Hundreds of Pakistani-American entrepreneurs met on Saturday, June 2, 2012 at Silicon Valley's Computer History Museum for this year's annual conference called OPEN Forum held each summer. It's organized by the Organization of Pakistani-American Entrepreneurs (OPEN) in Silicon Valley. The conference had a large number of sponsors, including dozens of
Silicon Valley companies founded or managed by Pakistani-Americans.
Successful social entrepreneur Salman Khan of Khan Academy was the keynote speaker. There were also a number of parallel tracks on various topics of interest to the community. Panelists included venture capitalists, business executives, entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, scientists, editors and reporters.
I am sharing with my readers some of the highlights of the key sessions that I personally found interesting.
Sarfaraz Ahmed Rehman represented Dawood Group includes Pakistani conglomerate Engro with multiple businesses ranging from consumer products to fertilizer and energy. Rehman talked about annual growth of as much as 45% per year in some of the product categories in Dawood's consumer product sales and profits. He said other consumer giants like Unilever Pakistan, Colgate-Palmolive and Nestle Pakistan are experiencing similar rapid growth as well. All of these companies are investing heavily to expand their FMCG offerings in Pakistan.
Naveed Sherwani of Silicon Valley based OpenSilicon talked about his reasons for setting up his company's chip design centers in Lahore and Islamabad by hiring 67 Pakistani design engineers. Sherwani said OpenSilicon considered adding staff at their existing design center in Bangalore, India and also considered Shanghai, China for expansion before choosing Pakistan. The key reasons include availability of top talent, lower turn-over and lower costs in Lahore and Islamabad. Comparing turn-over, he said it's about 15% in Pakistan versus 30% in India. Answering a question on power outages and security concerns, he said both are manageable. Stand-by generators alleviate the problems caused by load shedding. And, being a frequent visitor to Pakistan, he feels quite safe there.
GAME CHANGERS TELL ALL: “WORK? PLAY? THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT"
The panel was moderated by Umair Khan, CEO, SecretBuilders; Chairman, Folio3; Venture Partner, Entrepreneurs’ Fund and included
Joe Robinson: Product Lead, Square, Charles Huang: CEO Blue Goji; co-founder Red Octane (Guitar Hero), Zia Yusuf: CEO Streetline; former EVP SAP, Robert Martyn: Studio GM, Zynga; Executive Producer of SIMS, SimCity at EA, Omar Siddiqui: CEO Kiwi; former VP Playdom (Disney) as panelists.
The mobile apps market has exploded from almost zero to nearly $3 billion within just a few years as smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous. Panelists represented a range of apps from gaming and social media to an application that allows people to find a parking spot while enabling the cities to raise their parking revenues.
The key question was how can developers effectively market their apps in such a crowded space. Zia quipped "Get Ashton Kutcher", referring to the use of celebrities to get attention. Another panelist suggested turning to new niches such as fitness and cycling to get a slice of the action by offering a piece of specialized hardware along with the application. One suggestion was to sell a hard-shell case for the mobile device and offer free download of a useful application for cyclists.