Last week our team had the privilege to have a talk with “TownTawks” CEO & Co-Founder – Irfan Elahi.
“TownTawks” is a Lahore based start-up, led by die-hard Pakistani Entrepreneurs aiming to disruptively re-innovate how retailing & consumerism operates. Their one-line pitch is:
“TownTawks” is bringing every product in your nearby town’s shops online to enable you to see where your desired product is being sold at that moment before you go for shopping.
The story of TownTawks is quite inspirational and thought-provoking, and here it goes …
#What is the product or service you are offering?
“Towntawks” is all about shattering the status quo. Making the world more connected & syndicated. Making Retailing Open & Connected by bringing products in your nearby shops online in REAL-TIME as shopkeepers manage their local-stock & thus re-disruptively innovating consumers’ purchasing journeys.
Now, Consumers, before buying anything from nearby shops, come to towntawks to find instantly updated information about their desired products in their nearby shops/outlets e.g. availability, price, promotions, friends’ purchasing activities. Also, as new or previously out-of-stock products becomes available again in their desired town/market/shop, consumers are notified instantly. This vision of syndicated-retailing is achieved by enabling the online marketing of retailers’ inventory-products happen seamlessly in real-time on their respective profiles on towntawks.com as shopkeepers manage their local-stock/inventory. Thus retailers are able to leverage online-marketing of their products without manual-overhead & consumers are saving their time, fuel & lethargy in local shopping.
#Who are your customers?
Every Brick & mortar retail shop selling anything in any town of the world is our customer. Enabling the retailers to usher their shop online to our portal, market products in truly real-time fashion, engage customers like never before.
On the other hand, consumers who buy anything from nearby shops are also our beneficiaries. For them, it’s the one stop hub for all of their shopping explorations. Enabling them to find where their desired product is available and at what price and which of their friends have used or using the product for recommendation purposes; we are into making the lifestyle of consumers more convenient and smarter.
We also have objectified plans to leverage data in near future for extremely valuable insight. Which supremely makes towntawks outshine all current e-commerce & classifieds sites.
#What is your proposed solution (product, service, or combination) for these customers?
We’ve made use of the proven and robust Open Source Technology in the development of this web application. Even though we leveraged Open Source Technologies, yet almost all the components of this product are built from scratch to make sure maximum control in the long run. The current product comprises of two silos:
- Social Marketplace Portal enabling consumers to browse brick & mortar shop’s real-time syndicated product listing.
- Hyper-Customized Inventor Application enabling retailers to manage their inventory smartly while the seamless synchronization framework does the remaining magic.
Retailers are making use of our inventor application to manage their stock. And this is what they have to do. That’s it. Rest of the stuff i.e. listing of products on their respective profiles on towntawks, brands & shopping filters processing is all done by our developed technology. And as they manage their inventory, changes like new product, brand, out of stock, price change are synced in real-time thus removing the ambiguities of out-dated data which is found rampant on Internet
#What were the biggest challenges when you started up?
Finding the best and most charismatic developer to fill our team was one of the most strenuous and time taking challenge of ours. We didn’t want to compromise on team building. We founders had years of rock-solid trust & expertise in our respective disciplines including technical development but to raise the product from ground up and quickly launching into the market, we wanted an exceptional developer. And after months of search, we found gem like Hammaad Yousaf.
In addition to that, finding the right mentor for our startup also turned out to be quite arduous. But Social Media posed to be the most versatile tool to reach out to the right mentors.
In Pakistan, statistics and data about retail industry is almost depleted on internet. And when we approached Investors, we found ourselves lacking this information which is usually considered important and mandatory.
It’s a noisy world out there. And you need to differentiate yourself. And for differentiation and to create the buzz which our target market demanded, we need the attention of Press-Release to feature our blog & traction. And its found that PR efforts do take time. What we’ve found that if you are resilient, dedicated, passionate and consistent, then sky is the limit.
#What was your inspiration behind this startup?
We are shopping lovers. And being shopaholics, we found shopping to be an extremely fatigued process. Consumers waste hours loitering in the market finding their desired product and hop from one shop to another to find the seemingly best shop. Even then, the doubt of price comparison is always there. Also we found the vacuum that a lot of stuff is happening in retail but there is simply no abridgement with consumers. There is nothing available on Internet about latest local shopping trends; what’s popular, what’s not. Internet demands much more robust applications then classifieds and commerce websites. And being marketing evangelists, we found that shops are simply absent on internet’s canvas. And that world is moving at photonic pace to innovation but retail industry is lagging drastically. This inspiration drove us to brainstorm our beloved towntawks concept which is now seeing promising traction in the marketplace.
#Tell us about your core team and their expertise?
Ans: Our founding team comprises of 4 die-hard and crazy maniacs. Led by me, Irfan Elahi who happened to become Electrical Engineer from UET Lahore but fell in love in IP networking during academia. His this love also escorted him to working in multinational ISP company and enabled him to explore the sacred land of Iraq for leading BP’s massive network infrastructure project’s deployment. He is an IP networking, Virtualization & Cloud Computing evangelist (with top-notch vendor certifications). In addition to that, he has 2 years of Direct Selling Experience. And while in towntawks, he has developed appreciable acumen in Internet Marketing, Designing, Content writing. And he is also leading Big Data research dimension of towntawks under the helm of ICTRDF.
Arslan Asad combines the skill-set of Marketing, Sales with exceptional grip on financials. He is the one found doing extensive and complex budgeting and financial forecasting of our startup. And as startup is all about financial management, so he plays a key role and possesses remarkable skill-set in strategic developments of towntawks. He leads the financial documentation and pertinent requirements of investors.
Raza Ali possesses years of marketing experience. And also has 3 years of Direct Selling experience. Sales are the blood of startups ecosystem. And marketing is now synonymous to enabling your clients to be better. And he is extremely dedicated in customer relationship management and acquiring customers on daily basis. He also actively contributes in the financial and budgeting of our startup along with Arslan. Marketing plan formulation, Customer Acquisition strategies, Compelling Marketing content for retailers; you name the skills and he is the Hercules of these.
Ahad is the youngest yet highly talented gem of towntawks. Having 2.5 years of sales experience; he is leading the sales operations of towntawks proficiently. He believes in relationship marketing and leveraging his skills to develop strong relationships with client is enabling the streamlined market acceptance of towntawks at appreciable rate. As we will branch out to other cities and countries, he will be the one managing the sales department of towntawks; considered extremely important for every startup.
Hammaad Yousaf is the rock star software architect of towntawks. A developer with surprisingly awesome development and problem solving skills. Extremely dedicated, hardworking. And he also actively contributes in various capacities of towntawks as well, in addition to programming and development. His public speaking skills are also exceptional. And he loves challenges. Aims for perfection. Aspires for optimization. A jewel of towntawks indeed.
Together, we are on our way to making this product a global sensation against all odds.
#What is your advice for upcoming startups and entrepreneurs in Pakistan?
We would recommend leveraging internet to educate themselves as much as possible. Internet is indeed a universe of immense knowledge and if tapped correctly, it can work wonders for you. Internet is the most finest and versatile mentor for everyone.
In addition, we would recommend startups to break the rules. Entrepreneurship is all about breaking the status Quo. So don’t do what everybody else is doing. Follow your gut feeling. Steve Jobs once rightly said that experts are clueless. If you are seeking someone’s opinion and feedback, be sure to keep in mind the profile of that person. What are his achievements; What is the nature of his business e.g. in our case, we participated in a very famous competition in Lahore and you know what, the organizing body of that competition had allocated government employees to evaluate startups. So what can you expect from these people to impart any value in startups?
Besides, master the art of social networking. Get connected with the influential in your niche. Develop relations. Don’t sell anything. Just develop relations. And in initial stage of your startup, focus on planting seeds than reaping fruits i.e. adding value and harnessing customer base instead of going for revenue.
Try to broaden your knowledge as much possible. Read the literature of successful entrepreneurs. Develop leadership skills.
And most importantly, fall in love with whatever you are doing. Keep yourself motivated. Be self-initiated. Network with the right-minded & positive people.
Make your WHY extremely crystal clear. Why you are doing this? Why you are pursuing your startup? And if your WHY turns out to be getting rich quickly, and then you need to reconsider your rationale to be entrepreneurs.
#Who are your competitors, and how do you compare to them?
Right now there is no one out there providing precisely similar marketing solution the way we are provisioning. People (including judges of competitions in which we have appeared) confuse us with classifieds however there are a lot of difference between us and them:
1. OLX/HafeezCentre.pk are classifieds sites. Anyone can post anything there. And if you are a retailer, and you have, say 100 products (e.g. mobile phones, outfits etc.), you will have to separately place classifieds on these sites for each of your product. Will have to manually attach picture. And if the product(s) price varies or if they go out of stock, you will have to manually visit your classified ad and update each ad. Lot of manual efforts.
2. Before towntawks era, retailers had to separately manage their local stock and their online presence. No correlation or syndication between these two distant entities yet at the crux, both share huge correlation. Towntawks has basically presented a new dimension in this niche; the products that retailers are selling will be marketed automatically on their respective profiles as they manage their stock. By making use of our hyper-customized invento app or even if they are using their own inventory management application, the synchronization of the inventory records (just the required fields e.g. name, price, stock status) will be happening in the background seamlessly. and they need not vary when and where their products will appear in their respective profiles. All done in real time by our robust synchronization framework. So retailers can put their marketing on autopilot. Focus on their business and let our technology handle the synchronous marketing of their shops’ product in real time.
3. Whatever you are seeing on towntawks portal is actually fetched from retailers’ inventory. in real time. So you have the spearheaded confidence that whatever you are seeing isn’t bogus and outdated as happens with classifieds. You are never sure that a classified that you are seeing is valid at the moment or not. but in the case of towntawks, whatever you are seeing is what that shop is selling . real time product price and stock status.
4. And we are working rapidly on more engaging syndicating elements so that you will be notified instantly when your desired shop introduces a new brand, product or a new deal in that shop. Or you would be able to subscribe to a town/market as well. e.g. if Huawei’s new smartphone is made available in any shop in Hafeez Center, you will be the one notified instantly. If price of Levi’s jeans in Fortress goes down or if some deal is introduced on Sony LCD TVs in Iqbal town shops, you will be notified. And we have objectified plans to revolutionize C2C selling as well.
5. We are pursuing funding prospects to tap data to derive valuable and actionable insights deemed extremely important for retailing and consumerism. Something that’s way beyond these classifieds scope.
What you are seeing at towntawks.com is merely a start. And we are on the boulevard to take our venture to global heights and disruptively re innovating how retailing and consumerism operates and making this world smarter and more syndicated.
At pakistanijunction.com it is our passion to give projection to Pakistani Start-Ups. This interview is part of the “Start-up Spotlight” series. We welcome you to get in touch with us and join us on twitter: @connectmohsin