Patari’s Inflection Point

Khalid Bajwa was involved in sexual harassment cases brought public by a couple of women via Twitter last week. I wrote how I felt personally about the issue on Thursday. A few of you replied back and suggested that his actions are best classified as flirting. And not necessarily harassing. And that WhatsApp screenshots, which can be cropped to make your case better, does not prove anything. While that’s definitely true. I don’t think what he was trying to do was flirting. Flirting does not make the other person uncomfortable even if he/she started it. Clearly, that wasn’t the case here. Women involved were uncomfortable. They were trying to avoid the discussion Bajwa was forcing them into.

I didn’t say anything about what this means for Patari. For one I was already done writing for the week. And I was late so didn’t want to delay any further. Plus, the news was fresh. I normally take some time to form my opinions. And perhaps most importantly I was angry. Not a good emotion to have when you are trying to write something. Patari is probably the best thing to come out of Pakistan’s tech ecosystem in recent years. They built a great product and there is a vibe to its existence that made me optimistic about its long-term future. And no matter what you think of Bajwa after these cases, whatever Patari is today, it’s a representation of him in many ways. That’s not to defend him. Rather point out how insincere and dreadful his actions were.

When you had created something so amazing, you owe a certain responsibility to it. A responsibility not to mess it up unintentionally. And Bajwa showed utter carelessness to the trust that people bestowed upon him by helping Patari become what it is today. That includes Patari’s user base, artists and most importantly people working inside the company. I wrote in Patari’s bull case why I am optimistic about company’s long-term future:

Last week’s update made me think about Patari’s long-term future. I was bullish on their success last year when I wrote Tabeer, Fanoos and Patari’s Opportunity. But after understanding the challenges they are up against I started to question my assumptions. If record labels are so well positioned than how they are going to make it? I think I will stick to my guns for now. I believe Patari can change the incentives game around. There are a few things, albeit abstract, that are in their favor especially on a 2-3 year time horizon:

1. They have solid traction and are connected to their community (artists + listeners) in a way that most startups from our country are not.

2. They don’t have serious competition in sight. I don’t know of any music streaming service that is challenging them in a meaningful way. Though there are no substantial early mover advantages in music streaming business. The window they have right now is nothing but gold to build a great customer experience and create some kind of lock-in.

3. If anything Internet is going to be more pervasive in coming years. And Patari is all record labels have to reach this new target audience. A scary proposition for any content producer. Despite the incentives being hugely in their favor right now, record labels are too dumb to understand this. And too lazy to build or help build an alternate.

What Patari has is nothing substantial as of now. At least not in financial terms. What it had was the trust. A belief that it’s doing something amazing. And in the process is helping revive the music industry of Pakistan. Nothing hurt that trust more than reports from last week. You lost your community’s sentiments. And in a way that’s all you had. With that said I don’t think all is lost. Kudos to the board and rest of the team for stepping in quickly. As you probably know Bajwa is out. And Ahmed Naqvi is now the interim CEO. They did the right thing. But a lot more needs to be done. Those twitter jokes will be weird for now. And it will be a hard time for the team to change and instill new spirit into the company’s culture.

But it might just be what the young startup needs right now.