By Syed M. Aslam
Sep 02 - 08, 2002


ASHRAF HUSSAIN is the Marketing Manager of eTaleem dot com, Pakistan's leading web portal focusing on education and health as well as offering a range of free interactive services such as e-mail and unique real-time messaging service which allows a user to chat in Urdu using the regular English keyboard. It also specialises in developing web portals, online communities, software solutions' designing, web marketing and research. The company has developed some of the world's most creative software, including the online blood donor program, e-briefcase allowing online data storage system retractable from anywhere in the world. Prior to joining eTaleem in October 2000 as one of its 6 founding members, Ashraf had a vast and varied background in marketing that included running his own date export business. He is happy to make the right career move because the last two years "have been the best learning years providing me with an opportunity to witness the take off of the dot com culture in the country almost from a scratch."

PAGE: What are your views on the use of internet in the country?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: Though the internet use has registered an exponential growth in Pakistan during last two years, little progress is being made to truly understand the concept of utilizing website for enhancing profitability and financial returns. This is primarily so as the bulk of users, particularly the corporate sector, still much remains unaware of the global reach of a website. Around 75 per cent of the internet users in Pakistan are absolutely not aware of the financial potential of website. That's why one of our primary objective was to create an awareness about this important aspect of the website and how consumers can benefit from this powerful all-encompassing technology. We were the first portal in Pakistan to provide services and benefits through the internet to the corporate and common users alike. Prior to the launching of eTaleem's in October 2000 internet use in the country was limited to chatting and e-mail and only a limited number of leading educational institutions, including universities, were using it for the sake of information. We helped bridge that information gap.

PAGE: How did you do that?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: One of the major problem was the acute absence of accurate data base on and about Pakistan. For obvious reasons we choose to focus on education and have been much successful in our endeavour. We have been successful to serve as a coordinator offering free online interactive services linking teachers with students and vice versa, needy students with philanthropic sponsor to promote education in the country.

PAGE: What kind of data do you have on education and health?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: We have an immense data on these two most important topics for the benefit of our users. Our portal has a data base on some 18,000 educational institutions, around 6,000 hospitals and a similar number of medical practitioners across the country. Our user-friendly links can help a user find vital information on education and health saving not only the time and energy to locate a school, college or university closest to him/her but to also fill out online registration form if he/she so chooses. We are in the process of feeding additional 12,000 data on education and health.

PAGE: You have recently launched an off-the-shelf software which allows user to chat in Urdu. Will you tell us the details?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: We have the honour to become Pakistan's first software company to launch a Windows-based, real-time server messaging application which allows the user to chat in three different ways: English to English, Urdu to Urdu in Roman or Urdu to Urdu. The product 'Mera Urdu Messenger', which we are marketing under the brand name 'MUM', allows user to chat in Urdu using the English keyboard translating English sounds into instant Urdu message over the regular English keyboard. We launched 'MUM' in Karachi on July 19 and within last 37-38 days we have sold 25,000 units. The price of the product is an affordable Rs 99, if purchased through appointed dealers and Rs 120 if ordered online and dispatched via a courier. We will also be offering the product in the international market for the benefit of the huge expatriates living abroad again at an affordable price of $ 9.99.

PAGE: What kind of market are you looking at?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: We are targeting the entire market of an estimated 3.5 million internet users in Pakistan. Internationally, we are concentrating on the US, Europe, Middle East, UAE and Saudi Arabia in particular all of whom houses a sizeable population of Pakistani expatriates.

PAGE: What's the response been like to your portal?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: We have been much satisfied with the response. eTaleem has been viewed by over 3 million people during last year alone. It is regularly viewed by more than 200,000 people and has an average hits of 60,000 each day.

PAGE: Would you like to give any message to PAGE readers?

ASHRAF HUSSAIN: I feel that making a headway in education is imperative for us as a people. We should not limit ourselves with the literal English translation of 'Taleem' as 'education.' Instead we should understand much larger connotation — learning and the process of learning.