BR Research

Interview with Mahe Zehra, CEO - FiveRivers Technologies and Founder – PakistanCreates

‘What sets us apart is our pricing structure’ Mahe Zehra is an experienced professional with over a decade’s...
Published April 8, 2022

‘What sets us apart is our pricing structure’

Mahe Zehra is an experienced professional with over a decade’s experience in the computer software industry. She has graduate degrees in mathematics and operations research and has worked on many diverse projects ranging from water quality to e-commerce optimizations. She currently serves as CEO at FiveRivers Technologies, a software house in Lahore.

A serial entrepreneur herself, she is an active mentor to young women looking to make a place for themselves in the business world. She is the founder of PakistanCreates. Mahe Zehra currently serves a member on the board of directors at the Alif Laila Book Bus Society and firmly believes that a society can only involve through education. While her training and most of her work is analytical, Mahe Zehra also runs her own art blog and writes books under

Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with Mahe Zehra that focused on PaksitanCreates:

BR Research: What is PakistanCreates about and how did you come up with the idea? When did you start? What was your inspiration behind the project?

Mahe Zehra: PakistanCreates is an online marketplace where any maker or manufacturer of Made in Pakistan products can set up a shop. What sets us apart is our pricing structure. There is no subscription charge, no commission, and no other hidden payment for you to set up and start selling. The goal is to make e-shops easily available to local makers and manufacturers. We had our soft launch in January 2022.

We came up with the idea because we saw so much talent that had no place to gain exposure and no place to start selling. We do require a stringent quality check before we onboard any vendors so we can ensure a quality experience for our buyers.

BRR: What kind of women businesses do you target? Do you have any shortlisting criteria and requirements for these businesses to fulfill before they come on to your platform?

MZ: Any maker or manufacturer that produces quality Made in Pakistan products is welcomed on the platform. We have everything from clothes and shoes to soaps and candles. Our main requirement is quality since we want to make sure we protect buyers from bad quality merchandise.

BRR: How many women businesses have you empowered through your platform so far? What kind of response are you looking for?

MZ: We currently have about 125 sellers on the platform with more joining every day. We are looking to make this a one stop shop for all things Pakistani from clothes and shoes to home decor, toys, condiments and much more!

BRR: How would you explain the prospects for women entrepreneurs and startups in e-commerce? A lot of the time, women’s traditional businesses (brick and mortar) are unable to scale. Do you think this is also a challenge in e-commerce?

MZ: The sky is the limit! But as in all things that are worthwhile this too takes time and hard work. The issues you have in a brick-and-mortar structure like rent and fixed operational costs are totally eradicated with our platform. We don’t even charge for a shop so there is no financial barrier to entry. The only things you need are quality products and a will to learn and better your brand.

BRR: You wear multiple hats. As the CEO of FiveRivers Technologies and an IT sector expert, what has been the evolution of women in the IT sector in Pakistan? What needs to be done to address the gap that exists?

MZ: When I joined this industry about 12 years ago there were very few women in leadership positions. Now I am happy to see women in these positions as well as a lot of start-ups that are run by women. In my opinion technology is the solution to a lot of our problems. The world needs good tech talent, and we can provide that. We need more young people in this field who have a passion for solving problems.

I think there are many companies now that offer a support system to their female employees. The fact of the matter is that women in our society and all over the world do go through some changes that men do not have to deal with. Getting married, moving out into a new home and family, or having a child are big changes with physical implications. All women need is a little bit of support around those times. That is all! At FRT we have a lot of young women who have been with us for over 8-9 years. It hasn’t been that hard to ensure we provide that little extra support they need.

BRR: Do you think that without the conventional relevant degree and academic background in tech, women can excel in tech and be part of the digital drive?

MZ: Yes I think they can. Especially in social media and digital marketing. I also think there are no excuses anymore for not knowing something. All you have to do is look online. There are videos and courses and entire graduate programs that are now available online. These are taught by some of the best teachers in the world. Technology is making it easier to learn!

BRR: How do you view the recent changes and efforts for women economic empowerment and financial inclusion in Pakistan especially from the regulatory perspective?

MZ: Honestly, I don’t know much about these. Which probably means they haven’t been highlighted enough? I know that government bodies are trying their best, but I also feel some very basic things that can be done are not being done on the scale necessary. The biggest of these is education. We must provide the right kind of practical education young women need to earn a living. There is no value in rote learning that which we will not use. Better to learn a practical skill that will make life better and contribute to the economy.

BRR: As an entrepreneur yourself, what in your view are some key challenges women startups and women entrepreneurs face?

MZ: I get asked this question a lot. I don’t think there are all that many challenges contrary to popular belief. If you are able to create a quality product or a quality service you will be able to sell it. Now that the world is open to you as a market you can sell anywhere in the world. You can work from home. You can work on your own schedule. There is a lot of opportunity for young women who are willing to put in the work.

BRR: Do we have enough role models for aspiring women entrepreneurs to emulate?

MZ: That’s a tough one. I don’t think we do. There are not enough women in STEM in Pakistan. We really need to highlight them more and encourage young girls to pursue science, mathematics, engineering, and a tech education because this is the future.

BRR: Did the pandemic affect your plans for PakistanCreates? What do you have in store for the next few years?

MZ: The pandemic made us see the potential for online buying and selling. Covid has made some changes in Pakistan instantaneous. We were all going to eventually move towards online shopping and deliveries, online learning, and meetings, but the advent of Covid made all this necessary overnight. This has expedited our adoption trajectory and I think it is now easier to sell digital services.

We want PakistanCreates to be a one-stop quality shop for all Made in Pakistan products not just for national buyers but also international buyers.


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