Wajiha Kashan – Resolving Reverse Commerce Issues in Pakistan
Recently, we talked with Wajiha Kashan and explored how she identified an opportunity by finding a loophole in the business model of Olx and kick-started Affordable.pk
Wajiha has studied Software Engineering from the University of Punjab. In her professional endeavors, she started out as an ASP developer and gained experience by leading management positions at different multinational companies. Later, she and her husband, Mr. Kashan, decided to launch their own brand and founded the company Concept Beans in 2010. Concept Beans is a design initiative, which helps young developers to introduce their brand online effectively. Concept Beans has launched two products; one that is service based called Affordable.pk and the other that is technology based called Mapwiz.
Q: Hello Wajiha. Let’s start with why did you decide to quit a well paid job and launch your own company?
A: This story starts after my marriage. Initially, launching a company was not my priority. After getting married I wanted to settle down and go easy on work. I had been working at higher positions at several multinational companies and had performed roles as media manager and graphic design manager.
It was my husband (Kashan), a graduate from National College of Arts, who encouraged me to go into business. He pointed out that together we make a perfect working combination as I had experience in development, SEO with QA expertise and he had competency in designs. At that time, I was a little hesitant. But Kashan insisted on his idea and we ended up starting our company, and named it Concept Beans.
From behind a single computer screen, the husband and wife duo launched their business. They received projects, raised money and then purchased another computer. When the number of projects increased, Wajiha and her husband started working at a family office space.
They only had five employees initially but now the company boasts 17+ team members.
Q: Is there anything that you would like to change about your past?
A: That is an interesting question. If I ever get an opportunity to go back into the past, I would like to support Kashan when he came up with the idea of having our own business.
Wajiha also won the “WeCreate Challenge Cup 2015 for Women Entrepreneurship” award.
Today she manages her two offices and work till 2-3am in the morning. Besides she is a mother too. Wajiha has made sure that her children do not get neglected as a result of her busy life so her weekends are solely dedicated for family.
Q: Affordable.pk was launched as the first service based product of Concept Beans. Can you tell us more about Affordable.pk? What makes it special?
A: There are many classified websites working in Pakistan, like Olx. We identified a few problems in these websites and their working models. Firstly, these websites usually sell large items such as furniture and electronics. They don’t vend micro-items e.g. of fashion closet category like garments or jewelry. So,if a woman wants to sell her designer dress or gold-plated bracelet, she did not have access to any market or space where she could sell it at a good value. Secondly, the reliability standard on the classified websites is questionable. I have heard about people that have had their cars stolen when they approached customers through Olx.
So you don’t know from who you are making a purchase, there’s no credibility of the people involved and of the things that they show through the website.
I remember I wanted to buy a baby cot for my baby so I searched on OLX and filtered a few ads, but when I contacted those people they said, “Actually the baby cot is not in the same condition as in the picture, the picture is taken from Google. You can come to our place and see how it looks like now.” So here lies the problem, I cannot go to everybody’s home to check out the condition of the products they are selling. There are a lot of uncertainties. At, Affordable.pk we have catered this problem of unreliability providing both the buyer and the seller a comfortable market.
Affordable.pk has an on-spot consignment store, in Lahore, where buyers can drop their products. Only branded products that have a good re-sale value are accepted at the store.
The consumers check out the condition and availability of the products through our online website, and if they like it, they contact the store and the product is delivered at their doorstep.
Q: Affordable.pk has been a big hit, it made it to one of the world’s most prestigious accelerator programs, the SLUSH impact. What activities did you do there?
A. We won the “Get Slushed 2015” award which gave way to Global SLUSH impact. We were invited to Finland for 10 days boot camp accelerator program sponsored by the World Bank and Finland Govt. Our idea, “Affordable.pk”, got
selected in the top 10 ideas out of the 300 different startup ideas that competed. We were given a five minutes time to present our business model on stage. Our idea was the only one of its kind at the competition.
We are working on “Shared Economy”. At the World Bank’s boot camp, there were some PhD students from Aalto University who were also working on the same concept.
Those students approached us and now they are writing a thesis on our business idea.
Q: As you are working in the E-commerce sector, what are the specific challenges that you have faced or are currently facing?
I remember my father saying, “If you do not become a doctor, who will treat us when we become old!”
I said, “If I become a business woman, I will hire a 100 doctors for you.”
Courier services are a standard for most of the businesses operating through the Internet. TCS, Leopard, DHL, all of these charge heavy fees for complying with the Cash On Delivery functionality.
This comes at an expense to the business. Credit cards may help here, but not all members of the middle and the lower classes have their own bank accounts and working debit cards. This poses a problem, where the need arises for a more modern solution to these problems.
Q: So, you have lots of great achievements and have been involved in a lot of things. Did you ever have to say no to any of the opportunities?
A: Yeah, recently the UN Women charter invited me to run a “Minion Kitchen” in Pakistan. The idea was to empower women through food technology and they needed a woman entrepreneur to lead that. But I had to refuse this offer because I was already having the responsibility of heading my two offices and then home as well.
Wajiha planned her life to make her aspirations conceivable and today she is proud of them.
Q: Most of the people believe that women can either manage the household duties or they can work outside, but you are totally negating this myth. Is there any piece of advice that you would want to offer to other women?
A: I invite all women to dream big. Here in Pakistan, our girls think of doing a degree and then getting married. But they have to understand it’s not a one-man show any more. Both the partners have to work together. I would advise the girls to draw an objective of their life and built themselves according to it. A dream is something that never lets you sleep so how can you give it up and settle for less!
Wajiha believes that edification starts at home. Women pave the way for the future when they raise the kids of the nation. They should educate their girls to be confident enough to stand up for themselves.
Q: Please share your secret to success.
A: Experience, Belief, and Confidence. I believe that my experience is my key to success. My earlier life experience made me understand the market and the practical aspects of working. So when we started Concept Beans, I already knew how to deal with people. People should always gain some experience and then work on their ideas. They must experiment but they also need to have a sound base.
Q: Concept Beans is doing amazing, what should the industry be expecting from the company in the near future?
A: We plan to scale up Affordable.pk. Recently, we launched Mapwiz- a technology based on the Google APIs. We are working on this in the near future. We also have a few other concepts in mind that we shall be considering soon.
We wish Wajiha the very best with her company, and we hope that she gathers success and appreciation in all of her undertakings.
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Women Empowerment is really important for the progress on a country. We really appreciate Wajiha, we all should encourage young women to start their ventures and be the part of country’s success.
At Unze, we are also trying to create value in term of supporting our people, we firmly belief on social empowerment.
Startup Pakistan is really playing an important role to encourage young people to grow and by sharing young people story you encourage more people to start their ventures. This is pretty awesome.
Of Course, She is such a courageous lady and Startup Pakistan is an amazing opportunity.