The economic fallout of the current virus lockdown is devastating, especially for the daily wage earners. People are losing jobs as employers can’t sustain the workforce when there’s little or no business.
Those who are able to somehow retain workers are having to cut down on wages. The plummeting earnings are adding more to the country’s impoverished millions.
Then there are companies like Cheetay, that walk the extra mile to keep their staff employed. The fastest-growing NOW-Commerce platform has mobilized its full-time employees to support its riders’ fleet, which is the business’s lifeline, in this time of crisis.
ProPakistani recently interviewed Osman Chaudry, Chief Financial Officer at Cheetay, to talk about the impact of coronavirus on businesses, riders fund, government’s initiatives and how Cheetay is helping the community with its tech and donation drives.
Osman has more than twenty years of experience working in business strategy and software development. Previously, he was an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs in London where he worked for almost 15 years.
An engineering graduate from Imperial College London, Osman managed enterprise software development programs for Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM). He moved to Pakistan as the Head of Development Services for Netsol in 2014.
How is Cheetay doing things differently amid coronavirus, and why should customers order from Cheetay?
Cheetay has always been on the forefront of adopting the newest technology and trends.
This time is no different. We quickly introduced contactless deliveries, and customers who prefer this safe delivery can make that request in the ‘delivery instructions’ when placing an order. Strict hygiene SOPs have been put in place where the rider sanitizes hands, wears gloves and a mask and disinfects carrying bags before each shift.
When at the restaurant or store, he maintains a distance of at least 2 meters with people and picks up food from designated spots. Once he reaches the customer, the food is placed on the sanitized bag and the rider steps away from it.
The customer picks up while maintaining social distance and pays digitally. Our riders undergo daily temperature checks and customers are informed via SMS of the rider’s temperature when they order.
To minimize the exchange of banknotes and reduce transmission, Cheetay is encouraging digital payments and accepting credit cards, Mastercard QR, SimSim and JazzCash.
Finally, to ease the burden and improve the safety of our customers, we have rapidly expanded our services to include Pantry (local grocery alternative), Pharma (to order medicines from your local pharmacies) and Errand services.
How has the coronavirus and the lockdown affected businesses?
The entire supply chain is disrupted due to the closure of many stores, restaurants, and food outlets. While bigger businesses have continued their operations, small-scale ones have been forced to shut down or limit their work as they can’t sustain the workforce amid dropped sales.
The first two weeks of the lockdown were the hardest where uncertainty loomed over everything. Businesses were not sure if they were allowed to operate and on what scale. Now that we have clear instructions, things are changing for the better.
Our riders are becoming busy as people become aware of what’s open and can be delivered and what’s not. We have had an overwhelming demand for groceries and medicines with the launch of our new verticals.
How has the COVID-19 crisis shaped e-Commerce in Pakistan? Has anything positive come out of this crisis?
The present crisis has taught us the need for ramping up our digital and technological infrastructure the hard way. People are using online education and work from home models for the first time, when they could many years back.
Similarly, delivery services like ours are making people think about why they went outside to buy food and groceries in the first place.
As things develop, investment in brick and mortar shops and outlets will make little economic sense. I liken this to the rapid adoption of Mobile technology in Pakistan, where the landline network was skipped by a large number of customers as their first phone was a mobile.
Similarly, we foresee that for many in Pakistan’s growing consumer base, e-Commerce will supersede shopping in person. With growing Smartphone penetration and mobile internet, people in remote areas too will order things to be delivered at home rendering physical shopping meaningless.
We are still a long way from that but at least this crisis has given us the much-needed push.
How is Cheetay helping its riders?
From the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, we anticipated that our riders would be economically affected. They are not our full-time employees and are paid by the number of deliveries they make.
While our operations have not shut down, they have become slower and it has inevitably lowered our riders’ incomes. So our management immediately set up an in-house fund to help supplement the income of our riders. All our employees, their families and friends contributed generously to the fund and it’s now well over Rs 4 million.
The funds are being used to buy essentials for our riders by purchasing items in bulk and using our office space as the distribution point. Cash is also being given out to those who need it the most.
We have received a heartwarming response from our fleet with thank you messages and videos which encourage us to do even more. We had also introduced health and life insurance for our riders before the pandemic broke out in the country.
It was a big step to ensure their wellness and we’re glad that it happened in time. Very soon we will be launching Cheetay’s own non-profit donations platform where the public can make donations in a legal and transparent way.
What is the Cheetay advantage over other competitors?
Our competitive edge is threefold, comprising a multi-category approach, state-of-the-art technology, and superior market knowledge. While most delivery services are a niche market, the multi-category approach of Cheetay gives it a winning edge.
Whatever you need: food, groceries, medicines – we can bring it to your doorsteps.
Secondly, the system we use is built on state-of-the-art technology that delivers end-to-end automation of the entire delivery lifecycle. While other services have a focus on the front end, ours is also on the backend where we continually make the app of greater value to all our stakeholders.
Above all, we are a homegrown company and the local market knowledge we have is unparalleled. We also have a strong focus on analytics and business intelligence. The way we understand the Pakistani market, others especially the international players, don’t.
What sets the Cheetay technology apart from the rest?
Cheetay is heavily invested in tech and has built bespoke systems so they can be customized according to market trends and dynamics. Any changes or automation can happen quickly real-time and with minimum chances of errors as we are not dependent on third-party service software packages.
Our system is robust and flexible enough to easily accommodate large-scale operations as we grow. We have software that caters to the demands of not only our customers but also our riders and vendors. Thanks to our homespun technology we’re able to offer high-quality services at a fair price point.
How is Cheetay helping give back to the community?
Cheetay takes pride in being a local Pakistani business and so feels a deep sense of responsibility to serve during this time. We are a critical services provider and will uphold our responsibility to maintain services and support our vendors and customers.
We have also partnered with various charities such as PIAF, Robin Hood Army (RHA) and Rizq to help donate rations to daily wage workers. Cheetay is also thankful to the Khawaja Fareed Foundation (KFF) who distributed ration boxes to our riders. Just recently our COO, Mohsin Qureshi went out to deliver food and thank our frontline workers in Lahore.
We also distributed flowers to doctors who fight coronavirus across all cities we operate. Next we are distributing kits to doctors and nurses. Cheetay’s charity platform, which is in the pipeline will give us another outlet to give back to the community.
How can Cheetay help the government during the lockdown?
This is an unprecedented global crisis and the government needs to have a consistent and resolute strategy in dealing with it. As a homegrown company we feel it is incumbent upon us to facilitate the government in any possible way.
Cheetay that follows strict safety protocols can become a delivery channel through which the government can provide provisions to the needy. We are already helping some nonprofits, and we’ll be happy to engage our fleet of energetic riders for this huge undertaking as well.
We can be a key player in allowing people to stay at home and stay safe. Thanks to the safety measures I mentioned earlier, we believe that ordering through Cheetay can help flatten the curve.
We can also work with the government for technological enablement for similar services. We have invested a significant amount of time and energy into building a highly advanced system for Cheetay.
We will be happy to share those learnings with the government to assist it in the Covid-19 fight.
Any suggestions to the government?
While I am far from being an expert on this area, as concerned citizens our company believes that once the early stage suppression is over, the government needs to remain vigilant and follow a diligent campaign of test, treat and track to limit the spread of the virus.
Test: The consensus amongst scientists, and this has been particularly espoused by WHO, is that we need to test, test, test. The government could announce a cash prize for anyone who can develop a cheap test that gives accurate and fast results
Treat: In the absence of any drugs to treat COVID-19, the requirement for ventilators is key. A traditional ventilator costs about USD 15,000, which is prohibitively expensive for mass-scale adoption. We should work towards a low-cost ventilator with easily available parts.
Track: As COVID-19 is likely to be with us for a while, we need a way of tracking the pandemic and those affected. To that end, a solution is required that allows us to go about our daily business without living in constant fear.
Why did you leave your corporate career and join the startup life?
Joining a startup gives oneself the ability to have much more impact than in a corporate setting. I have had the opportunity to learn varied skills and be part of something big and exciting!
I believed in Cheetay’s vision from day one. NOW-Commerce has a huge potential in Pakistan especially with the 80M growing middle class and the increased mobile penetration.
Why the move to Pakistan?
When you become a long term expat, you start missing your roots. It all started with some soul searching after spending as many years of my life in London as I had in Lahore. I wanted my family to experience what I had growing up in Lahore. The sense of belonging, culture and family.
How could my children grow up not knowing Lahore? At a professional level, it was clear that the center of economic activity was moving towards the East. A lot more exciting things were happening here as compared to the much more established West.
When would this crisis end? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Stay strong. It’s time for all of us to act together and act responsibly. We’re creating history and going through one of the biggest challenges humanity has faced. Till the time it’s here we must be patient, pray, and practice caution.
I urge you to listen and support our government and authorities in their efforts to fight the pandemic. Stay home, we will bring everything to your doorstep in a timely and safe way.
Flatten the curve. All you have to do is wash hands regularly, practice social distancing, and take safety measures. InshaAllah, we will overcome this crisis.