By Sonya Rehman
For countless birthdays I recall my mother ordering cakes from this woman in Lahore, Mrs. Subhani, who’d make the prettiest, spongiest cakes in the world. Operating her little cake business from home, Mrs. Subhani’s cakes were something else: local bakeries would pale in comparison to her creations that came in all shapes, sizes, colours, flavours and flowers (yes, Mrs. Subhani would artistically dress up her cakes with real flowers).
Back then I seldom heard of people offering services and selling products from home: I think at the time having a solid 9-5 job was considered far more enterprising, and working from home meant one was either a good-for-nothing-creative bum, or, that one had ‘been around’ quite a bit in the job market and was now unemployed and strapped for cash. (Quite judgmental and narrow-minded, I know…)
But since the rise of social media here, excited Pakistanis with access to computers and an internet connection are ubiquitous with their start-ups, marketing their wares via Facebook. From designer cakes and wedding photography to handmade jewelry, personalized gifts, apparel, food and catering, cushions, and what have you – the number of start-ups on Facebook initiated by Pakistanis as of late is thrilling.
“I initially used to bake for friends and family,” states a young Pakistani (based in Lahore) who goes by the name of Panzu, who runs the successful online bakery called ‘Frosted Fantasies.’ With over 15,000 members on her Facebook page, ‘Frosted Fantasties’ offers a wide variety of cakes made to order. “My friend, Raana Khan, suggested I should start taking orders. At first I thought she was joking but then I made a page on Facebook and the response was beyond awesome. Within a week I had 147 calls to inquire about my cakes.”
Since then, Panzu has expanded her business considerably, primarily getting the word out about her cakes via Facebook and Twitter. “Social media is the only way I operate. Without Facebook my business will most likely collapse.”
Producing cushions, paper crafts and an assortment of other goodies, Ghazal Pirzada in Karachi says that social media has “worked wonders” for her.
“I launched my page [‘Ghazal Pirzada Creative Studios’] a year and a half back and to date the page has over 5,000 members. For me it’s not just a number; it’s 5,000 people keeping in touch, ordering and trusting me for making gifts for their loved ones,” says the young Indus Valley grad, who also retains a 9-5 job in addition to her little venture. While Pirzada does agree that there has been an increase in local start-ups marketing themselves over Facebook, “there are hundreds of pages that are plagiarizing ideas and creating things that everyone else is. People who constantly come up with new ideas make it far more profitable than people who go stagnant with it.”
While some within Pakistan give up their day jobs to dive full throttle into newly launched ventures, others remain cautious by juggling both – a full-time job and a small business on the side. This is echoed by Wasia Suhail Bashir, a final year undergrad student at the Lahore School of Economics who operates her online venture, the ‘Chunky Munky Factory,’ specializing in cakes, cookies and pies.
“I go to university in the day time and carry out this as a side business during the rest of the day,” Bashir states, “It’s very hard to make ends meet nowadays so if I had a 9-5 job, I’d keep both of them.”
“Online ventures help people gain a wider market at a cheaper cost, especially beneficial for people in Pakistan,” she states.
Using social media on a consistent basis – for both establishing her PR company, Lotus’ online presence, and for her clients – Selina Rashid Khan is of the opinion that “people, particularly women, who are perhaps unable to commit to office jobs with non-flexible hours or are simply not interested in that sort of employment, take up online business.”
“It’s quite fantastic to witness the emergence of this newer form of business in Pakistan through social media,” Khan says.
Offering professional photography services via their Facebook page – ‘Sitwat & Insiya Photography’ – Sitwat Rizvi and Insiya Syed established their business in 2009.
Fresh and offbeat, Rizvi and Syed’s photography is unique – breaking free from the typical wedding photography mould. “Being an online venture is a great litmus test and the feedback allows you to take the leap of faith with fewer risks involved,” states Syed, “As opposed to the earlier social-media-less times when marketing your product was more than making a Facebook page and having your friends ‘like’ it.”While start-ups founded by young Pakistanis online appear to thrive (since the fad stands as the next best ‘logical’ thing to do to cover expenses), Pakistan for now, remains virgin territory for social media to be truly used intelligently and effectively.
This is because social media marketing stands as a subject that needs to be understood and tested – it doesn’t simply imply inviting (or begging) people to ‘like’ one’s Facebook page, ‘follow’ one on Twitter, tagging members of one’s page consistently in status updates/product photographs (highly annoying this one, may I add), etc, rather, understanding one’s consumer. There’s quite a bit of strategy and psychology involved in the effective use of social media, among other factors.
That being stated, Panzu thinks that businesses initiated over Facebook face hardly any drawbacks.
“You don’t have to worry about costs/rent; word of mouth is powerful enough to bring in business. Even if you are working a 9-5 job and establish an online presence, you can certainly make extra money,” she says, “And who wouldn’t want extra money?”
The Friday Times