The startup world has found its groove and is taking flight in Pakistan. With $100-120 Million in funding in just the first half of 2021 (already a 58% increase over 2020 investments), it seems the market is now consistently winning investor interest and trust.
With this colossal funding already in the market, what is in store for the world of startups in Pakistan?
Funding is, of course, just the first step towards setting up a successful startup landscape. It is not just a stroke of luck where one fine day a startup breaks through all bounds of success. Rather this funding is coupled with meticulous planning & execution to ensure the investments were justified. To pull off further rounds, dial up revenue and even target massive exits, it requires making the right business and product decisions.
Some of the most successful international startups among the likes of Netflix, Booking.com and Airbnb have product managers at the epicenter steering the ship towards success.
All the right strategic decisions have a common denominator: the product manager. They are at the core, bridging the gap between business, technology, and design. The interplay of these three domains pivots companies to define the use of their limited resources to meet market needs.
As custodians of the entire customer journey, product managers start with the identification of customer pain points and extraction of crucial insights. These then translate into technical requirements before they ultimately ship product updates that add real value. From start to finish, a product manager is focused on delivering the best customer experience. They lead the team to achieve product goals and, in turn, turn the dial on business metrics.
Pakistan has already seen some burgeoning product management talent. Success stories such as Careem, Zameen & Airlift, led by an accomplished product management team have become household names.
However, there is still some untapped potential in Pakistan’s product management market. The rise and success of such startups opens up numerous avenues for local professionals to kickstart their careers in this promising field. But what can we do to further cultivate and nurture this talent?
Granted, the landscape is still in its infancy and needs rapid expansion to meet the demands of startups in the next 5 years. We must set up our equipment now.
I have had the chance to interview several product manager candidates in the last 18 months. While there is no shortage of talented individuals ready to take over, however, they are raw. They are in need of exposure to challenging opportunities, favorable environments & mentorship to grow into product managers and leaders of the future.
We notice that there are only a handful of homegrown internet or mobile app products with immense scale (user bases of 50 million and beyond). Product Managers & engineering teams still haven’t been exposed to manage the scale of that size.
Startups are still finding the right product culture and mindset where customer research & product processes drive innovation & experimentation.
The talent is plenty but there is a huge gap in the local market when it comes to product management education and mentorship. The internet is bustling with content, however, very few institutions or even companies in Pakistan think it worth their time to focus on up-skilling talent on product management principles.
Therefore, a few things will have to happen to ensure that we don’t run into a talent deficit with regards to such a key role:
Institutions like LUMS, ITU & FAST will have to include introductory courses in their technology and business programs to create a basic understanding of the principles of product management.
Universities in the United States have courses within their business schools that solely focus on product management. From introductory courses such as ‘Product Management 101’ in Harvard Business School to complete Master’s degrees in product design and development at renowned schools such as Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon. MBA programs at prominent business schools also offer a specialization in product management. This just goes on to show how educational institutions are feeding talent abroad. Pakistan needs similar programs in its universities to offer opportunities to its students and open new avenues for them to explore.
Courses & Training
We need structured on-premise workshops and training programs where product managers can learn the art in a hands-on fashion from industry experts. Yes, there are numerous learning platforms online for product management, from Coursera offering product management courses to the Product School hosting a number of online training programs. Even industry experts have been running courses online such as Todd Bizer, a product management director and consultant who had his online learning platform available since before Covid-19.
However, Pakistan requires workshops and training tailor-made for the local audience. Lack of internet accessibility in remote areas coupled with other language and infrastructure barriers requires unique and creative approaches to be adopted. Thus, on-premise training has more to offer for our audience.
There were a number of in-person product management courses available before Covid-19, which have since shifted online. However, Stanford continuing studies offered 6-10 week product management training courses for professionals looking to further their careers or shift gears.
With this varied landscape, Pakistani universities and professional development institutions must follow suit with this model and provide in-person training with seasoned professionals in the industry itself. This will boost the number of people entering the field.
There’s a need to establish digital forums (like Slack & Discord channels) and web communities where ideas and thoughts can be exchanged among PMs to tackle challenges specific to the Pakistani market.
We see Facebook and Slack communities (such as by Mind the Product and the Product School) dedicated to product management. This is where product managers exchange ideas, collaborate, share articles, personal stories, jobs, and much more. Such communities further the conversation around the topic and cultivate ideas.
This presence is hugely lacking in Pakistan. There are groups for industry professionals but they fail to offer that sense of community and do not nurture talent and ideas. We need to offer more opportunities for industry experts to connect with one another, albeit through online communities.
Mentorship & Coaching
Companies will need to consider investing in recruiting the services of product coaches from within the country and abroad to guide their product teams and give them an avenue to see how it’s done at the global level. This might even mean offering generous incentives to bring back accomplished Pakistanis who have made it big in the Product Management world.
There are plenty of online mentorship programs available specifically for product managers. Platforms such as Mentor Cruise also offer mentorship programs to young talent. There are online opportunities available for women specifically to help them further their career in the field.
However, Pakistani professionals need local experts who offer mentorship and coaching to people breaking into the field. Local industry experts have the ability to offer more relatable and relevant experiences and advice.
Raise awareness and interest in the field of product management by conducting physical and virtual conferences. This will create opportunities to bring thought leaders together to inspire the next generation of product leaders.
The purpose of such events is to not just build awareness in the field but also offer networking opportunities for like-minded people who can come together, exchange ideas and learn from each other.
A number of product management conferences are taking place globally in 2021 alone. From ProductCon to MTP (Mind The Product). Some are completely online while others are taking place in person as well as digitally. These conferences discuss concrete actionable strategies and offer inspiration to industry professionals. Replicating such models will offer the same opportunities for people in the local market.
The future of Pakistan’s startup landscape seems super exciting. I have no doubt that the success of these startups will be deeply linked with the quality of product management they exhibit. There is a need to act swiftly and I hope the local and international community does what it can to contribute.
The question remains: Is Pakistan’s product management talent ready for this investment influx and unlimited opportunities approaching at the speed of light?
Staying true to our promise and commitment to further fostering the product management landscape in Pakistan, vFairs is organizing a product management conference on July 17th, 2021 in Lahore where Product Managers from Airlift, Bazaar, Zameen & several others will speak about their product management experiences, and how they were able to grow their products from strength to strength amid a rapidly evolving world. The conference will also have a virtual event component and will be broadcast live to audiences worldwide.
- Opinion: Cultivating product management in Pakistan - July 16, 2021