Syed Ommer Amer- Founder of Daastan Literary Society, Revamping the Writing Industry in Pakistan.

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Ommer – Revamping the Writing Industry of Pakistan!

Your back ground and a brief biography?

I am the third generation in my family who is actively involved in improving education system of Pakistan. I first got my hands on a computer when I was in 6th Grade and I was introduced to the world of internet when I was about to step in university, till then I had only books to entertain myself; this explains how I got into literature.

My school ‘Margalla Grammar School, Wah Cantt’ identified and polished my skills. I was one of the brightest student who was the sole representative of school in Youth Edge Conference (2008). I completed my High School from FG Degree College, Wah Cantt on full scholarship and just before passing out I grabbed 3rd position in All Pakistan Declamation Contest held in Multan (2009).

As I entered university, I was introduced to a whole new world of opportunities which I grabbed with my both hands. I not only maintained my grades but also proactively worked in university societies for two years. After that I realized that I love philanthropy more than engineering. I joined youth platforms and NGO’s and later on made my way up to the Managing Director before resigning in Dec 2014 to work full time on my own venture named Daastan.

I was one of the fifteen students all over Pakistan who were selected for incubation in Plan9 – Pakistan’s Biggest Technology Incubator working under supervision of Punjab Govt. I knocked out 2000+ applicants and passed a rigorous screening process consisting of three knock out rounds to win a grant of 6 lac rupees and an office space for six months along with mentoring from the seasoned professionals.

Since then there is no looking back …

How do you define yourself? Who you actually are ?

I define myself as a person who fell in love with Entrepreneurship and then never looked back. Whatever life throws at me, I deal with it!

I actually can be the softest and the kindest person whom you have ever met in your life or I can be the biggest arch rival if you hurt, cheat or lie to me. Everything depends on your intentions! I believe and implement Binary Language a lot in my life. It is a self-made philosophy of mine which means either you do something with extreme passion and dedication or you just don’t do it all! There is no such thing as a mid-way or a third state. You will find me as a straight forward person who talks to the point and expects either a Yes or No in return. I believe that Time is MONEY and every second needs to be spent in best possible and the most productive way, if one wants to succeed in life.

What factors have contributed to making you who you are today?

The first and the foremost is the grooming of my family which defines my character. Without their scolding and coercive measures I would have been just another boy wasting his life. Secondly, a huge credit goes to my school administration and teachers and in particular my class teacher Miss Faiza Hashmi who helped me unearth my hidden strengths and Madam Muneera Qureshi who was the guiding light throughout my school life. She was the one who introduced me to Allama Iqbal’s poetry and motivational stories which encouraged me to push my limits and become a person who is quoted as an example for others to follow.

Then in college my inspiration was Sir Himayat Baloch, he was our English Teacher and he ignited the spark in me to delve deep into English and ace it. If I write so good, it is because of the hard work of that teacher who taught me these skills.

In university, I had so many exceptional individuals to put my soul on fire and helped me chase my dreams wildly. My biggest inspiration was Muhammad Asad, he was the president of University’s Debating Society who was not only an excellent public speaker but also a great teacher. My philosophy of ‘Binary Language’ was inspired from him.

Zohaab Bhai, Huma Baji, Nida Baji, Komal Baji, Salman Bhai and Wahab Bhai were all my seniors who not only inspired me but also taught me the art of public speaking. Though at that time, I couldn’t reach the level they expected me to but I tried many times and failed. These failures are something which I mention with pride everywhere because they have enabled me to improve myself and after three years I delivered a seminar in the same hall where I was told that public speaking is not your thing, you should quit it. I kept hanging on and finally I did it! Another person who was with me from start till the end was my debating partner Saba Arif who helped me a lot in improving my public speaking skills.

Then another person whom I would like to mention here is Hassan Raza, he is my mentor and the person who held my finger, gave me direction, taught me everything he knew and gave me numerous opportunities to build myself as an individual. I have to say whatever I am today, whatever I have learnt and the skills I have acquired, this person deserves a standing ovation for creating a leader in me.

What is Daastan? Why did you name your journey as Daastan? What kind of people can join you?

Daastan is a literary forum working for the revival of literature in Pakistan. We are a for-profit legally registered company who is actively working in setting up revenue chains and sustainable systems through which writers can get their hands on thousands of opportunities which we have classified as learn, earn and compete.

Our core team comprises of Hafa Idrees and Tahniat Saba, both of whom are distinction holder literary graduates of their respective universities. We have about ten volunteers and two mentors and together we are unstoppable.

Currently, we have our ‘Freelance Writing Wing’ prototype working in which we have 18 writers who are being given access to daily freelance writing work and they are earning on average Rs. 5000 for working one to two hour daily excluding weekends.

Our team is working on getting more clients and securing more freelance writing work so we can engage more writers and help them earn a decent living by doing what they love i.e. writing.

We are looking for partnerships with software houses, established freelance writers and small business who could outsource their writing work to us which we can direct to the writers.

Secondly, we are also working on replicating Amazon’s model of Print-on-demand and assisting indie Pakistani authors get their work published within 10 to 25 Thousand Rupees. This would not only accelerate the number of books published per year by Pakistani authors but also help in preserving our culture, morals and values too as most of the books will revolve around the local plots and will discuss local issues which will help in advancement of literature.

Lastly, we have compiled a collection of more then 1000+ paid writing opportunities in which Pakistani writers can apply and not only build their portfolio but also win handsome prize money by competing in those competitions.

Our technical team is nowadays finalizing the mobile app through which we will be connecting readers with these indie writers. It will be sort of a subscription based service through which both readers and writers can connect with each other.

Our target areas are freelance writing and publishing for the time being.

We will however be venturing in to other domains like script writing, comics as well once we sustain the current models.

We named this venture ‘Daastan’ because it is a story, an epic tale of the hardships through which we have passed, a saga of our achievements and a legend led by a bunch of die-hard literary enthusiasts who took up the challenge of revamping the writing industry when one in two persons is illiterate in the country.

Five years down the lane, the world will remember us as the heroes who dedicated their lives to rebuild the lives of writers.

We recently completed our incubation in Plan9 where we not only received intensive mentoring but also the connections which helped us come this far and most importantly an identity in the budding entrepreneurial ecosystem of Pakistan. Currently, we are looking for key stake holders in writing industry of Pakistan to join us and support our cause. This includes literary organizations, NGOs, publishers, book store owners, govt. bodies working in this sector, established and eminent Pakistani authors primarily.

Furthermore, we are looking for enthusiastic literary geeks who have done extensive research on literature and are looking for a platform to execute their ideas. These people are indie writers, avid readers, bloggers or literary graduates. Our mission is to unite all key stake holders of Pakistani writing industry under one brand i.e. Daastan.

Do you think Pakistani writers have enough writing opportunities in the genres of Fiction and Nonfiction both to pursue writing as a career?

If we are talking about opportunities within Pakistan for Pakistani writers then my answer is NO! However, if are talking about global opportunities where a Pakistani writer can tap into, then YES, there are thousands of opportunities for them to learn, earn and compete.

Do you think Pakistani writers are skilled enough to compete in the international market, especially when we don’t have any Writing Training Programs in the country?

In my opinion, they are not skilled enough. What is needed at the moment is direction and success stories to generate the interest in this field. Our educational institutes need to ANALYZE the market trends and tweak their course outlines so the literary graduates get the skills which are in-demand in the local as well as global market. If we are to capture a chunk of the $109 million freelance writing and translation industry then we need the support of educational institutes, private companies and individual trainers to train our writers and equip them with the skills which are most in demand in the market.

What would you advise the emerging voices who want to be published but they don’t know how to access newspapers, magazines, journals, etc.?

In Pakistan, as per my experience the writers have to go through a lot of hardships to get themselves published. The financial constraints make it virtually impossible for writers to fulfill their dream of being called a ‘published author’. A lot of good quality literature is wasted just because of this.

My advice for these writers is to get in touch with us and share their problems and the knowledge they have so we can work out a sustainable chain through which any Pakistani writer can get published easily in a cost-effective manner.

Daastan shares lots of useful links, free of cost to generate awareness among the writers regarding this issue at hand. I request them to subscribe to our newsletter and follow our facebook page for more details.   

What made you so patriotic? Why do you want to rebuild Pakistan when majority of brains think of migrating abroad?

I want to rebuild Pakistan because I own it. This country has given me an identity, a name with which the world remembers me i.e. Pakistani. This land has given me so much that I couldn’t dream of, this is my home and nobody abandons their home, no matter how bad it is because at the end of the day it is YOUR HOME!

The reason for me for being so patriotic is because of the teachings of my school headmistress Madam Muneera who infused the love of homeland in me. I remember how she told us the stories of the great Muslim Rulers and Conquerors and how the world listened to what we had to say. She asked us to regain that glory. I don’t know why but I just felt that I have to do it. There was this line which just hit me very bad that was ‘There is no Salahuddin or Ghaznavi coming to lead you to glory. You have to do it yourself. I have faith in you!’

Do you think you are the true representative of the Pakistani Youth of Today? Why are youngsters more inclined towards entrepreneurship these days?

I do not claim to be a true representative rather I would say I am one of the hundreds of young leaders spread all across Pakistan trying to create a difference in our respective societies through our efforts. The youngsters ARE NOT inclined to entrepreneurship these days, the mindset of 9 to 5 life still prevails in them. However, with the positive efforts of govt. in establishing an entrepreneurial culture in Pakistan by launching initiatives like Plan9, PlanX and Tech Hub, the things are now gradually starting to change where we see young graduates starting their own ventures by forming small teams and leveraging each other’s skills to build products. Moreover, the launch of private incubators and co-working spaces has further facilitated in accelerating the trend. A very prime reason for our youth to go into entrepreneurship is the ‘saturation of job market’ and ‘lack of industries’.

What are the emerging businesses in Pakistan? What areas need entrepreneurial attention in the country?

Pakistan is a country with so many problems which translates in to massive opportunities for small businesses. Three business ideas which I personally think needs attention are establishments of online marketplaces to connect buyers with sellers, discovery platforms which could take all the offline small businesses online and users could search and call them to book orders etc. and lastly we need training or skill building startups who upon successful training connects a person with the industry. Or you may call it something like bridging the industry academia bridge.

What have been your challenges as a CEO of Daastan? What kind of response have you received so far from your family, friends and society? Where do you see yourself in another five years?

My biggest challenge to date was to establish a stable revenue chain for my startup to sustain it which Alhumdulilah after eight months of extreme struggle I have done it. Now, only the scaling part is left. Furthermore, I faced huge issues in conflicting ideologies and interests of the team members I hired when I was in Plan9. Wrong hiring and poor resource management were my biggest mistakes which I made and now I have learnt great lessons and we are doing perfectly fine now. Another challenge which I have to face is managing ‘Technical Side’ of Daastan. Recently, we have been hit by various hackers who have caused our website to malfunction. We are live again but this side has caused a lot of problems for me lately.

My family do not supports me at all. My father wants me to become a lecturer and live a peaceful life and pursue Daastan as a side business (if I want to). Talking about friends, few supported me some didn’t and overall society’s response was not that supportive. I faced A LOT to build this brand and take it to where it stand right now. The best thing which happened was that I got to know that who will stand by me when I needed help and who turned me down, who was just using me and who lied to me. It opened my eyes!

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