Nabeel Qadee by profession is a project manager and education software engineer. He is one of the few individuals who have been with the local startup ecosystem since the beginning i.e. 7 years now. In the past he has worked with the Punjab IT Board, has helped set up the incubator Plan9, the accelerator PlanX, Tech Hub and various centers for freelancing. Catching up with IDG, Nabeel Qadeer shares his life, work and everything in between
Idea Croron Ka – The Startup Show
Speaking about the much talked about show, Idea Croron Ka (ICK) and getting it started he said, “I went to many channels. Unfortunately luck wasn’t with me or it was too early but lots of channels in fact all of them did not see any use in it, and did not see any value in it.”
According to Nabeel, ICK gave him focus, clarity and a sense of purpose. He added that if the startup ecosystem is being established, the other step is to glorify the startups and bring them on TV. He said, “I wanted our startups to take the role of heroes for our nation. That can’t happen with one show and that can’t happen over one or two years, it takes time. But someone had to start it right. So whoever starts it will get laughed at, and get criticized. I faced a lot of criticism and mockery.”
Asking about the switch from government to the private sector, he said “I felt that because of the TV show I am coming up with so many ideas that if I do them through the government money they will be questioned and that if we did that on that platform, people may not like it and I have to be answerable to that. But if I go into the private sector there will be more advantages.”
Problems within the System
Nabeel Qadeer revealed that even though he has visited approx 80 universities of Pakistan. Every place was a very different experience. Speaking about his visits, he said, “I used to have a checklist about where I want to go, I have gone as far as Gilgit and Sibi, I have even gone to Quetta and its outskirts. I tried to understand that if I want to sell entrepreneurship in Pakistan through an incubator and through such things, that will these people properly absorb my pitch or not.”
“I couldn’t understand that the problem isn’t entrepreneurship, it is education. The problem is the awareness, and that dichotomy that I had about what I was doing and what I wanted to do, in that slowly a gap came. When that gap started coming in, the TV show was functional, people started appreciating and were familiar with who I am. But none of that was giving me satisfaction, because within myself I knew why I did the idea croron ka, I did it because I wanted to show my startups to the world, number one. And the parents, the aunts and uncles, I wanted to put it in their brains that startups and entrepreneurship themselves are not a fad, and that with these there is an economic growth. It happens everywhere in the world, and it will happen in Pakistan too.” He said.
Role of Superior Group
“Chaudhry Rehman is the chairman of Neo TV and he is also the chairman of the superior group and superior group is known for its colleges, its universities and its education but not for media as such. Neo TV is doing well, but it is new it is not an old channel.” He said.
According to Nabeel Qadeer Neo TV was the first channel to believe in the idea for a TV show for startups. He said, “The chance was that when I first talked to him, he also had his own idea about a TV show for startups, why? Well because here in Superior group there is a female rector, and a very young rector, Dr. Sumaira Kamal she started this entrepreneurial revolution effort back in 2016. The aim of the revolution was to give prioritization to entrepreneurship instead of MBA or Engineer within the institute.”
He said that Chaudhry Abdul Rehman wanted to bring something similar to ICK to the TV but they did not know how to do it and who would do that. At a function of superior, he met Mr. Chaudhry and was offered to use the Neo TV for the show.
The name for Idea Croron Ka was penned by Chaudhry Abdul Rehman according to Nabeel. “In my mind I was thinking of ‘A Million Dollar Idea’ but he said to make it a public show that also promotes Urdu language and to play in a local language because a large audience understands this language and will get more viewership.”
Narrating the story of Superior group, Nabeel Qadeer said that it is a magical group. The founder started from working on a small academy and turned into 16 companies that comprise of education, media, hospitals, newspapers, etc. He said, “How did it all happen? It happened like he couldn’t do it alone. There were really nice people involved, they had a strong team, and when I came, I got good people as well. This is very important, and then the people I knew I called them and asked them to join me because this work is huge.”
Innovation District 92
Talking about the incubation center Innovation District 92, Nabeel Qadeer said, “while discussing my switch with the chairman of Superior Group, I had given them a pitch on how we’d become partners and I said I will set up an incubation center and they already had an established brand of an incubator called Innovation District, and I added the 92 to the name. I told them I would like to drive it and bring a team along as well.”
According to Nabeel, the focus at ID92 is on human/founder development and design thinking. He said, “I don’t care if the startup raises investment but if I feel like I can create the right team in six months and that if I instill design thinking in that startup and if they have their priorities clear and their roadmap is clear and then in that roadmap one milestone is also investment and that will come too.”
Further citing the advantage of being with ID92, he mentioned that startup get to raise money on their TV show, Idea Croron Ka. According to him the startups get to have access to all the investors and that is that is what sets the incubator apart from others in the country.
Regarding partnerships, Nabeen Qadeer said, “We have Hubspot and Hurdle, these are small things. Although, we are out of the stage where we go around for partnerships, I can do a hundred a day now but it is not about how many partnerships, but how many of those will be effective.”
The Startup Ecosystem
Speaking about the ecosystem at large, he said “I still believe that there is more noise than there is fluff. It is a very harsh statement to give, I am part of that fluff but sometimes one has to sell Rs 2 thing for Rs 100 to catch the attention of people within Pakistan and outside Pakistan.”
He further added that there is good work being done and everyone is doing their part. He said that, “But the aim should be to involve the local business community and the rich seths need to be involved. Either they become customers of those startups and give them sales or they invest in the startups to make them their business partners. Until we don’t have the local community with us we will be stuck in a vicious circle that will create a bubble. The actual money the actual investment has to start taking shape now and incubators are the safest spaces to go fish for those startups because those startups are curated and they have had their background checks, their progress is mapped. “
Therefore, Nabeel said he is taking the liberty of calling the startup ecosystem nascent as real money still needs to come in.
However, according to him international entities now want to work with Pakistani startups. Giving credit to the rightful people, he said, “I feel like Jehan Ara and Umer Saif played a major role in that and also other such people who attracted a lot of people from abroad. Now we have to further build that.”
He also spoke about how the startup ecosystem lacks greatly passionate and visionary founders. Giving the reasons, he said that it is mostly so because these days startup is the cool thing to do. He talked about the mentality, where one just says: “let’s just go and do a startup, why? Because I don’t want to do a job.”
According to him, most startups, or rather founders do not make it out of the honeymoon period, as when that period ends and all problems arise; a passionate person who is thick skinned is needed to tackle those. Giving an example of a passionate and thick-skinned founder, he said “I always take Markhor’s name; those two are my favorite people, mainly Waqas. I mainly feel that I have yet to find founders better than of Markhor’s. They are dedicated people, they have the passion, they have the right direction and very soon one day they will make a name for themselves.”
He further emphasized on the need of having genuine investors who understand the art and ethos of investment. “Giving money, and asking for milestones, and saying give the ROIs, that is not investment. Investment means: investment of time, investment of capital and investment of all of your focus, as an investor. Those kinds of investors are very few in Pakistan.” He said.
The Local Business Community
Speaking about bridging the gap between the startup ecosystem and the local business community, he said, “I am the only person here who speaks to the local community to come on TV and invest in startups and the response is still very shaky. They still feel excluded; they have to be called in the front. It is time that the local SME community comes and understands the startup ecosystem, first of all they should become buyers, vendors, they should have a transaction with the startups, give them the respect that they deserve both ways that should be. After that when they take that service, and recognize their work. It looks simplistic and sounds simplistic but it is doable as well.”
About talking to a local Seth he said that telling him to invest in 3 kids is not easy and that it is not an easy job. He said that, “I am taking calls and travelling to different parts of the country, to cities as ignored as Faisalabad, Gujranwala, where there are rich people and they even want to invest, they have established systems and they want to invest.”
Speaking about careers, Nabeel Qadeer said that if he weren’t doing what he is at the moment, he would had been teaching. He said, “I always make sure that I deliver something in a university very few months. Those 2 hours that is what I enjoy the most and that is where I am really me.”
Nabeel is a patriot at heart, and states that Pakistan is very important for him. He adds that the country has great potential and wishes that through him the country sees a major change. He also expressed his support of the government. He said, “I feel our leader is a genuine leader, a leader’s work isn’t that he should know IT, or that he has done his MBA, a leader’s job is to show the way and create a vision, they show a dream and achieving that dream is our work.”
Talking about working hard, and facing failures, he said, “There is this very famous quote that I love “that a person only has his intentions and effort in his hands.” Intentions and efforts, and the success is given by God. If He is to give success, well and good if not then it’s alright we will keep at it.”
Lastly, he added that the whole essence of entrepreneurship is that never get bogged down by failure. That one can always get up after a fall and start again, according to him that is what bravery is and this is the core trait of entrepreneurship i.e. to be able to get back up on his own two feet and try again.