When Hira Batool Rizvi first started working, she noticed that all the women around her talked constantly about commuting problems. That’s because, in Pakistan, it can be difficult for women to get to work — and make a living for themselves and their families.
Rizvi knew she wanted to help these and other women. But it wasn’t until she saw ride-sharing services in the U.S. like Uber and Lyft that she knew how. “I saw what they were doing and thought we needed something along the same lines, but more culturally sensitive,” she says.
So she started She`Kab, Pakistan’s first shared taxi service for women. Its mission: to provide safe, affordable and reliable transportation to work. “We see She`Kab directly empowering our working women by addressing a systemic transportation problem that exists in Pakistan,” Rizvi explains.
She`Kab secures clients and connects them to drivers through its website; a smartphone app is in the works. Within months of launching in fall 2015, She`Kab had over 800 clients, a number that continues to grow “because She`Kab is truly filling a need in the market while having a strong social entrepreneurship stance.”
Getting the wheels rolling
Getting started wasn’t easy, especially since it meant having to “sideline my career and opportunities of earning a stable monthly income,” Rizvi says. Fortunately, she had help. Training she received from the WECREATE/Pakistan Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, in partnership with the U.S.-Pakistan Women’s Council, helped her “overcome the fear of how people around me would respond” to her untested idea.
Rizvi also assumed that she would need funding right away. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to start without investment,” she says. But thanks to mentors she met at the WECREATE/Pakistan Center, “I realized that all I needed was a minimum viable product … [to] help validate our concept … [and that] you can totally get the ball rolling with your personal savings.”
There have been surprises, she says. For instance, she expected to face problems as a woman business owner. Instead she found that often “our gender works in our favor. Some people are more courteous to female bosses.”
Still, having an all-male staff hasn’t been without its challenges. While she hasn’t experienced any problems speaking to her employees over the phone, she has noticed that some of them become less communicative in front of her. This changed greatly after she took steps to adapt to her environment. “I would cover my head in the trainings and workshops, and they appeared far more relaxed.”
Ready to take the wheel?
Thinking about starting your own business? Rizvi shares these tips for success:
- Read about other entrepreneurs and draw from their experiences.
- Read up on both your direct and indirect competition.
- Meet with people who inspire you and who can help you iron out your ideas.
- Don’t be afraid to network — you can find interested investors anywhere.
- Talk about your ideas, but only with those who would not steal them or who would not demotivate you.