Pakistani supply startup Airlift shutters operations as funds dry up

Lower than two months after pulling out of a number of markets, Pakistan’s last-mile supply startup Airlift introduced on Tuesday it’s shutting down completely.

The event was reported by DealStreetAsia hours forward of the announcement, citing workers current at a group assembly the place the choice was communicated earlier in the course of the day.

“Whereas the worldwide recession and up to date downturn in capital markets have affected financial exercise throughout the board, it has had a devastating influence on airlift and rendered its shut-down inevitable. On July twelfth, Airlift’s operations will shut down completely,” the startup, which was as soon as seen because the more than likely contender to turn out to be Pakistan’s first unicorn, mentioned in its assertion.

The announcement didn’t come as a shock to senior workers as Airlift had paused all deliveries throughout Pakistan in the course of the three-day competition of Eid, which usually sees a surge in demand for supply companies. As well as, the corporate had been emptying warehouses and transferring stock within the run-up to the announcement.

“Slack has been useless and nobody has been working. We’re all simply ready for the announcement,” a management-level Airlift worker had advised DealStreetAsia forward of the group assembly.

Airlift, which raised $85 million in the largest-ever funding spherical by an area startup in 2021 and was seen as successful story in Pakistan’s startup ecosystem, bumped into tough climate amid a tricky fundraising setting introduced on by the worldwide market downturn.

The startup’s filings with Singapore’s Accounting and Company Regulatory Authority present that it had acquired solely $34.5 million so removed from an $85 million Sequence B spherical introduced in August final yr.

Airlift was understood to be burning upwards of $5 million a month as of January 2022. It reportedly had a runway of fewer than three months when it introduced its withdrawal from a number of markets, together with South Africa and a few cities in Pakistan, on Might 28.

In its assertion on Tuesday, Airlift mentioned it had diminished its burn by 66% after restructuring its operations. “As of July 2022, Airlift was about three months away from working profitability (ie optimistic money movement from operations), and about 6-9 months from company-level profitability (ie Free Money Movement),” it claimed.

It was additionally in talks to safe Sequence C1 financing from traders together with First Spherical Capital, Indus Valley Capital, Buckley Ventures and 20VC. “Final week, amidst quickly deteriorating circumstances within the world economic system, a number of members shared uncertainty in wire schedules and their disbursements – this in the end meant that the corporate’s capital necessities wouldn’t be met. In the end, the spherical was unsuccessful,” it mentioned.

It’s understood that Airlift investor and Fatima Ventures founder and CEO Ali Mukhtar had personally prolonged a $9 million lifeline to the corporate. Mukhtar was additionally appointed to the corporate’s board in June in an uncommon transfer for a minority investor, which was seen as linked to his funding. Fatima Ventures had not responded to a DealStreetAsia question on the time of publication.

Prime shareholders in Airlift


Airlift had raised over $109 million in whole funding throughout its lifetime. Its $85-million Sequence B spherical was touted as the largest spherical within the MENA area and was co-led by Harry Stebbings from 20VC and Josh Buckley from Buckley Ventures Ltd.

The spherical was joined by return backers Quiet Capital and Indus Valley Capital. A number of high-profile traders had additionally backed the spherical, together with 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.

Nonetheless, its ACRA filings present that solely Buckley and Stebbings had despatched it cash.

Based on some sources, the startup may even file for chapter as a result of the bills related to long-term leases signed in South Africa.

“The one option to exit the long-term lease agreements is thru court docket proceedings, which Airlift doesn’t have the sources for, or by way of chapter. The runway has already dried up, so chapter is Airlift’s option to get out,” mentioned a senior worker.

Operational points

Whereas fundraising remained on difficulty for Airlift, operational challenges pushed the agency over the brink, a number of workers level out.

Regardless of the layoffs and scaling again measures in Might, Airlift didn’t implement austerity measures and continued to miss the core of its operations, the sources added. “Issues would at all times be out of inventory. Client platforms on social media had been filled with complaints,” mentioned a member of the operations group.

Sources state that co-founder Usman Gul was looped in and was wanting into it personally however the issue couldn’t be addressed in a well timed method. That is doubtless as a result of working capital and liquidity crunch the corporate was dealing with because the runway was drying up.

“Whereas branding and communication are essential, as a substitute of specializing in the core of their enterprise and getting operations sorted, priorities stay fastened on optics at such a important juncture,” provides the supply.

Airlift had discontinued giant ticket gadgets similar to electronics in Might, however was wanting into relaunching them. An investor explains that this was to drive up the common basket dimension. Nonetheless, increasing SKUs was a purpose of Airlift because it aimed to be a one-stop answer.

cracks present up

Airlift had introduced a pullback from markets together with Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Peshawar, Hyderabad, Johannesburg, Cape City, and Pretoria in Might.

“Within the mild of the numerous downturn in world capital markets, Airlift is endeavor a strategic realignment to scale back the floor space of ​​operations and to extend focus in key areas that drive sustainability and profitability,” the corporate had then mentioned in a press release.

Airlift deliberate to proceed operations in Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, the three main city cities in Pakistan. These markets contributed a serious share of enterprise quantity for the startup.

Airlift additionally diminished its headcount by 31% throughout all markets.

Following downsizing, the startup began decreasing stock-keeping items (SKUs), notably giant ticket gadgets similar to electronics.

On the time of scaling again operations, workers had raised issues about job safety points with the corporate administration. Airlift co-founder Usman Gul reassured workers that there have been no plans for a subsequent spherical of layoffs.

Airlift beforehand offered a market that allowed bus house owners to function their fleet on fastened routes. {The marketplace} additionally allowed customers to e-book rides on premium high quality and air-conditioned buses and vans which have fastened routes and stops in Lahore and Karachi.

The startup, nonetheless, pivoted to last-mile logistics when its authentic enterprise was badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hampered private and non-private native transport operations.

The startup competed with gamers that have already got last-mile deliveries or had been trying related strikes. These embrace names similar to foodpanda, Krave Mart, Daraz, Cheetay and Grocerapp, amongst others.

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