Professional writing is a profession that sadly, has gone unexplored in Pakistan despite the presence of talented writers. But one enthusiast realized the need to revamp the writing industry in Pakistan and is working on providing our local writers with opportunities which can help them thrive.
Startup.pk had a meeting with Syed Ommer Amer, who gave us a little insight about his successful venture, Daastan.
Q. Hi Ommer, please tell us about your startup Daastan.
A. Daastan is a for-profit legally registered company which is actively working to set up revenue chains and sustainable systems through which writers can earn.
So basically we have a group of writers from different backgrounds like medicine, engineering, business and literature graduates who take up projects of their interests and deliver the work in the given deadline and then get paid for it. Apart from this we also have a core team consisting of ten members who cater to our regular customers or urgent projects, they also ensure quality control.
Our Qissa Self publishing wing is busy bringing new writers on board and publishing their untold stories.
So far we have published two novels and the team is working on the third one.
Q. Why did you think investing both your time and money on Daastan was a good idea?
A. Before answering that question, let me tell you what was happening in my life at that time when Daastan was founded. I was not allowed to sit in the last paper of final semester exam and therefore dreaming about graduating and getting a job was out of question. I resigned as Managing Director from an NGO named Revolution Flame to seek better opportunities. Being the eldest in my family, it was expected of me to support my family financially. My father is a govt. servant who will be retiring in few years and by then I had to stand on my own feet.
I was writing a novel by then and with support from Hafsa and Tahniat, my very close friends, we launched a platform to enable Pakistani writers to get self-published. The idea was selected for Plan9 incubation 5th Cycle. In Jan’16 we re-branded to Daastan and focused ourselves to build a freelance marketplace for Pakistani writers.
Entrepreneurship was my last resort. I burnt all bridges and focused solely on that one thing I was exceptionally good at; creative writing.
Building Daastan was like a do and die situation for me. It is said that entrepreneur is a person who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on his way down. I was kind of doing the same! In fact, I still am!
Q.How do you operate your freelance wing?
A. After my startups incubation in Plan9, I made a lot of useful connections which has helped me score more work for my freelance writers. After the client contacts me, the work is posted on our Facebook page with all the project details and deadline. The writers comment on the Facebook post, who ever comments first gets the job. I then have a one on one interaction with the writer and explain them the work further in detail and we sort out if there are any queries. Right now we are doing things via our Facebook page but our web portal will be up and functioning from 14th August, 2016.
Q. What are the criteria of induction of new writers in Daastan?
A. Then their skills are analysed through test essays and samples. When a writer has been inducted in the team, their work is judged thoroughly. If they fail to abide by the rules, they are exiled from the team.
We usually induct writers on the basis of reference by writers who are already a part of Daastan.
Q. This is not a scalable model. How do you plan to handle the requests of 10,000 writers assuming you go viral overnight?
Q. Why do you think it is important to revive literature in Pakistan, how will it help the youth and society at large?
A. I have my ideology behind it. We are well aware of the ‘social taboos’ of our society and interestingly nobody talks about them. I wanted to create a platform where we can invite writers and in particular indie writers to express their views. My objective with the Qissa Self publishing wing is to feature stories worth telling so they can create a social impact on our society. I believe literature has the power to reform the mindset of society, melt their hearts and change their thinking.
Our young writers are constantly told that there is no future of literature in Pakistan; they should choose something more “practical” for their career, but I don’t believe this. .
I dream of empowering the ‘people who write’. I dream of giving their voice a platform where it is taken seriously. I want the world to acknowledge our country as the ‘land of thinkers and intellectuals’ rather than battleground of terrorism. This is only possible if we can create a movement and generate enough stories to prove our strength.
Q. Finances are something most of the young entrepreneurs struggle with. Where did you get the money from to make your dreams come to life?
A. I didn’t get my money from anywhere, I earned it. Nobody believes me but I went to Plan9 with only 10,000Rs, a brilliant idea and bursting with passion and energy.I had earned these 10,000Rs by doing an internship. I did not take any financial help from my family or loan from the bank. My friends have been very supportive through out the process, each one of them helped me move forward by contributing in different ways. After my freelance wing came into action, our finances stabilized.
Q. How do you pursue your clients, do you work with international clients as well?
A. Initially, my clients came from personal connections; my friends referred them to me. But later on we exhibited a lot; this was the key to our growth. We exhibited twice on PlanX demo day, after that we went to startup expo and presented there as well. The Acumen fellowship, Pehsawer art tech festival, and conducting seminars in Universities, we have been promoting Daastan to the best of our abilities and to as many places as we can reach. Yes, we do have international clients and we are also in process of partnering with one of them.
Q. What is the revenue channel of Daastan?
A. We have two major revenue streams. First one is the freelance wing, where we reserve small commission per project and we also charge a nominal withdrawal fee from writers.
Q. How is Daastan different from other freelance writing places?
Q. What do you do when a client rejects the work done by your writers?
A. Our policy involves revision. If the client is not satisfied with the work, they can get it revised from the writer three times and request for whatever changes they want. We do not accept plagiarized work.
Q. As an aspiring leader working for the interest of our local writers, what message would you like to send them?
A. “Never ever stop believing in your dreams”