Pakistan Technology Industry Survey 2018

8 mins read

TL;DR; Ever wondered what a typical technology company looks like in Pakistan. Are we big or small, domestic or international focuses, services or products driven? What proportion of our workforce are women? Why is that important? Are we clustered geographically? Are we growing? Do we have a future? All good questions that the Pakistan technology industry survey answers using data from 94 technology companies across Pakistan. Take a look.

The case for good data

We need good data that can be cited and referenced for multiple conversations. Good data is used by investors, institutions, the state and clients for addressing perception and public projection issues.

I have always been fascinated by data. Good, reference-able, citable data. When I complained to my professors of emerging markets about the absence of case studies on Pakistan, their immediate response was, “We have tried but we can’t find good data on Pakistan.”

For a counter narrative to survive and take hold, good data is essential. Whether estimating the size of the middle class in Pakistan, the dollar value of transactions processed through internet payment gateways in the country or projecting the amount of tech funding raised by Pakistani startups in 2017-18, good credible data is the first big step.

Finding good data in, on and around Pakistan, using it to generate credible commentary and actionable intelligence remains a primary research interest. It is work that gets used, quoted and cited by the technology community, reviewed by investors and looked on a regular basis by policy makers and partners in and outside the country.

Good data leads to intelligent conversations and impact; to policies, commentary, coverage and investment decisions that are relevant, timely and positive for the community and country we live in. In the data its data, not perceptions that drives decisions and decision making.

Pakistan Technology Industry Survey – 2018. Insights.

The Pakistan Technology Industry Survey was opened up by invitation to the technology community in Pakistan in October November 2018. After a 3 week data collection exercise submissions were closed and we filtered the data to ensure there weren’t any major or significant deviations and ran our analysis.  Without further ado, here are some of the most interesting insights and highlights from the survey results and presentation. If you would like access to the full 76 slide deck that presents the results of the survey, please see the note below.

  1. The summary profile of participating companies. Depending on how you cut, slice and dice it, they represent between 30% – 40% of companies exporting technology and software, employ 23,000 individuals, of which a full 26.4% are women, from Pakistan.
Summary profile of participating companies
Figure 1. The summary profile of 94 companies that contributed their data to the Pakistan Technology Industry Survey 2018.

2. Products and International customers is the way forward. Admittedly the numbers mentioned below are all from outliers. But the most interesting bit is that all these outliers are clustered in one geographic region. They are the Avengers of the Marvel Universe, the Tom Cruises from Mission Impossible. Us ordinary mortals, you, me and everyone else are not going to hit or achieve the heights they have achieved but they are great role models, great benchmarks to aim at. They have all been at it for a while, they are all exceedingly good at the one thing they do very well, and they have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed to get where they are today. But by doing they so they have proved that you can get a product focused strategy right out of Pakistan. It’s not an easy ask, and it may kill you in the process but you can clearly see the payoff if you get it right.

Figure 2. How much can a product company make while based in Pakistan?

3. What do we look like? About 60% of us bill less than a million dollars a year. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it, but we are likely to be small rather than large. Which is the good news. Because if we get it right, there is more room for us to grow. About 63% of us bill less than 23,000 dollars a year per employee. Depending on our age, our geographies and our focus we are profitable but we are not printing money as yet. I think there is still a few more years to go before this group can make this claim. 86% of us employ less than 180 individuals. Only 66% of us are members of the industry association.

Figure 3. What does a typical technology industry player looks like?

4. How many jobs will we create? Remember this is just limited to the dataset in question. We expect to hire between 12,000 to 18,000 individuals in 2019. Do our educational institutes have the capacity to produce this volume of high quality graduates? I am not sure? Please weigh in with your opinion. On the sidelines of the survey I ran another smaller exercise and I think we will most likely fall short of this figure. Which means that as an industry we have two choices. Continue playing musical chairs with each other resources (read: higher salaries, more staff turnover) or come up with alternate plans for retraining, upgrading and retooling existing resource base in the employment pools to free ourselves of this resource constraint.

Figure 4. How many jobs is the industry likely to create or hire for in 2019?

5. How prevalent are product focused companies? Take a look at the orange bar. It will give you a sense of who actually bills more within the dataset. Products or services? This was the primary question I needed to answer for the Habib University lecture on the State of the technology industry in Pakistan. I was expecting something similar but even then I was surprised by the scale of the difference between products and services.

Figure 5. Pakistan-Tech-Industry-Survey-2018 – Who bills more in US$ terms? Products or Services?

How do you get a copy of the survey results?

If you are interested in receiving the full 76 page deck (fair warning, there is quite a lot of filler material in there), please drop me a line at jawwad at financetrainingcourse dot com. I am a little slow in responding but we will most likely collate all requests and send one mail shot out to all the requests later this weekend. You can start checking your spam folders by Saturday evening.  It’s a 3MB pdf file. It’s not the best work we have done, but its a start. Data is only shared in aggregated, anonymous form. Individual respondents and firm details are not included in the public results. The slide deck only includes summary results and insights.

If you were part of the original cohort that was kind and generous enough to share their data, the final cut will find its way to your mailbox later this afternoon. I am still working on cleaning up the presentation and I hope that I will be done latest by this evening. There is no need to drop me an email. If you have a question, need any clarification or have a comment please feel free to drop me a note or better yet just ping me on Whatsapp. Some of you have already received a first cut for review and feedback and I really appreciate the time you took out to make the final work product better.

Pakistan Technology Industry Survey – 2018. Origins

Preparing for the Habib University public lecture series on the State of the technology industry in Pakistan I ran into a few data issues. The issues were minor in nature but I was surprised that I wasn’t able to find a curated or collated data source. Since I was planning to speak to the next generation of computer scientists, some of them already my students, I had to ensure that whatever statements I made were backed by credible data sources. I had been teaching them for two years to not take anything I do or say at face value.

And hence the Pakistan Technology Industry Survey 2018 was born.  In a way the credit for this exercise goes to the innate curiosity of Habib University students who I knew would not accept any empty claims without digging into the underlying dataset.  If you have the time and need additional context on the industry, I would recommend that you take a look at the Habib University  Lecture on Pakistan Technology Industry – Past, Present and Future.

Pakistan Technology Industry Survey – 2018 – Acknowledgements

While for my lecture I just needed a few data points, data collection exercise in Pakistan is an expensive effort. Trust is a rare commodity and asking friends, colleagues and strangers to share their sensitive performance metrics requires a great deal of trust as well as goodwill. I have been very fortunate to have the support of a number of credible influencers and industry veterans who with a single call stepped up to ensure that the data collection exercise received the support it deserved. My special thanks go out to Faisal Khan (the very first respondent and influencer), Faizan Siddiqi from IMS (the second), Jehan Ara aka Big Bird (a veteran of many years and an unofficial PASHA historian), Asif Peer from Systems (who went out of his way to ensure that big companies contributed their data first), Babar Ahmed from Mind Storm studios and Zohaib Ahmed Khan from A2z Creatorz who was solely responsible for the stellar turnout in the dataset from Karachi based companies.

But most important of all, and the biggest contribution came from Ashraf Kapadia, the ex MD of Systems Limited, currently with AT&T, who has seen the industry grow from its inception in the late sixties (that is 1960’s to the current generation) to its current form today. Ashraf as always was exceedingly generous with access to his time and his memories. If I was not motivated enough to tell this story, my two hour long breakfast with him was enough incentive to ensure that this job got done and the story got told.

If there is anyone who needs to be thanked for the successful completion of this exercise, its group of individuals who understood the need for good data and made sure that it was made available. Thank you once again for your trust, support and confidence.

A second group are all the women who gave feedback on readability, clarity and presentation. Once again the list includes Jehan, Fawzia Salahuddin and Agnes Paul. Their feedback made the final work product a great deal more presentable and readable.

My motivation and background

My biggest advantage as a follower of the field of technology in Pakistan has been access to founders as a mentor to PASHA member companies, to Asia Pacific ICT Alliance Awards (APICTA) winners and the 120+ startups incubated at the Nestio as well as the first two batches at Plan 9 in Lahore. To observe, engage and guide founders closely as their business evolves from the initial paper dream to employing hundreds of individuals provided a unique point of view. This involvement spanning two decades gives me a sense of continuity and history. I witnessed, albeit from the sidelines, PASHA being formed in 1994-95 by its four founding members. I saw the rise of our early founders into the respected giants they are today. Together with a group of like-minded colleagues, peers and friends we saw PASHA grow from its humble beginnings to an effective industry organization.

This network of relationships, this sense of history, this context, makes it possible to quickly take the pulse of the tech community, capture data and interpret it correctly. To form, test and frame hypothesis and see them run the gauntlet of credibility out in the field without any filters.  At the same time, I am also aware of the paucity of good data within the community. I know that it drives decisions and its absence or poor quality leads to decisions that impact thousands of lives in the industry. While we have tried in the past to engage external consultants and entities because they don’t have the context they fail to deliver value. For such an exercise to work it has to be run by an industry insider. My hope is that this effort will convince others to come forward and contribute to our own industry benchmarking exercise. If they can’t contribute time, this presentation should at least convince them to contribute data the next time someone comes calling for it.

While the future we witness may not have any similarities with the history we have seen, it is important to have a sense of who we are and where we have come from. Our hope is that the results of this survey will help us take the first steps in that direction.