While our team adjusted camera and lighting, Monis started questioning on the technicalities of the lens, its aperture and ISO. His detailed knowledge about photography was surprising before he explained that he loves cameras and photography and at events like weddings he likes to take out his state of the art camera and shoot pictures and videos. “Sometimes people think I am a professional photographer covering the event and ask me to click multiple pictures while they smile and pose.”
As he shared how people sometimes fail to realize that he is a businessman and owner of a big company, he narrated another instance when he went for a meeting along with his team and chose to sit behind the wheel himself. He had requested his hosts to give his car’s license plate number to the guards so they didn’t have to wait for confirmation at the gate. So when they arrived the guard recognized the plate and went to talk to Monis. He recounts, “When I was taking our car inside, the security guard at the gate said to me, ‘aap sahab ko chor ke wapis aa jaen’(drop your boss inside and come back here).” He laughed it away and Pakistan Today team began the interview.
Explaining the origins of his business initiatives, Monissaid thatit was sometime around the turn of the century, when he realized the potential of internet and online works. He was working with Intel in the Silicon Valley back then and he remembers, “When I was working in the valley, a billion dollars were being spent on new projects every month.” He says he knew from then on that the internet was going to be the future.When Monis returned to Pakistan, he had a plan to launch a networking site and he started his first company under the title of Naseeb Networks Inc.
He then went on to launch many more businesses under his primary company of Naseeb Networks Inc. Two of the most renownedones were gaari.com and bastee.pk for automobiles and real estate respectively.However, Rozee.pk is the most, and perhaps the only, highly successful platform launched by Naseeb Networks Inc. Monis Rahman said, “Around 40,000 jobs are processed per day at Rozee.pk and so far at least one million people have been hired by nearly 65,000 employers.”
Talking about the early days of his business in Pakistan he informed us that although there was no shortage of computer literate and expert professionals back then, the internet had still not gained much momentum in Pakistan. Because of this the same skilled labor was very expensive in the United States but it was available at a very low costin Pakistan. For his first initiative – online matrimonial/ social platform – he hired three people; a software programmer, a network programmer and a graphics expert. He said, “The required workforce for software and programming was available in Pakistan in abundance and at low price but they were all raw, not very practiced or experienced.”
About the startup costs of the company Monis said he started a private limited company but invited some of his friends to contribute. He had some of his friends as his angel investors, which included Reid Hoffman, the co-founder and executive chairman of LinkedIn, and Joe Kraus, the founder of Excite, JotSpot and DigitalConsumer.org. However,Monis said, “They were not so much as investors as they were supporters. Their contribution wasn’t much but it was a symbol of their faith in me.” Both these entrepreneurs still have a stake in his business.
Like every other business, online classifieds is also a competitive industry. It is all the more so because everything depends on the outreach of any business entity. However, Monis Rahman believes that competition is good for the business. He said that the competitors can only bid well for Rozee.pk. He says that people in Pakistan, the businesses specifically, who are looking for workforce or have to hire, do not often turn to classifieds. For them it is something that they have never done and believe that they don’t have to. “If another online classifieds entity can bring them into the market, then they also become our potential clients. And in online businesses, the best product always wins. And as of now, I’m pretty sure that our product is the best.”
About the other competitive platforms like newspapers, he believes that only three per cent of the total employers use newspapers for job advertisements and they usually take ads for the companies that are looking for experienced people. So only those people are in demand who are already employed somewhere. Therefore Rozee.pk gets an edge by also offering jobs to fresh graduates and inexperienced professionals.However, he says that Rozee.pk is not competing for online space. “There is a huge online market still unexploited and if more online platforms enter the market, they will only pave more way for us and get more customers.”
According to Monis, the major and the only potentially harmful competition that Rozee faces is against the word of mouth and the mentality of the people. Some employers feel that advertising jobs is something unnecessary. For ages they have become accustomed to hiring through their current employees or associates and finding candidates for the jobs. This word of mouth not only prevents employers from seeking platforms like online classifieds but also becomes a barrier for qualified and efficient workers to get the jobs they deserve.
Competition is not the only challenge faced by the online classified businesses. For Rozee.pk, another big hurdle was to protect their source code and other intellectual properties (IPs). Monis recounted an incident in the early days of his business when a member of their workforce stole the entire source code and launched a very similar platform soon after. That incident was settled through court but not long ago Rozee.pk found itself in another problem when one of their competitors started stealing listed jobs. The company and the employers jointly complained to the court which issued an injunction to settle the matter.
Regarding the marketing strategies of the company, Monis noted that the television commercial they recently conducted led to almost 150 per cent inbound sales. They are also planning on another TVC but they are waiting for the right time, which they describe as when they need to reintroduce their product. The first TVC was launched at a time when the entire company was rebranded and the logo was also changed.
Monis says that the first logo was a product of a casual discussion and was designed without any detailed study. The new logo was designed with the intention of correcting the market image of the company which was being perceived as a platform solely for low wage jobs and unemployed people.He said that Rozee.pk has been targeting SEC A (the top category in the socioeconomic classes) and is also penetrating into SEC B and SEC C. He says that a major proportion of the employers who use online classifieds to look for workers are SMEs and therefore make a small proportion of the overall classified’s market.
Monis stressed that since Rozee.pk has the first mover advantage it is also their responsibility “to bring a behavioral change in people.” Monis is convinced that to survive in an online industry, a business has to be number one, or at least number two, otherwise someone else will be there to push it out of the market altogether. And he has full confidence in his own product, Rozee.pk, to be the best available in the market.
The Rozee office consists of a single floor with two cubicles at one far corner, neither of them occupied by the CEO himself. He shares a table with four other workers and says that he prefers to be part of the team instead of playing their superior.Regarding his workforce, he said that he encourages an equivalent attitude in his employees instead of maintaining a strong hierarchal attitude. “This has allowed me to find and employ hardworking people who are also loyal to the business.” He pointed at two people sitting on one corner of the room and said,“These two are out of the same three people I hired for my first business when I returned to Pakistan.”
As an advice to young entrepreneurs, especially those aiming for online businesses he said that they need to ensure that whatever sector they choose, they stay at the top. Otherwise they will not be able to survive for long in the highly competitive market. “Online businesses only become successful when they reach a tipping point, when they have enough organic and relevant traffic. You have to provide better content that brings more viewership and more viewership leads to better content. So it’s a cycle that you need to keep to succeed.”