Qasim Zafar

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Leaving Savaree – Lessons From a Technology Startup

IN February of 2014, I walked into the Lahore Civic Hackathon organized by Code for Pakistan as a final-semester college student with no inkling of what was to come. Following the usual pitching round, I was confused as to whether I should join up with a team of senior developers working on a community-backed blood bank registry or two other newbies who wanted to bring ridesharing to Pakistan through technology.

Ridesharing in Pakistan? Who in their right mind would ever do such a thing, I wondered. Especially given the security situation in the country. But I realized that I had shared rides to and from college for four years now. Still a difficult idea. Nevertheless, I decided that I was game and the challenge doing such a thing would entail was appealing. I would go against the flow, I proudly told myself. There is a strange charm in feeling that you are different, that there is something in you that is not in others.

Ridesharing in Pakistan? Who in their right mind would ever do such a thing?

Over the next 48 hours, notwithstanding my Ubuntu installation failing, we hacked together a prototype for what I suggested should be called ‘Savaree’, a name I’m still proud of. We ended up winning the hackathon, and several industry bigwigs encouraged us to pursue Savaree full-time. And so it began.

Fast forward 2 years, and a pivot and technology partnership and some growth later, I am leaving the company. I have learned a lot, grown a lot, and had the opportunity to meet some truly inspiring people, but now I feel it is time to move on. There are several factors that have contributed to this decision, but I would like to highlight some of the critical aspects that I feel we should have focused more on. I have learned tremendously from these and will try my best to do more at the next thing I decide to put myself to.

1. Bookkeeping, Metrics and Analytics

You’ve probably heard more than enough of this, but it really is true that if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it. You don’t have to track everything, because while more metrics help, that will only confuse beginners. Just focus on a couple of key metrics and work on improving those. With time the metrics and the analytics will automatically become more sophisticated. But if you don’t know where your clientele comes from, you won’t know to increase operations in that part of the city. Oh, and don’t forget to create official invoices and other documents and store each and every transaction.

2. Realistic Technology Deadlines and Expectations

This is extremely important: Every team member must know what their milestones are and how well they are progressing to meet them. If someone is having difficulty meeting their goals, then have a talk with them timely so that the issue can be fixed. Another, equally important thing is to give tasks to those that can complete them: if the person in charge of technology development is having a hard time deploying on schedule, maybe the expectations are unrealistic. Or maybe that person is better at something else and some role reshuffling is required. Either way, dealing with this is important.

3. Take What is Rightfully Yours

You are running a business, and you need to make sure that you charge appropriately. This is doubly important in the beginning, when revenue is small: you cannot, in any case, let any of your revenue slip. Don’t sink the boat before it has even sailed. It is tempting in the beginning, especially for technology service-based startups, to forgo some revenue because the margin is so small that you feel demanding your two cents is pointless. It isn’t.

4. Shared Vision and Exit Strategy

This is THE most important thing in a startup. All founders must be on the same page with regards to business strategy and vision. If half are working towards an early acquisition while the other half would like to be with the company for life, then things will at some point cease working out. This is also true if half are willing to pivot to a more lucrative segment while the other half are determined to stick to the original plan through to the end. It is important that you decide and decide early what the strategy will be. After that, make sure that it is clear who is in charge in case a deviation from the original plan is necessary.

These are some of the most important takeaways for me from Savaree going forward. I hope to try my best to make sure that I give these things the importance they require at what I do next. There are several exciting opportunities before me, and I would like to take a two to three weeks to thoroughly explore each of them before deciding what my move will be. It is an exciting time to be, and I am determined to make the most of it.

For more on what I’ve done, do check out my resume
Get in touch with me at: qasimzafar AT outlook DOT com

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