Bookme: A Pakistani E-ticketing Platform And Its Traction Story – with Faizan Aslam [Ep#13]
In 2013, Faizan took his wife to the movies in a distant city, once the city they lived in didn’t have a cinema. However, when they got there, there were no available seats left, which made them got back home frustrated. With a background in technology, Faizan had an idea: to build a platform in which people could buy their tickets online, so things like what he and his wife went through didn’t happen again. That’s the moment Faizan started developing Bookme, which today provides tickets for the Cinemas, buses and events. Want to know how Faizan got from that idea to the traction stage? Don’t miss the 13th episode of The Traction Stage podcast! SHOW NOTES What is Bookme and which kind of problem does it solve today? Basically, Bookme is an e-ticketing platform. We cater currently three areas: cinema, bus, and events. We are primarily focused on developing countries—or countries that don’t have any online ticketing facilities available. We are currently in two countries: Pakistan and Myanmar. In terms of Pakistan, we are the largest e-ticketing platform. Myanmar is still at a very infancy stage, but we believe it to be a good market in the next coming one or two years. THE RIGHT TIMING Regarding the developing countries—or countries that don’t have a digitized economy or more technology-driven—it’s a challenge, because these countries are generally on paper-based. The same goes with Pakistan back in 2013, when we were thinking about launching this startup, there were no digital solutions available. In order to put it in an easier way those bus companies or the cinema companies were using a paper-based ticket. They were just writing the passenger info or the seat number on a paper, and they handed over that paper to the passenger. And I mean there was no concept of pre-buying a ticket online or any digital payment or something like that. It was a challenge, but it was, at the same time, a big opportunity, because we’re talking about Pakistan—sixth largest population in the world, 200 million plus people and some massive opportunity—which was yet to be disrupted at that time. So, we found that opportunity at a very good time. I think timing plays a critical role in the startup success because when you’re trying to tap into a market, if it’s too early it won’t work out or if you’re too late then it gets occupied. I think timing plays a critical role in the startup success because when you’re trying to tap into a market, if it’s too early it won’t work out or if you’re too late then it gets occupied. NO SEATS AVAILABLE At that time—in 2013—I also got married and that was the time when I and my wife planned to watch a movie in a metropolitan city. […] So we drove to Lahore just to watch a movie in a cinema because there was no cinema in our city. When we reached there, we came to know that there were no seats available and the helpline number—the cinema is used to make a reservation over the phone call—was not answering, because of the lot of load at the box office. They were only entertaining customers who were buying at the box office and they were not making any reservation. The same thing happened in the next week. So, I thought: “Why can’t technology play a role in this problem?” “Why shouldn’t technology be used to answer this problem, so you can buy your ticket in advance while staying at your home and you can see the real-time seat and all that?” Why shouldn’t technology be used to answer this problem, so you can buy your ticket in advance while staying at your home and you can see the real-time seat and all that That was the time when the idea of Bookme came in. CHASING A GREAT CHANCE What were your first steps on executing your idea? I was going through a very tough time, because the software services company that I was running had a setback because the major client of our company got bankrupt. They had to pay roughly about 65,000 pounds, which was unpaid because of the bankruptcy. So, we were passing through a difficult time and my team was very demotivated and a bit shattered about this news. Bookme’s Team But during that time, there was a project, which was initiated by the government of Punjab, which is a province or a state in Pakistan. They initiated a first-ever technology incubator in Pakistan. It was called Plan9, and they had their first cycle being graduated at that time. That was the only hope because they were giving free office space with a small stipend and office equipment, like laptops and stuff. But the best part was that they were located in Lahore, and it was a government pack project, so it had a lot of credibility with it and they were not charging any equity. I think it was the only opportunity I had at that time, if I really wanted to execute this idea. FUNDING THE FIRST STEPS A part of the salary was being paid through that stipend and part of that expense was paid through a personal loan that I requested from my family member, who was a very close relative. He was helping me with the initial expenses and all that. He helped me for about, like 8 to 10 months to overcome in this difficult time because he believed in the idea that yes, it can grow big. THE MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT When was the exact time that you launched your first MVP? It was March 2014. It was merely a form where you can simply put in your request that you want to see a movie at ‘XYZ’ cinema or you want to book a seat from this city to that city. It was all manual, there was no integration of stuff at the back end and there was no option to select a real-time seat. It was like: tell us your preference which seat do you want and we will try to make it as close as possible. And what did you do with the information at that time? For a customer it was an experience that they see the movies that are currently being played in the cinema. They just select the movie, go to the list of the cinema, along with the show times, they select the showtime and, as soon as they select that, the system asks: “Which kind of seat that you prefer? Is it center, front or back?” If the customer selects for example “back”, then it takes you to the information page where you put in your name, phone number, email, and home address. And as soon as you submit that, you get a call from our representative: “Okay, your order has been received. Is this confirmed or are you just testing and trying the service?” The customer said: “Yes, it is confirmed. Please deliver that ticket to my home.” We send out a rider to the customers address. Once the ticket was purchased from the cinema counter or the bus counter it was then delivered to the customer’s home in about the next three or four hours. It was all manual and it was all cash. There was no digital payment or anything. It was more about just launching the service and trying out the market, rather getting the hundred percent or rather going to the complete automated system. It was more about just trying the product in the market and see how customers or the general public react to that and how well is it picked up by the general consumer. It was more about just launching the service and trying out the market, rather getting the hundred percent or rather going to the complete automated system. FIRST USERS How much traction did you get in that time? Initially, I think the traction that we got was due to the media, the hype that we were able to pull off. And users were people who were technology-driven or who are more like friends and families of people who we know. They were the first ones using the technology. Some university students—because our team was at the university and shared the kind of service that we’re offering—were picking up that service. The initial traction was not so good, but we had some customers using our service on a daily basis and the graph was going up, which was a good sign. But it was not like thousands of people using our service, it was mainly like two-three hundred people visiting our website. Out of these two-three hundred, about ten to twenty people were using our service on a daily basis—like placing an order on a daily basis. Ten to twenty orders a day was the beginning for us back in 2014. The initial traction was not so good, but we had some customers using our service on a daily basis and the graph was going up, which was a good sign. IT’S ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE, NOT THE FEATURES I believe it’s about perception, it’s about the image that you create in someone else’s mind. In startups, you have to show yourself that you are a very professional, big corporate company to your user, and then somebody will go and use your service. In order to do that you have to show your customer that your services are top notch. Initially, nothing is a 100% perfect or 100% there. If you look at Facebook, if you look at Uber, if you look at other platforms, they all started from a very small thing, and then they grew bigger with their experience, knowledge and customer’s feedback. Initially, nothing is a 100% perfect or 100% there. The same goes here. It was really a form, but for a customer, it doesn’t look like that. For the customer it looked like everything is integrated. You can see the real-time shows. Whichever has been playing in the cinema is also shown on the website. You can see the real-time routes and, at the back end, we were the one who was putting that bus departures and cities and everything manually in the system, and there was no integration. But, at the front, it looked like everything was very well connected. So as long as you’re able to deliver—even having like 5% of the product ready—go for it. And if you think that you won’t be able to execute or meet the customer’s expectations at this time or if you’re not able to meet the expectations of 80% of the customers then don’t do it. So as long as you’re able to deliver—even having like 5% of the product ready—go for it. GREAT MOVE! Which marketing initiatives worked best for you? One thing I already shared was the media and hype. Showing the brand perception and everything that shows your brand is big. The other thing was leveraging your brand, or using your brand to get the maximum coverage or maximum output from that. How? I explain that with an example. In the beginning of the days, when we were selling the cinema tickets, we reached out to different film distributors. In Pakistan, the film distribution works as a distributor by a film and then it gives that film to all the cinemas and the cinemas share 50-50 roughly of the sale with the distributor. At that point, we’re the first online ticketing company of Pakistan and the company who had real customers. We went to the distributors and said: “We can help you growing your customer base and in return, you have to use Bookme as a call to action in all your trailers, marketing and everything.” Avengers was the first film that signed up with Bookme—end of 2014 or at the beginning of 2015. It was being distributed by a TV channel that was aggressively marketing that film’s teaser and trailer on their TV. And we said: “Okay. We will help you market your film to ‘XYZ’ customer base and we’ll do some activation on the ground and all that.” And we were able to somehow convince them. We also told that we’ll give them some share of the revenue. In short, we were able to pull off the deal with them. So, I think it was that perception that you were able to make in general public: “Their logo is being played on the TV” or “They are being advertised on TV. They must be a very big company”. In reality, we were not. We were at a very infancy stage. But, that perception helped us win new customers and to get similar partnerships in future that helped us a long way. LISTEN… What have you learned in your journey with the challenges that you faced that you could say as final words for the entrepreneurs that are out there? RESILIENCE It’s about resilience, it’s about persistence. It’s about staying confident that, whatever you are thinking in your mind will be successful, or whatever you believe, will become a reality. It’s about being that kind of person, and then translating that vision into your team. Without a team it’s not possible. VISION AND EXECUTION It’s about the executors—the people who are responsible to execute day to day operations and everything. If they are motivated enough, and if, as a founder, you are able to translate that vision or the kind of thing that you have in your mind into your team’s mind, then I think the game becomes a lot easier. If they are motivated enough, and if, as a founder, you are able to translate that vision or the kind of thing that you have in your mind into your team’s mind, then I think the game becomes a lot easier. Because you don’t have to see who is working and who is not. It will all be something that will be on ‘autopilot’ mode. Everybody is like passionately working, and you just have to share the broader vision of the company and the rest will be done automatically. THE VALUE OF PARTNERSHIPS It’s about finding the right kind of relationships, partnerships, opportunities, where you can grow your brand by spending the minimum amount of money and getting the maximum results. We had some really tough time raising the last round. We were facing some really difficult time because we had to show big numbers but at the same time, we had no marketing budget. So, we had to use similar kind of partnerships and relationships just to keep the numbers going without spending much on the marketing. Hey, what do you think of this episode? Leave your comment!Or check other startup stories here. MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDER Faizan Aslam (LinkedIn) Built the e-ticketing ecosystem in Pakistan with Bookme Tickets Pvt. Ltd. Introduced variable fares in transportation sector. Made tickets accessible at all major banks, telcos and eCommerce stores via API integrations. Passion: Business growth and Networking. MORE ABOUT BOOKME Bookme.pk (Website; Facebook; LinkedIn). Getting a cinema or bus ticket has never been a hassle free task. Whether having to drive to the cinema or bus stand to book tickets in advance or standing in those seemingly never ending queues is what we had to go through until bookme.pk came into being .Bookme.pk has introduced online buying of cinema and bus tickets in metropolitan (Lahore , Karachi & Islamabad) city of Pakistan. It is a user friendly application where people can browse for upcoming movies and show times, reserve their tickets before hand, review bus schedule and reserve seat through bookme.pk. Bookme.pk is one of the widely used application in present generation for booking tickets through online web / application. Now there is no need of queue maintenance and rush, one can book the ticket of a movie or bus from his or her smart phone and tablets.The post Bookme: A Pakistani E-ticketing Platform And Its Traction Story – with Faizan Aslam [Ep#13] appeared first on The Traction Stage.