Anser Hussain Siddiqui started his first business in his early 20s, fresh out of a computer science degree. Following in his father’s footsteps, he set up a food processing and packaging startup in downtown Lahore, Pakistan.
Like most entrepreneurs, his first foray into business ended in failure. A keen technologist, food was more his father’s industry than his own and, out of pocket, Anser took up a job at a small tech startup. Over the next four-and-a-half years, that startup—named Rozee.pk—grew from four to 250 employees, transforming into one of the largest job sites in Pakistan.
Anser was inspired to pursue his passion again. He left Rozee.pk and developed, launched, and sold his own online property portal. This was the first of a string of business successes; online marketplaces, Pakistani equivalents to Craigslist, eBay, or Gumtree.
Almost a decade since leaving full-time employment, Anser’s eyes are now set firmly on his fifth startup idea—and this one is a little different.
For the first time, Anser is launching a business outside Pakistan. He’s just about to complete the full-time MBA at Lancaster University Management School in the UK—ranked fourth in the world for entrepreneurship by the Financial Times.
His business idea—OBI—is an online marketplace, shared and circular economy platform focused on hobbies and outdoor adventure activities. On OBI, users can buy and sell specialized equipment for activities like cycling, scuba diving, or paragliding. Anser plans to make money through advertising and by charging transaction fees.
Anser is running OBI out of Lancaster University Enterprise Center’s unique Disciplined Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program (LU DEAP). The only entrepreneur in the current MBA class, and with the Lake District—an adventure travel hotbed—on his doorstep, he says he’s gained the business network and local market knowledge he needs to make his business a success.
BusinessBecause caught up with Anser to find out more.
Where are you at right now with your business?
Everything is ready! The business plan is ready; the financial forecasting is done. I’m in an accelerator now and I’ve been connected with a few organizations which fund student startups. As soon as I have that funding—I hope by September or October—I’ll be going all out on this and developing my product.
The accelerator program at Lancaster University sponsors my visa for the next two years. Then there’s the exceptional talent visa which lets you stay in the UK for more than five years. There’s a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurs in the UK.
What makes OBI unique?
It’s not just another marketplace; it’s a totally unique platform tailor-made to address hobbyists’ complex needs and consumer journey effectively.
A standard consumer journey follows three steps: find something, acquire, and consume. But the consumer journey of a hobbyist is different. You need to learn about the hobby you’re doing; try it out and see if it’s for you; buy the equipment; get advice on buying the equipment; get trained to learn how to use the equipment, repair, and maintain it. And, during all of that, there’s a constant loop of consultation with experts and upgrade as your skill level increases. Obi is designed to integrate all of these elements in a seamless way.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I wanted a platform to develop my startup—to get the resources, network, and knowledge of the market I needed—and I felt that I could not find a better platform than an MBA to do that. This is my first product with international consumers and I felt an MBA would help switch my focus from local to international.
As a technologist working on a business, there’s always been a nagging doubt about whether I’m doing things right on the business and management side. I thought, why not address all these things by doing an MBA?
I came to the UK and I saw it was the best place to start this venture. I looked at top-ranked business schools like LBS and Warwick, but Lancaster also had a strong presence in Pakistan and came highly recommended.
Lancaster is also very near to the Lake District, a hub for outdoor activities. I got a very handsome scholarship here, but I got scholarships to other UK schools too—Lancaster was the best place for me to start and scale my business.
How has the Lancaster MBA supported you in starting your business?
The Lancaster MBA has given me a platform to start my business. Lancaster connected me to the accelerator program; they gave me the opportunity to go to France for an exchange program at EMLYON Business School totally dedicated to entrepreneurship; they connected me with Kevin Roberts—former Saatchi & Saatchi CEO—and he’s my mentor now.
Before the MBA—in strategy, operations, marketing, branding—I was doing everything ad hoc; I didn’t know there were frameworks I could use. I’ve now been trained to use those frameworks, on the hard and soft skills side.
Also, during my time here, I’ve learned that the UK is a society struggling with loneliness. From Pakistan, I was thinking I was just setting up an online adventure market platform, but learning about this issue has tilted my idea—it’s given it a social enterprise element. It’s given me a resolve that it will help, not only this society, but others as well.