Srinagar-based Sheikh Asif worked in several odd jobs before establishing his own IT venture in Manchester, UK. He has also helped 900 students from the valley with digital literacy for free.
Sheikh Asif is an entrepreneur, digital marketer, educator, author and philanthropist. He is also a Class 8 drop out. Born and raised in Batmaloo in Srinagar, this 28-year-old-old is now running a company called Thames Infotech, based in Manchester, UK, with an annual turnover of Rs 2.5 crores annually, pre-pandemic.
Coming from humble beginnings, Asif shares that his father, a head constable in the valley, fell sick. “I was in Class 8 but the condition at home was such that I had to drop out of school,” he says.
At 16, Asif took on his first job as a data entry operator in a local tourism-based venture. “I was always fascinated by computers and in the valley while we had access to computers, we never had proper internet connectivity. We were still living under the 2G network when the rest of India had moved on to 4G,” he adds. For this job, he was given a monthly salary of Rs 1,500 and says that all through, his ambition was to become an entrepreneur.
He adds, “I have worked all kinds of odd-jobs. From working in the tour company to working in a medical agency where I helped sell all medical equipment. I did whatever work came my way to make ends meet. I even worked for all major telecom networks at the time — like Airtel, Vodafone and Aircel. In 2014, I left everything and decided on setting up my own venture when in September 2014 the floods hit the valley and everything was wiped away.”
Starting from Scratch
After the floods of September 2014, it was almost like beginning anew for Asif. “While on one hand the situation around me was always difficult there were always opportunities that seemed to come my way. One such opportunity took me to Delhi in 2015, and what I experienced there opened up my mind to the possibilities before me,” he shares. Having used up all his savings to reconstruct his house that was destroyed in the floods, he says that he never gave up on his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.
In 2016, he got the chance to go to the UK as part of a project he was working on and says that his finances started looking up. “One of the first jobs I got was to design a website. I remember being told that I would be paid only if they were satisfied with the work I delivered. I worked very hard for that and the stamp of approval from that client meant the world to me back then.”
His next assignment took shape out of a garage in the UK. He says, “I worked out of a garage of a client to design a logo and complete the website work as well. Once completed I was paid close to Rs 7 lakh for that project. In a way it was my launch pad.” This also gave Asif the confidence to set up his business in the UK and the money also allowed him to hire more people to run the business.
In 2018, with a workforce of about 35 people working out of two offices, in UK and Kashmir, Asif set up Thames Infotech. “It took me 10 years and almost eight different jobs to get to this position. People often only see the end product and forget the years of turmoil and uncertainty that accompanies it,” he says. Having set up the UK office Asif chose to return to India.
“While the rest of India had been using a great internet network with good speed and access to technology, it all seemed to be eluding the people in the valley. Up until 2016, we only had 2G connection and that too would often be suspended or disconnected. It was also the time when we had to pay for the internet and I remember paying Rs 150 to get 1GB data a month. It was only in 2016 that it became much more accessible and affordable,” he adds.
It was this disconnect with technology that Asif wanted to bridge and therefore he started offering free classes to students from the valley on topics like digital marketing, website designing and graphics. “While every parent dreamt of their children becoming doctors, no one thought that much could be achieved in the information technology field and that is what I wanted to change,” he says.
Zeenat Ul Nissa (23) one of the beneficiaries of Asif’s online programme says, “Having been a part of the three-month digital marketing course I can say with conviction that it has helped me tremendously. I am from an IT background but I did not have the means to enroll for any course and this free course was a boon. It helped strengthen the knowledge I had by allowing me to explore and create. Learning to use tools and create a strong social media presence has helped me become a better food blogger as well.”
She also adds that even though the course was only three months, she continues to check with Asif for any and all queries.
“He is truly a mentor who has given us so much confidence in our work and abilities,” she says.
“Even though I started this specifically for students from the valley, I have now begun to get queries from all across the globe, which includes students from Australia and US. I do accommodate them as well,” he says. Along with providing free course material and classes, Asif also mentors young entrepreneurs who wish to start their own business.
Asif has successfully taught more than 900 students and helped 40 businesses go digital and have an online presence. While the mainstay for Asif is the company he set up in the UK, he says he will continue to mentor and teach online for free.
In conclusion, he says, “Being an entrepreneur does not require you to have any great qualifications. One must be willing to take risks and that is enough to start you on your entrepreneurial journey.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)