Co-founder and Senior Advisor, Pathao
Pathao started as a concept; as a small initiative. We had a secret Facebook group, where we asked all our friends if they wanted anything delivered they could use our service. For us, it was an experiment. It soon evolved from there. While we were doing deliveries with our motorbikes, we thought, can we utilize our bikes in a more efficient way? Would people in Bangladesh like to use a motorcycle as a transportation service; as a ride-sharing option?
This question led to us building another MVP around the idea. Unlike many other countries around the world, such as Vietnam or Indonesia, Bangladesh did not have a motorcycle as transportation culture. With Pathao, we have helped create that culture. We realized that there was a pent-up demand for a service which would save people time and energy.
At first, we started small. We had only 5 bikes and everyone would call my personal number and I would schedule the rides in an Excel sheet. It was a completely manual operation. It was tedious. Everything changed when we launched our app in December 2016. That’s when things kind of blew up and we ended up changing our entire business model around our app.
Back then we had maybe around 30 employees; currently, have 500 people working in Pathao, separated by 4 large offices in Dhaka and 1 large office in Chittagong and an office in Sylhet. That number excludes the delivery agents and our riders.
Launching the app was a big part of it. We did not have any engineers when the app first launched. The first iteration was built by just me, Adnan and Fahad. We rolled something very simple out at first. Our core philosophy back then was and it continues to be one of our core values: “done is better than perfect”. Now we call it ‘bias to action’. All it means is that we don’t stay busy with just making plans. Even if the plan is not perfect, we get down on the ground and we roll with it and push it through execution. That way we can incorporate market feedback faster and build product or operations around how things actually work and take the path-of-least-resistance forward.
For example, before us, there have been a few ride-sharing companies. So what did Pathao do differently? We rolled our sleeves and got down on the ground. We stood in front of universities in Banani area and did hardcore sales to put people on our bikes.
We would ask people where they wanted to go and tell them that “I’ll take you there on this bike for a 100 taka”. They would be very confused and scared, naturally, since we are taking them in a bike and it’s an alien concept to them. But we kept up and pushed people to get on the bike and take the first few rides. We did this for three days and gave them our card to call us and book.
On the fourth day, they would start calling us. After the fifth day, they started talking to their friends about us. And that’s how we got initial traction. Instead of spending time on a lot of planning, we directly engaged in the market.
We pushed our customers from the ground level. Since we addressed a need in the market, our service quickly got product-market fit and expanded.
We cultivated a sense of community in our users from the very beginning which has helped us to build a loyal user base who not only used our services but also told about us to their friends.
Now the times are different. Our focus is now on what the customer really needs and wants.
Excerpts are from an interview published in Future Startup, “How Pathao Was Created“, written by Aayrin Saleha Ria, on March 28, 2019.