Pakistan: The girl that conquers the roads
The successful “Little Sister”
Lahore, September 16, 2015: Madeeha Hassan asks for the microphone at a talk going by the title “How to fund and scale your tech start up”. She introduces herself as the founder and CEO of the ride service Savaree.
“Savaree?”, wonders Mohammad Ali Khan, initiator of the talk and known personality within the New York moneyed interests. “I know Savaree! A Bait (Urdu for little sister) as its CEO? Well, who would have thought that?” People start to applaud. The fact a young woman is behind one of Pakistans most promising start ups seems to be a big surprise for a lot of people.
Never ride alone
Madeeha is only 24 when she first started Savaree two years ago as Pakistans first ride share and taxi on demand service – around the same time when Uber got firstly introduced to the US. End of 2015 the team already holds six people working on the website and the app (unfortunately no iphone app yet!) coordinating calls and generally organising the 20 plus drivers around Lahore. Those “Savaree-Captains” are not employed by Madeeha herself but by different car rentals in the city that are cooperating with Savaree.
Because of the similarities in the concept the comparison between Uber and Savaree seems likely. “I don’t see Savaree as the Uber Pakistans”, explains Madeeha and adds with a impish wink “but Uber as the Savaree of the States”. Of course she keeps an eye on Ubers CEO Travis Kalanick and the growth of his company. In the UK and America the private car service is evolving rapidly, despite continuing controversies.
End of October 2015 Uber announced their plans to pushing into the Pakistani market.
Only the future will show what that will mean for Madeehas start up. But the last years have shown that Pakistanis accept business ideas of compatriots better than those of foreign investors. Madeeha stays positive: “Savaree will grow, even if Uber is here.”
As expected Uber already got in touch with Madeeha. The young woman is not eliminating an eventual cooperation. “But only if everything meets my expectation” she adds.
Women trust her business
Even though Madeeha never intended to it unfolds that her main clients are women – about 80%. Women trust a company run by a woman. Also it is easier for men to organise ride shares privately, so they would not have to take the detour over an internet platform.
This fact also reveals another problem: In Pakistan driving still is a men’s business. “And then also earning money with it as a woman? Impossible.” explains Madeeha. She herself does not hold a driving license. But she is always searching for female drivers that could work for her – to date unsuccessfully. Every now and then Savaree receives explicit requests for female drivers. “Now I think about getting my own license and drive myself. As the founder of an transportation business I probably should not tell anyone that I do not know how to drive a car”, laughs Madeeha.
Cultural head wind
The number of female business owners in Pakistan still is exiguous. So what does it mean for Madeeha given that Savaree is furthermore roughing up an masculine domain? “I always have to do double work. Because first of all I have to convince myself that I can do it – and then everyone else.”
Other cultural conventions are influencing Madeehas business as well. For example is a ride share only possible between passengers of the same sex.
The idea to provide a platform for people who want to share a right for longer distances between cities had to be discarded after a couple of weeks. Because: “In Pakistan it is not common to take strangers in your private car”, explains Madeeha.
A long term assignment of a group of young girls that wanted to use Savaree for their daily commute to uni and back got cancelled after just one week. When Madeeha digged deeper it turned out the girls were very content with the service provided. But one of the dads was troubled by the fact that the driver was a young man who financed his own studies by being a Savaree Captain.
But she also earns a lot of positive feedback, especially because she is a woman. Within the Pakistani Tech Industry a lot of people support Madeehas visionary ideas. One of them is Yasser Bashir, Madeehas former employer who himself plays an important role among the start up scene of the country. He encouraged her from the very beginning, believing strongly in her business idea. Pakistan needs Savaree. And therefore it does not matter if the business is lead by a man or a woman.
To develop further success and to help Savaree in its growth it is in the right place in Lahore. The city’s start up scene, in Pakistan in general, is booming in the last couple of years. A lot of successful Pakistani business people formerly studying and working abroad, come now back to inure their knowledge and their internationally gained experience in the benefit of Pakistan. One of them is Khurram Zafar, director of the LUMS Center For Entrepreneurship, an institution supporting jung enterprisers with financial aid, furnished office spaces, international contacts, monthly talks and much more to help them realising their ideas. As one of the first start ups Savaree was launched here. In the spacious, light-flooded open space office, equipped with colourful designer furniture and based on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, everyone knows Savaree. And a lot of those young entrepreneurs that are nowadays puzzling their ideas are inspired by the story of its founder – of Madeeha Hassan, the girl that conquers the roads of Pakistan.
Savaree – Never Ride Alone
500 Rupees/ 10 KM (4.40€/ 4.75$/ 3.20£)
30 Rupees/ Km onwards (0.26€/ 0.28$/ 0.19£)
Full day rent a car:
From 2.200 Rupees a day (20€/ 21$/ 14£)
Savaree is on of the safest, fairest, cheapest and probably the most comfortable way to get around Lahore. The drivers are friendly, polite, honest and mostly on time (traffic in Lahore can be INSANE, so most of the time it is not the drivers falt). I used Savaree all the time in Lahore, basically every day and it absolutely added to my over all experience in Pakistan!