Lahore-headquartered quick commerce startup Airlift has raised $85 million in the largest-ever funding round for a Pakistani startup. The round is also the largest Series B raised by a startup in the Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan, and includes some high-profile investors. Responding to a question by MENAbytes, the startup has confirmed that the round is a single close (not a tranched commitment) and does not include any secondaries.
Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC Explorer and Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures spearheaded the investment. The round included 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.
Existing investors Quiet Capital and Indus Valley Capital were also part of the deal. It takes Airlift’s total financing to date to ~$110 million, making it one of the most well-funded startups in the entire region. According to TechCrunch, the round values the company at $275 million.
Airlift began as a mass transit company in 2019, but had to cease operations in March owing to Covid-19. As a result, the company established a 30-minute grocery delivery service, which is now offered in eight Pakistani cities. Airlift now delivers fresh produce, OTC and prescription medicines, and sports products from its network of several fulfilment sites in every location it works in, in addition to groceries. The site, which was launched last year, has increased 30-50 percent month over month on average, according to the business. Fresh produce is also being distributed through the startup’s farmer-to-consumer distribution route.
Airlift is trying to expand its rapid commerce products to additional regions in Asia and Africa now that it has a strong basis in Pakistan. Usman Gul, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, told MENAbytes that the company would enter its first foreign market in the next three months, without giving any other details about its development plans.
“With this funding, we must return to where we started — battling against the odds and remaining true to our basic principles of hustling, teamwork, resourcefulness, and bias to action,” he said in a statement. If this is a thousand-mile journey, we have only taken the first step.”
Airlift’s significant funding comes at a time when ultrafast grocery delivery businesses across Europe and North America are attracting billions of dollars. The Pakistani firm said in a statement that it was able to lower its blended cost of customer acquisition (CAC) to $5 and unit costs to $2.5 in the first year of operation. “CAC is well above $15 in established countries, and unit costs are close to $10 at scale,” according to the statement.
“The finest operators in the industry are behind Airlift, in large part due to the track record of the team and the company’s concentration on Asia and Africa – for this business, growing regions will ge,” said Josh Buckley, who co-led the round.
Airlift was performing 35,000 rides a day in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad when it shut down its mass transit operations. In an interview with MENAbytes, Usman Gul stated that they will continue to study the mass transit company, but that no clear plans or timelines for relaunching it have been set.
“Airlift’s early traction in Pakistan is a window into the future for how quickly commerce will play out in the developing world,” said Sam Altman, commenting on the investment.
“When I first met Usman, I knew he was an entrepreneur who was going to build an industry-defining company,” Harry Stebbings remarked. Usman will be one of the great pioneers of this geology, humble, ambitious, and strategic.
The startup is expected to add hundreds of employees to its team over the next few months.