What is Plan9 of PITB?

Good question! You must have heard about Plan9 through a friend or an email on your university’s email list or through Facebook. Here I will explain what it really is without using the buzz words like “innovation, passion, initiative, groundbreaking etc. etc.” and with using but explaining buzz words like “incubator, startup, launchpad, mentor network etc. etc.”
Sit tight and buckle up because I am really going to tell you a recipe of making a few million dollars in few years so, please ensure that you read this blog and don’t check your facebook or youtube during this time .. Well, technically if you do check then probably this Plan9 is not for you!

Question: So, what is Plan9?

A: Plan9 is a program of PITB (Punjab Information Technology Board) in which they take teams which are actually trying to solve a problem through technology. Then:

  • They give you office space (working environment) on 9th floor of posh new Arfa Software Technology Park, Lahore.
  • They will give Rs.20,000/month stipend to each team member to cover your day to day expenses such as your bike’s fuel, food, ticket to the concert etc.
  • Office space will have shared Internet, Telephone, Printers, Copier your personal desks and PITB will also allot you laptops/computers (I will advise to bring your own laptops as I know you won’t be sleeping well during nights)
  • They will help you to incorporate your company and protect your intellectual property rights (legal advise), help will be available to manage your Human Resource (you will need this while managing your team), marketing (you will need a marketing plan and campaign to attract customers/users), branding and other similar time consuming but essential tasks.
  • They will give you access to Pakistani (or foreign) advisors (and trust me when I am saying this) who have made or are making millions of dollars every month through tech businesses, these people will give you advise on how to solve the problem and how to make a bigger company and how to make your few million dollars by selling your shares in the company.
  • PITB will take an intake of 15 teams in each term (each term will be of 6 months), 5 of those who qualify (they get their amazing product ready in 5 months) will go to Silicon Valley in California, USA to participate in another similar program for another 1 month (I will explain all of this below).

Question: How 'solving a problem through technology' can be of worth few million dollars?

A: Again a very good question. Do you know who these are?:
  • Google
  • Hotmail
  • Facebook
  • Angry birds

They all solved a problem initially and they are still solving that problem, in fact they grown so big that they made billions not millions and actually they were and are just solving a problem. Let’s analyse them:

  • Google: It’s 1995. My name is Larry Page and I am a doctoral (PhD) student in Stanford University and my area of research will be human-computer interaction, Internet has 10 million pages by now but search engines are not very efficient, together with my friend, Sergey Brin, who is excellent in mathematics I will do my thesis on counting the number of links between different web pages, then prioritizing them on the basis of “PageRank” which will allow me to see important and most cited research work first and weak research work at bottom. 15 years later, my company’s worth will be $247 billion.
  • Hotmail: It’s 1996. My name is Sabeer Bhatia, an indian immigrant in USA. Today, everyone has their own email addresses but they have to pay their ISPs to have them (imagine if someone asks you to pay PTCL for an email address!). The Internet is rising and I can browse everything through my browser window, one day while driving back home I got struck with an idea to have a browser based email service which will be accessible to everyone everywhere and it will be totally free. I called my friend Jack Smith, together we took an office, asked an investor for some money, hired a team, built the service and few months later we will sell Hotmail to Microsoft in exchange of $400 million.
  • Facebook: It’s 2003. My name is Mark Zuckerberg and I am a cheeky student of Harvard University. I have an idea to develop an online directory of my university’s students, I want to see their photos, their relationship statuses and their interests, then I want to send them a message and ask if any of those would want to go for coffee. I will make such a directory with the name of Facebook and 9 years later, in 2012, it will have 955 million users and it will be valued at $95 billion. (You need to watch “The Social Network” movie if you havn’t still!)
  • Angry Birds: It’s 2009. I run a Finnish company called Rovio. iPhone is 2 years old now and everyone is making iPhone games and making millions of dollars (apparently) but so far we have made and published 104 titles and millions are no where to be seen, we are making a game called ‘Angry Birds’ which will be simple, low cost but highly addictive, this is our last bid. Total downloads for Angry Birds will be a billion times on all platforms and in 2012 my company’s worth will be $6 billion.

Intrigued? All of these started by an idea, that idea wasn’t very unique, there were search engines before Google, there were email services before Hotmail, there were social networks before Facbeook and there were iOS games before Angry Birds. These ideas were executed by right people, at a right place, at a right time, with right kind of money, with right kind of resources available. If Sabeer Bhatia remained in Bangalore or Mark Zuckerberg was a student in Estonia .. well.. you never know but hitting that kind of success would have been far fetched. Initial funding in Hotmail was $2,50,000 .. you can think of sitting in front of your own computer and writing a script for mail server but that can’t be Hotmail, you can bring up a prototype but can’t go on to the scale of Hotmail – take your prototype to Plan9 and they will take you further! (not of another mail server, well yes if it’s unique and solving a problem which is not already solved by someone else)

Story: My Idea busted!

An example of what type of problems I spotted and was thinking of solving:

  • It’s 2009. I am sitting in waiting lounge of Heathrow Airport. There is a shop of branded sunglasses, I always liked Ray Ban’s Aviator but they do not look good on my face plus they are expensive. Whenever I go in that shop, a sales girl will come and stand literally on my head, I am a geek, I want to try all of these sunglasses to see which one look good on my face but at the same time I am not comfortable talking to a sales girl who is trying to pull £100 out of my pocket .. hmm .. what I should do? I look at my iPhone – why don’t I write an app (or for computer using a webcam) which will fit all sunglasses on my eyes when I turn the camera on and then I can go and buy those sunglasses or order them online!
    It’s 2012. I never had resources then plus technically that idea was a bit difficult, technology changes very rapidly, recent advances shown me a way – iPhone 4 just came with a front facing camera and improved processing speed. I figured out how to get money and do this thing, one last time I will go to app store and will try to find if somebody already have made this app: I found one Eyewear Try-on, a basic app but serves the purpose, my idea is gone, somebody better than me just uploaded it in July, 2012. What should I do? I am already on the next idea!
This idea stage is very important, some say ‘ideas are dime a dozen’, they are right but idea stage still remain important. Remember the movie “Inception” – “the smallest seed of an idea can grow and destroy you” – in our case it makes you a millionaire!

Question: I spotted a problem and now I have a technical solution for it, what should I do?

A: If you are solving a problem through technology and if it’s Internet based, you have to be:

  • at right place
  • with right kind of advisors
  • with right kind of money
  • at right time

and the answer is:

  • Silicon Valley in USA is the right place where Plan9 will take you for free
  • Plan9 will give you access to right advisors
  • Plan9 will give you stipend while you make your prototype and then will introduce to potential investors
  • and time is now!

Question: So, why do I need only an Internet or mobile technology based idea?

A: No, if you possess the right skillset and have cracked the code to build a gesture control TV or have made a graphene based Microprocessor, consider yourself a game! but if you want to open up a cafe or world’s fastest ship breaking yard then Plan9 is not for you.
Internet or mobile technology based ideas mostly have limitless growth, which means if you are doing an Android mobile app for a new kind of “to-do notes” then you have access to a market in which Android is unlocking 1.2 million devices a week! For Internet, add a few more millions to that number. In physical world, accessing this kind of scale in few years is far fetched. (However, please consult with PITB or Plan9 team, technology has very vast meanings but yes, Internet and mobile technology based ideas are right thing to do in Plan9).

Question: I read the word startup in Plan9 advertisement, What's a startup?

A: A startup is a setup in which you search for a profitable business model (it can be not-for-profit as well but in Plan9 we are talking about money!). Startup is not a smaller version of a bigger company, you can’t compare Coca-Cola with a startup, Coca-Cola already has a proven profitable business model while as I explained above (see Story: My idea busted!), I had an idea to wear sunglasses on camera and see which one suits me, now it was just an idea, the next step would be to find a business model on which this problem solving idea will make money, next steps can be:

  • I will find a seed investor or fund it myself
  • I will get office space
  • hire a team
  • start engineering
  • meanwhile I will do my market research on buying habits of people who wear sunglasses
  • best bid in this case would be to talk with Ray Ban, Gucci, Parada and ask if they will allow me to use their frames and then I will sale those frames as part of my frame testing app
  • I will start doing some sales
  • based on those sales I will make a business growth plan and a marketing plan
  • then I will pitch to investors to get some more money because I know many people will try to copy this idea as soon as I launch so I need to grow fast to avoid competition plus I will be stupid to think that Ray Ban will seriously listen to Hammad Tariq from Lahore, however, they may listen to James Caan of London (don’t know him? Google him .. no not the actor, I am talking about the Entrepreneur)
  • if my idea is good, growth plan is good and I get enough money I will make millions soon enough!
Now you probably know what I am talking about, again:

Startup = Growth – Exponential Growth not slow growth, if you open a corner grocery shop – you can’t call that a startup, it’s a business based on a proven business model plus it’s reach will be very local, it can’t have exponential growth – a startup is exact opposite of that!

This is what Plan9 would be doing

  • Plan9 gives you office space
  • You bring team and idea
  • Plan9 gives you stipend while you make a prototype
  • You do hardwork to find a growth model
  • Plan9 will give you access to advisors and will introduce you to investors
  • You do the sales and make millions

Question: What is a mentor network then?

A: Simple, a mentor is an advisor who ran a similar startup successfully, he was there, done that type of guy, he know the good things to do and the bad things to do… he can help you to make your idea better, he already know investors, how to reach them and how to talk to them. He already know how to spread the word around and generally is the one who has an answer of your every question or he will refer you to another mentor, a mentor connected to another mentor – a mentor network!

These guys are usually super busy and don’t talk to everyone because lot of people approach them daily with their ideas – beauty of Plan9? These guys are sitting there just for you – waiting for you to come and talk to them!

Question: and what is a LaunchPad?

A: “Launch Pad” – it’s an event organized by P@SHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association) in collaboration with PITB and in this event you will give a presentation about your idea, mentors will ask you questions, if you are successful then you will be selected for Plan9 program and off you go!

Question: What is an Incubator?

A: Alright, an Incubator is basically the office space and controlled working environment you get while your are building your idea. In Plan9, you have to be present 9 to 5 each working day of the week (in ASTP), you will have a fabulous working environment as many teams will be working with you, you will be able to share your ideas, see each other’s code, solve problems, hardware guys talking to software guys, mentors giving advise – you are in an incubator and getting ready to face the world! After six months Plan9 expects you to be a big boy, go out in real world, rent an office space and execute your new business model from there.

Question: What is a pitch then?

A: Another word for presentation, except in presentation you present your idea in form of power point slides or something, but pitch is something which you can give verbally to anyone standing anywhere – something you can tell to someone in one or few sentences and it will explain all of your idea and big picture, for example: “I am thinking of making an app which will allow you to try and wear virtual sunglasses using camera and then you will be able to order those sunglasses online”, now that’s a pitch!
However, when you will be giving pitch to Plan9 board members, you will have to dish out a little more information such as: why you are best suited to solve this problem, who are your competitors, what are your plans about making money etc. But don’t worry, just come along as Plan9 team will spend a whole day with you just to polish your pitch! So, you actually get mentors (read advisors) even before your pitch, a real opportunity to get yourself out there!

Question: I heard about free ride to Silicon Valley, where is it?


A: 
Silicon Valley is an area in California, USA where most of the tech companies were formed or have offices. Apple, Google, Facebook, Dropbox, Microsoft, Oracle .. they are all there plus a few thousand more! Today, technical enthusiasts from all over the world go to this place, it has a perfect eco-system in which you meet investors, engineers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, buyers and sellers! That is the place to be if you want to be on the level of Google, Hotmail, Facebook and even Angry Birds, after Plan9 if you will be able to woo an investor based in Silicon Valley and launch your idea there, most probably you are already on the way up!

Question: Who is an Entrepreneur then?

A: If you can spot problems and then you think about solving them and then you even think about executing that solution, you are an Entrepreneur! An Enterpreneur usually fill gaps in the market through solving a problem and through bringing new products to new markets.
If you ask me, I will say Entrepreneur is a person accustomed of seeing dreams during the day! This guy don’t think rationally, this guy risk it all or have nothing to loose and this guy wants to live his life on his own terms, this guy swim against the tide .. this guy is stupid .. the question is: are you that guy??

Question: What if I pitch my idea to Plan9 and then someone copies it before me?


A: 
Plan9 gives you some level of legal protection, however, consider these:
  • If you have an idea which people will be able to copy easily, just don’t do it, hop on to another!
  • Success is measured when others start following you, a startup is always at risk, that’s why you need money – a lot of money and access to right set of advisors to grow fast and kill the competition!
  • My idea is my passion, that was a problem which I faced, then I thought of a solution and looked at 100 possible ways to solve the problem, during that research I learned a lot about problem itself and I came in contact with many people who will later help me in building and selling the product! Read my Eyewear Try-on idea above (Story: My idea busted!)? I just given you a concept and while pitching to Plan9 board members I may let them know that I have a Masters degree in Embedded Digital Systems, I am running a company which make cross platform mobile apps and I have access to a computer vision research group in my mother institute which will help me in building the idea but did I told you these:
    - To find eyes in a live image, I will have to first detect eyes then find their middle and then I will guess the area around eyes to fit a frame on.
    - When the user turn his face side-ways (we always do when trying something on), we can not detect the exact measurements and as for the current state of technology, it is very hard, right now as we speak there are multiple researchers in multiple universities who are doing their PhDs on exact same concept and even if there is a solution, it will be very expensive (to hire that PhD and plead to give his research to us) Solution: build the prototype first and then if it’s successful, research and invest if we will be able to detect side-way view as well.

Alright, I just told you 2 points from my treasure of 100, now consider this: You came to a LaunchPad event, you heard my 10 points pitch, went back home and successfully replicated all of it? Are you serious? You will have to have right set of skills for that! An idea is my baby, when it bites me I can’t sleep, the person who is trying to copy .. is just a copier :-)

  • The problem you faced is never unique, there maybe millions of people who go through that every day (think of someone who like to find perfect sunglasses for himself but can’t stand sales girls or guys), 5 of these millions must have thought of the same solution I thought and 1 of them actually started executing that, when I was placed squarely to solve the problem, I did my research the last time and there was this guy, already launched! You know? You are never unique, your capability to move quickly is unique! What about me? I came up with another idea the next day because that previous idea taught me a lot about image processing and approaching problems, simple isn’t it?

Question: Will PITB or mentors will ask for stake in my startup?

A: No, PITB is a Government organisation, a Government’s primary job is to make policies and promote culture which will help citizens live a better life. Governments already have millions of dollars, they don’t need to take part in your business. For Plan9, mentors are moved by passion of participants and they don’t charge anything in return, basically there is no catch in this program.
However, consider this: There is a mentor who share your passion, believe on the idea and his involvement helped you in shaping the idea, his input is now more than 10-20% and you yourself feel that you need this guy onboard with you not just for Plan9 but even after that, then on mutual consensus you agree to give him a stake, that will be between you and the mentor, nothing to do with PITB or Plan9.

Question: I understand all of this now, I have a wonderful idea, I Googled it but there is nothing like this already and I think this can go on a global scale and I can earn millions, what should I do now?

A: Just go to plan9.pitb.gov.pk, click Apply, they will ask two questions:

  • Which problem you want to solve through technology?
  • Why do you think you are the right person to solve this problem?
They have LaunchPad dates on the website, apply in your choosen city, they will shortlist the ideas and will call you to give a pitch… mentors will first advise and then grill you.. if you pass you will go into incubation program.. keep working hard and you will be in Silicon Valley giving pitches to investors, you will get money and then you ….

If you have any questions, post below or find me on Twitter, the address is http://twitter.com/hammadtariq
Leave a comment

2 Comments.

  1. I don’t agree with your point that idea needs to be unique and if someone else launched it on app store your idea is busted. Most of the tech ideas are copy of others such as Facebook and almost every game by Zynga, they just had enough marketing and finance to grow it rapidly. Uniqueness isn’t the crust here, how much and at what speed you market your idea is. Sometimes, solution isn’t even needed but since you market it well and people start using it somehow, it gradually becomes a need. You just need to know how you will sell your idea.

  2. I Agree with Ur Point but some point i am not agree
    PITB will take an intake of 15 teams in each term (each term will be of 6 months), 5 of those who qualify (they get their amazing product ready in 5 months) will go to Silicon Valley in California, USA to participate in another similar program for another 1 month (I will explain all of this below).
    (that point……..

Leave a Reply


[ Ctrl + Enter ]

Get Adobe Flash player