We had an amazing and insightful conversation with the CEO & Founder of Bookme.pk on different aspects of his business and how it all started and he had some fun stories and experiences to share.
Tell us about yourself and your background.
I have a background of software engineering. In terms of entrepreneurship, I have been pursuing it since 2007 – I started it back in 2007 when I was in my 6th semester of university. The first venture was a software company – I worked on it for about 6 years, till 2013. Bookme.pk is my second venture. I did try to develop other products, but I wrapped them up quickly, realizing that they likely wouldn’t make it that big in the market or the market didn’t need them at the time. Bookme.pk was the idea, which had the potential of becoming a really good business. The software company was running well – I had two offices, one in Islamabad and one in Sahiwal, which is my hometown. We lost a client in 2013 upon whom most of the business was dependent, as he went bankrupt and we had to close the business down. At that point, I decided that I should build a product with which I wouldn’t have to experience something similar again.
What was the inspiration behind Bookme.pk and introducing it in Pakistan?
I got married in 2013 – my wife and I planned to watch a movie. We lived in Sahiwal, so it was about a two-hour drive. It was the first week of the film and there was no seat available. We came back disappointed, hoping that we’ll try next week. The same thing happened again next week. We even tried other cinemas without luck. That was when the idea came – it wasn’t revolutionary, but happening in other parts of the world. For the Pakistani market it was a new idea.
The model of online ticketing has been a successful one around the world and has been accepted as a product. I’ve always travelled a lot in buses and the problem of ticketing was also there for booking a ticket. While bus and cinema are totally differentomains, I realized that the ticketing problem in both domains was similar. If you look at the rest of the world, none of them were tackling the bus-ticketing problem. I realized it was closely linked, so we added buses to it and tried to automate it. This was the idea – I was looking for other product-based ideas for future possibilities. I was looking to settle in Lahore.
My wife and I came across the Arfa Tower in Lahore and we wanted to check what it would cost to get an office in the building. When we went there, we found out about Plan9, which had incubated one of its first cohorts at that time. As the idea for Bookme.pk kept maturing, the idea of taking support from Plan9 started taking shape. I started doing my homework for getting incubated at Plan9 – we got selected for their third cycle.
You’ve recently raised funding. Tell us about the experience and what you learned through the process as a startup.
In my experience, we generally miss a lot of major things in a startup. The biggest mistake is not maintaining proper, organized and clean books for the business. We made the same mistake of not focusing on bookkeeping. While we were focusing on the business growth, we didn’t focus on the finances and bookkeeping. No one guided us that we would need clean books and organized finances and costs if we were going to raise funding at some point. Investment is a lengthy process, which has certain requirements from a startup – the idea of investment is misrepresented in Pakistan unfortunately due to the wrong kind of publicity.
Investments don’t happen just for an idea. If an investor is looking for return, they would study the market and business model. Since we were young and new in the field, we had a different perception about investment. In 2017, we realized what a mistake we had made with thinking how the process of getting an investment works. It took us about 14 months to fix all the issues in our books and then raise investment. The reason we went for Lakson was that it is the only SECP recognized VC. We chose them based on their portfolio and how that can help us with our growth. For me, it was important that the investor should be an institution and have high credibility. Since they’ve already done their due diligence and formalized a lot of things, we have changed the way we structured our business, which would also help in raising future rounds.
What would be the top 3 things you would like to share with startups that are looking to raise funding?
Keep your records and finances clean – they should be audited. A serious investor would ask for all these things. As a startup, you should know why you’re choosing to go to an investor and pursue them. Other than money, they should bring in value with their investment. Don’t believe stories and appearances, but focus on the reality of how the process works – increase your user base and revenues. The story that your graphs tell is very important.
What are your future plans with Bookme.pk?
We’re not just a booking app or website, but we’re trying to create a ticketing ecosystem. We have several banks on board with us. We have also brought quite a few companies online for creating the online ticketing ecosystem. It’s all about expanding the ecosystem – we’re working with airlines, more banks, more touch points so that the customer gets the opportunity to use the system at more points in terms of their buying experience. We’re also working on other verticals that are not being worked on. The power that our platform brings is better rates for getting bus tickets. We have about fifteen to twenty thousand people coming on our app and looking at rates and buying tickets. Our aim is to increase the value for the customer. In the next 4-5 years, we see that everyone will buy tickets online.