Afiniti and Careem: Tech Unicorns Made in Pakistan
By Riaz Haq
Afiniti and Careem are two technology unicorns engineered in Pakistan by Pakistanis. AI (artificial intelligence) startup Afiniti software has largely been engineered in Lahore while taxi hailing service Careem's technology has mostly been developed in Karachi. Here's more about these unicorns:
Careem is a taxi hailing app that is giving its American competitor Uber a run for its money in a region stretching from Pakistan to the Middle East and North Africa. The company cofounded by Mudassir Sheika, a Pakistani national, is headquartered in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Careem's last round was valued at over a billion dollars when it raised $350 million from Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten and Saudi Telecom Company (STC) at the end of 2016, according to Tech Crunch.
Careem's software has been developed by its technology partner VentureDive based in Karachi, Pakistan. VentureDive was started by serial Pakistani entrepreneur Atif Azim who sold his earlier startup Perfigo to network equipment giant Cisco for $74 million in 2004, according to a report in Tech in Asia.
Atif launched VentureDive in 2011 and took a small equity stake in Careem in exchange for building its entire tech stack – including the app, the website, and other digital platforms. That small stake has now grown to $50 million.
In 2016, Careem acquired VentureDive's engineering team working on its technology to give the engineers more ownership of the product – now they are getting equity stake in Careem and larger bonuses.
Washington-based AI technology firm Afiniti, founded by serial Pakistani-American entrepreneur Zia Chishti, has filed for initial public offering (IPO) at $1.6 billion valuation, according to VentureBeat. The company has grown out of the technology used in the Pakistan-based call center business of The Resource Group (TRG) also founded by Zia Chishti.
Bulk of the Afiniti development team is located in Thokar Niaz Baig, Lahore. In addition, the company has development team members in Islamabad and Karachi.
Chishti founded his first company Align Technology in 1997 in Silicon Valley. It creates clear plastic braces for straightening teeth by using advanced 3-D computer imaging. The technology now trademarked as Invisalign has helped millions of people straighten their teeth for a beautiful smile without enduring the pain and unsightly looks of the traditional steel brackets and wires used in orthodontics. Align Technology is now valued at $10 billion.
Afiniti uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to enable real-time, optimized pairing of individual call center agents with individual customers in large enterprises for best results. When a customer contacts a call center, Afiniti matches his or her phone number with any information related to it from up to 100 databases, according to VentureBeat. These databases carry purchase history, income, credit history, social media profiles and other demographic information. Based on this information, Afiniti routes the call directly to an agent who has been determined, based on their own history, to be most effective in closing deals with customers who have similar characteristics.
Pakistan is an emerging center of technology with at least two unicorns, Afiniti and Careem, engineered by Pakistanis in Pakistan. With growing numbers of young homegrown Pakistani technologists, a highly skilled diaspora and an evolving startup ecosystem with incubators, accelerators and investors, the country is beginning to demonstrate its vast potential as a vibrant technology hub of the future. Provincial governments, particularly those in Punjab and KP, are showing leadership in encouraging this trend. The main ingredients are all coming together to make things happen in Pakistan.