It was reassuring and exciting at the same time to see about 100 startups in Pakistan showcasing their talent in the recently held Startup Expo by Startup Magazine at Pak-China Friendship Centre. The Pakistani youth is booming with energy and innovative ideas, but lacks mentorship, guidance and the capital to grow upon these ideas. However, it seems that the Pakistani expat community from the Silicon Valley is finally starting to notice a lucrative investment opportunity in the Pakistani startup scene.
Here is a round-up of some of the startups I found particularly interesting:
Firefly was initially formed as a gift and greetings company in 2010 but now has moved on to be a platform for crafters and home-owned businesses. It has brought many international manufactures to Pakistan too and aims to rekindle the spirit of custom gifts in the country. Although it sells its products directly through its Facebook page, it seems that such expos also gives it a big opportunity to make money as its stalls was frequented by buyers every thirty minutes.
Lootlo.pk aims to be the Groupon of Pakistan by even giving up to 94% off on specific products. With Grabdeals.pk and Chalo.pk coming around, they have got some tough competition to work with. And considering that it gives everything on a discount, even if it is able to conquer the market by developing good relationships with clients, but how it will sustain profitability in the long-run is still unclear. But what’s fascinating is that it offers almost every payment solution in Pakistan, from credit card payment to mobicash, to easypaisa, to cash on delivery.
I was a little disappointed to see BabyPlanet.pk, one of the golden boys of Plan9, featuring their products in their stall like the sellers on a street. Also, it looked as if it totally forgot the need of branding. But what does Baby Planet even do? It offers all the products parents would need but at a lower price than the market with free home delivery. The people behind Baby Planet know how to calculate a customer’s needs so they have an automatic notification system whenever a customer needs to replenish its stock of a particular product.
Aloo Clan is a fun and free-spirited online community which aims to be the one-stop solution for all your designing and social media needs. It provides services in designing, development, photography, marketing strategy as well as brand development. Considering that the founders are a bunch of students, it promises to exhibit a lot of creativity for its clients. It was refreshing again to see young woman stepping into the world of business.
Another startup that caught my eye was HNH Designs founded by a woman again ‘Hira Haroon’ two years ago after she completed her Bachelors in Computer Arts and Textile Designing. This should be the punch line for the fighters of liberal arts education in Pakistan. You can only breed entrepreneurship if you allow people to do what they are really passionate about, not what earns them a stable but mediocre income. HNH Designs takes customized orders for screen printing, hand weaving, hand embroidery and block printing. It is soon rolling out digital printing too.
It was good to see Devstroke, a web and mobile development startup, started by a woman ‘Sundas Jabeen’ receiving a lot of footfall. While it primarily provides consultation in online business and business process outsourcing, it also seeks to mentor young entrepreneurs in materializing their dreams.
If there is one startup whose name truly befits it, that’s ChotaBhai.com. It literally acts as a little brother for Pakistanis going abroad alone and provides all kind of services from groceries deliveries, documents clearing, travel help, medical services to wedding and other event arrangements. Sadly, it’s website is not functional at the moment and those willing to try out its services at the moment will be turned off.
Lettuce Bee Kids was another prominent startup in the social entrepreneurship category that received a lot of attendance at its stall. It aims to reintegrate street children back into the society by providing them with social, material, psychological and emotional support. It is a self-sustainable social business and generates revenue through selling the various crafts its inmates make. What’s more interesting is that Lettucebee Kids carefully picks out the relevant digital media trends and educates the children about them, because it believes that technology is one of the most effective ways in poverty-allevaition. Sara Adeel, the founder of Lettuce Bee Kids, told that she is looking to revamp LBK’s online store so that it can sell its products more efficiently. All those e-commerce service providers interested in some CSR, must heed this call.
If you are a woman managing a house and don’t know who to call when the generator breaks, Technician.pk is your savior. You can now order a technician online. But considering that the frequency of use of such a service, Technician.pk would do better with a smartphone app. The more convenient it is for the customer, the more he/she is likely to use the service. It seeks to be the top-of-the-mind soluton for repair of electrical appliances, computer networking and solar power in both residential and industrial areas. So if your AC is not cooling or your microwave just caught fire, you know who to call. Perhaps, Technician.pk could use more social media marketing to really spread the world about its services.
MENA is a social enterprise that aims to empower women in the slums by giving them the opportunity to make paper bags and packets and then selling them to high-end retailers and wholesalers. While they are only based in Islamabad at the moment, they are looking to expand their services to Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi soon.
EFound, the third position holder in the Islamabad Civic Hackathon in February, is already trying to catch the investors’ eye. It will be travelling to Geneva this September to represent Pakistan in Seedstars World event. It is an Android App that intends to provide tracking services for stolen or lost Objects through scanning NFC/RFID tags. This can be an extremely useful tool for retailers trying to keep track of their inventories and could be a game-changer for many warehouses.
So, it is clear that the Pakistani startup community has got a lot of potential. Perhaps, we need to hold more Investor Summits where these startups can pitch to investors and get the funding they need. And it is about time.