Do Lean Startups also need Business Plans?

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about startups, AI, Chatbots and Big data.

Currently, the majority of people think that lean startup refers to setting up a business with little capital from outside. However, it is not right to some extent. A lean startup is a business approach that startups use to fasten their products cycle and effectively increase customer satisfaction continuously.

Steve Blank and Eric Ries have tried to advance this line of thought, which has been emphasized by Eric Ries in his book, The Lean Startup, which he wrote in 2011. This business approach involves product prototypes that are produced consequently with the aim of doing experiments based on market hypotheses.

The feedback obtained from consumers is used to assist product evolution, within a shorter duration of time when compared to the methodologies used in the past to develop products. It can be summarized in a build-measure-learn loop that is characterized by validated learning and repetitively releasing improved products.

Why do we need Business Plans anyway?

A good business plan is useful for various reasons. The major importance is that it helps reduce uncertainty by predicting future occurrences, and for thinking and determining the best possible courses of action in case of either adverse or favorable events occurring in future.

It also is necessary for acquiring business loans from banks and other financial institutions and gives a sense of purpose and direction to both owners and employees.  A business plan helps an enterprise to act objectively and consistently. Deadlines are provided by the plan, ensuring that the business does not derail and is able to achieve important milestones.

The belief that a business plan predicts future events and situations is a myth, but the truth is that it allows entrepreneurs a chance to do course corrections based on existing assumptions and expectations. This is being proactive, which gives a business an upper hand compared to reactive businesses. Here’s a telling paragraph from Ries’s book:

“The first problem is the allure of a good plan, a solid strategy, and thorough market research. In earlier eras, these things were indicators of likely success. The overwhelming temptation is to apply them to startups too, but this doesn’t work because startups operate with too much uncertainty.”

Contemporary Business Environment

In the contemporary business world, however, a plan needs not necessarily be a formal document on paper, but it could be a list, table or bullet points of goals and targets of a business. In fact, having a plan that is summarized in this manner helps the business to stay on track in a better manner than pages of a business plan in a printed document. This is because it is agiler than the formal one, which is a big advantage considering the agility of today’s business world.

Today, an entrepreneur does not need to wait for a perfect opportunity in order to venture into a promising business opportunity. What one needs to do is come up with strategies as they proceed with their investment activities that they are capable of conducting at a particular point in time. This approach is similar to how an avocado grows, from the seed outwards. Strategizing needs to be done in a dynamic manner.

Agility of today’s business world calls for agile planning, failure to which a business may not survive in the future. Good planning is cyclic in nature. One needs to go back to the original plan and make various reviews and revisions, but while ensuring that the greater goal(s) is or are not altered. The planning needs to be simple and saved where key team members can reach for it make any necessary revisions and put it back.

Do we need a formal business planning for that?

The core challenge presented by formal planning is the lengthy period of time required to write it up. Its content will be probably outdated by the time the document is completed. It does not present one with the possibility of making quick and random changes whose need arises within short intervals of time. Targeted readers will rarely read the document word by word. Most people will simply scan the document.

However, despite all the flaws of a formal business plan, the planning process is still vital for the success of any business. Either you do it yourself or hire a business plan consultant, but making it happen is a must and this is a proven fact. A business plan gives an enterprise an approximate roadmap of the routes they need to take in order to reach the purpose destination, with all possible alternative routes also spelled out in detail.

Lean planning involves a four step procedure:

  1. Creation of a plan
  2. Testing the plan
  3. Reviewing the results
  4. Revising the plan (this takes the business back to the first step).

This approach works for both established and start-up businesses.

It is not a formal business plan, and it is exclusively meant for use from within an organization. In case a business needs a formal plan, all it needs to do is add information about outsiders in their lean business plan. A lean plan shows how the business is going to make money; with a clear outline of tactics, strategies, and schedules. It also briefly describes the sales channels, target market, competitors, and marketing channels.

For startups, one can easily see whether their ideas are viable or not with ease, and either make any necessary changes or drop the whole idea. For established businesses, it assists an entrepreneur in manipulating strategies and determines the stages of progress in business.

Yes, Lean Startups Also Need Business Plans!

Therefore, an entrepreneur needs to accept the fact that the business world is evolving, and the relevance of a business plan is responding to the development. New approaches that meet the needs of the newest business environments are still going to pop up with time. In order to do well in business, one may need to combine the strengths of the old and new approaches such as a formal business plan and lean startup respectively.

Every business must, therefore, emphasized and embrace the strengths of developing a business plan even if it is a lean startup.








These Female Business Leaders are reinventing the story of women in British business

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about startups, AI, Chatbots and Big data.

Successful women are often stereotypically viewed as aggressive, masculine, unemotional, angry and Ice maidens that will tread on anyone to get what they want.

These outdated and slanderous opinions are definitely on the way out as the rise of female entrepreneurs continues. This success is further elevated by the mutual respect amongst successful women and the desire to see each other succeed.

As much as we are moving in the right direction to close the gender gap and remove the bias that was so accepted even just 10 years ago,  the “the old boys club” ethos is still prevalent in many sectors of the business world. Whilst in some environments this can no doubt be a hindrance to women, it can also act as a driving force that generates collaboration, unity, and opportunity.

London acts like a magnet to talent across the UK and beyond. The enterprise and energy of the capital for business, new ideas, and professional ambition know few other cities with which to compare. With the trend of innovation hubs and collaborative working spaces, there are many companies that have jumped in this ship to sail it smoothly. These companies offer business support services featuring accelerator & innovation programs, entrepreneur training, and community events as well. This shows that there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur in the London.

As a center of new methods and new trends, it is natural that the city boasts a dynamic assortment of women propelling their industries forward. The success of many acts as an inspiration to women across London and the UK as a whole. Breaking molds, as well as glass ceilings, they are reinventing the story of women in British business.

Here are just a few of London’s great culture of empowered female business leaders.

Carolyn McCall – CEO – easyJet

                          Courtesy: standard.co.uk

 

Carolyn McCall heads one of the most recognizable airlines in Europe from a large, open-plan office in an orange hanger outside London. Despite having no aviation experience previously, having been more involved in marketing and media as CEO of Guardian Newspapers, she has nevertheless managed to revamp EasyJet during 5 years of record profits. She heads a company very friendly to female positions, with one-third of EasyJet’s management being women and more than one-half of the executive team.

Phoebe Hugh – Founder – Brolly

                      Courtesy: Founderspledge.com

 

Phoebe Hugh is a young up-and-comer in London’s tech scene. Having co-founded the start-up Brolly, she is carrying the flag of female leadership into the field of artificial intelligence. Starting work on the project in 2015, Hugh met her co-founder at Entrepreneur First’s 2016 cohort and work accelerated on the personal insurance concierge application. Brolly aims to optimize insurance coverage for users by determining what insurance they need and informing them whether they are over or under-insured for their needs.

Nafisa Bakkar – Founder – Amaliah

                   Courtesy: peopleofcolorintech.com

 

Nafisa Bakkar is a London Muslim woman that recognized the difficulty Muslim women face of searching for clothes that are fashionable but remain modestly Islamic. Founding the website with her sister after studying at UCL, Amaliah aims to help amplify the voices of Muslim women for fashion, beauty and lifestyle. In doing so, the website has also become a platform for the voices and opinions of Muslim women in the UK.

Jessi Baker – CEO – Provenance

                                Courtesy: Twitter

 

Jessi Baker is yet another innovative young woman in the capital making waves in the tech space as it spreads into new opportunities and dimensions. She received one million pounds to create her start-up service Provenance which allows shoppers to find out exactly where their food and clothing come from to put them in an ethical context. Baker advocates a combination of technology and transparency that allows consumers to make an impact on our damage to the environment through informed purchases.

Alex Brownsell – Co-Founder Bleach London

                           Courtesy: Elle.com

 

Alex Brownsell and her partner took their love of unconventional and rebellious style in the 90s from bands like TCL and No Doubt and channeled their passion into a salon for multi-colored hair-dos that have been adding vibrancy to the capital’s streets since 2010. The business has grown since then with 3 shops and a permanent installation in Topshop Oxford Circus. Bleach London has also launched a product line and counts celebrities among its many clients.

Rosie Davies – Founder The London Fashion Agency

                Courtesy: michellereevescoaching.com

 

Rosie Davies is a young Londoner that heads PR agency The London Fashion Agency, which has a unique mission. Instead of charging costly monthly retainers, the agency is attempting to disrupt the often stacked press system within the fashion agency by charging affordable monthly subscriptions instead to small creative. The goal is to give quality designers of more modest means the space they deserve on Britain’s leading fashion publications. The London Fashion Agency works exclusively with independent brands and has received good reviews for its work.








[Interview] How Xchime, a Smart home product is paving its way into the industry!

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about startups, AI, Chatbots and Big data.

For the past two years, IoT and specifically smart home companies have been grappling with a lot of innovation and refinements when it comes to their devices.  Work is being done to upgrade and add extensions to create more value and accessibility for users.  It won’t be a big surprise now if smart home product turns into a household brand.

Well, it’s no more a surprise anyway. Xchime, a Smart video doorbell with motion detection was recently found making waves over the internet. It is a video doorbell that lets you monitor who is at your door and allows you to speak to your guests from your smartphone, tablet, or PC.

I had a chance to briefly speak with Gary Bi, CEO of Xchime regarding his innovative product and its future plans. The copy of the interview is pasted below.

Hira: Brief a little about Xchime doorbell. I am hearing about it all over the internet.

Gary: The Xchime doorbell is the next evolution of the video doorbell made popular by companies like Ring. It takes the features that have made video doorbells so useful and extends them into the smart home to give even more convenience to homeowners.

Hira: What features have you implemented in this doorbell? Any highlighted ones?

Gary: The main differences between the Xchime and others are in two categories. The first is in new features. Xchime can be connected to smart light bulbs for added security around the perimeter of the home. It helps deter unwanted visitors by automatically turning on when motion is detected. Another cool feature is remote garage door control via our app that makes it simple to check if the garage door is closed and if not to close it with one simple tap.

Beyond these features, Xchime has dramatically improved on the video doorbell in terms of technology. For instance, anyone who’s used existing video doorbells knows how annoying the lag can be. From the time someone rings the doorbell to when you can connect, see and speak with them currently takes about five to seven seconds. That sort of defeats the purpose of live video doorbells. Xchime virtually eliminates that lag. Our team of experienced engineers hail from companies like Motorola and Qualcomm, and have worked hard to improve the user experience.

Another improvement comes in the much wider operating temperature range of Xchime compared to others. It has a far greater temperature tolerance both on the low and high ends, making it more realistic for parts of the country that face extreme weather.

Finally, the price is unbeatable. Right now on Indiegogo we’re giving early backers the ability to get a unit for only $129. Compare that to others that cost $199 to $249.

Hira: Is it already launched?

Gary: Xchime is currently finishing up a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, and so far we’ve blown our fundraising goals out of the water. Even better, we will be shipping units to backers around August. Right on the heels of the crowdfunding campaign, we’ll be gearing up production to get Xchime into the retail and e-tail channels.

Hira: That’s great! So how do you see your target market? Are they accepting smart home products?

Gary: Companies like Nest and Ring have paved the way for smart home adoption. Big players like Google and Amazon have ratcheted up the stakes with voice command ability. Video doorbells are a key part of the security setup for any home. It’s the first line of defense. Integrating the Xchime with things such as smart lightbulbs and garage doors is the next natural step in bringing together the various parts of the home into one ecosystem. Eventually, the term “smart home” will be redundant, and it will just be accepted as part of the home.

Hira: Have you already received any seed funding for its production?

Gary: Xchime is different from most other crowdfunding projects in that we were backed early on with seed funding from Ufrate and other angel investors to the tune of $420,000. This should give anyone checking us out the confidence to go ahead with contributing to the Indiegogo campaign. As I mentioned, we’ll be getting units shipped extraordinarily fast after the conclusion of the campaign.

Hira: Are you planning to launch more products under the Xchime umbrella?

Gary: Nothing we can talk about now, but keep your eyes peeled at xchime.com.

Hira: What are your views on current IoT trends and on industry progress overall?

Gary: Internet of things and smart home technology are converging to make life easier and safer for consumers. The quickest adoption will be in products that work naturally without a lot of training. Following the curve for any technology adoption, we’re seeing progress along the curve toward rapid mass adoption. Whether it’s new smart home standalone products or integrating the smart home into existing consumer appliances, the future is bright for the industry. Keeping the focus on the customer need and a simple experience will be key to widespread adoption.








5 Ways a CMMS Can Help Your Business Processes

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about startups, AI, Chatbots and Big data.

A wave of industrialization in the 1930s brought with it massive innovations in production, manufacturing, and industry in general. It ushered in an age of development and prosperity that still shapes the world today. However, a serious systemic problem had emerged by the 1980s. Industries were unable to take care of the machinery that formed the bread and butter of their enterprises.

Managers soon found that relying on pen and paper records to keep track of maintenance data was an unreliable practice. As a result, maintenance was only performed when something went wrong. It was reactive rather than preventative. After all, tracking which equipment and assets needed routine maintenance through file records was virtually impossible.

The development of CMMS software in the early 1990s marked the beginning of the transition from paper to digital records. CMMS stands for Computerized Maintenance Management System (or Software) and is sometimes referred to as Enterprise Asset Management (EAM). Organizations could now determine what needed preventative maintenance, oversee work orders, and produce accurate status reports. This led to higher profits, increased asset lifespan, and better organizational processes.

What is a CMMS?

CMMS is an acronym that stands for computerized maintenance management system. In simple terms, CMMS is a kind of software that allows you to stay on top of the maintenance operations of your organization. This package does so through the use of a computerized database that supplies you with adequate information to make reliable decisions. These programs give you the tools to cut down a lot of the inefficiencies that plague this process. They help you prioritize your activities so that maintenance technicians can work more effectively.

For instance, you may need to schedule routine maintenance or repair a broken down machine quickly. A CMMS will help you keep track of what needs to be done, and when. They have proven to bring large savings in both human and financial capital by improving how organizations allocate their resources.

Any company that needs to carry out maintenance on assets, equipment or property should use a CMMS. Most of these packages can be used in any industry, but some are customized to specialize in specific sectors like healthcare or fleet management.

Furthermore, some CMMS packages offer you a greater range of analytic functions than others. The goal of a modern CMMS is to provide organizations with a wide range of functionality to deal with vital resources including equipment, manpower, capital, and material in an efficient but convenient way.

For instance, Limble CMMS now lets you keep an eye on maintenance tasks using mobile devices. However, your final choice of software will depend on what exactly your company would like to accomplish.

How can CMMS Improve Your Business Processes?

A lot of companies today are spending considerable time, money and resources to incorporate CMMS software into their enterprise architecture. This is because organizations benefit in numerous easy by simply investing in maintaining their equipment and assets regularly.

CMMS packages have now become vital in automating and improving business processes and the core operations for companies of any size. Here are five key ways this software can help your business:

1. Improved operational efficiency

It has been reported that CMMS provides businesses with the data required to effect preventative maintenance. The end result of this is that your equipment and assets will work better for longer, producing efficiency and good results consistently.

In the same vein, CMMS packages also help you track the processes involved in work order management. This function incorporates the ability to control inventory and the supply chain. As a result, businesses gain a better understanding of what they are purchasing, as well as how to use it optimally.

Furthermore, mobile access now allows you to assign tasks and automatically receive updated records once work is completed. Not only does this boost efficiency and productivity, but it also assures the fidelity of all your data and records.

These features help make the maintenance process less labor-intensive, which saves your organization both time and resources.

2. Improved resource management

Finance Online postulates that outsourcing maintenance can make it hard for organizations to manage their resources properly. Many companies typically receive a lot of maintenance orders every day. It can, therefore, be quite difficult to not only provide the right resources to get the job done but also keep track of inventory.

By using a CMMS, you will be able to handle resources better. This will lead to a better management of equipment and tools, a shorter backlog of work orders, and greater efficiency in completing work.

3. Improved communication

Did you know that the more than 80 percent of your workforce loses up to 30 minutes every day trying to retrieve information? Finance Online also reports that this means a lot of time is wasted as maintenance technicians try to find the information and tools required to do their jobs.

CMMS helps to centralization this vital information, which in turn ensures work flows smoothly and is completed faster.

4. Improving Profits

According to SelectHub, using a good CMMS program will help your business save money in a lot of ways. One of these is by saving on machine replacement costs. By using preventative maintenance, you can save costly equipment from malfunction or total overhaul for longer periods of time. This also leads to decreased labor costs.

The fact is that organizations can save a lot if money by reducing the cost of certain operations. By investing more in core assets and maintaining existing machinery well, you can eliminate costs that cut into your overall financial performance.

5. Improved customer satisfaction

This benefit may not be an obvious one, but reports show it may be one of the most important. It is quite straightforward: well-maintained machinery produces higher quality items. This is indeed one of the largest drivers of customer satisfaction.

When you use CMMS to track key performance indicators, for instance, you are able to improve maintenance workflow and decrease downtime. This adds up to how efficiently you meet your customers’ needs, giving your business a better reputation. It also makes your workforce happier, improving how they serve the customers.

Conclusion

CMMS has now become an integral part of how businesses run in this new day and age. It develops organizational intelligence, which in turn leads to managers making better decisions that result in higher profits.








Why should every startup consider Software Escrow?

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about startups, AI, Chatbots and Big data.

The economy is experiencing a boom owing to the rise of startups across the country. With this rapid growth, safeguarding your business assets to ensure constant stability is vital. When you are starting out, you need to put into consideration the measures that are going to protect your business and its assets in the years ahead. One such way is by enlisting the services of a software escrow agent. A software escrow or a source code escrow is a service that helps to protect the parties vital to a software license. The service is integral to business owners who are looking to secure the continuity of the software’s maintenance over a period of time.

How Does Source Code Escrow Work?

At the last stages of software licensing, a neutral third party, the escrow agent is normally introduced to the equation. The primary purpose of the escrow agent is to store and safeguard the source code, documentation and all the relevant data pertaining to the software license. The escrow agent holds on to these things up until the point that a situation stipulated in the agreement is initiated.

Typically, as the licensee, you are presented with two options to protect against any unexpected business continuity problems, such as bankruptcy, the software vendor may experience. The first option is a source code license which requires the developer to give you the source code with the inclusion of all the up to date version releases. This option is not feasible to the developer as the source code is the software developer’s crown jewels and they will not want to prematurely give those to its licensee. The second option is to setup a software escrow by assigning your preferred third party escrow agent under a comprehensive escrow agreement.

The continuity and maintaining the software aspect of the business is an important part of the software lifecycle. Enlisting the services of software escrow basically means that a licensee can continue to depend on the software even if the software vendor disappears.  

When Should You Consider Source Code Escrow?

  • When the software licensed is mission critical
  • When the software vendor is likely to go out of business
  • When circumstances like bankruptcy arise and result to lack of maintenance or support of the software
  • When the software vendor breaches the terms of agreement on the software license. A violation of the agreement should essentially result in the vendor negating their obligations to maintain and support the software
  • If the software used is a vital component of the operations of your business
  • If the software has a significant impact on the business revenue
  • If the software was bought from the vendor at a high price
  • If the software was custom made for your business and getting a replacement is a tedious process

As your business changes, the software should also be updated to ensure that it keeps up with the needs of the business. When the software vendor is no longer offering maintenance or support, you are likely to experience software crashes, incompatibility with other software and multiple error reports. When this happens, having access to the source code, the list of developers, deployment documents, build instructions and virtual machines through an escrow agent will be extremely valuable.

What does the process entail?

  • Picking out an escrow agent

When picking out a software escrow agent, you should do copious amounts of research to ensure that you select the best in the industry. The fame and size of the company should not be the only considerations. Look at the financial stability of escrow agent, what the other clients are saying and the background as well.  Where is your material going to be stored? What is the agency’s technical and legal expertise? How long have they been in business? Asking yourself these questions will help you select a good software escrow agent.

  • Transferring the source code and other documents

Once you and the software vendor get a software escrow agent, the vendor transfers copies of the source code. The agent should be able to provide secure submissions like the Escrow Synchronization, manual online and offline submissions and automated submission scripts via stfp.

  • Source code held in place awaiting any eventualities

The release conditions are usually defined in the escrow agreement. They are mutually agreed by the licensor and licensee in writing and presented to the escrow agent.

  • Software escrow update

Presently, agents should be able to automate the updates to the corresponding software version releases. The updates to the software should essentially go hand in hand with the escrow updates.

  • Release condition triggered

If any one of the conditions listed in the escrow agreement occurs, the agent is prompted to release the source code and documents to the licensee. In the event that a software license is terminated before any release condition is triggered, the materials are returned to the licensor, or they can also be destroyed in line with the licensor’s instructions.

Conclusion

It is beneficial for a start-up to ensure that all aspects of the business are safeguarded. Using a reputable software agent helps to cover any loopholes that the software aspect of the business might have. This will help to ensure that the evolution of the business over a long period of time.








Forget Fundraisers and Crowdsourcing – Alternative Ways to Fund Your Startup

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about startups, AI, Chatbots and Big data.

So, you’ve got this brilliant idea that will solve all the world’s problems. Great. The catch is that no idea comes without costs. The most popular way of funding startups is fundraisers and crowdsourcing. Platforms like Angellist, Fundable, Gust and Startups.co. are geared towards connecting investors and startup founders to raise capital for their startup idea. Yet, fundraisers and crowdsourcing leave you at the mercy of others to raise capital to put your ideas into action. What if I tell you that there are other ways to obtain money to kick-start your idea, especially if the amount that you are seeking is not that high? The answer is simple: small business loans and personal loans.

Small Business loans

Small business Administration loans or SBA loans offer loans to small businesses at a low-interest rate – ideal for funding a startup. These loans are Governmental and can be applied to through many associations like Fundera. Fundera allows small business owners to apply for a loan from all of the industry’s top lenders—and compare rates for them to find the right deal. SBA loans offer very low down payments compared to other loans, the longest payment terms and reasonable interest rates. Loan amounts of between $5000 to $5 million can be taken out over a loan term period of 5 to 25 years. SBA loan interest rates start at 6.5% and you can get the loan in as little as 3 weeks. Sounds good, right?

How does it work?

SBA loans are funded by the Small Business Administration or SBA. The SBA is a federal agency dedicated to helping entrepreneurs to improve their small business, take advantage of contract opportunities, and to get better access to small business loans. You can get an SBA loan from any bank that participates in SBA funding. The SBA uses federal money to guarantee a percentage of those loans to the banks, so the banks have more incentive to lend money to small businesses. It means less risk for the lenders, so the banks are more lenient with their strict credit criteria. Talk about a win-win situation.

What else?

Apart from needing a good credit score – you are working with a bank after all – applying for an SBA loan can take some time. The bank will want to see your credit and financial statements and may sometimes want you to use collateral to secure the loan. The process can take anything from three weeks to months. You will need to fill out an extensive documentation for your loan application. This may include financial statements, information on your collateral, a description of your business and a statement of how you will use the loan money. The banks will look for entrepreneurs with good credit, a solid business plan and a demonstrated ability to repay the loan.

Get a personal loan

If you think that jumping through the hoops of getting funding via a business loan will not result in approval, you might want to look into a personal loan as funding for your start-up, if the amount that you need is not too large. You can take out a personal loan for as little as $250-$5,000. You can apply for a personal loan at many banks and financial credit institutions. One example is Creditloan, an institution that provides easy-to-use tools to help you compare your personal loan interest rates and estimates your monthly payments as defined by the Federal Truth In Lending Act.

How does it work?

Personal loans can be used for anything that you like; you do not have to submit a business plan or a description of your business to get funding for your startup. The lender, usually a bank, will set a fixed interest rate and a fixed period of down payment. Once the money is approved, it will be paid directly into your bank account. You can use the money to start your business, as long as you pay the monthly instalment. Different credit providers have different criteria according to which they evaluate potential borrowers. Some institutions are willing to overlook credit records, so if you don’t have a good credit record yet, it is a good idea to find out to what extent your credit score will impact on the decision.

What is the catch?

There is no catch, really. You can use the money for anything that you like – including funding for your startup company. Most banks worldwide offer personal loans. It’s worth investigating what different credit companies in your area offer in terms of personal loans.

While crowdsourcing and fundraisers are still popular ways to collect funding for your startup, you never know how much funds you will be able to generate through these sources. Taking out a small business or personal loan from a reputable financial services provider, you know exactly what you will get and how much interest you will have to pay. If you are looking at borrowing a small amount of money, a personal loan or an SBA loan may be the way to go if you want security in funding the capital for your startup.








[Interview] Here’s how this Startup is set to become the “Netflix of Mobile Comics”

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about AI startups, Chatbots and Big data.

The digital boom is everywhere. People who used to sleep with paperbacks in their hands are now keeping Kindle on their side tables. After bringing music, reading and writing to the palm of your hands, the digital world is now rapidly reinventing the comic industry. According to the American Association of Publishers, the industry generated $28 billion in revenue in 2015. While the latest Pew Institute studies show that 28% of Americans now consume published material through electronic formats, there is a prevailing lack of original comics created for the mobile medium.

Among many startups that are disrupting this interesting niche, there is one that stands out as the “Netflix of graphic novels”…an app named Stela. Stela is topping the charts as a one-of-its-kind app that has a curated library of original visual content created by award-winning artists and storytellers, including graphic novels, comics, illustrated novels and other rich visual media. I got a chance to interview its CEO, Jason Juan to discuss the state and future of the digital medium.

Hira: What exactly is the Stela app? And most importantly what’s the mystery behind the name “Stela”?

Jason: Stela is a reading app with original titles covering tons of amazing stories, comics, and illustrated books. For the first time in history, all the content on Stela is originally designed specifically for mobile phones. Fresh new content can be accessed monthly with our affordable subscription model.   

Hira: What inspired you to make this idea a reality? How do you consider yourselves the “Netflix” of mobile comics?

Jason: Netflix is the subscription model we really like and it allows readers to read whatever they want, whenever they want. We believe this is what the majority of the audience in the US would like to have. Eventually, Stela will NOT be just limited to comics. We consider Stela the future bookstore or library for the mobile industry. Graphic novels and comics is the first step on that journey.   

Hira: Are you a comic reader or maker? How did it start?

Jason: We are all comic readers and makers. We discovered that the mobile space lacks real reading content that moves people. Most content is news or content that is in a poor format which is impossible to read on a mobile device. Stela wants to solve that by providing a truly premium reading experience with rich visuals and deep stories that draw readers in and lets them escape.

Hira: Are you planning to have a web portal or will this be a mobile app forever?

Jason: The web portal has recently been launched, and you can read some free chapters now at https://www.stela.com/read. The full experience is still mobile app only. We will release a subscription for the web portal soon for the people who would like to read all the content directly on browsers.

Hira: What genre of comics are you featuring the most and how are you planning to take submissions?

Jason: It is not so much about the genres, but more about the premium quality that I believe is the most important for the readers and Stela. We feature top quality content and we do take submissions from talented storytellers.

Hira: How are you managing the comic library? Is it free for all, freemium or premium?

Jason: We measure how readers react to the titles and chapters. Based on our algorithm we sort our page and content for the readers. We are also constantly growing the content weekly. Because of the high originality of the stories, our model is premium with a few chapters free to try.

Hira: Where do you see Stela in the next 5 years? What is the vision behind the app?

Jason: We would like Stela to be the place for all the premium comics, top quality illustrated books and most mobile-friendly books where every single title is 100% designed for a mobile device.

The vision is the revolution for true digital books. Each book needs to be designed to every single pixels, not just a text file, or rich text file, such as ebooks.

Hira: What stage is your app is currently at?

Jason: There are still many features we are currently building for the app. We also want to have more more premium contents, and we constantly raising the quality bar. We will also expand into various types of books such as food, drink, literature, art, and design.

Hira: I don’t see any competitor for Stela out there. Are there any? Enlighten me.

Jason: Amazon Kindle. 🙂

Our ten-year goal is to beat Kindle. In the end, each book requires a designer to design, not just a simple ebook. Stela designs every single book where readers can truly enjoy the content and not worry about font setting or background color or an uncomfortable flow.   

Hira: Who are you targeting as an audience? Male, female or both? What’s in it for girls especially as they aren’t into comics as much.

Jason: Anyone on earth who wants to read a premium quality story with rich visual graphics is our target audience. Recently we tested ad campaigns reaching out to female readers. The surprising result was that acquisition costs for new subscribers dropped drastically as female-targeted ads saw consistently high returns. Now our subscriber base is over 45% female and growing, subverting the traditional belief that girls don’t read comics.

The problem isn’t who, it’s what. Unlike traditional publishers and distributors, Stela isn’t limited to your typical comic content and genre, meaning we can provide readers with a wider range of material to suite different tastes, interests, and lifestyles – including material that appeals to a female audience. Because as cool as they are, we can’t all love super heroes and zombies. Unlike the traditionally male-dominated comic book industry, Stela’s creative staff is over 80% female, providing our audience with content from a hitherto unexplored point of view.  Stela’s creative and growth team is led by writer and illustrator Sandra Lanz – creator of the House Girls series, and VP of Development Yaling Catorcini – a veteran of both Apple and T-Mobile.

Hira: Any other comments? I’d be happy to feature!

Jason: Since computers have been invented, digital books have never been designed properly, especially any books with pictures. It has been more than 40 years and someone has to fix it. Today finally almost everyone can have a phone with Internet access if they want and all the phones are roughly the same size with about 4.5 to 5 inches of display space. All the creators finally have a standard to aim for which means each book can be now be designed without a moving target. I would like to see each book actually being designed and presented in the best format for all the phone readers to enjoy.








Here is a review of this year’s Best Tech April Fool Pranks!

This is a guest blog post by Hira Saeed, Community Leader, Startup Weekend Karachi who writes about AI startups, Chatbots and Big data.

April Fools’ Day is something that we humans celebrate with all our hearts. Whether it’s making the fool out of parents or friends, we do it wholeheartedly. To get familiar among the masses, Tech companies do it as well with of course with of course highly paid ads and other stuff. Silicon Valley where most of the tech companies live is known to be sort of un-funny because of the geeks working there but in this April Fools’ Day there were super hilarious! Last year was a good one, but this year the giants stepped up their game and were really funny. So let’s have a review of this year’s top Tech April Fools Hoaxes!

The AI Revolution

LOL-BOT was hilarious but we’re not talking about it right now and yes, the AI Trip Managers are real! We’re reviewing the super-funny ad by Infiniti Telecommunications. It was a super fun and satirical dig at our industry where everything is “revolutionised by AI” nowadays. The ad started with the Top Management of Infiniti Telecommunications explaining the revolutionary technology that’s going to replace all their customer service’ staff. They further explained that with this technology, they wouldn’t need to outsource the customer service from Philippines or India. The chatbot in the ad was funny and performed like every other chatbot. And when are they going to release it? 1st April!

PacPrank!

With Google, it’s always the polite humour! Google is known to be the funniest tech company because it was Google that started this trend of celebrating April Fools’ in the tech industry. To celebrate this April Fools’ Day Google turned the Google Maps into a Pac Man game. So by using the Google Map, you’re actually Pac Man munching its way to the destination. This prank of Google received critical acclamation because of the decency and great design of this campaign. Google even started a competition between among people which basically nominates the highest scorer as the winner. With this sweet collaboration with Pac Man spread smiles all around the globe.

Pac Prank

A Study in Pink

Just like last year, T-Mobile was hilarious and satirical this year as well! Okay so, the ad started with how “little wrist bands” cannot analyse what’s going on in the other parts of body and that is a huge problem making T-Mobile to come up with a revolutionary pink full-body wearable named ONEsie. According to T-Mobile, it’s where “couture meets connectivity”. The ridiculous full-body wearable is hailed by T-Mobile in this ad as a sporty and comfortable design. Oh, and it keeps track of what’s happening in your body and along with that, it incorporates 4G LTE as well, making you a human hotspot. Well played, T-Mobile.  

T Mobile April fool

Funny Pets

Amazon usually comes off as a bored tech giant but it’s really funny when it comes to pranking. This year Amazon has create Petlexa! Petlexa is the alternative of Alexa (yes, the AI assistant). Amazon killed it with a hilarious ad where pets are trying to communicate with Petlexa and it’s not really helping them. For example, in a shot, a cat grunts and Petlexa says:” Okay, ordering sushi now”. Well, the satirical tone of ad is just like the prank that they’re roasting the not-so-useful AI-assistants.

petlexa-by Amazon






SWKhi17 – Behind the Scenes

Only two month in at The Nest i/o and I was made part of the Organizing Team for Startup Weekend Karachi 2017 which was to be held in less than 3 weeks. Not knowing much about Startup Weekend personally, I joined the team thinking it’s going to be just another event where people come, have fun, go home and forget about it the next day. With a quick crash course on Startup Weekend by our facilitator Anurag Maloo, we began our preparations. Unfortunately, Anurag was not able to attend the Startup Weekend and eventually Jehan Ara and Akash ended up becoming not only first time organizers but also facilitators!

Thanks to our amazing design team – Hira Fareed & Hafsa Jamal, we created enough buzz online with our posters and teasers. While many young men seemed eager to participate in the 54 hour weekend, we were a little concerned about female participation as very few applied initially. We dedicate the last couple days targeting females and kept our registrations open until the very last. The team even made a “Control Room” where no one was allowed to enter except the organizing team – which, to be honest, made me feel very special.

The Control Room – Out of bounds for everyone except the organizing team!

 

The Organizing Team moments before the Final Day registrations!

Day#1

The final day arrived and our entire team was exhausted from making the final arrangements all week. To our surprise, participants started arriving at 4:30 even though the registrations were to begin at 5:30. The first two participants to arrive were Abdul  Basit & Mohammad Ahsan Ejaz, two young men from COMSATS University Islamabad, who came to attend Startup Weekend Karachi 2017 with their luggage as they planned on staying over for 3 days. We were both thrilled and concerned at how fearless and excited they were to attend the event. Eventually their tickets were waived off and one of our team members helped them with accommodation. The flow of participants kept on increasing with time and eventually we had to turn a few back who showed up for on spot registration.

Meet Abdul Basit and Mohammed Ahsan Ejaz. They’re here from COMSATS Islamabad to attend Startup Weekend Karachi 2017.

By 6:30 PM we had over 80 high spirited participants of whom 30 were females. Friday evening began on a high note when our facilitators, Jehan Ara and Akash took the stage to welcome everyone. After a short talk by Imran Moinuddin, the half baked ice-breaking activity took place which further increased the energy. By 9:00 PM 60 people had pitched their idea, many of them came up with ideas during the pitching session.

Participants were fully involved from the very beginning!

 

Participants putting up their ideas on the Idea Wall right before voting!

We had initially intended to shortlist 15 teams but the high energy in the room forced us allow 27 teams to pitch on the final day. Many teams even stayed back after dinner and finally at 11:15 PM we had to ask them to leave so we could all get some rest for the next day.

All 60 pitches up on the Idea Wall

Day#2

We were pleasantly surprised to find that almost all the participants were present at 9:00 AM. Most of the mentors and coaches were scheduled to arrive on Saturday and the first half of the day flew by. Thanks to our food partners, CoPakistan and McDonalds, we had amazing lunch and dinner planned for Saturday. We could feel the energy buzzing all around and it did not go down even for a minute on that 14 hour long work day.

Teams busy working on their ideas Saturday morning.

 

Amazing lunch arranged by .CO Pakistan on Saturday afternoon.

 

Mentors and participants making memories!

 

A small guide put up for Teams to help them develop a crisp Final Day Pitch!

We had an entertainment session after dinner with Hamza Amir who sang songs on request on his guitar. The short break was exactly what we all needed after a long day of building teams, networking, and learning. The teams were so excited and dedicated to their ideas that even at 10:00 PM they did not want to go home to get some rest.

Hamza Amir playing requests of the participants after Saturday dinner

 

Organizing Team on Day#2

Day#3

We didn’t think it was possible but on the final day the energy levels went even higher as the final pitches approached. After a delicious breakfast from Dunkin Donuts, the teams were running around, preparing their final product. Soon it was time for a small workshop by Jawwad Farid on pitching, which was exactly what the participants needed as most of them were pitching on this scale for the first time. By the end of the session everyone was so immersed in updating their presentations that we had to force the participants to take a little lunch break.

Team getting a quick IT session by one of our organizing team members.

The Final session began with a much needed stand up comedy skit by Junaid Malik which lifted everyones spirits and eased the participants a little. The next two hours flew by as teams pitched one after another to the judges who spared no one from their scrutiny. Only 30 minutes into the judging session, we found out that #SWKhi17 was trending on Twitter.

Final Pitches in progress

Besides the people present on the Final Day, we had plenty more following us on social media, anxiously waiting to find out who would win. It took judges another hour after the pitching session to decide the winner because so many great ideas were pitched.

Judges busy debating who should be the winner

Finally they decided on 3 winners and 2 special mentions:

Winner: MirrorMagican – a mirror that would take a picture using augmented reality and picture automation

First Runner up: TrashIt – a composting bin which enables people to dispose off their trash more efficiently.

Second Runner up: Gardener – an online gardening service, which provides gardening services through an App.

Special Mention:

Auctee – a real-time auctioning service through secure accounts

Champion Mango – a service offering premium mangos with great packaging through a variety of distribution channels.

And just like that, it was time to wrap up the 54 hour long extravaganza. In an effort to capture this glorious experience, we took a group photo.

A group photo with everyone

It has been exactly a week since Startup Weekend Karachi 2017 was hosted at The Nest i/o, and we are all still in a trance, living the moments over and again through articles published, photos shared, and memories made. It was a learning experience like no other.

The Nostalgia is here to stay!

The Organizing Team

 








Community strikes gold at Nestio Startup Weekend by Jawwad Ahmed Farid

The community wins at the Nest i/o Startup Weekend, Karachi

If you need to feel the buzz in Karachi, the Nestio is a good bet to get an instant triple shot of positive vibe, optimism and hope. On any given evening the community tends to be overrun by young entrepreneurs, ideas, visitors and activities.  From standup comedy, improv and hackathons to guest speakers doing work on the cutting edge; from FIFA 2016 on the console to investors in for a sneak peek on the future.  I know because I have been a regular visitor; right from the day when we came to first see the 6,500 square feet empty loft that would ultimately house the Nest.

So this Sunday afternoon as the door opened and I stepped inside, I was surprised enough to take a step back and catch my breath.  Something was different. Not off, just very very different.

I have been there on pitch days, I have skipped passed before graduations. I was there when we surprised Jehan on her birthday and celebrated the big APICTA haul of medals last year. But this Sunday a few minutes before noon on March 26, 2017 as the glass door slid open I stopped as the change in the environment was so physical and in your face. All this despite being exposed to two years and five batches of high intensity young men and women doing unbelievable work at the Nest.

There were people sitting and reclining in places where I had never seen anyone even stand before. There was colored paper and post it notes plastered everywhere. The Nest was packed with individuals decked in dark grey t-shirts in two states – intense focused discussion with lots of hand waving and emotions – or rushing about trying to get things done as if the building was on fire. Not stress or tension but purpose and drive. Like mission control on Cape Canaveral on the day of a big launch.

A swarm of vibrant talent – teeming, buzzing, over flowing with vitality, vigor and life. Talent is possibly not the right word because these were no longer just ordinary men and women. You couldn’t see the energy but you could feel it physically move and push you around – like a wall of high pressure reverberating sound from those giant concert speakers or ice cold water on the deep end of the ocean in winters.

I had come in to run a short 15 minute session on 3 minute pitching for teams participating at the Startup Weekend at the Nest i/o. The Startup Weekend is a 54 hour power packed program managed by Techstars and supported by Google for Entrepreneurs. The concept is simple. The most difficult thing within the startup space is starting up.  The Startup Weekend template allows you to get instant validation, find co-founders, build up a prototype, get feedback from industry mentors and have your idea ranked and judged by fellow entrepreneurs.

While I had seen a number of such weekend and day long initiatives and hackathons in the past, the scene at the Nest i/o was much different from what I had been expecting. Generally by day three of the format half the teams tend to fall off the band wagon.  Most participants begin to lag and slow down as sleep deprivation over the past 48 hour catches up. Mentors, facilitators and volunteers start to fade and the original excitement of starting and building a new company tends to ebb as we get closer to the deadline for the submission of the final pitch.

There was no sign of a slowdown 50 hours into the format. It was as if they had just started. Rather than zombies having a bad hair day and sleeping through my session I had fresh faced forty year olds sitting in the front row paying attention and asking questions. I was the second last speaker for the day and this was just before lunch. The desire to stay, to contribute, to help was so strong that my 15 minute slot turned into 45. My short supposedly 30 minute visit crossed two hours before I realized that I had missed lunch with my family at home.

The source of this unending supply of energy was the community of founders, organizers, mentors and volunteers that had shown up to support the event. Nestio alumni or Nestlings for short were out in large numbers, mentoring, contributing, acting as sounding boards and helping out with coverage on social sites for all three evenings. The volunteers for the event had been infected just as heavily as the participating teams and were busy getting things done. The organizers in the control room were abuzz and high on the rush of the impact they had created over two days. It didn’t matter which room you went to, you couldn’t escape it.

It wasn’t just the participants or the speakers or the mentors or the coaches. It was seeing the community at work on building something much much bigger than we could ever do as individuals.  That was the real pay off. Yes founders won, even when they didn’t make it to the final list of winners – they won because in three days they received a higher dose of active, high quality mentoring and coaching than typical Nestlings get in a month. Teams and ideas won because they ran through an intense test, validate, improve cycle. Mentors, teachers, trainers and judges won because we live off the vibe, off the rush of guiding young team build a better stronger future for all of us.

But the biggest winner of all, the one winner that in the ends leaves everything else behind was the community. The real winner at the Startup Weekend Karachi was our community of builders, makers, doers, helpers, facilitators, mentors, volunteers and well wishers. The broader community too, because in the end these high powered ideas are only going to make this city and this country a better place to live.

Guys and gals you really hit pay dirt this weekend.

You can’t really hide a good thing in Karachi. By early evening the seven judges for the format had already arrived, the power point presentations were done, the mind gym – the venue for the final round of pitches at the Nest i/o was packed.  The hashtags for the event were already trending on twitter for an hour before someone actually noticed.  Because once the pitches started the intensity went through the roof.

Traditionally in an event of this sort the recommendation is to limit the final round to about ten to twelve finalists.  At the Startup Weekend in Karachi 83 participants registered. 30 of these were women. Take a second to grasp what that means for empowerment and community outreach.

55 – 60 teams pitched as part of the initial vote on Friday evening. 16 won the vote to move forward. 25 teams pitched in the final round on Sunday night. Even after scoring for judges was completed it took them another hour to finalize the winner, the two runners up and the two special mentions. That is how tough and close the competition was.

In truth, we were all winners this weekend. Even those who didn’t know about the event or didn’t make it to the selected list. Those who pitched as well as those who didn’t. Because we showed over a hundred individuals what is possible when a community comes together to build things together.  We showed young men and women as well as older men and women that if they decide to change and mold the future all they need to do is get started.  The startup community has their back and will always be willing to lend a hand. We won because we took the first few steps and got started. And that has always been the hardest part.

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This blog post was written by Jawwad Farid for Finance Training Course

Jawwad Farid has been building and implementing risk models and back office systems since August 1998. Working with clients on four continents he helps bankers, board members and regulators take a market relevant approach to risk management. He is the author of Models at Work and Option Greeks Primer, both published by Palgrave Macmillan.Jawwad is a Fellow Society of Actuaries, (FSA, Schaumburg, IL), he holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and is a computer science graduate from (NUCES FAST). He is an adjunct faculty member at the SP Jain Global School of Management in Dubai and Singapore where he teaches Risk Management, Derivative Pricing and Entrepreneurship.