‘Startups’ has been the buzz word for a couple of years in Nepal now, and needless to say, this has clearly been their decade. All around the globe, we’ve seen the rise and fall of various startups and Nepal is very much a part of this phenomenon. Every year the rate has been showing a tremendous increase.

Asheem Man Singh Basnyat, Managing Director of Pathao Nepal talks about the youth, startups and mentorship, giving us an insight into the real world of startups.

How has the virtual world taken up the economy?
I garnered maximum exposure during my stay in China doing my undergrad. I was there in 2002 when it was an explosively progressing economy. I saw their transformation from Omni Vans to Sonata in just a few years. That was the time when technology and vehicles were picking up and I always fancied both of these. After finishing my undergrad, I came back to Nepal and noticed a huge void in technology and internet penetration in the country. Data was very expensive back then. Mobile phones weren’t very prevalent among the common citizens. However, as data slowly became cheap, mobile phones became common among regular people and technology started booming. Global economies have rapidly become digitally driven to an extent that was never imagined before.                   

What was your experience working with Nepali companies before getting into Pathao?
I have been a problem-solver in all my previous work experiences. My first exposure to Nepal’s corporate culture was in CG. I was able to align my learnings from international essence there, while learning a lot at the same time. However, my experiences here made me realize it’s much easier to work outside Nepal because there’s less office politics. Here, most people seem to excel just because they are good at maintaining relationships. It’s easier to work in an organization with 100-200 people, but when you are a part of an organization with more than 10,000 people, the dynamic changes.

How did you wind  up at Pathao?
A mutual friend got me connected to a few investors at Pathao. I was asked if I would be interested in working with them to bring Pathao to Nepal. After nine months of rigorous process I was able to launch Pathao in Nepal. It's a virtual world today. You can do a plethora of things digitally, often in a much more efficient manner.  I can say from my experience with digitally-based startups in China and Nepal that one of the biggest problems has always been reconciling how people commute and human logistics. Pathao was the answer to that problem and that’s why I ended up pursuing it. 

What has been your vision ever since you joined Pathao?
Change. According to my understanding and insight, Kathmandu can have up to 1,50,000 shared rides per day. When we launched Pathao, the number of rides being shared via another platform was less than 2,000. It wasn’t like a competition; it was more like a hobby for them. Today, through Pathao, around 1, 00,000 rides are shared every day. This is what we call business. Today, there are more than 23 lakh users in Pathao, more than a lakh riders, about 9000 taxis, and about 1000 restaurants. Before Pathao came into the picture, people used to book their ride 30 minutes in advance. Today, you book a ride via Pathao and your ride comes to you in minutes. This change was my vision, and it is now a reality.

What is your team at Pathao working on lately?
Grocery delivery is something that I really want to crack at Pathao. We call it quick commerce. A demo was launched during the lockdown but now we are revamping the entire process and are planning a bigger and better platform. Quick commerce is simply e-commerce but that happens real time. We are trying to pursue that and I feel if we are successful in this, the trust of the people in e-commerce will be strengthened.

What is entrepreneurship according to you?
Thinking outside the box and taking risks to do things differently.

What changes have you seen in entrepreneurs since you started working?
I have noticed that the businesses that had started before I went abroad weren’t for fame. They were the pioneers. There were people who started e-commerce in Nepal like muncha.com, thamel.com, who nobody knew but were the ones who worked hard to make people understand the concept. The question that I want to ask entrepreneurs today is if they can actually validate their data?
Entrepreneurs today need clarity in their work. If you are doing something, first and foremost, you need to ask yourself: why are you doing it? Are you doing it just as a hobby or are you solving a problem? If you are solving a problem, find out what it is and analyze if it’s actually something that needs to be solved. Or are you are trying to solve something that doesn’t need fixing? If it is important, ask yourself how you will solve it, and after all this, you can decide if you are in it for the long run or not.

Considering the boom of the startup culture in Nepal, how do you think this is impacting the youth?
Lately, startup has been glamorized in our country without even knowing the proper definition of the word. People are just practicing their hobby and calling themselves founders and CEOs. That’s not about doing business at all. Most of the youth are just running their companies by borrowing capital from home just for the sake of calling themselves founders. And the media chooses any CEO from a random so-called startup and interviews them just to fulfill their need for content. This further creates a misconception among people that leads them to start something without proper planning. I see young people who have just started their company give multiple interviews. So I see the mirage of a startup culture influencing the youth to start businesses that don’t create a lot of value on a national level. 

What do you say about the success rate of startups in Nepal?
Most startups in Nepal aren’t really making an impact. The success rate of startups in Nepal is miserable because startups are more a platform for practicing hobbies. Most of the ideas are the kind that cannot be explored further. On the flipside, there are some startups that are doing so well that they are on the verge of going international. However, founders of such startups are not featured by the media at all because they aren’t doing it to get into the limelight. The moment those ideas go big, people start wondering where the companies came from, after being indifferent to the struggles of those companies for years previously.

What do you think is the major drawback when it comes to startups in Nepal?
I have realized the youth aren’t given enough mentoring in Nepal. I’ve seen a few mentors who steal the watch and sell them time. That’s not mentoring, that’s entrapment. There are very few genuine mentors. Lately, we have decided to make an association with the e-commerce businesses and we have been trying to explore ways through which the founding members can mentor a few youths out there who are getting into startups. Those youths need a direction instead of just wasting time running all over the place. That will help improve the quality of entrepreneurship and startup culture. I would also request all the people who have experience to share their time and insight with the young ones so that they can achieve the goal in a much more efficient and faster time frame. This will help bring investment and manpower in the country. Right now, if I need manpower, I estimate my need for the next two years and hire an intern today, train them in a way they are ready to serve the company after two years. It’s all because there is no competent manpower in the country.  
 
Have you also been involved with collaborative programs?
Somewhat yes. The companies that know me personally talk to me most often. It’s also a very close-knit society. Pathao works together with companies in the same market. For instance, one of the food delivery giants asks me not to launch anything in a particular month because their company is running a campaign. This way, at least we are not fighting for the same thing ending up in a ‘lose-lose’ situation. After all, all of us share the same goal of digitizing Nepal. If all the top giants get this, we can move ahead together. 
Youths shouldn’t get disheartened. There are a lot of opportunities here. I see a lot of young people who’re coming back to Nepal with a clear conscience to do something and doing great. That’s because they came back not for personal fame but because they see the bigger picture. It’s just that looking at them, I see a few people start the same thing and spoil the market.

What are some of the issues that come up as a ride-sharing company?
The policy of our government is not very concrete. Our government hasn’t yet understood the concept of ride sharing. For example, a food company is delivering food from Point A to Customer B. Now, even if Point A has spiked the food, it’s the delivery company which gets caught as a carrier. I remember once my rider was taken by the police because the person behind was carrying weed during Shivaratri. Luckily, the policeman was considerate towards us.    

Your advice to the upcoming entrepreneurs?
Don’t glamorize what you do. If your work is good, glamor will catch up.