Home to a young, increasingly connected population of 180 million souls, the word most often associated with Pakistan is “potential”. The potential to do this, the potential to accomplish that, the potential to…just fill in the blank.
The downside of the “potential” label, however, is that it often means little as yet has been done and there is still a long way to go.
For Pakistan, that is no longer so strongly the case as the country moves forward in its economic expansion. As Ebay CEO Devin Wenig noted last month: “It’s the fastest growing market we have around the world”.
And while the country’s prospects engender its share of cynics, Pakistan itself is home to lofty optimism —as revealed in last year’s Business Confidence Index that found people’s economic outlook there humming along at a six-year high.
One ingredient in the sunny forecast for the world’s 43rd largest economy is that 53% of the population is under 25-years-old. They’re young, they’re outfitting themselves with technology and they have a great deal of pride in their homeland.
Amongst the stars in Pakistan’s ascent (though turning an ancient 34-years-old next month) is Nauman Sikandar Mirza.
Nauman is the charismatic CEO of foodpanda, a popular food delivery app that acquired his own successful startup EatOye! in 2015 after he and his partner Rai Umair built the business from three tables in his father’s house into a prized acquisition target.
Branding in Asia recently spoke with Nauman on a wide range of topics from his own success to his take on what’s happening on the ground in Pakistan.
You started EatOye! with three tables in your father’s house and now you’re part of a global giant. What do you miss about the old days as a budding entrepreneur?
Honestly, I don’t miss the old days; but at times when I am going through ‘bad’ days, I get flashbacks of those days. It was a chaos. Starting a business from home is difficult because you have limited resources yet a lot of things to take care of, all by yourself.
I still remember, the law and order situation in the city was vulnerable at that time and my small team had a major problem coming to the office. Moreover, there were a lot of issues related to the seamless provision of basic utilities such as internet and electricity. Therefore, it was really challenging to make sure that all the amenities were available to run the operations in a smooth manner.
Nevertheless, I was driven by the dream of building something amazing for Pakistani people that they can be proud of. So, despite all the obstacles, we kept going and luckily we were able to move from my father’s house finding funding for Eatoye! which was later acquired by foodpanda. And now, both are part of the portfolio of Delivery Hero – the world’s largest food ordering company.
You’re credited as an innovator in the Pakistan food industry as well as an influence in the changing lifestyle. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
First, I am able to build a company in Pakistan that provides a world-class experience of food delivery to Pakistani customers. We actually celebrate on the days when a customer compliments us saying that our service is amazing!
I am confident that if some company wants to develop a business in Pakistan today, their growth is inevitable.
Second, despite being an undervalued market globally, last year foodpanda Pakistan was able to achieve phenomenal growth and profitability in the third quarter of 2016. With such amazing results, we created a stir across our global management making our global CEO praise Pakistan as No. 1 in foodpanda’s global portfolio.
One noted aspect of the EatOye! acquisition was that it opened the eyes of investors to the potential in Pakistan. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses that appeal or discourage investment in the country?
Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with more than 180 million people. 140 million people have mobile connections, 40 million out of which have smart phones with 3G and 4G access. Mobile internet penetration is increasing 100%, year on year. Domestic logistics are well set up.
The main mode of commerce is cash-on-delivery, however, with the ongoing developments, the share of online payments is also growing rapidly. All in all, Pakistan is a great market where the unit economics are healthy and the quality of customers we have is far better than any other rival markets.
Unfortunately, the only weakness regarding the Pakistani market is the outlook of the global investors who have pessimistic opinions on Pakistan, primarily looking at media reports. However, in actuality, Pakistan is an amazing country with amazing people and incredible business opportunities.
Yet, those who have the ability to carry out due diligence regarding the Pakistani market on their own will lead higher ROI against their investments.
You’re co-chair of the Pakistan Government’s E-commerce policy unit. Tell us about that and what role it plays in facilitating the growth of E-commerce?
E-commerce plays a vital role in expanding the overall economic activity in the country by amplifying domestic as well as cross-border trade. We find a convincing number of case studies of countries that have achieved economic growth leveraging to e-commerce.
For instance, in established countries like USA and China, e-commerce has built an additional economy over and above their existing economy. However, the number is still limited and there are hundreds of countries which have not been able to flourish their e-commerce enough to make the most of it.
The only weakness regarding the Pakistani market is the outlook of the global investors who have pessimistic opinions on Pakistan, primarily looking at media reports. However, in actuality, Pakistan is an amazing country with amazing people and incredible business opportunities.
Our government absolutely understands the fact. Pakistan’s Government E-commerce Policy Unit comprises leaders from the public as well as private sector to better comprehend the situation of e-commerce in the country and is determined to work in areas like taxation, logistics, payment infrastructure and customer security to facilitate the growth of e-commerce and win the race from other hundred countries who are still struggling.
What is some advice you would offer to someone looking to do business in Pakistan?
Doing business in Pakistan for the last 5 years, starting a company from my father’s house and scaling it up to this level, I am confident that if some company wants to develop a business in Pakistan today, their growth is inevitable.
Regulations for business compliance here are well laid out and the government is also very supportive regarding e-commerce development and investments in the country.
So, the best piece of advice I can give everyone out there is to come and start their business in Pakistan tomorrow.
I have also run a business in England as the CEO of Akash Hospitality. To be honest, the overall business environment in the West was definitely more stable but the growth potential was limited as the market has saturated.
Pakistan, however, is now gaining stability as a prospective market, especially pertaining to the CPEC-related investments. Yet the best thing about doing business in Pakistan is an impressive customer base and the scope of it growing in multiples each year.
What are you doing for fun outside of work these days?
I love to travel and eat!
So when I am not working, I try to discover places that are unique and sample the best food around me. Two of my recent experiences were finding the best Chapli Kababs and Mutton Karahi in Karachi.
And as of travelling, my last trip was to Astola Island. It is a less-highlighted but a beautiful tourist spot 5km away from the coast of Pasni, Balochistan. This island has seven hills and is hence called Haft Talar. I explored the place with my friends. Although the journey was difficult, I found one of the world’s best beaches and had an opportunity to gaze at thousands of stars in the night sky. That was absolutely worth it!