Lahore-based coworking startup, Colabs, secured $3 million seed funding in a round spearheaded by Fatima Gobi Ventures, Indus Valley Capital, and Zayn Capital. It is the first time these three venture capitalists focused on Pakistan have invested in a startup together. The round was also joined by Kinnow Capital, Muir Capital, Shorooq Partners, Sai Ventures, and angel investors, including William Hockey, Teddy Himler, and Turner Novak. Previously, Colabs had raised $1 million in a pre-seed round.
Founded in 2019 by Omar Shah, a former venture capitalist and private equity investor, and his brother Ali Shah, owner of a family-run real estate company SABCON, Colabs empowers first-time entrepreneurs, new multinational owners, and freelancers to build their business by offering them affordable spaces to work out of. Shah’s firm plays a key role in building and designing these coworking facilities with the aim of boosting networking, meeting potential clients or investors, and facilitating creation and growth of startups. Their chief operating officer, Fatima Mazhar, is confident that the seed funding will help scale the company in MENA and international markets.
Mazhar’s words ring true, because come 2022, Colabs announced rolling out a SaaS product that supports businesses by meeting their operational needs, including talent hiring, employee management, payroll processing, company registration, tax and legal compliance, and more. With the seed funding, the founders plan to get new hires for its product team to bring the SaaS workspace business service out of the beta phase.
CEO Omar Shah says that the service was a natural extension of their coworking business, because they’re more than that. In his words, “We realized that people setting up operations in Pakistan need other services; they need help to set up companies, process payrolls and to ensure tax compliance. That is why we introduced our business solutions.” Shah plans to get 600 paying customers in 2022-2023 to assess the impact of this product in the market.
Shah says he was inspired by Pakistan’s burgeoning startup ecosystem and formidable technology space to bring this startup to life. He worked at Abraaj Capital in the private equity sector for a considerable period of time before he was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug. He concedes, “Even though we’re mainly seen as a coworking operator, what we have built is a solid foundation to make it easy for freelancers, startups, and even international companies entering Pakistan, start and manage their businesses.”
Today, Colabs has a network of more than 100 organizations that play a key role in accelerating Pakistan’s startup ecosystem. By enabling startups to host events, networking forums, educational bootcamps, and more, the platform has disrupted the local market. The press release added, “One of the many ways COLABS creates impact is by hosting 250+ startup community-relevant events annually with an aggregate attendance of over 200,000 significant visitors to date. The facility has seen community members grow, hire the right talent, raise investment and thrive with the support provided by Colabs.”
With the seed funding, Colabs intends to expand in Karachi and Islamabad. The future roadmap entails building a community of 10,000 members in the next two years. The company has, so far, hosted over 250 startup events across Pakistan, inviting more than 200,000 people from far and wide. The founders also want to kickstart many initiatives like Cogrow, an online aggregator service that compiles and lists jobs in tech startups in Pakistan.
The future for Colabs as he envisions it, Shah says, is to create a community for people who want to start up their career from scratch. However, it comes with a fair share of challenges, as Shah argues, “Our growth plan is very ambitious. But we see a demand for what we are offering because by the time we open our new spaces, they are already sold out. And this is because there are so many companies that are entering the country. And so many startups here that are raising capital and want to be inside spaces like ours, as opposed to investing in their own campus.”
The rise of flexible workspaces has grown during COVID-19 as more firms lower the overhead costs associated with running physical offices. The mission of Colabs is to redefine the future of work by cashing in on this pandemic wave. As Faisal Aftab, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Zayn Capital said, “I have closely watched Colabs grow into one of the key players in Pakistan’s startup ecosystem. We were fortunate enough to have met some of the startups we invested in, in their spaces. Omar and his team continue to do excellent work to accelerate the growth of the startup ecosystem here and we are excited to join their journey in serving tens of thousands of founders and freelancers across Pakistan.”