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Afiniti and Careem: Tech Unicorns Made in Pakistan

Afiniti and Careem are two technology unicorns engineered in Pakistan by Pakistanis. AI (artificial intelligence) startup Afiniti software has largely been engineered in Lahore while taxi hailing service Careem's technology has mostly been developed in Karachi. Here's more about these unicorns:

Careem:

Careem is a taxi hailing app that is giving its American competitor Uber a run for its money in a region stretching from Pakistan to the Middle East and North Africa. The company cofounded by Mudassir Sheika, a Pakistani national, is headquartered in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Careem's last round  was valued at over a billion dollars when it raised $350 million from Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) at the end of 2016, according to Tech Crunch.

Careem's software has been developed by its technology partner VentureDive based in Karachi, Pakistan.  VentureDive was started by serial Pakistani entrepreneur Atif Azim who sold his earlier startup Perfigo to network equipment giant Cisco for $74 million in 2004, according to a report in Tech in Asia.

Atif launched VentureDive in 2011 and  took a small equity stake in Careem in exchange for building its entire tech stack – including the app, the website, and other digital platforms. That small stake has now grown to $50 million.

In 2016, Careem acquired VentureDive's engineering team working on its technology to give the engineers more ownership of the product – now they are getting equity stake in Careem and larger bonuses.

Afiniti Development Team in Lahore, Pakistan. Source: Afiniti.com

Afiniti:

Washington D.C. based AI technology firm Afiniti, founded by serial Pakistani-American entrepreneur Zia Chishti, has filed for initial public offering (IPO) at $1.6 billion valuation, according to VentureBeat. The company has grown out of the technology used in the Pakistan-based call center business of The Resource Group (TRG) also founded by Zia Chishti.

Bulk of the Afiniti development team is located in Thokar Niaz Baig, Lahore. In addition, the company has development team members in Islamabad and Karachi.

Chishti founded his first company Align Technology in 1997 in Silicon Valley. It creates clear plastic braces for straightening teeth by using advanced 3-D computer imaging. The technology now trademarked as Invisalign has helped millions of people straighten their teeth for a beautiful smile without enduring the pain and unsightly looks of the traditional steel brackets and wires used in orthodontics. Align Technology is now valued at $10 billion.

Afiniti uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to enable real-time, optimized pairing of individual call center agents with individual customers in large enterprises for best results. When a customer contacts a call center, Afiniti matches his or her phone number with any information related to it from up to 100 databases, according to VentureBeat. These databases carry purchase history, income, credit history, social media profiles and other demographic information. Based on this information, Afiniti routes the call directly to an agent who has been determined, based on their own history, to be most effective in closing deals with customers who have similar characteristics.

Summary:

Pakistan is an emerging center of technology with at least two unicorns, Afiniti and Careem, engineered by Pakistanis in Pakistan.  With growing numbers of young homegrown Pakistani technologists, a highly skilled diaspora and an evolving startup ecosystem with incubators, accelerators and investors, the country is beginning to demonstrate its vast potential as a vibrant technology hub of the future. Provincial governments, particularly those in Punjab and KP, are showing leadership in encouraging this trend. The main ingredients are all coming together to make things happen in Pakistan.

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 6, 2017 at 8:58pm

PAKISTAN’s FIRST VC FIRM
Published on June 6, 2017
LikePAKISTAN’s FIRST VC FIRM22Comment4ShareShare PAKISTAN’s FIRST VC FIRM6
Babar Lakhani
Babar Lakhani
FollowBabar Lakhani
CEO @ Lakson Investments


I am excited to announce that Lakson Investments (“LI”) has been awarded the first VC license in Pakistan.

LI is one of the largest private sector asset managers in Pakistan with over US$300mn under management with a rating of AM2+.

In Q4 2016, LI launched Lakson Investment Private Equity (“LI PE”) , which is led by a senior team of partners who were previously Directors at Goldman Sachs and Abraaj. This PE Fund is currently in pre-launch and expects to be investing by the fall of 2017.

LI is actively seeking to build another high-calibre investment team for Lakson Investments VC (”LI VC”) combining local knowledge with international experience. The Fund will invest alongside entrepreneurs and local businesses to build new enterprises and through investing seed capital, take ideas to the next stage. LI VC will work with LI’s team of over 50 experienced professionals while at the same time, leverage the operational experience of the Lakson Group. Over 14,000 people are employed by Lakson in Pakistan in businesses across sectors such as: Technology (CyberNet & Sybrid), Broadcast and Print Media (Express Media Group), FMCG (Colgate-Palmolive Pakistan), Insurance, and QSR (McDonald’s Pakistan).

Pakistan today has incredible opportunities in the IT space and LI VC is excited to announce that Sybrid will be their key technology partner to review both the IT capabilities of the firms that the Funds invest in and as well, evaluate how IT will create scalable opportunities. Teams and offices will be based around Pakistan in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pakistans-first-vc-firm-babar-lakhani

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 16, 2017 at 7:15am

Uber rival Careem closes $500M raise at $1B+ valuation as Daimler steps in

https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/14/uber-rival-careem-closes-500m-rai...

Amid ongoing struggles at Uber, one of its stronger regional rivals in transportation on demand has raised a significant round of funding, picking up a significant strategic investor in the process. Careem, a transportation startup currently in 80 cities across the Middle East, has raised another $150 million — closing out a $500 million Series E round that it confirmed in December when it announced the first $350 million tranche. With the new funds, Mudassir Sheikha, Careem’s co-founder and CEO, confirmed that Careem’s valuation is now over $1 billion. A separate source tells us more precisely that the funding is now $1.2 billion.

This latest tranche is being led by Saudi-based Kingdom Holding, the VC that also backs Lyft and invested in Twitter and Snap before they went public. German automaker Daimler (which itself has acquired Hailo in the UK, Taxibeat in Greece and MyTaxi in Germany), and VCs DCM Ventures and Coatue Management also participated. (A source confirms to us that the overall $500 million is being led by Rakuten, which invested in the first tranche.)

“With our investment in Careem, we are now taking the strategic step to becoming the world’s leading provider of mobility services,” Klaus Entenmann, CEO, Daimler Financial Services AG, said in a statement. “Careem has quickly leapt to the leadership of ridesharing within the MENA regions by delivering rapid innovation and customer growth, and it is spearheading new ways to transport people from point A to point B.”

This is a significant Series E for Careem — previously, the company had only raised $72 million. The size of the round speaks of the opportunity that investors see right now to grow more regional transportation services — both in direct competition with Uber and incumbent forms of transportation, as well as to tap a very big opportunity.

In the case of Careem, the latter is actually the stronger force at the moment. Sheikha — who co-founded the company with Magnus Olsson (who is the MD) — estimates that Careem plus Uber account for only around 1 percent of the potential market for transportation services in the region.

“When it comes to ride hailing, Uber is the primary competitor, but between us we’re serving just 1 percent of the opportunity,” he said, “so the biggest challenge is just growing.

“Dubai is a truly global city, but as soon as you leave Dubai for places like Oman or Cairo or many other cities, you realise that public transport infrastructure is not extensive. Plus, in our markets, if you look at the numbers, car ownership is also very low. Transportation is supply-constrained.”

Indeed, while half the world is railing about how Uber has treated women over the years, the challenges are of a decidedly different nature in Careem’s neck of the woods.

While women can drive in some places, in many they cannot, and many simply do not. “Women want to go out to school, college and work but cannot go because there is no car available,” he said. Many rely on fathers, brothers and husbands to get them around. “Transportation and lack of public transport what we are trying to address and reliably remove that constraint.”

Another issue that is perhaps more specific to Careem’s place as a startup mostly focused on emerging markets: payments. The vast majority of consumers either do not have credit or debit cards, or simply prefer to pay in cash, so Careem has had to adjust accordingly.

The company has come up with a mix of interesting solutions, including a network of people in its cities who act as collection managers, taking funds and then paying out drivers. And it also has developed an in-app wallet, where your change can be deposited after a ride if your driver doesn’t have it to hand, and then used for a future trip. The wallet also acts as a credit account for the highest-rated passengers.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 31, 2017 at 6:57am

#Startup culture flourishing in #Pakistan, says US tech executive. #entrepreneurship

https://www.dawn.com/news/1348720

BUILDING start-ups is a risky business. Seven to eight out of 10 don’t end up being successful. That’s how it works in a healthy, functioning economy.

But a country needs an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs who try and fail.

The good thing is that this culture is flourishing in Pakistan, according to Andrew Scheuermann, co-founder and CEO of US sensing automation company Arch Systems.

Though a lack of financing is a big issue in the country, Andrew Scheuermann believes good entrepreneurs can use whatever they have to start creating value and multiply

“There are many parts of a functioning ecosystem. Some of those are clearly happening in Pakistan,” Mr Scheuermann told Dawn in a recent interview.

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Mr Scheuermann, 28, is a recent PhD from Stanford University and was one of the early team members who built StartX, considered one of the top start-up accelerators in the world.

He believes Pakistan is going in the right direction as far as the start-up culture is concerned, saying that he has been “very impressed” with the entrepreneurial spirit in the country.

“At the end of the day entrepreneurship is driven, more than anything else, by the entrepreneurs, not by the investors. It’s driven by entrepreneurs who create opportunity and who find needs that they want to satisfy,” he says. “The competition from great ideas and energetic people drives the ecosystem. And that is the part that is going best in Pakistan.”

Mr Scheuermann is on a visit to Pakistan under the US Embassy’s Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. He has been meeting young entrepreneurs in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, giving them tips about raising and managing funds for their ventures.

Emphasising on the qualities of a good entrepreneur, he says two common values are persistence and resourcefulness. Good entrepreneurs know the problem they want to solve, and they don’t give up even if the current solution is not the right one. They keep trying until they solve the problem.

In Pakistan, a lack of access to finance is a major issue for young entrepreneurs. Most commercial banks prefer to invest in risk-free government notes and bonds and avoid loans to the private sector.

However, Mr Scheuermann says good entrepreneurs know how to create value with little resources. “You don’t need million-dollar financing to build a company. You can have $50. Whatever you have available to you, you can use it to start creating value and multiply,” Mr Scheuermann says.

Another issue is that though a lot of young people want to try their hand at entrepreneurship, they don’t know how to get started. Nearly 23pc (or around 12 million) young Pakistanis want to start their own business but “are clueless on the procedures and requirements”, says a 2016 report of by start-up accelerator Invest2Innovate quoting the data of United Nations Development Programme.

However, incubators like The Nest i/o, Plan9 and Seed Ventures, and accelerators such as Invest2Innovate, Telenor Velocity and PlanX are trying to change that by helping start-ups grow.

Another key trait of an entrepreneur, Mr Scheuermann says, is self-learning. The biggest thing you can do to advance your career is to start figuring out how to teach yourself, how to use internet, books, mentors and the people around you to learn what you need to know. “We are born self-learners. You have to remember and foster it,” he says.

He is optimistic about the start-up scene in Pakistan and believes the country can certainly produce a unicorn — a term that refers to a start-up valued at over $1 billion (think of Uber, Airbnb and Pinterest). “There are 200 million people in Pakistan. It’s a very good size. Less than one per cent of them have a PC internet, but now 42m, almost a quarter, have mobile broadband and [the number is] growing fast,” he says.

Comment by Riaz Haq on August 18, 2017 at 4:42pm

The DeanBeat: 3 Pakistani brothers ensure mobile game chat isn’t lost in translation

https://venturebeat.com/2017/08/18/the-deanbeat-3-pakistani-brother...


Game developers can grow up anywhere these days.these days, and the latest example of that are the Zaeem brothers from Pakistan. Saad, Ammar, and Shayan have created two startups: one that makes mobile games, and a new venture that is creating a platform for multilingual chat in games.

The startups have created jobs in their hometown in Lahore, Pakistan, and Silicon Valley. Their successes are modest by the valley’s standards. But growing up in their part of the world, they overcame a lot of odds and made a rare successful tech and game startup in a fast-moving industry. I met them at a party at the Seattle Aquarium at the game event Casual Connect USA, and their story intrigued me. I met them again at a coffee house in Palo Alto, California, and I listened.

Their Pakistan company, Caramel Tech Studios, has been making mobile games since 2011, and they are creating a new San Francisco startup, Fizz, that promises to do real-time translation for text chat in mobile games. Saad is heading that effort, and he has moved to Silicon Valley to raise money and build the company’s connections to others.

The brothers credit their entrepreneurial spirit to their father, who’s in textiles and taught them about startups and business. In the late 1990s, when Saad was 14 and Ammar was 12, they learned how to create websites. One company hired them for $700 or so, and that was a lot of money for young Pakistani entrepreneurs. Their parents “acquired” their company and urged them to stay in school.

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And that story is replaying everywhere where people grow up playing games, study technology, and try to create their own businesses. Part of the inspiration is Silicon Valley’s fairy tale rags-to-riches stories, and part is the desire to play and learn how to build games.

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, families wanted their children to become medical doctors,” Ammar said. “Now it’s engineering.”

Their lives have been full of lucky breaks, made more frequent by their dedication. Ammar was interested in investing in stocks. Saad, the oldest, joined a startup without a salary. He helped the business grow and get work for hire. Then the brothers set up their own company, making software and games for hire. Halfbrick Studios, the Australian game company that made Fruit Ninja, gave the Zaeem brothers their lucky break. It hired them to build a version of Fruit Ninja for the Nokia Symbian phone platform.

“The biggest problem we had was having the cash flow to take bigger risks,” Ammar said.

The Halfbrick deal enabled them to boost the company to 22 people in Lahore, which had a good university that produced technical graduates. The Halfbrick job led to more work with Kabam, a mobile game company that made hits such as Kingdoms of Camelot. Andrew Sheppard, then head of studios for Kabam, put Caramel Tech Studios to work on a mobile card strategy game, Order of Elements. The studio then worked for Animoca, a Hong Kong company, to build an Astro Boy mobile game.

Apple liked the idea of a game company in Pakistan, and it featured the title that the brothers made. One of their games, Blades of Battle, has been featured by Apple in 137 countries.

After a while, Caramel Tech Studios started making its own games. That was like moving up the food chain, and it led to more deals. Then Saad stepped down as CEO in 2016 and started the effort to build the chat platform.

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