Atoms Shoes: Young Pakistani Couple's Entrepreneurial Journey From Okara to America
|Sidra Qasim and Waqas Ali Wearing Atoms' Sneakers|
Atoms.com story began in 2010 when twenty-something Waqas Ali met a shoemaker Muhammad Hussain in Okara at a local panchayat (council meeting), according to Dawn. Waqas brought up the idea of selling shoes online but it did not particularly appeal to Hussain who thought people want to touch, smell, wear and feel shoes before buying them.
Waqas soon dropped out of college and persuaded Sidra to join him in pursuing his dream of selling shoes online. They chose "Hometown" as the brandname for their shoes and set up their business online. The initial funding was a $10,000 prize Waqas won in a competition for start-up sponsored by P@SHA Social Innovation Fund, a Google-backed grant program for Pakistani entrepreneurs.
In 2014, the company was rebranded as Markhor, named after a wild goat which is Pakistan's national animal. The company specialized in high-end hand-crafted leather shoes sold online to mainly western clientele.
Markhor website lacked Paypal or any other financial transaction service for cross-border transaction. Ali applied for and received a B-1 business visa to travel to the United States and open a bank account there. This enabled them to accept payments online for their shoes.
During his visit to the United States, Waqas met with other e-commerce entrepreneurs from companies such as Warby Parker and Everlane, and met the company’s first two angel investors, who each invested $15,000 to help get Markhor (then called Hometown) off the ground. The success of a $107,000 Kickstarter campaign, a few months later, was due in part to the connections Ali made on his trip to the United States, according to an article in The Atlantic.
Sidra and Waqas were accepted in YCombinator, Silicon Valley's top incubator. The incubator introduced them to top venture investors in San Francisco Bay Area.
The couple has now started their second business, an online retailer for minimalist sneakers branded Atoms. The company has recently raised $8.1 million Series A funding, according to Tech Crunch. It is being led by Initialized Capital, the investment firm started by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and Garry Tan, with other backers including Kleiner Perkins, Dollar Shave Club CEO Michael Dubin, Acumen founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, TED curator Chris Anderson, the rapper Chamillionaire and previous backers Aatif Awan and Shrug Capital.
Atoms offers shoes in quarter sizes for "perfect fit". The company says it's not unusual for people to have different size shoes for each foot. It sends customers three pairs of shoes and allows them to keep the left and right shoes that fit them best. It offers free returns for the rest.
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