Gobi Partners has led a $1.5-million Series A funding round for Pakistani online travel agency, Sastaticket.pk, becoming the first Chinese venture capital firm to invest in the country.
Sastaticket, founded in 2016 by brothers Shazil and Bilal Mehkri, allows domestic travellers to book and pay for flights and hotels online. According to Sastaticket, just 3 per cent of Pakistani travellers use an online platform to book flights and hotels.
“With this round of funding and access to Gobi’s wealth of experience in the online travel sector across Asia, we are excited to enhance our products and services. This funding will help us increase our scale, recruit top talent, and increase our development speed in critical segments such as Islamic tourism,” said Shazil Mehkri, CEO of Sastaticket.
Gobi’s founding partner Thomas Tsao said Pakistani startups like Sastaticket have the ability to leapfrog ahead of their peers.
“When we invested in the OTA space in China ten years ago, AI didn’t even exist. Shazil is already thinking about data analytics and AI. I think being at the early part of the technology adoption curve means you have better opportunities because you can adopt the best technologies from day one,” said Tsao.
The investment by Gobi Partners underscores growing Chinese interest in a market that has long been considered “too risky” for investors.
In May, Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group announced the acquisition of Pakistani online retailer, Daraz. In March, Ant Financial invested $184.5 million for a 45 per cent stake in Telenor Microfinance Bank (TMB) to develop its mobile payment and digital financial services. TMB is a subsidiary of Telenor Group and a leading lender in Pakistan.
Tsao said: “The return on equity is highest when there is scarcity of capital. Scarcity of capital happens when people are afraid or when the market is too risky. But I see that as potential.”