MBA graduate finds the recipe for success

Nauman Mirza

05 December 2016

Nauman Mirza, founder of EatOye!, talks about his venture, its acquisition by Foodpanda and how the MBA helped him.

Nauman Mirza is passionate about his homeland of Pakistan and would like to be the country’s Prime Minister one day. He’s convinced that the way that he will achieve his goal is to fine-tune his knowledge and skills by building top-quality businesses, and then to apply that knowledge to politics.

He has already made a start. At the age of 33, Nauman is already MD and CEO of Foodpanda Pakistan - Pakistan’s leading online food ordering platform and part of a global giant in online food ordering operating in five continents and over 500 cities. He employs a team of 100 people, processing 200,000 orders a month, with 1,500 restaurants.

The Rocket Internet-backed company bought out Nauman’s own online startup EatOye! last year in Pakistan’s first-ever IT acquisition, only three and a half years after he set up his food business with just four tables in his father’s sitting room in Karachi.

Fast food is one of the quickest-growing markets in the world. Food is the way he has chosen to start to make his mark, because in Pakistan food is everything. As Nauman himself says: “In England food is only part of the entertainment, whereas in Pakistan it is everything. When we are having breakfast, we are already talking about lunch!”

As he points out, more than 53% of its 200m population are young people under 24 years of age. Out of that fast-growing, youthful population, 140 million have mobile phones - that represents commercial opportunity.

His drive to succeed comes from a pride in his country, which he feels has had an unjustifiably negative press. He says: “I want to change all that. I love my country and that motivates me to do things better to prove people wrong.”

Studying at Lancaster University Management School has been a key part of Nauman’s desire to bring major change to Pakistan. He already had a degree in computing from Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Karachi, but felt that his ambitions needed to be fed by an international input. Lancaster ticked his boxes because of its excellent research rating.

He was immediately struck by the excitement and passion of Lancaster University Management School staff for their subjects: “Having that fire and acumen made Lancaster brilliant for me.”  What he had not bargained on was the sheer hard work, starting with an 8.30am to 6pm first full day of lectures on what he thought would be Freshers’ Week.

Teaching on Strategy from Gerry Johnson has left a lasting impression, as has the knowledge that he has absorbed in Accounting and Marketing. These lessons were taught by international authorities on the subject brought in by LUMS because they were the best.

The idea of EatOye! came to Nauman after he had completed his Lancaster MBA, when he was working as CEO of his brother’s 700-seater Aakash restaurant in Manchester and came across the Just Eat app. Even in austerity Britain the group was thriving, which set him wondering about whether he could take the idea back to Pakistan and find some way to connect some of the thousands of restaurants with the millions of potential customers.

He returned to Karachi, where he decided he could improve on Just Eat’s formula. Starting with four tables in his father’s living room, he set up Food Connection Pakistan, with his business partner Rai Umair, which grew within 18 months to 16 tables, changed its name to EatOye! and attracted local investors.

The concept was simple. Easy-to-use apps help customers to place orders at their favourite restaurants in seconds. Food is delivered at their home within 45 minutes. The idea caught on.

EatOye! caused a stir on the financial markets last year when the fledgling Karachi-based company set up only two years previously was acquired by Foodpanda. This historic takeover acted as an important catalyst for Pakistan’s IT market. Not only did young Pakistanis see the possibility of using mobile and internet technology to set up companies and make money quickly themselves, but investors too suddenly became aware of the potential of Pakistan as a market. Since Nauman’s company made his country’s e-commerce history, 100s of new e-companies have sprung up.

Nauman has recently been made co-chair of the Pakistan Government’s E-commerce policy unit, whose aim is to build Pakistan’s trade within and across borders using the power of IT.

Nauman has always loved food - particularly his mother’s home-cooked meals - and he loves to build good companies. “My passion is to do something great and to make my customers feel good.”

But he is doing it as a means to see Pakistan admired and esteemed in the way that he feels is appropriate. He has heard too many negatives in Europe about his country and he wants to change all that.

Lancaster and studying for his MBA were life changing for him. Here he learned about leadership and about making decisions in multi-national groups and about dedication to work. He thrived on the practical side of the management course, including placements with an on-line educational software company and a construction company. He also appreciates the amount of knowledge he acquired in Finance, Accounting and Marketing during his studies.

Personal development was also a key part of his Lancaster experience. He says: “Through the courses, I learned a lot about myself and how to put together the knowledge with the passion and the fire.”

Two years down the line from now could see him join a political party that resonates with his beliefs, because he has come across various successful business people who have made the transition from business to politics.  He says: “Setting up a top class business gives you the opportunity to be the means of bringing about positive change in a restricted economy.”

Of his approach to business he says: “I am extremely humble. My philosophy is that the more you achieve in life the more down to earth you have to be.”