As B2B startups shut shop or scale down, Bazaar too struggles to tide over current crisis

The startup shuts down nascent pharma and mobile phones verticals, and lays off about 600 people as it eyes profitability 

Bazaar Technologies, a B2B marketplace startup based in Pakistan, has shut two of its newly launched verticals, and laid off a workforce of about 600 people, completely wiping out field force in Lahore, in a fresh sign of distress for one of Pakistan’s most prominent startups. 

Founded in May 2020, Bazaar at its core is a distribution business, providing inventory to neighborhood convenience stores – a market of about 800,000 retailers in Pakistan. The company achieved a significant milestone back in 2022, when it successfully raised $70 million in Series-B funding round, the largest after Airlift’s $85 million round. 

On the back of the massive round raised about two years back, Bazaar is confident it would be able to avoid a complete shutdown of operations. 

In distribution business in Pakistan, big distributors hold massive sway. The market is dominated by big companies such as Burque Corporation and Abu Dawood Group that move inventory worth hundreds of billions of rupees yearly from manufacturers to convenience stores and bigger marts, and give attractive offers and incentives to keep the retailers hooked. On the other hand, according to numbers available from 2021, Bazaar reached a scale of $4-6 million in monthly gross merchandise value (GMV), which translates to slightly above a billion rupees per month for the year – not a bad number but significantly less than big distributors, that would now have gone down. 

Bazaar provided inventory not only to retailers but also wholesalers on an app-based service and through an in-house delivery fleet. Things would always have been tough for B2B startups as an earlier survey of about 50 convenience stores in Lahore by Profit revealed that big and small traditional distributors remained priority for these stores for ordering inventory, followed by wholesalers such as Metro and at places like Shah Alam market or the B2B apps, making them the second or the third option for ordering store inventory. 

The perilous nature of the market, and the economic and funding downturn have already forced Jugnu to shut down operations completely in July last year, Retailo to shut down distribution operations in October last year and Dastgyr laying off about 85% of the workforce few weeks ago. All three were heavily funded, having raised $161.4 million between the three startups.

In face of the difficult environment, Bazaar diversified to segments other than mom-and-pop stores, such as pharma and mobile phones. Other than the aforementioned verticals, Bazaar also moved into industrial raw materials, a fairly large market with only one startup Zaraye as competitor, and also launched verticals focused on restaurants and offices and provides them inventory. 

Another day, another wave of layoffs

According to details received by Profit,  a significant downsizing at Bazaar occurred in the non-core team, which roughly had over 3,000 employees. 20% of this entire force has been let go of, leaving some 600 people, primarily from the ground team, unemployed. Many have also resigned voluntarily.  According to sources, the company has downsized its growth teams, commercial teams, and has let go of its entire field force in Lahore, opting for a more organic approach through its customer app. 

Two new verticals introduced early last year, including mobile phones and pharma have been discontinued, while still in their pilot phases. According to the company, both these wings were essentially non-performing verticals and contributed to less than 2% of the company’s overall business. The suspension of these two categories has resulted in approximately 50 contractual employees losing their jobs.

The company’s CEO Saad Jangda acknowledged challenges in these business categories, citing market turbulence influenced by import restrictions, currency fluctuations, and inconsistent supply over the past 12-18 months. He also revealed that Bazaar is scaling other business segments, prioritising the core food and grocery business, offices and restaurants, as well as industrials.

So, not all segments are suffering or facing the risk of shutdown. Some verticals, unlike the non-performing pharma and smartphones segment, sources claimed, were performing well

Bazaar Technologies clarified that its B2B retail arm, one that provides inventory to neighborhood convenience stores, would not be shutting down, claiming further that the startup still serves tens of thousands of mom and pop stores across the country. It is unclear how Bazaar is still continuing to serve tens of thousands of stores after the scaledown and the company did not provide clarification regarding this. 

The company said it still holds a substantial portion of its funding, providing a runway for continued operations. However, when asked for how long the remaining runway is, Bazaar did not respond. 

Jangda told Profit, “We have a strong balance sheet, retain a majority of the capital raised in Series B and are quite confident on our path to profitability in the near future.”

While struggling to maintain a positive unit economics without having to carry out a massive layoff spree, Bazaar has managed to devise a financing strategy that is efficient. And this is perhaps why it is only struggling and hasn’t already bitten the dust like some of its counterparts. The company is also clearly undergoing a realignment, revising its strategy and reducing topline numbers. 

Jangda did not comment on Bazaar’s plans to raise the next round, but did say that the startup was on a trajectory to achieve profitability soon, without disclosing when exactly. Some sources at Bazaar say that Bazaar was actively focused on increasing its net revenue (NR) and profitability to move towards positive EMC and EBITDA, which is why the cost-cutting measures had been taken, so that the company could raise the next round. 

In response to the market dynamics, the company is also reported to be making strategic adjustments. The core team remains intact, with talents from discontinued verticals being delegated to other departments, resulting in the layoff of fewer than five individuals from the core team over the last year. Currently Bazaar employs over 450 people and has over 1100 associated members, according to the company’s Linkedin profile. 

Nisma Riaz
Nisma Riaz
Nisma Riaz is a business journalist at Profit. She covers retail and media and can be reached at [email protected] or https://twitter.com/nisma_riaz

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