Pakistani startup sees the country’s largest funding round

The online shopping delivery firm pivoted in the pandemic to offer 30-minute deliveries, raised $85m in Series B round.

By Bloomberg

Airlift Technologies Pvt. has scored the largest single private funding round in Pakistan’s history ahead of plans to enter overseas markets, as the country begins to join a regional startup financing boom.

The Lahore-based online shopping delivery firm raised $85 million in Series B financing co-led by Harry Stebbings from 20VC and Josh Buckley from Buckley Ventures Ltd., with participation from former Y Combinator president Sam Altman. That would be the largest-ever round for a Pakistani startup, according to a data tracker from venture capitalist fund Invest2Innovate.

Pakistan is “in the very early stages, but the transformation is happening very, very quickly and we are seeing a shift in behavior,” Airlift co-founder Usman Gul said in an interview. “We have a lot of people who previously didn’t shop online.”

The investment in Pakistan, a country of more than 200 million people — the world’s fifth-most populous — with a fledgling tech industry, mirrors 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.

For Airlift, the funding comes after the company pivoted around September into e-commerce with 30-minute shipments after the pandemic halted their main business — selling air-conditioned bus rides. It enters a space that’s hotly competitive around the world, where grocers and e-commerce startups like Dunzo, Gorillas, Getir, and Gopuff battle to provide swift deliveries across traffic-clogged cities from Delhi to New York and London.

Airlift’s fund raise is equal to the entire amount raised by Pakistani startups in the first half of the year. It also eclipses the largest initial public offering by the nation’s private sector, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

It now plans to expand its operations to 15 Pakistani cities by end of the year, up from a current eight. It’s also in the middle of a hiring spree with plans to double its core workforce to 400 by the end of next year, Gul said. The company is looking to enter an overseas developing market in about three months.

“Very quickly we realized that the distribution of consumer goods was quite broken,” he said. “I ordered groceries and had to wait six hours to get that delivery. So we wanted to change that.”