YOUNGSTERS DOING MAGIC IN IT WORLD

INTERVIEW: ZAKI MAHOMED CEO GAME VENTURES

AMANULLAH BASHAR
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 22 - 28, 2011

It gives immense pleasure and even proud to know that young and talented Pakistanis are striving in the world of information technology all around the world.

The success story of Zaki who made his presence felt in the IT sector reminds one the title of an India movie 'Three Idiots'.

Zaki with his young friends Rahil Virani and Hamaad Ravda developed the idea of establishing Game Ventures, which today is a brand in the international gaming market. Certainly, the success of the boys is reassuring and promising of a great future of Pakistan in the hands of these young leaders.

Zaki founded his first tech startup at the age of 14. A graduate of the National University of Singapore, he co-founded TimeSvr.com while still in school. He started Game Ventures in 2009 to bring real gaming experiences to social gamers.

Game Ventures develops and publishes world's finest competitive social games.

Founded in 2009, our sports and tabletop games entertain millions of users across multiple platforms.

We are building the next generation of hot online games by understanding how the dynamics of competition and cooperation can help deliver richer game play experiences to social gamers worldwide, said Zaki with a note of confidence in his voice. The Game Ventures specializes in multiplayer games, social games, casual games and applications.

RAHIL VIRANI, CTO

Rahil started working at web startups while in school, helping create one of the first large college social networks as an intern in 2005. He cofounded Game Ventures because of this same passion for making products used by millions worldwide.

HAMAAD RAVDA, COO

Before joining Game Ventures, Hamaad was a consultant based in New York, analyzing economic and financial issues to companies in the digital media and software industries. At Game Ventures, Hamaad oversees game design and product development, in addition to supervising the finance and operations functions of the company. Hamaad earned a BA (Economics, 2005) from Williams College (Willamstown, MA).

PAGE: WOULD YOU LIKE TO ELABORATE THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR COMPANY AT PRESENT AND ITS OUTLOOK IN TERMS OF STRENGTH, VALUE, AND VOLUME?

ZAKI: Game Ventures is in the business of building sports social games for the web. Our games are played by millions on Facebook and other platforms.

We monetize using virtual goods, which users buy to play for longer or gain special skills in the games. Game Ventures is based out of Singapore, with a studio in Karachi. We are funded by some of the top investors from around the world and are looking to aggressively expand and dominate our niche over the next 12 months, after working very hard to gain a beachhead over the last 2 years. We're looking at entering mobile gaming with the same sports nice very soon.

PAGE: BEING AN IT EXPERT HOW DO YOU FORESEE THE FUTURE OF IT INDUSTRY IN PAKISTAN?

ZAKI: IT is a very large field, with lots of sub-fields under it. Our business is creating games which delight our audience, which is the intersection of IT and media/creative industries. We have seen that Pakistan possesses incredible numbers of talented people waiting for the opportunity and guidance to do good work. Challenges holding the industry back include lack of good quality computer science education in most universities and infrastructure issues, which can hold local companies down (electricity, connectivity, etc.).

Mobile is a huge opportunity for Pakistani companies to focus on local customers and build great internet experiences for the millions who will get connected soon. However, the telecos seem to be dragging their feet a little in rolling out redundant and high quality internet access on mobile phones nationwide.

PAGE: GENERALLY SPEAKING, THE IT INDUSTRY IS BOOMING AND CROSSING PROBABLY $50 BILLION MARK. WHY PAKISTAN LEFT FAR BEHIND AND WHAT IS LACKING IN THE COUNTRY? DO YOU THINK IT IS BECAUSE OF LACK OF GOVERNMENT SUPPORT OR PRIVATE SECTOR'S FAILURE IN DELIVERY OF RESULTS?

ZAKI: Pakistan is a smaller country, which is besieged with security and infrastructure issues, which India does not have. It's almost impossible to convince foreign firms to invest in Pakistan due to these and other reasons on a massive scale. Therefore, a comparison is useless. Pakistan must focus on higher-level production and find niches it can excel in, and promote local companies to fill those gaps instead of waiting for foreign firms to enter.

IT Education should also be geared towards those fields so as to create a synergistic process of value. Content creation is one such field in which Pakistan can potentially do better work than other countries in the region, including cartoons, games and other media. Mobile applications are another. We cannot win every battle and we need to choose the ones that matter.

PAGE: ARE YOU CONTENT WITH THE PERFORMANCE OF IT EDUCATION IN PAKISTAN AND THE ROLE OF IT UNIVERSITIES AND SCHOOLS? WOULD YOU LIKE TO SUGGEST ANY THING, WHICH COULD BE RESPONSIVE TO THE REQUIREMENT OF INTERNATIONAL MARKET? HOW CAN WE ADD VALUE TO OUR FRESH IT GRADUATES?

ZAKI: Pakistan has a bad education environment and most IT degrees mean very little when hiring. Local firms either compete for talent from only the best schools or look to devise their own hiring standards. IT curriculums need to be fresh, interesting and relevant to the needs of local firms as well as provide a foundation in the science. Local universities should take advantage of open curriculums like the ones at MIT and Stanford and ask those schools for help in updating their courses, training their lecturers, and molding their environment into one of real learning, not rote. Local firms need to promote IT education to students before they enter university as an attractive option, by informing them about their job prospects so they make the right choice.

PAGE: WHAT STEPS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST TO ATTRACT IT BUSINESSES FROM ABROAD SPECIALLY US AND EU?

ZAKI: Like I mentioned earlier, do not try to attract businesses to come to Pakistan directly - the hurdles are great and you can only compete on price. Companies, which can focus on niches and do great quality work in those niches, will build up reputations and clients will come to them. Pakistan cannot support all-in-one development shops, but rather needs its startups and companies to try and differentiate by focusing on narrow sectors.

PAGE: IT IS EQUALLY GROWING IN THE MUSLIM COUNTRIES SPECIALLY IN THE MIDDLE EAST BUT UNFORTUNATELY THE MARKET IS ALSO NOT BEING TAPPED BY PAKISTAN. WHAT WE SHOULD DO TO GRAB MARKET SHARE AT LEAST IN THE REGION?

ZAKI: The Middle East is a great opportunity for Pakistan as the region is rapidly expanding and in need of talent to support this expansion. I would recommend Pakistani companies to focus on setting up overseas offices where clients in those countries can deal with the firms easily and locally. Relatively liberal work visa policies mean firms in Pakistan can think about dividing staff between the Middle East and Pakistan while retaining the expertise they have. I would think this coupled with my response in the previous question would be a winning strategy for local companies.