Pakistanis can’t escape Pakistanis

Pakistanis have argued for centuries (collectively) about what’s wrong with our country. We’ve blamed politicians who give power only to their family members, religious extremism, foreign involvement, corruption, women, our cricket team, and the youngsters. We know where the problems lie. We just never tried to find the reasons behind them.

Thankfully, I’ve done a lot of research over the last few years on these reasons. Here are some for you to think about:

Reason #034 – The Individual’s Independence:

In Pakistan, the legal age is the age at which a person may legally engage in a certain activity, with the consent of everyone he or she knows. It starts the day you are born, and lasts till you die.

What I’m trying to say is, you have to keep everyone you know happy in Pakistan. You have to make decisions based on what your family tells you to do. If your abbu tells you to go for Masters abroad, you sit your butt down in the next plane to Australia. If your ammi tells you to marry your khala‘s son, your next move should be to block every guy on Facebook. Pakistan teaches you to respect a little too much.

We don’t get to decide what’s good or bad for ourselves anymore. We can’t succeed at anything, because we’re not allowed to fail and disappoint.

Reason #245 – The Family Grows:

This is what a common family gathering in Pakistan is like: The kids are playing together, running around like crazy because someone brought chocolates for them. The girls are in the kitchen (your ammi, khala ki baiti, mumani, khala, mamoon ki baiti [who is coincidentally khala ki baiti‘s age], 2 maids, nani ammi). The guys are in the drawing-room (you, your abbu, mamoon, nana abbu). You’re telling them why you want to study Architecture in university, but you know it’s like talking to a wall because it’s not Engineering. Right before dinner starts, your nana abbu gets up and says, “Saray behn bhaion ko ikatha karo!” (this means all the cousins by the way). He points at you and tells you you’re going to marry your khala ki baiti.

You can’t say no. That’s suicide.

In Pakistan, the family grows in itself. The genes stay in the family as long as there are boys and girls in the family to get them on (pun intended). It means that you now have to listen to not only your parents, but also to your khala and khalu who are now your saas and sussar as well even though you haven’t married their daughter yet. How do you even bring yourself to deny years of your parents telling you that your khala ki baiti is your behn?

Do you know what else it means? Their value of input in all your matters has doubled. And to survive, you need to keep them twice as happy now.

Waisay bhi, bahir kahan acha rishta millta hai? Jab khandaan main baitiyan hain tou bahir kyun daikhain?

Reason #564 – The Foreign Utopia:

If by any chance and luck, a Pakistani escapes and settles abroad, he or she (rarely) is accompanied with the weight of one huge expectation: The Pakistani should only settle for a life which is better than the life he or she (rarely) has left behind in Pakistan.

Do you know why that is? You know the feeling when we say things like, “Nadia Ali is Pakistani!” or, “Amir Khan is such an amazing boxer.” I’m talking about that feeling of pride when we talk about Pakistanis (Pakistanis we have nothing to do with or never helped in any way) who achieve anything abroad. And all their achievements are things they could never do in Pakistan. That illogical feeling of pride in the heart of every Pakistani in Pakistan is the reason there is so much pressure on the Pakistanis who aren’t in Pakistan.

Pakistan fails in a lot of places and, as you can see, the dots connect. Having a family member run your business or our country might be a problem. But is it the reason? No. The reason is that the younger brother always has to listen to the older brother, or because even a member of National Assembly has to listen his tayya abbu.

The reason is that Pakistanis can’t escape Pakistanis.

PlayBolt Studios

Our company got incubated at LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship (that’s such a long word!), and it has been a roller coaster ride since then (I don’t know how else to describe experiences which are amazing, scary, thrilling, and full of suspense) (I could have just written all that). Hassan, Zain, and I came here as Team Cognitica, because our work had something to do with kids’ cognitive development.


Left to Right: Zain, Mr. Pakistan, Hassan

However, we soon changed our name to PlayBolt Studios, and here’s a small video of who we are and what we’re trying to do:

I thank Osama Jawad for the narration, Zain Zaidi for the background “Fiiiiit!” whenever Osama completed a sentence and also for the editing, and Ayla Naeem for going out of her way/house and making the children play the game we made!

Heroes of Woodcoast is our little baby, and we’re working on it as hard as we can. And with it, we hope to get closer to our goal: To revive our old culture of imaginative free play in kids. We would really appreciate it if you could try the game on your Android device (we’re working on the iOS version as well):

  1. Download and install the game from the following link: here.
  2. Download the two Image Trackers from here and here. These need to be printed. If you do not have a printer, just open the images on your computer when needed.

We’d be grateful if you could fill this short survey after playing the game or give your feedback by commenting below, as it would help us a lot in designing the features according to the users. Also, do share the video or the game with parents, teachers, and people working in the education sector.


Play is the highest form of research.

Albert Einstein

LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship

It has been a month since LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship (hereinafter referred to as LCE) opened its door for us. They had to because we didn’t have keys or smart cards back then, and we had to get in. It turned into our second home on the first day. And that was because we didn’t have any other place to stay or sleep comfortably. It was also because of the cool people who work there!


Khurram Zafar is the executive director of LCE. He’s usually seen sitting in his office, typing something at a million words per minute on his laptop. And for some reason, he doesn’t get annoyed whenever any of us walk into his room and ask him something like, “What is equity?” I’m just kidding; no one can type a million words per minute. But he really is that patient with all of us. Especially when he has to go through the same pitches every time an investor comes in and then also very clearly explain to them what we were trying to say. He’s a real life/company saver.

Osama Jawad is the go-to guy in the office. Other than being the Manager Administration at LCE (which consists of EVERYTHING except for being the executive director and marketing head), Osama is the one person that keeps all the baby companies updated with everything. Not only that, he has to ensure that everything goes smoothly at the office, and it is no easy task to tell baby CEO’s what to do and to follow the few rules at LCE; after all, we’re all our own bosses! But everyone here will agree: Osama is one of the most understanding persons we’ve met.

Asma Asif joined us two or three weeks after the incubation period started. She’s the Head of Marketing at the LCE. Since she sits close to our pit-thingy, we always end up annoying her every half hour. It’s fun. She’s also awesome because she bought us breakfast this one morning, and we ate the entire day that day.

And then there’s Talha. He’s a volunteer who works here, and helps design the websites and pages and I don’t know what else for LCE.

Left to Right: A bunch of super cool people

Left to Right: A bunch of super cool people

These are the four people that make LCE feel like home for the 6 companies that got incubated. Here’s a brief introduction of those teams:


If you’re from Pakistan and are even a little bit interested in the whole startup thingy going on in Pakistan, you might have heard of Savaree. Savaree is a ride sharing platform, and is trying to handle the trust issue in Pakistan. It was founded by Qasim and Madeeha earlier this year after their idea won at the Civic Hackathon that took place in Lahore. They’re awesome, like Asma, because they treated us with pizza a few days ago after winning the award for the Best Startup at the P@SHA Launchpad in Lahore.


Interacta started off as a final year project at LUMS, and is now a company run by Maaz, Jazib, and Waleed which has already started getting the attention of media channels. No, literally. Their aim is to make all media interactive, with the help of smartphones. So if you’re watching Zubaida Apa’s show, you can instantly get the recipes or totkays on your smartphone! Pretty cool if, unlike me, you own a TV.


Then there’s this game studios founded by Aqeel, Aleem, and Usman (their actual names are Hindara, Johnny, and Chimatu). They call themselves the BugDev Studios, and have a lot of combined experience of game development and game design. Which is why they’re trying to make games people would actually love and play, and wouldn’t just be another addiction for them. They already have Crazy Hexagon out on the store, which you can download from here.


BizClout is run by Sheraz, and his team of super dedicated people. They’ve come up with a way for SME owners in Pakistan to have their own website in less than 15 minutes! Not only that, the owners can also advertise their services and products on AdClout and get a pre-built customer base. BizClout is a promising startup, and it already has more than a hundred clients.

And then there’s my company, PlayBolt Studios, which is the talk of the town (a town of 3 people). I’ve written about it in more detail here.

So if you’re ever in LUMS or around anywhere in the country, and want my autographs or say hello or buy me slush, do visit the LCE; we also have a ball for you to sit on!



“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


new places

A lot happened in the last two weeks. My team was invited to present the idea at LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship. At first, we thought they wanted to know more about the business plan so they could do whatever they’re supposed to do. But then we got to know the whole process.

It was a competition between the 12 teams LCE had shortlisted, so they could give incubation space to 6 companies. And these 12 teams were winners and runner-ups of various competitions. After the tests, presentations and interviews, 4 teams got incubated. We were one of them, and we’re getting an awesome office now to start our own company!

We won’t be getting a place to live though. So, if you know someone who has a furnished room/portion we could rent, do let me know by messaging me on Facebook or by email:

it’s a start

Back in November 2012, there was a sports tri-fixture at LUMS. All my friends were going there, and I had planned to go too. I mean, why not? It’s such a nice place to just roam around and do nothing, and I love basketball too. I really wanted to. But then, my brother told me about Startup Weekend. And I don’t remember why I decided at the last moment to go attend the event. I had no reason or motivation to.

For those of you who don’t know what Startup Weekend is, it’s an event which helps passionate wannabe-entrepreneurs refine their ideas, and get some guidance for their startups.

I had a really stupid idea for a startup – a simple application for time management. Needless to say, it did not get shortlisted. It was crap, but I kept working on the idea. The mentors helped me a lot, and I learned a lot about starting ventures. They helped me think better and clearer. My idea refined a lot in those three days, but I was only awarded the consolation prize for being the worst startup venture. Coffee Shop Gurus were kind enough to sponsor the award.

Last Prize

Yes, I was that happy. And I was more motivated than I had ever been. I never regretted not going to LUMS. I kept working on the same idea and it turned into something really good: a project management tool which implemented gamification to engage employees and keep them motivated. The same idea won at three different business plan competitions. Gathered a total of Rs. 1 Lakh or something. Got a lot of great exposure, made a lot of contacts, grew my network, and most of all, learned a lot. Thanks to the amazing mentors I had!

I was really confident about the idea, and so were my mentors. They encouraged me to work on it. And they promised me I’d be filthy rich in a year. With that motivation, I shifted to an apartment last year. I gathered a team of really good developers and designers. I was excited. Why wouldn’t I be? I was potentially sitting on millions.

But then, slowly and gradually, the motivation in others started to die out. They found “better” things to do. I wasn’t prepared for such a scenario, especially when everyone had promised me they’d work on it with me. I mean, I had given up a trip to the U.S., internship opportunities, application development, partying, a peaceful summer vacations, and a lot of other things. And when things started falling apart between us, the startup I had in mind never started. I left social networking websites, gave up basketball, stopped doodling, lost contact with a lot of friends, and decided to keep working, even if I had to work alone.

I had just gotten a new laptop then. Some ASUS K-series. It wasn’t great, but I could develop something on it. I started learning Django and Python (some programming language if you don’t get it). Designed a few modules of whatever I was doing back then. And then, Pluto aligned against me too; my laptop crashed, and my Django and Python stopped working (not going into details).

Didn’t know what to do then. And for the first time after the Startup Weekend, I was demotivated. My friends had interned at great companies, gathered a lot of experience, matured their CVs. But me? All my plans had been destroyed. I mean, more than a year had passed, and I had accomplished literally nothing. And what’s the use of entering a market with an idea that’s a year old?

Last month, my apartment-buddy Sair and I were having a late night discussion on everything. We were discussing ideas that could change something. And then suddenly I thought of a problem. I had something in mind, but I could not explain it to Sair. We had a mindless debate over something that neither of us could comprehend.

And then last week, I got to know about Startup Weekend Islamabad 2014. Because of my experience of the failed startup, I registered for the event half-heartedly.

The idea I had in mind was too complicated; it was more of a really big problem I observed in the psychological development of children because of the smartphones and tablets they had access to. I could not come up with a solution for it. I discussed the problem with teachers, and people from the industry who were coming to my university to different seminars. I talked about it with my brothers and my friends. But I was still as aimless as I was on the night I had thought of the problem.

Anyway, I prepared a pitch for one minute for the first day of the Startup Weekend. A total of 37 ideas were pitched in front of the judges that night. I went on stage, and stuttered whatever I had in mind. I did not get a round of applause or a standing ovation. I knew no one in the audience understood a word that came out of my mouth.


After all the ideas had been pitched, the participants were given 5 stickers to place in front of the ideas they liked best on a whiteboard. I gave myself 4 stickers, and the last one to an idea about women empowerment (the presenter was also pretty cool). Those were the only 4 votes I got that night by the audience.


The whiteboard was then taken to a top secret room where all the judges had gathered. And after a break of 15 minutes, the host came back to the hall to announce the results. 15 out of 37 ideas were shortlisted. Mine was too! A friend of mine, Hassan, joined my team as a developer, and we asked the host to find a business developer for us. A guy stood up from the audience and said he’d like to join our team. We never heard from him again. Anyway, the host then asked the mentors present there if anyone would like to mentor our idea. A mentor sitting right in front of us raised his hand. We went back to our seats then, and waited for the member-and-mentor-assigning session to finish.

The mentor assigned to us was Dr. Sohaib from LUMS. We only spent 2 hours together the next 2 days at the event, but they were more than enough for Hassan and I to work. All we did was tell him our idea, and explained the concept to him a little (because we were pretty confused about it too). Whatever we worked on during the two days was everything Dr. Sohaib had told us. He left us astounded with his immense knowledge of Computer Graphics, Digital Image Processing, Augmented Reality, Mathematics, 3D Modeling, Video Directing, Business Development, and Finance. All that in a few sessions which weren’t more than 15-20 minutes long! His excitement and interest in the idea motivated us more and more. We were confident about our little baby!

On the last day of the event, everyone had to present their ideas in front of a really big panel of judges – mostly CEOs of a lot of successful companies. Everyone had to talk about the problem they focused on, the solution they’re providing, a running demo/video of their product, market analysis, and finances. All this in 5 minutes, followed by a question answer session with the judges of 2 minutes.

Our turn was somewhere in the middle of the other presentations. I was nervous before going on stage. I am a “techie” person after all, with very little communication and public speaking skills. And I stutter a lot too sometimes. But for some reason, as soon as I started the presentation, I spoke in a really good flow. I hadn’t memorized anything, and I didn’t even have to read the flashcards.

There was an okay round of applause by the audience; it was more than most other presentations had received. The feedback we got in the question answer session was great! The judges loved the idea and the presentation. When all the teams were done, the results were announced.


We won Rs. 25k. But that didn’t matter in front of the incubation offers from a lot of companies! The judges, mentors, guests, and participants really liked the idea and encouraged us to pursue it further.

Which we plan on doing, InshAllah. My family, friends, mentors, and Startup Weekend has invested too much in me, and I’ve learned a lot from my experiences to let it all go to waste now.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.

– Henry Ford

A Month Later

It’s been more than a month since I started taking things seriously. Even though I did not study better or harder during this time, I did really good in my finals. In courses I was almost certain I’d fail, I scored above average (and way above average in others). This happened probably because I did not let much distract me. Completely stopped using Twitter. Checked my Facebook only once or twice a day. The only website I spent a lot of time on was Quora. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s just a better Yahoo! Answers.

Anyway, my work did not progress as much as I thought it would. I had all the time in the world during the exams, but then I felt like it would be wrong to work and not study. The exams finished on the 23rd of December, projects on the 30th, demos on the 1st of January, exam show-ups on the 5th. During this time, I also had to spend 3 days at the workshop. My car is getting better now.

I have holidays till the 20th, and I have major tasks to complete by then: Get company registered; get equivalence made; get passport renewed. I also need to fix my sleep routine and start exercising daily. Never thought I’d get this fat.

Work will start off where I left it. I know I’ve wasted a lot of time and a few good opportunities in the last year and half, but I believe it’s never too late.

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!

Randy Pausch