How big is Pakistan’s internet start-up industry?

A veteran internet marketer’s insight into Pakistan’s undercover internet industry.


A veteran internet marketer’s insight into Pakistan’s undercover internet industry. DESIGN: ESSA MALIK

KARACHI:


Here is some perspective for you: Pakistan’s GDP equals merely the size of the loss Apple Computers has faced since the launch of the iPhone 5. What do you think really keeps this country’s economy ticking, despite the unconvincing numbers released in black and white?


The answer: remittances. Pakistan receives $13-14 billion annually from external sources. Compare that to the total it collects in taxes, which is around $10 billion. You can see for yourself what accounts for more in the economy.

Payments from abroad usually take two channels: they either come from Pakistanis working overseas, or they come through our relatively small, yet gigantic-in-effect, web start-up industry. This industry comprises businesses and freelancers that globally outsource their services, and includes names such as Sofizar Constellations, Naseeb Networks (Rozee.pk), TradeKey and others. Sofizar alone makes around $15 million per year, and TradeKey.com is the second biggest business-to-business sales portal in the world, following alibaba.com. One of the world’s best online affiliate marketer, Faisalabad’s Pasban IT Group, is doing so well, it owns the only Lamborghini Aventador and Ferrari F430 in Pakistan.

How are these companies doing so well, and how big are these Pakistani startups on the international scene? If the ownership of one of the world’s most expensive cars doesn’t sound impressive enough, let me take you back a few years. Back in the day, when Digg.com was alive, one of the world’s greatest Digg-ers, Waseem, was from Pakistan. He, along with a group of fellow marketers, was hitting the front page of Digg.com on a daily basis, which meant looping in hundreds of thousands of visitors in no time. That is equal to popping your article on Reddit.com’s front page these days. One of the clients of these champion Digg-ers was the Chicago Tribune. You can figure the rest yourself.

This is how the online marketing industry works. Most of what goes viral online is not what people naturally promote and share, but a result of gaming that system to perfection and with skill. This is what good internet marketers do: you can only judge on the basis of what content channel it comes to you from. What if I told you that T-Series, one of India’s biggest music record labels, has a prime internet marketing affiliate based in Karachi? They are just a bunch of boys who do it underground! The bidders for tenders for this job span the entire Earth. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you, then, that a company based in Karachi makes apps for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (that’s NASA, mind you), for the space giant’s mobile platform.

Ever wondered how musicians and other celebrities get hundreds of thousands of views and likes in on their YouTube videos, status updates or Instagram shots almost instantly? The game sometimes gets dirty, when low esteem drives some marketers to trade outgoing traffic from adult websites on to their own. From Twitter followers and retweets to StumbleUpon traffic bursts, everything is all paid for and gamed, all courtesy of underground internet marketing gurus. You may be disturbed to find that this is the reason why the Daily Mail serves much more traffic than the New York Times, BBC or The Guardian.

50% of what the product is, and 50% of the product’s marketing accounts for the success or failure of a product. Taking these less costly underground routes is often the cheapest way to battle your competitor and see them in the eye. This is the reason why the top ten international blogs based in Pakistan earn more than the top ten TV anchors of the country : the top 3 make $60,000 per month, each. They like to stay underground because of various reasons, so I might not be able to take their names, but consider that Pakistan possesses the world’s number one iPhone jail-breaking blog, one of the world’s biggest B2B sales website, some of the world’s biggest humour networks, a top-notch survey reporting website and many more corporate blogs that are serving the global village like a local resource at the grandest levels.

These are tales that never get told.

The writer is a techpreneur who runs a software company in Dubai and also runs a healthcare startup in New York

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2013.

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Correction: An earlier version of the article mistakenly referred to NASA as National Aerospace and Space Administration. The error is regretted. 

COMMENTS (26)

Water Bottle | 8 years ago | Reply

"What do you think really keeps this country’s economy ticking, despite the unconvincing numbers released in black and white?

The answer: remittances."

If this is an analysis, he has completely failed at analysing the situation.

The answer is : Black money. Black trade is supposed to be bigger than the white trade in Pakistan. That's what keeps this country going.

[email protected] | 8 years ago | Reply This article is so big on sweeping statements and eye-popping comparison, but woefully short on data and details. Reads like it was written by an internet enthusiast, and not someone who actually bothered to collect data and paint a comparative picture as the title suggested. I know a little bit more now, but I found the article lacking.
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