Photo: Waqas Ali
Waqas Ali grew up in a small town in Pakistan’s Punjab province.Ali studied physics while attending a university in Lahore, but eventually dropped out when he was inspired by a group of five craftsmen making handmade shoes in his home town, Ali writes on Medium.
So he started working on an online shoe store called Hometown because he wanted to help those craftsmen build a sustainable business.
He ended up returning to Punjab to meet with a “shoe master” named M Hussain, who would become the official shoemaker. He got his friend Sidra Qasim to come on board as a cofounder, and in November 2012, he secured $10,000 in seed funding from [email protected] Social Innovation Fund.
The two eventually moved to Lahore so they could get in touch with designers, find high-quality raw material, and start building the website.
But it wasn’t easy. They were living in a hostel and using a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant as their office.
After about for months, Ali and his team were able to make super comfortable and lightweight shoes.
But selling those shoes proved to be more difficult than they expected. They spent about 60% of their money on building inventory, there wasn’t much left for marketing and operations.
Since they were strapped for cash, they simply interacted with potential customers both online and offline. When they sold their first shoe, Ali wrote a handwritten letter to the customer, and he still does that to this day.
“Honest communication, delivering on promises, and most importantly showing human side of our business helped us increase both our traffic and sales,” Ali writes.
In August 2012, Google and Punjab’s government proclaimed Hometown as an “Innovation Hero.”
Now, Ali and his team are part of Plan9, Pakistan’s first tech incubator, backed by the Punjab government. Ali was also recently selected to be an Acumen Fund Pakistan Fellow.