Pakistani tech entrepreneur Faizan Buzdar has taken the world by storm with his startup called Convo – the very first Pakistani product that has received global acclamation by renowned tech giants and media companies. The company has recently secured series-A round funding from Morgan & Taylor who were also amongst the early investors in Apple. Primarily, Convo is a social enterprise network that allows users to communicate with internal office as well as partners and clients – they can share documents, video assets, stream and feed news using Convo platform.
With more than 600 clients, Convo is working with an office based in US and another in Pakistan. Now acknowledged by major companies like Adobe, Convo has given Pakistan an international recognition that has paved new paths for tech entrepreneurs and their immigration because Faizan also inspired President Obama for immigration reforms. It has been, however, a long journey with several major challenges for Faizan before he made the mark.
Faizan, Founder of Convo, actually started with Scrybe which, being of the first products to come out of Pakistan, received tremendous response by the technology press in United States. Faizan started it in a typical garage startup mode with three other people in Islamabad. None of the team members had US visas. Faizan recalls, “I had already worked for two companies in enterprise management, but when I launched my own thing, marketing was the basic issue. So, we did a product demo video on YouTube – and it went viral.” It was the time when YouTube had just started out and smartphones, iPhone and Androids were not very popular.
Offline access at that time was quite a big deal. Therefore, the response was exceptionally great because it was the first ever web application that worked offline. There were companies based in the cloud, and generally good with it, but there was this growing uncertainty giving rise to the question: What would you do when you are not connected? Looking at it now, smartphones have solved that problem of continuous connectivity, especially in the US. Internet connectivity has improved many times over even in Pakistan in the past 7 years.
The application was very famous also for its design sensibility that added more value to user experience. Sabika Buzdar, Co-Founder Convo, explains, “Convo has been very concerned about the design and user experience of global standards to compete internationally. Every single employee, especially our product team, knows the importance of design. Our engineering and design team work together on equal footing to ensure the product is beautiful.”
Faizan was also invited to speak at MIT, Adobe, Microsoft and SAP. The adobe speaking engagement led to a relationship with Adobe that eventually decided to invest in Scrybe. “We raised funds from Adobe and LNKR. It was interesting because LNKR have a huge presence in Islamabad. It was great for us to combine these two investors. In fact, it was the first time that a Silicon Valley based company had invested in a company with no presence in Pakistan and solely being a Pakistani operation,” said Faizan.
Although, the consumer application was basically free but it earned Faizan credibility for design work and developing skills. Now, Faizan wanted to target the business world. Therefore, after raising funds from Adobe and LNKR, Faizan communicated with the investors and talked them into using these funds for his next project which turned out to be Convo. Faizan said, “That’s where we started thinking about sharing, collaborations and enterprise. All these efforts resulted in the launch of Convo. We used the money to expand the team in Pakistan and when we launched Convo, it became very clear that for a company to go to the next stage, it needed incredible presence in the US.”
Faizan started to recruit his first few employees in the US while working to figure out a way to permanently settle in the US for the next round of bigger and more institutional investment. They moved the company headquarters in San Francisco, although Pakistani product and general team was in the office based in Pakistan. However, it was not an easy thing to get US immigration for Faizan. “I contacted lawyers to figure out the process which was very long drawn and slow, and it delayed the potential of raising money. It was not business friendly because whenever there are investments in businesses, jobs are created. You create jobs in the US as well as Pakistan. If business and jobs are slowed down by immigration, I don’t think anybody would want that,” said Faizan.
Going through immigration procedure, Faizan started meeting people who were influential in terms of actually drafting a new bill which was called Startup Visa. He also met a few congressmen who were trying to introduce a new bill to help overall economy in US. By speaking at a number of events and being able to constructively provide advice on how this bill should be structured, Faizan made his point. Later, when President Obama wanted to push the immigration bill, his staff had been looking for case studies and they shortlisted entrepreneurs and a few candidates. A crew from BarackObama.com website came over to Faizan to shoot a video which was then used by White House to push forward immigration reforms.
The bill has now passed in the senate and currently it is at the mercy of congress. It is unpredictable what would actually happen in congress but it was interesting that the bill was approved in the senate with support from both democrats and republicans. President Obama also mentioned Faizan on his Twitter in a tweet suggesting the importance of immigration reforms. Sabika Buzdar adds to this experience, “We faced several challenges in immigration for setting up offices in San Francisco. At the time when Convo was launched, Fortune 500 companies, NBS, CBS and other major companies were signing up. It was essential to represent the brand smartly in a tough competition. Faizan had to move to USA and get his immigration sorted out. Obama highlighted too that people like Faizan must be allowed in USA as they create million of jobs and help people, and deserve to be here. We realize over a period that ride becomes exciting and tougher, and we have serious investors to answer to. But we are up for it.”
Cnet, TechCrunch and other popular media brands have featured and acknowledged Convo, but what’s more interesting is that these and many other companies are not just talking about Convo; they are actually using it for internal communication instead of emails. The fact that early few paying customers of Convo were big names has injected the credibility that was needed for Convo to raise money. Faizan defines it this way, “It isn’t just the product; it is the attraction that the product has seen. There were customers that signed for free products and now they are paying for our product. The technology publishers literally do more than 2 to 3 thousand posts every single day within Convo while collaborating with each other. And that engagement data is something extra ordinary in our space which spikes the interest of investors in Silicon Valley.”
Convo has an office in Islamabad as well as in US and both teams. As it is a product company, it caters to clients with its product, not service related problems, which allow both teams to work comfortably in their time zones. It reaches out to the clients through the mobile based /web services geographically and works with more than more than 6000 clients, in 150 countries. “We are demographically distributed teams. Our unique pattern of work is that we are defining the new means of communications within businesses/organizations, especially catering to how people are ditching away email system, and making communication real time”, said Shehryar Hydri, Director of Marketing and Operation at Convo.
Faizan has spent most of his life in Pakistan and is very hopeful for new startups in Pakistan in coming years because of the great talent in Pakistan. He has also been conducting sessions and workshops for entrepreneurial startups. Though there is great talent, according to Faizan, most of the students and young entrepreneurs in Pakistan underestimate the challenge when it comes to new startups. Quality of product, user experience, stability of the product – these are the key points that must be looked after, keeping in mind the global standards. Faizan sharing his learning, “Young entrepreneurs imagine a fairytale scenario, thinking it’s easy to make it to the top. But I think there is a high bar out there. As a company, we don’t want to be known for the difference between the value of dollars and rupees; we want to be known because we are smart and hard working people. We create products that can compete globally. That’s the key driving force behind everything that I have done.”