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Silicon Valley, the “mecca” of technology, is known for producing young technology entrepreneurs who have great risk-taking ability and drive to succeed. Given the right amount of resources and guidance, any one can come up with an entrepreneurial idea, pitch it to the investors, obtain seed funding and get the business going. One such successful group of people headed by Ali Rehan launched a mobile-imaging app called “Groopic” that allows people to stitch together the photographs that they take so that the photographer is never left out of the shot. The blog team of Start-up Weekend sat down with Ali Rehan, who initially pitched his idea of Groopic at a former Start-Up Weekend, and talked to him about his app and other fascinating things that he is presently doing.

Faraz Ahmed (FA): So, how did you come up with this idea of Groopic?

Ali Rehan (AR): We, the team of 5 people, were sitting in the Vision Lab one day. Basically, all of us have a penchant to talk about the “cool” and innovative things that can be done in the field of technology so we often talked about vision apps with augmented-reality dimension to them. By augmented-reality, I mean to refer to apps that use mobile interface to copy a real-world environment (that includes objects, information etc.). We would see people in the IT industry in Pakistan making all sorts of apps but augmented-reality apps, so keeping this in mind, I think we were not too far in creating a product like Groopic.

FA: Great. I am familiar with some of the Android-based apps that let you take photos using its dual-shot features through the front-camera. How is Groopic different from them?

AR: Dual-shot was introduced in S4 by Samsung last year. That feature, trust me, is a goofy way of including the photographer in the picture. The app, in most aspects, functions differently than Groopic.

FA: You used to charge for the usage of your product. Now that you have made Groopic free to use, has your customer base widened?

AR: Yes, it’s “freemium” now. The number of customers downloading and using our product has certainly increased. Since the day we made it free, we have observed about 50,000 downloads per day in contrast to a much less number of downloads when it was sold in the App and Android Stores for $1.99 a while back.

Given the statistics, we have also observed that the biggest market for Groopic is China and the USA. We are elated, yet surprised!

FA: That’s impressive! I know Groopic was also selected for a two-week Google Entrepreneurs-backed Sillicon Valley immersion program called BlackBox Connect Summer 2013. What did you make of the program and the experience?

AR: The experience was really amazing. For me, it was game-changing. Basically, you have a different mind-set when you work in Pakistan. You generally don’t tend to think “BIG” or take risks, given the environment in which you live. But coming back to Pakistan after taking part in this program, I was able to look at things and my work in a different perspective.

In Silicon Valley, we were living in a small house with 8 other teams from around the world who were selected for the same program. We got a chance to meet with and learn from some of the most successful and renowned entrepreneurs such as Chade Hurley and Steve Chen (founders of YouTube), Jack Dorsey (founder, Square) etc. It was an experience of a life-time!

FA: I am fascinated! So, you guys started your own venture Eyedeus Labs after launching Groopic. Could you tell me what are some of the current and upcoming projects you have been working on?

AR: We have launched a car-racing game that allows users to move the cars by tilting their heads. This game uses kinetic technology. We are also working on another product. It has to do with videos. We love it, and I hope, once it’s released, you guys will like it too!

FA: Thank you for your time, Ali. Last question: What do you think is the main challenged faced by young tech entrepreneurs who want to start up their own businesses today?

AR: Fortunately, things in the field of IT are becoming better. The interesting thing is that people are “talking” about these things and doing experiments to come up with new products and gadgets. However, I still feel to a great extent that we lack in the ability to take risks. Many start-ups fail initially, and if young entrepreneurs of this country cannot handle that fact, then they would not try to experiment.

More importantly, I also feel that students need to orient more towards arts, literature and culture these days. Students at LUMS should take advantage of courses in humanities as they allow you to think critically and argue effectively. My experience in humanities courses during my time at LUMS helped me immensely in building my analytical skills. Such skills are crucial in and favored by every field in Pakistan, be it Information Technology, Science, Business or Government. So, go beyond your comfort zones, take risks, innovate and help the people around you!

FA: Thanks for your time, Ali! 

Usman Rauf