Mobile devices and applications are transforming the automotive industry, and Pakistan is gradually becoming a part of that revolution now with more than just ride-hailing services.
Pakistan’s first car rental app was launched last month in Islamabad. The app takes every mundane detail out of the car rental process – the paperwork, the long wait, the lack of transparency – but adds flexibility, convenience and value (complete with your own chauffeur). This is the beauty behind Roamer, Pakistan’s first-ever car rental app.
Roamer is the brainchild of Ali Moeen Malik. Having gained extensive experience and education in software development in the United States, Ali launched his company with the goal of delivering an entirely new solution to address Pakistan’s transportation needs.
ProPakistani got a chance to sit down with him and talk about how his technology to flag rides is different from options already available in the market.
What exactly is Roamer and what is your vision for the company?
Roamer is an app that allows consumers in Pakistan to rent chauffeur-driven cars from a community of local owners for a period of one hour to one month. We provide a completely seamless and transparent booking process and an unprecedented amount of flexibility for people who need a car for a short amount of time – whether it is a few hours to run errands or a few days to go out of town.
Our motto is ‘Own the trip, not the car’ and I think that perfectly sums up the unprecedented flexibility that we are offering. What we are trying to achieve with the company is to create a more optimal solution to people’s needs than the outdated rental car industry or even the inflexible point A to point B ride hailing services.
I think that is an incredibly empowering and relevant tool in a country where less than 2% of the population can afford to own a car, and as such there is a huge opportunity to create something of value.
How did you first have the idea for this business?
As is the case with many startups, the idea first came from my own personal experience as a consumer.
I used to travel across Pakistan frequently for work, and found that there weren’t any good transportation options available to me when I was in a city for a few hours or a few days. Renting a car was difficult and inflexible, and even the ride hailing apps only provided point A to B services – which wasn’t what I needed at all.
So I started researching the market and was basically blown away by the potential. I also found that the model we are creating exists in other countries today and has been tremendously successful in operating alongside the ride hailing industry.
What inspired you to enter this segment despite the existence of ride hailing apps?
Actually, I would say that I was inspired to enter the segment precisely because of the existence of current ride hailing apps. You see, there is a gap between the car rental industry and ride hailing industry and it is within that gap that there is a dire need for transportation today.
On the one hand, you can rent a car from a traditional rental car company and take it wherever you want, typically for a day or more. Or alternatively you can book a ride on an app to get from point A to B. But there is no real technology-enabled solution for people who need the unlimited and unrestricted use of a car for a limited period of time.
So it is partially about digitizing the archaic car rental industry, and partially about introducing greater flexibility and convenience to the ride hailing industry.
But what would prevent Uber or Careem from simply replicating your offering and competing?
We expect them to, and that would actually be a great validation for our model. But we are hugely focused on customer service and creating a reliable and likeable product.
Our hope is that if we do our jobs well enough, we will create enough brand loyalty among consumers – and if we do that, there will always be space for us to operate and grow. This is a huge market, so it’s definitely not the case that there is room for only one player.
How do you feel Roamer differentiates itself from its competition?
Again, firstly by providing a more convenient and flexible solution than anything available in the market today, and then secondly by constantly striving to provide top-notch customer experience.
Where does Roamer currently operate?
We are currently live in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, which means you can be picked up from any location within the twin cities and then take your car wherever you like.
Do you plan to expand and eventually offer cars without chauffeurs? Somethin similar to the Zip car format?
Absolutely, that is definitely part of the plan. But we are completely focused for the time being on building our core product well because there is a huge amount of opportunity in the chauffeur-driven space. Once we have done that, we will look at what else we can start to offer.
There are so many different ways that this business can be expanded and tweaked once we have established our brand. Each of them presents its own opportunities and challenges.
What are the current struggles of working in the digital space in Pakistan?
The single biggest challenge for us so far has been that it is a cash economy. It creates a lot of inefficiency and operational burden that will go away once payments start to become digitized.
What are your long-term goals and ambitions? Where would you like to take the brand in 5-10 years?
My dream is to take Roamer overseas once it has reached critical mass in Pakistan itself. Part of the motivation behind this is to create a successful Pakistani app in this space rather than just have foreign companies come and provide a solution. But an extension of that ambition is to expand regionally so that we can all be proud of a Pakistani technology company with an international footprint.
What can you tell us about the founders and their backgrounds?
I spent around 15 years before this in various leadership roles in software development in the United States and Pakistan. Most recently, I managed a software development company in Islamabad which serviced corporate and government sector clients in the US. I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Science and Accounting from the University of Arkansas.
My co-founder spent about 15 years working in investment banking in New York and has a solid understanding of capital markets and finance, which I think makes us a really powerful team with unique and complementary skills.
Last but not the least, for all the budding graduates out there looking to enter Pakistan’s digital space, what message would you like to offer them?
Firstly, I would like to say that what we are witnessing right now in the Pakistani tech space is the beginning of a gold rush. The scale and scope of opportunities in an economy of this size are absolutely massive, and you really can create something of value in any industry.
You just need to think about how you can create a more efficient and effective outcome for people with the use of technology. The potential is boundless. Having said all that, I would caution any budding entrepreneur that the major determinant of success is not the idea itself but rather the execution of that idea so make sure you do your due diligence and build a feasible plan before taking the plunge.