Redefining heroes and the role of media in Pakistan: an interview with Nabeel Qadeer

Nabeel Qadeer, The Man Behind ‘Idea Croron Ka’
December 7, 2016

Having gained a strong footing in the developed world, startups and incubators are now gaining popularity in Pakistan as well. Amidst this environment, Nabeel Qadeer, better known for his contribution to several entrepreneurial initiatives kick started by the Punjab Information Technology Board, ever since 2015 was bent upon creating something innovative & unique. interviewed him recently to understand how ‘Idea Croron Ka (ICK)’ is disrupting the mainstream media to promote & celebrate aspiring entrepreneurs.

NEO TV Network, which may not have been his first choice, ended up being just the right one for him to put forward his ideology of bringing together entrepreneurs and investors while allowing the general public to gain knowledge of the startup culture booming in the country. interviewed Nabeel to go past the media whispers and understand the truth and ideology behind ICK, gaining a glimpse of the person behind the idea in the process as well.

Clad in traditional white shalwar kameez, Nabeel sat on a two-seater sofa in his cozy office, with a painted wall behind him that showed logos and names of some successful startups originating from or incubated at the Plan9 platform, which he helped set up. An outlined quote written on the same wall said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans – Woody Allen.” From what he shared with, God might have laughed at his plans for a long time, but seeing his resilience, he was duly rewarded and Pakistan now has its very own business reality show.

On redefining Heroes in Pakistan

Nabeel said that his primary motivation behind ICK was to “Change the definition of heroes in Pakistan.” He expressed his concern on how a young, aspiring entrepreneur who (if all works in their favor!) could potentially change the way the world works with their powerful ideas, instead of having to lurk in the corners and wait in lines to get a few minutes of attention from the rich & famous of the country.

To him a small businessman or a student who chooses to work and change the world for the better deserves the title of a “hero” more so than actors, singers & entertainers.

On struggle with the Media

Tracing the trajectory of his journey he said that he took his TV show idea to many popular TV channels but was shunned off with one excuse or the other. One owner of a very popular TV channel told him that his idea was “A little ahead of time.” Another channel’s leadership tried to explain to him “what sells & what does not”. “No one will sponsor a show with young kids trying to become entrepreneurs on TV”, was a common critique.

With a plan ready but no channel to accept his proposal he probably understood that he was better able to relate to the struggle of an aspiring entrepreneur, who may have incredible ideas but no resources or platform to launch & grow them. Then one day a man named Chaudhry Abdul Rehman approached him at a conference & offered him to use his TV channel NEO to launch ICK with all support & resources necessary.

“As an individual and an entrepreneur myself I felt the need to promote entrepreneurship in our culture and I thought using TV channels was the best approach, however I do realize that media has its own rules and regulations. It’s a different kind of incubator and not what we typically do at our jobs and it has its own understanding of business models. This show is about great things that happen in Pakistan that deserve the limelight but they suffer because they were never ideal for typical shows and TRPs.”

The show started with Nabeel acting as the show’s host, lead and content producer along with three investors and a business advisor.

Nabeel confesses that despite all the planning that went into the show before its commencement there was still a lack of coherence and pre-planning for funding amounts and investors’ contributions.

On his connection with PITB

He told that many players in the ecosystem initially may have him misjudged the positioning of the show as there is heavy representation from the government in the lead roles. He said it was never about PITB or its startups. It was something he wanted to do to highlight the struggles of entrepreneurs and all of that in his own entrepreneurial capacity.

On Reality of the show itself

Continuing the conversation, we asked him the most difficult question of all as to how real the show is, which he answered rather agitatedly: “Any reality show in the world is 80% real and 20% enactment to make it good for TV content. While the investors are real, startups are real, investment commitments are real, the planning for all that was also real but was done in advance through a fair process.

“Umar Saif advising me throughout the program, on every episode, has been pivotal to the success of the show. We’ve innovated in every episode together. Naeem Zamindar, Jawwad Farid would chip in every now & then. It has been a real team effort. We’ve become closer friends in the process”, he claimed.

Suitable startups were selected, shortlisted and their profiles were shared with investors a few days before the show. The investors would show interest in the startups and meetings were arranged between investors and startups so ideas could be discussed.

The process allowed both parties to exchange arguments on the show also and there were also times when the investments were made right then and there on the set without any prior interaction.”

In due course ICK invited several interested parties to gauge, critique and make investment choices on the ideas brought up by entrepreneurs. So far 10 different investors and 24 startups have appeared on the show with seven out of the 24 startups securing investment commitments spanning over PKR 10 crores.

On becoming a Media person

Nabeel, who is termed by many in the industry “as the first real rockstar of the Tech Industry” is fast gaining popularity in media circles. We heard rumors about him being offered to appear in major TV commercials and even a drama serial on a major channel, none of which he chose to accept.

When asked why he claimed “I was never a media person by practice; nevertheless, I’m using media as a platform to promote startups, entrepreneurs, inspirational business personnel, so that the definition of a hero in our country can be corrected. I’d rather be known for delivering quality content and instilling hope in people, as opposed to appearing on billboards selling products. I’d rather choose impact over fame”. The channel’s statistics prove that over 60% viewership of Idea Croron Ka is women. When asked why he thinks that’s the case, he replied smiling

“we still haven’t figured out why it’s more women watching the show, but I am so thankful to them for being our viewers and I’d urge for them to continue watching as it’s only going to get better”.

On Defining Impact

When asked about the impact this show has had and whether people recognize Nabeel now in public places, he replied, “Well yes, there are people at petrol stations, in hospitals and even at dispensaries who recognize me and take photos, but there is one moment that I consider the most memorable one for me.

Two young boys, Haseeb and Ehsan, who work tirelessly for 12 hours at Liberty Car Park, after watching the show and being inspired by the Himmat Karo Pakistan segment have decided to set up their own business of selling recycled tires. That’s the kind of impact I am looking at. While people come and take pictures with me, this is one time I decided to take a selfie with them, because I strongly believe that this is the future of Pakistan. These are the kind of people who are going to bring a positive change to Pakistan’s economy.”

On Industry bias

When asked about bias towards some incubators, he claimed “we’ve worked hard in building this platform for entrepreneurs from all across the country. By no means will there ever be any bias. Infact, when we started taking applications for season 1, we reached out to various incubators/accelerators including LCE, Nest i/o, i2i, Telenor Velocity and many more to invite their startups to avail this opportunity.”

“Being from an incubator was never a condition and several startups in season 1 weren’t from any incubator. The aim is to create awareness about startups amongst the masses. I’d request those judging to hold onto to their judgment and let time prove things for themselves.”

He added, “To me what matters is that people need to know that this is happening, there are some extraordinary ideas that not only hold the potential to disrupt the industry and the economy but can also be excellent motivators for those out there who have ideas but are too afraid to bring them up in fear of rejection and failure.”

On comparison to Shark Tank

We asked Nabeel about how he feels when its compared to Shark Tank and he plainly dismisses the need for it. He politely refused that it’s a copy of something already being done. He says “ the formats of all these shows are similar but they have different agendas. We are not just that. If you consider our segments they are more about values that masses connect to.

If something, the show has taught me what positioning content really means and it has been challenging. Its about packaging content for either masses or the niche startups audience.

The choice isn’t easy when the cause is real. However, the channel has its own struggles and I have to be mindful of that.”

On measuring Success

Due to the popularity of the show the channel has had to reduce the timing to between 36 minutes (from 41 minutes initially) just to accommodate the overload of sponsors. Nabeel shared that “This too is a small yet significant measure of the popularity of the show. We have people from the business community, fashion industry and several other factions of society who now wish to appear on the show as investors and evaluate ideas presented on their credibility, sustainability and profitability to provide financing.”

The season finale may just be a surprise for the audience and we hope that it helps mainstream media understand the need for packaging great business content. While the ecosystem evolves and many agree to disagree we look forward to the second season of the show. It would be interesting to notice how corporate sponsors would engage with startups and how they contribute to the real heroes of our very own entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Nabeel is prepared to take risks and NEO’s team is on board with him. He might alienate some people while delighting others or he might as well be successful in putting across just the idea that there are opportunities for those who have money and want to make a difference to the country and that investors DO exist in Pakistan who are willing to put money into young startups; and Idea Croron Ka is fast becoming that cogent platform for all of them to come interact & build stronger relationships.