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Startups of Bangladesh and its Future


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https://futurestartup.com/2021/05/29/on-myalice-conversational-ai-and-the-ambition-of-building-a-global-saas-startup-with-shuvo-rahman-founder-ceo-alice-labs/

On MyAlice, Conversational AI and The Ambition of Building a Global SaaS Startup with Shuvo Rahman, Founder & CEO, Alice Labs

 

By Future Startup

|

May 29, 2021

Shuvo Rahman is the founder and CEO of Alice Labs, a Dhaka-based startup that provides multi-channel customer service solutions and virtual assistant to ecommerce and online businesses. Incorporated in Singapore in 2018, Alice Labs currently operates in South Asia and Southeast Asia including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka serving over 50 e-commerce stores and enterprises, including major brands and retailers like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Giordano, and Maybelline, among others. 

In this interview with Future Startup’s Naziba Ali, Mr. Rahman gives us a peek behind the scenes of Alice Labs, his path to entrepreneurship, the origin of Alice Labs, the early days of building the product, putting together the team and resources,  the state of Alice Labs today and its ambition going forward, the prospect of SaaS industry in Bangladesh, why panic hiring should be avoided by founders at all cost and much more. 

Future Startup: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. I wanted to start at the beginning of your journey, could you please tell us about your background and path to entrepreneurship? 

Shuvo Rahman: I earned my bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering from BUET in 2015. In 2016, I joined as a Tech Team Lead at Maya Apa which is an anonymous messaging platform that connects users with expert advice. Problem-solving has always been my forte. To that end, I designed various machine learning modules for Maya to handle challenges such as categorizing user inquiries and matching them with appropriate specialists. I met one of my co-founders, Jamil Akbar, who was employed as a Project Manager back then at Maya. We had to collaborate on projects every now and then and as a result, we built a good rapport over the years. 

In 2017, Jamil, Fahad (CEO of iFarmer and currently a Director at Alice), Munim and I started a dev shop: MisFit Technologies Ltd. Jamil had expertise in the field of automation, Fahad was apt at strategy and vision, Munim at sales and marketing while engineering and product development was my forte. Being one of the founding members and CTO, I was involved in the strategic and technical decisions and roadmaps to take the company forward. One of our projects has spun off into Alice Labs. I am still on the board of Misfit but am not involved in day to day operations.

Future Startup: When and how did you come up with the idea of Alice? What motivated you to start Alice Labs? 

Shuvo Rahman: In the early days, MyAlice started as a project of MisFit. We eventually decided to establish it as a stand-alone venture and I took over as the CEO. At Misfit, we were attempting to solve multifarious problems of diverse businesses. While working with multiple enterprises, I noticed a trend: Customers preferred to reach out to retailers via social media rather than emails or call centers. Since the average attention span of today’s humans ranges from 8-12 seconds,  there's a decent possibility they'll move on to another brand if their questions aren't answered right off the bat. 75% of online shoppers and potential customers expect help within 5 minutes. So it became imperative for e-commerce and online businesses to ensure seamless customer experience across all conversational platforms: Messenger, Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp and so on. 

During those days, I myself encountered a horrible customer service experience with a bank. While I was in Myanmar for work, I called the call center with a question, but the wait was exasperating. I also emailed them, but received a response three days later. In fact, 78% of customers feel irritated because they need to relay the same information to multiple employees of a company across different conversational channels. To resolve such customer inconveniences, I devised the concept of  MyAlice, which automates customer interactions and helps organizations reduce support costs and response times. It also structures conversational data which help enterprises to understand their user base thus managing their customers from a myriad of sources. 

Alice's proprietary AI learns over time from the interactions of human agents. Every day, the best D2C brands use our customer care solution and virtual assistant, from e-commerce to fashion, FMCG, and even banks.

Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of MyAlice? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and the challenges you faced. 

Shuvo Rahman: As I mentioned before, we started developing MyAlice as a product of MisFit. Eventually, we realized the market demand and decided to separate MyAlice from its parent company as it started gaining some traction. So initially, MyAlice was bootstrapped. 

One of the toughest parts of a bootstrapped SaaS business is low cash flow (especially at the beginning). You need customers to build up your monthly recurring revenue so you can grow and expand your product. Hence, we had to focus a lot on sales rather than product improvement. That was definitely a tough journey for us. However, we were fortunate enough to generate traction quickly and then secure financing to allow our product development team to work on bettering MyAlice. 

Apart from that, we concentrated on assembling the best team possible. We identified the talents we need in the team and used our network to discover persons who have those capabilities.

Future Startup: From a product perspective, how does MyAlice work as a platform? How does the tech part work? 

Shuvo Rahman: By using MyAlice, you don't have to juggle between softwares to converse with your customers across multiple channels. Businesses can connect all of their customer-facing channels, such as website chat and social media messaging platforms, to MyAlice to automate conversations for both sales and service through natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) with the ability to smoothly transition to a live operator when required. 3 minutes is all it takes to set up #yourAlice and automate 70 percent of your customer service conversations and reduce service costs by more than 30 percent. 

Step 1: Connect all your messaging and digital channels by logging into MyAlice. Provide information related to the size of your businesses, product category, volume of transactions etc. In the present world, effective communication is essential for effective customer service. MyAlice is powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP) which gives it the ability to cater to different customers in their native language, be it Bangla, English, Bahasa, Malay, Philipino, Arabic or Burmese. 

Step 2: Automate your customer responses through the Virtual Assistant chatbot. MyAlice will automatically reply to the queries of your clients even at 4 am through all social media and digital channels. 

Step 3: Integrate your ecommerce store to MyAlice’s-commerce help desk to benefit from our stock integration automations. In this way, you don’t have to check your store manually each time you get a sales query on each of your different channels. 

MyAlice can also decode complex behavior of shoppers across different regions, understand user preferences and recommend similar products. Businesses can also track previous orders, viewed products and sell more through up-selling and cross-selling.

Future Startup: What’s your rationale behind narrowing down to e-commerce and online businesses as your core target demographic? 

Shuvo Rahman: It's critical for us to scale as a tech startup. Apart from e-commerce enterprises, we also deal with FMCG, banks, and telecommunications companies. In the FMCG sector, however, because brand loyalty is typically high for these products, there are fewer opportunities to generate stickiness. On the other hand, most banks don’t even use Cloud, so scalability is near unattainable. 

Customers flock to e-commerce stores in greater numbers. And retailers must respond to customer queries as soon as possible. As far as my knowledge goes, there are around 24 billion e-commerce stores worldwide. However, very few e-commerce stores are visible. 90% of e-commerce stores are on Shopify and WooCommerce. So, in terms of scalability as well as revenue generation, e-commerce is a niche and lucrative market. And the pandemic has only strengthened its position. MyAlice thus works with over 50 e-commerce sites and organizations across the region, including major brands and retailers such as Unilever and Coca-Cola, among others, through its subscription-based customer service plans.

Future Startup: How did you design your customer acquisition channels? Could you tell us about the strategies that you carried out to achieve the growth? 

Shuvo Rahman: When choosing your channels, you must keep your pricing model in mind. I followed the 80/20 rule while picking my sales and marketing channels. To begin, we relied on SEOs and word of mouth within our networks. We started pushing our product on relevant E-commerce groups on Facebook. Due to its relatively low CAC and virality effect, Facebook has been a great channel for us to acquire customers. 

However, these e-commerce stores could only handle 20-30 orders each day. For these retailers, we devised a $50/month pricing strategy. As you can tell, the ARPU was almost insignificant. In order to broaden our consumer base, we also resorted to influencer marketing.

As a business professional, you know that high-end brands do not expect a sales call or a marketing email to kick off their research process. Since we are a B2B business, we decided to pursue Account-based marketing. In order to onboard the reputable brands, we introduced a 300$/month pricing model. Our Sales and Marketing team would produce a list of the best-fit clients with the biggest ROI potential for MyAlice. Next, we would send them automated emails.

Future Startup: How much has MyAlice evolved over the past years?

Shuvo Rahman: I’d say, a lot. We have built partnerships with local players in nearly every country in the South and SouthEast Asia including Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, among others. These countries are very much native language-oriented and it’s difficult for any foreign company to penetrate this market. MyAlice uses machine learning and natural language processing to mimic human experiences by understanding text inputs and interpreting their meanings across languages.

The partners essentially resell our product, extending our distribution. We are also focusing on our sales team in the Middle East. In the third quarter of 2021, we are planning to launch systematic sales campaigns but till then we’ll be focusing on strengthening our product in cooperation with our tech partners. 

We have successfully raised US$500,000 in seed investment led by New York-based VC Anchorless Bangladesh and participated by HOF Capital.We intend to use the new funding to further develop its product, form new alliances, and expand into new markets in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. As Alice Labs expands into more of these markets and incorporates more languages, it will be able to strengthen its strategic moats.

Future Startup: Did you plan to build a global startup from the get-go? What kind of strategies, in your opinion, are necessary for building a worldwide SaaS company from the ground up?

Shuvo Rahman: In the very beginning, I just focused on the macro changes in  consumer behavior: the average attention span was shrinking and it was becoming difficult for enterprises to sustain client communication  across multiple channels. So I stepped in to address the problem with MyAlice. Initially, all I wanted to do was keep my head above water. It was challenging for us to attain quick enough growth because MyAlice was a bootstrapped startup.When MyAlice began to gather momentum, that’s when I set my sights higher. 

For building any kind of startup, be it local or global, you should equally focus on the four dimensions: Market, Product, Channel and Model. Make sure to give your product a core value, a hook, a time to value, and a stickiness factor. While going global, ensure that the markets you’re targeting have  similar issues and that you can integrate your operations.

Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made, if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?

Shuvo Rahman: As a founder, you must avoid panic hiring. Build a team that won’t sink your startup. To avoid panic hiring, keep this mantra in mind: The wrong hire is worse than no hire.

Future Startup: What are your future plans for Alice Labs?

Shuvo Rahman: In 2022, we want to target the Australian and European markets, with a goal of entering the North American market by the end of 2023. However, we will perhaps not be developing new products for the next 2-3 years, but will focus on building moats around MyAlice. Because the development of a new product necessitates the evolution of your channels and business plan, so for the time being, we want to be very focused on a specific vertical which is e-commerce. 

Future Startup: What are your thoughts about the prospect of the SaaS industry in Bangladesh? 

Shuvo Rahman: The startup culture in Bangladesh is gradually evolving. Currently there are 5-6 Bangladeshi SaaS companies that are doing really well. From a technological standpoint, we have a significant edge because the cost of hiring developers or engineers is lower. That is, we have a unit economy in our favor, and we can construct a SaaS offering for 10 times less money. You just have to make sure you can sell the product. With adequate training of young founders, Bangladesh has the potential to produce a large number of worldwide SaaS enterprises. However, when compared to the technological infrastructure of the North American and European markets, Bangladesh is still 10-15 years behind.
A SaaS business doesn’t have any boundaries and hence, can be scaled rapidly. Even for a new firm, SaaS can be a terrific method to get started and eventually grow into a million-dollar business. You can sell your services to any company in the world. However, if you don't build a moat, your organization will perish.

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https://www.tbsnews.net/features/panorama/hydroquo-23-year-olds-dream-revolutionise-water-management-bangladesh-270832#.YOPes3F57yw.facebook

Nusrat Jahan Labonnayo

06 July, 2021, 10:35 am

Hydroquo+: A 23-year-old’s dream to revolutionise water management in Bangladesh

Hydroquo+ is a Dhaka based Hi-tech start-up that merged the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) with water management to evaluate water quality

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Hydroquo+ team developed an intelligent I-IoT-based system (I-IoT: Internet of Things) to monitor water quality. Photo: Courtesy

Twenty-three-year-old Zahin Razeen is an entrepreneur and a futurist who dreams of changing the water management system in Bangladesh.

 

He realised at an early age that freshwater would become a scarce resource with each passing day. Also, water-borne diseases were a scourge for our country and technology could be used intelligently and efficiently to address this problem.  

To this end, he, along with his sister, knocked on several doors with their idea. However, to their great disappointment, nobody took an interest.  

But the founders of Hydroquo+, Zahin and Rizvana Hredita, decided to follow their passion regardless.  

Eventually, in 2019, they found a willing listener in none other than Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority. Teaming up with the government agency responsible for supplying water to city residents, Hydroquo+ set up a mechanism to test water quality in 10 pipelines of different areas in the city. 

So far, Hydroquo+ has successfully collaborated with Dhaka Wasa and the Central Microbiology Laboratory in two projects. 

Chittagong Wasa, as well as the Chittagong Port Authority and MENA region have also expressed interest in doing pilot projects with Hydroquo+.

At present, they are researching the implementation of their tracing and filtration technology for private water supply, as well as city and regional level utilities. 

They are also incorporating their technology in the commercial filtration process, for example, in the pharmaceutical industries or the food and beverage procession industries. 

ETPs  and water treatment plants can also potentially benefit from their technology.

The siblings, meanwhile, were recently catapulted into the spotlight thanks to their inclusion in the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia for their venture Hydroquo+. 

\So what is Hydroquo+?

Hydroquo+ is a Dhaka based hi-tech start-up. 

The team at Hydroquo+ have developed an intelligent I-IoT-based system (I-IoT: Industrial Internet of Things) that monitors water hygiene and provides clients with conservation metrics based on M2M (machine to machine) communication. 

The system receives the input from the sensor where parameters like turbidity, chlorine, pH, connectivity, pressure etc are connected and machine learning algorithms are employed for predicting the water quality based on a trained data set.  

The trained data set and forecasted data are kept on a cloud server, which is interoperable through smartphones, desktops and tablets. 

This has resulted in a fully automated water quality monitoring system that uses IoT technologies to communicate among devices in order to anticipate water quality for the residential area. 

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Zahin Razeen, Founder, Hydroquo+

"When a doctor sees an x-ray report, they can easily diagnose a condition. Similarly, with the capacity of diagnosing water, one can understand where the contaminated water is coming from or detect a problematic pH level, Turbidity, Total organic Carbon, Dissolved organic carbon and Free chlorine easily. So, we invented Hydroquo+," said Zahin.

"Conducting the same tests in Buet will cost more time and money. But our system aims to deliver results at only Tk 1.5 within a very short time," he added.

After successfully finishing the pilot process of online monitoring of water, the Hydroquo+ team aims to work area-wise to make this advanced system more effective. 

The motivation for the founders

What drove Zahin and Rizvana to form Hydroquo+ was the urge to save Bangladesh from the freshwater crisis. Rizvana even left Canada to come and help her brother pursue the start-up.

Zahin explained, "Water industry is the most difficult industry to operate in because it takes a long time to even finish the pre-planning process. But we have dared to challenge the stereotype as a very high functional tech company." 

"There are only three international companies like us who work for the improvement of the overall infrastructure of the water resource management system, that too in a different capacity than ours," he added.   

From the start of his student life, Zahin had taken an interest in studying various fields. After much research, he found out that in the future, if World War III takes place, water would be one of the prime reasons behind it. 

He believes that Bangladesh has abundant water resources. And to save the country from the anticipated scarcity and existing pollution, a sustainable infrastructure is needed to preserve our water as we grow economically.  

The Hydroquo+ team consists of 10 people including Zahin as the CEO and Rizvana as the COO. Four of the members are foreigners.

The founder outsourced the full-stack industrial grade system from Austria. During the deployment phase the team underwent rigorous project based training. 

Even though the team is small, the members are experts in different fields like astrophysics, chemistry, electrical engineering etc. 

Is it commercially viable?

In entrepreneurship, behavioural challenges and financial challenges are common. Hydroquo+ was no exception. 

Nonetheless, this venture has commercial viability as well as the power to impact the lives of millions.  

"When you initiate something different in the market where the potential is hidden, it is common to get rejections. Not everyone could comprehend the unique approach we were advocating at the beginning. Also, my final product was not ready when we started our venture. As a result, it was difficult to get investors," says Zahin. 

"However, I always believed that the water industry with a market of over six billion can lead one day. Those who once rejected the idea have now started to believe in it," Zahin shared with us.

Hydroquo+'s journey in the market has just begun and it aims to level up by reinforcing its current credentials. 

When we asked the founder about their future vision, he said, "We want to build a circular water industry by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence algorithms and big data analytics to maximise information and data available. It will help to improve the quality of water worldwide and prevent outbreaks of waterborne disease." 

Zahin is hopeful about the future. 

"I hope that we soon enough cross the phase of behavioural awareness so that people can understand the necessity of this industry. For that, we need national and global effort. We need to adapt this technology at an industrial level so that we can be ready before the water crisis begins," Zahin went on.

Zahin Razeen's ideology to be a successful entrepreneur is to relentlessly pursue and ruthlessly execute.

"An entrepreneurial spirit should never die because of rejections. S/he should not stop pursuing his/her dreams unless death comes in their way. I was my company's engineer, facilitator, and commercial viability partner. In short, I played multiple roles because there was a lack of understanding among people about my project. But it did not dishearten me, I was tenaciously working to bring something that can be a big solution to a big problem," he concluded.

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https://futurestartup.com/2021/05/25/how-we-built-swap-with-parvez-hossain/

How We Built SWAP: An interview With Parvez Hossain, Co-founder, and CEO, SWAP

 

By Future Startup

|

May 25, 2021

Parvez Hossain is the Co-founder and CEO of SWAP, a Dhaka-based fast-growing reCommerce company. Launched in 2020, within just two years, SWAP has become an important player in Dhaka's recommerce space and has experienced excellent growth helping take the nascent industry to the consciousness of the mainstream. It is one of the four Bangladeshi startups that have been selected in the latest cohort of Accelerating Asia.

In this wide-ranging interview with Future Startup's Tithi Chowdhury, Mr. Parvez reflects on his journey to what he is doing today, talks about how SWAP came into being and has grown from a small operation to a dominant reCommerce player in Dhaka, the state of SWAP’s business today and ambition going forward, offers insight into the reCommerce industry in Bangladesh, shares his takes on building businesses from scratch, and reflects on the lessons he has learned from his journey so far, and much more.

Future Startup: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I want to start with learning about you, could you please tell us about your background and your journey to entrepreneurship?

Parvez Hossain: I was born and brought up in Dhaka. My school was St. Joseph Higher Secondary School and my college was Notre Dame College. After my HSC, I got into the BBA program of IBA of Dhaka University. I graduated from IBA in 2006. In 2007, I joined British American Tobacco and worked there as a territory officer in the marketing and distribution department for one and a half years. Then I joined Rahimafrooz where I worked for six months. 

I started an electronic gadget business besides my regular job. I had a shop called Livewire. In the beginning, we operated offline, and eventually, we launched an F-commerce operation. Today, we have 15 showrooms. That’s where my journey as an entrepreneur started.

Future startup: How did you come up with the idea of SWAP? What was the motivation behind?

Parvez Hossain: We saw that we were serving a limited number of people in Dhaka through Livewire. During the last two years, we have been expanding Livewire outside Dhaka. I eventually realized that, if we can provide people with easy access to electronic gadgets then we will be able to serve a larger number of people. That’s when we came up with the idea of SWAP.

Nowadays people sell a lot of things besides cell phones and when they want to sell something, they have to go to a showroom or upload a post to an online platform. When you want to sell something online you have to provide your personal information, which is not safe. Besides, there is no guarantee that the person who has shown interest to buy your product does not have any ill intention.

Also, there are a lot of people who have unused sellable electronic gadgets that could be useful to another person. As a result, a large amount of e-waste is being generated. Bangladesh generates 500k tons of e-waste annually, which will reach upto 4.5 million tons by 2025. If people could resell their electronic gadgets, this problem could be resolved.

To resolve this issue and make selling anything online more convenient, we started working on SWAP in 2019 and eventually launched on February 20, 2020. That’s how SWAP came into being.

Future Startup: While building SWAP how did you put together the initial resources i.e capital, people, and other resources?

Parvez Hossain: I was running my business for quite a long time before SWAP. I already had some savings which I invested in SWAP. We raised angel investment from Tanvir A Mishuk, the Managing Director of Nagad. We approached him and he agreed to invest. He has helped us in building the infrastructure and network.

For hiring the right people, we took support from the HR department of Nagad. As our idea was completely new from Bangladesh’s perspective, it was important for us to have a well-built team for handling the technical aspects of SWAP. We could outsource and get a website developed. But those kinds of websites are not scalable. So we needed to build a good team to handle SWAP’s technical part. With the help of Tanvir bhai and our own funding, we hired the right people and built a great initial team. That’s how we put together our initial resources.

Future startup: Could you please walk us through the journey of the early days of SWAP? What are some of the major challenges you faced in the early days of SWAP?

Parvez Hossain: Although we were lucky to have good people, the main challenge for us during the early days was to find the right resources. I still remember someone, whom we almost hired. But he did not join when he got a job offer in a big company. We faced these kinds of difficulties a lot in the early days.

We started SWAP out of a one-room office where four of us used to work. Then after four months, we rented an office in Banani.

Startups are full of uncertainties. You do not know when you will reach break-even. We were in those situations as well. However, we were confident that SWAP would be successful, which motivated us to move forward.

We had to rebuild our team several times. It was like a journey where we had to part away some people at a certain stage and hire new people. Because you need to form a team with people with the right mindset and skills to run a startup. Building the right team was the major challenge for us in the early days. While it has improved a lot now, we still face this kind of challenge. It is a continuous journey.

Future Startup: Could you give us an overview of SWAP today i.e: services you offer, business model, how your operation works, team size, and size of business? 

Parvez Hossain: Currently, we are a team of 46. SWAP is a C2B marketplace. In other C2C marketplaces where individuals sell their products to other individuals, there are a lot of safety issues and problems regarding the pricing of the product. Right pricing is a very important factor.

SWAP resolves these issues by providing people with the right price of a product based on the options they select. 

While fixing a price SWAP, analyses the condition of a product and gives a price accordingly. We constantly remain updated about the market price of different products so that we can give the best possible price of a product to both the sellers and the buyers. 

We have collaborated with other companies such as Samsung, Oppo, Apple, OnePlus, Vivo, Motorola, etc. We have partnered with Pickaboo, Robishop, and Gadget & Gear. We have recently finalized our agreement with Daraz and launched a campaign before Eid. We have also finalized our deal with Symphony, Realme and from next month we will launch a campaign collaborating with them. Currently, we are in talks with Xiaomi and Tecno which will make us the sole exchange partner of all the big OEMs in Bangladesh. 

We want to make it easier and convenient for people to sell their products. If you want to sell a product, our personnel will go to your address to pick up the products. We have collaborated with other companies to make this process easier. You can also sell your products in the outlets of our partners. If you want to buy another product in exchange for your product through SWAP, you can use a voucher from Daraz or Pickaboo to order the product you want in exchange for your product from their website. This offers people an opportunity to sell their old items and buy new products using them. For many people with limited financial capacities, this solves an important problem and improves access to newer technology. 

We have also run a furniture exchange campaign with Brothers Furniture. We are planning to partner up with motorcycle companies as well. We postponed the plan due to the pandemic for now.

Currently, we are having really good traction. Thousands of people sell their products every month through our platform. We have a GMV of around $1M every month. The numbers are above our expectations in just 14 months.

Future Startup: What are some of the strategies that have helped SWAP to come this far?

Parvez Hossain: Partnering up with OEM companies has helped us to grow significantly — these collaborations with popular brands like Samsung or Oppo gave us a big exposure. As customers of these brands use SWAP, it brings down our customer acquisition cost. 

We have partnered with retail stores like Rio International, Sumastech, Gadget & Gear that sell electronic gadgets. Since they already have a customer base, they can tell their customers to sell their old products through our platform. It would cost us a lot if we would try to reach these people. These retailer partners have played an important role in our growth.

Recently, we have launched a campaign with Nagad, where if a Nagad user transacts money through Nagad while buying or selling any item through SWAP, s/he will get 5% cashback. All of these collaborations have helped us to reach our potential customers.

Another factor that has played an important role in our growth is customer obsession. We have tried our best to give our users the best possible experience. Either our agents go to the sellers to pick up the items they want to sell or they can sell their items in the outlets of our partners. As we fix a price beforehand, it reduces a lot of unnecessary hassle and bargaining for both the seller and the buyer.

For digital outreach, we are using social media. We have collaborated with social media influencers who have a large number of followers. Despite not boosting our page, we have around 56k followers on our Facebook page and 145k group members in our Facebook group.

We have taken an omnichannel strategy for growth which has helped SWAP achieve consistent growth.

Future Startup: What are the challenges now?

Parvez Hossain: The pandemic has taken a toll on the overall business. The overall demand has dropped for luxury and technology products which will eventually pick up. Since the outlets of our OEM partners and retailer agents were/are closed due to the pandemic which has taken a toll on our customer interaction. 

The second challenge is customer education regarding our service. Many people are yet to understand how to use our service to sell and buy products, as it's still a novel idea in Bangladesh. To address the challenge, we have a customer service team to assist our users. When someone needs any assistance they can directly click on the pop-up on our website to ask for help or call our hotline. We need to educate people on why they need to sell their unused items and how that can help another person from the lower tier to afford technology as well as save the environment. 

We are looking to raise further investments which will help us to go further.

Future Startup

You have made it to the latest cohort of Accelerating Asia along with three other Bangladeshi startups. Tell us about that experience.

Parvez Hossain

Getting into the latest cohort of Accelerating Asia was a blessing for us. There were more than 500 applicants and we were confident that we could give a fight at least. Although nothing was certain. We had to go through several rigorous processes. Total 11 startups including 4 Bangladeshi startups made it to the latest cohort of Accelerating Asia. 

The founders and mentors in this accelerator program are great and super helpful. You can ask for their help anytime. The program comes with a ton of learning and networking opportunities. The mentors connect the founders with a lot of VCs and angel investors. They help the startups to identify the weaknesses and address them. The journey has been a wonderful experience for me.

Future Startup

What are some of the mistakes you’ve made, if any, in your journey that you think other entrepreneurs should avoid?

Parvez Hossain

I’d like to suggest to young people that if they want to do something, they should go for it. I have had this idea of SWAP since 2017. But it took me more than a year and a half to make the decision. Because founding a startup is not an easy task and you have to give your 100% to make it successful. I already had a business called Livewire and I was doing quite well. When I left my job in 2009 and decided to do business, all of my relatives and friends discouraged me. Many people consider getting a stable job is better than business. But jobs do not provide talented people the opportunity to unlock their full potential.

I left my job after working for around 2 years and started my business. But deciding to start my startup was a challenge for me. Because you have to burn a lot of cash while running a startup and there is no guarantee of profit in the beginning. Many people are not ready for this struggle. It took me a long time to start my startup because of pondering on this idea. I talked with many people who promised to support me. But later they did not. As I was adamant about it, I decided to start by myself. 

If anyone wants to start their startup, they should start working on it immediately rather than waiting for long. Because the more you wait and overthink, the more you will waste your time. And the success of a startup depends on the timing. If you lose the timing someone will do it and you lose the 1st mover advantage

Future Startup: You have worked for around 2 years for other companies before starting your own business. Many young people want to start their business early, maybe after graduation. From your perspective, which one is better? 

Parvez Hossain: It varies from person to person. From my perspective, it is better to have working experience before starting a business. Besides, you can meet mentors while working for a company and learn from the leaders of the industry. I have learned a lot while working in BAT including ethical grounds, processes, leadership, etc. I think it is better to have work experience for a year or two. 

'

Of course, you can start your business after graduating from university. But you will not get enough opportunities to learn the culture and other aspects of the business before starting your own business.

Business is not only about money. To run a business, you need skills and connections. The connections you will build while working a job can help you to go further in your business. The network, expertise, and knowledge you gain from a job can help you reach your goal.

Future Startup: What are the lessons you have learned so far?

Parvez Hossain: To run a business successfully, you need to build a strong PR (Public Relation). I have always been an introvert. I would not know how to respond when someone would praise me. I’m still learning how to approach people. When I started to come out of my cocoon and connect with people, I realized how big this world is. There are a lot of people who are creative but do not showcase their talents because of being an introvert. I consider myself lucky that I have come out of my introverted nature. 

Future Startup: What do you think about the re-commerce market of Bangladesh? Where do you see the market going after a few years down the line?

Parvez Hossain: This market will grow very big within the next few years. The market is so huge and has so much potential that SWAP could not even cover 1% of the market. To be precise, the global market of used smartphones was worth $17B in 2017. Now it has grown exponentially to $42B in 2020. The global used market of the automobile, smartphone, laptop, and furniture combined in $1.48 Trillion. More startups have joined this niche within the last five years such as Backmarket in Europe, Droom, Car24, Cashify, etc in India, and Kavak in Mexico.

Every year, smartphones totaling 10 million units are sold in Bangladesh and this number is growing with a 5% CAGR. This market is going to be very big and through our platform, we want to make smartphones accessible to lower and middle class people. We want to launch a financial installment model to make expensive items more accessible to people. 

If we include other reusable products including furniture, vehicles, and other electronic gadgets, in our calculation it is a $2.6 billion market in Bangladesh. If people can sell their used products instead of throwing them away, it will reduce our environmental pollution and make these items affordable for other people of limited income.

Future Startup: What are some of the plans for SWAP in the next couple of years?

Parvez Hossain: We have a couple of priorities. One, we want to improve on the technological aspect. We want to provide people with better and future pricing even with our AI-based pricing engine that will be able to give people an understanding of the salvage value of what they possess. We want to give our customers the option to exchange their products, such as exchanging a smartphone for a laptop or exchanging old furniture for a brand new laptop. We want to make this whole process more convenient. That is why we have collaborated with Daraz, Robishop, Pickaboo, Brothers Furniture, and almost all OEMs of smartphones in Bangladesh.

In the coming years, we plan to expand outside Bangladesh. The market for recommerce is big and it is an idea that you can take anywhere. 

Future Startup: How do you deal with stress and stay productive?

Parvez Hossain: I would say like almost all other founders, sometimes I feel like giving up because of the high amount of stress that comes with being an entrepreneur. The hours are long. The demands are huge. But then I think that I can not give up. There are days when I work for 24 hours straight in my office with my team. I am very lucky that I have an excellent team.

My wife has been very supportive which helps. When I share my thoughts with her, she encourages me and she helps me augment customer experience as she graduated from Hospitality and Tourism management. She gives me a lot of strengths.

My co-founder at SWAP Tonmoy Saha is a pillar I lean on when things get tough. He is a very positive person. Whenever I feel demotivated, he encourages me. Having people who support your ambition and encourage you are critical for early-stage founders.

I try to take some family time out of work time and spend it with my daughter and she is the boost I need to get myself going. 

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https://www.newagebd.net/article/143432/huawei-to-invest-150m-in-talent-development

Huawei to invest $150m in talent development

Staff Correspondent | Published: 17:55, Jul 11,2021

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ICT infrastructure and smart devices provider Huawei has recently announced its Seeds for the Future Programme 2.0 at the Tech and Sustainability: Everyone’s Included forum.

 Through the programme, the company plans to invest $150 million in digital talent development over the next five years expecting to benefit more than three million people, says a press release on Sunday.

The forum, organised at Sehnzhen, China, was co-hosted by Huawei and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Representatives from Huawei, IUCN, the World Economic Forum, Carbon Disclosure Project, Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative, and Singapore Institute of International Affairs participated to discuss the role of technology in driving sustainability and building a more inclusive, eco-friendly world.

As an echo for the forum, Huawei Asia Pacific held the APAC Media Virtual Roundtable with laser focus on addressing digital inclusion and sustainable development of this region. Jay Chen, Vice President of Huawei Asia Pacific, announced Huawei’s plan to cultivate more than 40,000 ICT talent in the next five years through multiple programs including Seeds for the Future in the region.

‘In the digital economy, digital talent is playing an increasingly important role in driving digital transformation and economic growth. The access to education is vital for creating opportunities that support sustainable and fair development. Due to the pandemic, we are moving the program online and opening it up to more outstanding students than ever before,’ said Jay Chen.

According to a 2020 report by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), about 2.2 billion people aged 25 years or younger still lack internet connections at home. To improve the situation, Huawei is committed to helping develop digital talent in the countries where it operates. In 2008, Huawei began to roll out talent development programs through scholarships, technology competitions, and digital skills training and has invested more than USD150 million in these programs. Huawei has since benefited more than 1.54 million people from over 150 countries.

The Seeds for the Future program, initiated in Bangladesh in 2014, is similarly designed to inspire local talents and encourage them to tackle digital challenges. In Bangladesh, the program has so far seen participation from around 6,000 students .

Besides, to better equipped the students with digital facilities, Huawei had partnered with local online learning platform Bijoy Digital to provide digital solutions to the capital’s T&T High school and its branches across Bangladesh to facilitate distance learning during the pandemic. Other talent development programs of the company in Bangladesh include ICT Competition, ICT Academy, and Digital Training Bus in collaboration with various private and public sector organizations and agencies. The programs so far have benefitted numerous young students of Bangladesh so far.

Huawei has been a firm enabler in the Asia Pacific for building an inclusive talent ecosystem. Huawei ASEAN Academy has been launched in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia since 2019 and has cultivated more than 100,000 talents for preparing for the digital future. Huawei has built collaborations with around 200 universities in countries across the Asia Pacific.

Huawei is a global provider of information and communications technology infrastructure and smart devices.

With integrated solutions across four key domains – telecom networks, IT, smart devices, and cloud services – Huawei is committed to bringing digital to every person, home, and organisation for a fully connected, intelligent world.

Huawei’s end-to-end portfolio of products, solutions, and services are both competitive and secure. Through open collaboration with ecosystem partners, Huawei creates lasting value for our customers, working to empower people, enrich home life, and inspire innovation in organizations of all shapes and sizes.

At Huawei, innovation focuses on customer needs. Huawei invests heavily in basic research, concentrating on technological breakthroughs that drive the world forward.  It has more than 194,000 employees and operates in more than 170 countries and regions. Founded in 1987, Huawei is a private company fully owned by its employees.

As a localized leading global ICT solutions provider, over the last 21 years, Huawei has been working closely with the ICT industry, telecom operators & local partners to fulfill the dream of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by bringing technical benefits to the people as well as contributing to the society with different CSR programs. Huawei is in Bangladesh, for Bangladesh! This is Huawei’s call to action in Bangladesh, a way of thinking and a way of life that is built on collaboration.

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https://futurestartup.com/2020/03/04/fahad-ifaz-on-ifarmer/

iFarmer's Fahad Ifaz Talks Building an Agriculture Finance and Supply Chain Company, iFarmer’s Business, How Ideas Evolve, and Running a Startup

 

By Ruhul Kader

|

Mar 4, 2020

Co-founder and CEO of iFarmer, Fahad Ifaz, talks about his path to entrepreneurship, the germination of iFarmer, how it has evolved over the years from an idea to build an uber for urban farming to an innovation agri-tech and fin-tech company, how they crafted the business model of iFarmer and iFarmer’s enduring edge as a platform as it expands, the state of iFarmer’s business today and its ambition going forward, how iFarmer is putting data at the center of farming and finance, explains the intricate operation of iFarmer, reflects on why it is critical to have a healthy disregard towards naysayers when you are building something innovative and of potentially high impact and much more.

Future Startup: Could you please tell us about your background and elaborate your path to entrepreneurship?

Fahad Ifaz: I have 10 years of experience in Agriculture market development, policy, financial inclusion and innovation across South Asia. Previously, I have worked at Swisscontact, World Bank, CARE Australia, and SPRING Accelerator.

I founded my first company in 2012 called amarCV – it was a CV building tool and the vision was to develop a LinkedIn for Bangladesh. However, I gave up on the project too early, made an exit and eventually my partners took over the operation.

My second company was EDGE Consulting – which was a boutique consulting company that helped donors, NGOs and private companies with project design, evaluation and management consulting. I still remain a director in the company but do not play an active role.

My third company is Misfit Technologies – which I started in 2017 with 3 other co-founders. One of our projects has spun off into iFarmer. I am still on the board of Misfit Tech but am not involved in operations.

Future Startup: When and how did you get started with iFarmer? What motivated you to start iFarmer?

Fahad Ifaz: We started farmer as a project in 2018. The first business model was to create an Uber for Urban Farming. So we created a platform where people could lease their house or factory rooftops for farming. But after spending 6 months on this, we realized that it is not scalable and there are challenges with getting rooftops in Dhaka city, where more and more people are moving to apartments and it’s difficult to get consensus on how to manage those apartment rooftops.

Then in August 2018, we pivoted to our current model. This was largely motivated by my 10 years of experience working at the Bottom of the Pyramid, particularly with the farmers and other agriculture value chain actors.

Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of iFarmer? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and the challenges you faced. 

Fahad Ifaz: We focused on getting the right team in place. We identified the skills that we require in the team, reached within our network to find people with the necessary skills. But we also needed people who would believe in the vision of the company.

The second step was for the whole team to go through a very steep learning curve. We did not want to know everything about agriculture finance, or supply chain or investment in general. We just wanted to learn enough to get us going. Because we believed in evolving and iteration of the model as we learn, adjust and move forward.

During our early days, we also had support from Startup incubators such as Toru, where Saif bhai from Toru helped us with strategic advice.

Until recently iFarmer was mostly bootstrapped by the co-founding team.

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Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of iFarmer in terms of services you offer, how many users you have, the size of your business, etc?

Fahad Ifaz: We are an agri-tech/fintech platform that offers farmers with access to finance, training and knowledge and then access to the market. On the other side, we enable any individual to invest their money in a farm (equity financing model), as we work closely with these farmers and enable them to sell to a large buyer (thus eliminating middlemen).

We started with livestock farms of various types and cycles but will move into fruit farms, cash-crops, and agri-machineries soon.

We are working with 1200 farmers at this point in time. We have facilitated more than 4 crore taka to these farmers in about 11 months from a few hundred investors.

Future Startup: From a product perspective, how does iFarmer work as a platform? How do you work with your partners? How does the tech part work?

Fahad Ifaz: iFarmer offers farm assets as an investment opportunity for retail middle-income investors. They can invest through our website and soon to be launched app, get a regular update on their investment, reinvest, cash out, etc.

On the backend, we onboard farmers who can absorb these investments. We have field facilitators and iFarmer agents to conduct the onboarding. Initially, it was done through a manual process but now we are moving to a tech-enabled service where the farmers themselves or with the help of our iFarmer agents and field facilitators can create their profile, apply for finance and so on.

At the core of iFarmer is data. We collect almost 40 data points from each farmer to understand the risk factors, their socio-economic behavior and most importantly farming outcomes. We intend to connect these data to offer more services to the farmers, such as farm input, insurance, banking products and so on. We are already connecting the farm outcome or harvesting data to work on an efficient b2b supply chain.

We are also building the tech and business model to support the big players such as banks and NBFIs to be able to finance different actors in the agriculture value chain.

Future Startup: What is your business model? How do you generate revenue?

Fahad Ifaz: We charge a commission from the retail investors and then also get a commission on the final sales of the farm produce.

Other than that we are looking at revenue from insurance companies, input companies and so on, who can use our platform to reach out to new customer segments.

Future Startup: How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at iFarmer?

Fahad Ifaz: We have a 12 member team that covers, business development, client services, operations and finance, and tech. 

The culture at iFarmer is that we believe every day is day one and that keeps us excited and we also believe we can only move forward if we make mistakes, learn and keep pushing forward.

Future Startup: On average how many customers you serve per month?

Fahad Ifaz: Our key metric is the amount of investment that is generated through our platform for farms. We have been growing at 50% mom over the past 6 months.

Future Startup: What are the lessons you’ve learned in terms of growing a business? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your growth journey?

Fahad Ifaz: Execution is the key. We can have brilliant ideas, but if we have cold feet when it comes to execution, try to think and solve all the operational barriers before launching something then nothing works.

The other thing is trying and doing something innovative is risky and people will say it will never work, but the key is to ignore everybody and execute.

Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?

Fahad Ifaz: We make mistakes every day, every week, from running after the wrong metrics, to setting absurd targets to doing a wrong marketing campaign. But the key is to not prioritize mistakes. It is part of the business, make mistakes, correct them or learn from them and move on.

Future Startup: Have you raised investment? If yes, how much have you raised? What are the plans now? What does it take to raise investment? What should founders, who are trying to raise investment, be mindful of?

Fahad Ifaz: We have just closed our seed round from a Singapore based VC, Angels from Singapore, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

Since we operate in a country that is not on the radar of almost every VC or investment organization, we should not only sell the business to them, we should also educate them about the country in itself. We have even taken people to meet our farmers and learn about the agriculture value chain in the country.

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Future Startup: What are the goals for the future?

Fahad Ifaz: Become a sustainable agriculture finance and supply chain company. While doing that, make the lives of our farmers a little better, encourage them to continue growing food for us.

Maybe one day every profession will be replaced by robots and automation. But it will be difficult to replace farmers, so we should keep supporting them. The world needs to feed 10 billion people by 2050.

Future Startup: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building iFarmer?

Fahad Ifaz: We have had great support from incubators such as Toru, Startup Bangladesh and also we have seen, in general, everyone living in the city has a connection with farmers and farms. A lot of us dream about going back and get into farming someday. But the reality could be different and that's where we come in.

This deep-rooted connection people feel with farm and farming often plays out to our advantage.

Future Startup: How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder?

Fahad Ifaz: I read a lot, about other business leaders, startups, innovation. I also think playing a competitive team game like football also helps.

Future Startup: What advice would you give to founders who are just starting out?

Fahad Ifaz: Always think about the big bet or the idea behind the company. While running after operations, growth, and salary and rent, we often forget why we even started this business.

Find the right co-founders who will keep you in track and remind you about that, WHY. Find and build the right team, allow them to make mistakes and grow.

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https://www.thedailystar.net/toggle/news/nine-bangladeshi-youths-make-the-forbes-30-under-30-asia-list-2080621

Nine Bangladeshi youths on Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list

 

Tue Apr 20, 2021 11:39 AM

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For the first time, a total of nine Bangladeshis have made the 'Forbes 30 under 30' Asia list. Launched in 2011, by the prestigious business magazine Forbes, the '30 under 30' lists the thirty movers of shakers under the age of thirty. From 2016 till 2020, a total of nine Bangladeshis got themselves listed for their outstanding work. This year alone nine Bangladeshis under the age of thirty got listed for their work in three sectors:  enterprise technology, social impact & retail & e-commerce.

Here's who made the list this year:

 

Shehzad Noor Taus Priyo (24) & Motasim Bir Rahman (26), cofounders, Gaze

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Taus and Mostasim's startup Gaze has been making waves in the last couple of years. Gaze builds API for visual recognition with AI supporting features like spoof-proof face recognition, OCR, object recognition etc.

 

Mir Sakib (28), founder of Cramstack

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Mir made the list on enterprise technology category for his startup Cramstack. Cramstack helps industries with its natural language-driven search interface to analyse and visualise data.

Shomy Chowdhury (26) & Rijve Arefin (26) & cofounders of AWARENESS 360

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Shomy & Arefin cofounded Awareness 360, a Kuala Lumpur-based NGO, which now has 1,500 volunteers in 23 countries and campaigned for 150,000 on personal hygiene basics such as handwashing, water-filtration, sanitation etc.

 

Ahmed Imtiaz Jami (27), Founder, OBHIZATRIK Foundation

 

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To work with underprivileged children, Jami founded OBHIZATRIK Foundation. So far his foundation, with the help of 3500 volunteers, has supported 1 million people on poverty elimination, education, health and nutrition, human rights issues etc.

Rizvana Hredita (28) & Md Zahin Rohan Razeen (22), Cofounders, Hydroquo+

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Hredita & Razeen's startup Hydroquo+ provides AI-powered water management solutions that report on the quality of the water; identify leakage and provide forecasting of demand based on usage.

Morin Talukder (27) Cofounder, Pickaboo

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Morin's cofounded e-commerce venture 'Pickaboo' is renowned in Bangladesh for listing quality products and fast delivery. It was one of the first few startups to offer EMI and same-day delivery.

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https://futurestartup.com/2021/03/25/ishtiaque-sarwar-founder-aamarpay/

By Future Startup

|

Mar 25, 2021

AamarPay’s Ambition and The Art of Entrepreneurship: Ishtiaque Sarwar, Founder, AamarPay

 

Ishtiaque Sarwar is a serial entrepreneur and Founder and Managing Director of Dhaka-based fin-tech company aamarPay. 

In this wide-ranging interview, Mr. Sarwar talks about how aamarPay came into being, the evolution of AamarPay, how he has grown aamarPay from a small operation to one of the leading players in the payment gateway space and expanded its service, shares his thought on the company culture, growth, decision making, sales and marketing, jobs of a founder, the state of aamarPay today and its ambition going forward, and much, much more.

Future Startup: How did you come up with the idea of AamarPay? How did you put together the resources initially and launched AamarPay? An

Ishtiaque Sarwar: I first thought about aamarPay in 2012. I launched an ecommerce platform called E-biponon at the time. Quite early days of ecommerce. To solve the payment problem of ecommerce, I tried to launch aamarPay together with E-biponon. I didn’t have enough knowledge about the domain and was not connected with the right people. It did not happen. But I became quite fascinated with the idea. I could see that there was (and is) a huge opportunity to serve people in the payment space. I spent the next two years, from 2012 to 2014, gathering resources and developing an understanding of the payment market. Around 2014, I hired a web developer to work on the first version of aamarPay. We managed to build an initial version but it was not workable. I did not give up. 

In 2015, I raised a small seed investment of tk. 2.5 lakh and started working on the platform once again. We eventually managed to launch the platform in 2015. This time we had a workable platform, but it was not good enough. It was not working as well as it should have. We did not have any traction in 2015. 

In 2016, I hired a developer with experience in the payment domain since my team did not have any experience in building payment products. Around this time, I met M. Asif Rahman bhai. We raised another round of seed money towards the end of 2016 from him. We used that money to build the second version of the aamarPay platform and launch it. 

Between the end of 2016 and mid-2017, we ran several trials and errors to test our system. From the middle of 2017, we started to push a bit in the market and get some traction. We managed some tk. one crore transaction in 2017. Since then we have grown quite consistently. We did not raise any further investment. We are now exploring funding opportunities as we see there are opportunities to build serious business in the space. We had some 50 merchants on our platform in the first year. By the end of the second year, it grew to 200 merchants. In 2018, we saw excellent growth. In 2019, our transaction grew three folds. 

While we started 2020 strong, we went through a difficult few months at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. However, we managed to recover and get back to growth within a short time. Throughout 2020, we have worked hard to improve our overall system. 

We are currently a team of 22 people, of which 8 people are in tech, about 8 people in sales and partnership, and the remaining of the teamwork in finance and management, and logistics.

We started out of a tiny office. We are in an office of 1500 sq ft and soon will be moving to an even bigger office.

We now have 892 merchants on our platform. We plan to grow the number to 1000+ merchants by March 2021. We currently manage between tk. 60 lakh to one crore transactions monthly. Around BDT 7-8 crores transaction annually. The number is growing every month.

Mr. Ishtiaque Sarwar with Alibaba's Fellowship participants, 4th from left in front row

Last year, I went to China on a fellowship from Alibaba. We were the only fintech company from Bangladesh. It was an excellent opportunity to see the Chinese fin-tech ecosystem firsthand. It has deepened my understanding of the vertical. I had the opportunity to pitch in several events there. I received some great suggestions. One common advice was getting into the B2C market besides our B2B. 

Returning from China, we decided to launch a bill payment platform and a consumer-facing platform. Initially, we wanted to call it AamarApp. But we later decided to change it to the aamarPay app. 

We started working on the aamarPay app towards the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. We eventually did a soft launch of the app in August 2020. You can now use the aamarPay app for mobile top-ups, pay bills for different services, booking bus tickets, making donations to select organizations, book hotels, shopping, etc. The app has engagement features such as games that you can use for free. aamarPay app is the first super-app from a payment gateway. We are taking advantage of our payment gateway technology and using that as a backend to power the app. The app is not a wallet. We don’t hold money or save your information. It does two things. It aggregates essential services, we want to increase this number of services, and it makes it easy for our users to purchase and make payments for all these services. 

Amid the pandemic, we launched a QR payment system called AamarPay QR with an ambition to get into retail offline payment. You can use the aamarPay app and QR to make the payment offline. Simply download the aamarPay app, you can make offline payments by scanning QR codes through our app. It is simple: you scan the AamarPay QR code with the aamarPay app, it takes you to a link and you get an OTP in your mobile number, you enter the OTP, and payment is done.  

We launched our super app on 19 August 2020. We are the first payment gateway to launch a super app despite our various limitations. Our app users can pay bills for various services such as cable TV operators, Dhaka WASA, Titash Gas, etc. And we are working to add more services. The app is the front end while the aamarPay payment gateway works as the backend. We are not a wallet. We don’t store money in the app. When you transact through the aamarPay app, AamarPay Payment Gateway facilitates these transactions. 

aamarPay is working on three segments: B2B payment gateway, which empowers ecommerce merchants and retailers, AamarPay QR, where we work with offline merchants, and aamarPay super-app.

We have added grocery shopping in the app. aamarPay app users can shop groceries in nine districts of Bangladesh, a result of our partnership with Khaidai Today, a grocery delivery platform that is available on the aamarPay app. 

Facebook merchants can get their payments through the aamarPay app. Payments can be made through both mobile banking services and ATM cards. We’ve added games to our app to improve user engagement. We have added on-demand repairing services to the app such as AC installation and servicing, you can book these services from our app. You can currently donate to the Save the People Foundation, Ahar, and Bidyanado Foundation through the aamarPay app.

AamarPay QR is for offline retail payments. You scan and pay. We introduced a scan Menu feature for restaurants amid the coronavirus pandemic where you could scan the menu using the aamarPay app and place orders without touching anything. 

The app has all the common features such as you can see the payment history, order history, statement, privacy policy, and usage data in the app. In the future, our users will be able to pay water bills, gas bills, book movie tickets and air tickets from the aamarPay app. We plan to add schools and educational institutions in the coming days. 

B2C and retail businesses require large investments. Since we are a bootstrapped company, it is difficult for us to achieve scale in these markets. But we are marching ahead. 

The AamarPay app is our highest priority. We are in the process of raising investments. We are in conversation with several investors. We are also registering AamarPay in Singapore since it makes raising investment easier. 

We are currently 100% focused on fintech. We continue to provide IT solutions from Soft Tech Innovation Limited. Since we have a tech team for our payment gateway, we continue to provide web development services. It sits well with our current operation and allows us to generate additional revenue. A recent valuation of aamarPay valued us at US$7.8 million. 

We are the first payment gateway to launch an app. That doesn’t mean that we have shifted our focus from B2B to B2C. B2B remains our priority. Our consumer business is not separate from our payment gateway business. We want to explore the market and find opportunities to serve our customers better.

We are working on several new features that we plan to add in the coming months such as Buy Now, Pay Later. We are working to launch Microloan Facilities in collaboration with Financial Institutions. We will add loyalty programs, reward points, etc in the coming days so that our users can take advantage of these features.  

We are in the process of getting a PSO license, which we hope we will get in the next few months if the Bangladesh Bank authority finds everything okay with our operation. We are also in the process of PCI DSS certification. Once we get the PCI-DSS certification, we will be able to store card data securely. 

In B2B, we are focusing on the education sector, where we are looking to collaborate with schools and educational institutions, where they could use our system to collect fees from students and manage payment. 

We are investing in our people to equip them to tackle the challenges of this market. We train our people regularly to upskill them. We are now hiring people with experience of working in the payment sector. 

We plan to improve our QR code system. We plan to invest in growing our business in retail. We see there is a huge opportunity if we could enable our users to pay offline through our app while buying groceries from the local bazaar.

We’ve built an IOT based prototype with a GSM antenna called Rapid Bus for bus companies. Using the Rapid Bus device, bus companies can automate fare collection. Customers will pay using the aamarPay app. Customers will be able to buy credit on a weekly or monthly basis and use the credit to pay for the city bus tickets. We are looking to collaborate with the government on this.

We have largely bootstrapped aamarPay. We have invested some BDT 2-2.5 crore in the company over the past few years. We invested our revenue from aamarPay and our web and tech services business into growing AamarPay. But fin-tech remains a difficult market and you can only go so far bootstrapping. 

Future Startup: These are some fascinating works. When you started your business in 2017, there were other payment gateways in the market. How did you get users in the early days?

Sarwar: We did not have any marketing budget, to begin with. The initial few clients came through my network. Then we predominantly grew through word of mouth. Although we started small and did not have many resources, as a team we have always ensured that we serve our customers well. When you serve your customers well and make them happy, they usually help you get more customers through word of mouth.

We made some tweaks as well at the time such as connecting Muthofun and AamarPay and allowing people to send free confirmation SMS if they used aamarPay. As a result, whenever a transaction takes place from a user's ID we send an SMS to the user and the merchant. Our merchants liked these small changes. 

Customer obsession along with these small tweaks allowed us to achieve excellent growth. Between 2019 and 2020, we experienced 96% year-on-year growth. 

Future Startup: What were the major challenges in those early days?

Sarwar: In the beginning, one of the major challenges was pricing. We were a small player with quite insignificant transactions. Banks used to charge us more than the other established payment gateways. As a result, the price we were offering to my users was higher than other established players in the market. It was a challenge in the early days. 

As our transaction volume increased, banks lowered their charge gradually allowing us to bring our rate for users down as well. 

Today, we offer competitive rates similar to every other established player in the market. We are now among the top three players in the payment gateway space. 

Future Startup: That’s an excellent story of persistence. 

Sarwar: Despite limitations, we’ve been offering a reasonable price. We made it easy for users to take our service. 

From day one, we have made it a priority to offer excellent support to our customers. We ensured that basics are covered well. We lacked some additional features such as we did not have an EMI feature before, now we have. But we compensated for those limitations with excellent service. 

We are now looking to find new growth opportunities. For example, we are working to partner with the garment factories where they could use aamarPay to pay salaries and handle transactions paying a small commission of 0.5%.

We have resorted to innovation to gain a strategic advantage in the market. Using innovative thinking, introducing useful features, and paying greater attention to customer support has helped us to grow. 

Future Startup: How does the payment gateway work?

Sarwar: Suppose Future Startup is our client. You are buying something from Future Startup, you go to their website, see the price, descriptions, terms, and conditions. You choose the product/service you want to buy, you’ll see the terms and conditions before checking out. When you click on check out you’ll be directed to the payment page, that’s where we come in, you are now on our payment gateway page where you see several payment methods such as card payment, MFS, etc. You choose the method you want to use and complete the necessary steps to make the payment. Once you complete the transaction, we send an SMS to both the merchant and the customer that the payment has been completed. That’s the entire process. 

We then process the payment to the merchants a couple of times every week. The payment directly goes to the merchant’s bank account. We charge a small fee per transaction and the bank takes a small fee per transaction. 

We have an aamarPay merchant app for our merchants where they could see all the information related to their account such as transfer, settlement, etc in the app.

We are a PSO (Payment System Operator-applied). It is a separate license from the Bangladesh Bank for payment gateway companies. We have a NOC from the Bangladesh Bank to operate as a payment gateway. We have applied for a PSO license and we are hopeful that we’ll get the license in the next 3-5 months. 

Our consumer app, aamarPay app, is not a wallet. It uses our payment gateway as its backend. We are capable of launching an e-wallet anytime by fulfilling regulatory requirements. We’ll need a PSP license for that. We have the ambition to get there eventually, but for now, we want to focus on our existing business. 

Future Startup: Suppose I’m a merchant who is interested in taking your service. How do I take your service? Could I register online and set things up virtually? 

Sarwar: Yes, you can register online. Simply go to the aamarPay website’s registration option, give your details, and fulfill the requirements, we will get back to you and get you onboarded. 

We do offline onboarding as well, where people reach out to us, fill up our forms and our people set things up. Sometimes people send us an email asking about the registration process, we help them to register. If you want to integrate a payment gateway into your website, you need to have a trade license or have to be a legal entity that can accept payment in Bangladesh. We require these documents and then we go on to integrate payment gateway into your system.

The product you are selling has to be legal. You can’t sell anything illegal. Once a potential merchant sends us their NID, and legal documents, we verify them and make sure that everything is in place. Once you are verified, you choose one package from our packages and then we on-board you. Then the merchant runs the integration test and if the outcome is affirmative, then he can start transactions.

Future Startup: How much do you charge for your service?

Sarwar: We have several packages for different target groups such as educational institutions, enterprises, B2B, etc. Our one-time fee ranges from tk. 4000-15000. The transaction fee is higher for packages where one-time pay is less. If you pay, suppose tk. 4000, your transaction fee will be higher than if you pay a 15,000 one-time fee. 

Merchants can complete the whole process of registration from our website including the payment. Then we onboard them after verifying their identification and other legal necessities. 

Future Startup: What is your transaction fee?

Sarwar: We take a transaction fee of 2.3% to 3.25 per transaction, which is when the transaction is done using cards. For mobile financial services, it is between 1.6% to 2.1%.

Future Startup: Could you give us a synopsis of the current payment gateway market i.e. how big is the market, major players and how do you see the market evolving in the coming years?

Sarwar: The market is about tk. 20,000 crore annually, of which tk. 15,000 is ecommerce and the rest is other services. Then there is the utility payment, which is around tk. 6500 crore per year. The ecommerce market is likely to grow in the coming days as more people come online and get used to shopping online. 

Though we have quite a bit of competition, it is good for both the companies and the market. Competition accelerates growth and innovation. 

There are 4-5 top players in the market right now and new players are entering the market. Competitive pressure is likely to grow in the coming months and you have to offer something unique to survive.

Future Startup: Is there any security concern that the merchants and the customers should know while using the payment gateway system?

Sarwar: Our system is fully secured. We carry out fraud detection to prevent any fraudulent activity in our system. Since we don’t store any data, there are very limited security issues. It is all related to the banks. 

Future Startup: Generally speaking, as a PSO you aggregate available payment options and enable merchants to accept payment from customers using any available payment methods. Now many MFS companies such as bKash are directly working with merchants, where merchants can directly accept bKash payment, and consumers, since bKash has an excellent market penetration, are also happy to pay using bKash. Do you see this as a competitive challenge for payment gateways? If a particular payment method becomes exceedingly powerful, will it reduce your relevance in the market? 

Sarwar: This is a major challenge for us. As payment companies go directly to merchants, we will lose market share. I think there needs to be regulatory clarity in terms of the role of payment gateways as well as the role of individual payment services such as bKash, etc. Now everyone is working directly with the merchants as well as with us.

Future Startup: In the US and now in many other markets, you can pay directly using Stripe or other payment solutions. 

Sarwar: That’s an interesting way to look into it. But having a payment gateway makes sense because you have all the options to make payment. Moreover, we are a completely different market compared to the States.

Being aggregators, I believe we have certain upsides in the market. We make it easier for both the merchants and the consumers. What we need in my opinion is innovation. We have to innovate and improve our service to be competitive. If we could do that we are a much superior solution than other available options. 

Future Startup: Where do you see the payment gateway market is going in the coming years? 

Sarwar: The market will grow super competitive. Innovation will be critical. Unless you innovate as a company, you will not survive. . Instead of confining yourself within the traditional payment gateway services, it would be useful to introduce new services and features such as vendor payment, mass payment, etc. Indian market could offer an interesting case study for us in terms of innovating in the payment gateway space. 

Future Startup: Since you are a payment aggregator, you have some competitive advantage over many other payment service providers, which makes sense. How many users do you have in the aamarPay app and aamarPay QR code?

Sarwar: We just did the soft launch for the app. We currently have around 200-300 users in the app.

We have given our QR code payment system to 50-60 merchants. Our target is to grow the number to 200-300 merchants within the first quarter of this year. Growing our QR code payment and strengthening our retail presence is a priority. 

We are working on the aamarPay app and we plan to launch a second version of the app in the second quarter of 2021. 

Future Startup: Suppose I use aamarPay app and want to pay my electricity bill. The payment gateway is for merchants, not for consumers, how does this work? 

Sarwar: You go to bill payment options, select the company you want to pay to, click on checkout, it shows you a couple of options, you choose the one you want to pay via, and it is done. You can pay via bKash, card, or other available payment options. 

Although payment is done by a consumer, it is handled by our payment gateway on the backend. To that partners that are available on our app can accept payment using our payment gateway. 

Since we have all the payment options for customers, say you can pay using bKash, or card, whatever a customer has and prefer to use to make a payment. 

Future Startup: You are not an e-wallet.

Sarwar: Suppose you are an aamarpay app user and you want to do mobile recharge using the app. The process of doing that is quite simple. First, you select the mobile operator, select postpaid or prepaid, you choose the amount you want to top up, then you click on the “Pay Now” option which then takes you to the payment gateway where you’ll see multiple payment methods. You choose the option you want to pay using, and you are done. The entire transaction is recorded in the app. You also receive an order statement once the transaction is completed.

Our service brings together all the payment options you have in the market in a single place. Payment gateways are aggregators of payment services - you have all the payment options in one place. In aamarPay app, you have all the payment options in one place. 

One limitation of the aamarPay app is that since we are not a wallet, we can’t store money or payment information. Every time a user has to enter their payment credentials anew, which can be a hassle. But that’s how our process works. Every time you are directed to the payment gateway and you make payment entering your credentials. If we have the wallet permission, it will be a lot easier to offer superior service to our customers.

Future Startup: Do you take commissions from your merchants who are on your app as well?

Sarwar: When you book a bus ticket from the aamarPay app, the service is provided by busbd.com on the backend. We have a collaboration with busbd.com and under that, they provide the service. Usually, what happens is that we charge busbd.com a small commission on the sales we generate. This is the same with every merchant in our app, for whom we generate orders. 

Future Startup: Suppose an ecommerce site uses aamarPay as a payment gateway on their website. Now that you have aamarPay app, Ajkerdeal also sells through the aamarPay app, which is again service from aamarPay and uses the same payment gateway. In that case, how will you charge Ajkerdeal, will you charge both commission and payment gateway fee? 

Sarwar: You mean whether we will charge them both our payment gateway fee, which is 2% per transaction as well as a commission for selling through the Aamarpay app.

Suppose the ecommerce site has integrated with me to use the payment gateway on the website. If they use our app then there will be two modalities: one for the website and another for the app. 

For the sales they make through the aamarPay app, we will not charge them the payment gateway transaction fee. It’ll be on me. Instead, I will take a commission for generating sales. When I use my platform, I’ll give the best rate to maximize my revenue.

If the ecommerce site only uses the payment gateway but doesn't use the app, then they will have to pay us only the payment gateway transaction fees.

Future Startup: In a way, this could compete with other payment options such as bKash quite effectively even without a wallet. Do you have regulatory challenges there? What are the apparent challenges here in competing with players such as bKash? 

Sarwar: We have discussed with the regulatory authority and they said there is no problem unless we are offering wallet service, which we are not.

Future Startup: Do you see any regulatory challenges in the long-run because MFS and other players will eventually complain?

Sarwar: They already have. I think there needs to be a balance in the payment market where there are currently not many options available to consumers. We think there need to be products that can offer quality alternatives to customers. 

Future Startup: What are the priorities for 2021? 

Sarwar: Our priority for 2021 is our B2B platform. We plan to grow it significantly this year. Then we want to grow our offline QR code business. 

aamarPay app is the second priority for us, at least for now. We see we have a huge opportunity there and we have plans to build a separate team for the app, but it is not a top priority at this point. 

Future Startup: How are you doing in terms of sustainability as a business? 

Sarwar: We are breaking-even. We are a healthy business, that much I can say. 

Future Startup: You mentioned you are in the middle of a fundraising drive? 

Sarwar: We are in discussion with several investors.

Future Startup: That was the last question regarding aamarPay. You have built an excellent product and operation without making much noise. Do you want to add anything else? 

Sarwar: Our goal is to become a leading player in the payment space. Once we get the PSO license our valuation will go up 10 times. 

Future Startup: I now want to explore a bit about how you operate as a founder and leader. What is your management philosophy?

Sarwar: Our people enjoy a lot of freedom and we offer quite a bit of flexibility to allow our people to design their work and life. My approach is rather working together, mentoring, and guiding people instead of pushing people to do things. 

I try to motivate people and help them navigate the challenges of work and be productive. I think when people are motivated, they will do anything. If they are not motivated, nothing will work. I also think incentives are critical for human motivation. We give rewards to the best performers, we hang out and celebrate events. 

Structurally, we have ahead for each department, who are responsible for their team. Our overall organizational approach is inspiring and motivating people. 

Our employee retention rate is quite stable. We provide free food, medical leave, and maternity leave. We have everything a decent corporate system can have.

Future Startup: How does your marketing and sales work?

Sarwar: Our commercial division is divided into two parts. One is sales and acquisition, whose job is to reach out to merchants, generating leads and close deals, etc. Second is the growth and partnership strategy team, whose job is building partnerships and developing and executing growth strategies. 

Future Startup: What are some mistakes you made in your journey that you think other founders should try to avoid?

Sarwar: It is critical to have the right people in the right place. Then you have to provide incentives for people so that they are motivated to work hard. 

I’ve made several mistakes, I have been quite defensive when it comes to growth and pushing our ventures. As a result, I didn’t give much effort. 

Bad investment is one of the mistakes I made as well.

I came up with several other business ideas that didn’t work. MuthoFun and aamarPay became successful. Focus and persistence are critical if you want to do well in this trade. 

Future Startup: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from your journey so far?

Sarwar: I’ve become more of a people person. I spend time with people. Instead of making them work, I try to inspire and motivate them to work. It has changed our culture and improved our retention rate. When your people own their job, you don’t have to manage them anymore. 

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https://futurestartup.com/2020/08/17/lifes-work-nizam-uddin-wedevs/

On weDevs, Growing a Global Software Company, and Good Work With Nizam Uddin, Co-Founder and CEO, weDevs

By Future Startup

|

Aug 17, 2020

weDevs CEO and co-founder Md Nizam Uddin walks us through his early life, how his childhood and upbringing continue to shape his life and work, his path to entrepreneurship, gives us a peek behind the scenes of his company, and discusses his philosophy on doing good work, the state of weDevs today and its ambition going forward, how weDevs operates, the art of growing a software company, talks about the challenges of being a founder, building a positive culture, dealing with challenges and stress, and reflects on relying on Allah and the concept of perpetual good deeds in Islam, making a positive difference, and learning to stay productive while living a good life and so much more.

Future Startup: Could you please tell us about your background i.e. your childhood, education, career, and your path to entrepreneurship?

Nizam Uddin: I was born in Jagannathpur village of Chatmohar thana in Pabna district. Now there is a touch of modernity but in my childhood, this place was undeveloped and unprivileged where electricity came in 2003. My family was well-off though, Alhamdulillah. My Grandpa was a reputed person and remains on till these days in that entire village. He was a teacher, a scholar, and hugely popular. 

My father was born after my eight aunts - he was so pampered by all of them that he could not study much. Although he couldn’t study much, he had a strong desire to give me the best education. The best teachers in the area would come and teach me at home. Also, all the teachers in our primary school who came from outside stayed in our house. As a child, I saw that at least one or two teachers always stayed in our house and they used to teach me academic lessons. So, although I am from an undeveloped village, I had access to good education, Alhamdulillah. Some of my teachers in those early days have changed my life in more than one way. One teacher, named Abdur Rahim, who taught me from class one to five, encouraged me not to memorize math rather understand the underlying concepts, which I think has positively affected my life to a great extent.

I didn't have any dreams of my own till class five. My parents never said you have to be a doctor or an engineer. My father just told me to be a good person and achieve good academic results. After getting a scholarship in class five, largely owing to the strong desire of my father, I got into Pabna Zilla School and got a seat in the school hostel. The turning point of my life commenced here, Alhamdulillah. 

At that time the communication system from our village to Pabna was broken. It was tough to travel. For example, first, we had to walk 20/25 minutes, then get on a boat to come to a place in 40/45 minutes, and from there we had to come to Pabna in another 40/50 minutes by tempo. Now, Alhamdulillah, you can go there by car. As I was saying, after getting admitted into Pabna Zilla School, my life took a turn. I started to see my dreams unfold and was gradually developing a conviction that I could make them come true. 

Since I had developed the habit of reading from my childhood, I didn’t miss the golden opportunity to start reading at the Annada Govinda Public Library when I came to Pabna. At school, I was in the morning shift. After class, I would go to the library after prayers and lunch. I read books on many subjects. There I came to read the first science magazine and came to know about NASA for the first time. As I read these magazines, I began to dream that one day I would become a scientist. I used to do small science experiments on my own. 

I first learned about the internet reading a magazine. In 2001, I learned how to use the internet in a cyber cafe. I was in class seven at the time and I spent 300 taka on that first visit to the cyber cafe. From then on, I used to use the internet for 20 taka an hour from the money my father used to spend on me and I used to go to cybercafes and sit on NASA's website. Needless to say, many people usually come from the countryside to the city and couldn’t keep up. Alhamdulillah, this was not a problem for me. Until class ten, my position in the class was within one digit. The habit of reading hard and understanding other subjects including math helped me a lot.

After finishing SSC, I moved to Dhaka and got into Government Science College. Immediately after admission, I came across a creative brochure of Udvash. I was immediately attracted and eventually took admission to Udvash. The class of Sohag Bhaia, the founder of Udvash, moved me greatly. I could not have imagined that science could be explained in such a beautiful way. My process of thinking was seriously influenced by Sohag Bhai. Not only his excellent pedagogy but also motivational short speeches in class brought a huge change in my life. I also learned from him how to love my motherland unconditionally as all owe it to a great deal. From then till now I am a super fan of Sohag Bhai and he has been my mentor throughout all these years. I still go to his place for intellectual discussion and inspiration. 

The desire to become an engineer instead of a scientist became stronger during this period as I was attending classes in Udvash. Gradually, I developed a strong desire to study computer science at BUET. But after coming to Dhaka, I could not cope with the new weather. At first, it was jaundice, then chickenpox, and all in all I was sick for a long time. Despite these physical challenges, my preparation was not bad but during the final exam, I got seriously ill and could not attend any practical exam. Thus the result came out very bad. BUET, far from it, I was not even eligible to sit for the admission exam in other engineering universities. With this result, I went after thinking about admission to a regular public university. Finally, by the grace of Allah Ta'ala, I got into the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of Rajshahi University. 

Upon admission, I set an ambitious target to compete as a world finalist in ICPC. Atiq, Asik, and I teamed up together and started solving the UVA problems. We participated in several contests and started doing fairly well. There was a clash between the students of different political groups in the university and our academic sessions got tangled up. 

When we were in our second year, Tareq asked me to participate in the soft expo in Dhaka. I agreed without a second thought and we participated in BASIS Soft Expo 2010 with the project of Kausar Bhai, a senior in our department. The project was a Braille board with which the blind could read from the computer. We got the Best IT Innovation Award. Taking awards from the minister, getting featured in good newspapers inspired my young mind tremendously. I was at the expo for 5 days which turned the corner of my life. I attended many seminars, talked to a lot of people, and came to know a lot of initiatives, and got to know a lot of details about entrepreneurship. 

From one of the seminars, I learned that entrepreneurship is all about solving the problems of the society which will have a huge positive impact on the family, society, and the country. I kept thinking a lot about these things and a feeling came across my mind that this is what I want to do. This also coincided with a lesson I received from my family, which is to devote as much to Sadaqa Jariya (Islamic way of helping people) as possible in life, with which I find a broad resemblance that being an entrepreneur would do the most. 

From then on, I started looking for problems which are possible for me to solve with the technology and which will be useful to people. Many thanks to Tareq for taking me to the soft expo. If it was not for Tareq’s encouragement to attend the expo, my life’s trajectory could have been very different. 

The first problem I found was the broken education system. I thought to myself that my friends who are studying computer science are making computers into cassette players - there is truly a lot more good work to be done besides songs, dramas, and movies. I don't even think about it. To solve this problem, I tried to collect 500 gigabytes of video tutorials with my friend Tareq and spread them all over Bangladesh, along with building a physical training center, online training center, a forum, and a marketplace like Upwork. It was inaugurated in July 2011 by the then state minister Yafes Usman and Munir Hasan Sir. Earlier, however, I set up a news portal with my friend BM Sharif to help university students get news related to them, which I later shut down. Later in 2012, we started weDevs. So that’s how I came to be an entrepreneur.

Future Startup: How has your childhood and upbringing shaped your work and worldview? 

Nizam Uddin: As I mentioned earlier, when I was young I did not have any particular dream of my own. That changed when I enrolled in Pabna Zilla School. The Pabna Zilla School changed my outlook towards life and my first dream was to be a scientist. At college, I wanted to be an engineer. Finally, after attending the soft expo I decided to be an entrepreneur. 

Growing up, my family has been an important influence in shaping my worldview. My parents were not highly educated but Alhamdulillah, they did not lack religious knowledge and wisdom. They paid huge attention to shaping my morals. They emphasized and taught me at a young age that I must surrender my wish to Allah and do things that Allah approves of. They taught me to help others or at least do no harm to others. And follow and practice the Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Religious teachings are still given the highest priority in my family. 

While my parents tried to instill certain values and teaching in me, my father has also given me a lot of freedom. He never forced anything upon me. When needed, he taught me instead of forcing me. Nudged me towards doing the right things. But he never pushed me. It has helped me to grow up independent and learn to think for myself. 

Similarly, my experience of working with different people in different environments as I was away from family since class six, my father's efforts to have me study in the best schools, and my freedom to make my own decisions have played an important role in becoming who I’m today. 

Future Startup: When and how did you get started with weDevs? What motivated you to start weDevs? 

Nizam Uddin: weDevs is not my first startup. I first became interested in entrepreneurship in 2010. Afterward, I tried to identify problems that could be solved using technology. First, I started working on a news portal with my friend BM Sharif aimed at campus news and students. Later in 2011, I started working with my friend, Tareq, on education. We provided physical training to 60/70 people, provided free video tutorials to a lot of people, along with online training and a freelancing marketplace. But we had to shut it down and the experience was not particularly good. 

In 2012, I and Tareq started weDevs in a rented house in Rajshahi. Tareq has already been working with WordPress and created a few popular plugins. His WP User Frontend plugin was very popular and we released a premium version in early 2013. 

It is worth mentioning here that Tareq originally started weDevs as an Engineer's forum with a few seniors of our CSE department from the first year in 2008 but stopped after a few months. I did not have an idea about entrepreneurship at the time. Later after finishing Honors, Tareq and I moved to Dhaka in late 2013 and hired a few employees and started weDevs full time, officially and dedicatedly. 

weDevs founders Nizam and Tareq at BASIS Outsourcing Award (from left to right)

Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of weDevs? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months to one year of weDevs and your journey were like. 

Nizam Uddin: weDevs came into being as a company, with a plugin developed by Tareq. We had a good number of free users of the plugin, and when we released pro-version we got a good number of paid customers and our revenue went up to 8 to 10 thousand dollars per month, Alhamdulillah. In the first year, Tareq and I did everything ourselves. Later we faced challenges with other businesses such as Enzaime Limited.

Future Startup: What were some major challenges you faced in the early years and how did you deal with them?   

Nizam Uddin: Alhamdulillah, we were lucky that we had a good income from the beginning. As a result, we did not have to worry about finance. 

Since all our customers were international, the biggest challenge was the payment gateway. First Mahi Bhai and later Asif Bhai helped us with the payment gateway. 

Since we had no previous job experience and neither of us comes from a business background, we had no idea about how a company works or how people run it. As a result, we would face regular obstacles. This continues to be the reality even these days. We try to solve them using our understanding, making mistakes and learning. When we could solve a problem, we seek advice from more experienced people around us. 

One particular challenge that continues to exacerbate us is a lack of good resources who are driven. 

Most importantly, my limitations and lack of skills were a challenge as well in the early days. I initially lacked many skills required to run the business. I lacked leadership qualities and had problems with handling different issues that I learned and am still learning. I believe an entrepreneur should not blame others rather he should come up with his strategies to address problems. 

Our products have combinedly been downloaded more than 5 million times.

Future Startup: How did you grow weDevs in the early days? How did you find your first 10 customers and grow from there? What are some strategies and tactics you used in the early years? 

Nizam Uddin: As I mentioned earlier, we had a good number of free users of our product. When we launched our pro version, it did not take us long to get a good number of paid customers. 

We didn't go into any paid marketing in the early days. Our main strategy was to offer high-quality products with a stable version and great customer support. 

These two strategies have helped us to achieve good conversions. We also used and received promotions from many influencers in the community. Afterward, we got listed on many blogs. All the traffic was organic.

Team weDevs

Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of weDevs today in terms of products and services you offer, the number of users you have, the size of your business, etc? 

Nizam Uddin: At the moment, weDevs has 9 large and revenue-generating products and 2 services. Some of these products have more than 15 to 20 add-ons. For example, our ERP where HR, CRM, Accounting are the main modules as well as 22 other addons like payroll, recruitment, attendance, inventory, etc are also available. 

Our most popular product is DOKAN, which is the world's No. 1 Marketplace Solution. About 50,000 Marketplaces actively use DOKAN around the world. Even the Bootstrap marketplace is run with DOKAN. 

More than 10,000 companies run their day-to-day operations with our ERP solution. More than 9,000 teams around the world manage their projects with our project management solutions. Apart from these popular products, more than 2 lakh websites use our plugins. 

Our products have been downloaded more than 5 million times. Last year, all our websites combinedly had about 3.5 million traffic in total, got more than 300 customer reviews, more than 90 thousand customer replies and we created about 500 contents, Alhamdulillah.

Apart from this, Wedevs has 3 different companies such as Enzaime in the health sector, Tedfo in Export Marketing, and Sokrio in field-force management.

Future Startup: How much has weDevs evolved over the past years i.e. if you compare weDevs today with weDevs from early days? 

Nizam Uddin: In the last five years, we have made huge changes and improvements in every area of our operations. We can start with recruitment. We used to hire people by only one interview in the past. As a result, we made a lot of hiring mistakes. We have now changed that. We, Tareq and I, still interview people like before but it is more like the final or second final interview. A candidate has to pass 6 or 7 other exams to reach this interview. We now have a very capable HR team that handles all people related work that we used to handle ourselves before. 

We used to do a lot of micromanaging before. It has changed over the past few years. We now have a strong mid-management team that is capable of handling any issues. If only seven people of this mid-management team are managed, 80+ teams can be managed well. Now there is a beautiful evaluation system with which we can judge everyone. 

We have a team of good product managers who are constantly thinking about products and innovations that were not there before. In terms of facilities for people, we have added a long list of benefits for our people such as provident fund, gratuity, medical fund, marriage bonus, etc. We have started annual profit-sharing with everyone in the team, Alhamdulillah. 

We have improved our customer support. The scope of support has increased a lot. We now provide 24/7 customer support. We did not have a proper marketing team before, now we have a content and marketing team of around 30 people. 

We have built systems and our management structure is much stronger than before. I have evolved as well and I now make fewer mistakes myself. Everyone has their sprint which means there are goals and there is accountability. Alhamdulillah, there has been a huge improvement in all aspects of user acquisition, revenue, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, etc.

Future Startup: weDevs has several successful products and you have continuously been investing in developing new products. How do all your products and businesses connect? How does your operation work? What is your business model? How do you generate revenue? 

Nizam Uddin: weDevs has a range of products for several sectors, from developers to marketers, from enterprise solutions to website management, and more. It has been a good strategic move on our part as we have several revenue sources. 

On the other hand, a big problem is maintaining the focus. To solve the problem, we run each product as a separate startup. For example, every product has a product manager, dedicated developers, someone in charge of marketing who is called the product champion, someone from the content team who is called the site champion, a support ninja from the support team, business development, design, and other teams are shared though. The lead of each department is assigned to make sure all the tasks are completed effectively and efficiently. 

Our business model is freemium. We have a free version of each product and a pro version with more premium features. We have 2 products with monthly subscriptions and the rest are with annual subscriptions. We generate revenue from the pro versions of the products.

weFamily Day

Future Startup: How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at weDevs? 

Nizam Uddin: The weDevs family currently has more than 80 members. We also have three different startups that are operating as independent companies with a team of about 50 people there.

weDevs is a family in terms of its culture. There is no boss here. Everyone is brothers and sisters. When it comes to culture, first of all, we have to talk about our recruitment process. 

The most important things when hiring someone are whether they have entrepreneurial qualities, whether they have passion, whether they are interested in learning, and whether they fit with our culture. 

We do not put a lot of emphasis on his/her educational background. Instead, we look at the burning desire or passion for what they do. In weDevs, you will find many great programmers with no background in computer science rather in statistics, physics, literature, business administration, electrical engineering, and even in law. You will find the majority of our support, content, marketing team having a background in computer science or IT, and even in our HR team, you will find computer science graduates.

We strongly believe in teamwork. If you look at our name, weDevs, you will understand that we believe in ‘we’, not in ‘I’. There goes a saying that if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, then go together. 

We want to go far. If I am asked about the biggest achievement of weDevs in the last 6/7 years, then I would like to say that apart from about 50,000 active marketplaces, more than 10 thousand active ERP installations, 9 thousand active project management installations, we have a highly dedicated and motivated team.

We have a big handbook on our culture. In short, the culture of weDevs is based on mutual respect and trust, decision after discussion with everyone, ordering good deeds & forbidding evil deeds, sincerity, good behavior, justice, Cooperation, physical and human well-being, cleanliness, not backbiting and slander, 360-degree feedback, etc.

Besides, I would like to emphasize a few things:

Customers are at the heart of all we do.

Flexibility is more important to us than efficiency.

We do not measure anyone’s impact on the company by their designation but by their dedication.

Managers act as leaders not like bosses so they do not try to control other teammates.

We all believe each one is the owner of the company and work with honor.

Women’s comfort in the company is more important than that of men and the environment has been created to suit their work.

Strong disciplinary measures are taken when anyone hurts other's religious freedom. 

Now let's talk about how we evaluate ourselves. Our assessment is divided into three parts: performance curve, personality curve, and learning curve. Trying to be a good human being is the most important aspect of our evaluation process and, on top of that, everyone is highly encouraged to increase his/her domain knowledge. 

We believe that if anyone is an honest and good person and is willing to learn, then his performance will be outstanding, inshaAllah. We value efforts over results. 

We try to build some qualities in ourselves through various activities, which our education system was supposed to do for us. For example 1. Creating the ability to think 2. Creating a tendency to never give up 3. Creating self-confidence 4. Creating values

We invite family members of all the employees to weDevs' Family Day. Everyone gets a chance to get acquainted with each others’ family. We try to spread our dreams and beliefs in everyone's family as well. We think that not only those of us who work at the office matter but also their families matter: if we, from within the family, can continue with the same faith, then we will be able to reach our desired goal very easily, Inshallah.

To create a comfortable, healthy, and happy environment in the company and to make everyone feel relatively secure, whether it is financial standpoint or job security, Tareq and I always work on it and always remain careful not to harm anyone's rights. 

And that's how we dream of a culture that will make us the happiest company in the world, inshAllah. You can find a video on how we work in the office here.

We believe that if anyone is an honest and good person and is willing to learn, then his performance will be outstanding, inshaAllah. We value efforts over results. 

Future Startup: How have you attracted users and grown weDevs? Could you tell us about the strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth? 

Nizam Uddin: We use a Freemium Model with regards to our software products. We have a free version of each product. All our products are open source except our SaaS products. Everyone can see our code. This free open-source product is a great blessing for us, Alhamdulillah. 

First of all, we have never compromised on quality. Our excellence has been seen and celebrated by our customers. Since our inception, our customers have been happy with our products and praise the excellency of our products. We always develop products according to the needs of our customers. We worked on a few niches where we were the first, but later we also entered some crowded markets. 

Then we focus on customer support. We have a support team that is incredibly fast and responsible, Alhamdulillah. You will find more than a thousand reviews and ratings on various sites online which will help you understand the quality of support we provide. 

Let me share an incident from our early days. One day I came to see a lot of traffic from a site. Later I went to that site and saw a forum where one of our customers published a post about his satisfaction with our customer support. That customer was given a code snippet that saved him a few hundred dollars and saved a lot of time. We managed to build a good base of loyal customers through excellent customer service who referred us to others in the beginning, Alhamdulillah. 

Good ratings and reviews on various great sites such as WordPress.org, TrustPilot, G2Crowd, Capterra have helped a lot in our branding and boosting customer confidence. From the very beginning, we have maintained clean and necessary documentation which received the applause of our customers and helped many people get a clear idea about all the features before purchase. 

We regularly update our products with new exclusive features that give customers confidence that we are active in the market. Early on we started writing all the contents related to our product in our blog and started doing regular SEO which helped us to get a fair number of organic traffic. Many people would write blog posts about us on a variety of sites for the quality of the product and support which gave us a good number of traffic and sales. 

We do PRs on different good sites frequently. We would send out the necessary tips and tricks as a newsletter to our customers regularly that help us grow. 

I will finish the answer by sharing another very interesting finding inshallah. We notice that we are getting good traffic from the NULLED site. Since the product was very good and the price was a bit high for many and many customers do not want to spend money in the first place on products that will not work because the Internet is full of frauds so they would find these NULLED sites and install from there. Some of them used to buy a license of their own while others were forced to buy it when they were in trouble and could not get support. Following all these strategies, our sales are increasing, Alhamdulillah. We are still doing all these things and getting benefits and the scope for us has also increased.

In the first 2/3 years, we did not spend a single penny on paid marketing and there was no such digital marketing team. Below I discussed how our current marketing team works.

Typical Day at weDevs

Future Startup: What are the lessons you’ve learned in terms of growing a business, a software company in particular? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your growth journey? 

Nizam Uddin: Team. My experience is that your team can make or break your company. A super motivated team can change a company. Nothing great can be achieved alone. A motivated team of the right people in the right position can accelerate the growth of any company, which has happened in our case, Alhamdulillah.

Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid? 

Nizam Uddin: I have made many mistakes in my small entrepreneurial life. When we started the office in Dhaka, we invested in 4 more startups which caused a lot of distractions. We eventually closed them all later but losing your focus is always a terrible mistake. 

The deadliest mistakes would be our health startup. Although we did not have any expertise there, we had about 70 employees with no outside investment in that venture before we knew it. I gave priority to emotions over reality. We invested in that venture from our pocket for more than two and a half years, which drained my fund. We used up all the funds only to develop the product. We had some success like a Manthan award, got selected for SLUSH, and received excellent feedback from our users. 

We could eventually secure a good investment. But such a beautiful startup with so much hope and potential was ruined in just one afternoon due to some partnership problems. In the startup, I had another partner besides Tareq who was a good man in the heart. We had an excellent relationship. But we later realized that few things between us were vague and not written down, which later created misunderstandings and took a deadly turn leading to the demise of the company. 

For every entrepreneur, prioritize reality over emotion. Don’t rely solely on personal relationships, when it comes to partnerships, write everything down - what to do if the business has to shut down and what the divorce will look like if there is a partnership, etc. No matter how good the person or relationship is, everything has to be written down without any ambiguity.

Future Startup: How do your sales and marketing work? 

Nizam Uddin: As I mentioned before, we didn't have a proper marketing team for the first 2/3 years and we didn't spend a single penny on paid media. Now Alhamdulillah, we have a content marketing team of about 30 people and the scope of work has increased considerably. Needless to say, our sales team is not with the marketing team rather with the support team. Our entire support team works as a sales team. We now have 24/7 live chat and support in 3 shifts, Alhamdulillah. The main sales target of the sales and support team is to convert customers from live chats and pre-sales questions.

Content, Digital Marketing, Community and Business Development are some of the parts of our marketing team. There are one product champion and one site champion for each product from the content marketing team. The product champion is responsible for all kinds of digital marketing of that product and the site champion is responsible for all content published in the specific site. We have been following the AARRR model of Growth Hack Marketing for almost 3 years. We have customized the model to our needs. The AARRR model has five phases: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, and Referral.

In the Acquisition phase, we do various activities to bring the users to our site or the product page. In this phase, we do these tasks:

We connect with different bloggers, different influencers like youtube, and/or influencers from different parts of the world and try to get users or traffic from them.

We publish PRs in different presses.

We try to partner with different associations in different countries, related products or services, agencies, course instructors, various popular tools, payment gateways, etc.

We do video marketing and Reddit, Quora, Medium, Instagram marketing, etc.

We do a lot of branding related work in this phase.

We do keyword analysis and SEO related tasks in this phase.

We sponsor and attend many international events.

We also do a lot of other growth hack activities in user acquisition.

In the Activation phase, we try to persuade our users in performing any activity on our sites. The special tasks of this phase are:

We make viral content, quizzes, contests, and giveaways.

We create articles, ebooks, press releases, white papers, infographics, guides/tutorials, and masterclasses to educate users.

We make informative articles for Influencer, Community-related articles, Activity in forums, Events, Shared Value Marketing, Interactive content, Webinars, Case studies /Customer stories to inspire and convince users.

Based on user activity, we try to find out AHA moments and WOW Factors in this phase.

We work with WordPress.org reviews, Facebook reviews, Google My Business reviews, TrustPilot reviews, TrustRadius reviews, G2Crowd reviews, Capterra reviews, FinanceOnlines reviews, GetApp reviews and Collect testimonial for our site to inspire users and increase their buying confidence.

Besides all these, we also do a lot more activities in this phase

The purpose of the Retention phase is basically to bring our users or customers to the site or product and make them our recurring customers.

Customer retention is a very difficult task. Tasks below are what we do in this phase.

We try to find out the NPS score and do different activities accordingly.

We provide feature suggestions from the marketing team by analyzing the data that we keep when the customer leaves, analyzing the market, and competitors.

We don't think the work should be done just by software. We have seen that about 60% of the users do not renew their subscriptions the next year because they close the business for various reasons. If we talk about Dokan, the Marketplace is huge, so to run it fully, you need funds as well as the capacity to make strategies and execute. We are now creating resources for the customer to do everything from business plans to executions so that a business gets good guidance and can run the business smoothly and renew every year. We do all this work in this phase.

In addition to our clean and detailed documentation and tutorials, we regularly send them tips and tricks via newsletter.

We also have a community group on Facebook where we connect everyone who helps with retention.

We also do the work of translating in different languages in this phase. 

Apart from all these activities, there are also many other activities we do.

In the Revenue phase, we do various activities for the users to buy our products. E.g.

We collect emails from free users and send them a series of emails to convert to paid versions.

We do a variety of email marketing including Fail Order, Abandon Cart Email, etc.

We offer special offers on various occasions including Black Friday, Cyber Monday which helps us generate a good amount of revenue.

Now we do Google Search Ad, Display Ad, Video Ad Campaigns, Bing Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads.

We retarget custom audiences aggressively.

We also do a lot more, including how to reduce customer acquisition costs and increase customer lifetime value.

In the Referral phase, our main target is to turn our existing customer into advocates so that they invite others to buy our products. We also try to reach out to various agencies, influencers, marketers to promote our products.

We have a full phase affiliate program with about 800 affiliates. In this phase, we nurture our affiliates, provide them marketing materials, help to learn more about our products, and much more.

We have also launched our brand ambassador program this year, where we are hiring our representatives in different countries.

Future Startup: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building weDevs?

Nizam Uddin: I would mention two things. We have been lucky to generate good revenue from the beginning, which has helped us to achieve financial stability. We have excellent working chemistry and understanding between me and Tareq, which has been of tremendous help and finally, not having a third person on the board.

I wake up between 4 and 5 in the morning. If I go to bed late, I usually take a nap after Fajr prayer. I exercise a little in the morning, study, and prepare the instructions that I have to give to my teammates throughout the day. 

Future Startup: How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder? 

Nizam Uddin: Running a company is stressful. I have accepted that. 

When there is a problem in the company, first, I consider it as my leadership problem, then rely on Allah Ta'ala and begin to solve it. I try to solve every problem in the light of the Holy Quran and Hadith. 

One of us, Tareq and I, usually think through the problems positively and the other negatively and then decide through discussion. Sometimes I go to my mentor Sohag Bhai and sometimes to an Islamic scholar for suggestions. However, I am lucky about one thing, regardless of stress or tension, I can fall asleep in a few minutes, Alhamdulillah.

Future Startup: How do you stay productive and positive as a founder and CEO? What does a typical day of you look like? 

Nizam Uddin: I try to forgive everyone before I go to sleep every night and try to start the next day anew. There are very few people in the world who get the opportunity to work on what they love and start their day doing what they love. I feel lucky that I can start and finish my day doing what I love to do, Alhamdulillah. 

I work to please Allah, which helps me to stay motivated and productive.

I wake up between 4 and 5 in the morning. If I go to bed late, I usually take a nap after Fajr prayer. I exercise a little in the morning, study, and prepare the instructions that I have to give to my teammates throughout the day. 

I start the office with a standup meeting with our mid-management team at 10:30 am (Bangladesh time 8:30 am). Then we do a Product Manager standup. Throughout the day, I attend various meetings, interviews, job reviews, and problem-solving. When I have time, I invest in planning and research. 

Each day my target is to finish work by 8 pm. But it usually doesn't happen. I try to go to bed by 11 pm, but I don’t succeed there regularly either. 

Future Startup: What advice would you give to founders who are just starting?

Nizam Uddin: For those who are just starting out:

First, fix the dream. Make sure it is scalable. But always start small.

Begin with the end in mind. Before starting the business, decide what to do if you have to shut it down someday and what the divorce would look like if the partnership falls apart.

No matter how good your partners are and how strong your relationship is with them, make sure everything is written down with absolutely no ambiguity at all.

The company needs to create a comfortable, healthy, and happy environment for its people. 

Everyone in the company should feel relatively secure in terms of both financial benefits and job security. 

Everyone in the company has to believe in the vision and work with the same firm conviction. 

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https://futurestartup.com/2017/01/29/planeter-plans-lead-robotics-bangladesh-interview-rini-eshan-khushboo-b-m-rezaul-islam-rakib/

How Planeter Plans To Push Robotics Forward In Bangladesh: An Interview With Rini Eshan Khushboo and A.B.M. Rezaul Islam Rakib

By Future Startup

|

Jan 29, 2017

Robotics, IoT are among the most talked about topics in the world of technology these days. The case that robots will destroy our jobs has taken over the imagination of an entire generation.

In Bangladesh, however, we seldom find ourselves at par with these passionate discussions. It is hard to as well because our understanding of robotics starts and ends with these long distance discussions and also to our limited exposure to dummy robots made by amateur hobbyist university students.

That said, there are people doing important works in the field of robotics and IoT in Bangladesh, Planeter Limited is one of those companies that has been consistently working hard to push the boundary forward.

Started in 2012 as a passion project by Rini Eshan Khushboo and A.B.M. Rezaul Islam Rakib, two founders of the company, Planeter Limited has been working in designing and manufacturing robotics and IoT stuff, albeit in a limited scale, for commercial purposes and for researchers, robot hobbyists, and professionals and businesses.

Started as a proprietorship company teaching students robotics in Chittagong, the startup turned it into a private limited company in 2015 and scaled further into serious work of Robotics showing a dogged determination on the part of the founders.

For the past years, it has designed robotic stuff, it has made robots that are used by companies and industries, worked with companies in robotics and IoT projects, which the company does these days as well, and taught over 3000 students on robotics and IoT.

In 2017, the company plans to launch some of its products into the market and get seriously into marketing as well. We recently sat down with Khushboo and Rakib to talk about the evolution of the company, current status, challenges and opportunities, and the future plans.

Future Startup

How did Planeter come to exist? How much has the company evolved over the years?

Rini Eshan Khushboo: Planeter started its journey in mid-2012. It was initially a Chittagong-based organization. We, Rakib and I, were penultimate in university when we founded the company.

I studied Mechanical Engineering at Chittagong University of Engineering and Technology, and Rakib did his bachelor's from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

To be honest, we weren't that serious when we started Planeter. We were passionate about robotics and all that but never thought of building a company. I personally wanted to get into NASA. So, I was preparing for that. In my last year at university, I went to NASA to participate in a robotics competition from CUET. We were the only outside Dhaka team to take part there.

Seeing our success on winning competitions and developing various robots, many people, mostly students, came to us with requests to teach them robotics. The number of such enthusiasts was quite large. So, after much thought, we finally decided to do something about it.

We created a curriculum to teach people about robotics and microcontroller and gathered them together. Our first batch enrolled into the program in 2012. Initially, we started as a sole proprietorship business but later changed to a Limited Company.

The response we got from people was overwhelming. There were times when Rakib had to teach 16 batches of students simultaneously. We had two teaching centers in Chittagong: one is our headquarter at Agrabad, and the other was at GEC Moore, which we left later on.

In January 2013, we opened a new branch in Dhaka. The response was equally dumbfounding. Over 900 students from BUET have joined in our training program in Dhaka so far.

Frankly speaking, we were teaching people and earned money doing it but we didn't have any idea about startups at that time. Our aim was to build a research institute for robotics in Bangladesh.

In fact, Planeter, as it's now, is a research company. We help other companies to develop new products and provide solutions for different types of problems. We haven't started our marketing activities yet, but we have plans to open the marketing department this year.

Our journey in Dhaka began in 2013. We soon opened our second branch here at Panthapath. At that time, we were largely involved in teaching. We didn't yet bring any change to our operation because, although I had already graduated, Rakib was still busy with his undergraduate studies. But, we were earning enough money through teaching only.

Then, on the side, we started working on several projects for different companies. In the early days, we used to get only small projects. Given that we were still a company in its infancy, no one dared to give us big projects.

Our first big project was with Renata Pharmaceuticals Ltd. in 2015. We were assigned to create an entirely new quality inspection division for them. The project was successful and we haven't had any complaints yet. That was actually the point when we started getting big projects from other firms.

Lately, we have sold robotic arms to CUET. We have also developed a humanoid robot called IRA which we rent to corporates. You must have seen at different occasions when humanoid robots are used to greet guests. So, IRA is our own humanoid robot. The ICT ministry of the government has been agreed to provide us funds to develop it further.

Robots at present are mostly imported from abroad, but it is an expensive business. We want to manufacture robots locally, which is very much possible so that we can offer robotics stuff at an affordable cost.

A.B.M. Rezaul Islam Rakib: I knew Rini from childhood. I became really interested in robotics after getting into BUET. I began with understanding how a robotic brain works. I tried to learn to design one thing at a time and not everything at once.

It was a bit challenging early on to find required materials. I was a sophomore when I started doing this and at the end of the year, I was able to design a robot. Afterward, I took part in a robotics competition called Roborace. I came third in the competition which made me more enthusiastic about robotics. This is when we started to teach others about robotics and eventually founded Planeter. In the meantime, we wrote two books jointly called Robotics and Microcontroller (2015) and Image Processing and Robotic Vision (2016)--both published by Systech Publications.

As Rini mentioned earlier, we weren't that serious in the beginning. But things have changed since then. In future, we want to work more on self-reconfigurable robotics.

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Future Startup

Can you give us a short overview of Planeter?

Rini: Planeter is a hardware company. That said, the market in Bangladesh is relatively small than many other countries like the USA. At present, we are mainly working with robotics and internet of things (IoT). We have also introduced a course on IoT.

We started by developing various kinds of microcontroller based boards and hobby robot kits especially to assist university students in completing their robotic projects. As I said before, our fund for research and development came from teaching students on microcontroller and robotics.

We have trained over 3000 students on microcontroller and robotics since our inception.

We have got a capable R&D team and are working hard to establish robotics in Bangladesh.

Future Startup

How many projects are you working on now?

Rini: We are currently working on around 23 different projects. There are some other projects we are working that we can't mention for the sake of confidentiality. We are mostly working on the internet of things. The government is really enthusiastic about a new project called Smart City which aims to incorporate the concept of IoT in our day to day lives to increase efficiency and convenience.

We are also working on attendance count in schools and workplaces, and security. Automation in households, security, and entertainment are some of our other project matters.

Rakib: We help companies develop devices and technologies that they can use in order achieve greater convenience and effectiveness in their daily operation.

These devices are particularly engineered to collect data from physical sources. Mobile applications will be used to control these devices which we are designing as well. One project is almost done. We will disclose the details as soon as we are ready to start the pilot project.

Future Startup

So, you are doing a lot of things on the product end. But, to get a clearer understanding, how does Planeter work? How many people are working in your team?

Rakib: Currently, we have 4 members in the team who work full-time. There are several other members who work part-time and work as consultants.

We plan to recruit a couple more members this year. We are also collaborating with a lot of partners, some software makers and others in hardware.

Future Startup

How does the revenue look like? How is your growth?

Rini: We have grown almost 8 times since the company’s inception. Our revenue now stands at several million a year. Up until now, we have been largely focused on training and consulting project works. From this year, we plan to design and launch our own products.

We have already completed designing a 3D printer model which we expect to launch in February. The price will be below TK 20,000 so that students can afford it.

Future Startup

What are the key challenges now?

Rini: I think one of the biggest challenges is the size of the local market which is relatively small. As a result, we are now thinking of export-oriented strategies.

Rakib: Moreover, access to information is often difficult. There are not enough resources available in the country which makes it difficult for us to experiment and develop new models. Communication also doesn't happen in an organized fashion.

Customers education is often a major challenge, particularly for products like ours.

Pricing is another important issue for us. Consumers are price sensitive in Bangladesh and often do not hesitate to compromise quality just to get something at a cheap price. This is a huge challenge for us because sometimes we have to make products that are more durable but cost a little more. But due to the price-sensitivity, we frequently need to adjust. Unless we do, we could very well lose in the competition.

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Future Startup

How do you reach out to your customers? What channels do you use?

Rakib: We haven't put much effort on marketing yet. Promotion till now has been done on a rather small-scale. For example, we participated at a 3-day tech-expo organized by ICT Ministry last year. We attend fairs and expos on a regular basis. These programs have allowed us to build our network and reach to a larger audience.

The two books we have published have also helped us to reach out to many people. We have received many responses from our reader who have found our books interesting and wanted to convey their feedback.

Future Startup

What are your future plans?

Rakib: Our main target is to enter the international market in the near future. As we mentioned earlier, much of the work we do now is concentrated on IoT and robotics. We want to penetrate the global market with our products in the coming years.

Future Startup

That's wonderful. What are the major lessons you learned from your journey?

Rini: Throughout these years, I've realized that research-based companies in Bangladesh, or research as a whole, do not get due recognition from the society which is detrimental.

We want to build a company where people would love to work at and be proud of.

Rakib: To venture into robotics in our social and business set up, there is no alternative to hard work. I have learned this the hard way.

One also needs to continuously develop his/her skills. If you want to be an entrepreneur, especially in the technology, having multidisciplinary skills is an advantage.

Although an engineering student, I had to learn different terminology and mechanism related to business. It's a necessity in this fast-changing world. You have to be a master in something, but also be a jack of all trades.

Future Startup

What do you think about competition? What is your take on the industry? How do you think it will unfold in future?

Rakib: Planeter Ltd is the first Robotics Company in Bangladesh. Many people are researching, but we still do not have any commercial competitor as such. That said, we have international competitions.

As for the industry, I think it will go through a number of changes in the near future. Bangladesh is adopting technology very fast.

That said, the market for robotics is relatively small, as I've mentioned before. So, we can't focus on just one single niche. The wise thing would be to do multi-disciplinary works.

Future Startup

How does Planeter work as an organization?

Rakib: Everyone at Planeter has a specific job. We carry out our responsibilities individually, then we bring our works together. As the Chief Technical Officer, I oversee the work distribution and progress in the company.

The culture quite collaborative.

Rini: Rakib is our troubleshooter. He spends most of his time studying new materials, identifying new problems, and solving them. Kaiser Raihan knows power circuits and embedded programming very well.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Rakib: Perseverance is a critical quality especially if you want to start a hardware company. Because designing a device needs patience and a specific set of skills. You also need to know how to develop software in order to make your hardware function properly.

It's also quite tough to collect raw materials for hardware in Bangladesh. I mean, there's rarely any one-stop destination for everything you need. So, organizing your sources first is a good way before starting a new business. Add to that, one also needs to be good at managing inventory.

Lastly, I'd discourage anyone who doesn't have a true passion for building hardware to come into this business. Passion is the key here, not profit.

 

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https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/economy/bangladesh/bangladeshs-startup-ecosystem-needs-systematic-branding-1626667261

Bangladesh's startup ecosystem ‘needs systematic branding’

 

 FE REPORT | Published:  July 19, 2021 10:01:01

1626667261.jpg

Bangladesh's startup ecosystem is an untapped digital goldmine of Asia which needs a systematic country branding in an effort to attract more foreign investments and expand accordingly.

There is also need for government policy support, arrangement of corporate venture capital and enhanced industry-academia collaboration to propel the growth of startups which can make great contributions to the national economy.

The observations came at a webinar titled 'Unleashing the potential of the Bangladeshi Startup Ecosystem' organized by Innovision Consulting Private Limited in association with The Financial Express and Department of Economics, North South University (NSU) on Saturday evening.

Pathao and Anchorless Bangladesh were the thematic partners of the fourth episode of an integrated dialogue campaign styled as the 'Bangladesh Miracle-Celebrating 50 years of Development Progress of Bangladesh'.

Founding Partner & CEO of Anchorless Bangladesh and Senior Advisor to the NSU Startups Next Rahat Ahmed presented the keynote paper while Managing Director & Lead Consultant, Innovision Consulting Rubaiyath Sarwar moderated the virtual discussion.

Dean of the School of Business & Economics, North-South University Prof Dr. Abdul Hannan Chowdhury, President of Pathao Fahim Ahmed, SaaS Transformation leader at Collibra Inc. Shamma Raghib, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Light Castle Partners Bijon Islam, Chairman & CEO of Innovision Consulting Sadruddin Imran, Investment Associate of Luge Capital Laviva Mazhar spoke on the occasion.

Presenting the keynote paper, Rahat Ahmed said Bangladeshi startups drew $40 million in the last calendar year which was very scanty comparing to other regions.

"For its population size and density coupled with continuous economic growth, Bangladeshi startups have been funded with $0.92 per person that is an incredible contrast to India and Indonesia, both above $30," he said.

Highlighting the role of academic institutions for creating an enabling environment for the startups, Dr. Hannan Chowdhury said there are plenty of startups and successful businesses established in the country but the question looms with getting global class CEOs or founders.

"We are yet to go a long way," he said, adding: "Our academic system needs to incorporate many advanced topics which are very pertinent at this moment, in terms of technology, the analytics part and all sorts of digital marketing and some aspects of frontier technologies."

"We are behind in terms of leadership training, we are behind in terms of even pushing our students to go for entrepreneurship rather than focusing heavily on working under somebody else," he said.

He, however, said some tertiary educational institutions are looking to fill the gaps.

President of Pathao Fahim Ahmed said the startup operators face challenges related to scaling, competitiveness and capital.

"Many companies falter in the problem identification, some are not ambitious enough in identifying a problem and scale up with the solution," he added.

Sharing his experience with Pathao, a local startup providing a wide range of service, Mr Ahmed said it is imperative to approach with a startup mindset within the business operations.

Responding to a query, he said there is a need for greater collaboration among the government agencies especially related to regulations in a bid to establish an inclusive ecosystem though the government has initiated a number of platforms for funding and incubating the startups.

Laviva Mazhar said there are huge opportunities in Bangladesh's startup ecosystem considering the huge market against the size of the population.

Sharing her experience with investment management in Canadian startups, she said: "I think it is possible to build a huge business because of the population in Bangladesh even without need to expand in cross-border region."

Since startups are getting more attention across the globe, new funding opportunities are also being created, she said, adding that a national ecosystem has to have some qualifications to attract international venture capital.

Sadruddin Imran said there is a strong need for promoting the success of the Bangladeshi startup entities and the potentials of the country's startup ecosystem.

"As a country, Bangladesh is very poor in communicating. A lot of things are happening that are interesting but remain unknown to outside world," said Mr Imran.

Shamma Raghib said there are still huge untapped opportunities in Bangladesh but numerous problems need to be solved in areas like traffic and agricultural supply chain.

She stressed the need for identifying and tackling the local problems having global relevance especially in neighbouring countries to move ahead with the startup operations.

Bijon Islam suggested creating global brand perception and reforming the market entry process in Bangladesh to strengthen the startup ecosystem.

"We need systematically and consistently promote Brand Bangladesh by emulating successful competitors," he said.

He also suggested creating advocates from globally acclaimed Bangladeshis or influential non-resident Bangladeshis to reach out to prospective investors and create positive association.

Rubaiyath Sarwar said Bangladeshi startup ecosystem is very vibrant and youthful one but it needs a lot more support to reap the desired benefit.

"Comparing to the neighbouring startup ecosystems, Bangladesh is lacking amenities despite the potential," he said.

Bangladesh Miracle, an integrated dialogue campaign, is being organised by Innovision Limited in association with The Financial Express and Department of Economics, North South University.

Other partners of the event are mPower, NextGenEdu, Simprints Technology, GAIN, WaterAid, BIID, Pathao, Anchorless Bangladesh, Sarabangla, Colours 101.6 Fm. Windmill Advertising, Young Economists' Forum (YEF) of NSU and Printagraphy.

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https://www.tbsnews.net/economy/corporates/50-startups-get-tk100-crore-under-shotoborshe-shotoasha-campaign-279535#.YP-XPUjP-4k.facebook

50 startups to get Tk100 crore under “Shotoborshe Shotoasha” campaign

 pr_photo_rise_up.png?itok=4fMf9EDe&times

Startup Bangladesh Limited, Bangladesh's flagship venture capital fund under the ICT Ministry recently launched its inaugural campaign "ShotoBorshe Shoto Asha-Century of Million Dreams" with a commitment to invest Tk100 Crore in 50 startups this year. 

The VC firm announced its first series of investments on 31st March to seven startups - Chaldal, Pathao, Sheba XYZ, Dhaka Cast, Moner Bondhu, Eduhive and Intelligent Machines, said a press release.

In continuation of this groundbreaking initiative, Startup Bangladesh Limited is undertaking various programs throughout the year, one of which is the webinar series featuring six sessions over the next six months in partnership with the High Commission of India, Dhaka. This series is also being supported by Startup India, Bangladesh Startup Consortium, BD-AIR, & Economic Reporter's Forum. 

Speaking as the chief guest, State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak MP said he would like to invite young startups from India to Visit Bangladesh to arrange a B2B matchmaking session face to face, 

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram K Doraiswami stated that in the next 6 months, the RiseUp platform will bring together mentors, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, etc from India and Bangladesh. 

He hoped that the platform will facilitate an effective cross-learning opportunity that will benefit talented entrepreneurs from both countries, 

The High Commissioner also recalled that during the recent state visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in March 2021, 

He stressed that the RiseUp series could facilitate such linkages to jumpstart tangible cooperation. 

Startup Bangladesh Limited Managing Director and CEO Tina Jabeen said, "Among all frontier markets, Bangladesh holds the most promising opportunity for venture capital and private equity investments. Startup Bangladesh Ltd. looks forward to collaborate with Indian High Commission and Startup India in building a stellar regional startup ecosystem."

The inauguration was followed by a panel discussion on "Startup landscape in Bangladesh & India : how tech startups are transforming the future with innovation in this region" Notable speakers and panel members included Rahat Ahmed, Founding Partner & CEO, Anchorless Bangladesh, Waseem Alim, Co-founder & CEO, Chaldal, Sharad Sharma, Co-founder, iSPIRT Foundation, Yamini Bhushan Pandey, CEO, AIC – Indian School of Business, Mohali. The session was moderated by Bijon Islam, Co-founder & CEO, LightCastle Partners. Other sessions will have discussions on the regulatory environment for Startups, overcoming hurdles to create a successful startup, Fundraising strategies, strategies for startups to go international and a deep dive into startup Opportunities in Bangladesh and India.

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On Building a Tech-first Home Improvement Platform in Bangladesh, Interior Design Market, and Lessons in Entrepreneurship with Sarjeena Maodud, Co-founder and CEO, Sheraspace

By Future Startup

|

Jul 27, 2021

Sarjeena Maodud is the co-founder and CEO of Sheraspace, a tech-first home improvement services company based in Dhaka. Founded in 2019, Sheraspace offers a number of services related to interior design, including online interior design consultation, complete end-to-end interior design solutions, and custom furniture design for full interior design projects. 

In this fascinating interview with Future Startup, Ms. Sarjeena walks us through her early life in Moscow, growing up in Dhaka, education in UCL, moving back to Dhaka, founding and building a tech-first interior design company in Bangladesh, talks about the state of Sheraspace, services Sheraspace provides, and its ambition going forward, discusses her experience of building a team, growing the business, shares her take on company culture, dealing with challenges of being a female founder and much more.  

Future Startup: Could you please tell us about your background and your path to entrepreneurship and what you are doing today? 

Sarjeena Maodud: I was born in Moscow and my parents decided to move to Dhaka shortly after. I was raised in Dhaka and completed my O and A levels here, before moving to London to pursue higher education. I completed a Bachelors in Computer Science and a Masters in Technology Management from University College London, finishing in 2017. 

After my Masters I was on track to pursue a career in IT Consultancy and was comparing offers from different companies in London, when one enthusing phone conversation with my father one day, inspired me to move back to Dhaka – the capital of the land of opportunities – Bangladesh.

I started my career with a remote job in Business Development with a health-tech start-up based out of Los Angeles, and at the same time was exploring opportunities for innovation in various industries in Bangladesh. 

I knew at that point that I wanted my work to contribute to the growing economy of Bangladesh and entrepreneurship would be the ideal path in doing so. My involvement with a start-up at that point and exposure into the inner workings of a company growing from scratch, further fed into this aspiration.

Future Startup: When and how did you come up with the idea of Sheraspace and get started? 

Sarjeena Maodud: A personal experience led me into the world of interior design. After moving back to Dhaka in 2017, I experienced the process of interior design first hand, during a home renovation project for my new house. Of course, what I wanted was great interiors, but instead what I got was a rather unpleasant experience characterized by delays, lack of cost transparency, design expectation, and design delivery mismatch, and overall, a service that lacked accountability, transparency, and quality.

My conclusion was that as a consumer, it was almost impossible for me to be sure of the end result of this interior design process, despite investing huge amounts of time, money, and effort into it. 

My curiosity about the industry led me to research further into its inner workings. At the time, I shared the idea with my then co-worker Nizam Farid Ahmed, who joined along in this quest to collect data, conduct focus groups and eventually conceptualize a tech-first home improvement platform – Sheraspace.

Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of Sheraspace i.e., how did you put together initial investment and other resources to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months to one year of Sheraspace and your journey were like. 

Sarjeena Maodud: We registered Sheraspace as a limited company and launched operations in February 2019. We started with a team of 4: My co-founder, 2 recruits, and myself. We funded the company with personal funds in the initial months, until securing angel investment on our 6th month of operation.

With a round of funding and a decent understanding of the market, the team grew in size to around 10 people and picked up some pace after crossing the 6-month mark. We received a modest response for our end-to-end interior solution offerings in the first year. 

I must say the business model Sheraspace operates on today is much more evolved from what we were following at that point in time. The service lines have been transformed greatly too, to fit the elicited needs of the market.

Future Startup: What were some major challenges you faced in the early days and how did you deal with them?

Sarjeena Maodud: In an industry typically dominated by male contractors, a young and female lead for a company in that industry came as a shock to many. I’ve lost count of how many emails I used to receive that addressed me as “Mr. Sarjeena” or “Dear Sir” in the early days! Must say, we’ve come a long way from there.

Deciding to start a novel initiative in the interior sector was frowned upon by many industry professionals. Some were of the opinion that I shouldn’t be running a business in the interior sector as I wasn’t an Architect or an Interior Designer myself. However, I have always seen this as an advantage because not belonging to the industry is what has enabled me to see it through a different lens that is free of status-quos and allowed me to identify areas of innovation in the sector.

I do, however, thoroughly value the input of my Design team members in our journey. The aim was not to teach Designers how to do their job, but rather to make their expertise more accessible, efficiently delivered, and appreciated by the mass Bangladeshi audience. I have also learned so much from the many interesting encounters and discussions with talented Designers and Architects in Bangladesh.

Apart from the above, it also came as a shock to friends and family around me, that with a degree in Engineering and another in Management from a world-class institution, I had deliberately decided to leave behind the option of a career in IT Consulting in London to pursue an entrepreneurial endeavor in Dhaka. 

The whispers and disapproving opinions of people weren’t the most encouraging back then for sure, but the very same people have come to appreciate Sheraspace now. Let’s just say, I prefer to let my work speak for me.

Design mood board | Sheraspace

Future Startup: What were some of the things that worked, strategically, in the early days that helped you to grow the business and become sustainable? 

Sarjeena Maodud: Dynamism and agility have played crucial roles in allowing us to navigate the rocky roads of the early days. Business is always uncertain; however, the uncertainty of the early days is of a different level, altogether. 

Our test and learn approach to operating came as a huge benefit, as we never shied away from tweaking what wasn’t working. It was important however to have the team be aligned with our ultimate vision and understand the changes that were necessary to keep moving towards that direction.

Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of Sheraspace today, i.e., an overview of your products and services, business model, how your operation works, size of business, etc?

Sarjeena Maodud: This question calls for a little bit of context. So, there’s a pre-existing notion in Bangladesh that interior design is for the affluent only and an interior project requires an extensive investment of time, effort, and money. This is exactly what Sheraspace challenges today.

We are working to democratize interior design by making it accessible to everyone through an affordable, short-term, and hassle-free solution that consumers can avail from the comfort of their home. We do this through our Online Interior Design Consultation service.

This service is aimed at individuals who need professional interior design guidance, but do not necessarily wish to invest in a lengthy interior project. They would avail the Online Interior Design Consultation and implement the design plan on their own and at their preferred pace. 

For those who are looking for logistics and execution support for their interiors, we also offer full end-to-end interior design solutions that include installation services.

The Online Interior Design Consultation service certainly has a much higher sales frequency, as its flat-fee pricing and ease of obtainability are highly appealing and practical for consumers. The full interior solution service has a relatively lower sale frequency, but a much larger ticket size, of course. These are our main sources of revenue generation.

As for the business size, we are a team of 25 at the moment across 6 departments. To serve surging consumer demands though, we are currently going through a team resizing and looking to grow the Sheraspace family to around 35 team members by the end of August.

Design sketch | Sheraspace

Future Startup: From a product perspective, how does Sheraspace work? How do you work with your partners and customers? How does the tech part work?

Sarjeena Maodud: As I mentioned earlier, Sheraspace offers 2 services: 

Online Interior Design Consultations for individuals who are in need of professional design guidance 

Full Interior Design Solutions for those who require end-to-end installation, sourcing, and project management support

We maintain a database of items from various partners and vendors, which our designers utilize when creating mood-board design visualizations for our clients. 

To further diversify the product range offered on the design mood-boards, we are now looking to build a full department around partner acquisition.

I’m glad you asked me about the tech bit. As we navigate this era of digital transformation, the use of technology, of course, is not an option anymore. We see it very much as a necessity and it sits at the core of our internal operations.

At Sheraspace, we have our native CRM and project management tool through which every touchpoint of the consumer journey is facilitated, monitored, and controlled. Starting from receiving a lead to nurturing and converting them, sending invoices and receiving payments, flagging project issues, and logging client requests – everything is handled centrally through our project management, product sourcing, and customer helpdesk software. This has been integral in ensuring that we are able to keep up with the soaring demands for our services and continue to provide an efficient and seamless experience to clients. 

As for the consumer-facing end, we are working on an Augmented Reality feature, solely to facilitate the efficient delivery of our services. We shall reveal more about it in due time. 

The aim going forward is also to make the Project Management tool available to consumers, so they are able to track real-time project progress updates. Digital twin simulation is also a super fascinating concept we look to explore to enable instantaneous visual project updates for clients.

Future Startup: How have you attracted users and grown Sheraspace? Could you tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth? 

Sarjeena Maodud: I am thoroughly inspired by Steve Jobs’ take on an “epiphany experience”. An epiphany experience occurs when a need that the customer never knew existed, becomes fulfilled by a service or a product. Seeking out a gap in the interior industry led us to creating an epiphany experience for consumers through our Online Interior Design Consultation.

Of course, being the first to market is a great advantage. Furthermore, utilization of the right distribution channels is what has helped us in spreading the word about Sheraspace. Upon communicating the service to the right masses, it wasn’t then too difficult for the consumer to realize that this was a need she/he has always had, yet was never consciously aware of!

Our focus is always on providing unparalleled service – not only in terms of the design plans we offer but also customer service, efficiency, and professionalism. The nuanced details, like addressing clients with appropriate mannerism, to the bigger aspects, like providing them with the right design plan to match their needs – every touchpoint in the consumer journey is thoroughly researched, planned, and constantly improved as we collect feedback from our deliveries.

A major portion of our consultation client base is generated via word of mouth. I believe that goes to show that our obsession with sound customer service seems to be working well for us!

Future Startup: How much has Sheraspace evolved over the past months i.e., how would you compare Sheraspace today with the Sheraspace from early days? 

Sarjeena Maodud: We’ve gone through a couple of pivots and I am always very transparent about them. In 2019, we started with the concept of building an aggregator platform to connect clients with interior designers. We then progressed to become an end-to-end interior solution provider. We eventually evolved to become the first Bangladeshi company to offer a revolutionary virtual design service to customers in an affordable, short-term, and hassle-free involvement.

One has to start somewhere. Every business will take on its own journey towards success, but what’s important is that we take that first step to start. The challenges, the roadblocks, and the learnings are what have molded Sheraspace to become what it is today, but what I’m most glad about is the fact that we decided to start when we did in February of 2019.

One thing has remained the same throughout the journey though – every space we design, we always aim to deliver the best, hence creating a ‘shera’ space for every individual who does business with us. It is a core value of our company.

Future Startup: The pandemic lingers on: what kind of impact is the pandemic having on your business and how are you dealing with it? 

Sarjeena Maodud: The first wave of the pandemic-driven movement restrictions of early 2020 did come as a shock for our business, as it did for several others. 

Our offline interior operations had to be put on halt until further notice, meaning all means of revenue generation had to be plugged off. It was an extremely stressful time, perhaps the most difficult I have faced in my career so far.

But I strongly believe every dip brings with it an opportunity to rise higher than ever before and this was no different. The pandemic turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us, in that respect, as our Online Interior Design Consultation service was born as a disruptive answer to the pandemic’s disruption. Meaning, our service is pandemic proof, and the subsequent movement restrictions have not hampered the revenue wheels so much. In fact, we are seeing a steady rise in sales figures over the past quarter.

As for the internal operations, we maintain a flexible, tech-savvy, and employee-first work culture at Sheraspace. Hence, remote work has never been much of an issue for us. Everyone is trusted to get work done and do so with the help of KPI-driven assignments and Kanban sprint plans. So, lockdown or not, the show keeps running!

Yes, my team members do miss coming to office though – the coffee break chit-chats, the lively work atmosphere, and the overall spirit of the team in physical presence is surely unmatchable in the Zoom world.

Team celebrations at Sheraspace office | Sheraspace

Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?

Sarjeena Maodud: Oh, so many! I’ll share a couple of the notable ones.

One of my biggest learnings has been the correct execution of task delegation. It is important to know what needs to be perfect and which aspects could do without painstaking perfectionism, so that team members have some space to make errors and learn from them. 

For the founder to hold on to everything and do it all by themselves not only paves way for them to become overloaded and overly stressed but also takes away skill-building opportunities from team members.

Another misstep was not crediting marketing with the level of attention it required in the early days. Taking an analogical example here – if the business is a vehicle, then marketing is the headlights that light up the path ahead for the vehicle to keep moving. It was a mistake to not invest appropriately in marketing early enough, as it is one of the most important functions of the business. We did however make appropriate amends, later on.

Future Startup: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building Sheraspace? 

Sarjeena Maodud: Like I mentioned before, being the first mover in a market has its advantages. We have introduced the concept of an Online Interior Design Consultation in Bangladesh for the first time. 

Now, I personally believe in leading vs following – I would much rather create a new, disruptive solution to an old problem than get into price wars over an existing solution. As we were not battling it out on a price point, we had the space to learn and experiment and work with a focus to cater to the needs of the consumer. This in turn enabled us to establish a strong brand presence and garner customer loyalty.

Future Startup: Could you please tell us about the interior design market in Bangladesh? How big is the market? What are the major trends? What are the challenges and opportunities in the sector? 

Sarjeena Maodud: The interior design market is massive. Based on real estate market data from the past years, we could easily be looking at a billion-dollar market for interiors. However, it is a highly fragmented sector with several small players and no established industry standards to follow when serving a client. This allows many to get away with substandard quality of services without any accountability.

However, if I speak of the possibilities, I see a very bright picture. There is so much creative talent in Bangladesh and there is a lot of market demand. It creates a fantastic place for one to innovate in. It is important to build that bridge between demand and creative solutions with a service that is of quality and reliability. And I’d say I see Sheraspace being well capable of leading the way here.

I also believe more innovative endeavors will contribute to establishing a standard in the industry, which will shape consumer expectations. This will automatically eliminate substandard services, thereby developing the market, overall. 

With positive economic growth prospects and rising consumer buying power, the backbone of the Bangladesh economy is set to grow stronger, which consequently creates more opportunities for us to serve these people.

Future Startup: How do you deal with the challenges and stress that come with being a founder? 

Sarjeena Maodud: I have a simple approach to dealing with challenges and stress – I keep an open mindset. I am always open to failure and this outlook has helped me greatly in navigating unpleasant situations. 

I am unafraid of experimenting, as I have gathered much greater learnings and wisdom from my failures than I ever have from any of my successes. This enables me to avoid impulsive decision-making, especially in stressful situations. I always try to look at errors with curiosity and decode insights and learnings from them to apply in the future.

So, stress and challenges aren’t so bad after all – they are opportunities for growth! I also try to maintain a habit of reading, learning, and taking courses – the knowledge from which often helps me traverse stressful situations.

Future Startup: How do you stay productive and positive as a founder?

Sarjeena Maodud: I optimize my calendar and plan my day every morning – so I am always committing time and energy to what needs to be done. There is a stark difference between keeping busy vs. being productive. Delegating tasks to the right team members and trusting them to get it done not only allows me to be productive and focus on the bigger vision but also instills a sense of empowerment within my team. I stay away from micro-management, at all costs!

It is surely never a smooth sail and we do run into roadblocks from time to time. But on the difficult days, I take solace in knowing that I am working towards my vision. It is encouraging to have the support of my co-founder, Nizam Farid Ahmed, and team members whose diligence and perseverance always serve as a reminder of their love for and faith in Sheraspace.

My family is also my biggest source of encouragement. Although it took them some time, initially, to understand what I was trying to do with Sheraspace, they have always empowered me to chase my dreams, and that for me is a great blessing. Their unwavering support and belief in me are invaluable and I am always grateful for that.

Gratitude, in general, has played an instrumental role in keeping me going through this journey, every day.

Future Startup: 3 books you would like to recommend to our readers.

Sarjeena Maodud: Whether one is an entrepreneur, aspiring to be one, or looking to garner more meaning and clarity in their life, the following three are some of my all-time favorite reads:

Zero to One by Peter Thiel

The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

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Bangladeshi edtech startup Shikho raises $1.3M global capital

This is the largest round raised by a Bangladeshi edtech startup yet

new_project_2.jpg?itok=qKgnGzuq&timestam

 

Shikho, a Bangladesh-based edtech startup aiming to make high-quality education accessible and affordable, has announced the completion of a US$1.3 million seed round of financing to democratise quality education in Bangladesh.

This is the largest round raised by a Bangladeshi edtech startup yet, said a press release on Wednesday. 

The round was led by Anchorless Bangladesh, a New York-based early-stage venture capital firm dedicated to Bangladesh, and LearnStart, the seed fund of Silicon Valley-based edtech investment specialists Learn Capital. 

It also had participation from Southeast Asia-focused venture capital firm Wavemaker Partners and Ankur Nagpal, founder and CEO of a leading American edtech called Teachable. 

This will be the first time Wavemaker Partners have invested in a Bangladeshi venture and the sixth deal for Anchorless Bangladesh since 2020, who have been very active in the local ecosystem; other investments include funding to Maya, AliceLabs, Loop Freight and Gaze.

Founded in April 2019, Shikho is an education technology (edtech) company building a digital learning ecosystem centered on modernising the delivery of the Bangladeshi National Curriculum and making it fit for the 21st century.

 Combining expertise across content, instruction, media, and technology, Shikho utilizes multi-layered gamification and modern learning methods to make online learning enjoyable, engaging, and effective for students of classes 9-12. The company adapts material from the national curriculum, helping students using the app to transition more easily to online learning environments by engaging them with the material they are already accustomed to in traditional classrooms. 

The technology platform addresses each part of the Bangladeshi student journey—covering daily lessons, homework, exam prep, tutoring, and skill development—in an affordable, convenient, and cohesive way. It provides students with academic courses that include resources and tools to help students succeed in national board exams. Shikho's app includes access to animated video lessons, a library of in-app questions and solutions, along with interactive features for collaboration among peers. 

Through Shikho's online platforms, students will soon be able to attend both live and pre-recorded classes taught by subject experts and professional instructors, allowing them to gain access to high-quality instruction that may otherwise be outside of their reach in physical classroom settings. Students can learn at their own pace with content accessible from anywhere and anytime at a fraction of the cost of traditional online learning and tutoring services.

The outbreak of the pandemic has presented the education sector with significant challenges and opportunities. Widespread school closures across the world to reduce the spread of the virus brought about a revolution in remote learning, yet those who are already marginalized with limited or no online access were left even further behind.

 This poses a pressing threat to achieving the fourth of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), "To ensure inclusive and equitable education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all" – by the deadline of 2030, which Shikho seeks to achieve in Bangladesh with close engagement with key stakeholders, which this new round of investment will help advance.

Shikho is led by a team of experienced educational and technical talent. The team includes co-founders Shahir Chowdhury (CEO), a seasoned financial and business professional; and Zeeshan Zakaria (COO), an experienced educator with a decade of hands-on educational leadership. With years of overseas business and education experience, paired with an intimate understanding of the Bangladeshi education sector, the Shikho founding team brings together global best practices with on-the-ground know-how, addressing the unique educational needs of Bangladeshi students.

Students do well when they are engaged and able to understand the material clearly; this applies to all modalities of learning, whether online or in schools and tutoring centers. Shikho differentiates itself by focusing on quality of instruction whilst making learning fun. They have created a system with multiple layers of quality checking with education experts and creatives reviewing each stage of the content creation process. Additionally, Shikho also aspires to improve educational outcomes for students by 'gamifying' the learning experience. Students are rewarded with achievement points, can compete with friends, and have the chance to earn a variety of digital badges for completing course material.

The technology goes one step further to allow access to personalized real-time performance and progress tracking which students and their parents can use to better understand strengths and reinforce weaknesses. These are some of the advanced features that will be further developed with this round of financing.

Shikho also plans to continue build advanced features for its learning app, including personalization, granular data analysis, live quizzes, and introduce a new web portal and parent app.In the future, the company plans to expand its offerings to cover the entire educational journey of Bangladeshi students across primary, secondary, tertiary, and continuous professional learning.

"Although half of the 165 million people in Bangladesh are below the age of 25, there is a clear lack of quality online educational resources for students and young professionals. By building a digital learning ecosystem that caters to the modern Bangladeshi student and democratizes access to a world-class and enjoyable learning experience, we believe Shikho will have a powerful and lasting impact for generations to come," said Shahir Chowdhury, co-founder and CEO of Shikho.

"As an experienced teacher, I understand the importance of personalised instruction and differentiated learning. This combined with regular feedback are the most powerful tools a teacher has at their disposal. With this round of investment, we look forward to furthering the technology that brings these features into an automated personalisation engine and the platform as a whole," said Zeeshan Zakaria, co-founder and COO of Shikho.

"Improving access to the highest quality, most compelling digital learning experiences are essential for the future. We have witnessed the potential for technology to transform education all around the world and are excited to see Shikho do the same for Bangladesh. We continue to be committed to supporting the very capable team at Shikho as it progresses the company's vision of democratizing quality online education in Bangladesh," said Don Burton, managing partner of LearnStart, an early investor in Shikho. 

"Bangladesh has one of the largest allocations of private education expenditure as a percentage of disposable income in the world but lags behind countries like India and Indonesia when it comes to edtech funding. The market is primed for growth, and we believe the team at Shikho is well-fit to lead the charge and take education to the next level," said Rahat Ahmed, founding partner and CEO at Anchorless Bangladesh.

Prior to this round of financing, Shikho raised US$275,000 in a pre-seed financing from LearnStart and strategic angel investors. Shikho is available on the Play Store. To find out more please visit Shikho.tech.

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https://futurestartup.com/2019/10/08/how-nascenia-was-created/

How Nascenia Was Created

By Aayrin Saleha Ria

|

Oct 8, 2019

Shaer Hassan is the Co-founder and CEO of Nascenia, a software solutions provider based in Dhaka. Started as a small IT company about eight years ago, the company has come a long way. Today, Nascenia serves clients from a long list of countries, has a growing business and is considered as one of the most prominent IT companies in Bangladesh.

In an interview with Future Startup, published in July 2017, Mr. Shaer Hassan explained how Nascenia was founded. Below is a short version of the story.

How I came here

It took me a long time to discover the job I love. I was brought up by my parents who were service holders. Neither my parents nor any of my family members were involved in the business. Moreover, I was brought up in Khulna where business meant two things: one is government contracting, where you have to pay tons of bribe and the second, you take loan from the bank and do not repay.

So, that was the general idea of business. It created a perception that if you want to do business; you have to be clever in a negative way. You have to master the art of lying, fraud and more. Given the situation, it was only natural for my parents to discourage us when it came to business.

But later on, I came to realize that there was a certain type of people who were more prone to become an entrepreneur. It dawned on me that I was one of those people. I love freedom. I dislike being instructed by other people. I also dislike controlling other people. On the same note, I like to take risks, organize and motivate people to do something worth doing.

In a rare moment of contemplation, I found myself playing an entrepreneurial role since my childhood. When I was in class five, I formed a detective group, I was an entrepreneur there. We used to read the series ‘Tin Goyenda’ and we thought that we could do something of our own. Then at Cadet College, I started an organization named Jagoree. I wasn’t aware of any of these things back then but now when I look back at all of these, things make sense. I can see and relate the dots now but back then it was just about random acts of passion.

But as it happens all the time, I went to the marine profession to satisfy the expectation of my parents and relatives. I worked there for a certain period of time. I went to different countries. I got to know new people. But I was never settled. I left marine one year after my marriage and my wife and family supported that. Then I studied programming and loved it. My aim was to be a computer programmer.

But that was the year of 2001- the year of the burst of dot-com-bubble and of 9/11. So, I jettisoned the idea of becoming a programmer. With the influence of one of my friends, I decided to study business instead. It was the turning point of my life and I realized that business was not all that bad. I was immediately drawn to the business but I wasn’t ready yet. Instead of starting my own company right out of the gate I worked with three companies that included an advertising firm, a telecom company, and a software company.

Working at a software company was the most critical experience of my life because I learned a lot about business and software. And I loved all of it.

In fact, I joined at a Software Company in the first place because I wanted to learn how it worked so that I could build something of my own. I can remember that my interview was taken by a non-resident Bangladeshi who was living in the USA. It was an over the phone interview, he asked me what my plan for the next 5 years and I replied after 5 years I want to have my own company. There were two people on the other side and they said don’t you think it would be a ‘conflict of interest’ that you are working in a company and you are saying after 5 years, you want to have your own company? I said maybe not. Anyway, they hired me and I learned a lot from working there.

I met my partner there. I knew that I couldn’t do it all alone. I needed someone who was more technical. I persuaded Fuad Bin Omar, who was a software engineer to join me. He was nine years younger than me. One day, I asked him, do you want to remain a software programmer for the rest of your life? Don’t you want to do something greater? Do you have any idea how much you can grow in software engineering or how much you can earn and if you have your own company, how much you can earn potentially? So, what about taking a different career path where risk is high but the return is way higher than risk? Fuad showed interest instantaneously.

It was in early 2010 or late 2009; we started working on a few ideas related to investing in the stock market. Back then the stock market was at the peak. We used to apply for buying shares in newly IPO-ed companies but the application process was complex. There were lots of forms to be filled up.

We thought what if we could fix this application process and make it easier. After thinking about a few ideas, we made a website named BDIPO.COM. We had different business models for the site but in the end we decided to make it open and free for all. Fortunately, people received the product positively and the response was extremely good.

In the midst of all these, Code 71, the company I was serving as head of operations, decided to shut down their Bangladesh operation on June 30, 2010. We were not prepared for it. But it pushed us into the water. We thought this might be some kind of sign from Almighty. Okay, enough of doubting, let’s go and do it.

The journey of Nascenia

We started Nascenia on 30th June 2010. We brought servers, laptops, some chairs, and tables from Code 71. One of my friends from IBA agreed to share part of his office and we moved the equipment and furniture to our new office on June 30. This is how we started. But we were not entirely focused on the business. It was more of a gig for the time being.

At the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, we started to have good traction. We had a good size of business and a regular cash flow. Then we thought, enough is enough, we should focus on the business. We decided not to search for a job anymore but people from different companies kept on calling me to join there. Finally, I told them please don’t disturb me; I am not looking for a job. Before that, I used to say to them, “okay, which company, let’s see etc”. Well, at that time, I wasn’t even making as much money as I was making at Code 71. My partners were also suggesting me to join somewhere full-time. But I was determined. I decided not to pursue any job and to focus on business.

The good thing was that the 3 of us were giving 100% of our time to Nascenia from the very beginning to this day. This was an investment. Initially, I was earning like 1/3 and then ½ of the money I could earn if I had taken a full-time job. We didn’t have any external investment. From there, we moved our office 4 times. Every time, we moved to a better and spacious office. Today, we have 45 people working for us in a 6000 square feet office.

From all these hardships and struggles, one thing I can tell you for sure is that it took me a lot of time to become an entrepreneur. The mindset of an entrepreneur and a service holder is different. As a service holder, you have options to put blame on others for not doing something or not having something but for an entrepreneur, there is no one to blame. You are the person who is responsible.

For quite a long time, I was in doubt whether I could really do it or not. Even sometimes I felt like, why am I doing this? I could earn double working for some big companies instead of working so hard and getting paid less than what I used to get paid. Doubt is a terrible thing. It kills everything. It affected us a lot too. We were de-focused and this lack of focus hampered our progress.

A startup company is like a baby. If you don’t give it 100%, it wouldn’t grow.
Between 2010 to 2013, the greatest thing that happened was not the money we earned rather the customers we acquired.

Most important thing was that we, as founders, got transformed from service holders to entrepreneurs. The biggest achievement for us in the last couple of years is the mindset that we have been able to develop. This journey has changed our mindset in three years. I see a big change in my partners. They think differently. This change in mindset could not come from reading books; this can only come from experience.

We have learned that entrepreneurs think differently. They look for solutions instead of talking about problems. Average people say this is good and that is bad but entrepreneurs think why this is good, why that is bad? Growing this attitude takes time.

An overview of Nascenia

We started with 4 people and we are now a team of over 70 members. There are fixed and long-term projects and short-term projects. Right now we’re working with around 15 clients from UK, USA, Canada, Japan, South America, Middle East, and a few other countries. Our growth slowed down since 2016. We’re growing at a rate of 10-15% yearly now.

Takeaways

Entrepreneurship is a journey that takes time: Entrepreneurs think differently. There look at problems and solutions differently. This way of thinking does not come on day one of starting a business- it does for some people, but for most of us, it is a matter of practice and long game. We receive the training on the job and gradually develop the mindset of an entrepreneur. Important thing is that you have to be deliberate in developing your entrepreneurial mindset.

Everything changes when you commit: Most of our life is spent in a half-committed ambivalent mode. We are not sure whether we want to do it or not. We are always in doubt of one or another kind. This is not good for business. In order to do well in business, you have to commit. Once your commitment is there, everything else will follow.

Follow your inclination: We all have inclination. We fail to see it because we don’t pay enough attention. Pay attention to who you are and what you do when no one is telling you what to do, you will have your answer to what you should do for the rest of your life.
Leave your doubt. Doubt is bad for life.

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https://futurestartup.com/2021/08/05/tahir-hasan-riddha-on-roots-edu/

How ROOTs Edu Is Building a Distinct EdTech Platform in Bangladesh with Tahir Hasan Riddha, Co-founder and CEO, ROOTs Edu

By Future Startup

|

Aug 5, 2021

Tahir Hasan Riddha is the co-founder and CEO of ROOTs Edu, an edtech startup based in Dhaka. Founded in 2019, ROOTs covers SSC, HSC NCTB curriculum, and university entrance admission tests. The company says it has completed 350,000+ minutes of live classes and served about one lakh students. In June, the company raised an undisclosed pre-seed investment led by Omicon Tech Ventures.

In this fascinating interview with Future Startup, Mr. Tahir tells us about his background, founding and building an edtech startup from scratch in Bangladesh, talks about the state of ROOTs, the early days of ROOTs and how the company came to where it is today, how ROOTs work as a product and company, and its ambition going forward, discusses his experience of building a team, growing the business, shares his take on dealing with challenges of being a founder and much more.  

Future Startup: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Could you please tell us about your background and your path to entrepreneurship and what you are doing today? 

Tahir Hasan Riddha: I was born and raised in Dhaka. My parents were both teachers. On most mornings, I would wake up in the middle of students as my father conducted private Math classes besides my bed. At that very early age, I began to learn pedagogy both subconsciously and consciously. 

My father didn’t treat me like his other students. He did not solve for me random mathematical problems with which I struggled. He insisted that I solve those on my own. Instead, he taught me the basics. As a result of these experiences, I learned about different pedagogical techniques and learning mechanisms my father employed on me and his other students.  

I learned how to learn any concept by heart and how to perform well in any competitive exam. My excellent academic performance enabled me to gain acceptance to several of the top educational institutions of Bangladesh, including Rajuk Uttara Model College, Notre Dame College, and finally BUET.

Like many BUET students, I began private tuition as soon as I got into BUET. As my popularity grew, I began teaching students in several areas of Dhaka in batches of 20 to 100. I consider myself more of a teacher by choice than a professional teacher. I really enjoyed teaching and experimented with various pedagogies with my students.

In 2013, I was asked to teach Physics and Math for the largest offline coaching center in Bangladesh. From 2013 to 2016, I was there and saw closely how large coaching operates. In 2016, I started a coaching center at Uttara with my co-founder Xihad. He is a graduate of MIST in Electrical and Electronic Engineering and a college friend of mine. Additionally, he has extensive experience in the teaching and coaching fields. We served thousands of students every year, especially those aspiring to get into BUET, DU, and other top-tier public universities.

During this venture, I learned how to build a team, how to manage people, how to scale a business, how to serve customers well and keep them happy, and most importantly how to address the major pain points facing students in our country. 

Future Startup: When and how did you come up with the idea of ROOTs Edu and get started?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: The idea came to me in 2015. Most students in our country do not have access to quality teachers. There are few quality and popular teachers outside of urban areas. Moreover, talented graduates from prestigious universities (e.g., BUET or DU) do not choose the teaching profession because it is a low-paying one both economically and socially and thus not lucrative. 

Each year, thousands of students come to Dhaka to get into university admission coaching centers and spend a lot of money to pass the admission tests. 

We sketched an idea to connect the dots and solve the problem. We started our online operation under the name ROOTs Edu in April 2019, along with our offline coaching center. We conducted extensive research on our course curriculum, content, teaching method, and teachers before we started. 

Screenshot_ROOTs Edu

Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of ROOTs Edu i.e., how did you put together initial investment and other resources to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months to one year of ROOTs Edu and your journey were like. 

Tahir Hasan Riddha: In April 2019 we built our first LMS site on our own from scratch. My wife, Nitol who is from a CS background, designed the system architecture and I myself wrote the codes. We didn’t use any WordPress/LMS template as the product needed frequent pivoting and customization. We wanted to solve all kinds of problems a student faces in online learning, which deserved a fully customized self-depended tech solution.

We took an office cum studio at Uttara and imported a smart interactive display panel from the USA for, first time in Bangladesh. It was a very tedious task for us. We wanted to produce top-notch international standard content from the beginning. 

In the early days, I and my co-founder Xihad were the only teachers in ROOTs. We made slides, shot video lectures, edited those, and uploaded them to our website all by ourselves. We took classes in our offline coaching center from 8 am to 5 pm and shot videos in the studio till late at night. The students appreciated our work a lot. Students found our content and products different from traditional e-learning platforms. It helped them grasp more concepts in less time. 

We bore all expenses from our own pocket and earned revenue from our offline coaching. Gradually, we started generating revenue from ROOTs and hired developers, content managers, video editors, operation, sales, and marketing guys. In September 2020 we launched our learning app. In March 2021 Sadaf joined as full-time CTO and co-founder of ROOTs. He is also a BUET graduate and previously worked in Samsung R&D, Bangladesh. 

Recently we’ve raised Pre-Seed investment from Omicon Tech Ventures, an initiative of Omicon Group. They have deep expertise in the education industry. The group owns leading publishing imprints, has the largest distribution channels with access to over 70% of educational institutions, and has one of the biggest digital content libraries in the country. With the investment from such a veteran conglomerate, our position in the edtech market has become stronger now.

Future Startup: What were some major challenges you faced in the early days and how did you deal with them?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: One of the major challenges was to convince students and parents that quality learning is also possible online. But a year into our operation, COVID hit and the product-market fit has been achieved automatically and quickly.

Another challenge we faced was to onboard the nation's brightest minds from top colleges (BUET, Medical, DU) as teachers on the platform. You can’t buy a teacher just with money. But, as we founders were also teachers, had deep connection and experience in the coaching industry and alumni connection in BUET, it was easier for us to show the vision and onboard them. They feel at home at ROOTs.

Future Startup: What were some of the things that worked, strategically, in the early days that helped you to grow the business and become sustainable?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: In a country like ours, to make a business out of education is taboo. Everyone thinks that education should be free and online educational content creators should provide quality content continuously totally free. But practically this is not a sustainable model and contains many loopholes.

We created a freemium business model. Recorded quality lectures of the whole syllabus are totally free in our app, Facebook, and YouTube channel. Live classes, doubt solving, exams, performance analytics, structured and distraction-free courses are offered in ‘ROOTs Plus Subscription’.

We made the subscription model simple for students with the tagline ‘Single Subscription Unlock All’. Where other edtech platforms sell courses, we sell time, just like Netflix. In a single subscription, a student can access multiple courses from multiple teachers and of multiple subjects. Students don’t have to pay for subject/topic/teacher-wise courses. Students choose what he/she wants to learn, from whom he/she wants to learn, in which batch he/she wants to join. This model solves three major problems of online learning at a time. Students loved it so much that they called our app ‘ROOTFlix’. 

Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of ROOTs Edu today i.e., an overview of your products and services, business model, how your operation works, size of business, team, etc.?

Screenshot_ROOTs Edu

Tahir Hasan Riddha: ROOTS is an edtech company that specializes in competitive exams in Bangladesh. Currently, we serve students of class 9 through 12 (national curriculum) and admission aspirants for public universities such as BUET, DU, Medical Colleges, IBA, etc. Soon we will cover BCS, bank jobs, and other job preparation segments.

Through our website and learning app, students can access all content and study materials. On the app, students can also watch recordings of classes and take quizzes and tests. As a result, the student can study at his or her own pace. By analyzing a student's performance, our system provides detailed reports about their strengths and weaknesses in each subject.

'ROOTS Plus Subscription' is how we generate revenue. On the app and social media channels (Facebook, YouTube), students can watch recorded classes of the entire syllabus for free. Students pay for premium services such as live classes, doubt solving, exams and quizzes, performance analytics, choice of multiple teachers, structured and distraction-free courses.

We are a tight ship of 25 full-time team members. First, we design courses and curriculum. Before any live class, we prepare contents i.e. slides/scripts, etc. Both of these tasks need massive research which is done by our expert academic team. Then comes the final part, our educators take interactive and effective live classes from the studio. Additionally, we have academic team members who prepare quizzes and tests, provide 24/7 doubt solving support, and ensure content quality. We have an experienced operations team that maintains this workflow. The tech team collaborates with academics and operations teams to launch new features and update existing ones.

Until now, we have conducted 3,50,000+ minutes of live classes, 20+ courses with 20+ iconic educators. 

Future Startup: From a product perspective, how does ROOTs Edu work? How do you work with your partners and customers? How does the tech part work?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: We believe in live, interactive classes. Students can learn spontaneously while attending live classes and have their doubts cleared instantly by teachers. Using our own live class technology, we conduct live classes on our app and website. We do not use any third-party software or platforms for live classes (e.g., Zoom, Meet, Facebook, etc.). We stream all the classes live from our studio using an interactive digital board. It enables students to learn more in less time and produces animated content live. Additionally, we provide performance analytics for every student as well as 24/7 doubt solving via our app and web. 

We have developed a sophisticated content management platform. Since curriculum changes frequently in Bangladesh, it helps us in recreating and updating current content according to student needs. As opposed to a generic ed-tech platform, we are dynamic and focused on content.

We maintain a customer-first culture. Through our support channels, we strive to fix any academic, after-sales, and technical issues as soon as possible. We are attempting to give students of Bangladesh a taste of true edtech. 

Future Startup: How have you attracted users and grown ROOTs Edu? Could you tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth? How do your sales and marketing work?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: Our students purchase subscriptions after watching our free classes on social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube) because they find our content more effective than other free content available online. Our app saves them both time and money. Our average watch time, MAU, DAU, and customer retention rate prove that. 

At the moment, we are solely using social media for sales and marketing. We are currently breaking even on an operational basis. At this stage, we are not only growing but also generating decent revenue.

We have achieved the current growth because of word-of-mouth marketing. We work continuously to improve our products by conducting extensive research and applying innovation. Our product is loved by students, and it solves their core problems. Our experience — 8 years of experience in the industry, background, and connections in the coaching industry have made this possible.

Future Startup: Pandemic continues to drag on: what kind of impact of the pandemic are you seeing in your business and how are you dealing with it?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: COVID has helped accelerate the growth of edtech and e-learning platforms all over the world. In Bangladesh, customer awareness and achieving product-market fit have both been accelerated. 

After 1.5 years of COVID, we have developed a slightly different perspective. Things are changing rapidly. In our country, all kinds of educational institutions have been closed for a long time. Education technology complements mainstream education. We can't replace traditional education overnight. The urgency that students feel to study and pay for studying is gradually ebbing as all public and admissions exams are off for a long time.

We are restructuring our course curriculums based on students' needs. To help students in this pandemic situation, we have reduced our subscription fees significantly. We have increased the number of free live classes. These decisions and strategic moves have turned out positive for ROOTs.

Screenshot_ROOTs Edu

Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: A mistake is an event that goes wrong. Every time we make a mistake, we try to learn from it. Then we train our existing and future employees on them.

Future Startup: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building ROOTs Edu? 

Tahir Hasan Riddha: We always put ourselves in our customer's shoes when looking at a problem and try to see it from their perspective. 

In some cases, customers can't tell you what the problem is, but you can detect it by using your previous experience and customer behavior patterns. In this case, our prior experience in the industry has helped us to stay ahead of our competitors.

Future Startup: Could you please tell us about the edtech market in Bangladesh? How big is the market? What are the major trends? What are the challenges and opportunities in the vertical? 

Tahir Hasan Riddha: The Edtech era has just begun in our country. All players in the sector are trying to understand the market size and dynamics with their own metrics. For determining market size, customer behavior patterns and purchasing capability are also important. Everyone finds it very difficult to predict what will happen after COVID. 

When it comes to edtech, Bangladesh is often compared to India. Even though the cultures and lifestyles of both countries are quite similar, some key metrics show that the Bangladesh market is entirely different from India, which is often overlooked by founders and investors.

There are different kinds of challenges and therefore different kinds of opportunities. Our edtech market has distinct categories: K-12, Undergraduate Admission, University, Continuous Education, Competitive Exam Segment, Skill development, etc. Our edtech market is big enough to support a few large venture-backed players each targeting a particular segment.

There are many challenges for edtech in Bangladesh. Our internet penetration is much lower compared to other countries in the SEA region. Local talents don’t want to work in the education sector because there is not much social recognition. The content and curriculum quality of our country isn’t up to the mark. 

Every challenge is an opportunity. We are trying to solve all problems one by one. We have an experienced and passionate team that is dedicated to impacting millions of students of Bangladesh.

Future Startup: How do you stay productive and positive as a founder?

Tahir Hasan Riddha: I always do what is my job, what my company demands of me, and delegate the rest. It is important to me that my team members feel satisfied and happy. Once my team is happy and our customers are happy, it gives me satisfaction. 

Future Startup: 3 books you would like to recommend to our readers.

Tahir Hasan Riddha: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Start With Why, The Power of Positive Thinking

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https://www.techinasia.com/bangladeshi-mass-transit-startup-shuttle-nets-750k-seed-money-affordable-transportation 

Deepti Sri · 1 Jun 2021 · 2 min read

Bangladeshi ride-sharing startup nets $750k in seed money

Shuttle, a Bangladesh-based mass-transit startup, announced it has raised US$750,000 in its seed round led by Accelerating Asia.

 

The new round brings the company’s total funding to date to US$1 million.

Investors including Robi Axiata, Impact Collective, and Bangladesh Angels Network also participated in the funding round, along with angel investors such as the head of mobility innovation programs at Uber and the co-founder and managing director of Foodpanda Bangladesh.

Launched in 2018, Shuttle provides transportation services with its air-conditioned minivans, which can accommodate up to 11 people. It charges less than one-fourth of what ride-sharing cars do.

“When we started, we figured out that different segments of people in society have different needs and priorities, and that one solution will not solve all of the problems,” said Shuttle’s co-founder and CEO Reyasat Chowdhury.

Keeping the different needs of people in mind, the company started with a women-only service to address the lack of safe transportation for women. In 2020, Shuttle extended its services with “Shuttle for Business” to provide organizations with sanitized transportation for their employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company aims to make transportation more affordable and accessible for people in developing countries. Currently, it has over 20,000 women registered on its platform for the “Shuttle for Women” service, and has completed more than a million rides.

Shuttle said it is also eligible to receive funding of up to US$100,000 from Biniyog Briddhi, a public-private development partnership between the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh, Roots of Impact, and LightCastle Partners.

 

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https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2021/08/10/they-said-i-was-mad-leaving-silicon-valley-for-bangladesh

'They said I was crazy leaving Silicon Valley for Bangladesh’

 Zisan Bin Liaquat

 Published at 07:40 pm August 10th, 2021

waseem-alim-1628602665068.jpeg

Waseem Alim, co-founder and CEO of Chaldal Courtesy

Chaldal was founded by Waseem Alim, along with Tejas Viswanath, and Zia Ashraf in 2013. After working in product development for Wikinvest and SigFig, Alim began exploring the possibility of launching a startup in his home country. Speaking to Dhaka Tribune's Zisan Bin Liaquat, he talks about Chaldal’s meteoric rise 

From Silicon Valley to Dhaka, what barriers did you have to break to make Chaldal what it is today?

I did work in Silicon Valley and when I had left my job there to come and start something in Bangladesh, I was perceived to be a crazy man.

I have also seen that prejudice among many graduates who fear coming back and losing the opportunity for a foreign citizenship.

When I was about to start the venture I even heard someone say, "Torkari bechbe deshe!" (He will sell groceries back home) which was funny.

Other than that, there was the market that was ready to adapt to online grocery shopping but no one had tapped into delivering perishables, which itself was a big barrier.

 

What are the challenges in regard to delivering perishable goods? How does Chaldal undertake such challenges?

The main challenge is that people are used to physically visiting the market and handpicking produce.

If the product, by chance, turns out to be of inferior quality after reaching home, they do not get upset, but in the case of doorstep delivery they get easily upset.

Assuring customers of our service quality takes a lot of effort. We had to invest a huge amount in just the supply chain to ensure customer satisfaction.

Complaints are monitored heavily, as we are in the perishable business which means products can go bad very quickly.

However, our continuous effort of analyzing, controlling the damage, and ensuring freshest products through a trained workforce that knows how to handle the products avoiding any damage have enabled us to face that challenge head-on.

For example, recently we sold around 3,000-4,000 dozens of eggs and received only four complaints. We strive to even reduce that further if it is scientifically possible relying on technology.

Having a trained and skilled workforce itself is a big challenge, I must admit.

 

How does Chaldal integrate technology?

We love being at the edge of technology.

We believe there are plenty of fundamental problems that technology can solve in the developing world.

We started off in 2013, by building the world's first 1-hour grocery delivery service in the world's most densely populated city, where it used to be an incredible chore to get daily necessities.

We use a cloud-based inventory system that allows users to see what items are available in real-time.

We believe software development itself can be better, and we regularly experiment with home-grown frameworks, algorithms, thought processes, programming languages, and DSLs.

We run our own cloud from local data centers and work directly with country-wide information infrastructure providers.

We also carry out internal communication with our own software that allows our call centers and various wings to coordinate, and help disburse products such as vegetables from warehouses or relevant places.

Such an ecosystem helps track movement, analyze what we have monitored, and take steps accordingly.

 

How much is Chaldal worth today?

In terms of market value, I would not be able to say it as we have not had any recent evaluation in that regard.

However, Chaldal currently has a family of approximately 2,600 people. Last month we delivered 300,000 orders to 120,000 customers and average customers shop around 2.4 times (recurring).

 

How has the market evolved since the platform’s inception?

There has been a positive evolution; people generally do trust online marketplaces although the recent trend has been worrying.

However, I will say that Pathao, Shohoz, Hungrynaki, foodpanda, Uber, alongside Chaldal have enabled a level of trust with online transactions.

It has been very apparent that Bangladesh is becoming a middle-income country.

The demand for shampoos, diapers, is encouraging for the economy. Consumption has increased which has enabled diversity as well.

Previously, for example, we only had Thai or Chinese restaurants, or just noodles or macaroni.

But the consumer taste has evolved with the market.

We now have Dragon fruits and avocado consumed locally.

Considering the local demographic, even the niche market is very big.  

 

How much of the products have to be subsidized for Chaldal to access the market? How much does Chaldal spend on average to acquire a customer/consumer?

Chaldal does not charge a premium for convenience.

Instead, it competes with brick-and-mortar stores by buying directly from wholesalers and offering lower prices.

Grocery margins are too slim to support huge discounts, but most of Chaldal’s prices are about 1-2% lower than other stores.

Our promotion or marketing budget is hardly Tk7-8 crore.

We mostly incentivize customers which may cost around, say, Tk100-200. Instead of subsidization we actually charge less in terms of our service (delivery) or incentivize bulk buying for example if you buy 3 you get a lower price for ex Tk27 instead of Tk30 (Tk10 for each).

 

Who are your investors and where do you need the most funding?

Building technology is not easy. You have to acquire talent.

Moreover, the return on investment often takes time.

Enabling value generation and service enhancement through technology, as well as acquiring talent and enabling a skilled workforce with a network of distribution centers is where most of the funding goes into.

We have a good line up of investors backed by Y Combinator and 500 Startups, IDLC among others. Startup Bangladesh also made early investments in Chaldal.

 

Does competition make you healthy and enable you to provide better service? What has been Chaldal’s expansion plan in terms of setting up more hubs or distribution centers in contrast to competitors?

It is a country of 160 Million, we barely reached 500,000. It is not actually time for competition.

Rather we should focus on how we tap into the remaining big pool of markets and get them into e-commerce.

Just to give an example, Australia’s population is 26 million. Bangladesh’s niche market that buys diapers, for example, is that big.

The grocery market is huge as well, and it is not a niche market.

The market here is already very big, so we do not need to expand to other cities in order to get bigger challenges.

In Dhaka, groceries are probably a $4 to $5 billion market per year, so if we provide cheaper prices, more variety, and better quality, there is no reason why we should not be one of the biggest retailers in the city, if not the biggest

 

With the recent revelations on the e-commerce sector clouded by uncertainties and allegations, how do you see the future of the Chaldal marketplace and the industry?

We operate with fixed vendors and hold our own inventory. Most deliveries happen on a daily basis.

The Ministry of Commerce has taken the right step, protecting the customer’s trust and we are in compliance with regulations. We have to keep in mind that the industry is very new.

Regulators should also understand the fact that you cannot start regulating from day one, but there is no doubt, there needs to be some sort of standard. Any regulation is a disincentive for an entrepreneur to try something in that sector so regulators should have the right balance.

 

Where do you see Chaldal in the next 5-10 years?

Being accessible in most of Bangladesh at any point anywhere and providing Chaldal’s service, not just in metropolitans.

A happy customer base is all I want and the dream is to go global.

By taking local innovation to the global market I want to show the world that tech giants such as Uber can come from Bangladesh and not just San Francisco.

 

What are some of the ongoing CSR projects that you are proud of?

Throughout the pandemic we have seen a lot of interested parties who wanted to donate.

We had a wing that assisted people in donating. We did not donate ourselves, but we helped prepare packets with the necessary essentials and helped deliver it.

We even marginalized reducing the cost per pack. The donation went to all the right places.

From there we even opened a page where customers or citizens can assist people who had been impacted by the pandemic and could not afford daily food.

This is still an ongoing campaign which any one can participate in.  

Additionally, we measure our success by the amount of positive global impact we achieve.

Since our inception we have gone on to redefine supply chains, ease commodity trading, support refugee camps and reduce food wastage.

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Mahfuz Ullah Babu

16 August, 2021, 09:25 pm

Last modified: 17 August, 2021, 12:58 pm

Golden Harvest launches e-commerce platform

The company eyes a fair share of the service market for booking restaurant, and delivering food, grocery and medicine

golden_harvest_info_graph_update-01_0.jp

 

Golden Harvest Group has inaugurated their e-commerce venture Golden Harvest Survus Ltd that eyes a fair share in the potential service market for restaurant booking, food delivery as well as grocery and medicine delivery.  

Its food services wing Servus Foods is already open for the customers with around 150 capital city restaurants onboard by now.

Listed food processing company Golden Harvest Agro Industries Ltd owns 45% of the e-commerce company against its capital contribution of Tk5 crore, according to its regulatory filings.

Golden Harvest Infotech Ltd, a leading IT outsourcing firm of the group, joined the venture as the technology partner and owns 40% shares, while two individual professionals own the remaining shares.

Chartered accountant Abuzer Ghaffari is one of the two individual shareholders, who is also serving Servus as the Operations Director of Foods.

He told The Business Standard their venture has a huge potential to grow in coming years, and they are committed to uphold "Golden Harvest standard for quality" in the services too.

Servus Foods and the market

Golden Harvest Servus began its journey with its food services on Monday, said Ghaffari.

"Amid the pandemic, restaurants are suffering and food delivery services have saved their days so far. We are entering into agreements with them to not charge more than 15% in commission until the pandemic is over," he said while explaining the way Servus is planning to penetrate into the burgeoning food delivery sector seeing intensified competition among five large players who charge restaurants 12-30% commission.

"Servus will deliver your ordered food within 25-40 minutes and we are selecting restaurants based on the quality of their food," he said.

Delivery fees will not cross Tk29 and every restaurant will offer attractive discounts to customers over the first 3-6 months.

Food delivery is booming in Dhaka as the number of daily orders served has roughly doubled amid the pandemic while joint efforts by the delivery platforms and restaurants are costing ordered food less than what it used to be for dining-in.

Uber Eats, the food delivery platform of the global ride sharing giant, left the market in its early stage while observers believe that it was due to the competitive scenario.

Responding to a question regarding profitability, Ghaffari said apparently it seems  to be a cash burning business, but a popular platform can enjoy multiple streams of revenue that include advertisement from the restaurant partners on top of their commission on order value.

Number of daily served orders is yet to cross the number for 1% of Dhaka's population and Ghaffari feels the market would significantly grow in coming years with the increasing purchasing power and a changing lifestyle.

"This is just the beginning and the entire potential is ahead," he said.

Dining-in and table booking

Servus also launched its restaurant booking services that would see a fair demand in popular restaurants as customers can pre-book tables, pre-order items from the menu uploaded in the app, said Servus Foods Operations Director Ghaffari.

The business would flourish once the pandemic is over, he hopes, as there would be good deals for both the restaurants and diners.

"You will not have to come back from a restaurant without enjoying the desired food items," he added.

Home delivery of grocery and medicine is also in a rising popularity and Servus plans to enter there as soon as it secures a good start in food services.

Mother company making losses

Golden Harvest Agro Industries, a public company that is a leading name in the food processing industry of the country, especially in ready to cook frozen foods.

It also expanded its wings in ice-cream and is working to establish a cold chain network.

However, the pandemic hurt its consolidated sales significantly and its revenue for the July 2020-March 2021 period nearly halved to Tk37.7 crore, while a hike in selling and distribution cost along with other determined elements pushed the listed firm post Tk0.85 loss per share, against Tk0.6 profit per share over the same period a year ago.

Golden Harvest Agro Industries shares, having face value of Tk10 each, fell by 2.3% to close at Tk21.6 in the Dhaka Stock Exchange on Monday.

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6 Fast-growing Digital Trucking Startups Look to Transform Trucking Industry in Bangladesh

By Tithi Chowdhury

|

Jun 1, 2021

A new generation of Trucking Startups look to transform trucking in Bangladesh using the power of technology

 

Whether it's for personal purposes or the logistics of a company, trucks are essential to transport goods in bulk from one place to another. For companies, ensuring the efficiency of logistics is a must to keep the business running smoothly. Goods moving smoothly from one place to another depends a lot on trucking and logistics. To that end, logistics is critical for a country. But when it comes to hiring a truck, we all know how challenging an experience it is for most people, especially when one does not have any or little idea about truck renting.

This however is changing slowly. As the internet penetration in Bangladesh grows and a growing number of consumers get used to digital services, we are seeing a new generation of digital trucking startups looking to make the trucking service more accessible by digitizing the whole truck hiring process.

Take Truck Lagbe, one of the leaders in the digital trunking vertical, anyone can hire a truck from anyplace any time through using the Truck Lagbe app or calling their customer service number. Digitization of trucking service has also made it easier for the truck owners and drivers to get trips and improves efficiency for everyone involved.,. Truck Lagbe is one of the companies in the vertical. We have seen an influx of new companies in the digital trucking space in the past few years. These are some of the companies we have been following in the space. 

1. Truck Lagbe

Founder: Anayet Rashid and Mir Hossain Ekram

Founded in: 2017

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: 100+ (LinkedIn) 

Truck Lagbe, founded by Anayet Rashid and Mir Hossain Ekram, is a Dhaka-based startup that aims to make the truck hiring service in Bangladesh more convenient by connecting the truck owners and shippers through their app. Even before launching officially, the startup won the first prize in the 'Startup Challenge 2017' competition. 

In an interview with Future Startup, Anayet Rashid said, the idea of Truck Lagbe came from a personal experience when he saw that hiring a truck for transporting goods costs more than transporting via one's trucks. Hence he decided to build a platform that will connect the truck owners and the shippers that will help improve the efficiency for both parties. The company has since evolved and launched multiple iterations of its platform. Today, Truck Lagbe has a fast-growing marketplace business where it predominantly works with B2C customers and SMEs and a brokerage business where it works with large enterprises.

Truck Lagbe launched a new version of its app in November last year and introduced a series of interesting features such as fixed pricing, uber-like truck matching — the company says, it takes only 3 seconds to match a truck and improved discovery and navigation for users. The company has also introduced fixed prices where customers can hire trucks for a fixed price without the hassle of price bargaining. It also offers spot pricing to corporates and B2B businesses. Over the past years, Truck Lagbe has built excellent liquidity of vehicles on its platform. The company now aims to bring other products and services related to trucking such as tier, oil, GPS tracker, etc to its platform. 

Read our coverage of Truck Lagbe to understand more about Truck Lagbe. 

Arla.jpg

2. Shohoz Truck

Founder: Maliha M Quadir

Founded in: 2014

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: 300

Shohoz Truck, which started its journey in 2019, is an online platform for hiring trucks and is working to digitize the truck hiring service of Bangladesh making it easier for anyone to avail trucking service from anywhere and anytime. Individuals, as well as companies, can hire trucks via this platform. 

According to The Daily Star, Shohoz Truck has partnered with more than 2000 truck agencies of Bangladesh and more than 30k vehicles are available under this platform. Recently, Shohoz Truck has partnered up with Paperfly to provide them with logistics solutions.

3. Truck Kothay

Founder: Monico Technologies Ltd.

Founded in: 2017

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: Unknown

Another platform for hiring trucks in Bangladesh is Truck Kothay. It is a service of Monico Technologies Ltd. At present, approximately 5000 trucks are connected via this platform and their service is available throughout the country. 

One of the services provided by Truck Kothay is the 'Online Bidding' feature for truck owners, where a truck owner can submit his fare by bidding for order and getting a trip. The customer care service of Truck Kothay is available 24/7. The customers can hire trucks anytime via the website or app or phone on this platform.

4. Loop Freight

Founder: Christopher Li, Fahim Salam, Rajib Das, Wasim Zaman

Founded in: 2018

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: 50 (LinkedIn)

Loop Freight, launched in 2018, is an online trucking startup that aims to provide hassle-free logistics support systems for its customers. According to The Business Standard, the platform not only just provides efficient transportation service, but also ease of accessibility by transporting goods according to the shippers' preferred schedule with a short lead time and real-time shipment tracking facility. Loop Freight works with truck owners and keeps track of the fleets. 

They have two pricing methods: contractual and market-price. The app of Loop can estimate the price in accordance with the customer's preference. A TBS report says the company grew 125% during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the demand for trucking service rose during this period.

GIM-cover.jpg

5. Goods In Motion

Founder:  Alamgir Alvi

Founded in: 2018

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: Unknown

Goods in motion (GIM) is one of the fast-growing digital trucking startups in Dhaka. The company calls itself a truck rental app that connects shippers and carriers through a digital platform. Founded by Alamgir Alvi, GIM is Part of Jogajog Limited. Officially launched in April 2018, the company has seen excellent growth and claims to have over 14,000 vehicles on its platform and has served more than 3000 customers including large enterprises such as PRAN, Lafarge-Holcim Bangladesh Limited, ACI Limited, Shah Cement, Abul Khair, BEOL, ACI, BSRM, KSRM, Aziz Group, etc. 

6. Sheba.xyz

Founder: Adnan Imtiaz Halim, Ilmul Haque Sajib and Abu Naser Md. Shoaib

Founded in: 2015

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: 200+

Besides its other services, trucking service is also available on Sheba's platform. Anyone can hire trucks and get an estimated price for this service via the Sheba platform. For small trips, the estimated price is given over the phone and in case of large shipment, the platform provides an 'Estimated Cost of Services. Sheba provides the complete solution for shipping goods, from loading the goods to unloading the goods upon reaching the destination. Like its other services, payment through EMI is also available for its trucking service.

Founder:  Alamgir Alvi

Founded in: 2018

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: Unknown

Goods in motion (GIM) is one of the fast-growing digital trucking startups in Dhaka. The company calls itself a truck rental app that connects shippers and carriers through a digital platform. Founded by Alamgir Alvi, GIM is Part of Jogajog Limited. Officially launched in April 2018, the company has seen excellent growth and claims to have over 14,000 vehicles on its platform and has served more than 3000 customers including large enterprises such as PRAN, Lafarge-Holcim Bangladesh Limited, ACI Limited, Shah Cement, Abul Khair, BEOL, ACI, BSRM, KSRM, Aziz Group, etc. 

6. Sheba.xyz

Founder: Adnan Imtiaz Halim, Ilmul Haque Sajib and Abu Naser Md. Shoaib

Founded in: 2015

Headquarter: Dhaka

Investment raised so far: Undisclosed 

Team size: 200+

Besides its other services, trucking service is also available on Sheba's platform. Anyone can hire trucks and get an estimated price for this service via the Sheba platform. For small trips, the estimated price is given over the phone and in case of large shipment, the platform provides an 'Estimated Cost of Services. Sheba provides the complete solution for shipping goods, from loading the goods to unloading the goods upon reaching the destination. Like its other services, payment through EMI is also available for its trucking service.

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