Technopreneur of the Year, Ahmed Khalid of XGear Talks to IDG

 

XGear, a device that hooks up to your car, monitors the activity of the vehicle and provides alerts, analysis and reports to give you full control over the vehicle was founded by Ahmed Khalid back in his university years. The Startup, up till now, has won international competitions like Startup Open and MIT Business Acceleration Program; is a part of Plan9, Microsoft Innovation Center (MIC), Lahore and an acceleration program run by Google for Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley called BlackBox. Later named the Technopreneur of the Year by Startup Expo Pakistan 2015, XGear has now associated with Indiegogo for its crowd-funding campaign.

Ahmed has Bachelors in Computer Science from COMSATS Institute of Information Technology and a Masters in Wireless Networks, Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the Queen Mary University of London.

IDG got in touch with Ahmed to know about his entrepreneurial journey, his passion for cars, his experience at Plan9, and how he turned his university project into a fully-fledged business.

Here is what we talked about..

What in particular gave you the idea about XGear?

Basically it was a university project, everyone was doing data based projects but I wanted to do something different. I love cars so I wanted to work with cars. We somehow tried to get data out of the vehicle and display it on our computer screens but we had no idea what to do with the data or how it could be used.

It all started back in 2005 when there were no smartphones, there were only serial ports. With the passage of time, we understood that there is also big data, everything is going on to internet and its time we put car to Internet of Things (IoT) space.

Any challenges you faced?

People think living in Pakistan is a challenge. Yes, it is a challenge but at the same time we also have advantages. I am an optimist, I see things positively; raising investment while living in Pakistan is a bit difficult and you get crappy term sheets where your valuation is very less and you don’t get valued that much. But at the same time, you get talent at a very cheap rate; you get people working for you at a fraction of price you get to pay at Silicon Valley. The talent is equally spread.

The only big challenge was, thinking that would this thing work? Would people buy this? So we had to spend months in the market to validate that what we are is needed or not? Does the world need it? And if it is needed then why Honda, Toyota and Mercedes are not doing it? Why isn’t Orenj doing it? Or if Orenj starts working on this then how would we protect our IPs.

Have you received any funding for your product?

We haven’t up till now, we have refused about $ 64 million in funding, due to bad term sheets. We are looking for strategic partners, who can bring some value into the product besides funding it. So we are very picky in choosing our investors.

Any mentoring or support you’ve got from the industry?

We work with people from Open. One of our advisors is Chairman of Open from Silicon Valley, another one is global board member of GW. One is purely technical and the other is purely business guy. So we get very useful advice from these people.

What was it like to be a part of Plan9?

Plan9 is a great opportunity. The good thing about Plan9 is that they sign you a single mentor who stays with you for the whole cycle. The advantage from this is that these are the experienced people from the industry, they have done everything from scratch and they know the problems and hardships of being an entrepreneur. For example, when you have 10 lakh choices, which thing you should choose? How to move forward? And all the difficult decisions you have to take. These people understand our product in and out. They understand our business models, they understand our team dynamics so we are very comfortable with them sharing everything about our startups so that they can advice the best for us. That’s the best part of Plan9.

What do you think is the Startup scene like in Pakistan?

I think it’s pretty cool; the wave of facilitation in incubation programs is flourishing. Six years back from now there was nothing like this. If anyone wanted to start anything, there was no platform. Plan9, PlanX, MIC, LCE, NUST have given a great platform to the budding entrepreneurs and supporting them.

It is growing and it will take some time but eventually that’s how things start. Even Silicon Valley started the same way. We are on the right track and in next five to ten years we will have billion dollars exists and people would start respecting Pakistani Entrepreneurs.

What sort of opportunities you think are there in Pakistan for startups?

I believe Pakistan is a very good place for startups; I have experienced firsthand Silicon Valley. I have been to UK so I know what’s the startup scene is like in London. If we compare it to Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley has more resources and a lot of funding opportunities but at the same time it has Google, Microsoft and Facebook. If there is any talented guy, they’ll hire him no matter what he asks for. In Pakistan, its good and bad at the same time that we don’t have opportunities to work for Google, Microsoft and Facebook by being in Pakistan but talented people here are working on their own products; so that’s an advantage of being in Pakistan.

Interview conducted/edited by: IDG Pakistan