“I come from Sadiqabad, that’s half an hour from Rahim Yar Khan. It’s the last city in Punjab before you enter Sindh and the first one when entering Punjab from Sindh,” Madeeha Hassan says as she explains the location of her hometown. Locations, and how to get to them, are very important to Madeeha who has gone ahead and created Savaree, Pakistan’s first carpooling mobile application. And as with most invention, it was born out of necessity. “I have been out of my hometown and living in Lahore since 2007 when I joined Government College University to study biotechnology,” she says with a grin. “Bio and molecular technology is however completely opposite to what I ended up doing!”
Madeeha admits that coming from a small town she was at first really scared to find herself in a big city like Lahore. “I would hide myself from the world. You could always find me in the library with my laptop. Everyone around me seemed so knowledgeable about things; the girls seemed so sharp and sure of themselves that they would give me such a complex. I felt I was no competition for the local Lahore girls. There were times when I wanted to run back home but then I thought I was in Lahore because my father had sent me there to study and he had done so because he had 100 per cent confidence in me. I couldn’t let my father down,” she smiles.
Madeeha then also found employment in Lahore. “From 2011 to 2014, I worked as a user interface designer. That’s also how the idea first came to me. I lived in Gulberg and my office was at quite a distance from there in Thokar. Most of the time I overslept, which resulted in my missing my van and then I had to go to work in a rickshaw,” she says.
The app was first introduced at the Lahore Civic Hackathon competition back in January this year. “We were a team of four people, myself and Qasim Zafar, who are co-founders and Ahmed Shoaib and Farhan Ahmed who are developers,” she states.
No car? No problem! A simple app designed by a small town girl may soon solve your carpooling woes
“At the hackathon we got two days to develop and pitch an idea. I came up with Savaree, which was always there at the back of my head, and it won. My boss Yasser Bashir at Arbisoft, a rapid web applications company I used to work for then, pushed me to take my idea further, so here I am,” she adds.
That’s how Savaree was launched in April. “Well, at least the web app and mobile app were ready then. They are in use by some already,” she shares.
Right now Madeeha is busy in an accelerator programme for Savaree at the Lahore School of Management Sciences (LUMS). “We are growing the idea at i2i or invest 2 innovate, as it is also called, at LUMS Centre for Entrepreneurship. Basically it is a startup incubator. We are in the process of short listing startups to ready it for pitching to investors,” she says.
“From Lahore, we intend taking Savaree to Islamabad, then Karachi and then the entire country. We want it as a lift app for the Third World.”
She explains further about the app, “Please do not compare it to Uber, which is more of a taxi service. Savaree is more community-focused, connecting people while changing the entire idea of getting a ride.
“The app links or connects you to people you may or may not know within an organisation or university. You need to sign up with your enterprise or organisation email id. That’s what we work with. So the people you are going to carpool with either belong to your organisation or university.
“Of course, when you need a ride, you won’t sit in just any car that stops for you. So Savaree puts you in touch with people who work in the same office, building, premises or organisation as you, generally employees of any sizeable organisation or students. It works through app currency or virtual currency. For instance, you can buy a bucket of Savaree miles. Like if you travelled 10 miles a day, those miles can be transferred to the driver. And then if those drivers want to they can cash the miles with us. People can also transfer amounts through credit card but when I first thought of coming up with such an app I was thinking of students and students are usually pretty much broke. No credit cards there,” she points out.
About privacy concerns when sharing information with them, Madeeha assures us “The information or data gathered by us about you is secure. We have a disclaimer which says that, too. There are features that you can open yourself if you want open carpooling that would allow you to catch a ride with someone from outside your organisation, too. But there, too, we are giving you this option of travelling with someone who belongs to some other organisation or university just so you know where they are from.
“To prevent further misuse we have a gender filter as well, where girls can ride with girls. Being a girl myself, I’m very careful about such things. I even checked your Twitter profile before agreeing to meet you. What struck a chord was you calling yourself a ‘tomboy’,” she laughs. “I have myself always been a tomboy, playing cricket and all.”
And then she starts grinning again at something she just remembered. “When I first thought about the need for something like this, my elder brother thought it was a hookup application!”
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 16th, 2014