Sunny Ali, Founder & CEO- Extreme Commerce, talks about making Pakistan the back-office hub of Pakistan.
Please tell us about your educational and professional background.
I graduated from Bahria University in the year 1998. Since then, I have been travelling around the world, working at multiple organizations, after which I established my business in Australia and Malaysia. I entered the ecommerce business domain in 2009 and it has been a decade since.
Why did you choose ecommerce as an industry?
I started an IT consultancy business setup that was recognized as the 20th fastest growing company in Australia, which got bankrupt when the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008. After the crisis and bankruptcy, I decided to get into an industry that was location independent, i.e. I wanted to live in an inexpensive land (Malaysia) and earn from a market that would give higher returns. In doing so I lost an additional $200,000 – $300,000 trying to build different online affiliate programs, blogs related to those programs and commission junctions. I would make and trade websites and explored all kinds of online businesses including the ecommerce business, which led to my decision to focus on my company, Extreme Commerce, because I saw its viability.
Please tell us about your company, Extreme Commerce.
I started Extreme Commerce in 2017 specifically for Pakistan. I knew that one could not open Amazon and PayPal accounts from Pakistan so I crafted ways and started teaching people those ways as I saw the potential in it to become huge. Nobody in Pakistan had the technical in-depth knowledge of the subject and if they did, they were not sharing it with other people. I initially conducted seminars on the topic globally and also went about delivering such seminars across Pakistan.
Through Extreme Commerce, we are trying to make Pakistanis proficient in Amazon-related skills as fast as we can, so in the coming years Pakistan leads the world.
What have your business challenges taught you?
I got bankrupt thrice; in the years 2008, 2011 and 2015 and I had to get back up and keep going. It was a tough situation where I had no financial backing or any alternative business options and a huge loan to pay off. I was in debt of millions of dollars but I had to survive through those debts. I cut down on my own expenses and even had to delay supplier payments and employee salaries. Yet I kept striving for the many responsibilities I had, such as my family, my employees, their families etc. So I had to get back up and I believe, this is what leaders do.
Can you tell us more about your vision to bring in USD 1 billion to Pakistan through ecommerce?
I set a goal for 2020 to bring in USD 1 billion to the Pakistani economy through ecommerce. I believe that if 10,000 sellers from Pakistan are able to sell USD 10,000 worth of goods, we will be looking at adding a billion dollars to our economy.
Honestly, it does seem to be a far-fetched idea to achieve in 2020 but Pakistani traders may already have generated an economic activity of around USD 300 million – the figure is not exact and it may take another 2 to 3 years to get to the billion-dollar mark. Because it is not possible to create Amazon and PayPal accounts from Pakistan, Pakistani sellers have created their accounts from different countries and so they pay taxes there. This is what makes it difficult to document and calculate the exact amount of revenue generated through ecommerce activities by Pakistani exporters trading in other countries.
What other challenges are hindering your proposed process of stirring the USD 1 billion economic activity from Pakistan?
The first and foremost challenge is that one cannot open an Amazon or PayPal account officially in Pakistan. We have invented many techniques to enable Pakistanis to operate their businesses on these platforms but it is difficult to bring the generated revenues back to the country. We want to land this money in the Pakistani banking system and make the state richer but our banking system and our state policies are not very effective for such businesses as of now. We love Pakistan and are hoping that the government will work towards creating such policies that will allow the state economy to prosper.
The second notifiable challenge is the 17% GST rebate mechanics, which has resulted in Pakistani exporters moving their manufacturing from Pakistan to China. The cost of the products significantly increases when a 17% GST is applied on it which makes it impossible for us to compete on a global scale. The policymakers have to understand that exported products are not sold yet; exporting simply means that the products move to our warehouses in the USA or our rented spaces at Amazon’s warehouse and the traders have not sold it yet to the final costumers or made any money on it.
How can we remove the barrier that keeps Pakistani sellers from selling their products through Amazon?
The problem is not selling Pakistani products, but to create an official sellers account from Pakistan on a Pakistani residential or commercial address. This is what Amazon does not permit for Pakistan even though there are more than a hundred countries which fall under their authorized country list for seller account creation.
The solution to this is requesting and proposing to Amazon so they allow Pakistanis to sell again. We are already working on the proposal, providing assurances of our improved standards and better understanding of international ecommerce businesses. We are also in talks with the Pakistani government regarding this.
Because it is not possible to create Amazon and PAY PAL accounts from Pakistan, Pakistani sellers have created their accounts from different countries and they pay taxes there.
How do you intend on making Pakistan the hub of international ecommerce?
We are playing our part in making Pakistan a sort of a back-office hub of ecommerce. This, by the way is happening at a very fast pace; if one goes to freelancing portals like Upwork.com, Guru.com, Fiverr.com etc. there are many Pakistanis who are taking up projects and amongst other work that they do there, they are delivering Amazon-related back-end services as well as providing similar support for other international ecommerce websites.
On such freelancing portals, one can sell any work or skill but the expertise required for Amazon-related services are hardcore moneymaking and difficult skills yet to be discovered by rest of the world. For the past three years, I have focused on and pushed for this project and it has finally started to bear results. Through Extreme Commerce, we are trying to make Pakistanis proficient with regard to these skills as fast as we can, so in the coming years Pakistan leads the world, which is yet to realize the worth of such skills.
The courses offering these skills are worth around USD 1000 to USD 5000 by specialists, while we offer them for almost free. We have provided trainings to more than 5000 students and they now continue to offer their services to international clients on these freelancing portals.
Why do you focus on building business on Amazon?
The market size of Pakistani ecommerce businesses is worth approximately USD 1 billion while the USA ecommerce market values around USD 550 billion per annum with Europe also being a huge market. Now it is up to the individual to choose whichever market to establish their business in. My advice, however, is to operate in a bigger market as that increases their chances of success and the returns are much more than that of the local market.
Hence, my recommendation is to build businesses on Amazon based on the market size. For instance, in USA Amazon caters to 57% of the entire market. In comparison, Google and Facebook provide for 20%, while eBay and Walmart have a market size of 7.5% and 3.5%, respectively.
What does your platform offer to someone who wants to establish an ecommerce business?
When it comes to international ecommerce, we are the only specialists. We deal with global platforms – Amazon and the likes – and anybody willing to learn and establish an ecommerce asset may join our Facebook group, www.facebook.com/extremecommerce, and follow us on YouTube, www.youtube.com/c/extremecommerce, where they can learn about investments, setting realistic financial goals and strategies to achieve them.
The cost of export products significantly increases when a 17% GST is applied on them which makes it impossible for us to compete on a global scale.
What do you think about our current education system?
Our education system is based on old principles where students are trained to think that getting a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree followed by a PHD is a right off path to getting jobs and good money. I believe that institutes should provide proper counselling to students to give them a career-wise direction, while teaching them wealth-creation strategies and financial management skills. Embedding this in our education system will bear positive results.
What do you believe will help the youth in building their businesses?
Establishing a business requires setting realistic goals and investing time, knowledge and skills into it. Our youth is, however, rushing towards instant gratification and fancy the online world as they think it can offer them quick money. In my opinion, they lack patience and thus, set unrealistic goals of becoming millionaires overnight. For example, if one is unable to get a job worth PKR 25,000-35,000 and all of a sudden they start making more than PKR 100,000, they immediately start talking about PKR 500,000 – PKR 600,000 the next day. Businesses anywhere in the world require time, patience and dedication to build and there are no shortcuts.
I teach my students to be amongst the Sabireen [patient], Shakireen [grateful] and Qan’aat pasand [self-effacing], and this is my basic criteria to take them in the program. I believe incorporating these three things helps sort ones professional as well as personal life.
Last but not the least, I would strongly recommend working with mentors as it increases chances of success manifold. That is where I feel I made a mistake; if I had chosen a mentor who I could have spent any time with, it would have saved me from the three bankruptcies, allowing me to put the previous twelve years to better use.