IMTISAL ZAFAR - THE MAN BEHIND THE SUCCESSFUL EVENT AND PR COMPANY - VERVE

IMTISAL ZAFAR - THE MAN BEHIND THE SUCCESSFUL EVENT AND PR COMPANY - VERVE

In this issue, we had a conversation with the young and successful Imtisal Zafar who is celebrating 15 years of Verve, an event management company. He has also tapped into other industries, Pakistan Art Forum and WIRED. Read the full interview as he talks about the challenges he faced along the way, his biggest career high, the PSL event and his tips for the new and young upcoming entrepreneurs.

Hello Imtisal! Glad to have you here, can you tell us a bit about you and your journey so far as an entrepreneur.

Thank you for having me. Excited that Verve is completing 15 years in business, and I get to share this with you. It has been an incredible journey so far. I started Verve Events really early, while I was still at LUMS in my second year. Starting off with private parties in Islamabad and Lahore, Verve quickly gained the reputation of both cities’ favourite party planners with our annual Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties becoming a sought-after destination in their own right. We then branched out into fashion, corporate, wedding and sporting events and the rest as they say is history!

As an entrepreneur running multiple successful businesses – Verve, WIRED, and Pakistan Art Forum - how does it feel like to be your own boss? Starting off from event management how did you transition to art and music?

Being your own boss is extremely challenging but so rewarding. At the end of the day, you know that if you don’t get things going no one else will. However, all the hard work that you do is towards your own goals and for no one else. And that on its own is very satisfying.

Music is something that I have always been interested in since a very early age in life. One genre or another, I have always been musically inclined. It started with pop and house music while I was still at school and as I got exposed more on my travels, I picked up other genres of music. I would bring back the music I would collect on my travels to play at small house parties for friends back in 2014-2015. That eventually grew into the establishment of the WIRED festival as these parties started gaining some steam with art, I started getting exposed to it unconsciously at the beginning of Verve. As a young college student, I became friends with clients who were much older to me and art collectors. Being a passive consumer for all those years, it suddenly clicked, and I started a Facebook forum called Pakistan Art Forum, which at the time was started with the intention of having a platform to share Pakistani art.

You are also the founder of WIRED, Pakistan’s premium music festival. Tell us more about this.

WIRED, since its inception in 2015, created quite a noise in the market because it ‘dared to be different’. The genre of music that WIRED is all about is called Circuit House and is something that no other brand of music festival is currently doing. At the start, there were people who either hated it (mostly the local DJs) or they loved it but over time it gained a steady following and has now turned into a music festival that frequently brings international artists to Pakistan.

We have had several DJs from Brazil, Greece, and Spain, and singers and dancers from New York. I’m extremely grateful and happy that people responded to WIRED so well and that it has gained such a staunch following

It all started because of my love for music and a vision that now everyone else also sees.

What are your career highs? How did you manage to overcome your career lows?

There have been so many highs.

The biggest high, of course, was when we organised the PSL Closing Ceremony 2017 in Gaddafi Stadium. Other than that, spearheading the prestigious Special Olympics Pakistan Ball in Islamabad since 2018 is another feather in Verve’s cap

Even after 15 years of being in the business, Verve Events still enjoys the reputation of having the best parties. From having to organise events for various embassies in the past such as Brazil, the UK, USA to grand events for multinational organisations, Verve has consistently been associated with high-profile clients. With all the highs during the journey, of course, there have been some lows as well. I believe the most important thing is learning from your career lows and making yourself better. Improving your craft and constantly seeking ways to be better has been at the heart of all my career lows.

 

Being a young CEO of Verve for the last 15 years, what are the challenges you faced and what did you do to overcome them? How much has your business grown since?

At the start of my career, especially while I was still at LUMS, I would often be met with doubt from clients about whether I would be able to pull off their events because of how young I was and looked even younger. Slowly, however, that changed, and my reputation preceded me.

Verve also started during a very difficult time in Pakistan’s history, which is when the terrorist attacks had just started happening in the country. Right before our first-ever ticketed party in Islamabad, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and the event got cancelled

Similarly, the Sri Lankan cricket team attack happened right before one of our events, which got cancelled. Every day we would wake up in this fear that a bomb blast would cancel our event for the week. Fortunately, those days are well behind us

Verve has grown steadily since its inception, now having organised events all over Pakistan.

What kind of events have been defining moments for Verve? How is Verve different from other event planners in the market?

Verve is known for the stunning decor we create at our events. It has always been creative, sophisticated and many times larger than life. As mentioned earlier, we have always been known to throw the best parties and apart from the crowd and the decor, what people know us for is a great experience at our events. For a long part of Verve’s career, we have been known to organise amazing movie premieres that offer an immersive experience to guests with their various décor elements. I have consciously always tried to incorporate various learnings on my travels abroad into my event experience in Pakistan. That has resulted in a very international look and feel of the event be it with its decor, event technology or performers and artists at our events, Verve has consistently been a trailblazer in the field.

Who do you think is the main competitor of Verve? And what sets you apart from them?

Over the years the field of event management has become very specialised and various companies have taken up the niches that they enjoy the most. We overlap sometimes but for the most part, we play in our own domains and are friends with each other.

In 2017, PSL closing ceremony in Lahore was your biggest career achievement – tell us a bit about it? What did it mean for the future of Verve?

It was the start of 2017 when I got a call from PCB to come in to discuss an event at their headquarters in Gaddafi. We met with their team who gave us the brief about a grand closing ceremony they wanted to organise in Lahore for PSL. This was a momentous occasion for Pakistan because cricket was returning to its home ground after nearly a decade. The event was in March, and we barely had enough time to organise everything on such a massive scale. Catering to an audience of 35,000 people, one of the biggest challenges of this event was the timing of the event. The show was to be back-to-back music and cultural extravaganza for not only the audience in the stadium but also was being telecast live on air. So, any kind of mistake made would be visible to the entire world. On top of that, as soon as the 45 min show ended, we had to dismantle the entire setup in exactly 17 minutes to make sure the ground is clear for the teams to play in. There was no room for error. And this was possibly the most stressed and exhausted I have ever been. Fortunately, the event went smoothly without a hiccup.

2017 also marked the 10th year anniversary for Verve in the industry and this event couldn’t have been timed better. It took our visibility and reputation to a new level, where we were smaller players in the market to now being national forces to be reckoned with in the events industry

You’re also the CEO of Pakistan Art Forum, when and how did you realise there is an art lover in you? Tell us more about this venture.

I was exposed to art at the start of my career, and I bought my first artwork from my friend, Ahmer Farooq’s solo show back in 2011. That’s where my journey as an art collector started. After establishing the forum in 2014, I came up with the concept of the Pakistan Art Forum (PAF) Collectors’ Soiree in 2018. This was a show specifically targeted toward collectors, curated by me at my house. The exclusivity of the show gained a lot of attention and has since become an annual event to look out for to scout amazing art amongst an ambience of jazz music and like-minded people. In 2021 we launched the PAF website as well, culminating in a physical gallery space for PAF in 2022.

We have an amazing lineup of shows and artists until the start of 2024 and lots of amazing art to share with the world

You teach a course on Public Relations & Event Planning at one of the most prestigious universities – LUMS; do you think there are enough opportunities for new and young entrepreneurs? What’s your advice for them?

Yes, my course at LUMS is based on getting the basic know-how of the PR, and events industry. Since there is no formal training or education in this field in Pakistan for young people, this is a wonderful starting point where you can learn valuable tricks of the trade. One of the first things I teach my students is that

Event and PR industry is not as glamorous as it seems from the outside. In fact, it is the 6th most stressful job in the world according to research. The key to success in this industry is consistency, resilience and having nerves of steel that don’t break under pressure

What are your future goals and where do you see yourself in the next five years?

Several exciting things are coming up for Verve, WIRED & PAF. With Verve, I now prefer to do events that I truly feel creatively inspired by. And as a creative individual, in order for me to still find passion in what I do, I have to find it exciting. Therefore, I am more selective with the kind of events I take on at Verve and its system is running on autopilot. WIRED & PAF are my newer passions, therefore a lot of my energy goes into these two ventures. I hope to take WIRED & Pakistani art around the world with my ventures and showcase all the amazing things we are doing in Pakistan.


INTERVIEW: MARYAM ZUBERI

PHOTOGRAPHER: MUTAL SANI

MAKEUP ARTIST: FAISAL ASGHAR

CREATIVE DIRECTION: AHMER FAROOQ

  • In: Lifestyle