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 investment of USD85 million was co-led by Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC Explorer and Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures. Former Y Combinator President Sam Altman, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Bain Capital’s Chairman Steve Pagliuca, former Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, TransferWise’s founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus, DoorDash co-founder Stanley Tang, Rappi co-founder, and CEO Simon Borrero, Postmates founder, and CEO Baastian Lehman, also participated in the round.
Existing investors Quiet Capital and Indus Valley Capital were also part of the deal. It takes Airlift’s total financing to date to ~$110 million, making it one of the most well-funded startups in the entire region. According to TechCrunch, the round values the company at $275 million.
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.
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.”