Muqtaza Shah is the man behind the first mobile social network of Pakistan. Pring has now over 5 million subscribers and is fast becoming a popular choice among young professionals across industries to communicate and share their insights in their own networks. Wordsmith spoke to Muqtaza about his aspirations for Pring, what it has achieved and what the plans are for the future.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your parent company e-business?
e-Business was founded in June of 2004 as a joint venture between the Panasian Goup and myself with the purpose of studying emerging technologies and to explore the possibility of leveraging them in order to establish an innovative business as part of the growth plan for the Panasian Group.
In May of 2009 we acquired a company founded by Umar Farooq (our current COO) and Muhammad Nasrullah (our current CTO) to start work on a project that would become Pring.
Since then, we’ve come an incredibly long way. Today we have more than 5 Million subscribers, almost all the top FMCGs and other business use Pring in their marketing mix. Our Brand is iconic and recognizable.
We’ve grown as a company to 50 employees and a handful of incredible patents. We are very proud of what we have achieved as a team in Pakistan and we’ve been lucky to have been backed by some of the finest business people of Pakistan.
I am currently the CEO and member of e-Business board. Previously, I laid the foundations of the smartphone market in Pakistan by setting up the largest distribution channel introducing brands i-Mate and Windows Mobile brands. I was also the founder & CEO of Pakistan Cellular Networks (PCN) where we pioneered the franchising model by setting up sales & distribution channels for a mobile operator; taking it from a few dozen company-run sales points to hundreds of thousands franchise managed sale points.
What inspired you to develop a mobile based social network in Pakistan?
Pring started as a brainchild of Muhammad Nasrullah, our CTO and member of the board. He pitched the idea of a social network where anyone could join and start a conversation without the need for having a smartphone or a high speed internet connection.
The idea was to democratize information such that anyone could create and distribute their content, updates and ideas. We knew if this was to be done, we had to work on high priced SMS models that are common in the VAS industry and offset it with advertising revenue.
What were the challenges in setting up Pring? What kind of mindset were you up against?
Sometimes the major challenges for a technology startup are not technical but are market challenges. There were many other hundreds of challenges for us but the largest one was convincing mobile operators on our innovative business model, which they had no experience with. We also had to educate an entire industry on Mobile Marketing and the benefits of it as well as how to do it. The technical challenges were no small feat as well, especially in finding great talent in Pakistan.
Being the first mobile based social network, what kind of a response have you had thus far (In terms of subscribers, users, new users/day)?
We’ve had a very impressive user uptake since our launch. It took us 2 years to cross 5 Million users which is thrice as fast as Facebook took to reach the same in Pakistan. We’re growing strong and as you’ll see in the coming months, we will fast overtake Facebook as the largest social network in Pakistan.
How is Pring competing with other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc.?
We’re different because we don’t assume that the users have high speed internet access, smartphones and a clear understanding of English.
The developing world has a long way to go before it can cross over to the information superhighway and unfortunately, all these traditional social networks are putting these 6 billion users on the curb by requiring all these high expectations.
Our strength is in understanding the people of our region, their daily lives, what they have and more importantly; what they don’t have. We use this information to make them part of a vibrant social network where other networks have alienated them.
How can an organization use Pring most effectively for its brand? What would you suggest?
You need to be where your users are. There are 120M mobile users, 20-30M internet users and 2.5M broadband users (connections with more 128kbps and above). Facebook is now 10M users.
Of the overall pie, that’s very small and it misses 95% of Pakistanis. If you care about your customers and want to provide them an intimate, immediate connection with what you’re doing, Pring is your tool of choice.
Are you planning any updates on Pring that will give people the option to gauge their engagement like insights, impressions, and number of SMS sent back and forth?
We’re planning a number of super exciting features which will change how social networking is looked upon world over.
But the features you’re talking about we already provide to our business users. We have a very powerful insights panel and reporting emails which you can find out more about on our blog.
If you are a business, we have a dedicated help and education portal just for you to understand how to use Pring and mobile marketing at pringit.com/business.
With high mobile penetration rates in Pakistan, companies have an opportunity to communicate with customers through Pring. What do you think is the scope of multi-lingual campaigns through mobile based social media to reach a wider audience?
Let me ask you, in Punjab, do you have a better chance of conveying your idea to someone in colloquial Punjabi or in Urdu?
There have been enough studies done on local languages by great academics like Dr. Sarmad of the Center for Language Engineering in UET which showed that using local languages increased response rates of student assignments by a factor of 10x.
Smart marketers have always known this. We hope we can make this all the more apparent by giving majority of Pakistanis a voice, in whichever language they speak.
Are there any specific kinds of organizations, in your opinion, which can benefit more from mobile marketing than others?
Yes of course. Who benefits most from Internet marketing? Businesses which have revenues and sales based on the internet such as Amazon, eBay etc.
Similarly, business that are mobile will see an immediate impact upon their business. Mobile business are food and retail outlets where you call a mobile number and place an order for your lunch or dinner.
These businesses need to reach customers on their phone, where they can immediately make a call, during lunch, when they are hungry.
This doesn’t alienate other businesses. If you are a customer facing business, your entire business is based upon your relationship which your customers which we help facilitate, cultivate and mature.
How suitable is mobile marketing for entrepreneurs and small businesses? What do you think is the critical element to consider before deciding to go into mobile based social media marketing?
Very critical. If you’re a small business and have only PKR 5,000 per month to spare in advertising, where can you go?
TV, Radio, Newspapers and billboards are out, they’re too expensive. The internet is good in targeting advertising but there just aren’t enough customers online yet. The best way to reach your customers on a budget is mobile. But it has to be done right, without spamming the users. This is where we are educating the industry and teaching them best practices in mobile advertisement.