Flashback to 2018, we heard a Lahore-based startup raise a seed round of $2.2 million in the largest-ever funding round encountered by any Pakistani startup at that time.
Then again in 2021, we heard another rocketing success story from the same Lahore-based startup, that had now secured the largest venture fund in the startup history of the country of $85 million with international participation from 20VC and Buckley Ventures bringing the e-commerce builder to a $275 million valuation. And not just this, the round was also the largest Series B raised by a startup in the Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan, which included some high-profile investors.
This startup, that has brought about a revolution in the startup ecosystem of Pakistan is Airlift Technologies.
What is AIRLIFT?
AIRLIFT started back in 2018 as a decentralized mass transit platform, connecting both bus operators and passengers, later revolutionizing the mass transit business, making it a lot easier and more convenient on the operator end as well as the customer end.
The company aims to build a world of self-empowerment using technology-backed logistic solutions that enable secure, reliable and affordable access to necessities. In a world full of ride-hailing services, Airlift has scaled Pakistan’s largest decentralized transportation network to change the way people move, shifting away from private vehicles towards shared mobility and affordable mass transport. While for transporters, the company offers a way to increase asset utilization by running their buses during idle time. For consumers, Airlift reduces both commute time and cost.
Airlift labels itself as an alternative to Uber, Careem and public transportation, allowing users to book air-conditioned rides on premium quality buses and vans that have fixed routes, stops and times, in the cities of Lahore and Karachi.
Back in 2020, Airlift further diversified into last-mile delivery through AIRLIFT Express, delivering essentials across households in 30-45 minutes across Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Airlift Express spans food supplies, household supplies, pharmacy, stationery, pet food, fresh fruits and vegetables, small electronics and more. The venture has seen massive success, becoming as big as its original business stream of bus transport.
The establishment of AIRLIFT Express follows a trend common to the global transit industry, especially after the advent of the pandemic. As companies like Uber and Careem diversified into courier and delivery services to utilize their resources to the maximum, Airlift also jumped onto the bandwagon and did something similar and utilized technology to improve the lives of people on both ends for the better, from merchant to customer.
Background of the Founders
Usman Gul: Co-founder and CEO
Usman graduated from Denison University with a Bachelor’s in Arts back in 2013 and started off his career as a Business Analyst at MasterCard. After two years, he left MasterCard and joined Marqeta, Inc as Manager – Business Development & Partnerships.
From there he later shifted to DoorDash and then in 2019 enrolled in an MBA programme at INSEAD. However, as his LinkedIn profile mentions, e dropped out of business school to launch Airlift Technologies.
Meher Farrukh: Co-founder
Meher is a Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) alumnus, who graduated as an Accounting & Finance major back in 2014.
She then joined Coca Cola as a Finance Analyst and after working there for three years, left the job and launched Airlift Technologies with her other co-founders.
Zohaib Ali: Co-founder
Zohaib graduated from LUMS as a science major, back in 2014. He began his professional career at the Germany-based firm, Everest Capital. After a year, he joined Pepperstone as a Foreign Exchange Trader and in 2019, he co-founded Airlift technologies with the rest of his peers.
However, he didn’t quite stop there, in May 2020, a year after launching Airlift, he co-founded Dastagyr and left Airlift.
Awaab Khakwany: Co-founder
Awaab is also a LUMS alumnus, who started his professional career at Nestle. And after working at a number of other organizations, in 2019 he co-founded and launched Airlift. Awaab, however, left Airlift in 2020 to pursue other interests.
Muhammad Owais: Co-Founder
Owais, like the rest of his peers, also graduated from LUMS as a science major. After graduation, he joined Teamants, a digital creative agency. He then joined Rocket Internet SE as a Business Analyst. From there, his career took off and he worked with a number of well-known organizations including, Hilaal Foods, Careem, Domino’s Pizza Pakistan, and then in 2019 Airlift.
Owais co-founded Airlift technologies with the rest of his peers in 2019 but later left the company and co-founded Dastagyr, to which he diverted all his efforts.
Ahmed Ayub: Co-founder
Ahmed graduated from FAST-NUCES as a CS major, after which he completed his MBD from the University of Bradford. He started off his professional career as a Systems Analyst at ABN AMRO Global IT Systems, and after four and a half years, left the place and joined LMKR as a Senior Software Manager.
Then in 2006, he joined Systems Limited as a Consultant Software Engineer and finally in 2019, along with other founder members launched Airlift technologies.
Series A financing – Raised $14.2 million
In August 2019, Airlift got its first public validation that had investors’ attention when the startup announced a seed round of $2.2 million Pakistan’s largest seed round at the time being, with participation from international investors, one of which was Aatif Awan. Giving an incentive to the public perception that mass transit was a serious business.
The round was announced at the beginning of November 2019. By October, as per numbers available with Profit, Airlift had crossed the threshold of 10,000 bus bookings per day, generating an annualised revenue of $1.42 million.
Series B Financing – Raised $85 million
Then on July 1st, 2020, Airlift officially announced moving into the grocery delivery business with another investment of $10 million in an extended Series-A round. Under the new model, Airlift would be setting up its operations to make swift deliveries through a network of warehouses to deliver groceries in a short span of 45-minutes under the quick-commerce model.
Just over a year later in August 2021, the company announced raising a record high revenue of $85 million in Series-B funding, and a valuation of a little over a quarter of a billion dollars ($275 million).
Their commitment and simple yet brilliant business model and adaptability have attracted not just national but international attention and acclaim. They have raked in $24.2 Million in investments across multiple rounds. Backed by US-based Quiet Capital, ACE Ventures, TrueSight ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Indus Valley Capital and many other investors.
Future Plans for Airlift
The company aims to use the funding to expand its network and the scope of its operations. Currently concentrated in and around major cities like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, they have already bought a new wave of tech-based logistics solutions across the country.
For now, the company is predominantly focusing on their home turf of Pakistan and are taking advantage of the current need for e-shopping, last-mile delivery services, and the pandemic hindering travel. However, they do claim to have other plans in the pipeline and are working to start full operations on all their business fronts as soon as possible.
Despite its whopping success, the startup now faces competition from Cairo-headquartered Swvl that has expanded to Lahore, Karachi and now Islamabad as well. Airlift is clearly the market leader for now, at least, with over tens of routes and hundreds of buses in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
While the Egyptian startup is clearly backed by some of the leading global and regional investors and has all the resources to spice things up, Airlift doesn’t seem worried at all about the newly faced competition. They’re, in fact, already thinking about their international expansion.