Worldometers estimates that Pakistan’s population falls just short of 190 million people, placing the country in sixth position in terms of population size. Taking into account the landmass, this works out to 233 people per km2. As of 2014, 37% of this population was said to be living in urban conglomerations, suggesting that Pakistan’s cities and towns are bursting at the seams with commuters. The ensuing traffic congestion means commuters face boredom and frustration, both of which are unwelcome additions to the financial burdens that come with rising fuel costs.
Given this context, a recent Pew survey, which concludes that eight percent of people in Pakistan own a smartphone (and the numbers are growing), the majority of which live in urban areas, would suggest that smartphone carpooling apps, such as Tripda and Savaree have the potential to achieve great success.
Yet, despite the potential, the road ahead is paved with speed bumps. Firstly, the target audience is unfamiliar with such apps and secondly, users are likely to be wary of riding with strangers due to security concerns. Nevertheless the people behind these apps are both prepared and optimistic.
The German start-up incubator Rocket Internet already boasts of many international success stories, including Carmudi, Daraz.pk, and Foodpanda. The introduction of Tripda in Pakistan is aimed at organising transportation between people who can then share the cost of travel and benefit from the social experience.
Tripda was first launched in Brazil, and in 13 other countries, eventually hitting Pakistan in late 2014. According to Ahmed Usman, Country Manager, Tripda, Pakistan is of particular interest because of the unique demographics, given that 65% of the population is aged between 15 and 35 years – “in Pakistan we foresee an even greater need for our product due to the large population, the young demographics and increasing internet and smartphone penetration.”
Usman describes the app as a carpooling platform. Anyone driving in a certain direction with room to carry other passengers can post on Tripda and include a passenger charge which is suggested by Tripda based on GoogleMaps to calculate the distance (the fee can be increased or decreased by the driver by a small margin before posting on Tripda). Interested parties can book the ride, which can be within and between cities. To accommodate passengers who only want to travel a certain distance, Tripda has waypoints on the route and such passengers can alight and pay for their travel until that point.
In Usman’s opinion, carpooling is not that alien a concept to Pakistanis, especially among office and university goers. He says the app simply allows such people to organise carpools more efficiently and according to the testimonials on Tripda’s website, the company seems to be achieving its goal of allowing users to both economise and socialise.
“We have noted that young users join Tripda not only to carpool and share the cost of travel, but they also like the convenience and the experience of meeting new people.”
— Ahmed Usman, Country Manager, Tripda.
Although Tripda does not charge anything currently, it may in future opt for monetisation through advertising or by charging a commission for every post. In this regard Usman points out that the app is an attractive proposition for investors and that recently, “Tripda raised Series A funding worth $11 million from global investors, such as Rocket Internet and a top rated US based VC (Venture Capital) company.”
Usman is confident about Tripda’s future in Pakistan – “Tripda has been one of the fastest growing markets globally. It has close to 100,000 users globally, enabling thousands of people to carpool in a safe, fun and convenient way. Based on these results, we are extremely confident of the long term sustainability of our business model.”
This bootstrapping start-up is a creation of co-founders, Madeeha Hassan and Qasim Zafar. The start-up operates out of Lahore and Islamabad, but there are plans to expand to Karachi. The app first saw the light of day after Hassan and Zafar won the Civic Hackathon – a government initiative aimed at bringing ‘civil geeks’ together to brainstorm innovative ideas that could lead to a better Pakistan. Hassan says that “we really feel a social disconnect in our society. People are conscious and aware of issues, but they have no platform on which to express themselves. Keeping this in mind, we aim to build a true social movement by changing the way our society interacts and travels.”
After winning the Hackathon and receiving encouragement from people involved in app development and software programming, Hassan and Zafar launched their app in April 2014 with the objective of targeting people who commute and providing solutions for traffic congestion related issues. In essence, Savaree works as a carpooling matchmaker; people can register either as drivers (Savaree captains) or passengers and then hook up to journey together to a pre-decided destination. The service is free to use, although there are plans to monetise eventually and charge a fixed percentage on every transaction as well as build a dedicated Savaree app payment solution.
Savaree also provide strict background checks and a feedback system whereby it may also intervene to resolve any potential disputes. In Hassan’s view their business model will be sustainable, as “both Uber and Lyft are great examples of similar platforms that have proved to be successful businesses.”
Although Savaree current services only university students and office goers, there are ambitious growth plans. Hassan ultimately aspires to bring on not only private cars, but rickshaws and taxis as well.
If Savaree is successful it could become one of Pakistan’s biggest success stories. However, challenges remain. For a start, smartphone penetration among blue collar workers is fairly low. Then there is the fact that in order to register on Savaree, drivers are required to provide information such as their CNIC number, which some may be reluctant to do. Another challenge will be to overcome the fear of travelling with strangers, which is why word of mouth marketing is crucial. As Hassan puts it, “It’s a slow and steady process. Nothing works better than one friend telling another about an app that gets them to a destination and back and has contributed to their earning fuel money on their way.”