Airlift, a rapid commerce business based in Lahore, has raised $85 million in the largest fundraising round ever for a Pakistani startup. Additionally, this is the largest Series B investment obtained by a business in the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan, and it includes several prominent investors. The startup verified in response to a question from MENAbytes that the round is a single closing (not a tranched commitment) and does not include any secondaries.
Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC Explorer and Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures co-led the investment. Former Y Combinator President Sam Altman, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Bain Capital Chairman Steve Pagliuca, former Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, TransferWise founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus, DoorDash co-founder Stanley Tang, Rappi co-founder and CEO Simon Borrero, and Postmates founder and CEO Baastian Lehman were also investors in the round.
Quiet Capital and Indus Valley Capital, both existing investors, were also involved in the transaction. This brings Airlift’s total funding to date to $110 million, making it one of the region’s most well-funded firms. The investment, according to TechCrunch, valued the company at $275 million.
Airlift was founded in 2019 as a mass transit business but was forced to cease operations in March owing to Covid-19. As a result, the company created a 30-minute grocery delivery network in eight cities across Pakistan. Along with groceries, Airlift now distributes fresh produce, OTC and prescription medications, and sporting items through its network of various fulfilment centres located around the cities in which it operates. Since its launch last year, the platform has expanded by an average of 30% to 50% month over month, the business claimed in a statement. Additionally, the business is developing a farmer-to-consumer distribution network for fresh vegetables.
With a strong foundation in Pakistan, Airlift is now trying to expand its fast commerce capabilities across Asia and Africa. Usman Gul, co-founder and CEO of the startup, told MENAbytes that the company would enter its first foreign market within the next three months, without providing further specifics about their development plans.
He stated in a statement, “With this financing, we must return to our roots — fighting against the odds and adhering to our core values of hustle, collaboration, resourcefulness, and a bias toward action.” If this is the beginning of a thousand-mile journey, we have merely taken the first step.”
Airlift’s substantial funding comes at a time when billions of dollars have been invested in ultrafast supermarket delivery firms throughout Europe and North America. The Pakistani company stated in a statement that it was able to lower its blended cost of customer acquisition (CAC) to $5 and unit costs to $2.5 during the first twelve months of operation. “CAC is well above $15 in developed markets, and unit costs are close to $10 at scale,” the statement stated.
According to Josh Buckley, who co-led the round, “the best operators in the space are backing Airlift, in large part because of the team’s track record and the company’s focus on Asia and Africa — under this model, developing markets will achieve profitability much more quickly than similar companies in developed markets.”
When Airlift ceased its mass transit operations in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, the firm was providing 35,000 rides each day. Usman Gul told MENAbytes that while they will continue to study the mass transit company, they do not yet have any firm plans or timeframes for relaunching it.
In a statement on the investment, Sam Altman stated, “Airlift’s early traction in Pakistan provides a glimpse into the future of how commerce will unfold in the developing world.”
“When I first met Usman, I knew he was an entrepreneur who was going to build an industry-defining company,” Harry Stebbings explained. Usman will be one of this generation’s great creators because he is humble, ambitious, and strategic.”
Hundreds more new staff are expected to join the firm over the following few months.