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Launch HN: InstaKin (YC S21) - Help immigrants to manage tasks in home countries
202 points by yshirazi on July 26, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 69 comments
Hi HN, we’re Yasir and Zain introducing InstaKin to you (https://www.instakin.com). We’re a platform to help immigrant communities manage tasks in their home countries.

Every year, 250M migrants send $550B back home to pay for tasks for themselves and their families. Migrants far away from their native countries are dependent on family friends or unknown vendors to make decisions on their behalf. What many folks don’t know is that it is common for these funds to get misused, or for migrants to send funds to a vendor back home and receive poor service or get cheated.

Zain and I are originally from Pakistan and have been living in the US and Europe for 12 years. We have regularly sent funds back home to pay for tasks for ourselves and family members. Whether it is for paying home bills or a home renovation, we have done it all – just like millions of other migrants in the US – and experienced all the problems: funds getting misused, vendors pushing for advance payments and then disappearing…you name it and we have seen it. This got us thinking about a platform where we could connect migrants with vendors back home — something to reduce misuse of funds and ensure that vendors perform tasks as agreed.

We talked to hundreds of migrants from India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Uganda, and more, and found that lack of access to reliable vendors and misuse of remittance funds back home are common problems. Just last week, we came across a migrant from Senegal living in the USA who mentioned the same challenge.

Initially we operated on WhatsApp to receive orders from migrant customers and also get their feedback. Thousands of migrants contacted us within the first few months of launching our startup. That validation convinced us to build a full product—a solution for migrants built by migrants. We have focused on two key features: (1) provide migrants with access to services back home, and (2) pay vendors based on milestones to eliminate payments fraud.

Historically, companies focusing on the migrant community have pushed for making it easier to send remittances back home easily though even today it can cost between 2-8% just to remit funds. Our key insight, though, is that money transfer is not enough. It is only transactional. What’s needed is to ensure last-mile fulfillment. With InstaKin, migrants don’t send funds back home ‘blindly’ hoping that things will get done — you pay for fulfillment directly.

Migrants use us to do things like: hiring a ‘runner’ to manage last-mile tasks for their aging parents back home; connecting to a vendor for verification and attestation of educational documents; ordering personalized gifts and having them delivered; paying contractors for home renovation projects.

We started off with helping Pakistani migrants but our goal is to become the platform of choice for migrants globally. The best part is that while we were reaching out to Pakistani migrants, we started getting requests from other communities (Indian and Bangladeshi migrants).

We’ve been surprised at how strong immigrant networks are globally. When we launched, we thought we would receive orders from migrants in a specific city or location only. Turns out that is not true. We have had referrals from all over the world (example: a migrant customer living in London referred us to a migrant living in Chicago who referred us to a migrant living in Singapore). We hope what we are building will help migrants not just from one country but from everywhere in days to come.

We would love to hear back from the community! If you are a migrant yourself, please share your experiences with us and feel free to reach out.




First love seeing more Pakistani founders! And second - this is super interesting (I'm a first generation kid - parents also came from Pakistan) my parents basically route this all through trusted family right now, have property back home they manage, and this could have made everything WAY simpler.

Congrats on the launch and excited to see where this goes!


My question - why do they keep property back there? Are rental yields in Pakistan very high?


I don't know specifically about Pakistan, but at least in India the returns on real estate are very good, especially in second-tier cities.

So many people, only so much land. Rising incomes and steady urbanization. Yada yada yada.

Also, part of it is just culture. I know that people in my parents' generation are not very comfortable investing in the stock market. Real estate is seen as a safe investment with a steady, if low, rental yield.


It is also a mindset of many immigrants: always have a backup plan. My parents have lived outside of Pakistan for over 40 years and recently moved to the USA. In all that time they always had a home back in Pakistan and kept investing in more property. I am sure this is the case with immigrants from most other countries also.


I am a younger immigrant and plan on doing exactly that.

One big part of the "oh shit, let's go back" plan is that it's usually so much cheaper to set things in your country of origin. Some real estate, some investments and you're set for life for a fraction of what it costs in a more expensive country. Or, alternatively, you can see this as an arbitrage: get income in a high income country, spend it in a low income country. For example, just three of my monthly salaries are larger than the median net worth back home. Think if you wouldn't try to exploit such massive inequality yourself.


Only thing I dont get: why not save / invest otherwise & buy there when youre "sure" youll use it? I think the norm is already to sell properties of 20 years later, realizing they wont or cant really be used and having quite large missed revenues due to it. Why e.g. have a huge house & use it 2 weeks a year max?


Oh, I'm going to lease my apartments for sure :)

Local stocks are also pretty attractive, not nearly as much attention is being paid to them as to the big international names.


This is true! Most money can be made where no one is looking that closely :) but of course there is a larger risk for smaller companies and single, rather developing countries (expect for maybe the US which is hard to hit hard without also affecting any other market)


Well, it is natural because those countries have a lot higher risk profile. Meaning, their stocks could make 2-3 extra percents per year but this is the price of risk of something really bad when they go to zero, say Taliban takeover, or Communist revolution, or a hot war with India...


And yet it's the US that has >5% inflation rate and the long bond around 1%. Every country can become a banana republic, you know.

Also, I agree with the consensus on the risk level ordering, but it's not just the risk, it's the reward too. High priced securities offer no (or even negative) reward in the optimistic outcome scenario.


It's way cheaper to retire back in the home country after you've made your money in the states. A side benefit is that you can rent out the property before retirement which nets you a small income and keeps the property maintained. My in-laws own about a dozen properties in the Philippines, half of which they rent out, and a couple are being used by their kids. Collectively they make enough from the rentals to get by.


It's not a rental but the returns on just the plots of land have been good. Their original idea was to retire back home and build a family compound. That's changed since but they still have some of the properties. More and more of the country is getting modern developments and so the return on these has been pretty good.


It might be inheritance.


In South Asia, land is at a premium due to high population. You can buy basically any piece of land anywhere and its value rises a lot each year. My father-in-law owns swampland in South Asia which is still rising in value despite being a huge burden to actually develop.

In addition, property ownership is limited in a way it is not in the West (only citizens can own property, as an example, in India), so it's an advantage you want to retain as a migrant over non-natives.


It's also because more land can be farmed, and thus farming is still a very valid option to earn income for small land owner.

You can't make any money with a 10000 kanal plot in Russia.

In Pakistan, you can't buy 10000 kanal plot for any money, such big plots are almost never sold. An average person can live a carefree life with a cash cow plot 10 times smaller.

1000 kanal plot reasonably close to a major city in Pakistan will cost in tens of millions, and are very rare finds.


I think it can expand well beyond helping immigrants. For instance, I am going relocate to another country, may be your service help me organize various like apartments, legal documents etc. Being an immigrant, I understand the problem. Very excited for you guys.


Thank you so much. Yes expanding into expat/relocation related audiences is a big opportunity too.


In a long run, are you guys going to be HQ-ed in Pakistan?


Congratulations on the launch! I’ve hoped for a service like this to help with documentation related tasks, for simple things like delivering gifts and often timers to support friends and family in need.

One thing as a US immigrant I have to do pretty often is return to my home country for a visa renewal which includes various tasks including documentation collection, payments in home currency, transportation when I go back to the embassy, photocopies, printing etc. Supporting visa processes could be an good package to offer.

A few things I could not learn in my cursory look:

- How does pricing work? Given that being misuse of funds is one of the primary problems you’re solving I’d want to know how the payments process works, what is the platform cost, and how is misuse prevented.

- The top call to action on your website is “Post a request” which is great! The secondary action for me is “remember this website” for when I need it. Love the fact that I can install the app, but the ability to quickly add an email/WhatsApp number to my contacts is probably the best recall value for your service. Offering users a way to start a thread without needing to post a request would solve the same need.

Congratulations again! This is a great idea.


Thanks for feedback. It is very valuable.

As for the payments process, a customer would simply pay through a credit card. The payment is held in escrow until the vendor has completed the assigned task and the customer confirms that it is complete. The payment is then released to the vendor. If the task is not completed or not up to quality, the customer gets a full refund.

So the customer has the confidence that his/her money is safe and will only be released once the task is complete. The vendor is motivated to do a good job and has the guarantee that once the task is complete payment will be received.

This whole process is automated and happens within the app.


Congrats on the launch! Would be very useful!

Some feedback: 1) While it is awesome that you will be doing all the communication with the contractors/vendors, it would give additional confidence to know who is actually doing the tasks 2) There should be community feedback on the vendor/task. Having it available in public would increase our confidence, for example, i might be willing to use your service for visa related tasks but not necessarily for building maintenance 3) Rather than country service, it should be city-specific. 4) Allow users to recommend vendors -who they have personally vetted 5) If I am ordering food today via zomato, etc in India for my parents, it asks for OTP pin etc prior to placing the order, can you explain how this workflow would be achieved? This is currently my most common task.


Great feedback. In our workflow, as soon as a task request is submitted via the app, the customer (immigrant) is matched with a vendor back home. The customer will know by name which vendor they are matched with and can even collaborate with the vendor through a messaging feature. If the customer wants more info they can view vendor details and bio within the app also.

In your point #5, not sure exactly what you are asking but in our app you pay directly through the app using a credit card - payment verification is done through the payment gateway provider.


in this case, i would have an US credit card, whereas Zomato requires an indian credit, along with an OTP pin sent to the phone number linked to the credit card.


Exactly.


My partner and I were recently discussing this very problem. She has extended family in rural Vietnam and she is remitting a substantial amount of money to pay for their healthcare: it would be more cost effective to use health insurance but arranging it from overseas is very difficult due to bureaucracy, literacy etc.

We discussed possible solutions -- hiring someone local who is literate, versed in health insurance etc. -- to manage the process for her, and so InstaKin is exactly what we need, but healthcare (for example) is an ongoing process and needs ad-hoc support when filing claims. Do you see InstaKin as capable of supporting this sort of need, or is it for more transactional and easy to validate needs? Do you have a long term vision that better supports this type of need?

Thanks,


Thank you for highligting a key problem area. As a new entity, we believe that we first have to build trust with migrant communities by helping them with more standardised everyday tasks. As we build trust, we will onboard vendors for healthcare related services.

We have already helped customers who needed access to at-home care for their parents back home but that was more on an ad-hoc basis. In the long term, we plan to standardise access to such service as well.


> health insurance but arranging it from overseas is very difficult due to bureaucracy, literacy etc.

I’ve actually never heard of anyone I know in Vietnam having health insurance. Kind of a weird idea to me.

Why can't you just keep a doctor / clinic on retainer?

I know that will sound like a crazy idea to Americans, but doctor visits aren't expensive in Asia.


I do not have a lot of clarity on the situation so I can't provide much of an answer unfortunately. They're in a rural part of the country, and spending thousands of dollars per year on healthcare. My research showed that private health insurance is very easy to access (at ~$100/year/person) which would be an order of magnitude cheaper than their current healthcare expenditure. There's a strong possibility that I am missing material information, or that the expense has been overstated -- I only have first hand knowledge of the amounts of money sent.

As you're knowledgeable on the subject, could you give me an estimate for the costs you'd expect healthcare to cost for a family in rural Vietnam? I assumed based on the health insurance cost that the out of pocket cost for a heavy user would only be hundreds of dollars per year.


I have some experience in the region. A $100/year package will only cover very little but with high deductible and very low limits to any payout.

A "western" style comprehensive health insurance package will set you back much more, at least $150 per month I'd say. Also they will probably reject people who spend 1000s per year on healthcare currently.


Wow! This is an incredible problem to tackle. I’ve faced this problem in the past and I think there’s a larger scope of just being able to effectively perform tasks remotely - in a different country.

I live between India and the US, and just being able to help me easily pay bills, send goodies to my parents and friends in India, etc. would be super valuable. Right now, I’d have to be up at the right time, hope my India phone number will work fine (oftentimes I won’t receive SMSs on it when I’m in the US) to be able to do these things.

I have to rely on friends back home to do these chores and tasks and makes me feel like I’m burdening them.


Have you considered Latin-America too? My last living grandparent gets remittance pick ups, house chores, medication pick ups and all sorts of odd jobs like home renovations done in much the same way you describe, though it's through trusted word-of-mouth recommendations from other villagers.

"Miguel can do this for you, he's so and so's son we can trust him"

I think this is a brilliant idea and wish you well.


Fantastic. Not just 3rd world countries but even migrants from western countries need runners and trusted helpers to do simple in-person tasks. I know a migrant from America who had to fly back home simply to get a criminal record from the police station and take it to the embassy. I've personally asked family members to do this sort of thing but it's unreliable and bad for relationships.


Very cool!

It's a very human problem in a huge, growing market. It's also a market where introducing efficiencies can really help under-developed economies more effectively than aid [1]

Best of luck to you guys, I'll be following your trajectory closely and potentially using your product.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals...


congrats - key insight. While this is clearly global, I strongly recommend resisting that temptation, and instead *hyper* focusing on one small region to service, and accepting requests from one country only (one set of laws, one currency, etc). From a requestor-marketing standpoint, you may also find big wins focusing on very narrow communities where you can market aggressively/deeply and build/defend your reputation, before moving on. For example, start with the Pakistani community in NYC first - completely nail that in the first 3-6 months, then go after other Pakistani communities around the US. Remember, Facebook started with a tiny number of colleges only.


Agreed. TransferWise is another good example of this approach.


I would second this actually. Go deep in one region first.


Couldn't agree more.


I'm a migrant and in hindsight this is such an obvious problem! So many times I had to ask relatives in my home country if they could please get some paperwork done for me or some other task. I even thought "I wonder what would I do if I didn't have any relatives". This is a great idea, best of luck!


Why didn't I think if this before??? It has been a pain point to me as an immigrant. Wishing you guys good luck!


This is such a cool idea, congrats on the launch! As a Bangladeshi immigrant with much of my extended family overseas, I think we (mostly my parents) could find value in a service like this. Good luck!


This is a great example of a startup that solves an actual, pre-existing problem. Looking forward to your expansion.


The UI reminds me of super apps [1] like WeChat, Grab, Gojek, etc. I wonder if that's the endgame here? Super app for immigrants.

[1] https://web.dev/mini-app-super-apps/#what-are-super-apps


As a pakistani immigrant, I've felt this pain for years.


This is fantastic from the initial looks of it. I love the last-mile fulfillment of services. Bravo!


Congratulations! A much needed space that needs innovation. Is this currently available in Bangladesh?


Thank you so much.. We currently provide services to Pakistani migrants but will expand in the near future.


Congrats on the launch. Reminded me of https://www.yourmaninindia.com/. It's a service from a large conglomerate in India. I've never used them (or know anyone who did).


Congratulations on the launch! I've got no major feedback except that the capitalization of your company's name is different all through the website ("InstaKin" vs "Instakin"). This might seem pedantic but I thought you guys would want to know :).


Thank you..updating it now..


Awesome idea! Good luck, y'all.


This is a neat angle on the problem. While I was reading the beginning, I was thinking "So, when are they going to talk about fixing remittance payments?" That's always been the big pain (and cost) for my in-laws. But you acknowledged there are other companies attempting to solve this. Do you plan to work with them? The actual sending of the money is a critical link in the chain, and can be pretty painful, especially if, for example, the recipient is unbanked.


Genius idea. I feel like you guys sort of missed out on the biggest opportunity that the world could have presented you with: Covid. I know that all my friends still living abroad were shitting their pants right around the time the pandemic was raging here. That would have been the perfect time to expand your business. Yet, better late than never. This can easily be a billion dollar business.


> even today it can cost between 2-8% just to remit funds

Does this number include Remitly / Transferwise or referring to Western Union?


Brilliant business idea. Best of luck!


If you haven't already, I recommend reaching out to Edrizio and the team at Arcus (formerly Regalli) - they are YC alum https://www.arcusfi.com/


Congrats and I think it is a good idea. However, I believe that the key of problem you are raising, is the lack of information and (highly probably) lack of tech integration in the whole community.


Super exciting. If you can solve the many trust issues, this could become an unicorn that could service millions of immigrants in virtually every country on the planet. One of the very few Y! startups that I actually believe can do some good as opposed to create a less shitty fart app.

Nitpick: the UI needs a makeover. Feels bland and dated. Also, is this only available for Pakistani citizens right now? Because my country is set to Pakistan and cannot be changed.


First, "Y!" is Yahoo, not Y Combinator.

Second, YC goes to great lengths to fund unusual, socially conscious, and wide eyed startups. Do you have an informed view that contradicts this widely stated goal of theirs or were you just commenting extemporaneously?


Agreed. I follow Launch HN's because it's full of start ups that what want to make the world better, it's not some app flea market.


yahoo is irrelevant in 2021.


Be that as it may, that doesn't make "Y!" Y Combinator.

I'm taking your lack of meaningful response as a tacit withdrawal of your criticism.


Thank you for the feedback... Yes currently it is only available for Pakistani migrants..


fantastic idea!


Great idea , all the best


I think I get what you're going for and see some value but my gut reaction is that the person receiving the remittance and who is on the ground probably has more local knowledge/context to decide what to do with the money than you or the person sending it (with exceptions like if they have diminished mental faculties). In my understanding, this is why charities like Givedirectly which does direct cash transfers to the worlds poorest people, have focused on this approach - because a donor (or remitter) has less knowledge and less at stake than the person receiving or purchasing services. I guess my main complaint is that it just feels really paternalistic.


Did you not read the OP? This is not about charity. This is about helping migrants carry out certain tasks back in their home countries.

This is basically "Chotu* as a service", a business model which has basically exploded in India (Urban Clap, Dunzo, various food delivery apps are variations on this theme) in last few years, but targeted at a wealthy yet untapped demographic. Genius idea, imo.

* Chotu (n.) - a dimunitive name given to a person whose job is to run errands for the family/office.

>with exceptions like if they have diminished mental faculties

The most common concern for migrants is to care for their aging parents. In this case, their own health is a definitely a big concern and they are often not able to run their errands themselves.

Another advantage of the "Chotu as a service" model is that you may not need to employ a Chotu full time, which would save costs. (This is exactly the same as SaaS or IaaS - take a resource that is commonly under-utilized but needed on demand and commodifying it).

Also, you might think that keeping a full time Chotu is a piece of cake, but it is not. Managing Chotus also requires time and effort (it is actually, or at least used to be, often the full time job of the housewives in these families). Trust is a big issue, which is usually solved by hiring a Chotu from your own village, so you know their entire family. But these families often have lost those ties with their village, so that also makes hiring a trusted full-time Chotu difficult.

> just feels really paternalistic

I assure you that do not understand the needs and mindsets of the people this business is meant for.


This. If free-marketeers actually believed people were rational economic actors they would fully support direct cash payments.


Where does that leave us non-libertarians who want to help our families?


1) I'm curious - since what you're primarily selling here is 'trust' and a great deal of trust at that (e.g. care of age-ing parents). How do you plan to create that? Especially for first time users? 2) It seems like a big part of your offering is the end-fulfiller-agent - i.e. the actual agent fulfilling the task. How do you plan to select/oversee agents? (Especially when operating in new locations like India). Can you inspire trust that an agent sent to help an aging parent will not later use information gathered to rob said parent? 3) Do you plan to target governmental/bureaucratic activities - like submitting a form to a bank or picking up and mailing some document. If so how can you inspire the same trust one would have with a family member?




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