SAAS (Software-as-a-service) : Pakistan’s chance to catch up?

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A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was this dude who said that there was no way that we could have more than a few hundred phones operating at any given time across the world. Why? because we wont have enough operators to patch calls through! The same prediction was made for computers from someone in (gasp!) IBM. This ofcourse, was a long time ago.

Just like the complexity the phone system shifted into the network, this now too is happening to software. Referring to Shoaib Abbasi’s talk on Software-as-a-service at a PASHA event held recently, enterprise software is going the way of the consumer Internet. With technologies like web2.0, Ajax and broadband becoming commonplace, most websites now are nearly as functional as a rich client, and in most of the cases a viable alternative to a executable file on your desktop. The complexity has shifted into the network, most directly, into the web application.

So, this opens up a large, potentially great opportunity for us here in Pakistan. You can be a group of three programmers sitting in karachi and you can sell your web application to Yahoo for , say, 6 million dollars. No joke. Oddpost.com was a mail service with an outlook-style interface started by 3 out of work developers in the bay area about 3 years ago. Last year they sold their company to Yahoo! for 27 million dollars. Has anyone noticed now the latest version of Hotmail looks like Outlook? Yahoo’s buyout of Oddpost kick started the Windows guys to keep up….Also last year, Bazee.com, the “indian” ebay was bought by Ebay for 50 million dollars.

There is a large shift right now towards web applications and AJAX based front-ends. If you have the right application, (like Salesforce.com did by taking on siebel and netsuite.com does by taking on the ERPs of the world) you can potentially land yourself right into the middle of Silicon Valley dreamland. Today’s killer-app is web based, along with the LAMP/WAMP stack, and extreme programming methods (which work well for medium sized web-apps), the SDLC is a much more faster and brutal beast to tame, with timelines for software development dropping from years into months. Which means the barrier to entry into the enterprise app space in mature markets just came down a few notches…

Which means, we have a potential 2 year window to break back into the Silicon Valley Club by pursuing innovation and ideas and by building frameworks and applications that move essential functions into web based interfaces running in browsers. In the end its not just the ideas but also the ability to execute them that makes individuals and companies epic.

Time and opinion are not on our side, but that hasnt stopped us as an industry from being successful before. For the most part, we have lost the IT outsourcing race to Israel and India. The race to move applications into webspace and off the desktop is on. Lets not miss the chance to win this one.

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5 thoughts on “SAAS (Software-as-a-service) : Pakistan’s chance to catch up?

  1. Osama A.

    Nice post, didn’t know about netsuite.. hey wait, I thought Green&White was for deep thought-provoking coffee sessions like this :p

    Anyway, as I posted earlier somewhere, we cannot just focus on taking the same experience found on the desktop and bringing it to the web for three main reasons:

    1- There are already too many in this area, which I think zoho.com is leading.

    2- Just moving existing apps online is not creating any new value — thus even zoho.com and others are struggling with business

    3- The business models are lacking clarity — salesforce.com and others packed a great product with a great pricing model and targetted the right markets.

    I wouldn’t recommend making “built-to-flip” companies simply because too many companies are. I also would not recommend “selling ad spaces from impressions” as a primary revenue model — that channel has been declining very rapidly.

    The market is open for true innovation though. If you take an existing desktop app into the web, you need to think of precisely why the web experience would help people do things that being on the desktop does not let them.

    There are many. The web 2.0 hub-ub is actually quite real in the sense that it can help create community-driven systems much more easily than desktop systems can ever be. This is important because you can get enormous economies-of-scale.

    Once the value is identified, find out who wants that value, and how to get the word out.

    With blogs and podcasting getting more mainstream, it is fascinating the amount of global press you can get as a 3-person shop sitting in Karachi. Podtech actually conducts a lot of their interviews on Skype or GTalk.

    You can even use Amazon’s great S3 and compute server facilities to do load and performance testing of your web apps before hosting them on US datacenters.

    I would also update the time window. Microsoft is pushing very agressively in two areas: (1) MS-Live which is supposed to give their office apps the same amount of ‘connectivity’ as web apps and (2) MS Live Spaces, which is becoming their flagship SaaS platform.

    From the looks of things, MS is willing to compete agressively with Google, and most of the web2.0 sites as a consequence.

    So timeline for a killer web.2.0 app is between 3-6 months. Ofcourse, if you have a web.3.0 app in mind, you could start working on it today for a launch late next year.

    Great post Mohtashim, keep them coming.

  2. Adnan

    Mohtashim making a few million dollars sitting in Karachi by making webapps is a great idea, but entirely unworkable. Pakistan is lightyears behind the US, Europe, India and Israel in internet adoption, and innovation results from experimentation and research not by ripping off packaged solutions and making cheaper mousetraps by violating all known intellectual property laws.

    I just wish Pakistan could produce better CS grads, who could at the very least copy innovatively.

  3. When i saw make a webapp, i mean point it to the US market. i strongly believe with the world blogging, and all the information you could ever want on the internet, its a doable goal to build a webapp in pakistan that would be a success in the US/european market. just need to keep your eyes and ears open!

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