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Moving Bangladesh ain’t easy, but someone has to do it

  • Published at 01:13 am August 3rd, 2018
A new way to travel Bigstock

How one app is leading the way in modern transportation

Pathao was started by myself and Adnan about two years ago. We started doing simple e-commerce deliveries for Facebook merchants (hence, “Pathao”) at a time when e-commerce was just starting to take off in Bangladesh. 

As a startup, we identified a need and created a solution to it. As time went by, and we understood the needs of our customers better, we continued developing our service around the need, and in a short time, we became the largest e-commerce delivery company in the country.

The first Pathao rides did not happen through an app. It started as a small project - we had a secret Facebook group where we invited all our friends, and, if someone wanted to take a ride, they would have to call my personal phone number and place a booking. We would then schedule the trip via phone call to the riders, and keep track of where they are through Google Sheets.

It was a very hacky way to get started and test the market. Our question was: Would people actually take a shared motorbike ride? Turns out, they would. 

Six months later, in December of 2016, we released our app. It was a simple app built by a team of three to four people. The idea, as it was, was to connect a customer with the nearest driver automatically - bypassing the cumbersome customer call and manual dispatching process. We were very wary about the launch - would people even download another app?

The response we got was -- in one word - fantastic. There was a need for fast and cheap transportation in the traffic-ridden city of Dhaka, and the bike-sharing model worked from day one. 

By January of 2017, we were doing hundreds of rides a day. In February, we were already at thousands.

But with growth came scaling challenges. The last 18 months had just been about scaling up. Two years ago, we were only serving maybe 10-15 customers a day. Now, we are serving several thousand times more, and that number is increasing every day.

What does that mean? That means as Pathao continues to grow, it needs to develop its capabilities of serving those customers. We are constantly trying to catch up to maintain the level of growth. 

An example of this is with our technology. Our codebase started small, but as more and more things were built on top of it, it started getting huge, and bulky. 

The monolith of a codebase had been useful to process thousands of requests coming in every second. But as we continued to grow, it kept failing - affecting both the users’ and the drivers’ experiences. Our database kept locking up, our dispatcher kept failing, and connections kept getting destroyed.

We started an ambitious project earlier in 2018 where we would move from the monolith to a manageable, microservice-based architecture. We had slowly started working on pushing this out in the middle of the year, but it had its own challenges - which we are staying up all day and all night to fix. Soon, the services we have are going to be faster and more reliable than ever.

Safety has also been one of our challenges. When we were smaller, the absolute number of accidents that were reported was also much smaller. As we grew bigger, the number of reported accidents also went up. 

As a result of this, we have started an initiative where we give our riders and drivers more intensive training - whether it be on their code of conduct or how to read GPS, or through checking someone’s driving skills ourselves. We have also started to give out helmets, and persistently encourage drivers to carry them, and for customers to wear them. 

There have been very few organizations like Pathao which have scaled up so fast in Bangladesh. It is very easy for the challenges to be seen as the limits of growth. 

However, that’s not who we are. Our inspiration is you - the people who help us move Bangladesh. You have made Pathao what it is, and with your support, we will overcome the challenges.

There is a lot for us to do, and we need to do it together. Together, we will keep on moving Bangladesh. 

Hussain M Elius is founder and CEO of Pathao.