Most of us know the pain of asking for favours from friends and relatives overseas to bring back the latest iPhone or designer bag on their next visit to Pakistan. But a new application called Pijjit, allows you to find the perfect candidate to deliver goodies from anywhere in the world at your doorstep. The new peer-to-peer shopping and courier mobile app makes requesting goods easy and efficient, and relatively hassle-free.
While the system of transporting goods across the world through personal contacts is a time-honoured one, it’s not always reliable. Pijjit, on the other hand, connects those wanting their goods delivered to ‘social couriers’ — people with a little extra space in their luggage — willing to shop and carry goods in exchange for a fee. The idea came about when Pakistani-American entrepreneur, Asim Zubair, asked a friend to bring a homeopathic medicine for his father from Pakistan, but did not receive the critical medication after the email slipped through the cracks. Zubair realised that there had to be a dependable and systematic way for people to obtain goods and one that didn’t involve requesting for favours or paying excessive shipping costs.
Asim Zubair, the Pakistani-American entrepreneur who created the Pijjit app. PHOTO COURTESY: ASIM ZUBAIR
Through Pijjit, shoppers can list the products that they want, for example a Vaio notebook, and then search for social couriers travelling to the required location. One can read their profiles and reviews, communicate with them through the app and ultimately choose the right person to bring the commodity. Simultaneously, a person with an upcoming trip can become a social courier by creating a profile, listing their upcoming travel plans and the available space they have and either browse current requests or wait to be matched. Both parties also rate each other at the completion of a transaction which can serve as a reference point for other users.
Not only do users get their products reliably but social couriers are able to earn extra cash which allows them to subsidise their travel costs. Recently a traveller heading to India made $50 by delivering a tablet computer to a shopper there and another heading to Los Angeles by car made $50 by transporting baklava for a baker in San Francisco. What’s interesting about Pijjit is that it works both ways — a person can request for goods one day and be a social courier the next. Since Pijjit is a pure peer-to-peer platform and anyone can join it, establishing trust between anonymous parties is critical in order to ensure that transactions are fair and the merchandise is handled appropriately. To that end, the app screens users by checking background information such as phone number and email addresses during onboarding, and provides detailed user profiles and member reviews to leverage social networking as a means of preventing wayward behaviour and making informed decisions.
But even then, like all other enterprises, it does not guarantee 100% safety for users. As the venture is breaking new ground, there are certain challenges to address. One potential issue is around the insurance of shipped goods and providing coverage for damaged contents. The other involves providing an enhanced platform to offer escrow and secure payment services. Another possible concern is running into possible customs regulation problems if social couriers carry merchandise that exceeds a specified quantity and value.
Similar to apps such as Airbnb, where people rent out lodging, or Uber, a car service app that gets you a taxi, private car or rideshare, Pijjit capitalises on the sharing economy that has been unleashed through the power of technology. The platform creates an online marketplace where people can ‘rent’ out their empty suitcase capacity with those looking to ‘hire’ space from a traveller. Through a decentralised service, it is able to solve a persistent problem at a price that would be deemed too unfeasible for a traditional business.
With over 20 years of experience in venture development and product management, Pijjit is Zubair’s first commercial venture. He launched the app in May at the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs (OPEN) Forum in Silicon Valley, a network of entrepreneurs and professionals who help each other to achieve their professional goals, of which he is also a member. Although thrilled to launch his own company, Zubair realises that being an entrepreneur entails certain risks. “One of the biggest inhibitions that early entrepreneurs have is what if I fail? Big deal if you fail! What will happen?” he argues. “Yes, you will lose time and money but you will gain tremendous experience. It is important to understand where you have failed, what you did to recover from that failure and how you moved forward?” He adds that budding entrepreneurs should be mindful of what is brought to the table outside of money and advises them to seek mentors who have undertaken similar ventures.
A simple user interface enables requesters to connect with and vet social couriers easily. SOURCE: PIJJIT
Currently, Pijjit is available on android and future plans include an iOS version. Recently Zubair even launched a Kickstarter campaign to promote Pijjit on a global billboard — the moon. If funded, Pijjit’s logo will be noticeable to people across the globe. Campaign backers can have their name or message scrolled and a $100 contribution will get their donor’s picture projected on the lunar surface. Since advertising on the moon is no small feat, if unsuccessful, Pijjit will invest the funds in more conventional marketing outlets such as local billboards.
While Pijjit users get their goods delivered, they also end up making new friends. One of the ‘social couriers’ was even invited to attend the recipient’s graduation party. Since the app is fairly new, it does not have a significant user base as yet but all that may change once Pijjit advertises its global pigeon mission to the moon.
Amna Khawar is a digital marketer and freelance writer based in New York. She tweets @amnak1
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 7th, 2014.