January issue 2010

By | Business | People | Profile | Published 9 years ago

At age 26, Yasir Sheikh is well on the path to realising all his dreams. He is a writer, a graphic designer and CEO of Al Rug, a successful online retailer company which aims to provide customers worldwide direct access to Pakistan and Afghanistan’s hand-knotted rugs. He has run this enterprise successfully for the past four years and its online presence has helped him keep its running costs to a minimum. Although he now has a more traditional set-up on Lahore’s Nicholson Road, he still considers the company’s online presence its main identity.

Yasir Sheikh was recently awarded the Paragon 100 Fellowship for Young Entrepreneurs in Asia Pacific. “Being the only one in the trade category was a surprise,” says Yasir about the award. “I guess not many think of trade at an early age since it requires years of experience in your field to excel.”

The going was not exactly easy for young Yasir and his partner Aamir Mukhtar. “I had an IT background and my partner Aamir, though a science graduate, had vast experience in handmade rugs,” says Yasir. “So in the feasibility study and the planning phase, when we combined our two strengths, it came out as a fantastic idea to work on. The only problem then was the investment part. We don’t normally have venture capitalists to look up to in our country, and finding the right kind of investment from conventional sources is also a challenge. So we developed a model that would get us going with zero investment; time, energy and skills were the only investment we could afford. The only drawback was that we had to wait a little longer for success.”

How were they able to retain a foreign clientele while operating from ‘terrorist-stricken’ Pakistan? Surprisingly, “Working with foreigners is easier than working with one’s own people — namely Pakistanis, Iranians, Afghans and Indians,” says Yasir. “Put it down to our inexperience. It was all so alien to us; we didn’t know how business communication works locally. All the studies you’ve put years of effort into go down the drain and you have to start learning from scratch. I think we need more academic research on our own business ethics and practices rather than forcing our youth to study foreign text books.”

Yasir Sheikh also runs another company, Pxlprfct, which develops software for various companies and, additionally, provides technical support. “For the past four years Pxlprfct has delivered meaningful Web solutions to a host of world-class clients,” claims Yasir.

Incidentally, Yasir is also a published writer — he has been writing since he was 19. However, he doesn’t see a bright future for writers in Pakistan. “I wrote for many mainstream newspapers and magazines for a few years, and I felt that they just squeeze out the juice from writers and, in return, pay nothing,” says Sheikh. “Until that changes, I don’t see a bright future.”

Click here for more Rising Stars . . .