep working. Where there is will there is way. Yes, its not as easy as it is for people sitting in US/UK but still there are few options. If you get stuck at such issues, it leads you to potential psychological dump of ideas.
Someone said “You can only succeed when success is only option” We unfortunately live in a corporate world where group decision making is made to avoid failure rather than to achieve success.
Can a small online business could also be setup with small investment?
I think the interpretation of investment is generally wrong. There is so much you invest in a business except for money. I like to think of investment in the following way
Time Investment: You invest your time in a business. Time is the most precious thing for an entrepreneur; you must always weigh your options by an hourly rate. E.g. In my case one productive hour is worth $85 – $120. Now it is up to me that I am going to have 5 productive hours in a week or 20. I know people who are capable of generating 40+ productive hours per week. The giveaway here is to rate your productive hour and then find out how many productive hours you are going to spend over this business idea. Then find out what actual amount of time you are about to invest
Monetary Investment: This type of investment is purely about money and I can enlist more than 50 types of online business you can start without major monetary investment. Heck, when I started, it was about 5,000PKR an year. Which was the cost of domain names and hosting account.
Psychological Investment: This is a kind of investment, which no one ever talks about. No one tells you about how much invested you must be to come over psychological issues. Startups, entrepreneurship, ROI, MRR, running your own small business, are the new cool nowadays. People like to brag about how they were
kicked out of a university and how they started calling themselves college drop-outs while the real drop-outs they should be inspired from are those who went to top universities like Harvard, Stanford and left them because their business outgrew earlier than the completion of their degrees. But again, not to mention, I dont really support the idea of dropping out pre-graduation. Other factors here involve how your friends and family react to this investment, where you choose not to work for an established business or government job and try to build something on your own
What factors do young entrepreneurs must take care of before setting up an online business?
I think the only way I can answer this question right is by addressing the Risk Factor calculation. If you can calculate the risk factor then you make yourself able enough to validate your step toward entrepreneurship.
If I were to sum up how I calculate the risk factor then here is a simple formula.
Lets assume that your monthly expenses are 25,000
X = 25,000 x 12 = 300,000
Now think of X as the expenses youll have in first six months of running your own startup.
Do, you have 300,000 to be spent in first six months of your business?
Can you generate another 300,000 in first six months of your business to support up-coming six months?
If the answer to both these questions is a YES, then you have a feasible business idea. A good business plan is able to support your for at-least one year before you go bankrupt. This simple method allows you to keep re-evaluating yourself and your business. It also allows you to predict when your business becomes no more profitable.
What future of cyber entrepreneurship do you see in developing countries like Pakistan?
In developing countries like Pakistan there are two factors in play. First one is the gap, the availability of market, which means a business can have potential success. The later is the factor of limited resources E.g. no payment processor. Both these factors are inversely proportional to one another.
So, where there is a potential gap in certain markets, there is an opportunity to build an online business there. I think only e-commerce industry in Pakistan will be a multi-million dollar industry by 2020. Future seems pretty bright. I wish government of Pakistan help Pakistani entrepreneurs in getting the payment processing solution resolved. I am also part of Pakistan Entrepreneur Association, which is trying to address the gap between entrepreneurs and govt. I still think there is a long way to go from there. The recent acquisition of Eat Oye an online food delivery site by Rocket Internets Food Panda is the example of potentially strong Pakistani online market.