Interview with the CEO of Karwa – car hailing app

It's always good for us to review progress on local startups and Karwa is one gaining traction and momentum.

Below is my interview with the founder, Mr.Ahmed Ali.

What changes have been made since our last interview with Karwa back in February of 2017 in terms of growth?

From a technical aspect, the Karwa platform has been significantly improved and stabilized on both apps and infrastructure levels. Performance and scalability have been substantially boosted and many bugs have been squashed. We’ve implemented a set of security controls to protect our users (riders and drivers) personal information especially after the two data breaches at Careem and Uber. We are releasing a new update this month that will bring many new features and improved UX/UI. We are also introducing Karwa's e-wallet which will enable riders to do cashless rides.

On a business level, Karwa continues to increase its market share by focusing on users’ acquisition, retention and quality of service. Here is a brief on some the achievements/milestones:

  • Our coverage has expanded and we now serve all areas of Baghdad
  • We have over 730 registered, vetted drivers
  • Karwa has become a well-recognized and trusted brand in the transport industry
  • 4.7/5 average customer rating from July 2017 until June 2018
  • Karwa introduced armored cars service for the first time in Iraq
  • We have been featured in many regional and local media coverages
  • The success of Karwa has shed the light on the tech market in Iraq and we have seen some big regional companies following in the steps of Karwa
  • Karwa started to generate revenue

What challenges has Karwa has faced during the past year?

  • During our first year, the main challenge was changing user’s behavior and conveying to both riders and drivers the idea of being connected through a mobile app. That took a long time, a lot of effort and money especially as the concept new.
  • Developing an MVP, validating hypothesis and re-iterating.
  • Setting the service fees on a meter base and aligning that with the normal taxi service rates. It was a very challenging and time consuming process. We performed an extensive study for all taxi fares on a point to point basis and we have taken hundreds of samples and worked with different drivers to produce an acceptable fare calculation formula that is acceptable for both driver and rider, and fine-tuned it. This was a big success and we have seen all taxi-hailing apps that entered the market after us cloning our formula.

What growth tactics/hacks has Karwa tried?

At the beginning, we had a beachhead strategy where we focused our limited resources on a smaller market segment. Social media, word of mouth and social events were primary channels to build our initial customer base. Now Karwa has a wider range of hacks, we work on both drivers and riders and for that we have defined different sets of tactics that work on each. We continue to leverage on social media, we have and continue to use influencers, viral marketing, incentives/bonuses, and above all, the quality of our service has been a key tactic to bring new and retain customers. Our fleet selection and onboarding process is very strict, well-defined and on a very high standard that clearly reflects positively on our customer satisfaction rate.

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Can you explain if Karwa needed external investment and what was this/to be used for?

I believe outside investment is an essential requirement for any startups success and without that the growth will be very slow and limited. A potential investment would be primary used for:

  • Hiring - as we are a small team and everyone is wearing many hats to get things done.
  • Technology
  • Marketing
  • Drivers acquisition and retention

How many active customers does Karwa have now and where in Iraq are they mostly located?

We have thousands of active users and they are mostly located in Baghdad.

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What are the plans for Karwa next year?

To continue to increase daily trips, expand to new cities and offer new services.

What advice would you give new startups?
The Iraqi technology market is still less competitive compared to other countries so this is a good time to start something, However, try to introduce a service or a product that can solve a real problem and add value to people’s life. Do your market study before you place assumptions and try to validate all your hypothesis before you invest. And finally, try to avoid buying off-the-shelve products and white-label it, you will soon face flexibility and scalability problems.


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