Usman Khalid is a successful entrepreneur in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. His company Centric, is one of the fastest growing independent digital agencies in the region.
The Beginning of Centric
I believe that the most important thing in life is having a goal. Once, you have developed your long-term goals, you need to keep razor sharp focus on those goals. It was in 2011, when I was heading Oracle Hardware Business Unit for Pakistan, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi that I started seeing my life path diverging from my goals. So with very little money, a lot of passion and energy I started Centric.
The opportunity gap was clients could either select global names for their projects or outsource to cheaper alternatives, most of which in this market are India based.
I am sure in Pakistan we look at Indian companies with awe of what they have achieved in the past decades but their quality is poor, presentation even poorer. Now I should not be stereotyping here but we have successfully competed and won against the likes of Cognizant, Synechron amongst others and this while having a workforce of only 30 people as compared to many thousands.
So seeing the gap in the market, I wanted to make sure that Centric would be synonymous with quality and timely deliveries.
Apart from the usual traits of a good entrepreneur, I believe the culture developed in Centric is paramount. Customer Focus, Ownership, Integrity, Teamwork, Respect and Innovation are our central pillars. These are not just words that we place on a corner wall but live on a daily basis.
I have seen many companies open up with the sole goal of making money and the path that they choose is to undercut the prices of the competition. I believe that this model is inherently flawed. As soon as the company starts to grow, there are layers of management are added increasing the cost of deliverables and if this were the core competency of an organization, there would be other smaller companies that would undercut your prices. You can strategically use the pricing models at times but not at the cost of diluting your brand values.
Obstacles Down the Road
The problem of this whole region is no one invests in startups. Most of the investors in this region (including Pakistan) view technology companies as traditional businesses and try to evaluate based on traditional financial models. So to this day, we are self-funded. Speed of growth and cash flow are inversely proportional. Therefore, you have to keep an eye on your bottom line.
Other major hurdle was to attract the right skill set; In Dubai people from 190+ countries compete. And it’s a small market, so competition is fierce and nationality based politics are still at play in the market. Though, this market is much more mature than the regional markets but comfort of working with someone with similar linguistic and social background is irreplaceable. To overcome this, you need to ensure that you deliver, always and on time.
Why not Centric in Pakistan?
Well, I have never worked in Pakistan. So, that market is somewhat alien to me. Secondly, I do not believe on competing on prices solely and I figured most of the clients in Pakistan are very price sensitive. Now, that we have a chest full of international brands, and international exposure, we are planning to open an office in Pakistan. We will keep you posted on that in the coming months.
The International Market & Pakistani Entrepreneurs
International markets do not care about cast, creed or religious views. They think about the value that you are bringing in.
I want to emphasize this again to my fellow Pakistanis; there is a lot of hate speech that we listen to in Pakistan; whether its based on religion, politics or nationalities. This normally comes from people that have achieved nothing in life and want to control you by molding the facts. We need to reject these people and stop being influenced by them. No one hates or loves us because of our skin color or religious views; they respect or reject based on value that we bring to this world.
The Quality that Makes or Breaks Entrepreneurs
Execution. Anyone can come up with great ideas but very few people can execute it well.
Future of Centric
Our vision is to become largest independent digital network in the region. We are setting up some processes and capabilities in the next 12 months that will enable us for faster growth in the coming years. We plan to follow acquisition model at the rate of 1.5 companies in a year. Our focus mainly will be MENAP (Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan) region. Personally, I would also launch couple of B2C technology based ventures in the coming years.
Overcoming The Fear of Failure
Fear of failure is always there. Life is a gift given by God to me. He will not give that gift to me again. I have to make the most of it by enjoying it to the maximum possible limit. As a Pakistani, our social pressures are to tread the safest path not the best path. When I quit my Oracle job, no one close to me thought it was a good idea. But I dreaded waking up every morning and going to office. The money was good and I was comfortable with my job role but it was not exciting.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Stop listening to your social circles. Entrepreneurs are the odd ones out. Stay focused on what you are trying to achieve. Even if you fail, your skillset will be remunerated at a much higher level compared to not starting it at all.