This ‘Startup Culture’ Will Kill Pakistan’s Reputation Soon

By Mir Muhammad Ali Khan

Conferences, incubation centers, award ceremonies, university sponsorship, 10.8 billion speakers in Pakistan each claiming to know entrepreneurship better than Steve Jobs, funding seminars with zero VC’s, you name it and it has been going on but 98% of Pakistani startups have only done one thing and one thing alone, they have just “Started Up” and nothing else.

Nobody is producing expansion from their revenues but looking for further funding based on their previous revenues. 9 out of 10 startups are imprisoned within an incubation center run by a person who himself has never started a single company and has taken it to a successful conclusion, either its run by a bureaucrat hand picked by the CM of the province or somebody with a Ph.D degree in IT. A Ph.D degree in IT makes you qualified for entrepreneurship expertise ?

Are all Startups only going to deal within the IT sector ? What happened to all the other fields of business that have nothing to do with IT ?

We love to compete with India and we love to look up to America but we fail to learn from either because one,our ego based national pride does not allow us to learn from India and two, we are too impressed by America to ask questions from their entrepreneurial leaders because of the fear of looking stupid.

We are “ONLY” concerned with starting up a business and not concerned with growing it. Incubation centers are inducting young people for 3 months and kicking them out after the 3 month period is over with a title “Graduated From…..” or “Incubated At….”.

While countries are producing “unicorns” on top of unicorns within our geographical vicinity, we have not even produced 10 companies that are worth a $100 million dollars. Why?

Because we are leaving everything to chance by incubating them, holding their hands for 3 months, kicking them out into the real world and getting another batch of new companies repeating the same process. Because these incubation centers are getting funded by deep pocketed institutions and they have nothing to lose. These incubation centers only have to exhaust that funding because without spending the previously gotten funds, they can not get more funds.

Universities are not supposed to groom entrepreneurs, universities are supposed to provide innovation and R & D for the entrepreneurs to commercialize it. But the horse is always behind the cart in Pakistan.

Universities are opening up entrepreneurship centers run by “Professors” or executives of multi-nationals. Professors and multi-national executives? Neither of them have taken a single risk in entrepreneurship in their entire lives. One dispenses knowledge and the other is an employee with a cozy salary.

And the world is watching us from every country around the world. Financial centers are watching us from around the globe. They do not see a single start up being listed onto the stock exchange in the past 10 years. Not a single one. Soon will come a time when the world financial centers will come to a conclusion that Pakistan has no innovation.

Soon they will start to say that even Chile, a country in The Andes mountains has produced more entrepreneurial geniuses then us. And why ? Because they are concentrating on producing winners and we are concentrating on just producing. We need to wake up before its too late….And we are very close to being late.


This post first appeared on Mir Mohammad Ali Khan’s Facebook and has been reproduced with permission here.

The views & opinions expressed in this or any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & views of ProPakistani

  • I am kind of agree with this article. My cousin is co-founder of which is Pakistan’s first cashback website but they were lucky to fund themselves for their start up. I think there is lack of exposure in Pakistan as major international companies like Microsoft, Google, VW, Big Four hardly have any existence.

  • I attended Plan 9 event in 2014 and I found that its all one man ‘Umar Saif’ show and all startups are just joined with corruption and not because they are actually entrepreneurs (including Umar Saif). Thankfully more people are finding out the truth.

  • Having spent decade in Europe and other (technologically and entrepreneurially) mature countries, ONE thing that can be pinned down: adaptability. If economy / society is not willing to adapt, no matter how much innovative ideas there may come, it shall NEVER grow.

  • Agreed with all the points but we must support the fact that Plan9 and Nest has started something and if we really seek sucess the real entrepreneurs must join in and do their part.

  • man!
    do you know about this guy? search about him. Ive been part of these incubation centers. I
    know what it has given to us. seriously i have so much to say. but this
    article is really boiling me up. These entrepreneur and incubation
    center represented Pakistan at international level, it has given us opportunity in national as well as international market. We were never Kicked
    out after our incubation period, we are always welcomed with open arms, we visit our center whenever we like.
    funding? at an Idea stage we’ve been offered huge amount of money from
    external VC and investor and YES we have declined all that offers. not
    because we weren’t offered much but we have a vision of something bigger,
    revenue? yes we have been making it.. I’m really sorry but if you don’t know about something, research! stop copy pasting!
    I hope you guys don’t delete and post my comment!

    • point is not to oppose just because it is a start-up. point is to make a concrete plan. yes ides are there for implementation with good reasons but has that idea been challenged and reviewed and has that a 5 year plan to see the actual status after that period. has there been a comparison for the local market to accept such things which seems fancy on the face of it.
      REMEMBER: Not all start-up are fail ideas surely many are wonderful but not all start-up are wonderful too ( alkali , base principle)

    • U conveniently forgot to mention your startup which made it into stardom. Have seen lackeys but not as boring and devoid of ambition as you are. Needless to say that a failed startup needs no mention.
      And some observations:

      You were never kicked. You were just swept under the rug.
      international level? hahahaa. Incubators across the world are alike. They are just hyde parks of failed losers from among privileged elite. Did you even remotely understand what the writer conveyed on basis of facts?

      Money was offered to you? Really? Kid, those announcements mean squat. Even legit investors (charlatans) give you a small amount and announce goals which you have to achieve before next tranche.
      Vision of something better? There is a difference between vision and delusion. Visionaries dont need incubators and accelerators.
      And, stop bickering like old ladies. Rebut his argument based on facts.

      • nothing more than a burnt candle.
        I had no so-called start-up. I added my views. but the way you replied clearly shows your level.
        here we discuss views and ides and do not go below the belt if have nothing to mention.
        have real life.

  • Great article and bitter truth.
    The questions how can we help to change this culture and provide better guidance and support to young talent.

  • Mir Sahib, agree with you nearly a 100%. This startup “fad” era will eventually prove to be like the bubble in a few years. Another term that really kind of kills my intelligence is “the serial entrepreneur” Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Bezos were no serial entrepreneurs… it is a long debate and I agree with you.

  • True! There are so many startups out there without a groundbreaking plan. All they end up is hiring couple of freshies for a small pay (typical line: we are a startup, we can’t pay much) and start doing what every other IT startup is doing, creating basic apps/games/systems/robots. There’s no real viral idea out there which is practically do-able. Even if there’s one or two such ideas, the potential is not realized properly by the stake-holders so very less budget over marketing it is spent over it.

    I’ll always suggest people to not start a IT startup. Instead, join hands with someone you find is doing (or capable of doing) good and try to merge the best of both entities.

  • اس قوم کے نوجوان آگے بڑھنا نہیں چاہتے، جہاں سے دو پیسے ملتے نظر آتے ہیں، وہاں بھاگتے نظر آتے ہیں۔

  • 1000% right. this so-called start-ups are fake understanding of starting a business without full feasibility of matters.
    so far only IT graduates who cannot find a job and has some fascinating idea has a “start-up” then fall-down same like indian missile system… come back to real world and build a tower with solid basis not the castle in sand.

  • We must work hard before we can work smart. Pakistan is going through the work hard phase, it will eventually evolve into work-smart culture if we do not stop supporting incubation. I agree professors might not be best mentors for entrepreneurship, but why don’t the entrepreneurs come forward. Is writing articles criticizing others all that our current existing “real” entrepreneurs can do?

  • Interesting POV. i would be more interested in seeing responses from actual entrepreneurs on these points. So far just one comment by an entrepreneur (Aman Malik Vastani). But yeah may be he has a point about startups worth a $100 mill.
    What about companies like rozee,nayatel and foodpanda they are all startups and very successful at what they do.

  • Some points are right in article but some are wrong. I have my own startup 3 years ago with my friends, now expanding Alhumdulillah. I know many firms too who started n are good now.
    You’re absolutely right about the entrepreneurship lectures you can get especially at LCL, but no use. I can also give a talk on this topic but I’m not that much experienced. A small advice to guys doing startup…… DON’T GIVE UP!
    And for friends+family of a startup guy, please support your boy.

  • 1. The author is a fraud on the run from police, and has gained fame and validity in Pakistan by playing the “they framed me because I’m Muslim” card, while tonnes of other law-abiding Muslims live, work and earn peacefully in the US.

    2. He also seems to have a compulsion for stroking his own ego, so it isn’t surprising that he doesn’t think anyone who doesn’t have exactly his profile can run or support a business.

    3. He is right that there are problems within our Startup ecosystem, and the fact is that not enough startups become big enough to truly matter in our everyday lives might be an indication of that. However, this “Startup culture” also hasn’t been around for very long, so we need to give it a bit of time to self-correct. And offering actual solutions rather than settling scores would be a better way of helping push that process along.

    4. I agree that the race to incubate/ graduate as many startups as possible can be detrimental to the long-term success of any, but from what I have seen, startups aren’t usually “kicked out” after three months as he suggests. Quite a few receive extensions if the incubator sees potential for success, and others are often supported way past their incubation phase. So while his premise might be correct, it gets lost in hyperbole like the most of the rest of the article.

    5. We need to stop giving crooks platforms to stroke their egos. And we need to do it very soon.


  • Not even single startup will call its self Unicorn, even if it become, until and unless you correct your Taxation and Bhatta system in Pakistan, This is the biggest fear factor, no startup is sharing their correct revenues. Only those startups share revenues, who aggressively looking for funding for themselves to stay alive. All “Live” startups go un-notice only because they are afraid of FBR and Bhatta, specially from Big shots. If they get protection, you will see how many great ventures we have. Daraz type venture can show their revenues, as they are backed by their governments.

  • I am rather disappointed that Facebook status updates are now being qualified as articles, especially ones where personal ego is more important than lending a hand. Considering Mir MAK’s last year spat with Investors Lounge and clash with The NEST I/O, this venom is no surprise at all.

    1) Pakistani economy is old world economy, one that relies on brick and mortar approach to business. Digital Pakistan is limited to few urban areas and that’s it

    2) Majority of the Pakistanis are not digitally active, despite Pakistan having one of the highest programmers and developers both in service and freelance

    3) All these technical people are working on products/services for foreign clients, because there is no local demand for it. Most of these technical people don’t know how to develop products for local market and fulfill a need

    4) These startups are doing what universities have failed to do … bring together people of various abilities and create something that solve local problem.

    5) These incubation centers have helped to bring in a culture of taking risk, both for new graduates as well as those with years of working experience. Our universities don’t teach risk taking, our business landscape doesn’t teach risk taking, our government doesn’t actively support risk taking … these incubation centers are. Be thankful that someone is, because Mir MAK’s over a decade here since his escape from US has either been in depression or in stocks, not helping in entrepreneurship.

    6) People who understand local market or have some insight are approaching these incubation centers and presenting their ideas that would solve local problems. Some managed to gain some traction, some couldn’t. Some managed to start earning revenue, many others failed. That is part of taking risk, and it happens all over the world.

    7) It’s after these incubation centers that major companies like Google, Samsung, Microsoft etc have contributed to their growth. These incubation centers are providing access to these very companies (let’s not forget, former employee of The NEST I/O is now Pakistan head for business at Facebook Singapore office) and another startup from NEST I/O got third position in GIST event in USA, presenting his idea and startup with all major founders and Barack Obama himself.

    8) Big names like Nadeem Hussain are now in startup culture as well, providing incubation and acceleration to new ideas and companies and injecting millions of dollars despite risks. Unless Mir MAK believes Nadeem is stupid … well, let’s not go there as it will be another debate

    9) For digital economy, IT is important. It helps to mitigate corruption (because everything is on record) and prevents black economy (because digital trail can be tracked), unlike Stocks which are notorious to hide black money alongside prize bonds and various other options that ‘nothing’ to do with IT.

    10) Mir MAK’s credibility itself is under question for his past and over decade’s failure to get his name cleared. He has little in the way to show his own “expertise” as far as entrepreneurship is concerned. He hasn’t worked in any incubation center or accelerator, he hasn’t been involved in any of the major companies of the world in helping to start business locally nor has he promoted anything in terms of entrepreneurship. The only avenue his article is useful is providing an outsider’s account that can be taken with a grain of salt.

    P.S. I have worked in two incubators and have raised funding as well (over $10k, one startup failed and currently working on the second one) with having work experience of over 6 years in corporate as well as startups. I think I am much better qualified than Mir MAK to know what these incubators are actually doing. I cannot trust his commentary simply because of his recent past as well as conflict of interest.

  • Such a demeaning article, I have visited couple of startup incubators/hot desking facility in Pakistan and facilities provided are fantastic, there are success stories out of these as well. Totally disappointment with Mir Muhammad Ali Khan, if you have nothing positive to suggest other then to not have what we already got then I think better option is not to be critic.

  • Another article just to gain some traffic….
    If you guys think that there is some problem with this system then why there is no solution or suggestion is provided here?

  • Really nice article and it points out the loop holes in our startup eco system, I may not agree with some of the points but we need this type of counter discussions to make our startup system more effective and productive.

  • I agree with the the author but we have no where to go else where easily. Atleast now a days we have some platforms for startups.

  • Silicon Valley exists because Stanford started taking startups under its wings half a century ago – leaving its research-exclusive mission. Ditto for all the hi-tech entrepreneurial activity in Cambridge, MA viz-a-viz MIT. Leading universities in Europe are following suit today as well: TU-Munich of Germany likes to call itself “The Entrepreneurial University”.

    Transitioning hi-tech startups into successful ventures is immensely challenging even in Silicon Valley where VC funds are doling out money in the hundred million dollars and the percentage of startups that succeed lie in single digit percentages. China, India, even Vietnam are closer to the Valley than Pakistan with respect to funding. Still Pakistan is producing early successes. The local incubators that are derided here, have grabbed prizes at the top early-indicators of startup success – including ones at Stanford and Silicon Valley.

    Pakistan’s nascent startup scene and its reputation are better off with a mother-figure or a leading academic mentor, who are open and inviting to expert advice and let the bright entrepreneurs march on, than Wall Street fraudsters.

  • I Agree with on on many points. I have seen too many startups who just want to stay in the incubation Centers. I have seen too many startups who are still not earning even after 1.5 years.Our Startups culture focuses too much on winning awards and competitions.There are few startups who have secured funding and they think they have achieved too much, but the truth is getting funding is just step one, You have to show progress after getting funding.

    The real goal of Entrepreneurship is Creating more jobs and make more money and if we are not doing one of these then we should go back to 9-5 job.

  • People like you are the reason Pakistan cannot grow, reading your article pisses me off
    Do you expect Pakistan to produce a 100 million dollar company in the span of a few years? this is NOT USA which is the hub off entrepreneurship, Over there the economy is stable so start ups can go from nothing to a 100 million dollar company in the span of a few years
    In a third world country like Pakistan where everyone still says “Desi tareeqa is best”, you expect change so soon?
    To answer you’re question of why only IT fields are growing in Pakistan, it’s because NO other field has a proper market. There are more than enough companies related to Business and finance.In fact people coming out of Business and Management Universities, if they work hard enough can get an easy pay-check, so they don’t feel the urge to become an entrepreneur. The telecommunication market already has big names and Engineering has no scope in Pakistan, neither does IT so much, in Pakistan IT is is still growing
    But do you know why IT has so many people willing to invest? the biggest reason? BECAUSE our majority IT market is offshore!! IT is such a marvelous field that it’s work and business can be taken offshore most easily out of any field, someone sitting in Pakistan can have multiple clients in several foreign places, this is difficult to accomplish for other fields like engineering for example,Startups are made because there is a market, IT has a huge market offshore, so there will be startups.
    For the second thing, why only professors and multi national executives are promoting IT, well first of this is bull, A LOT of experienced people who have been in the IT field for long and have had a hand in the establishment in growing companies visit universities and guide students. just recently we had a lecture were an established Entrepreneur came to guide us about different aspect of entrepreneurship and the importance of WORKING, And indeed in most cases people guiding students are Professors but that is because as I said before entrepreneurship is a growing field, we do not have enough experienced experts to guide us yet who have made a big name company because they are still in the process of doing so, it is better to help students in some way like putting professors who know about the field or business executives who know how to manage a company in these centers to guide them to some extent.
    So I urge any one reading this article PLEASE have trust in your fellow people who are doing something with there lives, who want to bring change, they may not have become the next Bill Gates but at least they are trying, even when majority of people and articles like these are against them and InshAllah many big companies will come out of our country but we need to be patient.
    I’m sure not a lot of people will read this comment but for anyone who did I hope you trust your people a bit more to succeed and believe Pakistan will not fall behind.

  • I think there are more sides to it & the writers analysis of actual prevailing situation is limited. There are few successful names which are not related to IT for example “Sarak Pa Karak” or “Maro Tandoor” and even in IT, startups targeting niche are doing great for example thus i would say Mr Ali’s review is partially correct.

  • Hello all. Being an academic, I would like to share my few cents on Mir MAK’s “personal opinion” too.

    1. Statistics around the world show that 9 out of 10 start ups fail. Therefore, this phenomenon of so called “failure” is not new to Pakistan alone. However, I would say that Mr. MAK seems to be ignoring this well documented fact.

    2. Please enlighten me about the number of jobs produced by Pakistani economy (large companies in particular) against the number of graduates we are producing. There is a huge graduate bulge my friend. Where will these graduates go? In my opinion, this entrepreneurial culture is even more healthier despite the absence of governmental support. This very website is a good example of a successful startup, not to mention Patari, Food Panda, Nayatel and many more.

    3. Even this entrepreneurial culture itself is in its embryonic stage. Give it a time. I am very hopeful that this will provide Pakistani economy a very strong foundation in the longer run. You call yourself an entrepreneur and yet ignoring the fact that making a $100 million dollars company will take time.

    4. Your objection on the profiles of people heading the incubation centers is also a very sweeping statement. I am assuming you may know very few people who are heading these centers in the universities. Like any other universities across the world, we do invite entrepreneurs, investors and other expert speakers to our universities too. We allow students from all the disciplines to interact, chat, share and network with these successful entrepreneurs. Students also get the chance to be mentored by these successful entrepreneurs. What else do you expect from university professors?

    I have many more to say but due to limited time, I will conclude by saying that look for the brighter side and get well soon dear.

  • All of us can have a good go at all that is wrong with Pakistan and it’s startup industry. A lot is wrong with it. It’s an easy rant and people will flock over to agree with you.

    What’s not easy is to actually give a solution and commit yourself to fix the system instead of just having a go at it. You aren’t pointing out the flaws, you are simply criticizing the system that’s in place. What is there to learn for startups from your criticism?

  • You are right Sir. These start ups are just dramas. They are not different than opening a shop. but you employ one person in a shop but these startups hopefully will generate not thousand may be but atleast hundreds of new jobs. and i think it’s a great thing. people are understanding the importance of having their own business. so i think it’s good for the country to be independent. We should forget about what others thinking, Startup seed has just start growing people will enjoy its fruit. just let it grow once. :)

  • When you invest in team (how beautiful they look, how they use fancy presentation and some other stupid things) rather than the idea then you are doomed.
    I have even seen crap (destined to fail) projects getting big investments because of ‘tharkism’ culture.

  • I think these incubation centers should organize classes for the professionals as well as for students and other people seeking professional training for FREE. I know that these incubation centers have a lot of money to spend but I really don’t know where the budget is going?

  • Behind every success there are failures, Yes we must learn from others even from India. But one thing which I must say here is that. “Something is better than nothing”. At least we start and soon we find the right direction.

  • My question is who is Mir Muhammad Ali Khan, he first spoke about CPEC negatively and now he speaks about startups negatively… Well things should happen and Nation learn from such things…. Failure is the first step towards success.. very pessimistic….

  • Finally Finally Finally .some had guts to say this. Unfortunately the country have not seen the real start up boom as it has happened in India here the show is run by careem , uber ,rocket etc. all foreign companies ..for last 3-4 years not one single entrepreneur has been produced by these local so called PHD VCs .. Also the investments has always been done in very conservative ideas.. This article answers why the nation has not been able to produce its own version of local OLA , FLIPKART , PAYTM ,QUICKR like unicorns..

  • 100% + True. Ab Mangobaz ko dekh len yeh kia vulgur posts kar rahe han but inhen achi khasi funding mil rahi ha. Kafi startups to funding le kar manzer se hi gaib ho gae han.

    Aor jo sahi startups han inhen moqa hi nhi mil raha.

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