Pakistan’s up-and-coming startup airlift has secured $85 million in Series B funding in the largest-ever funding round for a Pakistani startup. The round is also the largest Series B raised by a startup in the Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan, and includes some high-profile investors.
Congratulations are pouring in from all directions. Even Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan took to Twitter on Friday to congratulate the company.
PM Khan wrote, “We welcome the recent investment of 85 Million USD by leading VCs of the world in Airlift, a company led by young Pakistanis.”
He added, “Pakistan has huge potential and we are open for business. My govt is fully committed to creating opportunities.”
We welcome the recent investment of 85 Million USD by leading VCs of the world in Airlift, a company led by young Pakistanis. Pakistan has huge potential and we are open for business. My govt is fully committed to creating opportunities.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) August 20, 2021
Details of the Funding
Talking to MENAbytes, the startup has confirmed that the round is a single close (not a tranched commitment) and does not include any secondaries. The company revealed earlier that the business was valued at $275 million.
The investment was co-led by Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC Explorer and Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures. Former Y Combinator President Sam Altman, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Bain Capital’s Chairman Steve Pagliuca, former Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, TransferWise’s founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus, DoorDash co-founder Stanley Tang, Rappi co-founder, and CEO Simon Borrero, Postmates founder, and CEO Baastian Lehman, also participated in the round, MENAbytes wrote.
Airlift started as a transit business, building a service similar to Uber for air conditioned-buses in Pakistan. The startup quickly gained attention and became popular among local population, clocking over 35,000 rides a day. However, then the pandemic arrived, disrupting all mobility in the country, like the world.
Then, the Usman Gul, the founder and chief executive of Airlift, took the call to pivot to quick commerce. Talking to Tech Crunch, he said, “This entire space of quick commerce is on the brink of a global transformation. Airlift is at the forefront for leading that transformation in Asia and Africa.”
Airlift operates a quick commerce service, in eight cities including Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad in Pakistan. Users can order groceries, fresh produce, other essential items including medicines as well as sports goods from the Airlift website or app and have it delivered to them in 30 minutes.
According to Tech Crunch, Airlift today operates over 30 dark stores and processes hundreds of thousands of orders each month.
Founder and CEO Gul told Tech Crunch the startup has found that setting up these fulfillment centers is the most efficient way to serve the market. “The more middlemen you introduce in this chain between the items and the customers, you begin to compromise the experience,” he said.
Within the first twelve months of its launch, the company has reportedly been able to reduce its cost of blended customer acquisition to $5 and unit costs to $2.50.
Gul said the startup, which today employs over 100 people, plans to expand to more categories including electronics, adding that the idea is to expand to new categories and build the railroads to move consumer goods from manufacturers to consumers.
The investment in Pakistan, a country of more than 200 million people, the world’s fifth-most populous, with a fledgling tech industry, is similar to a wave of investment across the border in India.
Pakistani startups, the bulk of which are focused on e-commerce, raised a record $101 million in the first half of this year compared with $66 million in all of 2020, according to Invest2Innovate data. That’s still dwarfed by its neighbor, where technology startups scored a record $6.3 billion in the second quarter.