Ecosystem can’t grow without programmer!
Azadi Street, the main entrance of Sharif industrial university; this address has itself much to say in the field of startups especially when you are to meet the founder of a famous startup named Quera in its technology center.
Mohammad Bagher Tabrizi talks about his experience in launching NoskhePich startup and why he quit and launched Quera, he mentions 2.5 billion toman capital he attracted and that Quera is now in the way of success.
Also we talk about the importance of accelerator in the ecosystem and its effect on retention of human resource in Iran and lack of immigration, Iran programming market, production of yellow apps and wages of programmers and the crisis of human resource in the field of Iran IT.
We sent a photograoher on his wedding day to take a photo for us. He cooperated with us on the busiest day of his life.
What had caused you to make Quera?
The main need was that companies working in the field of IT always needed programmers but they couldn’t attract expert programmers and the only way to attract such people was to put up posters in colleges which was not the right way.
Thus we felt this need; the need of IT companies for programmers and the need of programmers to be employed in such companies. In fact, we provided an opportunity for getting to know this part of the marketplace.
In such a way that we have a society of programmers in Sharif University and at later stages other universities and even schools on this system.
On the other hand we add other organizations and companies in the field of IT to this system so that with understanding the needs of these companies we can allow programmers to know the needs in the industry and marketplace so that they can have trainings on the system based on market needs.
Where does the idea of Quera come from?
We have used the foreign models for launching Quera; that is from sites which are active in the field of skill assessment and test of programming.
Like HackerRank site which is in the field of programming skills in this area. We have felt this need when we were studying at undergraduate level; that is we reached to foreign sites and them launched Quera due to this need.
How does Quera help its customers?
Classes on the system are as follows: when a professor offers a lesson at college, he/she makes a class on our system and this is an educational assistance system;
In other words in institutes, universities and training centers alongside the educational materials they offer, they get help from Quera system for correcting exercises and project and works related to programming.
How does Quera make money?
The system is free so that it can provide the opportunity for expert programmers to work. This doesn’t mean that Quera hasn’t made money so far.
In fact universities and schools which want to work with Quera should make contract after one year. Currently and after two years we made a contract with Sharif University, we have signed contracts with schools like Allame Helli one and three and some other schools.
Another way for monetizing has been holding programming competitions. The main income of Quera is to come from contracts with companies.
The main work in fact is employment service and interview for companies through which they can attract their needed workforce.
We had one such cooperation that with our program and holding programming test, they could attract their needed employees. In fact these three fields are Quera fields of monetizing.
How much income did you get from these methods?
We have hold two CAD/CUP programming competitions so far and the input for these competitions was 45 million tomans in the first round and 85 million tomans in the second one.
Tell us about the figure of contract Quera makes with universities and schools.
Schools pay 5 million tomans and universities pay 7 million tomans per year.
How many users does Quera have?
About 12,000 users who are mostly technical people and programmers. Albeit many people use Quera without being a permanent user of Quera.
To what extent can startups be your customers and do you work with them right now? I ask this question because startups need workforce in the field of programming due to the nature of their job.
Startups are our most important customers because we sold a problem which is the most important concern and problem of startups.
That is supplying technical workforce in the field of programming. In this field we have started from startups present in Sharif University and we work with them.
Quera is launched in Mehr 1394. To what extent have you reached your goals?
I think we have had good growth so far. For example our turning point was in CAD/CUP1 in which 800 people from around the country had participated and media paid attention to it.
In CAD/CUP2 1500 people participated and Quera became more known; especially at schools, companies and academic centers.
According to the experience by startups, Quera should attract capital in order to continue its job. Have you had any negotiations regarding this?
Currently we are in the last stages of negotiations with a domestic investor.
Upon what figure have you agreed?
The value set by the investor for Quera and based on our agreement, is 2 billion and 500 million tomans.
How many people are there in Quera team?
We are three co-founders. Two persons work permanently and about 8 persons cooperated with us in the form of part-time job.
Was Quera the first experience of yours in the field of startup?
We had another startup before Quera named Noskheh Pich which was prescription software for pharmacies.
It was about two and a half years ago and we worked on it for about one and a half years but we concluded that it had many executive works and it required much time and energy.
Internet prescription wanted to be an integrated internet system for prescribing online and delivery to pharmacies.
Thus it would reduce the problems of eligible handwritings and consumption of paper, time and energy. Also the patient wouldn’t need to offer health insurance card and only provide his/her information.
It was to remove paper prescriptions but it took a lot of time. Such a startup is not present in Iran.
We have talked to Food and Drug Organization and they said that implementing such a big and integrated system should be done in a city at first, then in one or two province after one year and them across the country. This led us outside the path of this startup.
Mohammad Bagher Tabrizi founded Quera after one year of startup experience. You must have faced hardships, disappointment and fear of failure. Tell us about your experience in this field.
Failure or bad experience is a part of startup nature. Because you offer a new idea that may fail. This is a universal experience and even in a country like America, over 80 percent of new ideas may fail.
This figure in Iran is over 95 percent. Thus there is a high risk and 19 out of 20 startups may fail and the most important reason of it is lack of financial resource.
In fact financial problem is the main concern.
Our total initial capital was 25 million tomans which was allocated to us by the center of Sharif accelerator. We didn’t have salary and this amount of money should be spent for startup.
There were many problems and we always thought that what Quera would become and if there was any reason for us to continue.
But we received feedback and it added to our energy because they were mostly positive. For example, CAD/CUP1 was a new soul embedded to Quera. We had worked for six months without earning money but the result encouraged us.
Another point is that even if you fail, they encourage you and no one is ashamed of failure. In fact they see it as an experience. An experience which would become a guide for realizing another idea and launching another business.
You emphasize on the impact of accelerator on one’s success; how much the life of a startup is dependent on accelerator center and initial capital it offers?
It is better to mention to Quera from when its idea came to our mind; the initial idea of Quera has come from an event named Trigger startup at the entrepreneurship center of Sharif University. We introduce this idea in the event and won.
Them we entered Sharif accelerator center. In Sharif accelerator center and IT center of the university, we received financial and location support and now Quera has attracted investor and entered a new phase in which it can act independently.
If this support was not received, we didn’t even start Quera because we didn’t have any capital.
Right now accelerator is an integrated part of ecosystem while in 1389 there wasn’t any accelerator and only entrepreneurship cores were defined.
But with the presence of accelerator and capital injecting, a new phase is offered to graduates and students because these people would continue their studies inside Iran or leave the country.
But this entrepreneurship phase has brought hope and they have high incentives for staying in Iran and making money.
Many people have stayed in Iran to launch their own business for this reason. Generally, I think startup ecosystem in Iran has grown because of these accelerator centers that could make an important part of educated human resource stay in Iran.
Have you ever thought of leaving Iran?
I am arrogant but the positive one because when you send an application to a university, it means that you have accepted all the conditions out there and this makes many limitations.
But I belong to my country and can talk about my wishes and claim for what I want. While outside Iran, I can’t be an entrepreneur and at most I could be a clerk.
You work mainly in the field of programming and communication with programmers and companies who need the human resource with these skills. Based on information on Indeed site, programming is a job which has over 80.000 dollar income per year globally; that is more than 240 million tomans each year and up to about 20 million tomans each month. What are the figures in Iran?
These figures are outside Iran and they are very significant. But if a programmer outside Iran earns between 40 to 45 dollars per hour, in Iran the average income per hour is 20,000 Tomans. But some companies pay up to 50,000 tomans per hour which are very few.
What is the insight about programming and its role in business development?
There isn’t any good and proper insight towards these people who are the main core of a business. They even consider it as a simple coding but outside Iran, 80 percent of the works of a programmer is idea-driven and intellectual and only 20 percent is related to coding.
This leads to a software that needs 50 million tomans to be produced, but only 2 million tomans are spent in reality and after one year it doesn’t work well and then another two million tomans would be spent.
But little by little programmers’ expectations are rising and companies are paying more attention to its importance and are ready to pay the required capital for producing a program.
It is written on your site that you want to solve a part of the problems in Iran IT industry. Which problem do you mean?
Based on what expert of IT say, the volume of Iran IT market would become more than 30 billion dollars until 2020.
The most important need of this market is human resource and if it isn’t supplied well, this 30 billion dollar market wouldn’t be realized and it would be much smaller.
Programming is a part of computer major. To what extent is this skill learned at universities?
The main weakness of Iran universities is the same need based on which Quera is formed. For example, you have heard this sentence “he/she is the student in Sharif and only knows studying”.
The main problem of our universities is that the students only study and don’t do any practical work with those theoretical sciences he/she learns.
For example for a person who has M.A. of software from Sharif University, there isn’t any guarantee that he can be a skilled programmer?
No! There isn’t such a guarantee. I worked in a company when I was studying my B.A. If I didn’t, I couldn’t learn how to use my knowledge and I couldn’t have Quera; In fact having M.A. degree doesn’t mean that you have the skills.
For example, in software major whose main part is learning how to code and working with software systems, students work as an intern in seventh and eighth terms.
Let’s talk about software production market; there are many softwares in different fields. What percent of these softwares are totally made in Iran?
If you mean coding, all the codes of these programs are made in Iran but most of platforms are produced outside Iran. But the idea of software is the most important thing which is rarely made in Iran.
Why don’t we have idea?
Because it is difficult; it requires the skill of thought and long-term insight. In Iran the first issue is what to do to earn money faster. Thus the easiest way is to copy platforms. Sometimes they modify them and sometimes they are pure copies.
What are the consequences of pure copies? A tangible consequence that you have experienced.
For instance, Uber was used in England and it was developed based on the high cost of Taxi in that country but those who purely copied it in Iran, failed but startups like Snapp and Tap30 got the idea from internet taxi and domesticated it. Thus they are successful.
But many people believe that software and programming world grew faster with Android. How much do you agree with this?
The most important issue in the field of Android is the presence of millions of smartphones in Iran that is about 20 million android phones; in other words, if each person designs an application or domesticates it and offers it in Café Bazaar, if it has 10,000 sales with even the price of 1000 toman, he/she can earn a good profit.
Profitability and money making is the positive aspect of it but what are the risks and threats of prevalence of such earnings?
The fact that a person can earn money with a software and in the shortest time, even it isn’t a large amount of money, has caused us to face a phenomenon of yellow applications in the society; applications that abuse the condition of our society and maybe less than one week is spent for their production but have millions of incomes.
For example Iranians are interested in participation in lottery and winning. I think this is not good that people focus on their fortune and participate in lottery without any effort. This is a regressive culture. Based on this culture, many applications are designed. In my opinion this is like abusing our culture.
Let’s get back to your business; does Quera have any competitors?
If we consider employment as an aspect of Quera, we should say that many employment systems are active in Iran but due to their nature, they are not Quera competitors because what Quera does is skill assessment and testing, and none of other businesses in Iran don’t have this aspect.
If someone gets good grades from Quera and passes exams, is it acceptable for all businesses? In other words, has Quera reached such a place?
This is our ultimate goal and we try to reach such a big wish; that Quera become so much acceptable that all people accept human resource introduced by it but right now we don’t have such a credit.
People from beginner to expert are there and we try to increase their skills by providing many exercises.