Gertjan van Laar Dutch App Developer & Technopreneur is Happy in Pakistan [Interview]
Our country is full of talent, and with talent comes the opportunities not in the country but also in the other world. The outside world is always ready to explore the talent and potential of our nation. One such guy who came to Pakistan to get a bunch of talented people for his business is Gertjan van Laara young Dutch technopreneur and app developer, highly impressed with the Pakistani talented guys working in the field of software and application development for foreign countries, and for some top brands like iPhone, iPad etc. His site Grappetite.comdesign & develop stunning apps for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, iPad and web apps. They are based in Karachi, Pakistan and work with a mixed Pakistani and European team to offer you affordable rates and a high standard of quality, communication and planning.
Gertjan van Laar having fun with his team
Recently Gertjan van Laar is interviewed by the More Magazine, where he explained his working experience in Pakistan, potential of Pakistani IT professionals and scope of local and foreign markets in software and application development.
The interview got published in the More Magazine’s June print edition. Download in PDF versions link placed at the end.
You can read out the whole interview below….
How long has Grappetite been working in Pakistan and why was Pakistan selected as the country to place to have your production facilities?
Grappetite started about 2 years ago, just after I came to Pakistan from The Netherlands. There were different options at that time, like India, China, Bangladesh, but I have chosen Pakistan because here university trained people speak English quite well in general which makes communicating with clients easier, there are not so many large western corporations who take away all IT staff capacity and I simply liked Pakistan and especially Karachi from the first time I came here, invited by a British friend.
Im a social entrepreneur and economical goals are not my main focus. Social and environmental goals are equally important to me. I believe that caring for your staff and their families and caring for the environment does not contradict economical but rather supports economical goals.
What are the varying services in the Grappetite portfolio?
We design and develop apps for smartphones and tablets: iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, iPad, Blackberry, etc. Most of it for clients outside Pakistan (The Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, etc).
I believe you have both foreign and Pakistani staff employed here how many people do you currently employ and have you found local partners to outsource components of your work to?
We only have Pakistani staff employed, currently about 10 people. We dont outsource much to local partners as we want to be in complete control of the quality and planning we are delivering to our clients.
Gertjan van Laar at Grappetite office
How did you come up with the idea of making Halaat-O-Meter?
Halaat-O-Meter is an example of the social part of our business. We realized that technology can help people to be safer when they are traveling through Karachi or anywhere in the country. Often friends text each other when there is trouble. But we thought that it would be nice if anyone could benefit from this information, so we came up with the idea to create a crowd sourced platform with security reports: anyone can contribute and share what his neighborhood looks like. It informs the people about the situation of law and order and educates them how they can avoid risk to their lives and property through using alternative routes of the city to go home and offices in routine. It is a free service to the community and its popularity does good to Grappetite as well.
Since Halaat-O-Meter is a part of your CSR activity will you be marketing it? What is its outreach without any marketing?
We havent spent much on advertising, friends just refer each other and the media has picked it up quite well. In our first week we were covered on Al Jazeera, for example. In earlier days we sometimes peaked at 10,000 visitors per day, nowadays it is more stable. Visitors come and go depending on the general security situation outside.
You have also been associated with the Karachi Institute of Technology and Entrepreneurship (KITE). What have you done with them so far?
This is another example of being a social business. With our team we have been guest lecturers (once a week) at KITE in past few months, where we help those who are without an IT background to make the switch to computer science. The first batch of this very practical course is about to finish, in August we will continue with the second batch and we have committed ourselves to expand our activities and we will most probably hire extra staff to be able to have someone teaching at KITE every day.
I have seen my team growing because of this teaching experience that is not only great for them as individuals, but also for my business in general.
As a Dutch national based in Karachi, what has your experience of working and living in Pakistan been?
I have been enjoying living in Karachi very much. I like the vibe of the city and I love the people and the food. It is a fantastic melting pot of people with different backgrounds and cultures. Karachis population is bigger than the whole country of The Netherlands population. The downside is definitely the security situation, but we trust that there is a God who has this world, including Karachi, in his hands and that keeps us going as we can look beyond daily suffering.
With just over two years of experience in Pakistan, what do you identify as the key challenges of working here?
Pakistani culture is very different from European or any other western culture. If a Swiss clients asks you to complete it today he really means the same day. And not tomorrow morning. Thats already a challenge if you are in the same culture, but definitely a challenge when thinking cross culturally. Another challenge is the perception of quality. Where I asked my software engineers in The Netherlands to test something twice, in Pakistan I often have to ask to test four times. Planning and quality are the two main reasons why western clients outsource their work to us and we have to keep ourselves up to the mark. There are some practical challenges as well, such as electricity interruptions, strikes and unavailability of YouTube for example, but we can overcome most of these struggles by throwing technology on them.
But as you are here, what are the opportunities you perceive for Dutch entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
Pakistan has 180 million people. Thats 11 times the population of The Netherlands. Do I need to say more? Pakistani people are problem solvers and opportunity finders, life has made them like that. Each day I enjoy working with my Pakistani team and to achieve things that we couldnt achieve as individuals from a single culture.
Labour is much cheaper than in The Netherlands. If you are willing to look beyond presuppositions there are many opportunities. Think out of the box. We are for example currently exploring the idea to start a stroopwafel (a popular Dutch caramel waffle) factory to create employment for people who otherwise wouldnt have much chances. We are particularly looking at employing transgender people and people with disabilities.
Gertjan van Laar grappetite team