Insights: Airlift Maneuvers Pakistan’s Venture Spaces

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Airlift has become one of the most anticipated startups coming out of Pakistan especially after raising the highest venture funding round in Pakistan’s history. It’s not only the unprecedented funding record but also the unique journey of growth that makes Airlift so valuable to the Pakistan-based Venture Space. Ali Mehdi, General Manager of Product & Analytics at Airlift Technologies shares with us insights on Airlift’s journey to the $85M Series B, the driving force behind their growth, and some lessons in maneuvering the Pakistani Venture Space.

Founded in 2019, Airlift launched as a mass-transit platform, kickstarted by a humble $2.2M SEED fund from initial investors Indus Valley Capital, Gobi Partners, Fatima Ventures, and Walled City Co. Dispatching more than 30 thousand rides a day, Airlift was on a steady operational growth until a pandemic-shaped curveball changed the course of their startup radically. 

As Airlift and thousands of startups race to adapt to the unprecedented times, the Pakistan-based team unlocked a new perspective to its resources. Around July 2020, the Airlift team announces its 30-minute grocery delivery service, and soon announces it has raised 20 times their previous funding in a Series A; and that’s where it all began: 


 


Back in March 2020 when the first Covid case appeared in Pakistan, we knew that we had to keep public health safety as our number one priority. We had been rapidly growing - doing thousands of rides, which meant a potential covid exposure to thousands of people who sat in close proximity within our buses and vans which were airconditioned.

It meant halting our mass transit operations, but for the team, it was never about halting what Airlift Technologies stood for - leveraging technology to disrupt the ecosystem and empower the people. We realized we had expertise in managing large-scale operations and logistics, and our investors placed their belief and clear bets on the team more than the business or any product that we had built. This really gave us the confidence, to stop our operations, and rebuild ourselves within the quick commerce space. This was the same time when quick commerce in the European markets had started booming, and the need within Pakistan was heightened with the spread of covid and frequent lockdowns. 

Airlift’s $85 M Series B round is almost 43x the amount of funding raised by the entire Delivery and Logistics sector in Pakistan in H1 2021, it is also $30M more than what the sectors in KSA and UAE raised collectively in the first half of the year. Airlift attributes this phenomenal outcome to key metrics in fleet management, mainly consistency and scale. But the most effective driver was their relationship with investors. 

In the past, apart from the business direction, our relationships have helped us scale the team, the culture, and the structure, all of which we consider parts of our strength. We are really grateful to have even early-stage investors available to us at an arms-length for any guidance and direction. This is also true for all of our investors. More investors, especially at an international stage, means more thought partners which we consider a core competency as we eye international expansion.  

Funding from international investors also gave us a huge validation. As a team of Pakistanis, it felt like we had unlocked the next chapter for the Pakistani ecosystem. Here, investors who were once rarely seen investing outside of the US, such as First Round Capital were now investing within Pakistan. This mark meant Pakistan had been put on the global map, which makes it possible for all of us including up-and-coming startups like Bazaar, Retailo, Bykea, and others to raise even bigger fundings in the future, owing to the increased investor focus and trust. 

The Pakistani startup ecosystem has observed a 3rd consecutive half-yearly growth in funding over H1 2021, where funding in the first half of the year surpassed that of FY 2020 by $13M. The $87M raised in Pakistan in H1 2021 not only shows promising signs for the ecosystem but with recent deals closed by Airlift and Bazaar, Pakistan is set to break its all-time yearly record in funding

We are really excited about the Technology-based startup ecosystem in Pakistan and believe that it holds much promise. Despite being in the nascent stage of the ecosystem, Pakistan is attracting more investor’s trust day by day. Most of the Pakistani startups have been successful so far in scaling their business while exceeding result expectations soon after the financing. 

Within a country of 220m,  internet penetration is exponentially growing. What was just 24% a couple of years ago stands doubled; in Metros, it even goes up to 76%. Pakistanis are heavy internet users with up to 85% accessing it every day. With more young people (60% of the population under the age of 30), the adoption of newer internet-based solutions is very rapid.

There is a wealth of young, hardworking, and intellectually powerful talent that lies within Pakistan. With the right vision, focus, and platforms to enable them, the success of the Pakistani ecosystem is inevitable. 


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