What’s the inspiration behind GRID?
I founded GRID with an aim to unleash the power of video games to educate, engage, and empower people.
Having grown up playing games such as Sim City, I knew games leave an impression on our brains that transcends the boundaries of the virtual world. I wondered to myself: if games on building cities can teach urban planning, can games focusing on environmental awareness promote climate action, those about women’s rights promote equality, or those building humane education improve animal welfare?
Games have the power to leave an impression on our brains that far transcends the boundaries of the virtual world, and I was committed to leveraging this power for a purpose beyond entertainment.
However, being a non-tech founder, I also knew that it is very expensive and complicated to make video games. And so I not only wanted to change how video games are used (for educational, marketing and training purposes), but also how they are made (with no code and at lightning speed).
Breshna changes how video games are created and how they are used.
On the creation side, with no-code and simple drag and drop functionalities; On the use side, games for a purpose beyond entertainment.
We are building for the complete democratization of the purposeful games industry: a day when everyone, irrespective of their knowledge of coding or design, is empowered to create their own video games to educate, engage, and empower their audience.
What was your personal relationship with/perspective on gaming before founding GRID?
Like most millennials, I grew up playing and loving video games. But being a Pakistani muslim female millenial, I felt there was limited representation in the video games industry for people like me. The first time I saw Arabic in a video game, it was in the context of a terrorist plot. When I saw women, they were often over-sexualized and objectified.
I realized that those who make video games decide on the narrative; so, unless we diversify the pool of people making video games, we cannot expect the content to be inclusive. And hence the ambition to democratize the process of making video games—so that everyone is able to tell their story, irrespective of skills, money, and time.
While the journey for Breshna is just beginning, I have been working in the serious games field for over 7 years. I started a not for profit studio in 2014* to build low-cost mobile games to inspire positive behavior change. We developed 8 video games in 4 languages, on topics like reproductive health, climate change, health pandemics, animal welfare, and STEM learning.
To me, video games became the tool to combat the problems I saw in the world around me:
- The death of a woman in a menstrual hut in Nepal inspired MoHiM, a game tackling the period stigma.
- An animal cruelty incident in Pakistan motivated KritterKneads, a humane education game.
- The George Floyd tragedy motivated CrisesCompounded, a game that raises awareness on structural racism.
- Rampant misinformation around covid19 inspired CoronaCombat, a covid19 awareness game.
Now under our C-corp, we are building Breshna to transform ordinary people into empowered game developers, and equipping everyone to create video games to tell their own stories.
For the last four years, you’ve worked as an education specialist for the World Bank in the MENA region. How has that experience shaped your journey as a founder?
I wear two separate hats in my professional life: the Founder of GRID, and a Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank. Working at the World Bank has made me deeply familiar with the problem of low student engagement and learning being boring.
Teachers and parents are hungry for tools that can make learning fun, and are looking for ways to peel students away from entertainment-only games. I realized that there is an opportunity to empower teachers, parents, and students to make their own educational video games and bridge the edutainment gap. This realization inspires the EdTech use case of Breshna: think Super Mario for math learning.
You’ve received some personal acknowledgement from the business community in the past several years—as a member of the Forbes 1000, as a TedX speaker, and as a recipient of the Clinton Global Initiative Alumni Honor Roll Award, among others. Have any of these experiences been particularly meaningful to you, or affected your experience as an entrepreneur?
One of my most cherished and vivid memories is that of President Clinton shaking my hand, congratulating me on my success at GRID and saying “thank you for your service”. It’s a moment where I felt like I was soaring towards the skies with pride and ambition, but also firmly anchored with a deep sense of gratitude and responsibility.
Moments like these are testament of the passion, purpose, and perseverance that my team and I have poured into GRID—but they are also the perfect refuelling stations along the entrepreneurial journey! It’s a time to pause, celebrate the win, and then return to our mission with renewed commitment and conviction.
We are just getting started, and we are thrilled about the promise of our journey!
How do you handle risk and competition?
My approach to building Breshna is to not just create a product, but disrupt an industry! We are positioning ourselves as a category leader in the no-code-for-purposeful-video-games space.
While there are a handful of players in the no-code entertainment games space and a dozen others in the serious/purposeful games space, there is barely anyone operating at the intersection—and that’s our niche.
We are building in public, learning from our peers, and dropping the Hunger Games, zero-sum narrative. In an industry that is new and booming, I am convinced that the cake gets bigger with collaboration. I’m not interested in competing over a small slice.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
As a woman of color, non-tech, solo Founder trying to enter the video games industry, I had the odds stacked against me. And while these odds are significant, they don’t disqualify me from the race—and that’s what matters! As long as I’m in the arena, I believe passion, purpose, and perseverance will get me closer to my goals.
My favorite quote is “why can’t ‘run like a girl’ mean ‘win the race’?” I am committed to being the first Pakistani-American woman to ring the IPO bell for a unicorn startup!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
First time founders focus on product, second time founders focus on distribution. While I am a first time founder, I am aiming to leapfrog the mistakes and build the Canva for video games!
What’s your experience been like as a female founder of color? Any advice for women of color looking to start their own company?
I think the biggest limiting factor for underrepresented founders is our own limiting beliefs.
We have to address our imposter syndrome upfront; that constant self-doubt leading to questions like “Am I good enough?” or “Do I belong in this industry?” Thoughts like these are the reason we see women shying away from unleashing their full potential in their professional careers. For all of them, I have two words: “You belong!”
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I love building relationships. Before I started building Breshna, I did not realize how much startups were about building relationships; investor relations, client relations, team relations. I also did not realize how much I enjoy the process.
It is this love for relationships that makes me passionate about building in public; inspires me to be authentic in my investor updates; makes me excited before every customer call; and most importantly, puts Breshna’s community at the core of our building process.
We are building Breshna in public, which means we are building with our community and for our community. We call them our bolt squad... cause thunder, lighting, bolts! :)
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd via Republic?
At GRID we break barriers!
We are breaking the skills, cost, and time barriers of making video games! And now we are breaking another barrier: the barrier of investing in tech startups!
Through the Republic campaign, our Bolt Squad gets to join our journey, not just as empowered content creators, but as our investors. By investing in GRID, they get to share in our upside, they get to ride the tide of no-code, purposeful video games, and best of all they get to call Breshna their very own.
When startups become unicorns (think Uber, Airbnb) the founders make money, investors make money but guess who doesn’t usually make money … the friends, family, customers & early supporters!
I'm not ok with that! If I’m gonna be ringing the IPO bell with a $B valuation I’m not gonna do it alone! I’m headed to the moon and I’m taking my Bolt Squad with me.
What’s your team culture like?
Work hard and have fun doing it!
What is your superpower?
Getting s*** done
What’s your kryptonite?
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
My cat and I sing bollywood songs together in the shower.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Nature walks with my husband where I end up talking about GRID when I promised I wouldn’t take about GRID :D
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
There’s a game on my phone called Ball Sort Puzzle, it’s my go-to app to help me wind down after a full day of work!
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
Shoot your shot!
Ideas are plenty, execution is what sets apart the doers from the thinkers!
If you have an idea to solve a pain point that you see in the world, the only scenario where you “fail” is the one where you do nothing about it. Do not let your gender, your educational background, your income status, or the color of your skin hold you back from becoming the best version of yourself! All successful entrepreneurial journeys boil down to passion, purpose & perseverance!
Do you have any mentors? If so, what have they taught you?
Mentors are like signposts on a founder journey. Having known very little about the VC world before starting GRID, I rely heavily on my mentors to address my blindspots. My mentors have taught me the art of:
- Building in public
- Building a community
- Pitching to investors
- Growth hacking