In Pakistan, one homegrown startup is now facing a wave of overseas tech companies entering the country as more investors see the appeal of this growing – yet troubled – emerging market. In the online property listings niche, Zameen started early, founded by British-Pakistani entrepreneur brothers Zeeshan Ali Khan and Imran Ali Khan way back in 2006. It then grew to become the nation’s top real estate site. According to Shehryar Qureshi, Zameen’s marketing manager, it now covers 500,000 verified listings of places to rent or buy across Pakistan.
Despite Pakistan having barely 15 million mobile internet users (from about 130 million total mobile SIM subscribers), foreign firms are rushing in to compete in some of the most easily monetizable parts of the web – things like ecommerce and ad-supported web portals. That includes online property listings. As a consequence, Zameen is now up against classifieds sites like OLX Pakistan (a branch of Argentina-born OLX) and the brand-new Dekho.com.pk (created by Sweden-based venture incubator Saltside, which got US$25 million in funding last week to expand into more emerging nations). But Zameen’s biggest challenger is a dedicated property site of the same genus – Rocket Internet’s Lamudi.
Lamudi launched in Pakistan in January this year, marking the 16th nation entered by this spin-off from the German startup dynamo that is Rocket Internet. It’s more like Zameen than any other competitor and is the rival most likely to scale quickly. It’s part of a huge push into Pakistan by Rocket, which now covers seven startup sites in the nation.
So far, Zameen is keeping its lead. Aside from having more listings, Qureshi says that the incumbent site is ahead with 700,000 monthly visitors in Pakistan alone.
Qureshi points out that Zameen is adding more funding and extra know-how to prepare it for the tougher battle ahead. Last month Zameen secured an undisclosed amount of funding from Singapore’s Catcha Group and Malaysia-based Frontier Digital Ventures that gives the new investors a collective 30 percent stake. That also brings in expertise from Frontier Digital Ventures co-founder Shaun Di Gregorio, the CEO of iProperty, who joins the startup’s board of directors.
Earlier in 2012 a similar thing happened when French investor Gilles Blanchard, who co-founded SeLoger, France’s largest property portal, came on board as an angel investor and also took up the role of Zameen chairman.
Since the startup’s founders are part of the Pakistani diaspora, the business is taking into account the spending power of the nation’s overseas businesspeople. That’s why Zameen has extra offices in London and Dubai, catering to members of the diaspora looking for property investment opportunities in their home country.