Transforming Industries, Empowering Communities Through Disruption and Innovation
A journey of 25 years and still going strong
1. The current government has now been in power for over ten months. How do you see Pakistan evolving under the PTI government?
Economic stabilization is a key priority for the PTI government. In fact I expect that next few years will be about getting the fiscal and current account deficits under control, while shoring up reserves.
The other challenge the government faces is increasing the country’s tax collection. If successful, this will not only help the government invest in growth-enhancing infrastructure projects but will also help document a largely undocumented economy. The recent amnesty scheme by the government resulted in about 110,000 people filing tax returns declaring their assets and depositing about Rs. 55 billion in taxes.
The uplift of backward areas is also a priority for the PTI government, since economic parity is the backbone of the development of any country. Also, I’m pleased about the fact that this government is placing a lot of importance on innovation and modern technology in sectors such as agriculture, and energy.
The Government is also working towards improving the tourism sector of Pakistan which is a USD 6.3 trillion global industry. PTI has set ambitious revenue goals with tourism expected to be a significant contributor. All these initiatives will have a positive impact on the global perception of Pakistan. Furthermore, climate change and environment are key priority areas for the PTI Government, which has previously been a neglected issue.
2. The World Economic Forum, assessing the development of Information and Communication Technology in the country ranked Pakistan 110th among 139 countries in the Global Information Technology report of 2016. What is your vision of the ICT landscape in Pakistan? And where is it heading?
Pakistan is a semi-industrial economy. Our agriculture sector is still one of the largest employers in the country. The shift to a service-based economy is a radical one as it not only requires a rethink of the regulatory framework but also an overhaul of the country’s educational system.
But for the past decade successive governments and the private sector itself has made a significant push towards growing the ICT sector. This effort was supported by the tremendous increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past five years that increased from below 1% in 2012 to 33.36% as of May 2019.
Pakistan is the third largest contributor to the global online gig market and is home to 9% of freelancers. Of the over 1.15 million Pakistanis that contribute to the freelance economy over 35% provide software development and tech services. These freelancers generated a revenue of about $1 billion in 2018. Many of these freelancers have grown their online gigs into profitable businesses that provide employment opportunities to other professionals. The country’s IT exports also grew 13% year-over-year to $1.067 billion for the financial year 2017-18 but the number is close to USD 4 billion when transactions outside banking channels are taken into account.
Clearly we as a nation have the right skills as well as the entrepreneurial mindset that is essential to grow in the ICT sector but we have some ways to go. Over the next few years I see a continued focus on growing the country’s entrepreneurial culture. Private sector and government funded incubators across the country are focusing on changing the mindset of our educated youth from job seeking to job creation. This focus on startup culture is already driving a shift in our educational system and will lead to changes in our regulatory framework especially in terms of contract and IP law. Our improving security situation is also helping attract venture capital into the startup sector and more investor funding in our infrastructure especially power generation. Growing internet penetration has also started to increase female participation into the economy. We have seen numbers of female entrepreneurs surge in recent years.
In short I think that rise of the ICT sector will help Pakistan move towards a more diverse and inclusive economy.
3. Oil and Gas are by far the dominating source of Energy in Pakistan with a share of around 80%. Pakistan is consuming Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and coal. Please give us your output of the Oil and Gas sector in Pakistan?
Pakistan Oil and Gas sector has to focus on increasing local production in order to reduce petroleum product imports. Currently Pakistan has a demand of around 473,000 BOPD and 8,000 MMCFD gas, whereas our local production is only 90,000 BOPD and 4000 MMCFD gas respectively. We are fulfilling our requirement through LNG and other petroleum products import. To increase local production, Oil and Gas sector has to focus on opening bidding for unexplored areas like Punjab Platform/ Pashin Basin/ Baluchistan Basin/ Offshore Basin, etc. as well as tap unconventional resources of shale oil as estimated by studies conducted by USAID/ LMKR. We must also revise our strategy for offshore development as well and take measures to attract foreign investment/ multinationals through roadshows, conferences and packages.
4. LMKR is a petroleum technology company with an extensive Exploration & Production Software Solutions Portfolio and Geosciences and Information Management consulting solutions. What are your objectives for 2019 and 2020?
Every day comes with a mission to make every day work life easier for our users. We have a leading position, especially in US independent market; in certain areas. So, one objective really is to maintain that lead and remain the number one software provider for our market. The second objective would be our strife for continuous perfection – which is quite evident from our recent product upgrades. Our most constant objective remains innovation; we constantly innovate to best address challenges of our users and that is where our cloud and AI initiatives are focusing on.
5. LMKR has clients in more than 80 countries and has offices in US, Dubai, Malaysia, and Pakistan. What is the international strategy of the company?
In today’s fast-paced world, a strong competitive advantage is more important than ever – both nationally as well as internationally. In my experience, staying ahead of the curve has always been a tremendous advantage. I can think of many business ideas that have stood the test of time through constant innovation. Our experience in petroleum technology has resulted in many game-changing solutions that are deployed globally at Fortune 500 oil and gas companies.
6. LMKT is a full-service technology company based out of Pakistan offering scalable IT solutions. The company specializes in smart cities, smart buildings, e-governance, clean technology and agri-tech solutions in its pursuit to supporting the country’s fast growing economy and rapid urbanization. Where did the idea of creating LMKT come from?
Our partner concern LMKR is among the top exporters of IT in Pakistan, which recently celebrated its 25 th anniversary. Over the years, LMKR’s IT department saw a sustained rise in demand for tech services from within the Country. As investment started to pour into infrastructure projects, there was a growing need for tech in transport, agriculture, security, clean energy, etc. The demand was significant enough to warrant the creation of a separate entity. Thus part of LMKR’s IT business was spun off into a tech company, LMKT, in 2010.
7. Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited and LMKT recently joined forces. Its National Incubation Center Peshawar startups secured first and third positions in the Pakistan Startup Cup 2018-19, which is the nation’s biggest and most noteworthy startup competition. LMKT manages incubation centers in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. How important are these incubation centers for the IT future of the country?
Growth in the tech sector is heavily reliant on innovation, perhaps much more so than other more traditional industries. In business, innovation is most commonly a result of experience, new blood, which brings with it unique new perspectives, and expert knowledge.
Pakistan is a country with a significant youth bulge. Our universities churn out IT graduates at an enormous rate and good employment opportunities may not exist for many of them in the industry. As a society we have a higher need of job creators. A vast majority of fresh IT graduates lack the requisite skillset and acumen required to establish and run a business. Incubation centers provide a space where experienced mentors can offer idea-specific advice. Also capital funding is another major hurdle that Pakistani entrepreneurs face and incubators have access to investor pools and can help entrepreneurs raise the required funding.
Therefore, I believe that these incubation centers address very real deficiencies that exist in the startup ecosystem of the country and have a central role to play in the development of a startup ecosystem.
8. You have joined forces with Microsoft to launch the first AppFactory (Apprenticeship Factory) in Pakistan, which will develop the digital skills, coding capabilities and employability of young ICT graduates. How is this program helping the people of Pakistan acquire a high-level skill-set?
LMKT recently partnered with Microsoft to exclusively operate the global technology giant’s
Apprenticeship Factory (AppFactory) program in Pakistan. Under the banner of LMKT SPARK, a high-end facility in Lahore has been set-up with a mission to create sustainable employment opportunities in the tech space in Pakistan. From continued professional development programs for IT professionals and tech startup incubation, LMKT SPARK aims to bolster the contribution of IT towards Pakistan’s GDP.
AppFactory is an apprenticeship program that has been hugely successful in Africa. The success of the program is its hands-on holistic approach to development. Under this program young ICT graduates learn that development does not exist in a bubble but is part of a business process. The program blends learning with internship opportunities thereby affording real-word experiences to its members. They are also taught the importance of quality, sustainability and robust business planning. This practical approach with real customers and real projects helps equip young software engineers develop a much more well-rounded skill set that is necessary to forge rewarding career.
AppFactory also serves as an accelerator for startups and entrepreneurs to promote competitiveness by offering access to the latest technology tools, industry-renowned mentors, and investor networks.
9. You are a majority shareholder and Chairman of StarTimes Communications Private Limited, related with StarTimes Communications China, a global media conglomerate which was recently awarded a DTH license by PEMRA. Can you please tell us more about the company’s strategy and objective for the upcoming years?
StarTimes Group is planning to make foreign direct investment up to USD 300 Million in the
prospective expansion of the DTH business. We believe that DTH technology can be used for advocacy campaigns as well as connect and inform various rural communities.
A study by a Colombo-based think tank found that in Pakistan 69% of non-Internet users between the ages of 15 and 65 don’t use the Internet because ‘they don’t know what Internet is.’ We believe that DTH technology can help rectify this problem and therefore, we want to develop and produce programs to enhance communications, education, agriculture, entertainment, health, connectivity and productivity throughout Pakistan.
We also believe that StarTimes Communications can help boost foreign investment, communication exchange and facilitate projects between both China and Pakistan. This partnership can also enhance cooperation between StarTimes’ existing businesses in 22 African countries. Such collaborations can enhance technological and cultural exchange between countries and regions.
10. You are very active in mentoring young entrepreneurs through your incubation centers. You also volunteer your time to educational and charitable organizations. How important is CSR for LMKR/LMKT? And in which CSR projects have you been involved lately?
LMKT has always been an active patron of local artists and has helped produce digital media, gallery exhibitions and stage plays. Also we have historical backed public service projects that would otherwise have difficulty generating funds a latest example of this is our investment in Mohafiz, a lifesaving mobile application that broadcasts life-threatening situation to your nominated In Case of Emergency (ICE) contacts. Furthermore, I’m a strong advocate of strengthening ties between industry and academia. We are in talks with leading Universities in Pakistan to set up joint R&D centers allowing us to tap into a massive pool of young talent while also providing them with leadership, mentoring and an enabling platform to become tomorrow’s business leaders.
11. You founded LMKR in 1994 and just celebrated your 25 years anniversary 2 days ago; you co-founded LMKT in 2011 and you are the Chairman of StarTimes communication since 2016. You have also funded several startups which include Convo, Step Robotics, Mohafiz, News Hunt… but in your personal life what do you feel most proud of ?
Beyond business I am a hobby farmer and aqua culturist. I love to cook whenever possible. In between all of this, I’m also a motorcycle enthusiast and actively ride motorized and non-motorized bikes. Health and fitness is something I take very seriously and take out time every day for exercise.
12. What is your final message to the readers of USA Today who consider Pakistan as a potential investment destination?
My message is short and clear; we have a country of 220 million, with a significant population that speaks English, and 64% of it is below the age of 30. These numbers translate into immense opportunity for business and investments as there is a limitless supply of talent and skilled resources. Therefore, don’t miss the boat!