Usama Arjumand of Shopsy.pk tells us about helping online shoppers in Pakistan to quickly and efficiently find the best price for any product.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Usama Arjumand: My family and I are doing well, and I hope the same for you and our readers. The lack of socializing over the past year has been a challenge, particularly for the kids, but we have managed to offset this by frequent visits to the park and a healthy (unhealthy) dose of takeaways.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Shopsy.pk.
Usama Arjumand: I graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2008 with a BEng in Mechanical Engineering and worked as a Mechanical Design Engineer with a global enterprise in the UK for two years before realizing that a 9 to 5 wasn’t for me. I moved back to my hometown of Islamabad after more than a decade abroad to rethink my career. As a child, I was fond of working on my own ideas and inventions, whether it was building something from Lego or designing a remote-controlled aircraft. This childhood habit was still very much a part of me at the time and continues to be till date. Accepting that I was unconventional, a misfit, led me to start my own ventures.
Three ventures and an acquisition later, I conceived of the idea of Shopsy.pk, a shopping search engine with 5.5 million products from over 250 online stores in Pakistan. As an avid online shopper in the UK, I was disappointed with the lack of product choice offered by online stores in Pakistan. I realized that Amazon and eBay had spoiled me as a consumer in the UK and that there was no going back. I wished to remain spoiled. What if I could aggregate the inventory of all shopping sites in Pakistan and offer consumers not just the largest inventory of products but also the ability to compare prices and save money? The idea of Shopsy was born.
Today Shopsy stands as Pakistan’s leading shopping search engine with over 350,000 monthly visitors.
How does Shopsy.pk, innovate?
Usama Arjumand: Research, particularly in Machine Learning and AI, is at the core of what we do. Our mission is to help online shoppers find what they are looking for. This can only be done with the help of sophisticated algorithms that are at the cutting edge. This research along with a holistic view of our market helps us innovate and push the company forward.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Usama Arjumand: The Pandemic has pushed society towards digitization which has accelerated the adoption of e-commerce and digital payments. According to our study of data taken from Google trends, interest in e-commerce saw a rise of 50% during the first peak. This increase of interest in e-commerce also correlated with our traffic, which rose to half a million visitors a month within a short period of time.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Usama Arjumand: One thing we decided to do early on was to switch the entire company to working remotely. This was in the middle of March 2020, when there were just 100 daily cases in the entire country. There were doubts over how well the entire team would work remotely and whether this would affect productivity. We soon realized that a team motivated by achieving a single vision could overcome difficult obstacles. Our culture of transparency within the company keeps everyone on the same page and inspired towards accomplishing their goals.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Usama Arjumand: We use Trello and ProofHub for project management and Google Drive for documentation and storage. All our work is done in the cloud, nothing is stored locally. This makes the move to remote during times of spikes significantly easier for us.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Usama Arjumand: We are very unique in the way that we view other online stores in Pakistan as partners, not competitors. We believe our competition is with offline retail in the country, which constitutes more than 98% of the market. We intend to give offline retail a run for its money by offering greater product choice, better prices and a better user experience.
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