Pakistan – a country renowned for producing literary gems like Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, has been in a constant decline for the past three decades.
We have seen bookshops being shut down, writers doing menial jobs to survive and publishers closing down their operations. It has been a nightmare and with roughly 50% literacy rate of a country of 20 crore citizens, there seemed to be no future.
Year 2013: It was just an ordinary day when a young lad from a small town walked out of his engineering class where he met his friend who informed him that he was going to publish a poetry book. That’s how it all began.
This lad thought that why couldn’t he write a book when his friend could? After all, he was the descendant of a family of a literary lineage. How hard could it possibly be? Little did he know what was going around in the Pakistan’s literary space. Regardless, he started writing his book.
Year 2014: This was the final year of his university; he had completed the manuscript by then. He started looking for publishers, book agents or anyone who could publish his action thriller novel but found none.
Dejected, he almost gave up when he met a girl who self-published her novel through Amazon. They founded a platform where they could assist Pakistani authors in publishing their work on Amazon.
It failed to publish a single author. His cofounder went to Germany for Master’s program. He, however, gave it another shot. He got selected for one of the Pakistan’s biggest technology incubation program Plan9 which was working under supervision of Punjab Government. He left his engineering degree in his final year and the final semester to chase his dream. “Daastan – A literary forum” was born.
Year 2015: He made a new team, worked for six months in a city away from his home, camped in his office, burnt the midnight oil, pivoted the idea to freelance marketplace and failed again. The only client he got took a refund and the offline event he organized gave him a loss of 40,000 PKR. He came back home, broke and buried in debts.
His personal life was a mess. He got into depression because of the constant pressure from society about how he had messed up his life.
He dissolved the team and rejoined university to complete his degree. However, he got a client who gave him regular freelance work.
Year 2016: He wrote articles to pay off the debts. He made a new team of freelance writers, slowly scaled it from 3 to 73 writers in 6 months which went on to generate revenue of 14,000 USD in a year. They used the profits to hire a developer who built a prototype of their product.
Qissa – Pakistan’s first self-publishing platform.
They organized a story writing competition, The Stories Untold, which clicked. The finalists were published digitally on Qissa (www.meraqissa.com). By then, they had competed in around a dozen competitions and lost every single one of them due to one reason or another. But the good thing was that people started talking about them. The stories they published made the authors become stars overnight.
There was no looking back.
A few months later, The United Nations Institute of Peace gave them 2500 USD to organize another edition of the competition which was conducted on the South Asian level, the finalists were published in Print and cash prizes were distributed. They experimented with “crowd funding the publishing costs” through pre-orders which went viral again.
A ‘Literary Fellowship’ was a program where the authors were inducted, trained and provided a platform to publish their work. Later that year, Telenor Pakistan accepted them for an acceleration program named Telenor Velocity.
Year 2017: Total publications on site were about to hit 100. They got over 50 press mentions in the first half of the year. Qissa was upgraded to support Urdu language and an online editor was introduced. Telenor provided SMS marketing campaigns and connected them with Haroon – a music legend who founded a production company named Unicorn Black.
Meanwhile, NEO TV’s reality show named ‘Idea Croron Ka’ invited them to pitch in and finally, after three years, they got their lucky break. Chairman of Board of Investment, Pakistan did a pre-seed 25,000 USD angel investment in their company.
The company is now worth almost 200,000 USD and just a week back their first ever script writing of animated TV series project was aired on television. The South Asian Triple Helix International Foundation awarded them with SATHA Award for Social Impact.
Their platform now has 2500+ authors, out which 135 published their work in 13 genres. The published content has been read over 50,000 times with an average reading time of five minutes. Two days ago three of their INDIE authors won NaNoWriMo 2017 – an international award. Never before has any company made this huge impact in the history of Pakistan! These guys were indeed revamping the very foundations of Pakistan’s literary industry!
Now, almost everyone in Pakistan knows that if they want to get published then Daastan is the place to go. Their team empowered authors from the remotest areas to use their platform and fulfill their dreams of getting published.
Team Daastan plans to use this investment to accelerate content growth and improve their technology. Their story proves that if you just stick to your cause long enough, magic will happen! Hard times will come, you will hit the lowest point of your life but what kept them going was one thing: determination.
How determined are you? How badly do you want your dreams to come true? What are you willing to risk? The answer lies within you.
The author is a core team member of Daastan.
Author Saniya Vardak
Translated by Triin Tikk
Edited by Kärt Mättikas