Learning to drive can be an exciting new skill, but in order to acquire it, one requires practice as well as knowledge about traffic rules to ensure both one’s safety and that of other drivers and pedestrians. Therefore, it is imperative to select the right driving school.
Unfortunately, despite there being hundreds of private driving schools in Pakistan, people find it difficult to recommend one to family or friends because they are sceptical about the professionalism, expertise and credibility of these schools. This is due to several reasons. Firstly, in the absence of a regulatory body, there are no prerequisites involved in setting up a driving school. They are usually run from a single room; instructors are not always qualified (there is no board to certify them) and the cars are usually rundown. People also tend to complain that driving schools do not make an active effort to teach driving rules via theoretical classes; furthermore, instructors tend to be unprofessional and during lessons, they even run personal errands. As a result, a substantial amount of prospective learners (more specifically students, housewives and mothers) prefer learning to drive from family members or end up not learning at all due to a lack of options.
Keeping in mind the gap in the market, Faryal Farooqui (a marketing professional who has previously worked for organisations such as Aman Foundation, Barclay’s Bank, Hascol and GSK) established Seekho, a driving school, in September.
Recalling her experiences, she says “I was looking to polish my driving skills and acquire an international driver’s licence. The two to three schools I went to were literally in shambles, the instructors looked anything but professional (all they did was chew paan/gutka and were rather unkempt). Even worse was the fact that they knew nothing about international traffic rules and I was given lessons in a Mehran with a broken dashboard, which stopped inadvertently during lessons.”
Disappointed, she secured the services of a private female instructor, but this experience was not very different from the previous one. “That is when I made up my mind to launch a driving school. I knew there was a need for a formalised structure for driver education programmes aimed at people who wanted a safe learning experience and value for money.”
According to Farooqui, the reason why other private schools are running successfully has to do a lot with the market they are focusing on. “If you are targeting a market that does not really care about rules, safety and just wants to learn to get by and obtain a licence, there are a lot of half-baked motor schools. I wanted to revamp this business model and took the risk of giving it a shot.”
Farooqui believes Seekho, with their unique and comprehensive courses, will prepare would-be drivers to take the road anywhere in the world, hence the tagline: Wheels of Change.
What makes Seekho different from other driving schools is the fact that they offer driving lessons in brand new 1300cc air-conditioned cars, all of them insured (learner driver included) and equipped with dual brakes and dash-cams. They also hold classes that focus on theoretical knowledge about rules, some of which are conducted via video and led by Motorway and National Highway officials.
Seekho also provide a driver’s guide (a manual compiled through research and from global driver education guides) which include details on road laws, how to obtain or renew a licence, in addition to helpful information such as knowing your vehicle’s anatomy, how to check your car’s battery water, changing a tyre, what to do in case of an emergency and appropriate behaviour in case of an accident. The guide is available in English, but an Urdu version will be published soon.
To register, customers have to come in person to the Seekho office, pay in advance and decide their schedule. The two plans on offer include ‘Teach Me Everything’, which offers 12 lessons (45 minutes each) of which nine are practical (behind the wheel) and three theoretical, and ‘Enhance My Skills’, which includes nine lessons (six are practical and three theoretical). Before beginning any lesson, learners have to apply for a learner’s licence from the Driving Licence Office and Seekho can assist its students in acquiring that as well.
“People with degrees didn’t think being a driving instructor was an impressive profession to quote and the ones who were keen to teach didn’t understand why a degree was necessary. It took me a while to change this mindset.”
For the moment, pick and drop services are limited to Defence and Clifton, which Farooqui admits restricts the market, but she plans to expand operations and cater to all parts of Karachi. In another three months, Seekho will add automatic cars to their fleet and launch an app to enable new learners to register online; they are also trying to enable online payments.
The biggest challenge was hiring the right people to train. Initially Seekho looked for people with a university degree and at least five years’ experience and certification in teaching people how to drive – a combination unheard of in Pakistan. “People with degrees didn’t think being a driving instructor was an impressive profession to quote and the ones who were keen to teach didn’t understand why a degree was necessary. It took me a while to change this mindset.”
Farooqui used HR agencies, social media and word-of-mouth to encourage people to apply. Instructors have 15+ years driving experience and have taught at least 10 people before joining. Since such a role did not exist earlier (a professional instructor with certification, who was also well-spoken and had a passion to teach and drive), instead of being called driving instructors, Seekho calls them ‘Training Executives or Officers’; “it sounds more respectful,” says Farooqui.
Though Farooqui chose to market Seekho only on digital (Facebook, Instagram and their website) along with a few radio spots, she says that the driving school is garnering a lot of attention from prospective learners and a promising number have registered. Apart from the promotional material (flyers and giveaways), we are working on feedback and testimonials as this business runs mostly on word-of-mouth.”
The marketing plan involved visits to schools and universities and offering students early bird discounts. There are also plans to launch a defensive driving course (designed to provide drivers with short, single topic-focused driver training throughout the year which focuses on reinforcing awareness about driving safely) for corporates.
For Farooqui, the journey from concept to execution has been challenging, but she is optimistic that Seekho will go a long way in changing people’s perception about driving schools in Pakistan.
“I know it’s really cliché to say one can make a difference, but one can.”