Behind every successful start-up, there are failures. This is one Pakistani entrepreneur's story

Pakistani firms rejected Khan's idea, but the same idea won support from famed international techies.
Published April 5, 2017

Sameer Ahmed Khan, the founder of locally developed website Social Champ, had three failures under his belt before lady luck smiled at him and his current successful enterprise.

Although his current venture — a homegrown startup which provides comprehensive tools to automate and manage your social media presence — is gaining traction, the success was preceded by a series of ideas and products that failed.

Three failures before victory

His first misadventure was a gaming engine 'GameOChat' which could work across platforms to develop video games and give people a chance to chat and play games simultaneously. Despite three years of hard work the project did not launch, and with the release of the Unity gaming engine, it stood no chance.

*Sameer Ahmed Khan, Zohaib Ahmed Shakir and Shakir Ghani*
Sameer Ahmed Khan, Zohaib Ahmed Shakir and Shakir Ghani

Next was Educating Dreams, an app with a noble mission which aimed to connect street children with organisations running charitable schools. The idea was simple: anyone wanting to help a child in need would snap a photo, and the app would automatically mark its location and report it to a charitable school.

*Sameer Ahmed Khan*
Sameer Ahmed Khan

Although the app was created with good intentions, it failed to pick up despite winning many competitions. NGOs excused themselves from working with this app if other NGOs were involved and street children routinely change their location, making it difficult to trace them after first contact.

But Khan was stubborn and moved onto a third venture — RemindZapp, a tool for managing reminders. This app, too, was decommissioned due to multiple problems that plagued its growth, despite being accepted into the Google for Entrepreneurs backed The Nest I/O incubator.

Enter Social Champ

Khan did not let the repeated failures discourage his dream. Why? In his words, “People only need an excuse to hold them back from doing amazing things.”

At the age of 26, today he is the CEO and co-founder of Social Champ, a successful platform which automates an individual's social media presence.

Why the app is useful:

When it comes to social media marketing, one is faced with a range of challenges

  • identifying the correct time to post for reaching the maximum number of relevant audience
  • monitoring and tailoring your content to ensure maximum engagement and click-through rates
  • scheduling posts
  • repeating posts,
  • maintaining a strategy that is consistent with brand image.

Ironically, the journey of Social Champ began to take shape when Khan felt the need for better management of his social media accounts while trying to promote his previous startup.

Tired of having to manually repeat each social media share or post at different times throughout the day, Khan asked a friend, Zohaib Ahmed Shakir, to help design a tool which could re-post the same thing at predetermined intervals in order to maximise reach.

*Sameer and Guy Kawasaki*
Sameer and Guy Kawasaki

Khan then showed the idea to Pakistani tech website, TechJuice, which liked the idea and told the budding entrepreneurs that their company would make use of their tool.

*Sameer Ahmed Khan and Peg Fitzpatrick*
Sameer Ahmed Khan and Peg Fitzpatrick

Foreign techies take notice

Motivated by the positive feedback and workability of this project, Khan took a leap of faith and emailed Guy Kawasaki, a US-based social media evangelist, who had been a close friend of Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Kawasaki’s book, ‘The Art of Repeating’, had inspired Khan in the first place to explore and tackle the need for a comprehensive social media management tool.

To his surprise, Kawasaki responded positively.

Although at this point, the tool itself had limited features, Khan recalls that Kawasaki’s comments, feature requests and critical evaluation helped them grow to a fully functional social media management tool that could compete against global market giants like HootSuite and Buffer.

Kawasaki's response had proven the unconventional marketing strategy to be successful and gave Khan the confidence to contact more social media marketing gurus, including the likes of Ian Anderson Gray, Peg Fitzpatrick, Neal Schaffer, and Lyndsay Phillips. Khan received positive responses from each of them.

*Sameer Ahmed Khan and Jehan Ara*
Sameer Ahmed Khan and Jehan Ara

Pakistani investors are sceptical

Khan recalls reaching out to several famous Pakistani companies with the hope of getting the breakthrough he had been seeking.

But to his dismay, Pakistani firms were sceptical of the very idea of a social media management platform, and showed little or no interest in the idea or his abilities.

The trend of investing in start-ups has not picked up in Pakistan — something Khan learnt the hard way.

Despite the lack of interest from local investors, continued mentor-ship and support from The Nest I/O allowed Khan to continue developing the tool with a focus on a wider reach.

So what did they do for money?

Khan and his friends financed Social Champ through personal savings and freelance projects until the product was complete.

“If we had investment from this market [Pakistan], maybe we would now be a year ahead. But we’re still in the bootstrapping phase. One should find ways on their own and not give up simply because others aren’t giving a break.”

“If you don’t have a payment mechanism, then make one of your own. We have an example of Elon Musk who invented PayPal. Why can’t others be like him?” says Khan.

Khan is not bitter about the lack of support in Pakistan. He acknowledges that working here teaches an individual things that cannot be learnt in other countries.

“You face so many problems and obstacles here, that you develop polished problem-solving skills,” says Khan.

“You learn how to tackle the most difficult of situations; it gives a major boost to your ability to endure and is helpful in making your nerves stronger.”

Although Khan and his co-founders have opportunities to set up camp in the US, they remain committed to working for Pakistan.

“Although I believe that my life would be really comfortable in foreign countries, I think I can do more for people here,” Khan says.

Photos courtesy Social Champ

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