PlanX startup, ClubInternet was recently invited by Facebook for the F8 Developers Conference. While Sophiya Pervez was part of a panel discussion on digital literacy, Co-founder Hassan Baig joined Mark Zuckerberg and 14 other individuals from Amazon, Internet.org, Tesla etc for a closed door meeting to discuss piloting on experimental technology for the unconnected. Our Business Development associate, Faryal Asghar sat down for a tete- a tete with Hassan to speak about his experience at the Conference.

 1.       How was your experience at the Facebook HQ?

Our relationship with Facebook goes back years now being a product partner of theirs and collaborating on piloting experimental technology for the unconnected. We were invited to attend Facebook’s F8 conference and meet their key leadership against this backdrop. The experience was diverse and highly productive. We got to see what Facebook is focusing on – especially regionally and with respect to the next billion domain. We also had direct, face-to-face meetings with some of their sharpest minds: Mark Zuckerberg, Ime Archibong (leading global partnerships at Facebook), Andrew Bocking (ex-BlackBerry BBM head, leading internet.org) and Tzvika Barenholz (leading Free Basics).

It was insightful to hear Mark talk about his passion for finding a scalable solution to get everyone online within our lifetimes, Ime describe his experiences of studying offline populations around the world, Andrew discuss ideas on a multi-pronged strategy to onboard users onto the Internet, and Tzavika share insights into the evolution of Free Basics. These gentlemen also benefited from our findings as we had a first-person view of the ground zero that we could share.

2.       How did Mark envisage a collaboration with ClubInternet?

This was a very big opportunity for our company. Facebook is very partnership driven with a highly inquisitive approach towards novel technology that’s proven to work. We identified various ways for us to collaborate with Mark and his team. At this point in time, we’re the largest internet.org partner worldwide (vis-a-vis their Free Basics platform), and we’re frequently presented as a model for their upcoming partners.

Most important thing for Mark with regards to getting people online is what he sees as the “awareness” and the “user capability” challenges i.e. how to bring people onto the Internet once they already have affordable smart devices, internet coverage and cheap data bundles. We’re a great fit because that’s precisely what we do – i.e. we’ve developed scalable, intelligent technology that assists first-time users onboard the Internet automatically, hence leapfrogging the pangs of initiation and literacy.

3.       What does this collaboration mean for Pakistan and what were the spirits of Facebook regarding Pakistan?

The fact that our company has done so well in the Connectivity domain is one they are aware of. The fact that they would choose a Pakistani, not an Indian or African, to come and meet their tech leaders explains a lot.  We’ve personally helped Facebook realize that our ground is ripe for deeper collaboration. It’s no coincidence that Pakistan has seen a flurry of activity from Facebook’s movers and shakers in the recent months. So far, they’ve seen how serious we are in what we do, how superior our work is, and how smart our people are. This is an opening that we can exploit. I think the government has a role to play here too; in fact I have some pretty good ideas or feedback – policy wise – that Pakistan can implement from here on out to cement its position as an emerging destination for tech giants like Facebook. We can realistically give our competition a run for their money.

4.       Is there an area that you think ClubInternet could tap, that Facebook isn’t thinking about?

Facebook’s approach to Connectivity is tantamount to doing it the hard way. Getting people online can be a much more organic, seamless process woven into the very fabric of our digitalscape. Facebook’s approach thus far has been quite linear, without any sliver of ‘exponentialism’. We already have plans in motion to fill this gap.