In a message for budding entrepreneurs and investors, Jazz CEO, Aamir Ibrahim has stated that Pakistan offers an abundance of opportunities that are linked to the national challenges. The Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs Silicon Valley (OPEN SV) featured Aamir Ibrahim as a guest speaker in its webinar titled ‘Realities of Investing in Pakistan’.
The interactive session was moderated by Asif Aslam, Managing Partner, Arbitrium Technology, with Silicon Valley representatives and young entrepreneurs from other parts of the world in the audience. Aamir spoke at length about the digital ecosystem, financial access, the art of investing in Pakistan, the country’s scorecard in terms of ease of doing business, and the need for integrated technology.
“For now, our focus is on expanding access to 4G because we have over 80 million telecom users who are not using mobile broadband. This is a challenge and an opportunity in itself. We are working with the government in this regard, so no one is left behind in an increasingly digitized economy,” said Aamir Ibrahim, while answering a question on the future of 5G in Pakistan. Citing the example of South Korea, Aamir stated that they launched 5G once the country crossed 80% 4G penetration – at less than 30% 4G penetration currently, Pakistan needs to do more.
Talking about digital financial services, Aamir suggests that mobile operators are best positioned to bridge the prevalent banking divide with JazzCash itself servicing more than 9 million users monthly. “With biometric verification, we already have people’s data at hand. This eases the documentation process for new accounts. Moreover, given our model, we have at least 3 to 4 times more branchless banks in the shape of retail agents in comparison to brick-and-mortar bank branches. The only impediment to exponential growth is the low smartphone penetration and lack of awareness about the benefits of using digital financial services among masses,” he said.
“The pandemic highlighted more than ever the need for a robust digital financial ecosystem. Although the number of online transactions went up, there is still a broken e-commerce layer that needs to be filled. The good thing is that I believe that the government has changed its outlook a bit on the telecom sector given we provide a host of services that are crucial,” he further added.
His views also included the need to focus on not just international investment, but local investors and local innovation too. “We cannot just wait around for PayPal to enter to solve our issues.”
When asked about the telecom sector’s contribution during the COVID-19 pandemic, Aamir replied that Pakistan was much better off globally in part due to the sector’s contribution. “There are peripheral ways that private institutions could help the government. Our role was on the smooth provision of mobile internet, digital financial services, and online education. And apart from our PKR 1.2 billion relief package, we supported the government with the smart lockdown system in Test, Trace and Quarantine, public service messages and zero-rated call and money transfer charges,” He said. Jazz also supported local EdTech needs by offering subsidized data bundles, sophisticated service offerings and launching an app called Parho.
About the National Incubation Centre (NIC), Aamir says that in Pakistan it is important to team up with experts and the government. “There are a lot of startups that have come through the NIC in Islamabad. And every cohort has been better than the last. We are yet to find a unicorn, but I see encouraging signs. My advice to entrepreneurs is that do not waste time incorporating a company and rather focus on fixing your product. This is what we do at the NIC. Jazz provides these founders with the necessary components for a company and asks them to focus on UI/UX and fulfilling the customer demand.”
Aamir also called upon overseas Pakistanis to play their part in supporting local startups. “If you bleed green, then there is no place for pessimism. You have to give back by taking a leap of faith in the local startups because there are certain ecosystem challenges but there is a great opportunity given the ideas and the technology some of these young founders are working on.” He suggested that NIC startups are not just looking for funding but also mentorship from Pakistani Americans in the Valley.
The session ended with Aamir taking questions from the audience on a host of topics e.g. the failure rates of startups, the possibility of large E-commerce platforms, Pakistan’s unique advantages, Pakistan’s low tariff rates and high tax environment; energy crisis affecting investment prospects, etc.