Wednesday, February 18, 2009
By M Farhan Zaheer
KARACHI: Adnan H Lawai, who came to Pakistan after working in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, United States for 12 years in the field of Information Technology (IT), is now running a fast growing IT company in Pakistan that he set up with his friend three years back.
Adnan H Lawai, CEO of folio3 is a Karachi-based IT company, said I and my partner Umair (who is in USA) started folio3 three years ago with most of our customers from USA.
After completing my college education there, I worked as an IT professional for 12 years in Silicon Valley. We both had some good contacts in US especially in the field of technology because we have been working with some prestigious companies there. The company grew at a tremendous speed and expanded its operations more than three times in last 3 years.
In late 90s, there was a boom in the field of technology all over the world and people thronged this field, the same was the phenomenon in Pakistan. But in 2001 and 2002, it collapsed and the same results were also felt here in Pakistan. We took this as an opportunity in disguise and started our operation in Pakistan. We could afford to hire people and could get very good talent, so we accepted that challenge. We were among the very few of IT companies that started hiring in that difficult time.
The year 2005 brought positive signs for the country’s IT sector and it again started booming and this time we went to universities and hired best talent directly. Later in 2006 when we started this company, we faced a very tough competition. But fortunately by then, we had established a very good reputation in the market, the environment was good and fresh university graduates were coming to us.
In Karachi, we retain some 90 employees. Another branch of our company is in Sofia, Bulgaria where we have one dozen Bulgarian employees because if you look for experienced people you will not find here in Pakistan. But there you will find specific field experts unlike Pakistan. Second reason, why we went to Bulgaria, is that we have a trusted friend in Bulgaria who established all in Sofia. Karachi is home to many IT companies but these companies are relatively smaller to those that are working in Lahore. From 2002 up to date, IT industry has witnessed massive growth and our software exports are growing at a rate of 50 per cent.
Many of our companies are small and if we desire sustainable software growth in our exports, we would need to establish big companies.
We are in early stages of IT industry development, even the largest company in Pakistan System Limited has got 600 to 700 employees, which is just a good mid size company. “In terms of quality, we could compete any where else in the world. For example, if you look at India, a preferred IT offshore destination, when ever we
compete against Indian companies we have always won,” Adnan said.
“If you take any good IT company in Pakistan, you will find that all is doing higher quality work as compared to India.” When asked are you satisfied with our IT universities, he replied, “Our universities can be better a lot, they have very good raw talent but they do not groom that talent appropriately. I mean students are naturally brilliant, and what they just need is a good training,” We hire only top 3 to 4 per cent students from top three universities in Karachi such as Karachi University, NED and FAST, though they also need training but get all the pre-requisites easily.
IT industry unfortunately does not have good examples. In IT we do not have too many good companies so a few experienced people stay in Pakistan. Though, here we have many including more than 7 years of experience, earning handsome salary, and doing very interesting work.
When asked what happened in late 2002 that IT industry had grown phenomenally without solid grounds, that is why it had to face a tough period in west, it had the same crippling effects in Pakistan.
But this time growth in IT has strong credentials. Look at the last 3-4 years growth and compared it to what we had 10 years ago, he said hopefully.
The enrolment of students in IT institutes had started declining after the bubble burst of 2002, now in the last 1 or 2 years it is rising again because of the growing salaries and expanding the industry.
Now, we have some solid companies run by the professional Pakistanis who have been working abroad and they know what to do in order to work sustainably, which is a big change.
Replying to a question that where do you see local IT industry in next 5 years he said It will continue to grow, our export will certainly match Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) estimates and we would touch $10 billion export in next 5 years. Here, we have political instability which creates economic problems and it really hampers our growth.