TECH TALK: Six friends search for your adventure

Published June 10, 2018
Knee-deep in Sheosar Lake, Deosai.
Knee-deep in Sheosar Lake, Deosai.

Founded by Lums alumni in 2016, Findmyadventure.pk is an online travel service that aims to take you anywhere in Pakistan. Whether it’s a gruelling trek to the K2 base camp or a historical tour of Noor Mahal, Bahawalpur, they claim to be a one-stop shop for all your travel needs.

“After graduation, we all had well-paying jobs but that’s not what we imagined ourselves doing... I guess it was just an entrepreneurial bug we had,” says Husnain. “We had been closely involved with the Lums Adventure Society in mostly senior positions so we knew the travel scene and already had the right network. We were confident that this was our arena,” he continues.

In their college days, this gang spent a lot of time trekking, hiking, skiing and generally wandering the ragged mountains of Pakistan’s northern areas. Some were more adventurous than others, but between them they have done spent many days trekking on glaciers, pitching tents on ice and sleeping under starry skies. No wonder the corporate life seemed like an unsatisfying bore to them.

With a web of over 100-plus vendors across the country, FindMyAdventure lets you search, compare and book trips all over Pakistan. Just to be clear, Husnain and co don’t arrange tours. Instead, they offer a platform for tour operators and potential travellers to connect.

The tour operators upload their upcoming trips and itineraries which the customers can book. And if you want something more customised, they have a ‘make my adventure’ tool as well where you can spell out your needs and they will plan a tailor-made trip for you. How, you ask? Because like Saul Goodman, they too always know a guy.

Like most online marketplaces, they make their money through commissions from vendors. But according to Husnain, there is no one-size-fits-all pricing policy. “A large reason behind this company was to further economic upliftment by promoting tourism. So if we know there is an operator whose business isn’t going that well, we’ll just drop our charges. That helps us forge a closer relationship with him which eventually serves us well when things go his way,” he explains.

And somewhat surprisingly for a start-up, they are already cash-positive. Husnain, however, doesn’t find anything strange about that. “Nothing much really goes out of our pockets. It’s not like we are aggressively marketing or excessively spending on tech overhaul,” he says.

Another thing that seems to be at odds with the wider start-up scene is how none of the co-founders is actually a techie. But shouldn’t that hamper the functioning of a company that makes its living off being an online marketplace? Again, for Husnain, the answer is a clear no.

“We have no founders’ dilemma here… we work in a cult of organisation, not in a cult of individual so not being techies ourselves doesn’t matter as much as you’d imagine. Mind you, we have hired tech guys who make sure everything runs smoothly,” he contends. The fact that FindMyAdventure recently hired an outside CEO does put some weight behind his claims.

So far, they are not willing to limit themselves to a specific target market; whether you are a multinational executive who wants a luxurious experience, or you are a college student on a budget who wants to get as much out of as little money, Husnain and co want your business. Their tagline ‘adventures are for everyone’ then seems fitting.

FindMyAdventure also actively tries to create a loyal customer base among foreigners who want to explore Pakistan and have a culturally-immersive experience. And to make their lives easier, they facilitate these tourists with legal documentation and no-objection certificates required to visit some places.

Husnain is not particularly worried about competition as he feels their first-mover advantage as well as the wide web of vendors puts them in a safe position. “So far, most people entering the tourism industry are focused on organising trips, rather than bridging operators and travellers so I don’t see much reason to be threatened. In fact, more tour operators means more business for us,” he says, confidently.

He is also optimistic about how the local start-up scene has panned out over the past few years with a boom of sorts. What other companies — like Careem, Foodpanda or Daraz — have done for his business is to have created credibility for the online marketplace. People are more willing to shop online or pay through cards and that benefits the entire new economy. “It’s an industry where one success story benefits the entire ecosystem,” Husnain believes. Maybe one man’s drug is not another man’s poison anymore. Not here, at least.

And until now, the group has not gotten carried away with growth and are not rushing into anything. Having bootstrapped so far, Husnain and co plan to keep it that way and raise money through an investor only if absolutely needed. “We have a quite a few offers under review as we speak but we don’t want to short sell ourselves,” he claims.

While the company is a for-profit venture, Husnain sees a much bigger purpose behind the idea. “It’s not just about the money, otherwise I would have stayed in investment banking and treasury while the rest would have stuck to their own fancy jobs,” he says. At the heart of it is the motivation to do something for Pakistan... something that redefines the country for both locals and foreigners.

However, for a country embattled with reputational issues across the world, with a sizable part — particularly its north — vulnerable to a tensed security situation, the extent to which these idealists can exploit tourism industry remains to be seen.

But for them, it’s not so much about tapping into an already existing market as it is about creating the market itself. While the ride ahead won’t definitely be smooth, it would surely be an adventure. Works well, I guess.

The writer is member of staff:

m.mutaherkhan@gmail.com

Twitter: @MutaherKhan

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2018

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