Sheikh Samiullah, a BBA graduate from Kurukshetra University in Haryana, and his childhood friend Abid Rashid, an MBA-IT from National Institute of Technology in New Delhi, were working in separate companies in 2018 when they decided to help the local delivery needs of small businesses in Jammu and Kashmir.
Three years later, FastBeetle, the logistics tech platform co-founded by the two friends, both 30, became the first startup from the Valley to raise $100,000 in a pre-Series A funding round.
What started as an online courier service to provide last-mile delivery in Kashmir today works with more than 800 micro-entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises, mostly women.
The duo overcame connectivity challenges after the delivery app was launched in Srinagar less than two weeks before Article 370 bestowing special status on the state was abrogated on August 5, 2019 and the subsequent communication blackout.
In an interview to Moneycontrol, Samiullah, CEO of FastBeetle, spoke about the growth of the startup, how the pandemic lockdown was a blessing in disguise, and its expansion plans. Edited excerpts:
Why did you decide to start a logistics platform in Kashmir?
In 2018, I headed the logistics department of an e-commerce company in Srinagar. Abid worked in an IT firm. We found that some young entrepreneurs faced difficulties in shipping products they sold on social media (Instagram). So, we decided to start a company and help the community.
After three months, we realised we should start something concrete. So we launched the app on July 25, 2019, days ahead of the abrogation of Article 370. I used my operations expertise and Abid his IT skills.
How did you manage during the communication blockade after Article 370 was abrogated?
There was uncertainty in the run-up to August 5. Everything fell apart and life came to a standstill. We had to halt our services. Many months later, I was in Dubai trying to find a job when I started getting messages from merchants urging us to resume services. Ultimately, by February 2020, we had people offering us money and we re-started operations on 2G internet. Then COVID-19 happened.
How did you manage to restart operations during COVID-19?
I would say the COVID-19 lockdown came as a blessing in disguise for us as our business got a boost. We started delivering medicines, cylinders and other essentials. We recovered the losses we faced during the communication blackout. In the lockdown, we saw rapid growth as we were part of crucial business lifelines and would cater to about 80,000 customers.
Today, we work with at least 800 small entrepreneurs, mostly women, across Kashmir. We provide last-mile delivery facility services across 19,000 pin codes of Kashmir. We have a presence in areas that are not serviced by e-commerce giants Flipkart and Amazon.
You raised funds recently. How did that happen?
Our growth started after FastBeetle was selected in 2020 at a special incubation programme held in Srinagar by transaction advisory company ALSiSAR Impact.
We are now the first startup from Kashmir to raise $100,000 in a pre-Series A funding round led by a clutch of angel investors including Sandeep Patel from Nepra, entrepreneurship evangelist Saurabh Mittal, Vikram Sanghvi and Rohit Qamra, to name a few.
This is a message for other entrepreneurs in the Valley that it is possible to raise funds to build a scalable enterprise.
What are the challenges you faced? Was any investor hesitant in investing in Kashmir?
Poor internet was the biggest challenge we faced in the beginning. Internet connectivity has improved after the Article 370 abrogation. Initially, our investors were all from outside Kashmir.
They saw the company's growth and market and invested freely. Now we are having some investors who are Kashmiris.
What are your expansion plans? Do you plan to go public?It is too early to say. We want to expand phase by phase and create the leading logistics company in Jammu and Kashmir. We intend to use the fresh funding in expanding operations to several rural districts, including parts of Jammu.