Saturday, October 19, 2019

Atoms Shoes: Young Pakistani Couple's Startup Gets $8.1 Million in Series A

Atoms shoes, founded by a young Pakistani couple, has attracted $8.1 million investment, according to media reports. Atoms' investors include Silicon Valley based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian.  It's the latest success in the entrepreneurial journey that Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali started in Pakistani town of Okara around 2010.

Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali Wearing Atoms' Sneakers
Okara, Pakistan:

Atoms.com story began in 2010 when twenty-something Waqas Ali met a shoemaker Muhammad Hussain in Okara at a local panchayat (council meeting), according to Dawn. Waqas brought up the idea of selling shoes online but it did not particularly appeal to Hussain who thought people want to touch, smell, wear and feel shoes before buying them.

Waqas soon dropped out of college and persuaded Sidra to join him in pursuing his dream of selling shoes online. They chose "Hometown" as the brandname for their shoes and set up their business online. The initial funding was a $10,000 prize Waqas won in a competition for start-up sponsored by P@SHA Social Innovation Fund, a Google-backed grant program for Pakistani entrepreneurs.

Markhor:

In 2014, the company was rebranded as Markhor, named after a wild goat which is Pakistan's national animal. The company specialized in high-end hand-crafted leather shoes sold online to mainly western clientele.

Markhor website lacked Paypal or any other financial transaction service for cross-border transaction.  Ali applied for and received a B-1 business visa to travel to the United States and open a bank account there. This enabled them to accept payments online for their shoes.

During his visit to the United States, Waqas met with other e-commerce entrepreneurs from companies such as Warby Parker and Everlane, and met the company’s first two angel investors, who each invested $15,000 to help get Markhor (then called Hometown) off the ground. The success of a $107,000 Kickstarter campaign, a few months later, was due in part to the connections Ali made on his trip to the United States, according to an article in The Atlantic.

Sidra and Waqas were accepted in YCombinator, Silicon Valley's top incubator. The incubator introduced them to top venture investors in San Francisco Bay Area.

Atoms:

The couple has now started their second business, an online retailer for minimalist sneakers branded Atoms.  The company has recently raised $8.1 million Series A funding, according to Tech Crunch. It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan, with other backers including Kleiner Perkins, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, TED curator Chris Anderson, the rapper Chamillionaire and previous backers Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital.

Atoms offers shoes in quarter sizes for "perfect fit".  The company says it's not unusual for people to have different size shoes for each foot. It sends customers three pairs of shoes and allows them to keep the left and right shoes that fit them best.  It offers free returns for the rest.

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6 comments:

Mian said...

While their efforts are commendable, at $179 a pair the shoes are a bit expensive for the average buyer. If they are trying to target the more upwardly mobile clientele, they will need to establish themselves as a brand before they find those opportunities.

Moh said...

Mian: " $179 a pair the shoes are a bit expensive for the average buyer. If they are trying to target the more upwardly mobile clientele"


that’s exactly what they are doing, a luxury brand selling to upmarket clientele. A lot of those companies ordinary people don’t even know about, so they know where to target. A shoe worth &179 is pretty basic and not even the beginning of up market clientele. The unique thing they offer is the quarter size which makes it quite customisable. Brilliant idea, good luck to the founders!!!

Riaz Haq said...

$179 shoes are not considered "luxury" in US. At about 2X the average price for sneakers, Atoms are a bit more expensive but not luxury shoes which are a lot more expensive

Shazad said...

I've met them; they are really nice unassuming people. You would never know who they are until someone introduces them.
The Markhor's are a bit on the expensive side but apparently well worth it. Don't know about the other line of shoes. I wish them the best.

Anonymous said...

Pakistanis are low caste converts to Islam which explains this shoe business+ donkey exporting expertise..

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's Airlift raises $12 million in country's largest Series A to build a mass transit system. It offers #rideshare system using higher capacity vehicles enabling urban commute. #Transportation #VentureCapital #startups #Uber #Lyft https://www.menabytes.com/airlift-series-a/ via @MENAbytes

Airlift, a Pakistan-based eleven-month-old decentralized mass transit startup, has secured $12M in Series A financing, it announced in a statement today.

The round is led by First Round Capital, a leading US venture capital firm with notable investments in Uber, Square, Roblox, Looker, and Notion. The round which is the largest Series A ever raised by a Pakistani startup also marks one of the largest financings in South Asia this year and the first time that a US-based VC has led a round in Pakistan. The round was also joined by Fatima Gobi Ventures, a joint venture between one of Pakistan’s leading conglomerates Fatima Group and Gobi Partners, and Indus Valley Capital.

Founded by Usman Gul, Ahmed Ayub, Awaab Khaakwany, Meher Farrukh, Muhammad Owais, and Zohaib Ali earlier this year, Airlift enables users to book rides on premium quality (air-conditioned) buses (and vans) that have fixed routes, stops and times, in Lahore and Karachi.

The users after signing up and logging in, can reserve their seats by selecting their pick up and drop off locations or browsing the routes. Airlift’s mobile app that’s available for both Android and iOS allows users to track the buses in real-time and make payments as well using their credit or debit cards (the users have the option to pay by cash too when they board the bus).

“Airlift is spearheading the third wave of ride-sharing, in which higher capacity vehicles are playing an increasing role in enabling urban commute. With this financing, Airlift is looking to invest in technology and operations to scale its vision for a decentralized mass transit system, initially focusing on the developing world,” the startup

“In the future, mass transit systems will be dynamic in nature, catering and adapting to the changing needs of the urban population. Our vision for a decentralized mass transit system is a new concept, one that will fundamentally redefine how people commute in urban centers,” says Usman Gul, Airlift’s co-founder and CEO.

Prior to moving to Pakistan, Gul previously worked at DoorDash, the largest food delivery platform in the US. Tony Xu, Founder/CEO at DoorDash, which was valued at $12.6 billion in the last round, was among the first few angel investors to support Airlift. In August, just five months after launching operations, Airlift closed seed financing of $2.2M with Indus Valley Capital and the Fatima Gobi Ventures co-leading the round. In October, only two months later, the Company has secured Series A financing, increasing its total capital to $14.1M and setting a new precedent for startups based in Asia.