Hussain Elius, CEO, Pathao

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The road to travel domination started in 2015. Fast forward three years, Pathao has altered the mindset of how Dhaka city commutes. What initially began with 100 drivers, now has a fleet of over 500 with 300,000 users. The motorcycle is no longer the unsafe sight of eye rolls; it is the convenient way, dependable and economical way to get from point a to b. Meet the CEO of Pathao, Hussain M Elius, as he elaborated upon their start of Pathao’s trip and how they have merged the highways of tech and travel.

A Concept is Never Set in Stone
Two years ago when we started brainstorming about the biggest challenges we faced in Dhaka – we realized that there are two major problems – load shedding, and traffic. We could do nothing about the former, so we looked into the everyday commute. Before we even started Pathao, we tried solving the transportation problems with different tactics- one was a CNG hailing app knows as Jaben. We did not have the same leverage because smartphones were not so densely used; so we went to a phone call based solution. It was followed by a carpooling service which also did not do very well. Long story short, the Pathao app that everyone uses today was not the thing we started our journey with. It is something that was born after many experiments.

Embrace Every Attempt
It took some failures for us to realize what would work and what would not work. A pipeline of ideas helped us come to the current service. We continually iterated on the idea of starting something, monitoring its progress and moving on to the next endeavor if our product did not work. We embrace our failures as an opportunity to learn and develop. Whenever an attempt became a failure, we would dissect it into lessons learned, and contemplate on how we can use the learnings and the technology to develop something better.

The Only Success is That There is None
We used our ability to iterate fast to our advantage. We maintain a culture that asks us to consistently push the team and the organization to do more. We have a new number to hit every week, and the new goal to hit every quarter, and we allocate resources to every effort to strive for that measure. The day you believe that you are successful is the day that you will think that there is nothing more to do. That mindset is harmful because the competition never rests – and it gives others the space to catch up. Every day is a new day.

When the Solution is not There, Create it
Our most significant success was not creating a new technology – but rather a new category of transportation. Creating a category of “motorcycle sharing” was particularly tricky as Dhaka was not a motorcycle friendly city in comparison to others in the region. The culture of sharing rides or taking a motorcycle was not perceived to be safe. Before Pathao, the city had a preconceived notion that motorbikes were unsafe. Furthermore, people in Bangladesh are not very open to the idea of apps in general. Things have changed since then.

A potential colleague is not defined by their background; it is their portfolio that speaks volumes. If they have the Pathao mentality, accompanied with passion and drive, we consider them to be an asset to the company. 

 

Being a Visionary Paves the Way
At first, people were not used to using any app beyond a few social networks like Facebook. Once Pathao gained momentum, we observed a few changes coming around us. First, many people were buying smartphones because they wanted to use the Pathao app. When you address a massive problem and find a viable solution, the market will find the way to reach out to that solution. We started with getting our first orders through phone calls and Whatsapp followed by a secret Facebook group- but all of those were not sustainable or scalable. All of these mediums entailed a middleman for operations and would take 10-15 minutes before we could confirm a service. An app allowed for an immediate response. We started informing people on the Facebook group that they would have to use the app and stopped taking orders from anywhere outside of the app. At first, it created a lot of friction for customers who were used to giving orders – and changing their mindset wasn’t easy. However, we considered that in the long run how much the customers would gain through the app. We are now running both on Apple and Android phones, and the implementation of the app created much greater access and ease to customers and drivers alike.

Expand Your Service, Stay True to Your Vision
When we started Pathao, we knew that our app would be built for the masses. This led to the concept and execution of Pathao Food. We are in the process of incorporating more restaurants and will have over 3,000 restaurants in by the end of March. We have more than six to ten times the number of restaurants than our competitors. We have targeted the segment of the of the market that the current players have ignored. In the socioeconomic context of Bangladesh, ordering lunch for Tk. 300 to 400 is not feasible on a daily basis. We have smaller restaurants like Star Kebab or CP because ordering a biryani for Tk. 100 is a much more reasonable solution for a meal. We have decided from the beginning of the company that would not serve a niche but one that is accessible to everyone.

Quality is Not Up for Negotiation
We have the general approach to a business where continuous feedback is used to weed out bad drivers or customers. You will have bad customers who will decrease the platform experience for the drivers as well. In this regards, our rating service provides a data-driven solution. When a first-time driver or customer is using the app, we do not have any data points. Once they start exhibiting consistent behavior – we could develop a pattern, and can choose to fix it or remove the problem. Hypothetically, if one customer infers that a driver is reckless, that may not be an accurate estimation of the drivers’ skill because that’s just one data point out of, say, 100. However, if we see that these experiences are consistent and 20 to 30 customers are drawing the same conclusion, then there are more data points to say that yes, the driver is in fact very reckless. This feedback allows us to grow while the quality can be controlled.

Mindset: The Foundation for Growth
People from various educational backgrounds bring their unique skill set. For example, Shifat Adnan, our Co-founder, and CTO, comes from an engineering background, and his contributions and insight in that aspect are very immediate and more specialized. When you grow to a large organization such as ours, the challenges propagate downwards. Individuals from different backgrounds bring insight; one person may be able to draw from their understanding of organizational behavior, while another adds knowledge regarding accounting or object-oriented programming. Starting a company requires many generalists who can do everything. But growth requires specialization.

Nevertheless, we hold a person’s ability to execute and their problem-solving mentality with the utmost priority. We recruit everyone – whether they may be dropouts, current students, and those with degrees, not according to academia but their inherent abilities. A potential colleague is not defined by their background; it is their portfolio that speaks volumes. If they have the Pathao mentality, accompanied with passion and drive, we consider them to be an asset to the company.

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