Meet Zahid Ali, 34 hailing from the small ancient town of Takht-i-Bahi near Mardan, KPK. Zahid is a happy-go-lucky person who lives happily with his wife and a family of three German Shepherds – Max, Messy and Bubloo. Zahid graduated from the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Peshawar with a degree in computer systems engineering. He began his career from UET as a software engineer and then moved to work with the UN. However, all these years of hard work and toil, he kept thinking of his dream – ERISP.
Zahid lost his father at the age of five. They were seven siblings with no means of sustenance after the loss of his father. Being the youngest child in the family with no tangible means to grow further in life, Zahid was admitted to an orphanage in Peshawar. Mercy International Complex was his humble abode for the next 10 years followed by Pak-Turk College, where he was enrolled on scholarship. Zahid also managed to get financial support from Pak-Turk for his graduation from UET. Following graduation, Zahid accepted a job at a Turkish firm at PKR 40,000 monthly. Since Zahid could speak Turkish besides being an engineer, he was the best choice for them. Later, Zahid began working at UET as software engineer and then at the UN. He saved up to build his house in Mardan, where he got married at his own expense. The first thing he promised his wife after renting a place in Peshawar was a small car – his first car ever. The next big thing was to host a pair of German Shepherds, who were on his bucket list ever since. So he did. Shortly after Zahid realised that his dogs are not happy in the small house, he rented a bigger one, where Zahid, his wife and Max, Messy and Bubloo live happily (ever after).
ERISP coming to life
ERISP became a dream when one day one of Zahid’s professors at UET asked him about ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and he was clueless. After research of two years, Zahid fell completely in love with it and decided to one day have his own company that would offer ERP services. To achieve that dream, Zahid continued working at the UN alongside researching on ERP and to date he has published five research papers. For five years Zahid worked and learnt more on the technical front along with learning the ins and outs of an organisation. He knew one day all this knowledge will come in super handy.
When Zahid had saved enough money, he started working on ERISP, his own enterprise in 2016. As soon as he initiated it, he realised that nothing was making any sense as being a technical person he felt weak on the business side. Zahid spent the first two years testing waters and finding his feet. In 2018, he joined Durshaal Incubation Lab in Peshawar, KPK. At Durshaal says Zahid, he went through the entire process of business incubation and within six months was able to achieve most of what he was trying hard to in the past two years. Before joining Durshaal, Zahid had a team of 3, six months into incubation and he was able to expand his team to 13 employees. Currently, under acceleration at NIC Peshawar, Zahid is hosting a team of 17 smart players. All this is a journey of a year. It is worth mentioning here that before joining Durshaal, Zahid recalled, his revenue generation was only up to PKR 3 million, however, post-Durshaal through proper guidance and mentoring, he made PKR 13 million revenue in only 6 months and till date the revenue generation has reached up to PKR 16 million.
What does ERISP do?
There are almost 53 software houses in Peshawar says Zahid, working in a traditional manner, whereby they would meet the clients and bid for projects. On receiving a contract of a meagre amount, they would provide them with softwares with limited functions. Because they don’t provide an end to end solution, the clients are not satisfied and refrain from doing any further business with them. Zahid started researching to find out the kinds of products already existing in the market and the demand, as opposed to building something new. He finally came across a software which had 2 million client base. He found the source code of that software and tailored it to the possible requirements of his potential clients. After that he pitched the idea to multiple clients and incorporated their feedback. When he started tailoring the existing software according to the client’s need, it consumed a total of 20 – 30% of his time as opposed to 100% had he made it from scratch. It was a cost-effective solution as well as service efficient. Zahid turned out to be not only technically sound but a smart thinker as well.
ERISP provides ERP software made on international standards which is applicable to a range of businesses. ERP is a cloud-based software for which the company provides trainings to its users. If anything goes wrong, ERISP is just a call away to fix the problem in the system.
How did you approach your first client?
For every new business who has their product ready for launch, the foremost challenge is to reach out to and engage with their first client. In Zahid’s case, as he was a technical person, business development was daunting. However, he made his first pitch to an audit firm. For him the challenge was not only to convince them to buy the product but first educate the client on this new product in the market. At their first pitch, the owner of the firm wasn’t much impressed initially and so the meeting reached no fruition. Then the team made a second attempt through a different reference and the owner agreed to meet them again. This time they were given a chance to customise the software for the audit firm for demonstration and without charging the firm. When the software was ready, a demonstration followed which enabled them to deploy the product to the firm. As a result of successful deployment, this firm made audit recommendations to their clients and connected ERISP with 30 potential customers.
To expand their outreach, they have made their software easily searchable on the web. The potential client just fills in their basic requirements on ERISP website, and the software tabulates the kind of service required.
Any unsuccessful story?
Initially, when the software was also deployed at an NGO in Peshawar called Hujra, Zahid learntkay that the client is not happy with the facilities. Zahid realised that the system had feature limitations which weren’t fulfilling their requirements, however, he wasn’t able to understand where the problem lied. A few years later after having worked with different clients, he identified that he was unable to fully understand the client requirements. This whole experience made him feel awful about not delivering adequately on the task. To make up for his lack, he has now approached the client again and has requested them to allow him to deploy an advance system free of cost as Zahid believes that they had already made the payment for which Zahid was unable to deliver accordingly. Second chances are rare to have in this field, yet Zahid is awaiting their response and is adamant to make up for his mistake.
Isn’t this a classic example of business ethics? Zahid’s approach to business is not strictly based on numbers but ethics. As another example, he mentioned that recently a client reached out to them for their services, nonetheless, mentioned that they don’t have adequate funds for it yet as they are donor-dependent. To which Zahid responded that ERISP will still offer their services and the client can pay whenever they have the funds or may not pay in case they don’t get the funding.
Every startup faces a zillion challenges especially at the start of their journey. We have spoken of the startup challenges previously as well and to add to that, Zahid brought two other challenges to light: product education and market penetration. We also believe these two key aspects of business development can be challenging especially for the amateur in the field of entrepreneurship. However, through proper guidance and a strategy at hand, one can fare well at these challenges. Zahid also mentioned that personally his biggest challenge was to unlearn the little he knew about business and relearn all about it from scratch – from a business pitch to marketing, management, finance, product feasibility and delivery. Yet as he recalls, he says that these challenges helped him become better at what he knew the best.
Currently, ERISP is working on building credibility in the market. For every small business, this is a potential challenge as there are competitors, sometimes giants existing in the market. So how do you beat them? Do you beat them or make your way through them? Well we agree with ERISP’s approach of entering into joint ventures/collaborations to penetrate the market and make their brand known.
What have we learnt from Zahid?
Zahid is not only an entrepreneur but is inspirational as an individual. He is not the only one to grow in such unusual circumstances, however, his approach and take on life is unusual and different from many who have lived or are still in similar circumstances as he once was. His positive outlook on life, eagerness to learn, a kind and generous heart are what make him distinct from others. As an entrepreneur Zahid believes that getting your hands dirty is the key to a successful startup. Idealising success is what fails them. Embracing failure, however, is what ultimately leads to success. In his brief message to budding entrepreneurs, he says begin your career with a job and learn how organisations work, HR practices, product delivery and customer services; only then one should aim to start their own business. Unless one has been through that bumpy ride, it is not enough and justified to start your own business. He left us with the 3Ts: Time, Training, Trust.
Time: Know what the right time for you is to start your enterprise. Secondly, once you are in the market, ensure that you are delivering your services timely.
Training is an essential part of you as an individual. Whatever services you provide, you must be fully trained to do so. Moreover, make sure your team is as well trained as yourself.
Trust in your work. Whatever services you provide, your clients should have full trust in you. Trust is critical.
Dreams come true only when you passionately work toward them!