Zia Ghafoor is currently working as CEO of MONT5: His Company has a potential share in offering services in cyber entrepreneurship and cyber business. He believes feeling customers pulse is key to success in the current market where cut-throat competition is the only option of survival as well as growth. During his detailed interview with the Technology Times, he explained how a cyber company can expand its customer base and deliver in a perfect manner

cyber entrepreneurship and cyber business

Brief us about yourself, professional highlights and your interests?

Born and bred in Pakistan, over the years, we (I and my partners) have built multiple businesses trying to promote and grow Pakistan’s exports. I’ve always been interested in building something that provides great value to our customers, is profitable but more importantly its a Pakistani brand. A Pakistani name to be proud of.

I graduated back in 2002. Even in university me and my partners (we’ve been together more than twelve years) knew we wanted to work together and build something together. Its been a long and arduous journey but were really proud of the things we’ve accomplished in the past decade together.

What is your inspiration; how did you get idea to establish yourself in tech as well as cyber entrepreneur?

Pakistan has been doing unfinished B2B products for a very long time, even finished B2B but name me one households name from Pakistan that is recognized globally. At least I cant think of one and that really gets to me and I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs feel the same way. We have been making great things for a long time but for others, and on low profit margins. The idea of MONT5 came from this that we need to change how we do business because now technology allows us to expand our market and horizon at a much smaller cost.

What skills do a cyber entrepreneurs must exhibit?

More than skills its about the mindset or attitude towards things if you will. You need to be able to take calculated risks and be agile in your strategy, see how things are changing and pace up with it. If we talk specifically about technology you need to do your research right, you need to pick the right thing that works for you.

The best thing out there just might not be for you, its always a struggle between time and detail. You need to find the best fit and find it quickly and always be willing to let go of legacy things. One cannot be oh because it was the best thing to do so we built our system on X, the best is relative and changes with time. And, you need to change before you get obsolete.

How much weightage do you give to consumer behavior in cyber venture?

A tech product is agile, its always constant iterations based on the feedback. You can do all the surveys that you want, you can have your friends interact with your application, give you feedback and all. But at the end the real story always comes out of data. Data does not lie.

How you imagine people would interact with your application and how they actually do often surprises you. The sooner you understand how people use your application and the sooner you iterate based on that the better. Customer analysis is the most powerful tool in your bag. I firmly believe that you cannot create a great product without understanding customer behaviour and patterns.

You need to experiment, see the results, iterate and experiment again. All the great products you see around you are a result of understanding behavior and acting on it.

What are your main goals and how your online work is serving towards community at large?

As I mentioned earlier, the idea here is to change how we do business, were cutting the middle man out and serving our customers directly. So what does that really mean, it means that we will have higher profit margins which will allow us to compensate for say the electricity getting expensive or the gas prices, so we dont shut down. Thats part of it but the more important part is it will allow us to provide more work for the craftsmen that have been keeping the craft alive for generations. But because of all the factories shutting down are going out of work. This needs to be fixed.
In addition to that weve always lived in a seth empire where control resides in one individual and his successor is usually a family member who has no love for the business and it just never grows. Our model is about providing equal opportunities, if were making a profit that should be shared throughout the company.

So our craftsmen have a share in every sale so as we grow, they grow. We need to take care of our people, this does not only help them but this way they take ownership in the product and help us make it better. We also intend to have medical insurance for our craftsmen and education for their children, its not charity its the basic rights that we believe every worker should have.

Doing this we hope to inspire someone who starts to build a great Pakistani brand and adopts fair business practices.

What makes distinct Mont5 from other companies??

Its our business model of cutting the middleman out, our fair trade practices, the attention to detail on our product. We are a Pakistani company who is proud to be Pakistani. Our intent is not to make just money but promote the people, the land and the country on the whole.

For instance, MONT5 the name comes from the top 5 mountains of Pakistan which are above 8000 meters. Our jacket line is based on the names of famous glaciers, mountains and meadows of Pakistan. You’d find a hint of Pakistan in everything we do and create.

What are the variables that govern the dynamics of successful cyber business, in your experience?

When you say cyber business, there is just so much to it you cant generalise it like that every particular bit has its own set of rules and dynamics games are different from ecommerce websites or a travel app. Everything has its own rules and dynamics, but if there is one thing that you need to concentrate on is understanding who is your customer and how is he using it.

There is also the matter of why you’re building a cyber business, is it because you love that product or is it because you’re in for a quick buck. If you’re looking to build a business you need to love it, you need to eat, walk, drink and sleep it. There are no exceptions.

What is checklist for young cyber entrepreneurs before practically stepping into online business? What is the necessary homework to be done?

Understand your audience and know who you want to serve. Say you’re making a game, who are you making it for men/women, what are the ages, what do they like, how much do they play in a day. How long is there attention span, how much money they spend on games monthly.

Build from there, remove your ego there is no I want to make what I want if someone doesnt like it its their problem. Not really, its your problem what you want to do is find out what people want/need and create something that works for them.

And well remember the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid. It should be simple to adapt to and get hooked on to, unless its some particular niche that’s different.

Is technology knowledge mandatory for cyber entrepreneur or any other professional and layman can make mark in it?

Technology is getting easier and easier to learn. I think its more important to understand how an online business works rather than the underlying technology. There are great SaaS products you can grab that dont necessarily need you to be that tech savvy. People even have built great businesses just through their Facebook pages.

How much impact e-commerce is imparting on conventional business? Is it hurting the vendors sitting in market to much extent? What do you assess?

In business you have to be evolving all the time. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. We have a tendency to be complacent in our place and then blame the new better things very easily. You cannot blame Uber for taxi drivers going out of business.

I know it’s not fair perhaps but there are also taxi companies who have upgraded themselves and have their own apps and are doing great business while Uber is also available. So perhaps local businesses need to go online too, I think it’s not a disadvantage but an opportunity.

If I have a name in the market and Im famous for say selling toys and people know me in Islamabad, if I get into e-commerce I’ll probably make more sales than a new online only store. And just the fact that I’m also offline and have a physical address still does matter. But if I choose to think of as e-commerce as a fad do nothing and after 10 years say my business is dead, that’s on me.

What measures must be taken to promote cyber entrepreneurship culture in Pakistan and where we are lacking?

If I was to go out on a limb here Id say 2015 has been the year of e-commerce for Pakistan, so many new shops have popped up and some have such a great model take http://exportleftovers.com/ for instance its such a great model. Then you have Daraaz and others getting a great round of funding. So that stuff is on track. But what really needs to happen is payment gateways, we need to make it easier for people to buy online. We need more easily available payment methods right now payment on delivery seems to be the only choice for the masses.

What is the formulation of financial assets that one must have before setting up an online startup?

It depends on what you’re doing, we are custom made tailored jackets. So that means, we need to procure leather beforehand. As well as, we need to have master craftsmen who are dedicatedly working for us. This requires a decent investment.

But say, you’re selling third party items online, then you just need to focus on the online store. (I’m not going to get into marketing budgets) shopify has plans as low as 29$ per month. If you’re starting small and you don’t have great tech experience you can still set up shop in a couple of months. The tech is just an enabler what matters is the business you’re getting yourself into and how you plan on doing it.

What is the role of innovation in success of an online business?

Its more about value than innovation, what do your customers find of value. What are their needs how can you make your life better and how, once you’ve nailed that even a standard e-commerce model will work for you.

How mentoring of young entrepreneurs could be done?

There are some great forums. The great thing is everyone in the industry is always willing to help Ive never met someone who said no to a meeting to us. Everyone has been really kind to us building our business and its the same way all around. Were in a good collaborative environment now, the traditional laws of business of secrecy are changing.

Be a member of OPEN, get yourself in a innovation lab or incubator, if you’re working full time even then there are great places to talk to people find relevant facebook groups, essentially talk to people and you’d find your mentor.

Without science and technology promotion, Pakistan cannot progress and Technology Times, being a forerunner newspaper in Sci-Tech, is beholding the same slogan. How do you envision our efforts for SandT popularization in Pakistan?

You guys are doing a fantastic job covering science and tech. I think of the things that are happening right now not only in tech field but generally online is focusing on things that sell, the internet is 90% cat pictures and sensationalism and in that we need a voice of reason. Something proper, something serious which is a good read just not fluff. I see a lot of Pakistani magazines just going towards fluff, which is unfortunate. The featured articles on technology times are great, something that should remain the focus.

What are your suggestions for rising entrepreneurs?

There is never a perfect time to do something, just jump in, start small, fail early, learn and repeat. No one succeeds the first time, some do get lucky but most of us have to work hard. Focus on product not money create something brilliant and be a great marketer. Create value for people and find people through marketing that appreciate what you are making money will come.