Packr: lighter luggage can make pockets heavier

Packr is a Facebook-based platform that helps people in need of material connect
Packr is a Facebook-based platform that helps people in need of material connect

Allowed 20kg but travelling with just 10kg? What do you do with your extra luggage space? Packr is a service that connects you to those looking to transport stuff from your destination without actually travelling. What's best is you get paid for the space in your luggage that you rent out. It's a win-win for everyone!

By Atifuddin Khan

Published: Sun 22 Mar 2020, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 23 Mar 2020, 1:00 AM

It is an issue that most of us have faced. Finding someone to transport your goods from the country of origin to its intended destination. For Ali Kamal, it was a matter of finding someone who would be willing to bring along an important spare part for his car from London.

Ali Kamal

He stresses: "I was willing to pay for it. I had an essential car part that was available only in London and wasn't available here. I asked around, inquired from friends and family - anyone coming to Karachi from London. My requirement was for just 10kg of luggage space.
"Eventually, I had to get it from London via a courier company, which cost me an arm and a leg. This is essentially where it all started."

The Karachi-based executive and entrepreneur Kamal owned a Mini Cooper, a rare car in Pakistan. Not ubiquitous on the clogged streets of the country, this led to problems for its owners such as securing its parts. So few are their numbers on the streets that the country-authorised dealer has difficulty arranging for spare parts for the car. In Kamal's case, that spare part was in London.

"It's the duty on the commodity that really gets you. Cars are expensive in Pakistan because of the government taxes. And that's the reason why we can't get world-class cars in the country and enjoy the drive," he says.
Kamal's passion for the road got him thinking that there's got to be a solution to the problem. But what about others? During his professional career, he travelled a lot; most of the time, with a hand bag only. "This was a waste of space. I was allowed 20kg of luggage at a time but was only utilising five when flying between Dubai, Istanbul and Hong Kong. I had space to spare, and with requests for bringing back perfumes and other stuff in exchange for payment was an opportunity that got me thinking. There must be others out there who must be in need things but no one to bring it for them. Whether you want it or are willing to pay for it, at least the opportunity should be there. That's the genesis of my venture 'Packr'," he added.

Packr is a Facebook-based platform that helps people in need of material connect. The idea behind Packr is not new. Others have toyed around with the idea across the globe. But as Kamal explains: "The difference that our service is making is that it's on the app now. It is not just connecting people but also educating them of their rights and of those of the airlines. Laws should be communicated properly so that people know how to go about a certain transaction. Packr is simple. A person posts that he is travelling and has space to spare. Users connect, requesting for items. A mutual understanding is reached amongst the parties and voila!"

According to Kamal, Facebook provides opportunities to billions of people to interact with each other.
There are 300 million daily active Facebook users. Ninety million small businesses use Facebook with only 24.6 per cent Facebook pages using paid media. Seeing an opportunity, Kamal got hold of his school friend Shehzad and started the venture, over a cup of tea at a cafe in Karachi, one weekend night.

Interestingly, Kamal mentions legalities of the concept. The idea of Packr may seem to border between the ethical and unethical. To this, Kamal veraciously defends his service. "If you call Uber or Careem for a ride, does the driver check the criminal record of the person? No! All we are doing is connecting two people, one willing to sell the extra space they have and the other who is willing to utilise it. Both the parties agree that they will not do anything illegal. Then there are the customs checks and the airline procedures.

"For example,  a person flying in from the US to Pakistan or Dubai might be asked to bring a prohibited item. Now, if you are aware enough to fly between two countries, you are aware enough of the laws and customs of the land. The customs might let go of the package in the US. But as soon as the plane enters Pakistani airspace, the pilot announces that certain items are banned in Pakistan. This is the airline fulfilling its duty. When you land in Karachi, you are asked to fill a declaration card that lists all prohibited items. The customs, on arrival, will ask to check your luggage to confirm  you are not carrying anything illegal. If found, it is confiscated. In Saudi Arabia, however, you are not allowed to carry certain items even during transit. Likewise, food items, especially unpackaged ones are risky to take, especially to the Gulf. You are advised of this at airports in Pakistan before boarding. Our luggage here is checked for various items. Ladies also have to declare if they're carrying henna. Just as one would check the expiry date of a perishable item, one should check the list of prohibited items to mark themselves. This principle applies when travelling."

Kamal reiterates that even if you don't have the basic knowledge, you are expected to possess common sense to know where you are headed. "We advise all of our patrons to know the law of the land. That's their responsibility. We have also posted in our group, under the rules section that all taxation and legal requirements are to be followed. But at the end of the day, it's your call."

Packr has packed business
According to Kamal, Packr is doing pretty good. With 75,000 members on the current platform, Packr will soon be releasing its own app to further help its patrons to order and track their shipments. "We've discovered that the best way to order something is to buy it online and have it delivered by courier to the person who has agreed to bring it."

"We have also made a couple of dedicated flights to Dubai. How it works is that we invite orders from people. Once an order is placed, we send a person to go and shop for it and bring it back."
Considering all the money and effort that is going into your enterprise, how are you making money out of it? Surely this is not philanthropy.

"We have a business plan. The response has encouraged us to be more targeted. We had first received requests for an item or two, but are now seeing regular couriers using our platform. We are testing the Packr app at the moment that would help users be in touch with each other more conveniently.
"Once it completes the beta stage, we will be rolling out a business plan as well. The volumes that we are witnessing right now have encouraged us to move onto the next stage.
"In these times, with the Covid-19 pandemic where countries are going into a complete lockdown, we feel that services like Packr are even more pertinent. Just think about it, there is a shortage of toilet paper in Australia. A Pakistani travelling to Sydney could take with him 10kg of rolls and earn Down Under. It's legal. It does not come in the gambit of hoarding or profiteering. It's a simple economic principle of supply meeting the demand.
"Sure, you can buy toilet rolls online, but who is going to bring it? With increasing restrictions, even retailers are finding it difficult to deliver the packages due to government restrictions on items such as face masks, etc. In this case, we are offering a service that, within the law, is able to deliver where the conventional systems are finding difficulty to," he said.

The future has always been for visionaries. Packr is a product of such people.

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