TechHub Talks: In Conversation with Humayun Haroon


By Tazmeen Abdul Jabbar (Techhub Fellow)

TechHub Connect has been around for a relatively small period of time (two and a half years). But it has already made a significant mark on the national front by hosting more than 500 top-rated freelancers of the country, some of whom have gone on to achieve even greater heights as freelancers as well as entrepreneurs. We, therefore, thought that it would be a good idea to look at what our alumni are up to these days, and share their stories with the rest of the world through a series of blogs and interviews.

To kick-off this series, our team met with Tech-Hub’s star-alumni from the first cohort, who is also the co-founder of Patari, Hu

mayun Haroon, to showcase his journey and gain insight regarding the essentials that one may need to make it big in the freelancing industry and beyond. We loved talking to him so much that we feigned a technical glitch in the recording and made him wear the same shirt again to re-record the interview. Being a thorough gentleman that he is, he artfully obliged (though the nutella cheesecake that we offered as a bribe may have also had something to do with it!)

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Humayun is one of those rather fortunate people, who were introduced to the idea of freelancing at a very early stage in his student life. In his first year at GIKI, a senior of his, Khalid Bajwa (who is coincidentally also a co-founder at Patari) was actively freelancing and introduced him to this possible career path. Humayun, however, never freelanced as a student. He started iOS development and took up one of the multiple job offers he got after graduating.

Being the multi-tasker that he is, Humayun started freelancing simultaneously with his job. However, due to the time constraints, he could only pick small and simple projects. He rarely had time for anything else; at times, not even food (we can so relate to that!). He was always leaning towards the idea of quitting his job and taking up freelancing as a full-time occupation but the security of a job and fixed salary were hard to let go of. As luck would have it, however, the decision was made for him when he had an accident and was bedridden for approximately a year. It took a broken leg to make him realize that he should let go of his job and take up freelancing full-time. And as they say, the rest is history!

Humayun is now established as one of the few very highly acclaimed iOS developers in Pakistan as well as a successful entrepreneur. Here is what he had to say during the interview.

Back when you were in university, how many people were aware of freelancing as a possible career path?

Back then, not a lot of people knew about freelancing. Khalid too, accidentally came across this website oDesk and started working. At first, everyone thought it was a scam until he had real money coming in which was a surprise. A noble thing that he did was that he started giving workshops to introduce people to freelancing back in 2009. He gave talks in NUST and Fast apart from conducting workshops in GIKI. Despite that, however, not a lot of people were aware of what freelancing was.

Did you have a career path planned out for you from an early age, or did you just go with the flow?

When I was in my final year, I started thinking that there should be at least one technology I should specialize in; so that I am able to enter the industry and work right away. I knew I didn’t want to do web development, so I chose mobile development; iOS to be specific.

Did you consider taking up freelancing as a full time profession once you graduated out of college?      

Khalid suggested that I should go straight into freelancing. But as you know, there is a lot of pressure on fresh graduates to get jobs the moment they graduate. Because of the fear of not being established fast enough, I took up one of the job offers that I got as a mobile developer in a software house.

What aspects of freelancing fascinated you more than a regular job?

Freelancing pays better than orthodox jobs do. After the first six months of freelancing, I was able to afford a new car. There is freedom to work wherever and whenever you want to. The variety of projects and task you get to do are a lot more diverse and interesting.

Why not take both your job and freelancing hand in hand?

While I did freelance for a couple of hours every day after work, it left me very exhausted and my routine became very tiring. When you are working, there is a set pattern to your everyday life: you wake up early, go to the office, get back home around 7-8 pm. By then you are too tired to do anything other than having your dinner and going to sleep. So this leaves very little time and energy for you to take up big freelancing projects on the side; that’s why I could only bid for really small projects which would take an hour or two of my time every day.

Were you tempted to give up your job for freelancing?

See, when you have a steady job and there is a certain fixed amount of income coming in every month, it gives you a sense of security; it may be a false sense of security but there is no denying that it exists. I could never find the right time to finally make the transition that I wanted to even though my job got monotonous for me after I’d learnt from it all that I possibly could.

However, as it so happened, the decision was made easier for me after I got into an accident and broke my leg. Stuck at home for almost a year, I started freelancing full time. By the time my leg was fixed, I had saved enough money to buy a new car and had also made up my mind that I will not be going back to my job.

You were freelancing before joining our co-working space, what change did joining TechHub bring?

I was in TechHub the whole year from 2014 to 2015. While freelancing at home was kind of exciting in the beginning – enjoying the freedom; waking up and sleeping whenever I wanted to – the fact is, you’re not meeting people and socializing. When my friends used to come over, they had routines around which their days revolved. That sense of responsibility and vitality you get by being part of a bigger social community was something that I lacked working from home.

After joining TechHub I had a work routine that really helped me. I got to make friends and network with people who were doing similar kinds of jobs and working on similar technologies. So now that I was a part of a co-working space, I had motivation to wake up in the morning, come to TechHub, meet and interact with my friends and share knowledge and learn.

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How vital do you think co-working spaces are for freelancers?

I think they are extremely important and are essential for a sense of community development. One of the many benefits that I had from being a part of TechHub was to bid for larger projects and work with people from other technology platforms. For instance, when a customer would ask me that they wanted both an iOS and android applications developed, I would know a number of developers with potential who were working alongside me at TechHub. I was able to ask around if anyone was interested in teaming up and, as a result, was able to bid for larger projects.

How did people in your social circle initially respond to the fact that you didn’t hold a conventional 9-5 job?

The thing is when you have money coming in, people will take you seriously. And even though I was sitting at home, I was earning a handsome amount. Consequently, people would realize that he is doing something worthwhile. So that hasn’t been a problem in my experience.

What are some difficulties that you faced as a beginner?

I’ve seen a lot of people give up freelancing because they are demoralized in the initial phases of the process. However, in my own experience, I had to apply for almost 60 days continuously before I got my first assignment. So that is two months of non-stop applying and that is when I landed my first client. I guess the key is to stay consistent and approach freelancing like you would approach a conventional job.

What are some of the mistakes that freelancers commonly make?

A culture has developed within countries such as Pakistan, India, and Indonesia, where in order to get more work, clients undersell themselves. , when underselling yourself, there is very little incentive for you to perform well and loyally deliver to the client.

On the other hand, the community gets hurt as well, as the clients are inclined to save money and opt for cheaper developers. In most cases, they get burned because of poor quality of the product and thisleads to a negative perception of these countries within the freelancing network and hurts the community as a whole.

As you said yourself, it is hard to get your first few jobs online. So, did you ever undersell your work in order to attract more clients?

Initially, I sold my services at a slightly cheaper rate. However, my second project onwards, I started charging the appropriate amount. I saw so many people working around me who sold their work for around 15 to 20 dollars per hour when their work quality was such that they could have gone up to 50 to 60 dollars. As they gain experience, it makes no sense for sellers to cheapen their prices.

What role does luck play in a freelancer’s success?

If luck played a role at all, it would have been a very limited number of times. But then that amount of luck is present everywhere even in a conventional work setup; the kind of jobs you apply to and the kind of vacancies you come across. Freelancing is no different. There is, however, definite merit and value for skill. If you are skilled, you will make it big. However, it isn’t just about your skill in the kind of development you do. Other skills such as how well you communicate and sell yourself are also essential. For instance, freelancing is something that is entirely conditional on how well your profile reflects you and your constructive work skills.

As you’ve stated that having a very strong skill set is necessary for freelancers, how do you suggest freelancers should polish their skill?

You have to experiment and find out what works for you. You can take courses, watch tutorials; for me what works is reading books. However, these things will only take you so far. To genuinely hone your skills, you need to get hands-on experience which I got from my Final Year Project and my jobs. What needs to be really clear to freelancers is, that while in a conventional job you are paid to initially sit and learn something, as a freelancer, you have to invest your own resources (time and money). If you don’t believe you are that self-motivated, it would suit you better to take up a job for around six months and polish your skills before working as a full-time freelancer.

What are some things that you believe freelancers absolutely need to know?

I had a rule which I thankfully didn’t really need to apply, but when I started freelancing, this was something that I decided for myself. I was convinced that if I got anything less than a 5star review from my buyers, I would ask them for the reason of their discontentment and try to fix it. If I was unable to do so, I would refund their money in an effort to rid myself of the bad review. A freelancer should always remember that everything is based on their determination and the quality of their work. Don’t try to cheat a client. You might succeed at it once, or twice, but it is not a practice that can prevail and all you’re doing is giving yourself and your community a bad name.

Enough about Freelancing then. Tell us a bit about Patari.

Well, Patari is doing really great. It has been around 9 months since we launched and we already have some 80 thousand active users on our platforms. We also paid Rs. 1.25 million in royalties to the artists during the last quarter, which is unprecedented in a country like Pakistan. We also won the Start-up Cup Pakistan and also were declared 2nd in the World Start-up Cup where best start-ups from across the world participated. So, yes, Patari is doing really good.

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And how did freelancing help in your transition to running a start-up (we just can’t get enough of freelancing!)?

The thing with start-ups is that for a significant amount of time (sometimes more than 2-3 years), you need to dump money into this venture which has a considerable chance of failing. And all this time, you have to sustain yourself and sometimes even families. So freelancing played a crucial role in keeping us afloat. Like I said, my co-founder Khalid also freelanced on the side. So during the last couple of years, we have been freelancing on the sides and that has helped us successfully dedicate our time and energy to Patari.

So, a successful freelancing career and a successful start-up in the bag, what does the future hold for Humayun Haroon?

So, an ideal future would be that Patari starts earning a lot of money and I just sit at home and sip Pina Coladas. But more realistically, the path that I see for myself is that Patari becomes a self-sustaining business which allows me to limit my role here.

As far as free lancing is concerned I’ve always had a lot of fun developing; I love what I do. I sometimes discuss this with Khalid as well that what is our future in freelancing. And he makes a valid point that we are in an unchartered territory; we don’t know of Pakistani freelancers who have been freelancing for 30-40 years. We are the trail-blazers who are probably setting the path for the rest to follow. So, yeah! I would keep learning new technologies, freelancing on the side and maybe do another venture in the future.

We certainly wish Humayun the very best of luck for his future endeavours and we are sure that he will be a rockstar no matter what he does!

Edited by Content team TechHub Connect

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