Setting Up Pakistan’s Leading Automobile Platform
If you are a car owner or have thought about buying or selling a car, there is a good chance you have spent time on PakWheels.com, or watched one of their car review videos on YouTube. What started as a discussion forum for car enthusiasts, the platform is now the largest online automotive marketplace in Pakistan, and truly a fascinating start-up success story. Viewers who tuned in to the National Incubation Centre Lahore’s Entrepreneur in Conversation Series on January 1, 2021 with Suneel Sarfaraz Munj, a LUMS alumnus and Co-founder of PakWheels.com, got an intimate glimpse into the ups and downs of his journey of setting-up the platform.
Mr. Munj chose the entrepreneurial path at a time when it was not popular. After several different ventures, his passion for cars led him to start PakWheels. Today, the platform has 25 million visitors annually and has most big brands coming to the team to review and inspect their products. “The basic aim was to address the pain points that come with buying and selling cars. The first issue was that if one wants to buy a car, that person will leave his/her house, go to a showroom, and only be able to see one car. Our platform made customers look at multiple cars in one place,” Mr. Munj explained. However, at this time the team realised quality assurance was also a pain point. Not all customers are equipped with the knowledge they require at the time of making a purchase and even those that do are often unsure of the reliability of the information being given to them by the seller or dealer.
PakWheels helps address these concerns in the market in two ways. Firstly, its one-of-a-kind car inspection service called CarSure, through which buyers or sellers can get their cars inspected is simply by scheduling a car inspection through the website, and get a detailed report. Mr. Munj shares that the CarSure team is highly qualified and the inspection process is entirely digitised so that any human error or lapse in judgement is minimised.
Another popular service by PakWheels is its video reviews on YouTube. Mr. Munj manages the majority of these reviews himself. In the past five years, PakWheels.com has become one of the largest YouTube channels in Pakistan with an audience of over one million. Buyers all over the country put a lot of trust in these reviews, a responsibility Mr. Munj has never taken lightly, “When I started the business, my father gave me this advice that I have tied with me ever since - when a person starts a business, the authenticity of his voice is very important. We have independently reviewed every automobile that has been launched in the country and there has never been a single person who has bought a car because of our review, and has come back to challenge the review. This is because we have made it very clear that we will never compromise on our integrity.”
Even though PakWheels is an online platform, Mr. Munj and his team have not restricted their interaction with their customers through just digital mediums. Pre-COVID-19, PakWheels arranged auto shows that took place annually across nine major cities in Pakistan and brought together enthusiastic car owners, who would bring their automobiles and share their passion with each other. "PakWheels initially started as a community-based website that welcomed people who were crazy for cars to come on our platform and participate in discussions. Therefore, that was our USP. We wanted to connect this community even further through the auto shows,” said Mr. Munj.
Even though the pandemic has greatly increased the value of digital platforms, monetisation of these platforms in Pakistan is still a very challenging task. With a start-up like PakWheels, not being able to bring in profits to date, Mr. Munj is very familiar with the struggle, “If you document our journey from 2003 to 2019, we offered value propositions to huge companies, and we still do, but somewhere in their minds, they are wary of digital. To monetise the digital in Pakistan, you need to have patience and need to be stubborn because people may undervalue you and your business. They will derive benefits from your business but never admit it.”
However, it is his passion for cars and entrepreneurship that helps Mr. Munj tackle these challenges head-on and drives him to invest most of his waking hours in maintaining and scaling the platform. With a recently launched e-commerce platform for auto parts and ideas about PakWheels car service centres, he is quite proud of what he and his team have been able to build. While advising young entrepreneurs he said, “You have to be clear about what your definition of success is. If I equate PakWheels’ success with money, then it would not be successful. But in terms of growth, penetration, and PakWheels being the number one choice for people who are searching, buying or selling, or doing research about automobiles we are a household name. In that regard, we have reshaped the habits of how people buy and sell cars, and yes I consider that successful.”
Mr. Munj advised start-ups to focus more on a passion-driven approach rather than focusing too much on seeking investors. “Ideally, try to run the business on your own. And if there is a need for an investor, keep the major chunk of the business with yourself rather than handing it over to others.”
To watch the session, please click here.