The following article was written by Akshay Sthapit, co-founder of Harilo.com, and was in the Kathmandu Post as a special for New Years. He makes some excellent points about not only starting up a business in Nepal but also calls out some very simple changes that Nepal could make to really invigorate new business and and investment in Nepal.
It's been an interesting journey, the last five months, which is how long it took Harilo.com to go from concept to launch to steady operation. While it's not the first company that I have started, this was my first in Nepal, and I have learnt a lot of lessons unique to Nepal. Some of the many lessons I learnt along the way might be useful for other Nepalis looking to start their own companies. It could also help convince many young and talented Nepalis who are either abroad or thinking of going abroad that opportunities do exist in Nepal—in the long run you will be better off developing a technology-based business in countries like Nepal where the cost of living to quality of life ratio is low rather than moving to a developed country and spending all your capital on rent and other living expenses. So start a company in Nepal, not just because it's your country and it's patriotic to create jobs and keep talent in the country, but because it makes business sense—there are a lot of problems in search of solutions in Nepal with potentially large payouts and it's a great place to be in startup mode to develop products for other countries as well.
The good news is that, from a purely technological perspective, it's easier than ever to create products that can scale. Advances in cloud computing mean that you can develop massive applications with nothing more than a laptop and if business picks up, you can add resources on a need-to basis. No longer do companies with deep pockets have an advantage just because they can afford more servers and bandwidth. Internet speeds in Nepal, although not nearly as fast or as reliable as I would like, are getting better and it's finally possible to hold video conferences with our warehouse in Florida and use screen sharing to collaborate remotely with partners abroad. And I am happy to see that labs and student groups in Nepal are using Harilo.com to order hard-to-find items to move their projects along so they are no longer constrained by what is available in the local market.
The bad news is that it's tough to live in Kathmandu and it's even harder to start and run a business. Our "Ease of Doing Business" rank (out of 183 economies) is 116 on doingbusiness.org. Public transportation is horrendous. The IT park in Banepa is a great idea but I avoid driving as much as possible in Kathmandu so I would definitely not want to commute three hours to work every day. Internet connectivity is spotty—the frequent downtimes and unreliable speeds is every tech entrepreneur's nightmare. I don't need Kathmandu to be Silicon Valley but electricity and reliable Internet would be nice—it's difficult to do product development and also worry about power at the same time.
Beyond the basic necessities, we need to make it more attractive for young people to start businesses in Nepal. A common perception is that you need to be "connected" to do anything in Nepal and that needs to change. Make it easier for newcomers like myself, without a lot of connections, to register a company. Make it possible to register a dot com in Nepal. No, I don't want to be Harilo Trading as the company registrar kept insisting—this is 2011 and I want to be Harilo.com (in the end I had to settle with Harilo Dot Com Pvt. Ltd.). No, I don't want to pay a bribe to register my company faster—please do your job and let us do ours.
A big issue currently holding back a dynamic entrepreneurial culture from growing is our arcane visa rules. Let's face it—Kathmandu is a difficult city to live in for locals, let alone for people who've never heard of load shedding or dealt with water shortages. While I understand that the purpose of restricting foreigners from working in Nepal is to stop them from stealing Nepali jobs, it's an immeasurably myopic policy that helps no one and needs to change. If we make it hard for talented outsiders to work here they will simply leave as I see dozens doing every year. It's the same reason I don't go to the coffee shop across our office in Kantipath. For too many would-be Nepal-based entrepreneurs, starting a business or joining a tech company in Nepal is like crossing a dusty and congested four-lane street to get a cup of coffee—it's not worth the trouble, especially considering the coffee isn't that great. Make it easier for talented foreigners to work in Nepal without forcing them to get fake student visas—we'll get so much more in return in terms of outside perspectives, introduction to cutting-edge technologies, and knowledge transfers.
A lot of our best and brightest are outside Nepal, innovating and starting companies and helping the economies of already-rich countries. Many young Nepalis I talk to seem to be on standby, waiting to leave when they can. Fortunately what a lot of young Nepalis want is what most young people want anywhere else in the world—a cool place to work with potential for advancement—and creative startups can provide that. It's the same reason a lot of young techies are leaving Google in droves to work for Facebook for lower pay—Facebook is currently the "cool" place to work where a lot of innovation is going on. I'll work at a fun startup with no dress code and a couch in the office over a stiff office job with higher pay any day.
So this is a call to arms for all you innovators in Nepal to take over and overcome the red tape and inefficiencies and make your own solutions. There are so many products and services missing in Nepal that are just waiting for the right entrepreneur or team to come along and develop them and build successful companies. I for one would love a taxi service that uses meters without overcharging, or a phone book or online directory to find people and places, or an ambulance service with proper equipment, or a street address solution, or more libraries—the list is endless. The response to Harilo has exceeded my expectations so far and in the meantime I have already started dreaming of other fun products and services—there's just so much that hasn't been done in Nepal, yet.
Originally posted HERE at eKantipur.com