Ahmed Fahad: Building Pathao Tong (Part One)

Ahmed Fahad: Building Pathao Tong (Part One)

Lessons on moving fast – 100X Growth in 7 days


With so much going on…
It didn’t feel right to share a growth story or one about best practices right now. Economies are in a near standstill. Our future remains uncertain, and with so much on our minds, is now an appropriate time to share this with you? Perhaps. Now, more than ever, startups need to control the controllable. The macro outlook is out of our control. How we respond to it, is up to us. Fast and effective execution may save your startup. If reading this sparks even one idea for any of you, then that’s good enough for me. 


Khobaib bhai, having followed the fast launch and growth of Tong – asked me, what principles do you follow for fast growth in startups? As always, bhaia has put forth a well-phrased question.

A couple of thoughts before getting into the answer:

1. Growth means different things at different stages.

0-100 customers are about finding product/market fit and (dis)proving assumptions about your business model.  

2. Context is everything. 

There is no one-size-fits-all, but I think there are useful guiding principles that hold true at different stages. 

3. Timing matters. 

The COVID-19 lockdown has created an acute need for grocery delivery– the demand curve, for sure, would have looked different at any other time.

Here’s what Tong’s growth looked like in the first 7/8 days:

In terms of guiding principles, I’d say

  1. Zero to one is all about nailing product/market fit… 
  2. Then, the goal shifts to scaling your distribution.
  3. The endgame isn’t the product/market fit — it’s to build a sustainable business.

Let’s dive in.

#1 Zero to one is all about nailing product/market fit. 

On Day 0,

Your only job as Founder/Launcher is to state your assumptions and run experiments to see whether they hold true in the real world. 

You could do market surveys, desk research, customer interviews, quantitative modeling. Or – you could quickly create an MVP. Release it. Learn from the market. 

By now, you know which one we preferred. 

Here’s the email I sent our team before starting work on Tong:

(Click to Expand)

This initial gameplan, executed well by the team, got us the first 100 orders. 

Based on our data from Pathao Food, we know the Banani-Gulshan-Bashundhara area is a hotbed for online orders and compared to other areas in South Dhaka these places had a scarcity of convenience stores around them. 

Thus, this ‘Tristate area’ was perfect to start our first Tong. 

By onboarding a superstore near Banani Bazaar, we could cover Banani and Gulshan-2. That too, without screwing up our targeted delivery time of 30 mins.

That left Bashundhara, which we’d need 1-2 stores to cover.

So 2-3 stores to start. Let’s do this.

Four of us were at Banani Super Market. We convinced the owner of the store to be on Tong – for them, it’s simply more sales. 


Do things that don’t scale. 

For our first 2-3 Mudir Dokans, we went with pen & paper to note their inventory. We had to chase the store clerks for prices and availability.

That said, we were clear on two things:

  1. We would start with no more than 30 essential products
  2. These products should always be in stock

This would be enough for our MVP. 

You too should narrow your focus and decide what’s the bare minimum needed for your MVP. Guard your team’s precious energy and time. 

Anyway, back to the story. 

And after 2 hours of writing, speaking to the staff and placing our banners at the store – we left excited…but also wondering if we exposed ourselves to COVID-19 in that crowded store.

That same night, we sat down and transcribed the inventory lists. 

35 items, at each of the 3 locations. 

Another 4 hours. 

In parallel, operations started educating drivers about what they needed to do. Outbound calls and notifications were underway.

In parallel, designers got our design work done. 

In parallel, marketing got user side communications ready. 


Parallel path until it all comes together.

The Founders/launchers are basically jugglers. 

Her job is to keep several things in the air simultaneously

Not holding any item herself but making sure they’re all moving and the act is coming together. 


Generate some buzz. 

Post on social media. Get the word out. Rally your friends up to launch.


Launch at 12 pm. Always.

It helps to have a precise launch time. 

Everyone works towards that deadline. 

12pm is nice because it’s before lunchtime.


Troubleshoot in real-time.

It’s out in the wild now. 

At times requests will spike and you won’t be able to keep up, other times it will feel like your mom’s the only person ordering to show support. 

Either way, it’s data. 

Read it, discuss it with your team, collectively (but decisively) take action.

I’ve heard people (and myself) ask before


‘Do we have product/market fit? How do we know?’

  • Monitor traction.

How’s the traffic on your app/site? How does the number of orders look? How are they compared to your expectations? More on this on another post.

  • Talk to your customers.

In our case – we talked to customers, and even more rigorously to our delivery people. What do you think? What’s easy, what’s hard?

If you’ve found a product/market fit, you’ll know it. 

If you have to ask, then you probably don’t, yet.


#2 Next, the goal shifts to scaling your distribution.

100s of requests are cool. But you know what’s cooler? 10x that. 

But, your old model breaks apart at 10x.

The model you start with is not the one you scale.

Let’s try asking our first model a few questions…

Why do we put in the time to go physically ‘onboard’ Mudir Dokans? 

Don’t all of them have (almost) the same products?

Ok, and if all Mudir Dokans are the same, why do drivers need to go to a specific one? Why not go to their nearest one and be done with?

Could we also deliver medicine? Maybe just non-prescriptive ones to start? 

I think you and I arrived at the same answers. 

It was time to virtually onboard dokans all over Dhaka.

–––––––––

But the unprecedented countrywide lockdown would change everything.

Operationally, 

How would we balance supply (or delivery people) to meet demand? 

Would deliveries even be legal? 

How do we raise awareness and market this quickly? 

As a business, 

What’s the revenue model? How will this fit into our business in the medium-long run?

What synergies and comparative advantages are there? Or is this a distraction? 

In the final article, I will cover:

  1. The challenges we faced in scaling distribution in the midst of a lockdown.
  2. Moving towards a longer-term, sustainable business.

Till then, keep growing.


👉 The final article will appear in my newsletter first – Build Bangla. Build Bangla is a curated monthly roundup of my writing and stuff I’m following. Go to www.ahmedfahad.com/buildbangla and subscribe.

Shoutout to Khobaib bhai, Ruhul bhai, Tawsif bhai for reading versions of this.

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