Founder and CEO at eMumba and the co-founder and CEO of much acclaimed social network for cricket, Cricout, Owais Anjum is one of the leading figures behind the changing scene of Pakistan’s IT industry. Cricout has already set a good example of the kind of innovation that is taking place in Pakistan’s tech space as Apple has listed Cricout as a featured app in nine countries. It has already hit top spot in Pakistan and the fourth in India in the sports category on the App store. Other than being an entrepreneur who does not fear embracing the possibility of failure, Owais Anjum has been working quite actively with OPEN Silicon Valley and stays involved in charitable work through Hidaya Foundation both is U.S. and Pakistan.
You are the founder and CEO of eMumba which was established in 2012. Can you give us more details about this project and how has it shaped up in the past two years?
Owais Anjum: “eMumba is essentially the name of the company I basically started in December 2011. Earlier, I was already heading a company here in Islamabad called Numetrics, as a Managing Director, which is a California-based company. However, I eventually got bored as I felt my work had been becoming repetitive and I started desiring a more mentally stimulating and engaging challenge. One such idea that struck me was to build a product in Pakistan. If you pay attention to the local IT industry, it is primarily service-based: people are hired in order to get work done from them and they get paid for it. Now there is, of course, nothing wrong with that since it has proven to be a great business model but the idea of building a product by myself excited me even more. Now building a product requires a lot more than just hiring people; it needs a significant amount of investment, a lot of money and resources go into just building the product and then you have to market it intensively before it actually becomes a profitable venture. Therefore you are easily looking at, at least, a two to three years of runway before your product takes off. This is a crucial time to be faced as this time needs to be funded through either your personal means or other sources of investment which do not very substantially exist in Pakistan. I just relied on the fact that since I had studied and worked in the U.S. for about six years which rendered me some desired contacts abroad, it would enable me to raise the money for this venture. This led to the gradual initiation of this idea.
The first year we accomplished a main milestone of raising our first round of investment from the U.S. for which we largely toured in January 2012 and 2012 was essentially the year that we were using this investment. This enabled us to launch our product and in October we launched our companion mobile app. Right now, our focus is more on user acquisition. I think most of the start-up companies barely survive the first two years so for us to achieve significant milestones like raising substantial investment and launching our product is definitely an achievement and we are receiving good user attraction. I believe our next biggest challenge will be to accelerate our marketing model which means doing another round of investment which will be our main focus for the next two to three months.”
A first of its kind, Cricout has proven to be a good example of the sort of innovation that is happening in Pakistan’s tech space. What motivated you to conceive this idea?
OA: “Taking a step back, the word ‘Cricout’ basically emerged from the term ‘hangout’ which is why the name is a modification of the phrase ‘let’s hangout’ to ‘let’s Cricout’! I have been a sports enthusiast all my life which is why I realise that following sports is fundamentally a social experience. We enjoy the games the most when we are able to share them with our friends and family but this experience is becoming a rarity in modern times as people are either very busy or extremely sparsely geographically distributed. Hence, with Cricout, we basically wanted to recreate this connection as you can follow a match together despite sitting across the globe. This has always been the fundamental idea behind Cricout which emerged from nothing more than a personal need. It is a social network for cricket that brings fans and friends together to share the magical moments of a game unlike other cricket platforms available.”
Apple has listed Cricout as a featured app in nine countries which has already hit top spot in Pakistan and fourth spot in India in the sports category on the App store. How does Cricout stand apart from other numerous competing apps?
OA: “I believe the fundamental differentiation is definitely the social element involved in Cricout. You do not only follow the game but you have your hangout with your respective group of friends alongside as well. The experience of sharing a game with mere fans you do not know at all versus sharing your experience with people you really know and want to follow the game with is a significant element of our app. This is the key differentiation and continues to be our main focus as it provides a direct experience. In the first world countries, the phenomenon of a certain category of apps, namely the second screen apps is very common. What this means is that whenever you are following something on your television you are doing something in parallel on your ‘second screen’ which could be a tablet or a laptop. People do this, especially while following sports. Therefore, even if you are following a game on your television Cricout will be your second screen experience.”
Domestic social networking sites are a trend that is still somewhat new to Pakistan. Was it a risk then that you were willing to take two years back and how do you envisage the future of this field?
OA: “If you are doing a product based start up, you have to begin with the assumption that there are at least 90% chances of failing. Hence, the first milestone to be achieved is embracing the possibility of failure. As far as we are concerned, we have experienced a few early achievements, but we are still not there yet. Right now we stand at 15,000 users but we aim to achieve a 100,000 followership. If that is achieved, then we aim next at half a million users and so on. This is a continuous cycle and we have a long way ahead of us. The trick is to not fear ideas, even though they might fail. Two years back, there was definitely uncertainty, sleepless nights and nightmares surrounding failure.
Whenever you are starting a product based start up, you always have multiple ideas and the first few months you constantly doubt yourself thinking you might have picked the wrong idea to begin with, as is said that devil is in the details. Hence, the most important decision to be made is not what to build but rather what not to build. The grand vision of yours has several components and in the start, you can only do so much. Therefore, the most important decision to be always made is deciding out of your 15 ideas which two and half ones will actually work. We have been fortunate in being able to identify our niche at an early stage and today we are successfully getting our product out there and marketing it effectively, and we are evolving based on that.”
What plans does the future hold for you?
OA: “2014 is the year that we are hoping will be the year of profitability for us which means we have to raise our next round of investment which we are focusing upon right now. March, in particular, is going to be a very significant time for us since that will be when T20 World Cup will be taking place. T20 is considered to be the second largest sporting event of the world which is why by then we want to be in a position where we have enough resources in terms of team and money in order to scale things up regarding marketing and development. We have our eyes on December 2014 where we are aiming to be in a position in which our cash flow is positive, revenue is coming in and on a monthly basis we are earning more than we are spending. This is what we are heading for right now.”
What is your message to the youth of Pakistan who are willing to take risks?
OA: “I think a lot of universities now have taken the much needed initiative of teaching entrepreneurship in their basic courses which unfortunately is still quite a foreign concept for most of the students and people. It is vital for the youth to realise that we as a nation have always been entrepreneurial. I guess it is probably the last 15 to 20 years that our thinking and temperaments have become more job-focused. However, I do strongly believe that this is the moment to reclaim our own legacy. If we want to change the fate of this nation, entrepreneurship will definitely play a significant role and you cannot really move ahead without taking risks.”