Pakistan is one of the next big markets for Google in Asia, according to executives at Google Pakistan, who held their first ever public event in the country to highlight the technology giant’s interest in the country.
“Pakistan is Google’s next big market in the region,” Google’s head of Emerging Market Development, Southeast Asia, Jana Levene told a gathering of IT experts, bloggers, businessmen and selected journalists at Pearl Continental hotel in Karachi on Monday.
The gathering comes after Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt visited Pakistan in June to meet with the country’s politicians and businessmen. “It was just a regular visit. He wanted to find out how important the use of technology for the country’s leadership and businessmen is,” said Badar Khushnood, Google’s consultant in Pakistan.
Moreover, Google has intensified its operations by getting involved in a lot of projects – especially with the Punjab government – in the country recently. “Innovation Punjab” is one example where Google has partnered with Punjab Information Technology Board. It has launched a social innovation fund – in collaboration with Pakistan Software Houses association, also their partner for the event – to support young entrepreneurs struggling to get their ideas public.
Google’s increased interest in the country, Schmidt’s visit of Pakistan and now this event sends very strong signals to the country – the giant may consider opening an office in Pakistan. Khusnood denied if Google was opening its first office in the country anytime soon but added it couldn’t be ruled out. Google’s representatives attributed Pakistan’s growing importance to multiple factors.
“To enter a market, the first thing we look at is its demographics – number of internet users in that country,” Jana Levene said, explaining why Google is interested in Pakistan. “Twenty-two million internet users is a huge number. It’s more than Australia’s whole population. That’s why we are here,” she said.
The second thing Google is interested in, Levene said, is the size of the market. “Pakistan is a $400 to $500 million market for Google,” she said. Currently, four of the top 10 most popular websites in Pakistan are Google’s sites.
Regulatory framework is another that area Google considers in the markets of its interest, according to Levene. “The laws regarding internet censorship, the security of our employee etcetera are the things we take into account.”
Levene, in her presentation, went at length to describe the features of the Pakistani market that keeps them interested: aside from the 22 million internet users that include two million broadband users, seven million Facebook users, one million Twitter users and 1.2 million LinkedIn users. Of the total mobile phones sold in Pakistan 6% are smart-phones.
Talking about what Pakistanis search on Google, Levene said Pakistanis search Google to solve social problems, discuss politics, start business, entertain and build communities. For example, a Pakistani businessman partnered with an IT expert to start a business for leather shoes. Pakistanis used Google Earth and Google Map tools to track which areas were affected in 2010 floods. As a result, the government was able to reach 800,000 people. On the lighter side, Ali Gul Pir became a YouTube sensation after his video ‘Wadere Ka Beta’ went viral on internet.
Mark Warburton, from Google’s emerging markets’ sales division, highlighted the power that Google’s search engine placed at the fingertips of Pakistani companies. Google Pakistan got eight million queries on Monday alone, he said. He then broke down those queries by sector: 386,000 were telecom queries, which translates to 15,000 queries every hour. Google makes information like this available through its Adwords tool, which can help businesses gain insights into their customers’ interests.
“We are calling you to help us bring more Pakistanis online,” Jana Levene said addressing country’s leadership as well as the technology sector. “Tell the world Pakistan is economically viable. It’s a safe place to do business,” Levene said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that Google’s revenues from Pakistan were $500 million. That figure represents the total size of the Pakistani advertising market and not Google’s revenues. The error is regretted.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2012.