We talked to Ali Shan of DOSAFAR about his transport solution and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ali Shan: Yeah, we are fine and trying to keep ourselves safe by following the safety guidelines provided by the Government. I hope you are also fine and following all safety procedures.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded DOSAFAR.
Ali Shan: The following is my history:-
I was a very much extra normal person. I studied in the extra normal university (USINDH Jamshoro Pakistan) with a software engineering degree; during the university time, I was doing paid tuition on programming and other computer courses to cover my university expenses as my father could not afford my university. One of my teachers, who used to send students to me for tuition, gave me an idea to join a software company to make good money. Also, he helped me leave early from the university as my classes ended by 5 pm, but I used to leave at 3 pm to attend the software developer shift. My job timing was from 3 pm to 12 am. Then morning, I had to go to university, so it was a tough time, and on weekends I used to do freelance projects; thus, my life was full, packed with work.
In mid-2009, I finished my university degree. I directly moved to Pakistan, in the City of Karachi where there were many opportunities related to software programming and the salary was good, so I spent 3 years in multiple software companies and then I joined the corporate sector starting with the HPH (Hutchison Port Holding group), a container terminal and logistics company. After that, I moved to a startup called MONET (Mobile Money Network), A branchless banking and FINTECH company funded by Abu Dhabi Group. Then I moved back again under the HPH group and worked with them for 3 new ports, which had 2 greenfield port operations, Sohar Port, Ras Al Khaimah Port, and Umm Al Quwain Port. So basically, I had experience in banking (fintech) and Supply chain/Shipment/ logistics expertise.
I developed an application that was related to the fintech space called (Social Money Network), but it did not work as regulations were very strict and could not be done by any startup company. It needed much regulatory documentation and permission to launch. I worked with Nadeem Hussain/Abbas Sikandar, who founded the Tameer Bank, the first microfinance bank in Pakistan, and finally, I closed this project.
I developed a group buying website (Dealsperhour.com). Raising funds in the early stages was a challenge for this business. I halted this project too.
At the same time, I was working in the transport business. This was a significant need in Pakistan, which has very few vehicles, meaning most people travel inter-city by buses and rent cars or carpool, so I created DOSAFAR. I knew about the complete process since, for 4 years, I had worked in Karachi and was living in Hyderabad; I was also aware of the pain of demand and traffic of Pakistan inter-city traveling. That’s how DOSAFAR got developed. Note the story goes on…
How does DOSAFAR innovate?
Ali Shan: We believe in innovation; only innovation can help us live a better life and remove unnecessary work. So, we do research and find the best solutions for our customers; we are a small team but very resilient and always finding a way to do work better than before.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ali Shan: Indeed, it has been the worst time for most businesses, and especially the transport business, since during the lockdown, no traveling was allowed, and our business deals with transport (Inter City Traveling). During the first 2 months, we were stuck and were unable to come up with a solution because there were almost zero operations. We realized that the pandemic might take longer and started piloting a new model. We also noted that people wanted to travel in private cars rather than public buses; thus, we launched the safe-service-in-cars and started providing certified cars with all the disinfection services and health procedures followed. That made us breathe a sigh of relief and also made the investor happy to see the traction. We registered almost 600+ drivers to provide intercity traveling, and the number is still going up.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ali Shan: Yes, There were many difficult decisions we took. One of the most difficult decisions was to reduce the employees’ salaries as we knew everyone was passing through a hard time. We did not know how long the situation will take, so we took a pay cut to enable us to pay our employees for a longer period. I salute all the team members for their support during this hard time. We only laid off 5% of the company employees because of the support of the other employees who were willing to help each other.
The Lesson I got after this, We still have no idea and have poor planning skills. We need to learn how the service can be continued even if we are attacked by this kind of emergency and need to rethink the business. It was a great exercise done and will be valuable for future entrepreneurs and investors.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ali Shan: I spent more time with the team, innovated the product, and kept everyone motivated as the time was not only on us. Actually, all the companies were going through with this hard time, so we used to work hard to prepare us for other challenges, and this work well, and the team was motivated and busy.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ali Shan: Bookme.pk, and easytickets.pk are our competitors, and we did not make any extra effort to be in the game as the bad time was not only on us, it was the same for everyone, so we were busy innovating and expanding the product in services wise.
Your final thoughts?
Ali Shan: Be brave enough to keep the business running. There is always “another way around,” Stay in the team and help others; they will always pay you back. Being someone’s inspiration will motivate you the most. Always Pray to GOD; MIRACLES happen; just believe and keep working.