Lahore-headquartered quick commerce startup Airlift has raised USD 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, and Pakistan and includes several 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.
The investment was co-led by Harry Stebbings’ 20 VC Explorer and Josh Buckley’s Buckley Ventures. Former Y Combinator president Sam Altman, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Bain Capital’s chairman Steve Pagliuca, former Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, Wise’s founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus, DoorDash co-founder Stanley Tang, Rappi co-founder and CEO Simon Borrero, and Postmates founder and CEO Baastian Lehman also participated in the round.
Existing investors Quiet Capital and Indus Valley Capital were also part of the deal. It takes Airlift’s total financing to date to around USD 110 million, making it one of the most well-funded startups in the entire region. According to TechCrunch, the round values the company at USD 275 million.
Founded in 2019, Airlift started as a mass transit startup but had to halt its operations in March due to COVID-19. As a result, the company launched a 30-minute grocery delivery platform that is now available across eight cities in Pakistan. In addition to groceries, Airlift also delivers fresh produce, OTC and prescription medicines, and sports goods from its network of multiple fulfillment centers across every city it operates in. Launched last year, the platform has grown 30–50% month-over-month on average, according to the startup in a statement. The startup is also building a farmer-to-consumer distribution channel for fresh produce.
With a solid foundation in Pakistan, Airlift is now looking to expand its quick commerce offerings to different markets in Asia and Africa. The startup will launch its first international market in the next three months, its co-founder and CEO Usman Gul told MENAbytes, without disclosing further details about the expansion plans.
In a statement, he said, “With this financing, we must return to where we started—fighting against the odds and staying true to our core values of hustle, teamwork, resourcefulness, and bias to action. If this is the journey of a thousand miles, we have taken only the first step.”
Airlift’s large financing comes at a time when billions have gone into ultrafast grocery delivery startups across Europe and North America. In a statement, the Pakistani startup highlighted that within the first 12 months of its launch, it has been able to reduce blended cost of customer acquisition (CAC) to USD 5 and unit costs to USD 2.50, “In developed markets, CAC is well above USD 15 and unit costs are close to USD 10 at scale,” noted the statement.
Josh Buckley, who co-led the round, in a statement, said, “The best operators in the space are backing Airlift, in large part due to the team’s track record and the company’s focus on Asia and Africa. For this model, developing markets will get to profitability much faster than similar companies in developed markets.”
When Airlift suspended its mass transit operations, the startup was doing 35,000 rides a day in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. Usman Gul, in a conversation with MENAbytes, said the company will continue to consider the mass transit business but doesn’t have any concrete plans or dates to resume operations.
Sam Altman, commenting on the investment, said, “Airlift’s early traction in Pakistan is a window into the future for how quick commerce will play out in the developing world.”
Harry Stebbings said, “When I first met Usman, I knew this was an entrepreneur who was going to create an industry-defining company. Humble, ambitious, and strategic, Usman will be one of the great founders of this generation.”
The startup is expected to add hundreds of employees to its team over the next few months.
This article first appeared in MENAbytes.