The curtain falls

Published July 18, 2022

IT is suddenly all over for Airlift Technologies, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated start-ups and a giant in the budding local tech industry. The home-grown company had displayed considerable resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic when it was forced to abandon its original business model — a mass-transit solution to help people get around cheaply and conveniently — due to lockdowns and limitations on people’s mobility placed by the government. It had pivoted successfully to instant commerce, helping people in eight major cities order groceries, medicines, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables from the comfort of their home or office through its easy-to-use app. With people stuck indoors during the pandemic, restrictions on shop timings and health concerns preventing many from visiting places with a high public footfall, Airlift rapidly became a household name for its convenience and relative safety. Its meteoric rise saw it become the most funded start-up in the country. With its success, Airlift also lifted other players in the Pakistani tech industry; its stunning initial success brought with it renewed global interest and VC dollars to Pakistan, greatly boosting local players.

Alas, a global decline in funding for tech ventures, soaring fuel prices, and high inflation seem to have become its undoing. The company’s sudden falling apart will no doubt spook the industry and invite greater scrutiny for the other players operating in the market. There are, however, upsides to it as well. Airlift’s disbandment has released a very talented pool of individuals back into the market, who will take their experience to any new ventures they become part of. Furthermore, while other local companies will no doubt be taking notes on what caused Airlift to implode, they will also take confidence from its journey that nothing can hold Pakistani companies from making their mark in the world. Airlift’s end can, in fact, provide new beginnings to many up-and-coming ventures if the right lessons are picked up from the mistakes it made as it grew.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2022

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