She`Kab is transforming how women travel to and from work.
When She`Kab Founder and CEO Hira Batool Rizvi started working in Pakistan, she quickly recognized a problem with transportation for working women. She estimates that about 90 percent of her colleagues feel unsafe going to and from work each day. And, like any good entrepreneur, she recognized this problem as an opportunity.
The problem with transportation leads women to stay home or to pay four times as much as men for safer travel options. Public transportation options for women in Pakistan are limited. A typical bus has one seat available for women and 27 seats for men.
If women do manage to get a seat in a public van, about half of all women who use public transportation in Pakistan report cases of harassment, Hira said. Cabs and other types of private travel are overpriced, putting women in the tough position of choosing between safety and finances.
“This results in women losing their jobs or leaving their jobs or spending up to 40 percent of their income for safer travel,” Hira explains. “There was a huge problem that needed to be addressed and unfortunately no one was doing anything about it.” Hira is transforming the transportation system with She`Kab, a ridesharing service for women.
Hira originally hoped to create a network of all-female drivers but quickly realized that there were not enough female drivers to make that happen. So, she pivoted, using technology to optimize existing taxi resources. She knew that much of a cab drivers’ time was spent waiting for passengers. By clustering women together for rides through a website, cab drivers could work more efficiently and lower their rates as a result.
Riders register on the She`Kab website with their pickup and drop-off location and time. Then they are clustered into groups of 3 or 4 for pickup. Ride fares are paid through a monthly subscription fee.
The drivers and their cars are thoroughly vetted to ensure that they provide safe rides to passengers. The process includes an in-person interview, background document check, and a ride in the car by a member of the She`Kab team.
“We make sure that each of us sits in the car and understands that it’s as good as a car we would like to ride in so we can maintain quality,” Hira said.
From Engineering to Business
Initially, Hira did not see herself as an entrepreneur. She has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in science and technology from Georgia Tech. She was studying climate policy on a Fulbright Scholarship when she saw the impact that ridesharing services were having in the U.S.
She found herself wary of getting into cars with people she didn’t know, especially late at night, and thought that there had to be a way to make the process feel safer for women. She also knew that, for a ride-sharing company to be successful in Pakistan, they would need to be more culturally and religiously sensitive than they were in western countries.
Hira participated in a hackathon at Georgia Tech and pitched the idea that would become She`Kab. Her team took second place but received great feedback from investors who understood the need for the service in southeast Asia.
As she completed graduate school, Hira started receiving job offers but knew the time was right to pursue her business idea. Rather than accepting a job in the U.S., she moved back to Pakistan three days after graduating and started working on the business.
Upon returning home, Hira’s family was surprised to learn that she was launching a business, but were nonetheless supportive of her endeavor. She used that family support to come out of her shell and transform from an introverted engineer into an extroverted entrepreneur.
Building a Business
Hira connected with other entrepreneurs in Pakistan but did not wait until she had a full understanding of the marketplace before launching She`Kab. She already knew from her experience at Georgia Tech that the idea was viable and wanted to get it into the market as quickly as possible.
“One thing entrepreneurs need to understand is that there’s no right time to actually do something. It’s all about adaptive leadership,” Hira explained. “You prepare, you tweak, and the process keeps repeating itself.”
Hira learned the value of market research at Georgia Tech and used her time there to begin doing market research for She`Kab. She contacted friends in Pakistan to understand what the transportation system was like and where the pain points were. That lead to the decision to focus She`Kab on two cities: Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Despite the fact that she had a solid business idea and a plan for making it happen, Hira said she still felt anxious about the prospect of failing. “I was that stupid girl who said no to a great many opportunities people could kill for,” she said. “That decision was very hard, and I knew that people had eyes on me.”
Hira’s market research lead to her initial customer base. She reached out to those contacts and asked them to sign up for the service and slowly grew the network from there. That organic growth continues today. The company has not spent a dollar on marketing in its first year of operation.
She`Kab currently has about 900 riders and provides 4,500-5,000 rides per month. Hira is very careful to maintain a high standard of quality because she knows that one bad ride could tarnish the business’s reputation.
Hira recently completed time at the Katapult Accelerator in Oslo, where the business idea has matured further. Hira was drawn to Katapult’s social entrepreneurship mission, which she called “business with purpose.”
“There’s a huge need for this service, and we want to make sure we are ready to meet it,” Hira said.
Doing Good in the World
Hira considers herself fortunate to be part of a family that was able to support her and shield her from some of the hardships that women in Pakistan face. Rather than becoming complacent in her status, Hira instead used it to give back and encourages others to do the same.
She said there are millions of problems out there waiting to be solved, and each of us has unique skills to bring to the table in solving them.
“Listen and observe and go look for problems you’re passionate about,” she said. “Then understand how you can solve them and why you can solve them.”
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Hira Batool-Rizvi
“Understanding the entrepreneurial ecosystem was a huge challenge, but that’s what I did.”
Social Entrepreneurship Resources
- She`Kab website: http://SheKab.com
- She`Kab Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SheKabpk
- She`Kab Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/SheKabpk
- Katapult Accelerator: http://katapultaccelerator.com
- Book: Crazy Good Advice: 10 Lessons Learned from 150 Leading Social Entrepreneurs: https://tonyloyd.com/book