Build To Win
How Tamjid Aijazi & Sumaira Ishaq built a tech business to achieve up to 100% year-on-year growth!
What is your story and from where this idea was generated and how is it going?
Tamjid: There is not much in my personal story as I’m just an ordinary person who has been living in Karachi and graduated from FAST University. Later on, I was able to do some work internationally specifically Dubai and the Middle East. This exposure led me to enter the Australian market which was growing rapidly. Soon I was able to secure a small portion of this scale which was a huge thing for IT exports in Pakistan but we are still a very small player in the Global IT industry.
Sumaira: I’ve grown up in Karachi and worked in different fields. I’m an MBA graduate with diversified experience in Media, the IT industry, and the Education field. However, I was exploring the Digital Marketing for the last many years which eventually ended up in the IT sector.
What issues and challenges you had to face for this startup? Also, here I would like to tell you that Tamjid works in Pakistan and simultaneously abroad as well. So, please explain what issues you face while working parallel at two different places.
Tamjid: In my analysis, there are pros and cons of both places. Pakistan is great in technical skills whereas we have very poor resources in management skills. Pakistanis simply lack management skills, leadership skills, and professionalism whereas, these are found abundantly in abroad and embedded in their society leading to a far superior average output as compared to ours. Resources from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh are strong in technical skills whereas people from other regions are experts in management skills. For this reason, when we built up a team using technical resources from Pakistan and management resources from abroad, this combination delivered great output. And the same HR model is being used in India and they are producing great results.
Sumaira: As Tamjid explained earlier that we literally had to mix up different resources to develop the right team. We approached and hired the required resources from where it was available either locally or abroad.
Customer satisfaction is the key to success. If services are not perfectly aligned then the clients will not be satisfied. Therefore we try to appoint the best resource with the right skill set from wherever it is available either locally or from abroad.
Please explain some basic guidelines for people who want to startup.
Tamjid: My first piece of advice to Pakistani startup founders is, 'to be honest', because a lot of startups fail in Pakistan only due to incorrect financial projections. Primarily, they are operating on the basis of assumed financial projections without any market validation. So if you do not validate your product or service through due diligence, you can not develop a workable solution and as a result you will not be able to quote the right numbers. Pakistani startups received around $400 Million investment since 2021. VC firms trusted and invested in Pakistani startup ecosystem but they did not receive the return as it was expected to be.
98% startups fail worldwide but there are financial projections and a comprehensive due diligence process is followed with proper ground-work. If young entrepreneurs from Pakistan are thinking to launch a new startup, they must plan with extensive homework and only then they should expect it to be a sustainable business model. And if your motive is just to secure investment and have fun for the next few years then it has already been done by many startup founders and they ultimately defamed Pakistan.
Sumaira: There are no shortcuts. Simple as that. Youngsters are going for shortcuts as they are looking for easy money and fame, which in my opinion cannot sustain in long-term. If you are looking for a strategic planning then it cannot be done with shortcuts.
Currently which countries are you providing your services to? And which country are you focusing as your next target market?
Tamjid: We still haven’t been able to fully capture the market in these three existing countries. The new product we are developing is focused on the Middle East market as it is an Arabic product, so our initial target market is Middle East. After sustainability, we plan to target the Australian market. If we have to expand further then it would be the U.S. market. Mainly these are the countries where there are avenues of good profitability margins. While other regions of the world have different dynamics where you have to work in an entirely different way and currently we are not in the position to take that risk. So, we are currently focusing on the existing revenue streams and customer base to further capitalize on them.
How do you attract the customers and clients?
Sumaira: It depends on the customer’s requirements but your solution needs to be innovative so that their business grows with it and they should feel satisfied as far as their return on investment is concerned. Also, an IT company must educate the clients with new ways of doing things. A task can be performed in multiple ways.
Customer satisfaction is an important factor that motivates us to innovate new ideas and smart ways to perform tasks effectively.
A satisfied customer will also definitely create a new customer for the company. I would like to ask you that why you have not targeted the Pakistani market.
Tamjid: Pakistan's current economic condition and the attitude of people is not positive for us to help grow any business professionally. So if we can bring in more business using less energy then obviously it is from abroad. It has two benefits, one is peace of mind and secondly, as most of our development team is Pakistan based therefore the revenue we are generating is contributing to the IT exports revenue of the country. If we target the local companies then the revenue generated would be locally shifted and secondly, it is difficult to work with local companies with respect to work ethics, project delivery sign off etc. are almost impossible to conclude.
Please explain your take on why the Pakistani market was not tapped as Mr. Tamjid explained that it’s difficult to work with local companies but the people who are rea-ding this must benefit from the technology as we are not less than the world. So would you like to give these people a message that why they are clinging to old practices and should come to experience new methodologies.
Sumaira: Actually new things exist and a lot of new work is being done in the advancement of technology. As explained by Tamjid that we have very good technical resources but as far as management is concerned, people are not ready to step out of their bubble. So, a lot of lame issues surface but if you have to work then one has to set these issues aside which is quite difficult to make them understand.
Tamjid: we have worked it out this way that the product testing will be conducted in Pakistan but we will be selling it abroad. As you know that Pakistanis are experts in criticism and pointing out bugs in products, therefore, it's a better ground for product quality, testing and feedback. It’s a great place for development, however if you are thinking that you will be able to capture a multi-million dollar business from Pakistani market then it is not possible at the moment.
How do you manage the compliances and taxation while operating in two or more countries?
Tamjid: There is another side to this as many other industries do not believe in taxes but if your documentation is properly aligned with the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) then you will not face any tax issues. The FBR appreciates you and it’s our record since 2014 that all of our taxes are up-to-date and we have never bribed anyone and if any issue arises then we sit and negotiate the solution with them. In the end, if the money is coming to Pakistan and the taxes are being filed then it’s a win-win situation for everyone. It has never happened that if you have paid all your taxes and even then the FBR comes up with any notice.
Did you think of starting a job or have you always wanted to start a business? What was your first thought?
Sumaira: I’ve done many jobs and while working I got the idea of starting my own business which lead to this. Jobs help you understand the basic office culture as you cannot understand this while sitting at home. I know a few women in my surroundings who never went to work and they ask me how it feels to run your own business.
Tamjid: You shouldn't quit your job to start a business. Rather than taking the plunge, consider dipping your toe in first. Devote time to your side hustle while keeping your regular paycheck. Businesses aren't born overnight, and having a source of income while getting your business off the ground can be a key to success.
I’ve asked this question specifically from Sumaira as it is extremely difficult for a salaried person to switch to business as a steady income is coming contrary to a business.
Sumaira: Yes it is a tough decision, however not impossible. But if you have a supportive family and the type of business you are doing then it is quite possible. Yes, some people who are adamant to start a business also do not settle in their jobs from day one. If you are on a job and also have a mindset for business then gradually you can move onto the business side.
One has to have a clear mindset for a business to start. How important is finance in this field?
Tamjid: I have always been emphasizing that finance and legal are the two most important things in a business. If the finances of your company are not organized and the legal team is not strong then any business would end up failing. So, we have learned this the hard way and therefore made finance and legal the strongest divisions of our company, resulting in improvement and sustainable growth. Skilled key resources in the finance division including the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) and the accountant matters a lot.
What advice would you like to give to Pakistani youngsters on choosing the right field or industry?
Tamjid: Working in the Pakistani IT industry is not difficult at all because the youngsters somehow get a chance to tap in the international market. The second option is trading. Capturing the Middle East market through trading is a great and easy opportunity. One can import different goods from China and export in Dubai & Middle East.
I think that IT is the easiest to start from where you make money and then invest in such a business which is non-IT as the IT sector requires 100% involvement. If you start giving 4 hours instead of 8 hours then your work will get disturbed whereas trading is the kind of business which can be automated and you can earn more profit by investing less time.
So you recommend trading, and is it reliable as we have seen a lot of fraudulent activities over the internet?
Tamjid: Fraud can happen anywhere if someone is not careful. If you properly research the international market and then engage in trading activities; you can enjoy an additional revenue stream. Likewise, if you start trading in the local market, the challenges are entirely different.
Don't rush into anything. Research, analyze and then implement.
How important is teamwork and selection of the team?
Tamjid: Teamwork is is make or break as we have spent a lot of time building our team. We have devised criteria to filter out the individuals who do not fit into our culture. We have gradually improved the team selection process because in a startup phase, you don't have so many choices due to limited resources. Founders have to be very careful while selecting team players.
First, you have to analyze if the new employee is culturally fit in the team or not.
During initial screening, we also had to loose some very talented individuals who were not culturally fit. We give weightage to this while formulating a team. We engage new hires in team-building activities to evaluate them whether they would fit in the team or not. How productive they will be once they are comfortable. This is a complete process ranging from three months to six months resulting in a new hire getting comfortable and productive. We also make sure that the resource is retained for the long term.
You stated a while ago that the critical review is done by a Pakistani resource. Who culturally fits in your team? A local or a foreigner?
Tamjid: We find both resources culturally fit, either local or foreigner. Every person has his own mindset. We have members of our team who want to go to the US for further studies and growth. We have no issues with it as long as they are upfront and know their pathway. We also know that the new resource is with us for two or three years and after that we will be giving them an exit. As an employer, we should respect their decisions. Even it is an international practice. Employer has to maintain a balance between the team to fit new employees culturally and technically. We also have a competitive advantage; more than 80% of our employees are working with us for the past 8 years since the start of the company. They are still working with us and haven’t left the company. We value them greatly as we believe in the ideology of relationship over profits. This benefits us immensely because as a company whether we are earning 1 million dollars or 5 million dollars in profit or even more, it will not be having any effect on the values. Therefore, we focus on team and that's the reason people are attracted to us and in return, builds a good team culture. So, this is something one should really focus on as we did it.
Where do you see Bela Corp. in the coming years?
Sumaira: I see it operating in many countries in the coming years. We are leading Bela Corp., and along with that we are also developing a new product and we are putting in great efforts to take it further along with Bela Corp.
If a startup company follows your way; do you think that it would also excel like your company?
Tamjid: Yes, definitely! Whoever works in Pakistan in a good and organized manner while maintaining the values will grow. I believe that the IT industry is the only industry that is booming and it was even more booming under Imran Khan’s government. Globally, it will continue to grow. Here, I would like to say that "only if we correct our principles and ethical values then there is no reason for the world to deny us for any work". Our brand should be positioned as, 'if it is a Pakistani company then it would deliver the quality work'.
It is unfortunate that the current positioning of Pakistani companies and freelancers is not so good. In a global economy, only those will survive who do not compromise on the basic values and principles.
Let’s talk about freelancers. Are they not being mentored correctly? Still a lot of freelancers are away from the right platforms probably due to the absence of proper guidance as they lack basic skills as compared to international freelancers.
Sumaira: No I don’t think that we lack professional and skilled freelancers. We often find them here in many different categories but there are some who believe in the shortcut mindset. They are ruining the entire ecosystem.
They think that everything is easy but they do not learn the hard skills and as a result, they are unable to deliver. And when you are unable to deliver a paid task, this creates a negative impact on international clients regarding Pakistani freelancers. As they’ve had so many bad experiences and they do not work with freelancers from that country. One should not start working until he has learned the process completely; the technical skills and the management skills.
What is your message for the newcomers and what do they should to be careful about?
Tamjid: My first message is to think big and come out of the fact that Pakistan is under an economic crisis because if you think big and structure your business then you can deliver without any doubt. Pakistan has immense talent that only needs exposure to run an organization according to international standards. If you are trying to attract global clients then it will not just benefit the country but also the people associated with the organization.
Remember that the IT industry has great potential and huge profit margins.
What are your suggestions to the Government of Pakistan with regard to the IT industry?
Tamjid: Pakistani Government should first get serious regarding the IT industry. In the last budget, we saw that a lot of taxes were imposed on IT exports. This was really counterproductive because many companies have now opened parallel companies in Dubai and they are receiving their international payments there rather than receiving them in Pakistan which is ultimately damaging the economy.
The last government was on the right track and and as a result, the IT exports increased from 2.6 to 2.8 Billion USD. If the government is serious then it should accept the recommendations of the organizational bodies like P@sha and PSEB (Pakistan Software Export Board). Government's positive intervention would guaranteed that Pakistani IT exports will rise to 5 or may be 10 Billion USD in the coming years.
What message would you like to give to the women who want to start their own business.
Sumaira: In the current digital age, women are working in many different fields at the moment and a lot of them are working from home as well. My advice is to start and grow your businesses with proper research and just not jump into any instant money-making programs advertised everywhere nowadays. There is no shortcut, therefore, do your homework and research because if you are on the right track then you will definitely succeed.