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Bilal's Fintech Pakistan Roundup: Week 1

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I have been thinking about an idea for a while.

A lot of people either don't know anything about Pakistan's Fintech economy or they don't care. Many people are quick to dismiss startups in Pakistan while it has been skyrocketing over the past few years with explosive growth.

So I have decided to start a new weekly series highlighting Fintech economy in Pakistan from MENAbytes so Pakistanis can learn about it and start using the products and services that Pakistan's Fintech sector provide. The founder of MENAbytes is Zubair Naeem Parcha who is Pakistani himself, and credit for these articles goes to him. I recommend everyone read MENAbytes, it is a great site about Fintech and VC economy of the MENA region. I also recommend everyone listen to the Karavan Podcast which highlights awareness of Pakistan's growing Fintech ecosystem every week, Zubair Naeem Parcha has done a podcast with them as well.


Here's Bilal's Fintech Pakistan Roundup: Week 1.

-Bilal




Pakistani female fitness startup AimFit has raised $1 million in a seed round led by Indus Valley Capital, a Pakistan-focused VC fund started by LinkedIn’s former VP Growth Aatif Awan. The round includes participation of an unnamed unicorn founder, the founding team of direct-to-consumer shoe startup Atoms, and some other angel investors. According to our data, it is one of the largest seed investments raised by a female-founded startup in Pakistan.

Founded by sister-duo Mahlaqa and Noor Shaukat, AimFit operates a chain of four fitness studios in Lahore and Islamabad, serving a community of over 5,000 members. After graduating from Oxford University and returning to Pakistan in 2014, the sisters started AimFit initially to serve their own fitness needs. Disappointed by the lack of female fitness spaces in Pakistan, they began with a small fitness studio at a rented space in Lahore.

The access to studios is available as class bundles valid for a certain period of time (e.g. a 12 class package valid for 1 month) or unlimited classes contract for one year where every month, the members pay a subscription fee.

Mahlaqa and Noor bootstrapped the startup for over six years to grow it to four of its own studios in Lahore and Islamabad. They have a team of nearly 50 instructors and an in-house academy that trains and certifies the fitness instructors. In addition, AimFit has been running a closed female-only Facebook community with over 9,000 engaged members.

Mahlaqa Shaukat, the co-founder and CEO of AimFit, in a statement, said, “AimFit’s mission is to make Pakistan the fittest nation on the planet. We envision a Pakistan where a fit and healthy lifestyle is within everyone’s reach. With this goal, we’re working on developing a viral online fitness platform.”

Within 24 hours of closing their studios due to Covid-19 in March 2020, AimFit moved online, offering pre-recorded online classes ranging from dance fitness to Yoga, priced at PKR 3,900 ($24). Mahlaqa explains, “Covid-19 expedited our online launch and we now plan to double down on our omnichannel model by rapidly expanding across Pakistan over the coming months, before targeting international expansion.”

As a result of moving online, AimFit was able to save all the jobs. “Not a single redundancy or salary cut was issued even though our studios remained closed for six months,” Mahlaqa told MENAbytes.

With this latest investment, AimFit aims to launch an online platform and expand its offline studios across Pakistan including country’s largest city Karachi.

EMPOWERING WOMEN

Noor Shaukat, Co-founder and COO of AimFit, speaking to MENAbytes, said, “Empowering women is at the heart of everything we do. We know in our culture that women, as primary caregivers and nurturers put their own health on the back seat to look after others. All evidence clearly points out that a health-conscious matriarch is better for the family, society, and economy. The barriers to women adopting a healthy lifestyle are real though – an absence of information, motivation, skills, spouse & family support, accessibility to places for physical activity, cost-effective services, and free time are real challenges.”

“AimFit plans to remove these barriers using its dedicated online platform and flagship studio locations. Both will be geared to foster an engaged online and offline female community,” she added.

In addition to having female co-founders and an all-female management team, over 90 percent of all the employees of AimFit are women.
Mahlaqa in a statement said, “We are excited to shatter false notions of what women can and cannot do. The AimFit team has already converted thousands of women to the cause of fitness. Simultaneously we have championed a cause of training, hiring and keeping women in the workforce with flexible working hours and supportive policies.”

“As mothers to young children, Noor and I both fully understand the challenge for women to juggle a career and family as well as prioritize their health and well-being. We use our personal experience to help inform our product, service and management strategy,” she added.

The startup also said that their training center has trained hundreds of women, some of whom have found opportunities at other fitness centers in the country.

WHY VC

Speaking about why they raised money when they had been operating a bootstrapped profitable business for over six years, Mahlaqa said that they had been building their community and brand all this time but are now ready to rapidly scale both online and offline operations, “Partnering with a seasoned investor brings not only an injection of capital but also the right strategic value-add. The last few years have been an exercise in perfecting the studio blueprint for AimFit’s experience centers (studios) as well as testing the waters for a mass-market fitness play in Pakistan (through large scale events such as an annual Danceathon).”

Indus Valley Capital, the investor that led AimFit’s seed round has previously led or made investments in companies like Airlift and Bazaar – which have technology at the center of everything they do. Even though AimFit has always used technology to run its operations, it mainly relied on its offline studios for both its business and community, until Covid-19 at least.

Aatif Awan, the Managing Partner at Indus Valley Capital, speaking to MENAbytes about why they decided to invest in a business that has largely been offline, explained that fitness has been moving online and to home even prior to COVID-19, “Between Peloton for cycling (now a $25B company), Tonal for weight-lifting (raised $200M) and Mirror for home workouts and yoga (acquired by Lululemon for $500M), the trend is firmly established. These startups used a device as the wedge and built a community to eliminate the one advantage that gyms and studios have.”

He noted that the COVID–driven lockdowns have accelerated the trend of home fitness and shown to the masses that it is possible to do workouts at home without requiring an expensive device, “AimFit experimented with the online format quickly and maintained the sense of community online. AimFit members loved the online experience and were willing to pay for it. The time saving from not having to travel and the flexibility of schedules are both extremely attractive.”

The former LinkedIn VP added that in a market like Pakistan, the majority of women don’t have access to quality gyms and studios, “An online offering actually can provide a fitness solution and community to millions who didn’t have access to it before. Just like developing markets adopted mobile networks quickly without first having extensive landline coverage, we believe online fitness will take off in markets like Pakistan, leapfrogging the physical infrastructure.”

THE ONLINE PRODUCT

AimFit plans to use the funds to build its technology product starting with a dedicated web platform and later a mobile app for Android and iOS. The web-based platform will offer home-based workouts both in the form of pre-recorded sessions and live workouts aired in real-time from an AimFit experience center.

Without disclosing exact details, AimFit has told MENAbytes that the upcoming online offering that will available through its web-based platform (and later on apps as well) will be priced at lower rates than what it currently charges its online subscribers.

The current online offering allows subscribers to access an on-demand, professionally filmed, recorded, and edited fitness library (ranging from Dance fitness, Yoga, Pilates, HIIT and other programs, all localized to the Pakistani market). AimFit also releases a brand new featured workout for its paying members on a daily basis. All its classes are 45-minute follow-along workout sessions.

“We have spent a lot of time thinking about product design that enables an engaging user experience catering to women from all walks of life. We have leveraged a lot of learning from our studios and online offering these past few months. This guides us to develop the right level of gamification and milestone motivation at the heart of it.” said the startup.

Noor said that although they see online as the key to unlocking the mass-market opportunity, AimFit studios or “experience centers” play a critical enabling role. “Studios are where we innovate and create that magic spark – our propriety workout plans and choreographies. They are the hub for instructor training as well as community events and engagement. Both online and offline business models are joined at the hip. Eventually, we see 80% of our community joining us online and 20% attending classes at the experience centers across tier 1 and tier 2 cities,” said the co-founder in a conversation with us.

The startup in a statement said that the last few years have seen a boost in health and fitness clubs in the major cities of the country but smaller cities and the female population have largely been ignored, “With increasing proliferation of smartphones and high-speed internet connectivity, AimFit plans to use its online fitness solution to reach this segment.”

The online offering will also enable AimFit to offers its services to users out of Pakistan starting with the Pakistani diaspora in different countries. It already has a few international members paying to access its online workouts.

Mahlaqa concludes, “We want AimFit to be the spearhead in the transformative fitness and wellbeing journey for millions of women around the world. With health becoming a primary focus due to global events, we feel that a new dawn is on the horizon for emerging markets like Pakistan.”


EzBike: Pakistan’s first self-drive electric bike rental service



Roamer, a Pakistani transportation startup has launched country’s first self-drive electric bike rental service ‘EzBike’, it announced last week at an event in Islamabad. The service has been launched in select-areas of Islamabad for now and will gradually be rolled out across the country, said the startup without sharing a timeline of when it plans to launch it in other cities of the country.

EzBike enables users to locate a bike in their vicinity through its app and book it. When booked, the user can walk to the bike, unlock it using a QR code on the app, and start their ride. They’re charged PKR 5 for unlocking the bike and PKR 5 for every minute on the ride. The users also have the option to pause the ride, in case they need to run an errand, for example, while paying the reduced fare of PKR 2 per minute. Once the user has reached their destination, they can park the bike at a suitable and end the ride. The bikes can only be used for travel within the coverage area of EzBike which is clearly highlighted in the app.

Mohammad Hadi, the co-founder and CEO of Roamer, the startup behind EzBike, in a conversation with MENAbytes said that the maximum distance between any two points in the area that they’re covering right now will be 10 KMs, “We expect our average rides to be within the range of 5 to 6 KM.”

The electric bikes that EzBike is starting with have a maximum speed of 35 KM per hour and can be ridden by a single person.

The electric bikes being used by Ezbike

The electric bikes being used by EzBike

To be able to book a ride, the user is supposed to have their ID card verified (by EzBike’s team) by adding a picture during the registration process or afterward. They also need to have money in their EzBike wallet that can be added using Easypaisa (a local payment option). All the new users are welcomed with PKR 50 of free credit when they sign up.

The startup did not share details about how many bikes it has on the roads of Islamabad right now but said it plans to deploy over 2,000 electric bikes across the country within the next year.

Mohammad Hadi in his conversation with MENAbytes said that rolling out electric bikes using a shared economy model is one of the best ways you can promote electric vehicles in Pakistan, “What we are doing is trying to introduce an environment-friendly mode of transportation at scale.”

He also said that self-drive bike rentals is a much more sustainable and efficient business model than other forms of ride-hailing/sharing, “It is the cost of supply which is the biggest expense for ride-hailing companies. By deploying bikes that can be driven by the riders themselves, we’re eliminating that. It is a business with much better unit economics.”

Speaking about how they would ensure the safety of the bikes, Mohammad explained that they’ve different mechanisms in place including a private security services company that they’ve hired to deal with any unwanted incident.

Even though there are different bike taxi options available in Pakistan, where you can book a motorbike ride just like you book a car through ride-hailing apps, none of those serve the women in the country. Due to cultural constraints, they don’t want to ride on a motorbike with a man they don’t know and there are very few female motorbike drivers in the country who work for ride-hailing apps.

“With EzBike, we want to promote bikesharing as a safe transportation option for women in Pakistan. We’ve designed our service keeping women in mind and we seem them as one group of our primary users,” said Mohammad Hadi.

In a statement, he also added that only 10 percent of the Pakistani population own a vehicle, “Mobility is still a largely unsolved problem. With EzBike, we are providing access to shared vehicles to every individual in Pakistan. This is the next wave of disruption in mobility. It will be the most cost-effective, convenient, and environmentally-friendly mode of transportation in Pakistan. And in a Covid impacted world, self-drive provides a safe way for people to move around Islamabad while maintaining social distancing.”

EzBike’s app is available in English and Urdu with Urdu as the default language which suggests that they’re going after the masses.

Roamer has previously built and launched a transportation product that offers hourly chauffer-driven car rentals. With the new service, it is expanding into micro-mobility space which is a much riskier proposition as a business (esp. considering that it is self-drive electric bike rentals) and would require a large amount of capital to scale across the country.

Hadi is confident about the prospects of EzBike and believes that the service will be operational in different parts of the country before the end of next year.


Retailo raises $2.3 million pre-seed for its B2B ecommerce marketplace in Saudi & Pakistan



Riyadh-headquartered B2B ecommerce startup Retailo has come out of stealth today with the announcement of $2.3 million in a pre-seed round led by Abu Dhabi-based Shorooq Partners. 500 Durian (the 500 Startups fund for Southeast Asia) and 92 Ventures also participated in the round along with angels from ‘region’s top startups and leading management consulting firms’. According to our data, it is the second-largest pre-seed round raised by a startup in the Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan, and the largest for a startup that’s headquartered in Saudi.

Founded just a few months ago by Talha Ansari, Muhammad Nowkhaiz, and Wahaj Ahmed; who previously worked with Careem, Rocket Internet, Daraz, and McKinsey, Retailo wants to empower over 10 million SMEs in the retail sector of the Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan with the use of technology and real-time data. Its marketplace enables will enable the retailer to procure inventory for their stores.

Retailo is starting with small grocery stores in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which it says is a $100 billion opportunity. It had apparently launched in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi a few months ago and has recently launched in Riyadh too. The startup said that it will focus on Saudi as its home market.

“Retailo’s technology and operations combine to deliver a strong value proposition to retailers, manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers. It is focused on offering SMEs competitive pricing; a one-stop-shop to discover products and the ability to order whatever they need, whenever they need,” said the startup in a statement.

The biggest highlight of the startup is its team. Talha Ansari, according to the statement was the youngest CEO at Foodpanda (Pakistan), at the age of 25. He later worked with Careem as Senior Director Operations helping the company scale its last-mile delivery business in Saudi. Mohammad Nowkhaiz, prior to founding Retailo was Head of Strategy at Careem and spearheaded company’s super app strategy post-Uber acquisition. Wahaj Ahmed is a former McKinsey consultant who was the youngest Careem GM at 25 and grew company’s business in Karachi by 10x in eight months, claims the statement.

The three founders commenting on the occasion, said, “We strongly believe in creating impact in the lives of people by giving them opportunities to improve their earning potential. The MENAP region has a significant opportunity to increase its economic prosperity by unlocking the productivity delta that exists between the region and global benchmarks. MENAP is home to 700 million individuals & 10 million SMEs; and its unorganized retail sector presents the perfect opportunity to increase the efficiency of supply chain by utilizing technology and real-time data.”

Interestingly, their competition in both Saudi and Pakistan includes startups founded by Careem alumni. Sary, the leading Saudi player in the space is co-founded and led by Mohammed Aldossary, a former Careem general manager. It closed a $6.6 million Series A earlier this year. Bazaar, the Pakistani B2B ecommerce platform that raised $1.3 million pre-seed earlier this year is co-founded by Saad Jangda, who was one of the founding members of Careem Now. Dastgyr, another Pakistani startup going after the same market also has Careem alumni as its co-founders.

Shane Shin, the Founding Partner of Shorooq Partners thinks that Retailo is led by exceptional founders, “Seed stage investing is all about backing the right people. We have looked at this space deeply and are proud to invest in the dream team behind Retailo who we believe can successfully build a strong, regional and international business.”

Khailee Ng, Managing Partner, 500 Durian, said, “While they operate one of the fastest-scaling business models in the world, their success means millions of SMEs and rural populations are more productive and have more stability and food security. Technology can
impact the next billion, and we’re already seeing it here with what Retailo had been doing.”


Pakistan’s MedznMore raises $2.6 million seed for its online pharmacy



Karachi-based healthtech MedznMore has raised $2.6 million in a seed round, it announced in a statement today. The startup did not share the names of investors but told MENAbytes that the investment came from some ‘big local families’ and international investors who don’t want to disclose their names for now. MedznMore has also confirmed to MENAbytes that the entire investment came from external investors and added that it is the largest seed round raised by a startup in Pakistan.

Founded earlier this year by Asad Khan and Saad Khawar, MedznMore, as its name suggests is an online pharmacy, selling medicines with four-hour delivery in Karachi. The ‘more’ in its name refers to wellness products and medical devices which are also sold on its website.

Asad Khan, the CEO of the startup comes with over ten years of experience in healthcare companies in the United States and Europe. Prior to satarting MedznMore, he served Careem as a General Manager for almost three years. Saad Khawar, the co-founder and Head of Product & Strategy was previously with Pakistani online pharmacy startup Dawaai serving them as Head of Product.

Dawaai had raised a seven-figure (USD) investment earlier this year and currently delivers medicines across the country.

MedznMore is currently using its own logisitcs for operations in Karachi, “We’ve invested quite heavily in logistics, warehousing and fleet solutions. It is all inhouse right now with no 3PL at this stage,” explained Asad Khan, the co-founder and CEO of the startup in a conversation in MENAbytes. It is because of the in-house logistics the startup is able to offer 4-hour delivery.

Asad also told MENAbytes that they’re currently working to build replicable systems that they can use quickly to scale to other cities of the country including Lahore and Islamabad over the next six months.

In a statement, he said “At MedznMore, we want to solve the chronic problem of counterfeit drugs in Pakistan. In order to ensure 100 percent authenticity, all our medicines are procured either directly from the manufacturer or authorized distributors. In addition, we want to make the process more convenient than your local pharmacy, ensuring order delivery within 4 hours at the most affordable prices.”

The startup is starting with online pharmacy but has plans to exapnd into different other areas of healthtech, “Healthcare is one of the last few frontiers where technology hasn’t disrupted entrenched practices, which are complex, confusing and inconvenient for the consumers of healthcare services. Over the next few months we will be bringing in diagnostic, telehealth and personalized health insurance products, so customers can benefit from a one window solution for all their healthcare needs,” said Asad.

Saad Khawar, the co-founder and Head of Product & Strategy at the startup, said “At MedznMore, we are building a product that is based on the best technology stack, backed with operational efficiency and a well-managed logistics engine coming together seamlessly to provide our customers with an amazing experience.”


Pakistan’s FindMyAdventure raises $600,000 to grow its online travel platform



Karachi-headquartered travel platform FindMyAdventure has raised $600,000 in a pre-Series A round from a local Pakistani and expatriate consortium, it announced in a statement today to MENAbytes.

Founded in 2016 by four young Pakistanis who were passionate about travel, FindMyAdventure had started as an online platform enabling users to book travel experiences (from different travel operators) around Pakistan but has since expanded into rentals, luxury tourism, and digital experiences.

Like most of the travel startups around the world, FindMyAdventure also struggled during the pandemic. As the government imposed lockdowns around the country and people restricted themselves to their homes, FindMyAdventure’s business took a big hit.

“The team worked around the clock to develop contingency plans and became one of the first companies to expand into digital tourism and experiences within Pakistan,” said the startup in a statement adding that it managed to regain its market relevance and brand presence witht help of this move.

When the domestic travel re-opened after months, FindMyAdventure resumed their operations and claim to be one of the only travel aggregators in the country that has been focusing on the safety of travelers by providing them with safety kits and ensuring that all its partners enforce relevant SOPs. The startup in a statement said that its sales have skyrocketed since it resumed operations, without sharing further details, “Although things weren’t where they were supposed to be by this time of the year, they were certainly getting there,” noted the statement.

FindMyAdventure currently has over 300 online offline travel operators on its platform and claims to serve over 30,000 customers across the country. The startup that was started by four individuals almost four years ago now employs over 40 people.

Komail Naqvi, the founder and CEO of FindMyAdventure, commenting on the occassion, said, “The faith which expatriate angels have shown in Pakistani tourism and us, is what has brought FMA here. Without their support, and the dedication of our team, the business would not have survived this hit.”

Muhammad Ovais Yousuf, the Chairman of Board of Directors at FindMyAdventure, said, “In early March 2020, we were faced with a difficult choice, either to challenge ourselves, be confident in the country and our team’s resilience or to take an easy route of winding down. We certainly took the right decision. I am very excited to see the progress that FMA has achieved in digitization, team building, product development and truly believe that its just the beginning, not only for us at FMA, but the start-up scene in the country as a whole.”

FindMyAdventure has recently launched Panache Stays, an online service that enables people to book luxury homes in Northern areas of the country (the region that’s very popular among tourists). The luxury homes, FindMyAdventure says, come with stunning views and top-of-the-line amenities.

The startup said that the new investment marks a turning point for it, “With an appetite for innovation and a newfound faith in the team that stuck around through trying times, FMA now aims to digitize the tourism landscape of Pakistan, educate, empower and integrate thousands of underutilised service providers into the mainstream tourism ecosystem.”

It also said that it plans to create over 100,000 jobs in the country by 2022.

 
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Pakistan’s Bagallery raises $900,000 for its beauty and fashion ecommerce platform



Karachi-based beauty and fashion ecommerce startup Bagllery has raised $900,000 in a Pre-Series A round from Lakson Investments Venture Capital, it announced in a statement to MENAbytes today.

Launched about three years ago, Bagallery, according to its website sells beauty and fashion products for women, men, and kids, from over 500 brands including L’Oréal, Garnier, and Paul Mithcell. Its catalog features 10,000 SKUs ranging from beauty, skincare, haircare, and perfumes to clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories.

“Bagallery focuses on authentic supply for products by entering into partnerships with likes of Unilever, Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, and Kiko Milano. This gives us competitive access to brands sought by its target demographic consumers,” noted the statement by Bagallery.

The startup had originally started as a Facebook and Instagram page by Mina Salman and her husband Salman Sattar. After running the business on Facebook for over four years, the duo launched an ecommerce platform with its own dedicated operations and fulfillment teams in 2017.

A statement by Bagallery noted that it has witnessed tremendous growth since the launch of its online platform without sharing further details. The statement also claimed that it is the leader in the beauty and fashion ecommerce segment of Pakistan. Almost 95 percent of the visitors on its website are women, added the statement.

Mina Salman, the co-founder of Bagallery who also happens to be a social media influencer, commenting on the occasion, said, “We are really excited to have received LIVC’s backing at a time when Bagallery is growing rapidly. The funding will allow us to expand to multiple cities in Pakistan by upgrading our technology stack, inventory management systems, and logistics partnerships to efficiently scale.”

Faisal Aftab, the Managing Partner of Lakson Venture Capital has joined the board of Bagallery as a result of the deal. Speaking about the investment, he said, “The beauty & personal care market in Pakistan is projected to be worth billions of dollars over the next 5 years. This represents a tremendous opportunity for market leaders like Bagallery, especially at a time where internet adoption in Pakistan has attained critical mass with more than 80 million active users.”

Babar Lakhani, the CEO of Lakson Investments which is the parent company of LIVC, has also joined company’s board. He said that Bagallery is in line with their core investment philosophy of supporting strong teams with a proven business model and potential to scale.

Bagallery plans to launch a new version of the platform and mobile apps for iOS and Android in the second quarter of 2021.

Beauty and fashion ecommerce has been growing rapidly across the Middle East & North Africa with startups raising tens of millions of dollars in venture capital. The segment also includes one of the biggest exits of the region; Namshi – which was acquired by Emaar Malls for $280 million.


Pakistan’s Fatima Gobi Ventures announces first close of its $20 million debut fund



Fatima Gobi Ventures, a Pakistani venture capital firm that was launched last year as a result of a partnership between leading Pakistani conglomerate Fatima Group and one of the most active multi-stage Asian VCs Gobi Partners, has announced the first close for its $20 million debut fund ‘Techxila Fund I’ today. The announcement was made at 021 Disrupt Wired, an online conference, earlier today.

In a statement to MEANbytes, the VC firm said that 70 percent of the targeted size (which is about $14 million) has been raised so far and it is on track to complete the final close early next year.

The firm did not share a lot of details about its limited partners but said that they include entrepreneurs from different industries including agriculture, banking, energy, and textiles. Souq’s former CFO Asif Keshodia who has made at least two direct investments in Pakistani startups during the last few months also invested in the fund.

The fund has already made five investments and aims to invest in another 10 to 15 startups. Fatima Gobi Ventures invests in seed-stage and Series A startups across different verticals including travel, logistics, fintech, healthcare, education, ecommerce, consumer tech, industrial internet, and TaqwaTech (startups building solutions for Muslims all over the world).

Out of the five investments that the fund has made, three have been previously announced: Sastaticket, Airlift, and Tajir. The two new announcements that Fatima Gobi Ventures has announced today include SafePay and InventHub.

Safepay that was part of Y Combinator Summer 2020 batch is a fintech that has been building a Stripe for Pakistan. It enables online businesses to receive (card) payments from their customers. The startup has built easy-to-use developer-friendly solutions that allow online businesses to set up payment integrations with their website or mobile app in minutes. Safepay also offers plugins to make integration even easier for platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, Opencart, and WordPress.

The size of the investment was not disclosed but Ali Mukhtar sharing the details during 021 Disrupt said that the round includes some of leading the international investors.

InventHub is a San Francisco-headquartered startup with an engineering team in Pakistan. Founded by Usama Abid, a Pakistani entrepreneur, it is a SaaS platform for inventors and hardware companies to collaborate on their projects, enabling them to develop hardware products better and faster. Ali Mukhtar introduced the startup as GitHub for hardware.

“The company has developed efficient processes that help eliminate redundancies which translate into lower costs for hardware development and enable faster, more affordable innovations to happen,” noted a statement by Fatima Gobi Ventures.

According to the statement, American investor Tim Draper has also invested in InventHub.


Pakistan’s Clicky raises $700,000 for its fashion ecommerce platform



Lahore-based fashion ecommerce platform Clicky has raised $700,000 in a pre-Series A round, it announced today in a statement to MENAbytes. The investment came from former Souq/Amazon MENA executive Asif Keshodia, unnamed executives of Xiaomi, and some other individual investors. Clicky has previously raised money from Souq (which was acquired by Amazon in 2017) and local VC Fatima Ventures.

Founded in 2016 by Muhammad Khalid and Syed Shahzad, Clicky sells fashion products with a focus on clothing and footwear. Its catalog includes a mix of local and international brands as well as white label products with the SKUs available on the platform exceeding 20,000, Clicky’s CEO Muhammad Khalid told MENAbytes.

The startup has its fulfillment centers in Lahore and Rawalpindi and ships orders using different third-party logistics services. A part of the investment will be used to further enhance its fulfillment, logistics and customer experience infrastructure.

Clicky declined to share the numbers around its customers and orders but said they’ve been growing really fast.

In a statement, it said that will now focus to work directly with manufacturers and build private labels across different fashion categories, “The new funds will be used to grow a team of fashion designers for home-grown labels.”

Asif Keshodia, commenting on the investment, said, “I am thrilled to be a part of this startup in Pakistan. Clicky is going to take customer experience to new heights and address the growing demand for online fashion retail in the region. We see a massive opportunity here, looking at successful online fashion destinations launched in other markets like Asos in the UK, Zalando in Germany, and Net-A-Porter in France. With local investors being stakeholders, it’s a testament to the confidence that exists in the huge market potential for e-commerce in the country”.

Ali Mukhtar, the founder of Fatima Ventures who sits on Clicky’s board, said, “Khalid and Shahzad have been building a focused e-commerce business and we are excited to see how this investment will bring opportunities for local brands and private labels to grow and provide a high-quality fashion retail experience to Pakistani consumers.”

 
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Pakistan’s Roomy raises $1 million for its tech-enabled mid-tier hotel network



Islamabad-headquartered hospitality startup Roomy has raised $1 million in a pre-Series A round led by Lakson Venture Capital with the participation of Pakistan-focused Karavan VC and a syndicate of angel investors. The investment was announced at an online startup conference 021 Disrupt earlier today.

Roomy was started in 2018 by Dr. Asad Samar, a former investment banker who previously worked with Goldman Sachs and different other firms in the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, to shake things up in the hospitality sector of Pakistan. The leadership team includes Haasin bin Zahid who was previously with Rocket Internet’s travel startup Jovago and Abdul Rehman who previously worked at Convo and Telenor.

The startup partners with unbranded hotel owners by helping them renovate their properties and then take them over to offer rooms to customers through its online platform. Roomy takes care of management, operations, and marketing of the property, sharing revenue with the landlords.

Many would think that Roomy is building something similar to Oyo but that’s not what it’s doing. Oyo does not manage the properties itself. They’re managed by the hotel owners with Oyo offering training and different types of resources for the stakeholders including to staff to help them run better.

Dr. Asad Samar, in a conversation with MENAbytes explained that their partner landlords have seen their income grow by 1.5 to 2.5X after Roomy taking over their properties. But it’s not just the income. The value of the properties also grows several folds as a result of this.

For travelers, the valuation proposition is simple: guaranteed online bookings, contactless check-in & check-out (no front desk queuing), standardized rooms, and branded amenities. These are the things that are usually expected from the top-tier hotels in the country only which cost between $100 to $150 on average for a night. Roomy’s prices start from about $40 per night.

In a statement, Dr. Asad said, “Roomy is a fresh take on the traditional hospitality business. Our rooms are decked out with aesthetically pleasing minimalist interiors, price points tailored for the young and growing Pakistani middle class, tech-stack developed in-house for the smart traveler and an innovative business model designed for scale.”

He had started Roomy with two rooms in a guest house and has now grown the network to have 5 properties with over 200 rooms in four cities across Pakistan, with a team of 100 employees. Its properties include a mix of partner buildings and, pods and yurts set up by Roomy itself in the Northern Areas of Pakistan (which are known for their mountain ranges and are very popular among both local and international travelers). The properties, Dr. Asad has told MENAbytes, have an average occupancy rate of 70 percent.

They’ve recently signed up four more properties that will be made available for the travels within the next few weeks.

It is probably this early success of the model because of which the startup was able to close its round in almost no time during the pandemic (which has proven to be a hell for hospitality/travel startups).

Faisal Aftab, the Managing Partner of Lakson Venture Capital, said, “The hospitality and travel industry in Pakistan is an underserviced market segment with a multi-billion-dollar market opportunity. Roomy is our second pick in the travel vertical as it has a scalable asset-light business model; while addressing the market gap for younger domestic leisure and corporate budget travelers, offering optimally priced standardized rooms & amenities in key locations.”

Roomy plans to use the investment to acquire more properties, grow its team, and increase its marketing spend.

 

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