Pathao offers courier, meal delivery, ride-sharing, and online shopping services. It is the first significant ride-sharing business in Bangladesh to receive an enlisting certificate from the authorities. Pathao operates on the SuperApp model, providing all of its services through a single app. It operates in Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, and Sylhet, as well as Kathmandu and Chitwan in Nepal. While Pathao’s accolades are remarkable in Bangladesh, its Nepalese saga is a game-changer. Employing over 100 thousand people, Pathao Nepal now has over 90% market capitalization and is one of the largest employers in the country. This is their story.
As I walked to my scheduled tete-a-tete with Pathao’s Nepal Managing Director, I was excited to learn how a Bangladeshi brand had captured the hearts of the Nepalese. Upon meeting Asheem Man Singh Basnyat, I was awed by the strength of great leadership that can propel great brands forward.
Asheem exuded the calm demeanor of a global leader who faces all obstacles with a contagious smile. I dove right in and asked Asheem about his background. He replied, “I am a first-generation Nepali entrepreneur. I graduated in management from Beijing International Studies University and hold a master’s degree in arts from Tribhuvan University. Additionally, I am a founding board member of the American Chamber of Commerce Nepal and Founding Vice Chairman of the Electronic Business Association of Nepal. Moreover, I am one of the majority shareholders in Infinity Fund, which has invested in six growing startups across industries such as e-commerce, marketing agencies, HR consultancy, and logistics, accounting for a current valuation of Rs 57 crores. Infinity Fund aims to support many more startups in the days to come.”
At this juncture, I asked Asheem how he managed to engage every Nepalese person I met with Pathao and what led to the remarkable growth of the brand in Nepal. Asheem responded, “We started Pathao on September 24th, 2018, with about 18 staff as part of the initial launch team. We encountered a few local players offering a minimal number of rides. However, it has been an uphill battle ever since.”
Rising to the Challenge
I knew Asheem and his team had not had an easy journey leading up to the 5-year milestone. Asheem elaborated on some of the challenges Pathao Nepal faced, “The first challenge was assembling the team. No one was familiar with ride-sharing. I had to rely on my personal connections to persuade them to join the core team, and the launch team took the plunge without knowing its depth. I’m pleased to share that most of the senior members are still with Pathao. Additionally, we faced litigation, won a few court cases, and lost a few. Furthermore, government interventions persist, posing a daily challenge. We also confronted the largest taxi cartel, facing direct battles, death threats, and instances of vandalism at our offices. Finally, the pandemic proved to be a significant obstacle. However, none of these setbacks deterred us; they only made us stronger.”
The inevitable question arose regarding the key metrics of success attributed to the Pathao brand in Nepal. Asheem’s reply was, “We achieved profitability within 6 months. We’ve successfully facilitated the growth of our people from interns to managers, fostering a dynamic culture valuing diversity. Five years later, we have over 150 staff, with over 100,000 registered riders and more than half of Kathmandu’s taxis as service providers. Some Pathao Riders earn more than bankers in Nepal, and we stand as the second largest employer after the government of Nepal. For instance, a taxi driver could earn over ₹1,00,000 a month, while a motorcyclist could earn about ₹60,000 a month. Moreover, we feature almost all the reputable restaurants on our food platform, catering to quick commerce. Essentially, we offer major app services available in Bangladesh, albeit with a local twist. For instance, Three Wheelers are termed Tuk Tuks. Today, Pathao is synonymous with growth, travel, and ride-sharing, becoming a household name.”
I then inquired about Asheem’s greatest assets that contributed to his success. Asheem simply commented, “My people. I am blessed with the best team anyone could ask for. As long as your company prioritizes its people, you will succeed. From day one, I focused on the initial 18 people working with us; initially, it was about the customer. Once you treat your people well, they will treat the customer well, and in turn, customers will return to you repeatedly. My aim is to depart from the company at 40, ensuring that my initial interns are on the path to becoming the next Managing Director within the next 5 years.”
Words of Wisdom
Asheem had some wisdom to share with aspiring entrepreneurs. He commented, “My father, his father, and generations before were in the army, and I’m the first in many generations not to follow that path. Most of my thought processes and actions are influenced by how my father used to handle things. He taught me to be liberal when necessary, to listen to subordinates, and to be firm when making decisions. Another important lesson was to remain loyal to those working with you. I have my own flaws, but whenever possible, I prioritize them.”
Asheem added, “So, one thing my grandfather told my father during his commissioning, and my father passed on to me when I expressed my desire to get commissioned, was to pay attention to any written material found on the floor, as there might be something to learn from it. What I imply is, that I don’t seek educated individuals; I seek knowledgeable ones for the team. Time is an invaluable resource, and punctuality has been crucial to me. With power comes responsibility; when I delegate power, I delegate responsibility. My team understood that. Also, your strength is only as strong as the unit you serve, and they all came together as a unit with one goal, one objective: to work harder.”
Asheem mentioned that the future for Pathao is to expand throughout Nepal. Problem-solving will be a significant focus for the team, investing heavily in R&D and data-driven decision-making. Essentially, they aim for Pathao Nepal to become the platform for sending anything from anywhere. The sky is the limit right after.
The author is the Managing Partner and CEO of Renboe Enterprises. He can be contacted at [email protected]