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Startups of Bangladesh and its Future


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Markopolo Aims to Automate Digital Advertising and Help Companies Save Both Time and Money

By Naziba Ali

|

Jun 26, 2021

Markopolo is a Dhaka-based marketing automation startup targeting SMBs both in local and international markets. Over the past years, we have seen a meteoric rise of digital commerce and digital marketing. For a large number of SMBs, today, marketing mostly means digital marketing. But managing digital marketing remains a costly affair. Managing multiple channels, complex processes, and resource requirements, and ensuring effective results out of digital campaigns remain a major challenge for most businesses.

Markopolo has developed a solution to address challenges SMBs face when it comes to managing their marketing operation. The company's AI Marketing Assistant takes the information of a business as input and automatically generates ad campaigns, creatives, and copies for placement on multiple platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Google, etc. 

The AI-based digital marketing startup tailors strategy-driven marketing blueprints and recommendations according to a company’s requirements. From pure ad optimization to driving multiple ad campaigns on various channels, Markopolo allows companies to fully automate their digital marketing, from “campaign planning, creative and copy generation to A/B testing and Ad spending optimization”. In many ways, Markopolo aims to bring multiple aspects of digital marketing operations such as design, copywriting, analytics, and execution in one place. “All you need to do is focus on your ideas", says Markopolo CEO Tasfia Tasbin. "Our AI will figure out what your company's next best marketing move is and do the legwork for you.” 

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The beginning 

Three co-founders of Markopolo, Tasfia Tasbin, CEO, Mubtaseem Zaman, CTO, Rubaiyat Farhan, COO, have known each other for many years now and have experience of working in relevant fields, which make them an ideal team to tackle the challenge. 

Ms. Tasbin, one of the three co-founders of Markopolo, has wide-ranging experience both working in large tech companies and early-stage startups and says she is deeply passionate about marketing and has been helping SMBEs with marketing for a while now. 

Apart from acting as a consultant for several Government projects, Ms.Tasbin has worked at Gaze Technology, a visual AI startup, in various capacities. “I began my career as an IoT creator at DataSoft Systems Bangladesh Limited. However, I didn't feel empowered by technology alone. Rather I aspired to build a bridge between technology and management. To that end, I began working as a digital marketing consultant for small retail businesses and early-age startups.  When Covid-19 struck, almost every small business (SMB) I consulted with was affected. I helped them as much as I could to survive the pandemic by strategizing their digital marketing. After that, while working on a project with Rubaiyat and Zaman, we started to hover about the prospect and possibilities of scaling this service” she adds. 

“Markopolo is not my first company, says Rubayat Farhan, the COO of Markopolo.ai. “After completing my undergrad, I became the CEO of TiGrow, a global SaaS startup. While I'm a salesman at heart, I taught myself product and project management, as well as coding skills, in order to contribute to the tech team. Zaman is my cousin and I’ve known Tasfia for quite some time. We first met during our university years, when we were both competing for the Hult Prize, and have remained in touch ever since. Zaman worked as a Software Developer at ZeitDice Inc, a Canadian Company. Zaman returned to the country about one and half years ago. While we explored the feasibility of our venture, Zaman decided to stay back in Bangladesh. From then on, there was no looking back” he added. 

Prior to starting Markopolo, the three founders deliberated on several ideas. They would jot down all of the ideas on a board and score them. After much thought, they settled on pursuing the Markopolo. Once decided, the three musketeers then embarked on a consumer study of digital marketing experiences instead of building a product right away to understand the challenges businesses face when it comes to managing digital marketing. They worked with several leading digital marketing agencies in Dhaka and SMBEs and startups to understand the workflow and challenges of digital marketing. 

The market research concluded that digital marketing is often cumbersome and overbearing. Managing numerous social media and marketing platforms, developing strategies, creating the right content, and distributing them properly require a lot of time and resources. Moreover, different social media and marketing platforms come with their unique functionalities and algorithms which makes managing them a demanding learning experience.

Most SMBs have limited marketing knowledge. To tackle these challenges, the business owners either spend bucks on marketing ads based on gut instincts or hire digital agencies to curate content for them. The latter is more expensive, and the quality of services varies between marketers and agencies. The interaction is often sluggish and open-ended, resulting in a mismatch of preferences between consumers and agencies. Because of a lack of accountability from agencies, consumers do not feel in charge of their digital ads, which is the final nail in the coffin.

With a deeper understanding of the problem, Markopolo team then went on to build the product. The company deliberately took an experimental approach to develop the product. The very first version of the product, the Markopolo team developed was a combination of Google calendar and Google form and excel sheet for agencies and customers to streamline communication and campaign.  

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Building the product and finding the early users 

In October 2020, the Markopolo team began to delve deeper into the advertising industry. “We approached ad agencies like Magnito, Analyzen, and various types of businesses (ecommerce, startups, SMB, and so on) in order to better understand the user experience and pain points in the industry. We provided them with data analytics services (DaaS), and they were all enthused. We shifted user experience to Notion, calendar, and Google form, which you could call our first product. Next, we began working on an in-house ad optimization tool that conducts A/B research, budget allocation across various platforms (Facebook and Google), and ad spending reduction. We included it in our alpha release” says Rubaiyat.

In the next stage, they developed a buyer persona for their first beta edition, and started interviewing customers from various demographics, such as different countries and different clusters of agency customers. 

“We ran A/B tests on our website landing page, used Google Advertising to drive traffic to it, and Hotjar to determine visitors' interests in the page. In the first month, we handpicked 5 paying customers and began serving them with our rough prototype created with Google Forms and Notion. We delivered the Alpha version of the software to them in the second month. At long last, we launched our Beta version” adds Rubaiyat. At the time of this interview in April 2021, Markopolo team was preparing to significantly grow beta users and publicly launch a beta version. 

The company says it has gained an excellent response from the market. The company credits Google Ads campaign and cold mail promotions for the early user growth. “We've crossed the border into India, Indonesia, North America, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Turkey, among other countries. In reality, Indonesia is our largest customer base. Our goal is to partner up with small vendor businesses worldwide such as Amazon FBA and Shopify owners” says Ms. Tasbin. 

Markopolo uses the Freemium model. During onboarding, each user gets 300 credits to be used in the platform, which means a user can use the platform without any subscription. The company currently offers three subscription tiers: free, basic, and advance. It offers a customer enterprise for big businesses. Each tier comes with both Credits as well as added benefits and perks.

Currently, there are over 4000 companies on their waiting list. The company has taken a strategic approach to increase its visibility on the Internet. Alongside targeting competitors through Google ads, they also concentrated on SEO-based content marketing by publishing at least four blogs every month. “While in college, Zaman founded an advertisement startup for Toronto's dying brick-and-mortar stores. While that startup did not take off, he has maintained a close relationship with the small businesses in Downtown Toronto ever since. So, Zaman consulted with the community leaders in order for them to spread the word about our venture to small businesses in North America” says Rubaiyat. 

The product has since evolved. Using Markopolo, a user now can plan campaigns, generate creatives, generate captions and copy — a feature powered by GPT-3, automate ads and receive actionable insights. 

The founders onboarded marketing veteran Kazi Monirul Kabir as an advisor. He is the founder of Spider Digital Innovation, the country director of Httppool, and has previously worked for Google, BAT, and Telenor, among others. Besides, they scheduled meetings with other industry experts to discuss their concept. 

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Investment 

The initial operation was funded by the founders. Once they built an early version of the product, they went on to onboard founders. Raising money was difficult for the team because they had enough industry contacts. The growth factor, scalability potential, and team strength provided them with credibility in the eyes of investors. 

“We're backed by a few Angels, including Mohammad Maaz (previously backed startups such as Gaze and Loop), Abraham Khan (a Lincoln's Inn barrister), and Dekko Isho Group. So far, a total of $200,000 has been raised” comments Tasfia. 

“We expect to launch our product this month, following an expansion in North America that will directly target Amazon FBA and Shopify owners.”

Lesson from  Markopolo

SaaS is being adopted by a growing number of businesses since it gives them access to a much larger IT infrastructure, allowing for greater inter-app integration and accomplishing more with fewer resources. This has a major impact on SMB efficiency and productivity.

“Through our A/B testing, we’ve come to realize that developing markets are quite reluctant to adopt SaaS in comparison to developed markets.  So, in order to succeed, we have to demonstrate that Markopolo is more efficient and cost-effective when compared to traditional digital marketing services,” says Rubaiyat. 

“The second lesson that we learnt would be the significance of community leaders as advocates of your company. If it wasn’t for Zaman’s acquaintances with the community leaders in Toronto’s SMB scene, maybe we couldn't have tapped that market so well.”

In Bangladesh, advertising agencies are often biased towards big-budget companies. SMBs are not given the attention they need.  For them, when they collaborate with agencies, the user experience deteriorates gradually. As Rubaiyat mentions “SMBs in Bangladesh shift agencies at least four times a year. The results have been nearly the same for SMBs in Europe.” 

These market insights have helped the Markopolo team build a product that works. “The most important lesson I have learned is: talk to your customers,” says Ms. Tasbin. “We have followed this mantra to the extreme. We have taken a product development approach where we are talking with our customers every day. I have seen many founders make this mistake where they build products based on their hypothesis without directly testing them in the market, which often leads to costly mistakes. We have worked hard to avoid them.” 

The founders' prior experience in startups has significantly influenced their entrepreneurial approach. “We experienced user bias when working at TiGrow. As a result, our business research was flawed and we had to pivot multiple times. I learned from that experience. Says Mr. Rubaiyat. “So, when conducting market analysis for Markopolo, I made sure I was extra careful this time”.

According to Forbes, marketing and sales prioritize AI and machine learning more than any other department in businesses today (40 percent). During the second quarter of 2019, startups using artificial intelligence raised more than $7.4 billion in funding. 

Marketing automation has gained attention over the past years. There are several players in space. There are players like Canva, Buffer, and similar players who are offering solutions to some aspects of digital marketing such as design and social media management. There are companies that provide complete automation solutions like Markopolo. However, Markopolo says, the company has developed a unique product and is superior and easy to use than other alternatives in the market. The company is gearing up for a public beta launch, which means we will be able to see the real market response once the company launches to the public.

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https://www.thedailystar.net/business/economy/news/hi-tech-relief-perennial-pain-2159481?amp

Published on 12:00 AM, August 24, 2021

Mahmudul Hasan

Hi-tech relief from perennial pain

Working women getting sanitary napkins through local startup’s IoT-powered vending machines

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Easily accessible and inexpensive sanitary napkins made available through IoT-enabled vending machines, such as this one at Fakir Fashion’s Narayanganj factory. Photo: Collected

Getting her period at work has always made garment worker Roksana Aktar uncomfortable.

Sanitary napkins had never been an affordable option for her. She only knew of using rags or sometimes garment waste called "jhoot".

Aktar saw the unhygienic substance being used by many of her colleagues at different factories she had worked in the past 18 years. Some skipped work for the day altogether.

But relief has come for Aktar and her current 6,300 female colleagues, thanks to Fakir Fashion installing three sanitary napkin vending machines at its Narayanganj factory in May.

"Now when I get my period, I just touch my office ID on the machine and a sanitary napkin comes out," Aktar told The Daily Star recently.

"It is similar to or easier than withdrawing money from an ATM," she said. Moreover, the price of the hygiene products is subsidised by the factory, so an employee has to pay just Tk 12 to avail one packet containing five menstrual pads.

Fakir Fashion says it plans to introduce them on all their premises.

The internet of things (IoT)-based dispensers were built and installed by local tech startup Vertical Innovations.

"It is completely locally made. So our production cost is very low," said Rezwan Ahamed Noor, the startup's CEO.

Branded "Jyoti", the machines come in three models: lite, pro and standard.

The startup charges Tk 15,000, Tk 20,000, and Tk 30,000 respectively for installation and supplies and replenishes stocks. All their vending machines are connected to a cloud server, sending data such as inventory status round the clock, which does away with the machines ever having to run out of products, and enabling remote operations.

"All users with ID cards are registered at the central system. We can allocate weekly, monthly, daily consumption limits. Only authorised users can make purchases," said Noor.

"There are over three million women garment workers in the country and they have been facing a lack of availability of sanitary napkins at their workplaces," he said.

Setting up the vending machines solves this problem and provides the opportunity for female garment workers to easily avail inexpensive sanitary napkins, he added.

The startup aims to go beyond garment factories to other workplaces and educational institutions as well.

Launching in 2020, Vertical Innovations first installed one machine at Banchte Shekha, a Jashore-based development organisation for women and children, in November that year.

This year it installed 11 more machines at Zaheen Knitwear's, Riyadul Muslimat Shishu Shikkhaloy, WaterAid Bangladesh, Fakir Fashion, YWCA Higher Secondary Girls' School and Sajgoj.

The company, comprising 12 persons, including embedded system and software engineers, is in the process of deploying three more machines in three schools in Rangpur by this month.

"The IoT is one of the major driving forces of the 4th industrial revolution," said Noor, who is also one of the company's three co-founders.

The entity's future plan is to set up the country's largest IoT-network of sanitary napkin vending machines, reaching all workplaces where women are present.

It is also planning to provide another machine named "Nityo" that would dispense grain.

This will facilitate programmes such as the government's open market sale of daily essentials, with customers simply having to use national identity cards.

Vertical Innovations also provides industrial automation solutions using IoT.

Based on sensor-collected data such as of temperature, pressure, flow control, pH and arsenic concentration, the startup can provide a complete analytical dashboard to industries to monitor and manage their industrial processes.   

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https://futurestartup.com/2020/03/18/the-story-neofarmers-with-tamzid-siddiq-spondon/

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The Story of Neofarmers: An Interview With Tamzid Siddiq Spondon, Managing Director, Neofarmers

By Ruhul Kader

|

Mar 18, 2020

Successful entrepreneur Tamzid Siddiq Spondon shares the founding story of his most latest venture Neofarmers, talks about the steady rise of safe food in Bangladesh, the operational mechanics of Neofarmers, the state of Neofarmers business today, how it has invested in product development, growth and sustainable competitive advantage, the ambition of Neofarmers, and the challenges of safe food business in Bangladesh, reflects on his priorities for 2020, how he operates as an entrepreneur, defining trends of the new decade, how entrepreneurs should respond to the challenges of a trying time and much more. 

Ruhul Kader: Thank you for agreeing to do an interview with us. Could you please give us an overview of Neofarmers? 

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon: The origin of Neofarmers lies in an intimate personal experience and need. We all eat food - we can’t survive without food. While complaints regarding the state of food safety in Bangladesh have always been there, I never took them seriously until I had kids. When my two kids came along, I started paying greater attention to what they’re eating - quality, safety standard, and other aspects of food. It became a constant concern. That concern, you may say, was the first inspiration to start Neofarmers.

I wanted to ensure safe and healthy food for my kids. But when I started to explore the options, I came to see that the options for safe food remain limited in the market. That’s when I first came across the idea of creating a safe food brand. 

I shared the idea with my friends and they immediately identified with the challenge. Everyone felt the need and wanted to be a part of it. We discussed the idea, how we may address the challenge and eventually agreed to do something in the sector. We did not think of a business venture per se. We wanted to make it happen for our kids and loved ones. We had land where we used to do small scale farming purely for our household consumption.  We thought that we might use it for the purpose of the project. 

But then we realized that if we only do it on our land, it would not be scalable, which means, we are thinking only about our kids and our families and not about people around us such as our colleagues - we have some 200 people in 5 of our offices who will be left out if we only do it for ourselves. 

That’s when we thought let's do it in a more formal and scalable way. We probably will need a small team, a little bit of investment and will probably have to run it as a business, but it would be far more meaningful an endeavor.  

As a strategy, to begin with, we decided to run it as a business but not a pure mass-market consumer product where you aim to sell it to as many people as possible. We rather decided to do it in a boutique kind of way at first and then gradually scale without compromising on the vision we have started with. We also decided to work with producers and growers across the country instead of doing it all ourselves. 

We have many indigenous products in Bangladesh such as rice, turmeric, chilies, etc. If I ask you about rice you would at best be able to tell names of 5 varieties whereas we have hundreds of different varieties of rice in Bangladesh. This is something that I came to learn when I started to dig deeper into our indigenous products. I came to learn that we have many major varieties of rice in Bangladesh. And there are many sub-varieties of one single variety as well. This is the case with turmeric and many other products that are available in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, many of these products are now getting lost due to the rise of GMO products. But there are people who produce these products and there are consumers who would love to access these products. We thought it would be wonderful if we could connect these two groups of people - producers and consumers. We thought let’s find out these people who are still growing these local products and work with them. When we started the search we found out that there still are many products and producers in the business. 

We realized that if we could build a brand that serves this gap in the market, it would certainly contribute to the development in the market. We have been working on branding and marketing for a long time. We realized that we would do well if we work in the space from the perspective of producers and work to make a connection between parties. We were confident, to begin with, in our capacity to tell good stories and establish a connection with customers using story as a vehicle. 

We realized that there is a mismatch in the market. While farmers and growers produce high-quality crops and food products, often they don't get a good price for their extra investments. Which means often they don’t try to produce high-quality safe products because they have zero incentives to do so. If they could get a good price, they are likely to produce more of the same products. If we could bring and sell these products as premium products, it means they get a good price and hence become more encouraged to produce more of the good products. 

All these thoughts culminated in the idea that we would build a brand that will collect all the pure products from across the country and bring them to people who want to buy these products but don’t know where to find them. In short, that is the main idea behind Neofarmers. 

The second important distinction we wanted to bring to the brand is that we would not sell great products alone, we would sell stories. In fact, we wanted to put no less importance on stories than the products. 

In a regular world, foods that we eat elicit little emotion in us. If you look at a product such as rice, oil, peanut butter, there is little to be emotional about these products outside of the fact that they are edible items and taste good or bad. You buy, cook, and eventually eat. If you ask my son, he would say that okay we buy these products and eat them. That’s all. 

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Snapshot - people of Neofarmers | Photo by Neofarmers

If you pay closer attention, these foods are more than mere edible items. These foods have stories attached to them. Someone has put in blood and sweat in producing these products. There were struggles and pleasant memories attached to each of these staples. When we don’t know these stories, it does not matter, but when we finally come to know them, it changes everything. When we come to know these stories, our outlook on these products and producers changes. We start to view these products differently. We take them more seriously and intimately. We begin to respect the humans behind them. For example, we bring bini-halud (a variety of local turmeric) from Bandarban. Local indigenous people grow these turmerics in a unique environment in one of the remotest places in Bangladesh. When we bring these products to our factory, we don’t bring the only turmeric, we bring stories and memories as well. When we process them, we process the stories as well. When we tell these stories to people, it becomes interesting. People become intrigued. When consuming these products, they find emotion in them. It elicits a deeper feeling inside ourselves. 

From the beginning, we started to focus on this area - stories behind each of our products. Gradually, we begin to put the information and stories of growers on the packet. For example, we tell you that the coconut oil that you are using is produced by Rahima Banu of Khulna and this is her story. 

We are trying to package the stories. We are not trying to sell the products alone, we are trying to sell the stories. That’s the second important idea. When you are selling a high-quality product, your stories become equally important. 

After much thought and preparation, we started working with a small number of products between 2017-2018. We officially launched our digital operation in November 2018. 

We did not go for physical retail initially because logistical and compliance needs of physical retail are high. Digital is relatively easier and inexpensive to begin with. At the same time, it allows you to reach customers with minimum cost and then get feedback and improve gradually. 

We have experienced steady growth. In the last 14 months, we have served over 13,000 customers, which we think is a really good number. It also indicates that there is a huge demand in the market. 

We have put a lot of thought into packaging and branding and designs. Apart from aesthetics, we have made a conscious effort to keep packaging plastic-free and environment friendly. I would not say we have been able to do it 100% but we have succeeded to a large extent. We mostly use reusable eco-friendly packaging materials for packaging such as paper, glass jar and so on. Reusable packaging has been of particular attention to us. So far we have been able to do reusable packaging for 35% of products. Our goal is to gradually grow this percentage. 

In the case of reusable bottles, our customers can return the bottles. In fact, our concept of business heavily relies on the community. We aim to build a community of users who are safety conscious and care about the environment. We encourage our users to return the bottles and thus we seek to build meaningful connections with them. These are glass bottles and we can use them hundreds of times. We try to use reusable materials in our packaging. 

We currently have about 84 products. We use glass bottles or paper packaging for all the products. We have some plastics packaging where products are of low-cost nature. Since glass bottles are expensive, we can’t use glass bottles for these products. However, we are looking to find options within low-cost packaging for these products that are environmentally friendly. We are considering some biodegradable plastics packaging options such as plastics made out of jute and potato, etc. Our packaging policy is either reusable packaging or biodegradable packaging. 

We are not calling ourselves organic because there is no certification for organic in Bangladesh. The definition of organic is different. Organic has a lot of conditions that are hard to meet. It is almost impossible to meet these conditions in many areas in Bangladesh. So our focus has not been there.

We are calling ourselves safe food. Our tagline is naturally grown, honestly packed. It is not enough to grow the produce naturally, how your process is important, the packaging is important. For example, you have collected really good quality organic Ghee but you processed and packaged in an unhygienic way, it is not going to do any good. We pay equal attention to all these areas. 

We have made it a priority to put enough importance on ensuring a great processing standard. We don’t have a big factory. We don't have a large setup for manufacturing. We have a small setup. We put a lot of importance on natural processing and everything is handmade. 

Many companies tout the fact that their foods are made without the touch of hands. We are the opposite. We are saying everything is handmade. We don't have big machinery. In fact, as I mentioned, we mostly follow natural processing. For example, we don't refine oil in machines. It is an all-natural refinement. After making the oil, we put it in a container and keep it there for 15 days or so. The dirt gradually falls to the bottom of the jar. We collect the oil and package it. 

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Photo by Neofarmers

I understand that this is costly compared to machine refinement. Machine refinement is more efficient. You can do it at scale but the overall quality gets hurt. We are the opposite. We are 100% handmade and we have no plan to forego that in the near future.

Since we are handmade and produced with intense care for the quality and packaging, we are more expensive than general mass-manufactured products. Using machines has scale benefits and you don’t need storage for refinement. This is not the case for us. 

For example, in order to refine oil, we require a certain amount of time which makes the entire process expensive. For example, when we bring red chilies, we put them outside for 15 days in the sun to get rid of the fungus. We have also put dehumidifiers in our warehouse to ensure a certain level of humidity in the product. Our products do have moisture but it is within a certain level. In fact, we have only 30% moisture in our products which would be about 70% if you keep it outside without measures. This means our quality is far superior. 

We have a warehouse in Kalyanpur of 3000 square feet. We have taken huge care to ensure that it is a good place to keep the products. We pay attention to small things because small things matter. A lot of products lose quality standards and get wasted during processing. For example, in one KG chilies, 40% are pedicels/shafts.  Almost no producer separates pedicel from chili before processing. We do. We carefully separate the shafts and chilies and then process the spice, as a result, we are sacrificing 40% of our products right there for the sake of quality. 

These are small things but they make a lot of difference. It is not enough to grow naturally. You have to process and pack honestly as well. We follow these two things religiously. 

Ruhul: That’s a fascinating story. If I go a little back, you came up with the idea, shared it with your friends, they agreed to try and you got started. What was the size of your initial investment?

Spondon: We have a piece of land in Savar which has to be included in the investment. So far, we have so far invested somewhere around BDT 2 crore. We have not taken any external investment as yet. We have been investing from our own pockets. 

How many partners are you now? 

We are five partners. I'm the Managing Director and others are on the board.

How big is your team? 

We are a team of almost 35 people. We have people who work on the processing side of things and then we have people who manage online orders and operations. 

Our team is likely to grow dramatically in the coming days. Until now, our operation has been quite small - mostly operating online. That’s going to change. We have been seeing rapid growth. And we are getting into the retail big time in the coming days. 

Truth is that we have never been in the consumer products business before. While we have almost 20 years of experience in service and B2B business, which is the same for all Neofarmers partners, we are novices when it comes to a consumer product business. This is our first consumer product business initiative. As a result, we are learning new things every day. I have been going through a fascinating learning curve. I've been reading a lot about technology and different aspects of the business. I'm enjoying it. 

You work with growers and farmers across the country. How many farmers do you work with currently? How does your relationship with farmers work? 

We so far work with 250+ farmers. 

There are some products that we source directly such as rice, flour, etc. There are some products that we collect the raw materials and process it ourselves such as all types of oil, peanut butter, ghee, etc. 50% of our products are sourced and 50% of our products are processed. We don't grow, we collect the raw materials and then process. 

We don’t have contracts or any formal arrangements with the farmers as yet. We maintain a friendly relationship with them. We will eventually go into the contract. We are not doing it right now because many farmers view the contract as something imposing. We want to work with them as friends and build a relationship of trust.  We try to make sure that they are using pesticides and other chemicals in the right manner and maintaining the safety and quality standard. We have been able to build a great understanding of the growers we work with. 

How do you order and collect products from the growers? 

There is not a uniform established process as yet. We pay in advance sometimes and they also provide us products when they have products. We have established good terms with the growers. 

We are now getting into retail. We want to open 100 stores by 2020. We have already started working on the plan. Our plan is to open one store every two months. 

How many orders do you serve monthly? 

We started off in an organic manner - we created our website, a Facebook page. After the initial set-up, we started to make an effort to reach out to our target customers. Over the last 14 months, we have been able to build an excellent group of customers who buy from us regularly. Our retention rate has been great.

Currently, we serve some 160 orders per day. This is a number we did not expect that we would be able to achieve within this short time. Our expectation was much lower - between 30-40 orders after a year. We have been happy with the growth so far. Our basket size has also been growing consistently which we believe will continue to grow as more people trust us as a brand. 

One of the things that helped us is data. From the beginning, we have been serious about data and using data to gain market insight and sustainable advantage. We have engaged a data analytics company to help us understand the data better. In today's world, without data business is tough. We are betting heavily on data analytics. 

You are now available at Unimart and a few other retail outlets. How many retail points are you available now? 

Not many. We are now present in about 4 places. We have not explored modern trade that much as yet. We have a presence in Unimart, Gourmet Bazar, and Jatra Biroti. We don't have plans to get into para-level retails. We will be at select modern trade outlets and our own shops. We are taking six more months to go full-on supershops because we have some licensing issues pending. 

One interesting thing about us is that people usually come from offline to online. We are doing the opposite. We are going from online to offline. 

Offline is important. There are products that are hard to do online such as vegetables and poultry. You can do it online but you have to have your own delivery channel. 

Our vision is to feed the whole nation. We can’t not achieve that vision through an online-only model for many products. Second, we are trying to build a community and encourage our customers to return reusable bottles. We want our customers to return the bottles. In order for that to happen, we have to create points near our customers where they could come and return the bottles. Similarly, we plan to use these 100 points as our delivery hub for each location. 

Have you applied for BSTI? 

We have already applied for BSTI which we are hoping we would get in the next few days. We are looking to acquire a few more compliances and certifications. We want to make sure that nobody has an issue with our products. Among our 84 products only 6 need BSTI certification. But we want to go to retail with all our products. 

You mentioned that you have seen great growth. What are some of the things that have contributed to your growth? 

We have paid a lot of attention to service. People have a sense of mistrust when it comes to online channels. We have tried to overcome this perception. Trust is important on online platforms. If you focus on trust-building and eventually be able to gain the trust of people, growth becomes easier to achieve. 

To that end, we have designed a substantial return and refund policy where we give you full-refund even after consumption of the product if you complain that you did not enjoy the product or the product was not good enough. This is rare in the online world. Apart from that, we do a lot of other small things with a view to gain trust from our consumers. These policies have helped us to build trust in the market. 

We have also found some interesting facts about the market. For example, our refund policy is quite liberal and if people want they could cause unwarranted problems for us. But that has not happened as yet. 

While the refund policy has boosted our credibility and helped us gain trust, people usually don't return after consuming a product. Product quality does suffer sometimes because these are handmade products. And when people complain that your ghee was not good this time and make sure your next lot is better. We then tell our customers that we will certainly give you the best product next time. At the same time, we are giving a replacement or a full refund for this product as well. This gives people a huge assurance. 

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How many orders did you serve in the first month of the launch? 

About 70-80 orders in the entire first month. We have since experienced accelerated growth. Every month we are growing at a rate of 130%. 

You have a great product, you ensure great service, and you have some excellent policies such as your no question asked refund policy, what are other things that you have done, activities-wise, that have helped you in growing? 

We have been predominantly online-focused when it comes to marketing and communication. In fact, we have not done any offline campaign as yet. We have tried to use design as a tool to attract attention. Our designs are good. Copies are good. These things help to gain attention. People take you seriously. 

Second, we have used testimonials of our existing customers - when people tell good things about us we highlight those things. We have found that testimonials work. 

We are slowly moving to offline activations. We are about to do our first-meetup soon with our customers. In fact, we don’t call customers, we call community members. We have some interesting plans such as giving a full sponsored trip to 50 community members to our factory. They will get to see how things work. We will provide good food and bear all the expenses. This will be our first physical interaction. 

Apart from that what else do you do? You do digital i.e. Facebook boosting and all that. Do you do anything else? Anything that stands out in terms of the growth strategy? 

I would not say that we have done something hugely unique. It has always been regular things and trying to do regular things better. We have recently created some videos on the usage of each of our products and their health benefits. We have made some 6-7 videos on subjects like the benefits of black seed oil, how to use it and so on. To our surprise, people really liked them. 

We don't know the benefits and usage of many products, we bring those things to our videos. We don't advertise our products or our quality in these videos per se. It is very much informational videos to help our users. This is something we are doing. This is a series that we have been doing for about 3 months now. 

How does your marketing work? 

We are predominantly on Facebook, almost 100% Facebook. 

How much do you spend on Facebook? 

We don’t spend a lot. We try to be effective and efficient. I don't know whether that’s a lot. We have largely relied on word of mouth. If you have good products, it helps. One person buys and tells others about it and so you grow. 

These are products that would not go viral if you spend on marketing alone. You have to gain trust. Once they trust you, customers will bring more customers. That's where we are focusing. We are not looking for rapid growth. We don't want to grow fast. We want to grow steadily. We want people to consume our products, tell us if they like it and then tell other people about it. Similarly, we have room for improvement. Once people buy and consume our products, they give us feedback and we want to improve based on our user feedback. 

We are investing every day in making our product better. That's where our marketing expenses are going. For example, the mustard seed we use now is far better in quality than what it used to be a few months ago. We are looking to find better quality products every day. As a consumer, you would not realize these improvements suddenly but we are making these improvements. 

None of our 84 products contain preservatives. As a result, many of our products come with a limited shelf life. For example, for products like peanut butter, it is only 6 months. That's why we have to discard a lot of products when shelflife is expired but even if we use edible preservatives we can extend the shelf-life of these products by 3 years. But we don't do that. Our quality standard is simple: would I feed it to my kids. If we are confident about it that I would happily give these to my kids, only then I would sell it. 

Our ambition is not to get rich from this business. We want to establish that safe food is a right of every consumer. We believe that it is possible to offer safe food and still build a profitable and sustainable business. 

Over the past year, I have grown a strong conviction that there is a huge demand and people do want safe food. People want to spend money on safe food. We are not that expensive really. We are probably 20-25% more expensive than other regular choices. Some products are more expensive than others. There are products that are not expensive at all. Our hypothesis is that I would rather consume 25% less but whatever I consume, it has to be of good quality. 

Do you see it as a challenge that these products are beyond the reach of a large group of regular consumers due to price? There is a group that can afford and they would happily pay extra and it is possible to build a decent business by only serving them. But don’t you think these products remain out of reach to a large group of regular consumers?  How do you plan to address this challenge? Or do you want to address that at all? 

Of course. 

We do want to address this challenge but I don't think we can address that at this moment. Because we don't have any way to reduce our price because our cost of production is higher. 

Can you reduce the price at scale? 

We can reduce at scale for some products but probably not all products. There are some products that would take a long time to scale. There are a few products that are hard to scale such as Bini rice. But the ones we can scale, with the scale we will be able to bring down the cost thus price by 10-15%. 

Today, our scale is quite minuscule. If we grow that dramatically, we can reduce the cost dramatically. If we could do that these products would be accessible to a lot more people. It is not that we only have rich people buying our products. We have a large number of middle-class people buying our products. Many people sometimes complain about the price but that is not a prominent trend. 

We are spending more in manufacturing these products and ensuring the quality, and that's something that we can’t change. If we want to reduce the price, we would have to compromise in quality which we would never do. Instead, we want people to eat less but eat safe food. We believe that this is a change that would eventually happen. 

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It is not that there is no demand. There is pent-up demand in the market for safe food. You would see that people are complaining about food quality all the time. Compared to that the options that they could access and afford remain limited. 

Our current market size is no more than 15-20 lakhs households. This is a big number for me as well. 

That's for sure. If you could get into groceries, all of it, that's a huge market to build a really large business. 

We will slowly cover the whole cycle. We will get into meat and poultry and vegetables. 

Have you thought of any subscription service? Do you already have one? 

Yes. We have not done it yet. We will do it after growing our product range a bit. Sourcing is a big thing when it comes to scaling. Once our sourcing is strong, we will get into the subscription. 

You can launch a subscription for milk and similar products. 

Yes, that's feasible. We also plan to do weekly vegetable packs and so on. 

You mentioned about building a community, which is really interesting. Do you already have anything related to building a community? 

We are starting it out. We don't have anything as yet. We have an online group, which is not that active though. Since we are investing a lot in product development, we are not doing enough on the side of market development. Once we have a sizable number of products, we will go more forcefully into these areas. At this point in time, we are paying more attention to finding better sourcing options. 

What do you think about the competition in this space? There already are a handful of players in the space. And as the vertical grow, it is likely that big food giants will eventually move into the vertical? 

One aspect is that the market is big. We are in the early days of the safe food trend in Bangladesh. We can accommodate more competition. In fact, more players in the early days mean it helps to build awareness in the market. 

Second, competition is always good. It forces you to improve and get better. Our goal is to offer the best product. Competition means we will be challenged and we will try to provide even better products. If we provide the best products, consumers will eventually buy from us. Competitors mean consumers have more choices and they could compare. 

What are the major challenges now? How are you addressing these challenges?

Sourcing remains the biggest challenge and I think there will always be challenges around sourcing.  

We are not facing this challenge now per se. I'm talking about when we become 10-15 times bigger, it will be a challenge then and I have to prepare for that now. Let me give you an example, we have a project in Munlai Para in Bandarban where we have cultivated about 300 Moringa trees. This is a long term project. By the time we get leaves from these trees, it will be many years. But we are here for the long term. We are planning to address these supply challenges with these large projects. We are working on sourcing this way. For example, when we begin to sell poultry, we would need hundreds of chickens every day. We are working on putting together sourcing in these areas. We have done some work. But a lot more work needs to be done. 

You have built successful enterprise businesses. Now you are building a consumer business, what are some of the things that matter in consumer business that is different from enterprise businesses? 

The biggest difference between consumer business and B2B is that in B2B personal relationship matters and in consumer business it does not. In a consumer business, you have to give good products. That's all. If you have good products, people will buy. You don't have to make anyone happy with your words or anything. That's the basic difference. 

Anything that you found interesting or anything that you consider critical for doing well in consumer business? 

Product is important in the consumer business. At the same time, it is no less important to connect with the right target group. You have to have a very good understanding of your product and your target segment in the consumer business. 

Second, in B2B, branding is not that important. You could do well without understanding branding much. But in consumer business branding is a must. You can't go far without a proper understanding of branding. To illustrate the point, consider you are perhaps offering the same quality products as your competitors. What makes the difference is how you position your product in the market. I would say that both creating the right product and communicating the right message are critical in the consumer business. 

What are some lessons you have learned in 2019? 

One year is a long time. Every day I'm learning. I don't see things that way. I see every day as a learning opportunity. Not making the same mistake twice is the most important lesson I have learned. 

What do you think about time since you mentioned you don’t essentially look at things as this year or that year? 

One thing is that learning is not enough. You have to apply the lessons you have learned. The second thing is that time is the greatest healer. Every trouble and challenge resolves itself with time. 

Third, everything has a time. No matter how hard you try, things would happen in their own time. There is a right to everything. If you are hardworking and keep working on your mission, things will happen at their own time. I don't think we can make things happen with mere force. You have to give time to things as long as they take. 

This is a strong perspective that you have to wait for the right time. But what do you do when you are waiting? 

The wait is only interesting when you have the conviction that this wait will ultimately bring good results. You have to believe that. If you don't have faith, it would be a terrible experience. But if you have the conviction and the faith that if I do pursue this, it would happen then wait is not a big deal. 

What are the priorities for 2020? 

I would not say priorities for 2020 but I have some general priorities from now on. I do a lot of things. Whatever I do I do it with passion. I've realized of late that I should be more careful about what I spend time on and focus more on strategic areas than the operational areas. I spend a lot of time in operation but I have realized that if I spend more time on strategy, my impact would be far greater. This is my personal ambition. I want to get out of operation as much as possible and elevate me to more strategic thinking and work. 

I understand that this would not happen overnight. It is going to be a slow process and will take time. I have been working on a number of organizations. I have been able to bring almost all of them to a solid foundation. Now I want to make them big. Basecamp and Neofarmers, these organizations are new. I want these organizations to leapfrog. From now on I aim to delegate more and spend more time thinking. 

Do you have any plan to take an external investor at Neofarmer? 

No. Probably we will go for Bank investment. We are a fast-growing venture and our business fundamentals are strong. Bank loans should be perfect for us. 

We have just entered a new decade. The world has been going through a host of substantial shifts. We are seeing the decline of old and dominant trends and the rise of new ones. What are some of the trends and insights that people need to look out for in the coming decade? 

If you take the economic condition in Bangladesh, the days ahead are likely to get tough given the scenario in the Garments and Banking sector. This could become a challenge for small companies. Expected growth could be a challenge in the next few years. Entrepreneurs should prioritize sustainability. 

I think people should focus on sustainability rather than focusing on growth. I'm talking about small companies. I would suggest saving more than spending more. 

Any macro trends you see in our society today? 

Millennials are more concerned about the quality of life than money or wealth. This is an opportunity when it comes to entrepreneurship. We have to create products and services for this group. Companies need to understand this and make changes accordingly. Things will be very different in the next 4-5 years. 

Second, we are all connected and we are all disconnected. Today, we are living in a world where families and social fabrics are disintegrating. Communities are going to be very important in the coming years. 

Third, I think we are entering the age of personalization. Mass-produced products will eventually decline and commerce will get much more personalized. 

 

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https://futurestartup.com/2018/12/17/shohoz-story-maliha-m-quadir/

The Fascinating Story Of Shohoz: An Interview With Maliha M Quadir, Founder and MD, Shohoz

By Ruhul Kader

|

Dec 17, 2018

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Shohoz Founder and Managing Director, Maliha M Quadir, has a fascinating story. She was born and brought up in Dhaka. Studied in the US: Smith College and Harvard University. Worked at some of the top institutions, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered, Nokia, and Vistaprint, spanning multiple countries, US, Singapore, India, and Indonesia.

Toward the end of 2013, she decided that she is finally ready to pursue her lifelong dream. Starting her own tech company in Bangladesh. She left her job, raised a few million in seed investment and moved back to Bangladesh. Shohoz was born in 2014. A platform where you could buy tickets - bus, events, movie, and launch.

For the first three years, it focused solely on tickets and has built a widely recognizable brand for online ticketing in Bangladesh.

In March 2018, Shohoz formally entered the ride-hailing market in Dhaka. A few months into it, it raised US$15M in funding from a host of investors including Golden Gate Ventures of Singapore, which is, interestingly, also an investor in Go-Jek of Indonesia. The largest funding round in any Bangladeshi early stage company so far.

Shohoz claims it has over 50,000 drivers on its platform and served over 1.5 million rides in October this year (this interview was done on 29th October 2018). It has entered into food delivery, car and aims to add more services in the future. The startup has aspiration get into the truck and launch fintech products in the coming years. It aims to build a platform. “Shohoz is anything necessary,” says Maliha.

Meanwhile, competition has been intensifying in Dhaka’s ride-hailing space. All the major players in the space are trying to do everything to stay ahead and fend off competition. One app for all your needs, a platform strategy - these are the common strategic dialects we hear. Shohoz says it has a better team and a better long-term strategy in place. Can it pull this off?

In this immensely interesting interview, we sit down with Shohoz Founder and Managing Direct Maliha M Quadir and set out to find out Shohoz story, what makes Shohoz tick, what’s going on at one of the most important tech startups in Dhaka, and what is next for Shohoz and much more. Enjoy!

This was a much longer interview, so we had to break it up into two parts. This is the part one of the interview. Please come back later this month for the final installment of the interview.

Ruhul Kader

Could you please tell us about yourself and your journey to what you are doing today?

Maliha M Quadir

I was born and bred in Dhaka. An only child of my parents, I have been super ambitious all along my life. I attended South Breeze School and then Scholastica for my O levels and A levels. Then I went to Smith College in the US where I studied Economics and Computer Science and graduated in 2000. I did very well there as well.

After college, I decided to get into investment Banking which was and is one of the toughest careers. Within the investment banking, merger and acquisition is the toughest. People work very late into the night. I decided to go for it. I got into merger and acquisition and that too into utility department. The toughest.

After that, I said I have to get into Harvard. I applied to about 5 top schools including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, and Wharton and I got accepted to all of them. The happiest day was when I got that acceptance email from Harvard. I remember I was in Dhaka at that time. It came at around 9-10 pm. It was a surreal moment for me.

Eventually, I went to Harvard. One thing that I loved about Harvard was their case study method. There are very few exams. Not that many long lectures. Instead in every class you read cases, debate with each other and solve them. I realized even before getting into Harvard that I would get to learn more there. It was similar to what we do in real life in business. We don't prepare a presentation and give lectures. We sit down with people, discuss, debate and then make a decision. My classes at Harvard was sort of simulation of that.

I used to be very shy. You would not believe it now. I was aware that I have to overcome it. Harvard helped me a lot. We used to have three-four classes per day and all were debates. These were the best and most smart people in the market and when you debate with them every day and that too for long hours, it gets to your depth.

After my MBA, I decided to move to Asia, close to home, and get some hands-on experience in technology and business. I worked at Standard Chartered Singapore for one year, at Nokia for a while and then Vistaprint. I got a great exposure to emerging market and digital and technology services while working at Nokia and Vistaprint. I used to cover India and Indonesia for Vistaprint out of Singapore.

By the time, I started following the Bangladesh market closely. I always wanted to return to the country and do something here. Again, I was very ambitious from the beginning. I wanted to build something for the mass people and eventually decided to work in the transportations sector.

"When you pursue something as challenging as entrepreneurship you need a serious amount of tenacity."

Ruhul

When did you first decide that I want to build something in Bangladesh?

Maliha

The ambition has always been there. I practically started working on it in mid-2013. In December 2013, I raised a small angel round from my network of Harvard people and moved back to Bangladesh. I started working on Shohoz in January 2014 and did a soft launch towards the end of 2014.

In the first couple of years, we mainly focused on the bus ticket - bus ticketing remains the biggest vertical for us and launch, movie, events are relatively smaller ones. We are working with over 70 large bus and ferry operators. We provide them a proprietary customized ticketing software. All these operators are using our software across Bangladesh 24/7 to run their business. They manage all their inventory using this software including the ones they sell through us.

We have focused on building our ticketing business for the past three years. After that, we wanted to expand into other areas, mainly in the transportation space. Ride-sharing came naturally. In fact, we wanted to get into ride-sharing for a long time. I met BRTA many times between 2014 and 2015. Since there was no regulatory guideline for ride-hailing business, we decided to wait. We had been following the regulatory changes closely. Then last year, we came to know that ride-sharing guideline is going to parliament and that's when we decided that this is the right time to start into space. We already had some work done. We just launched our ride business.

Ruhul

Growing up, you were an ambitious kid, competitive, and always wanted to be at the top. Was taking initiative and creativity part your upbringing and how that influences your work and life and the way you view the world?

Maliha

We started ride-hailing in January this year and now in November and we are already doing over a million, about 1.5 million, rides per month. We are only doing in Dhaka and that too only motorbike. Shohoz Car is very new in the market - we just started it.

When you pursue something as challenging as entrepreneurship you need a serious amount of tenacity. All my reviews at my previous workplaces and from my professors are almost the same: she is extremely tenacious. If she decides to do something she would do it. We started with that mentality that we have to do it no matter what.

Raising money is tough in Bangladesh. The market is tough. We already have two competitors who are doing great. These are all tough challenges. I was aware of all these challenges when we were working on launching ride-sharing in December. But we also aware of the fact that the market is young. That the competition is just ahead of us by one year. When we spoke with the investors they said one year is not enough time for a big market like Bangladesh. You can't call anyone a winner at that point in time. So then I plunge and took the risk. That was a big call but I still decided to take the challenge because you live only once.

We were about six people team in January. We were running our operation out of my dining table. I just came back at that time. We were looking for an office but we did not make any progress towards that at that time. We would work together and do almost everything together. We finally found an office in February.

Ruhul

Going a little back to the early days of Shohoz, to 2013 and 2014, when you finally decided that I want to start this company, what went into building the initial operation? You raised a few million in seed investment from your Harvard network and friends and family, moved back to Bangladesh and then how did you put things together and get started?

Maliha

I raised a couple of millions and then hired my CTO - he is from India. That was the first thing I did. I first hired the engineers and accountants.

Ruhul

How big was your team at that time?

Maliha

We were about six people team in January. We were running our operation out of my dining table. I just came back at that time. We were looking for an office but we did not make any progress towards that at that time. We would work together and do almost everything together. We finally found an office in February.

Today we are 150 people. The team is growing fast. We are hiring a lot of new people. We have launched food delivery recently and are building a lot of new things and hiring a lot of new people for that. We will become a 300 people team within a few months.

Initially, our job was developing the software and building our technology stack - understanding the requirements of bus owners by talking with them and getting requirements from them. They were not very good at giving requirements at that time. They have gotten very good at giving requirements over the time, but initially, that was not the case. It was tough to get all the requirements at once.

From the outside it seems like selling tickets is probably a simple task and probably the needs of every bus owners are similar but it is not. It is a complex operation. The needs of operators are diverse and everyone has different requirements.

We do a lot of customizations. About 80% is similar but 20% customization is always there. Yes, not all operators want customization, mostly big operators want customization. But the need for customization is there. All of these happened over time.

Ruhul

How many bus operators you managed to onboard in the first year?

Maliha

In the first year, we had four operators.

Ruhul

Was that a deliberate decision or you had challenges finding and onboarding bus operators?

Maliha

Finding and onboarding bus operators was a challenging job. Initially, it took long business development cycles. It takes a long time to onboard operators even these days. It is a relationship-driven business in many instances. We had to build those relationships.

It is a large volume and daily metrics-driven business. Bringing them from cash-first business to cashless business is a strenuous job. It took us three years to onboard 70 operators.

Transportation is a challenging industry. We had to teach them how to operate a computer and software. The good thing is that these are smart people. They understand their business very well. When they are convinced that something has to be done they essentially do it no matter what.

Today, the kind of requirements we receive from operators is quite amazing. But initially, it was a grind. There are a lot of challenges there even these days. Industries don't change overnight. It takes time to change an industry. But I think we have come a long way.

Ruhul

How are you doing business-wise, how many tickets people buy from your platform daily?

Maliha

We sell a couple of thousand tickets every day. We are not pushing the ticket business, in terms of promotions and discounts, much at this moment. We will do it in the near future but for now, we are not spending much on discounts and promotion for the ticket business. Despite that, we are doing very well. It has been growing organically. We have been able to build a brand awareness in the market. People do go to Shohoz for buying tickets.

One challenge we face is that due to the operational problem on the end of operators tickets get canceled and customers blame us for that. For instance, when an operator cancels a trip or resells a ticket, our customers often blame us whereas we have nothing to do with it. When an operator cancels a ticket or a trip and don't inform us and there is no way we would know that a trip has been canceled unless operators inform us and update it in the software. And it happens where we don’t get to know. Customers often blame us for this. We are always working hard to improve the experience of our customers.

We work with 70 operators. Our software is in use in more than 500 ticket counters across the country and more than a thousand people use our software on a regular basis. Now if an operator does not update the software about a trip which has been canceled we have no way to know it. The complaints we receive from our customers, this is the only reason in almost 100% cases - an operator canceled a trip where we could do almost nothing. That's a challenge for the entire ecommerce industry. We have at least digitized inventory and we could see whether a trip has gone or not. For other ecommerce players, it is even more challenging.

"Ride-sharing is the core service here. The plan is to add more services on top of it. More of a platform concept, ride-sharing being at the core that connects everything else."

 

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This September Shohoz raised $15m in Series B funding from Golden Gate Ventures, 500 startups, Linear VC, and Asian angel investors, Shohoz Founder in the middle | Photo by Shohoz

Ruhul

Could you please give us an overview of Shohoz now? You have ticketing business, you have bus, launch, events, and movie and now you have a growing ride business?

Maliha

We have expanded our ticketing business, that's true. But still, the bus ticket remains the biggest vertical there. Launch is very small. It is an even more challenging segment. We are working with a few big operators. We have events and movies but the market for these tickets are very small. We don't do many events except a few big ones. Small events are not worth doing often. Movie market is also very small as you know. These are small businesses. But we hope that these segments will grow over the next few years.

We have entered ride-sharing early this year. We are doing mostly bikes in Dhaka. We are about to launch food delivery. We have launched Car in October. It has been a few weeks and we are doing a few thousands rides there. We are happy with the progress we have made. It has been doing well.

We are working on launching outside Dhaka in a few months. We are launching in Chittagong next month. We are launching food delivery in a few days. We will start with a few areas in Dhaka, eventually covering the entire Dhaka and then we will go outside Dhaka.

Ride-sharing is the core service here. The plan is to add more services on top of it. More of a platform concept, ride-sharing being at the core that connects everything else. All kinds of delivery will come.

We have plans to work on truck transportation. We have done some work there. Last year we have spent a lot of time and resources in the truck. But we have eventually decided that before getting into the truck we would do ride-sharing and then we would explore truck. Truck and on-demand is a good match. It is a huge market and a big problem.

We are getting into logistics and delivery seriously. The gentleman that you just saw coming in he is leading our logistics business. He was a leader at TNT Express for Middle-East. He has many years of experience in the space. He has been hired for taking our logistics business to the next level.

Then we will get into Truck. As I mentioned earlier, it is a difficult market and a hard problem to solve. Since we have been working on the bus and our ambition is to cover the entire transport space, truck comes naturally. It is an obvious extension and it is basically logistics. That's is something I really want to do. It is a very tough industry. We understand that it will take time.

Ruhul

Do you have any timeline in mind for getting into the truck? What are a few other areas you want to explore as you mentioned you want to be a platform?

Maliha

We want to launch trucks by next years.

Then we have an aspiration for fintech. We are not essentially talking about payment product or wallet. There are many other things that can be done in fintech. Financing is there and there are many other things that we could explore and that is something we'll look into next year as well.

We are building a platform and at the core of it is transportation which is also a means to have more people using our product and then we want to build other services on top of it.

Moving is an everyday product. Transport is an everyday necessity. Food delivery and many other products are moving as well. We have been into transportation through ticketing for a long time. There is a lot of synergy between short-distance and long distance transportation. Delivering food is an everyday item. All of these are going to be a huge data source for us and cultivating these data we want to launch fintech products. That's the bigger dream.

Ruhul

That makes sense. If you are a transportation app which I use daily, it means you have a permanent place on my mobile phone which means you could build other things on top of it to cater my other needs. Do you plan to connect one service with other? For example, you are launching food, do you plan to enable cross-dispatching where the same driver will do both ride and food delivery?

Maliha

Initially, our focus will be on quality. We want to ensure the best possible service for our customers. Moreover, nobody has done cross-dispatching successfully yet. Every other player is also doing it separately. Because quality is very important in food.

We will focus on quality initially but the ultimate goal is to get to a point where we could do cross-dispatching. We will see how we could get there over the time. There are service level agreements and all these things. These are heavy operations and heavy jobs. There are many things involved here. Once we settle down with operations then we will look for ways to optimize and do things in a better way.

Ruhul

As a ticketing platform as well as a ride-hailing platform, you are an aggregator. On the ticketing side, you are essentially disintermediating ticket counters and at some point, you will replace counters and you become the counter for all the bus operators because customers come to you for tickets because they get all the tickets at one place and thus bus operators and other operators will depend on you for selling tickets, which will allow you to bargain better.

Maliha

We are nowhere near there. It will take a long time.

Moving is an everyday product. Transport is an everyday necessity. Food delivery and many other products are moving as well. We have been into transportation through ticketing for a long time. There is a lot of synergy between short-distance and long distance transportation. Delivering food is an everyday item. All of these are going to be a huge data source for us and cultivating these data we want to launch fintech products.

Ruhul

But you want to get there? If so how do you plan to get there?

Maliha

There are a lot of factors here. The market has to evolve. It has evolved since, but there is a long way to go. People still find it difficult to trust an online seller. There are many misconceptions as well. Many people think that it is hard to buy tickets online. That there is a lack of availability. These challenges need to be overcome and we are working on it. On the other hand, a ride is an in the moment thing. You don't wait for calling a bike. It is an essential and urgent need. As a result, people try every day and use it on a daily basis.

On the ticketing, people think of an alternative and there is a user behavior pattern. For instance, many users who failed to buy the ticket online once tend to maintain a perception that it is hard to buy or find the ticket online. So they don't try online anymore.

On the other hand, when it comes to ride, you not only use it daily and you try daily even if you could not find one the other day. For instance, initially there was a supply problem in the ride space and people usually could not find a ride when they needed one. Despite the predicament, people continued to try the service because you need it daily and it is a more urgent service.

This is a very common phenomenon that essential and urgent services often get traction quickly. I believe our ride business will eventually help our ticketing business vice versa and as we go.

"Running a startup is an everyday balancing act. Balancing process vs speed. Present vs future. Growth vs sustainability. These are the things a founder needs to be mindful of on a daily basis."

Ruhul

What are some lessons you have learned?

Maliha

Don't wait for regulation to change. You should always operate with a sense of urgency. That's something I regret. Often we unnecessarily wait for things to happen whereas taking action can make a huge difference.

Hire people when you need to. I feel that I always operate in an under-stuffed mode. That's a challenge when you are growing fast. The lesson would be you need more people than you believe you need.

Being said that, I do believe in doing more with less. For startups, it is critical to find this balance where you are not overspending and at the same time, doing more with less without hampering your growth. This is a balance you have to find.

Running a startup is an everyday balancing act. Balancing process vs speed. Present vs future. Growth vs sustainability. These are the things a founder needs to be mindful of on a daily basis.

"Don't wait for regulation to change. You should always operate with a sense of urgency. That's something I regret. Often we unnecessarily wait for things to happen whereas taking action can make a huge difference."

 

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Ummay Marzan Jui

31 August, 2021, 10:40 am

Last modified: 31 August, 2021, 12:29 pm

How is ShopUp faring with $22.5m in its kitty?

Last year, the B2B start-up raised the country’s largest Series A funding. It provides logistics, credit and products to 500,000 sellers around the country and has invested heavily on infrastructure, technology and team-building. Yet, not all merchants are happy

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Retailers can get their goods delivered through ShopUp. Photo: Noor-A-Alam

When a little-known ShopUp – a full-stack business-to-business (B2B) commerce platform – raised a staggering $22.5 million in funding in October of last year, the highest ever for a Bangladeshi start-up, many people were surprised. 

ShopUp - for those who knew about them - was an online platform that has been supporting SMEs in reaching customers since 2018. 

As soon as the pandemic began, the start-up quickly shifted gears and became the go-to platform for struggling small businesses, providing them with support in not just delivering goods, but in every other form possible.

This ability to shift quickly attracted international investors. The money was raised in a round co-led by Sequoia Capital India and Flourish Ventures. For both the venture firms, this was the first time they were backing a Bangladeshi startup. Veon Ventures, Speedinvest and Lonsdale Capital also participated in the Series A financing round.

So how have things changed for ShopUp since the massive injection of capital?

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Afeef Zaman

"We were already in the process of expanding when we received the funding," says Afeef Zaman, co-founder & CEO of ShopUp. "Instead of introducing anything new, the funding helped us build our technology and expand our services to retailers."

In December of 2019, ShopUp introduced Mokam, which helps neighbourhood stores stock up on inventory. Their logistics service, RedX, was introduced in March 2020 while Baki, which provides access to credit, was introduced a month later. 

 Since the injection of funding, ShopUp essentially invested in infrastructure and team building to strengthen the new services.  

Golap Parvin is one of those people who benefitted from ShopUp's expansion. Her grocery store in Uttara was doing well before the pandemic. Slowly, her business started to incur losses as the lockdown last year kept prolonging. Many of her customers left the city without paying their dues, which forced her to live on her savings completely. 

"I could sense that I was falling into a dark pit," said Golap.

ShopUp came to the rescue. Golap found out about Mokam. It simplifies the sourcing process by making 10,000+ products available in a simple smartphone app. 

By sourcing products directly from producers, Mokam cuts down on extra layers, using a common delivery channel for all products. This significantly brings down costs and transfers more of the value to traders instead.

"My store was almost empty because I did not have enough money to order new products. Then I used Mokam, got products at a cheaper price and also without any transport cost. It has saved money and time and now my business is running in full swing," said Golap.

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In 2019, ShopUp introduced Mokam, which helps neighbourhood stores stock up on inventory. Photo: Courtesy 

Last year, when ShopUp went for massive expansion even before the funding arrived, the company struggled to maintain a high quality in its service, largely because of the sudden rise in the volume of their activity, especially with regards to RedX. Despite the new injection, some of the issues appear to be persisting. 

On the eve of Eid al-Fitr, Mizanur Rahman, CEO of Home Basket, sent a legal notice to ShopUp for missing its deadline, undermining his business, and demanded Tk5 lakh in compensation. 

Although ShopUp stated the issue had been resolved in May, Mizanur, when approached by The Business Standard, claimed "Instead of apologizing, RedX sent me a legal notice saying I had tried to extort them."

Afeef admits they are still not providing the best support. 

"As a 'Merchant First' company, we're always trying to prioritise merchant experience. We have a dedicated team to look into issues and offer solutions. I believe that our merchants also understand that we are trying our best."

He went on saying, "compared to last year, now the type of complaints has changed. Actually, it is good that customers are complaining and setting a new bar of expectation for us. Maintaining Service Level Agreement perfectly is always challenging in a pandemic scenario, but as a young company we learn, grow, and get better every day," he added.

While RedX is still learning to cope with a massive rise in demand, Baki, the most attractive and innovative of ShopUp's services, is yet to take off. 

Explaining how Baki works, Afeef said, "Baki is a digital embedded credit offering. It enables traders to bypass the complexities of traditional financing and opt for a simple buy now, pay later (BNPL) model." 

Baki however hit a snag right after its launch. Not every step of the system was fully automated when it was introduced, which meant that dues and payments were not being recorded on time on the platform. 

"This created a lot of confusion and the company shut down the service," claimed a sales representative of ShopUp from Mohammadia Housing Area. 

Afeef, however, claimed the service was operational on a limited scale and only a few selected shops get access to it, based on their transaction history.

REDX, the logistics wing of ShopUp, is an end-to-end logistics platform offering the largest coverage in Bangladesh, claimed Afeef. The complementary nature of Mokam and REDX services enable ShopUp to scale both businesses in tandem, creating a flywheel model encompassing a massive retailer base across the country, he says.

ShopUp invested heavily in infrastructure and team building of RedX since the injection of funding. Its goal was to build the largest logistics infrastructure in the country. 

"To do that, we required huge investment in central hubs, regional hubs, last-mile hubs and other office spaces spread out across all 64 districts of the country," said Raquib Chowdhury, director of Brands and Communications, ShopUp.

"Along with investment in physical spaces we also had to invest in vehicle fleets and technology that would enable us to transport goods both for our logistics business, our retail sourcing platform and customers to track their products," he added.

To operate its newly added wings, the company needed a huge team of approximately 4,000 people for field level activities, along with other critical resources. ShopUp has a leadership team who have worked in Amazon, Flipkart, Unilever and Grameenphone. 

"This team is working on bringing more transparency and trackability to the merchants and customers. ShopUp is trying to build the best team to serve its sellers," Raquib said. Currently, it is serving over 500,000 sellers and has 200 distribution hubs.

ShopUp is showing tremendous growth momentum – having a 15x growth over the past year alone, said Raquib. 

"The reason we have grown so fast is tied to our core philosophy of empowering small businesses. During the first lockdown last year, we not only stayed operational but took the risk of expanding our operations in order to protect merchants and retailers from suffering losses," said Afeef.

Even after this growth, it is not planning to directly reach customers. Instead, their plan is to remain a B2B commerce platform like. Raquib also informed that ShopUp has already achieved the business scale of a mid-sized FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods).

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How Vroom is Building an End-to-End Platform for Vehicle Services in Bangladesh

By Future Startup

|

Sep 2, 2021

Vehicle owners in Bangladesh, both individuals and companies, suffer from many maladies. Quality workshops are insufficient. Standardization is non-existent. Approximately 75% of car owners think workshops overcharge them and that repair quality is poor. Nearly as many owners find it difficult to visit a workshop to get regular car maintenance done. On-demand vehicle maintenance services remain scarce. If your car stops in the middle of the road, it can be difficult to find a solution. 

A majority of vehicle owners are aware of fuel pilferage, but effective solutions to this problem are few and far between. 

The process of buying used or reconditioned cars is not easy. From sourcing to pre-checking to handling documentation, it is a journey full of its own challenges. There are a few online platforms where you can buy and sell reconditioned cars, but no dedicated platform exists.

Companies that have fleets have major pains. Fuel pilferage and maintenance problems exist. Often, these companies spend almost three times what they should. Challenges arise daily. Optimization appears impossible. You want a bird's eye view of your vehicles throughout the day, but it is often unattainable. Furthermore, if you run your vehicles across the country, maintaining them requires dealing with multiple workshops, vendors, and so on.

In a nutshell, vehicle ownership and maintenance is often an unpleasant and expensive experience for most individuals and businesses. 

These are complex interconnected challenges and demand comprehensive solutions. This is where Vroom, a 360-degree online platform for vehicle services, comes in. Using a combination of technology, data, and innovation, Vroom has been striving to solve these problems for the past three years. 

Vroom started out in 2017 as an on-demand at-home car wash and polish service. It has since expanded to cover almost all vehicle services, including reconditioned cars buy/sell, on-demand wash and polish, maintenance, fleet management, and everything vehicle-related. Today, you can conveniently call Vroom a complete vehicle services platform. 

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Nazeem A Choudhury, Co-founder and Executive Director, Vroom Services

The origin of Vroom

The idea for Vroom came from the personal challenges of its founders. 

“Some of my friends were discussing the challenges of sending one's car to repair shops and subsequently having quality issues, plus being worried that it wouldn't be handled safely and properly,” says Nazeem A Choudhury, Co-founder and Executive Director of Vroom Services. “We discussed that it would have been great if there was a company that could manage everything for us." 

The casual discussion eventually turned serious. Everyone in the group agreed that it is a promising idea. After much deliberation, debate, and planning, Vroom was born in 2017. 

"We selected the name Vroom because it is the first word a child learns related to vehicles," Nazeem says. “The vroom vroom sound of a car is special to us. We wanted this service and company to be equally close to the heart of every car owner.”  

Vroom’s founding team included a former banker, two seasoned management professionals, an IT graduate, and an automobile engineer and motor workshop owner. The team had the right blend of financial, technical, and management skills to crack the difficult vehicle maintenance market. The founders funded the initial operation out of their own pockets.  

However, the early days were not easy. Challenges came from different directions. Vroom was a relatively new concept that created some challenges with potential partners who provided offline services and viewed it as a competitor. Customers were not familiar with at-home wash and polish services. 

“Although many people appreciated our at-home car wash and polish service concept, we didn't generate any sales during those first weeks," says Nazeem. This was a paradox to the Vroom team. “Since the solution was inspired by our own problem, we expected everyone to be equally excited about adopting it. When that didn't happen, it was a bit of a surprise." 

In the end, the predicament led to some solid insights. For services like Vroom to succeed, a behavioral shift in vehicle owners was necessary. Additionally, although car owners care for their vehicles, drivers greatly influence maintenance decisions. In fact, many drivers visit workshops of their choice for various reasons, so working with owners alone was not enough. 

"It took us some time to figure this out and remains a major challenge to date,” explains Nazeem. In those early days, word of mouth from satisfied customers helped Vroom to attract new customers. “We remain thankful to these early adopters.”

Vroom's second challenge came from logistics. To provide at-home vehicle wash and polish services, Vroom brings the washing equipment to the customer's home. Due to the large and heavy size of this washing equipment, its transportation is expensive. Eventually, the company invested in its transportation system and bought bikes for the technicians to better manage time and logistics. The logistics challenge was overcome. But a deluge of competition further complicated the situation. 

“We started promoting our videos on Facebook and YouTube,” says Nazeem. Within a few months, 3/4 new companies entered the market and started offering the same at-home service. By the end of 2018, a year after our launch, 15+ companies were offering the same services.” 

While the competition helped create awareness about the service, it also led to a price war. Many companies started offering ridiculously low prices to attract customers, which led to a decline in service quality. The dissatisfied customers generally blamed the at-home service providers as a whole. 

Vroom, however, took a different strategy. Instead of lowering the price and thus quality, the company doubled down on maintaining service standards that helped it build a strong loyal customer base.  

"Vroom started out in 2017 as an on-demand at-home car wash and polish service. It has since expanded to cover almost all vehicle services, including reconditioned cars buy/sell, on-demand wash and polish, maintenance, fleet management, and everything vehicle-related. Today, you can conveniently call Vroom a complete vehicle services platform. "

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Photo by Vroom

Evolving into a platform 

As Vroom’s wash and polish service gained traction, the company began to see some other customer needs emerge. The company also realized that offering only one service would not help scale meaningfully or create a competitive moat. 

"We realized that only offering wash and polish services and maintenance would not get the company far," says Nazeem. “We could see the market opportunities as well as the risks associated with limiting ourselves to just one service. It prompted us to ask our customers what else we could do for them." 

These discussions led to new insights regarding the needs of customers. “Our analysis revealed a wide variety of needs in the market," says Nazeem. “Customers requested tracking services, genuine parts, sell/buy services, drivers, and more.”  

The Vroom team then mapped out all the requirements. An interesting finding emerged: Vroom customers were looking for services throughout their vehicle ownership journey, from purchasing a car to selling it off to all the maintenance and purchases in between. It helped the company realize the need for a 360-degree automobile solution platform: a platform to manage and offer anything and everything related to automobiles.

That’s when the second evolution of Vroom began. “The customer research made it clear what we needed to do,” says Nazeem. Throughout 2019, the Vroom team focused on creating a 360-degree platform for automobile owners, testing it, and onboarding the right partners and service providers to achieve its ultimate goal. 

Tech enables aggregation at scale. Vroom started with wash and polish service, a tiny segment within the universe of vehicle maintenance. Now vehicle owners need many other services. Vroom could easily expand to other verticals since vehicle ownership and services are integrated and the internet allows aggregation on both sides of demand and supply. To that end, wash and polish was just the entry and the beginning of demand aggregation for Vroom. 

Once the company managed to aggregate enough demand for wash and polish, launching other services and building new partnerships became easier. Vroom could offer to buy/sell service to the same customers who were taking wash and polish service before. The new service gives the existing Vroom customers yet another reason to stay with Vroom. At the same time, new services mean new customers coming for these new services. 

Most customers usually come for one service. If they are happy, they stick around and start taking other relevant services. Moreover, since vehicle services are integrated, customers are more willing to take services from one service provider they trust. The key strategic challenge for Vroom in the early days was aggregating enough demand so that it could add more services as its market power grew. Once it has built enough demand, it helped open new doors. 

This offers two benefits. One, it enables scale both for individual services as well as for the company overall. Second, once you aggregate more demands, it helps you to build more partnerships thus attracting even more demands creating a virtuous cycle of positive growth. Third, it creates a strong competitive moat. Competitors are now least relevant to Vroom’s customers unless Vroom’s service dramatically deteriorates. Demand aggregation coupled with superior customer service can create an unstoppable flywheel. 

"One approach to view Vroom is that the company is building an ecosystem of vehicle services."

Vroom product

Over the last few years, Vroom went through a series of evolutions to reach its current business model. The company started providing services with an in-house team. Since one of Vroom's co-founders had a workshop, getting the right people with the right skill set was relatively easy. It has also elevated Vroom’s understanding of the business. “We had the ground-level knowledge and skill to run the business,” says Nazeem.   

After launching the home service business, the company then launched an app and built partnerships with workshops across Dhaka to provide services to a greater number of customers. 

“Initially, the response was excellent but soon we felt the pinch,” says Nazeem. “After visiting over 300 workshops, we found only 30 that could be called proper automobile workshops. The majority were mom and pop type, without trade licenses and proper equipment. They might serve the purpose for the moment, but I am sure the long-term life span of the vehicle had to be compromised.” 

The findings led to a change in Vroom’s model. The company cut down the number of workshops from its platform and selected only a handful of workshops to work with. Vroom today has a network of high-quality workshops on its platform and users can conveniently book and get the maintenance service. 

The company has launched a payment solution for the drivers jointly with a leading private commercial bank aimed at reducing their fuel-related cash management hassles for car owners. 

Vroom offers a sophisticated fleet management solution and vehicle tracking solution for B2B customers. Using Vroom’s solution, businesses can efficiently manage their vehicles as well as access Vroom’s other top-notch maintenance solutions priority basis. 

Today, Vroom has a web platform (and an app is in development) through which it offers comprehensive solutions to vehicle owners. “In short, whatever a vehicle-owner needs – we have it,” says Nazeem. “Most of the services we offer are fulfilled in-house. Some are catered through partners. But in all cases, Vroom is the single point of contact for customers.” 

The company, however, aims to grow further and launch more services. “We are not stopping here,” says Nazeem. “We are going to continue our product and service development journey.” 

The company says its next evolution is focused on services for electric and hybrid vehicles, a fast-evolving trend in the vehicle industry. 

Once the company managed to aggregate enough demand for wash and polish, launching other services and building new partnerships became easier. Vroom could offer to buy/sell service to the same customers who were taking wash and polish service before. The new service gives the existing Vroom customers yet another reason to stay with Vroom. At the same time, new services mean new customers coming for these new services. 

The state of the union 

Vroom is currently a team of 25 people. The company serves thousands of customers annually and is growing. Vroom has built an excellent product and experienced consistent growth over the past three years. Although the pandemic has slowed that growth, like every other business, it indicates a promising future for the company. 

A dedicated call center is in place for customer service. Although customers can take services online, car owners prefer to directly speak to a person. Vroom’s automobile engineers talk to the customers, understand their requirements and suggest the best possible solutions. Since Vroom has a workshop in Dhaka, it can handle any vehicle-related issue fast and efficiently without compromising quality. 

Vroom has largely grown through word of mouth. “We have not done much marketing,” says Nazeem. “Our growth comes from happy customers and references.” The company plans to double down on customer service in the coming days. “Delivering happiness is the core value of Vroom,” Nazeem explains. “From top to bottom of the company, we try to practice this.” 

The coronavirus pandemic, like many other companies, has been excruciating for Vroom. However, the company has managed to generate some consistent business to survive the pandemic. 

“We have a niche customer base who are keeping us busy during the pandemic,” says Nazeem. “Our general business, however, has declined by 50% at least. Nothing much can be done during these times. We hope the situation returns to normalcy soon.”

Looking ahead: the Vroom ecosystem 

One approach to view Vroom is that the company is building an ecosystem of vehicle management services. Vroom’s evolution over the last two years from an on-demand at-home wash and polish service provider to a comprehensive platform for vehicle management and maintenance services offers a trail to how the company has been laying out the seeds for a platform. 

This has also been made feasible by the industry dynamics. The vehicle is a connected industry. Paying attention to the challenges we mentioned earlier makes this reality quite clear. Offering one service essentially enables you to offer other relevant services. Vroom started with on-demand wash and polish services. As the company started to expand its wash and polish service, it came to see that its customers want and need more services. 

An excellent customer service regiment has worked as a flywheel for the company helping create a virtuous cycle. From wash and polish, the company eventually got into the reconditioned vehicles buy/sell, building a marketplace and comprehensive solution for buying and selling reconditioned vehicles. The company then moved into launching services such as selling authentic vehicle parts, an automated platform for repair services where it works workshops across cities, vehicle inspection service, ownership transfer assistance, car loans assistance in collaboration with financial institutions, fleet management solution for businesses, corporate vehicle maintenance solution, etc. 

The entire ecosystem creates a virtuous cycle of positive returns for every participant. As Vroom adds more services, quality gets better allowing it to aggregate greater demands. More demands mean Vroom partners get more orders and generate greater revenue. 

Vroom now aims to be the leader in automobile industry automation and standardization in Bangladesh. “We have aligned our products and services with that vision,” says Nazeem. Among other services, the company aims to build a nationwide network of quality workshops where clients will get the best quality auto services. “The future of automobiles is hybrids and electric vehicles,” explains Nazeem. “The current workshops and mechanics are mostly self-developed. As such the industry as a whole needs up-skilling and reskilling. Vroom wants to be in the forefront of that transformation.”

"Vroom has experienced excellent growth, bootstrapping from a scrappy startup to launching multiple services, over the past several years. With its foundation built as a platform, the company now aims higher and looks to raise investment to finance its expansion."

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Mahfuz Ullah Babu

04 September, 2021, 10:25 pm

Last modified: 04 September, 2021, 11:01 pm

ShopUp going to get over $74m in fresh funding

The fresh funding will be arranged by US-based venture capitalist Valar Ventures  

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ShopUp, the country's largest business-to-business (B2B) marketing platform to support small neighbourhood shops and online sellers, is reportedly going to receive a fresh round of venture capital funding of more than $74 million from a group of investors led by USA-based venture capitalist Valar Ventures.

DealstreetAsia, a Singapore-based investment industry portal, reported on Friday that ShopUp had already secured $74.4 million in a fresh round of funding. They cited regulatory filings by the investors to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) of the city-state.

Earlier, in October last year, the home-grown retail tech startup raised $22.5 million of Series-A funding from a group of investors co-led by Sequoia Capital India and Flourish Ventures, which still is the highest ever Series-A fundraising by any Bangladeshi startup.

"We do not acknowledge the media report and would request you all to wait until we come up with complete facts soon," said Afeef Zaman, co-founder & chief executive officer of ShopUp.

He, however, did not deny that the reported development was on the table.

The country head of a venture capital network told The Business Standard that there might be some modification in the investment plan, which ultimately might result in a round of $60-70 million.

He also said Sequoia is one of the world's largest venture capital firms that historically backed technology startups and now accounts for more than one-fifth of NASDAQ market capitalisation.  

"Sequoia's confidence in ShopUp might have attracted investors from both the east and west," he added.  

 ShopUp

Three Bangladeshi tech minds – Afeef Zaman, Siffat Sarwar, and Ataur Rahim Chowdhury – founded ShopUp in 2016 as a social commerce and marketing company that supported small f-commerce entrepreneurs to better manage and promote their businesses and also to deliver their products with their limited resources.

It was a great help to many young f-commerce entrepreneurs who did not even have a credit card to digitally pay the bill for online promotions.

In 2018, ShopUp received a seed funding of $1.62 million from Omidyar Network, an impact investment firm founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

The actual boost for ShopUp was its enrollment in Sequoia Capital India's 4-month accelerator programme "Surge" in 2019 which allowed the startup's significant access to the international network, mentorship and investment.

The $1.5 million received from the accelerator programme on top of Omidyar Network's $1.62 million was followed by the largest ever Series-A funding of $22.5 million.

Three other ventures joined Omidyar Network's entity Flourish Ventures and Sequoia Capital India's co-leadership for the biggest round then.

Meanwhile, ShopUp expanded operations to have acquired around 5 lakh small merchants that include grass roots level mom-and-pop stores and f-commerce who are sourcing products through the B2B platform with ease as ShopUp has improved in three areas – sourcing products from manufacturers or suppliers to cater the retailers under its programme "Mokam", nationwide logistics service under its technology-enabled brand "RedX" and also on credit supplies titled "Baki".

Since the beginning of the pandemic last year ShopUp significantly scaled up as many small shops found its combined services convenient amid their struggle to retain sales, margins and cash flow.

And now ShopUp appears to look for a much bigger scale with the fresh funding.

While speaking to The Business Standard over phone, ShopUp CEO Afeef Zaman refused to comment on the company's expansion plan at the moment.

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https://www.thedailystar.net/bangla/স্বাস্থ্য/স্বাস্থ্যসেবা/উদ্ভাবন/দেশীয়-উদ্ভাবন-তরুণদের-তৈরি-সাশ্রয়ী-মূল্যের-ভেন্টিলেটর-257671

দেশীয় উদ্ভাবন: তরুণদের তৈরি সাশ্রয়ী মূল্যের ভেন্টিলেটর

দ্বোহা চৌধুরী

শনিবার, সেপ্টেম্বর ৪, ২০২১ ১২:১১ অপরাহ্ন

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বিশ্বব্যাপী করোনাভাইরাস মহামারি ছড়িয়ে পরার পর যে যন্ত্রের প্রয়োজনীয়তা সবচেয়ে বেশি অনুভূত হয়েছে, সেটি হচ্ছে মেডিকেল ভেন্টিলেটর।

বিশ্বের বেশিরভাগ দেশের মতো বাংলাদেশেরও প্রায় প্রতিটি হাসপাতালে দুষ্প্রাপ্য এই জীবন রক্ষাকারী যন্ত্রের অভাবে করোনা আক্রান্ত রোগীরা শ্বাসকষ্টে ভুগতে থাকেন এবং মারা যান।

কিন্তু এই যন্ত্র অত্যন্ত ব্যয়বহুল হওয়ায় চাইলেই সব হাসপাতালে তা নিশ্চিত করা সম্ভব হয়নি।

তবে মহামারির এই সময়ে বাংলাদেশের প্রযুক্তি উদ্যোগ প্রতিষ্ঠান 'ক্রাক্স' (CRUX) এর গবেষকরা দেশে প্রথমবারের মতো তৈরি করেছেন একটি উন্নত প্রযুক্তির মেডিকেল ভেন্টিলেটর। যা স্বল্প খরচে সহজেই তৈরি করা যাবে এবং একই সঙ্গে এটি বিদ্যুৎ সাশ্রয়ী এবং সহজে বহনযোগ্য।

এই প্রযুক্তি উদ্যোগের গবেষকরা তাদের উদ্ভাবনকে বাণিজ্যিক খাতে ব্যবহারের জন্য না রেখে এটি নির্মাণের প্রযুক্তি ও গবেষণা উন্মুক্ত করে দিয়েছেন সারা বিশ্বের জন্য। যা দেশের জন্য সম্মানও নিয়ে এসেছে ইতোমধ্যে।

তাদের এই গবেষণা পত্রটি আগামী ১২ থেকে ১৫ নভেম্বর জাপানের কিয়োটোতে অনুষ্ঠিত হতে যাওয়া বায়োমেডিকেল এবং বায়োইনফরম্যাটিক্স ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং বিষয়ক আন্তর্জাতিক সম্মেলনে উপস্থাপনের জন্য গৃহীত হয়েছে গত ৯ আগস্ট।

এর পরদিন ১০ আগস্ট এই ভেন্টিলেটর বাংলাদেশের প্রথম ওপেন সোর্স হার্ডওয়্যার হিসেবে ওপেন সোর্স হার্ডওয়্যার অ্যাসোসিয়েশন (ওএসএইচডব্লিউএ) এর প্রত্যয়ন পায়। এর আগে বাংলাদেশের অসংখ্য সফটওয়্যার ওপেন সোর্স প্রত্যয়ন পেলেও এটিই প্রথম কোনো ওপেন সোর্স হার্ডওয়্যার, যা আন্তর্জাতিক এই সংস্থার মাধ্যমে প্রত্যয়িত হয়েছে।

গত বছরের মার্চে দেশে করোনাভাইরাস মহামারি আঘাত হানার প্রায় মাসখানেক পরে ক্রাক্সয়ের প্রতিষ্ঠাতা এবং প্রধান নির্বাহী কর্মকর্তা সৈয়দ রাজওয়ানুল হক নাবিল তার দলের সদস্য একেএম মারুফ হোসেন রাহাতকে সঙ্গে নিয়ে একটি ভেন্টিলেটর প্রকল্প শুরু করেছিলেন।

ভেন্টিলেটর নির্মাণের দলে পরে যুক্ত হয়েছেন শোভন সুদান সাহা, মো. হাসানুর রহমান সোহাগ, ফজলে রাব্বি শাফি এবং সত্য রঞ্জন সরকার। সবার সম্মিলিত প্রয়াসে গত বছরের জুলাইয়ে ভেন্টিলেটরের প্রথম প্রোটোটাইপ তৈরি করা হয়।

ক্রাক্স এর প্রতিষ্ঠাতা নাবিল শাহজালাল বিজ্ঞান ও প্রযুক্তি বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের অনন্য উদ্ভাবনী উদ্যোগ ও দেশের প্রথম ড্রোন প্রকল্পের টিম লিডার হিসেবে পরিচিত।

ভেন্টিলেটর প্রসঙ্গে দ্য ডেইলি স্টারের সঙ্গে আলাপকালে নাবিল বলেন, 'দ্রুত উৎপাদনযোগ্য, স্বল্প খরচ এবং বিদ্যুৎ সাশ্রয়ী পোর্টেবল টারবাইনভিত্তিক ভেন্টিলেটরটি অন্য যেকোনো বাণিজ্যিক ভেন্টিলেটরের মতোই দক্ষতার সঙ্গে কার্যকর।'

তিনি বলেন, 'এর শব্দের মাত্রা অন্য ভেন্টিলেটরের তুলনায় প্রায় অর্ধেক এবং এটি পিআরভিসি, পিসিবি, এসআইএমভি এবং বাইপেপ মোডে কার্যকরী। আমরা সোলেনয়েড এবং পিপ ভালবের পরিবর্তে একটি প্রেশার রিলিজ মেকানিজম তৈরি করছি, যা ৩৫ শতাংশ কম শক্তি খরচ করে এবং অত্যন্ত সাশ্রয়ী। এটি যে কোনো ধরণের পেশেন্ট সার্কিটের সঙ্গে কার্যকরী। ভেন্টিলেটরে রিয়েলটাইম ডেটা প্রদর্শনের জন্য একটি বড় স্ক্রিনও সংযুক্ত করা হয়েছে।'

নাবিল বলেন, 'একটি বাণিজ্যিকভাবে নির্মিত ভেন্টিলেটরের বর্তমান বাজার দর প্রায় ১০ লাখ থেকে ৩০ লাখ টাকার মধ্যে। কিন্তু এই ওপেন সোর্স ভেন্টিলেটরটি উৎপাদনে সকল আনুষঙ্গিক খরচসহ মাত্র ১ থেকে ২ লাখ টাকা ব্যয় হবে।'

নাবিল আরও বলেন, 'এই ভেন্টিলেটরটি একটি মডুলার ডিজাইন হওয়ায় কেবল ক্ষতিগ্রস্ত বা নষ্ট হওয়া অংশটি প্রতিস্থাপন করেই এটি দীর্ঘ সময়ের জন্য রক্ষণাবেক্ষণ করা যাবে।'

ক্রাক্সয়ের নির্মিত ভেন্টিলেটরটির কার্যকারিতা পরীক্ষা করে দেখে সিলেট এমএজি ওসমানী মেডিকেল কলেজ হাসপাতালের অ্যানাস্থেসিওলজি বিভাগের সাবেক প্রধান অধ্যাপক ডা. সব্যসাচী রায় দ্য ডেইলি স্টারকে বলেন, 'একজন পেশাদার হিসেবে আমি তাদের নির্মিত ভেন্টিলেটর পরীক্ষা করেছি এবং এটি যে কোনো সাধারণ বা কোভিড-১৯ রোগীর জন্য বাজারে পাওয়া যেকোনো আইসিইউ ভেন্টিলেটরের মতোই দক্ষভাবে কাজ করে।'

তিনি জানান, ভেন্টিলেটরটির বাণিজ্যিক উৎপাদন ও আইসিইউতে ব্যবহারের জন্য বাংলাদেশ মেডিকেল রিসার্চ কাউন্সিলের (বিএমআরসি) অনুমোদনের প্রয়োজন হবে।

তিনি বলেন, 'যদি কোনো কোম্পানি উৎসাহী হয়ে এই ভেন্টিলেটরটির বাণিজ্যিক উৎপাদনের জন্য এগিয়ে আসে, তাহলে তা রোগীদের জীবন রক্ষায় খুবই উপকারী হবে।'

বায়োমেডিকেল ইঞ্জিনিয়ার এবং নর্থ সাউথ বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ইলেকট্রিক্যাল অ্যান্ড কম্পিউটার ইঞ্জিনিয়ারিং বিভাগের সহকারী অধ্যাপক ড. তানজিলুর রহমান দ্য ডেইলি স্টারকে বলেন, 'মহামারির সময় ভেন্টিলেটর সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ একটি জীবন রক্ষাকারী যন্ত্র হিসেবে প্রমাণিত হয়েছে। যেহেতু তারা (ক্রাক্স) বাংলাদেশে এটি নিয়ে গবেষণা ও নির্মাণ করেছে এবং এটিকে ওপেন সোর্স বানিয়েছে, এটি দেশের যে কেউ বা বিশ্বের যে কোনো দেশে সহজে প্রাপ্ত প্রযুক্তির সাহায্যে উৎপাদন করা যাবে।'

বাংলাদেশ ওপেন সোর্স নেটওয়ার্কের সাধারণ সম্পাদক মুনির হাসান দ্য ডেইলি স্টারকে বলেন, 'বাংলাদেশের প্রযুক্তিবিদরা বছরের পর বছর ধরে মুক্ত উৎস সফটওয়্যার তৈরিতে বিশ্বব্যাপী পরিচিত। বিগত কয়েক দশক ধরে, আমরা সফটওয়্যারকেন্দ্রিক ছিলাম। কিন্তু ক্রাক্স বিশ্বকে দেখিয়েছে যে বাংলাদেশ হার্ডওয়্যারের ক্ষেত্রেও অবদান রাখতে শুরু করেছে।'

তিনি বলেন, 'এটি তরুণদের উৎসাহিত করবে এবং এই উদ্যোগ বাংলাদেশকে একটি হার্ডওয়্যার উৎপাদনকারী দেশে পরিণত হওয়ার প্রথম ধাপ হিসেবে সাহায্য করবে।'

ক্রাক্সয়ের উদ্যোক্তা ও গবেষকরাও দেশের প্রথম মুক্ত উৎস হার্ডওয়্যারের স্বীকৃতি এবং কিয়োটোতে আন্তর্জাতিক সম্মেলনে গবেষণা পত্র উপস্থাপনের বিষয়টি সম্ভাবনাময় ভবিষ্যতের চিত্র তুলে ধরছে বলে বিশ্বাস করেন।

নাবিল বলেন, 'আমরা আমাদের প্রচেষ্টা, মূল্যবান সময় এবং যোগ্যতায় এই গুরুত্বপূর্ণ চিকিৎসা যন্ত্রের নির্মাণ করেছি এবং এই প্রযুক্তি উন্মুক্ত করে দিয়েছি। যাতে করে যে কেউ জীবন রক্ষাকারী এই মেডিকেল ভেন্টিলেটর তৈরি করতে পারে।'

তিনি বলেন, 'প্রকল্পটি যদিও বাংলাদেশের জন্য গর্বের, কিন্তু প্রযুক্তি বিনিয়োগকারীদের নিরুৎসাহী মনোভাবের কারণে আমরা শুরু থেকেই আর্থিক প্রতিবন্ধকতার মধ্যে কাজ করেছে। তবে এ সময় অনেক শুভাকাঙ্ক্ষীও পেয়েছি, যারা আমাদেরকে নানাভাবে সহযোগিতা করেছেন।'

এই তরুণ প্রযুক্তি উদ্যোক্তা আরও বলেন, 'মুক্ত উৎস প্রকল্পও বাণিজ্যিকভাবে টেকসই হতে পারে। মুক্ত উৎস রেখেও আমাদের বাণিজ্যিক সুবিধা নেওয়ার সুযোগ ছিল, কিন্তু আমরা শেষ পর্যন্ত প্রযুক্তিটি সবার জন্য সম্পূর্ণ উন্মুক্ত করে দিয়েছি।'

তিনি আরও বলেন, 'তবুও, একটি প্রযুক্তি উদ্যোক্তা প্রতিষ্ঠান ও গবেষক হিসেবে এই ভেন্টিলেটর নির্মাণ করে আমরা যে আন্তর্জাতিকভাবে স্বীকৃতি পেয়েছি, তাতে আমরা খুশি। এই আনন্দ আরও বিস্তৃত হবে যখন এই ভেন্টিলেটরটি সত্যিকার অর্থেই মানুষের জীবন বাঁচানোর কাজে ব্যবহৃত হবে।'

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On Building a Mass Transportation Solution and Practical Fundraising Lessons for Founders with Reyasat Chowdhury, CEO, Shuttle

By Ruhul Kader

|

Sep 6, 2021

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to speak with Reyasat Chowdhury, the always excellent Co-founder and CEO of Shuttle. Below is the transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity. 

The conversation is intellectually empowering in its entirety and we talk about the ecology of mass transportation, how mass transportation works, the B2B transportation market in Bangladesh, Shuttle’s model for affordable mass transportation, the state of Shuttle’s business, its ambition going forward, business building, and raising investment and much more. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the interview and I hope you enjoy it as much. 

Ruhul Kader: We last spoke in June 2020. A lot has happened over the last one year. Pandemic drags on. You have raised a new round of investment. Your business and strategic direction have changed. Pandemic has affected your sector quite badly. Could you please give us an overview of Shuttle today — a comparison between what Shuttle was when we spoke last time and what Shuttle is today? 

Reyasat Chowdhury: Even though we initially started as a women-only B2C service, we launched this new service called Shuttle for Business before the pandemic last year where we wanted to help organizations support their employees by providing them office transportation. We received a tremendous response for this new service at the beginning of the lockdown last year — 2020. We were just exploring the new product at the time and it was not fully ready yet. When we last spoke in June 2020, we were already providing the service to a few companies but we were not promoting the product publicly at the time. 

We officially launched “Shuttle for Business” in August last year after the first lockdown and validated that there is a need for such a service. 

Before this, people knew our service was only catering to women because we had only one product — Shuttle for Women. We changed our positioning where we communicated that Shuttle is a transportation-tech company and we have two products: Shuttle for Women and Shuttle for business. Shuttle for women caters exclusively to individual women. Shuttle for business serves businesses based on their needs. Companies can hire vehicles exclusively for women or all employees.

Since we actively started promoting “Shuttle for Business”, we have seen an increased demand for the product around this year’s lockdown. It turned out to be a great opportunity for us especially because a lot of companies were operating during this year’s lockdown. Although shutdown was a different case. Most companies had to temporarily stop their physical operation during the shutdown. Despite that, many companies such as banks, e-commerce companies, other essential product companies, and emergency services operated during the shutdown. 

We had to make several strategic changes as we were not expecting the shutdown. We were planning to hire new people for our office and many of our deals were almost near close. Then shutdown came into effect and everything got delayed.

Good thing was that we also received a few new leads the day the shutdown announcement was made. Companies that needed to operate amid the shutdown reached out to us for our service. 

We believe that we are a company that is not adversely affected by the shutdown or lockdown.

We had to make some changes based on the demands of our clients but our business is operating smoothly despite the disruption due to the pandemic and the shutdown. 

Ruhul: That’s great to hear. Your Shuttle for Business is doing well.  

Reyasat: We are focusing 100% on it. 

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Ruhul: In your recent fundraising announcement, you mentioned you want to become an affordable and accessible transportation solution for mass people. What do you mean by that? If that's the case, that changes everything about the Shuttle because as you mentioned earlier people knew you as a transportation solution for women before, and now you are no longer an exclusive service for women. With an eye on becoming a mass transport solution, this changes everything about your product and direction. 

Reyasat: When people hear that we are a transportation company everyone thinks that we are similar to the popular ride-sharing services and that we are merely yet another new player in the segment. Whereas we are a completely different service. Our product and value proposition are different. We are looking to solve a different problem. In short, we provide safe transportation at an affordable price by moving more people with fewer vehicles. 

Now, this could be a minivan, bus, sedan car, or any other small or large vehicle as long as the whole idea is that we are enabling groups of people to commute together. We saw that public transport is a huge problem in Bangladesh.

When the ride-sharing services came along, they solved transportation problems for a segment of the population but this segment is relatively small. How many people can afford private cars to commute daily? Some people can afford them for infrequent uses but most people can't afford them daily for multiple times. It’s unrealistic to think that regular people can spend 700-800 taka per day on transportation. 

This is the segment we are targeting — mass people who cannot afford expensive alternatives for daily commute. 

When we started working with mass people, we came to learn that different people have different needs. Businesses have different needs. Women have different needs. Regular office commuters have different needs. 

We realize that a mass transport solution should cater to the needs of each of the segments separately. There cannot be a generic solution for everyone. That's why we work with different segments separately although our target is to work with mass people. 

For example, we initially started with the women-only service. It was originally launched targeting female university students. That was our core target group at the time. Now that we are serving businesses, we serve both males and females. Our core target group for this service is companies that provide transportation solutions for their employees. 

We are also launching a unisex service where our target group will be different. In a nutshell, we might end up having seven-eight services but we aim to help more people to move with fewer vehicles. We aim to provide an alternative solution to people who on one hand cannot afford ride-sharing cars and on the other hand, do not feel comfortable commuting on public transport. 

Ruhul: I see upside in emerging mass transportation models if you could get into public transport — a kind of large-scale transportation solution for a large number of people. That's much more efficient and makes sense from all aspects. Anyways, when we last spoke, you were offering service in 10 routes in Dhaka and serving some 30,000 user base with a team of 76 people including trip managers and drivers. Could you give us an overview of the company today in terms of those numbers? What kind of coverage are you offering for your Shuttle for Business solution today and any other updates you would like to share? 

Reyasat: When we last spoke, we did not publicly launch our B2B business yet so we did not speak about it. During the shutdown, our B2C service was on pause and we are just slowly resuming it now. 

In B2B, we are now working with around 30 companies and the number is growing every month. Around 100 vehicles are operating right now. While we are mostly focusing on Dhaka, we are operating in Chittagong as well. 

Ruhul: How do you work with your vehicle supplier partners? 

Reyasat: We are connected with more than 500 rent-a-car companies. We have a network of individual vehicle owners from where we source vehicles as well. We mostly rent the vehicles but we have a few other models as well that we are experimenting with right now. 

Ruhul: In terms of orientation, your B2B model is more customized. A business needs a vehicle, you provide it based on their needs. Your B2C was/is more open-ended and flexible to that end, anyone could use your app and book a trip if available. 

Reyasat: Our model is based on utilization. The more we use a particular vehicle, the more return we get on the vehicle. Same for the B2C where we need to ensure occupancy of the vehicle. The full occupancy means we are doing excellent. Empty seats mean we are not doing so well. 

Ruhul: You now have a B2B business. Once the pandemic comes under a manageable condition, which, given the condition of vaccination and other metrics, can happen early next year, you are going to reopen your B2C business as well. Based on your current strategy, your focus is going to be mass transportation. Cars and vans are of course options for mass transport. But buses also play a significant role here. Buses are the ultimate mass transport. So from here where do you see the Shuttle is going? 

Reyasat: We are not stuck with any specific vehicle at all. We can use micro-bus, van or Bus, or sedan car. Based on the needs of our customers both B2C and B2B, we are open to using any type of vehicle. We will be using the best and most feasible options for our customers. 

For now, our main goal is to establish the Shuttle for Business. By establishing, I mean not only creating awareness but actually serving more than 100 B2B clients in the next 12 months. That is the immediate goal and our main focus for now. 

We want to be in a position where we are catering to the large organizations of Bangladesh and providing a good transportation solution. We want to position our product in a manner that companies will see it as an investment from an HR perspective for improving employee productivity and satisfaction instead of seeing it as a cost. This is going to be our focus for the next year. 

As I mentioned before, we are slowly resuming our B2C services. We have been experimenting with the unisex service in the B2C segment for some time and now we want to scale it up. Obviously, we also want to resume the “Shuttle for Women” service as soon as the universities reopen. 

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Ruhul: Dhaka has several players in your vertical. There are new-age transportation companies and there are more traditional rent-a-car companies as well. What is your competitive advantage compared to other players in the verticals? 

Reyasat: The biggest player in the sector is the rent-a-car companies who have been operating in this space for many years. A lot of the companies we want to work with already probably have vendors who provide them with rented vehicles for many years. Therefore, for us, the biggest competitors in B2B are the age-old rental companies. 

We offer several advantages to the companies. The biggest benefit of course is the cost. Because of our business model, we can reduce 30-50% of the transportation cost for any company. That is the biggest value we provide. 

Apart from that, we provide additional benefits such as managing transportation-related hassles on behalf of the companies. Managing employee transportation is a big hassle and many companies maintain separate departments for this purpose alone. In other companies, the HR department takes the responsibility for it. 

We tell those companies that they can simply outsource these hassles to us. We take the responsibility to manage end-to-end transportation for companies. We also have our app and dashboards ready to make everything user-friendly. Users can communicate and track all the activities through the app. They can also book or cancel rides. 

We also provide a dashboard to the admin or HR where they can have real-time visibility of everything from how many vehicles are on the road to who is using what, the cost, report preparation, etc. 

Ruhul: How do you work with the rent-a-car companies? 

Reyasat: We rent cars based on our needs and demands. It could be on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. This depends on individual cases and demand for the vehicles. 

Ruhul: Ride-hailing companies operate more like two-sided marketplaces where they basically connect riders and commuters. Riders get paid based on the rides they serve. Do you see yourself in such a position where you are doing the same? 

Reyasat: It could be done. For that to happen, however, we will have to scale our model. 

For now, we want to keep things simple on the supply side. We are working on the demand side and trying to establish the current model. We can always experiment with new models as we scale. 

Ruhul: As you mentioned earlier, Shuttle for Business was not in existence even a year ago. The service, however, has grown meaningfully in the last one year. What are some of the things that have helped you to grow the business? 

Reyasat: The first thing I would say is the value proposition we offer. We tried to understand the pain points of our customers before launching the product. As I mentioned earlier, managing transportation for people is a hassle for most companies.

We have tried to offer specific solutions to these challenges that companies face. I think that is the main reason behind our traction so far where our customers did not need to compare us with rent-a-car companies and instead they just feel that there is this new company that is providing us an amazing solution. 

Ruhul: How does your marketing and communication work? 

Reyasat: We use common channels such as social media, digital marketing, and direct sales. Initially, we did not have a sales team. As the business grew, we built an in-house sales team. We use social media to build awareness and direct sales to generate leads and close deals. 

Ruhul: How big is your team now? 

Reyasat: We are currently a team of around 60 full-time people. If I add our drivers and support staff, it is more than 150. 

Ruhul: What are some of the major challenges for Shuttle now? 

Reyasat: One challenge is pandemic. Everything is uncertain. We do not know when things will return to normalcy, when the lockdown will be lifted and whether we will see another surge in infection in the coming days. Even in normal times, it is hard for startups to plan long term. It is harder now because we do not know what is going to happen in the next few months. We are ready to scale and are already doing it to some extent but uncertainty lurks. If things change then how do we adjust? We are thinking a lot about these things so that we could adjust when things do change. One year ago, we were a smaller team and it was relatively easier to handle because of our size but adjusting with a larger team is an entirely different thing. 

Second, B2B is a huge market. We have just started in this market and we want to prove to ourselves and our investors that we have built a product that has a market and we can scale it. I would say it is too early to say whether Shuttle for Business is working or not because 20-25 companies are nothing compared to the market we are dealing with. More than the challenge, we need to validate. We need to understand we are serving the customers right, and our product is the right product and we can be successful in this market. 

Ruhul: One interesting intersection for you is that in most metros a significant percentage of the daily commute is people going to and returning from offices. To that end, if you are providing transportation solutions to companies, it means you are already serving a significant percentage of daily commutes in most metros, at least on the weekdays. There are other purposes of commuting but on weekdays, it is mostly office going people. To that end, what does the transportation market look like in terms of how many companies really provide or want to provide transportation services to their employees? Is there an appetite for it? How big is the B2B transportation market, etc? Could you shed some light there? 

Reyasat: According to our calculation based on several factors, the B2B transportation market is about a 1.2 billion market annually. This is not Dhaka alone. This is the entire market of Bangladesh. 

Ruhul: That’s a big market. What percentage of companies arrange transportation for their employees? 

Reyasat: Almost every company with above 50 employees has some sort of transportation arrangement in place. It could be transportation for the employees, for senior management, for the CEOs and MDs, etc. That is what we try to understand when we approach a new prospect — what their requirements are and how they are operating at the moment. We try to provide a customized solution. 

Ruhul: You have raised a seed-round investment recently. What's your experience of raising investment? What are some major challenges startups face in raising money? What are some lessons you have learned? 

Initially, finding and building relationships with potential investors was a challenge. I had no idea where to look for investors or how to approach them. In March-April of last year, I put a lot of effort into learning and got in touch with a few key people who helped me understand the whole thing from where I did not have to worry much about connecting with investors. 

As soon as I realized I could connect with an investor anytime, my main concern became whether investors would see Shuttle as a good opportunity to invest or not. 

The importance of confidence cannot be overstated. Now I'm confident that I can connect with anyone and have a meeting. That has been the biggest change in the last year or two. The more meetings I had with potential investors, the easier it got. I would like to thank Accelerating Asia for this, the accelerator program that we were part of last year. We were able to connect with several investors through Accelerating Asia. We have not raised a great deal of money through Accelerating Asia. Working with them, however, I gained a good understanding of the process and the game of fundraising — how to connect, build relationships, and deal with investors. After I learned that, the rest of it got easier. 

For me, the key takeaway is the importance of being connected with the right people who can teach you the process and the tricks of the trade. It could be an international accelerator program or an international venture capital firm. It is not something you can learn from talking to someone. Everyone has to go through this process and learn by doing it themselves. You have to spend a lot of time behind it. Initially, it would be challenging, but after a while, it gets easier. 

Ruhul: From your experience, what are some dos and don’t of raising investment? 

Reyasat: First of all, you need to be clear about your fundraising requirements such as how you want to raise money - equity, SAFE, etc. and for how long (the runway) you want to raise the fund. 

You should not play around with valuation. In my opinion, one of the things we did right last time was to base our valuation on the market price. We were like, 'We're building this company and we want to raise this much money'. Then, we observed what kind of valuation people who wanted to invest were willing to offer. After that, we chose a valuation that we thought was suitable for us, as opposed to putting together our own valuation and explaining why it was justified. We realized that my valuation is what people are willing to pay. If people are willing to pay me a high price then that is my valuation and if they want to pay me a low price that is my valuation. It does not matter what my justification is. If an investor wants to pay you 5 million dollars and another 10 million dollars, I suggest you take the 10 million dollars and don’t try to convince the 5 million investor to make it 10. We found that was very important. 

My suggestion for new entrepreneurs would be to decide on a valuation that the market is willing to accept and lock the lead investor as quickly as possible. Conversations with potential investors become considerably easier if you already have a lead investor and the valuation for the round is already locked. 

Also, I think it is better to set your valuation at 75-80% of your actual value. It becomes a lot easier to lock in investments once you do that. If I want to get the highest valuation in the market, it will shrink the investor pool for you. The deal would not be lucrative for investors. Instead, I wish to offer an investor a deal in which he would feel he is getting a great deal at a great price. By not haggling with valuation, you can raise money relatively quickly, which has many benefits. 

Preparation is very important. Preparing your data room where you have all the relevant information in one place is super useful. For example, you meet an investor and he wants to know more about your company. If you have a data room with all your data and all the details in it, you can simply send him the link to the data room instead of preparing documents one by one as the requirements come. 

For example, investors may ask for your pitch deck, financial model, and legal documents. If I send these documents one after another, the process gets lengthy and complicated. However, if I can share a link with the investor right after the meeting where he could find the details and everything in one place, it makes the entire process easy and quick. At the same time, investors also get the vibe that this person is prepared for fundraising. 

Also, thinking about the shareholding structure from day one is very important. The first investment you are raising, the terms of the deal, and its implication — these things are important for your later stage fundraising. 

In the early days, I used to think that getting money was everything. But now I understand this is not the only important thing for the business. Who are your previous investors, how much equity did they take, how much do the founders own at the moment, where is your company registered – all these things play a very important role when you want to raise a new round of investment. 

Ruhul: Now you have raised money. I understand your priority for this year is establishing the Shuttle for business. Apart from that, what are some of the goals for the next few years? 

Reyasat: In the early days, we did things as they came. We did not focus much on systems and processes. In the next few years, my priority is to build systems and teams in a manner that would allow us to scale exponentially without operational debt. For example, if I don't have a data team, I would not have a proper understanding of what's going on in the company and if we don't have a product team, we would not know how and when to do things. We will operate inefficiently. 

We are now trying to build our team and structure the company in a way so that we could scale the business easily. That is our priority for the next two years. 

Ruhul: Any final takeaway or lessons you want to share with other founders. 

Reyasat: For early-stage founders in Bangladesh, the most important thing I would say is knowledge. Startup is a relatively new thing for us as a market. As a result, it is not easy to get the proper guidance on how to start and build a startup in Bangladesh. 

For example, there are things about fundraising such as raising in equity, or SAFE, registering abroad vs registering locally, and so on. I did not know these things when we started and I had to struggle a lot for that. Hence, my suggestion for aspiring startup founders: spend a significant portion of your time gathering the relevant knowledge and continue learning. 

 

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https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2021/09/09/pathao-ventures-into-fintech

Pathao ventures into fintech

 Tribune Report

 Published at 07:26 pm September 9th, 2021

According to Pathao, it currently has an ecosystem of over 8 million users that it serves with ridesharing, food delivery, and courier services, successfully creating opportunities for over 300,000 individuals, serving 30,000 f-commerce merchants and over 10,000 restaurants

Technology-based startup Pathao has applied for a Payment Service Provider (PSP) licence from Bangladesh Bank as it plans to venture into fintech with “Pathao Pay”.

Earlier in an interview with Dhaka Tribune, Fahim Ahmed, president of Pathao, had said that the company is going to launch a fintech service to provide payment services to its large consumer base.

According to Pathao, it currently has an ecosystem of over 8 million users that it serves with ridesharing, food delivery, and courier services, successfully creating opportunities for over 300,000 individuals, serving 30,000 f-commerce merchants and over 10,000 restaurants.

He also said that the penetration of the digital payment market is very low with the vast majority of transactions still being settled in cash, which presents an opportunity for a consumer tech company such as Pathao to facilitate digital payments and drive greater adoption.

“Access to consumer credit is limited in Bangladesh.  We have the lowest credit card penetration in the region; neighbouring countries such as India and Indonesia have six to seven times greater penetration,” he said. 

“Young people between the ages of 21 to 45, who also constitute Pathao’s primary target market, are among the most underserved.  We are keen to develop solutions for these problems,” he told Dhaka Tribune during the interview.

Additionally, Pathao has been aspiring to be a one-stop solution for all sorts of digital services that would offer convenience for the people.

“Before the end of this year, we will be launching fintech products for our consumers,” said the Pathao president.

Over the past year, Pathao has introduced several new products and verticals, including grocery, medicine delivery, health, and entertainment.

According to sources at the central bank, it has recently issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) to Pathao in this regard. 

However, Bangladesh Bank before issuing the final licence will be monitoring all activities of the payment service for a period of one year.

When a business organization applies to the central bank for permission as a PSP and Payment Service Operator (PSO), it has to submit its business concept and related documents to the Payment Systems Department of Bangladesh Bank.

According to the Bangladesh Bank Act, a business entity receives final approval only when the central bank is satisfied with the review of all relevant documents and business certificates of the entity as PSP and PSO.

At present, IP Systems Limited, D Money Bangladesh Limited, Recerson Fintech Limited, Green and Red Technologies Limited, IT Consultants, SSL Commerce, Surjo Mukhi, Pragati Systems Limited, and Portonics Limited have the approval to operate as PSPs and PSOs.

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https://futurestartup.com/2018/06/06/the-future-of-venture-capital-in-bangladesh-with-shawkat-hossain/?utm_content=bufferbb166&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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The State and Future Of Venture Capital In Bangladesh With Shawkat Hossain, Managing Director, BD Venture Limited

By Future Startup

|

Jun 6, 2018

BD Venture Limited founding Managing Director Shawkat Hossain on the real reasons behind a lack of VC investments in Bangladesh, the state of funding in Dhaka and what determines funding dynamics, the myth of low valuation, the challenges for Venture capitalists in Dhaka, and what’s holding back Dhaka’s digital entrepreneurship ecosystem.

This was a much longer, so we had to break it down into two parts. This is the second and final part. You can find the first part here.

Future Startup

Lack of VC investment remains one of the obstacles towards the growth of the ecosystem in Dhaka. Why do you think VC investments are in short supply in Bangladesh?

Shawkat Hossain

The main reason for that lies in the number of active VC firms in the country. There hasn't been a significant number of investments recently because there simply aren't enough active local players.

At present, 11 organizations have the license as VC firms. But if you look at the industry, very few of them are actually active. That’s one.

There are other reasons as well. VC’s usually invest in the later stage of a company. For companies to go from one stage to another, you need to have a vibrant angel investment ecosystem that can support startups in the early stage which eventually makes it easier for VC to take part in the later stage funding. That’s not happening enough. Now, why not enough angel as well VC investments are not happening, it is a good question to explore.

Future Startup

Many startups complain that local VC firms often appear with stringent term-sheets and valuation of businesses. As a result of such conservative measurement, when a significant percentage of equity of a company gets diluted at the very first round of an investment and the entrepreneur is left with, say, a scant share, s/he is bound to be demotivated. The skin in the game for the founders reduces making the entire venture a risky affair. The outcome of such a deal does not bode well for either party. Many people tend to suggest that if you want to build big businesses, valuation should follow accordingly. What's your opinion about it?

Shawkat Hossain

I don't think this sort of complaints is unique to Bangladesh market. Even in mature markets, VC investors keep a conservative attitude during valuation. So, an expectation gap always looms around between the entrepreneur and the investor. I don't think this is an intrinsically a bad thing.

This is a business and as a party, in the game, VCs will always try to get more for themselves. That should be the logical way of it.

In the context of Bangladesh, another reason for the expectation gap is a lack of business acumen on the part of the entrepreneurs. The future projections of income and expenditure they come up with often don't match with the reality.

If we are to get the expected return on our investment, the supporting performance predictions definitely need to be authentic and realistic. Otherwise, how can we hope to keep our own performance up to the mark as VC firms? We also raise funds from investors and have to maintain accountability, do we not?

What I hope is that as the market matures, the gap reduces. In this business, both VC and entrepreneurs are interdependent partners. If entrepreneurs don’t succeed, VCs have no business. While there is a competitive dynamics in this relationship, it is purely because of business. The goal for both parties is same - making the business a success.

"We need more original businesses. There are too many 'me-too' businesses right now in the market."

Future Startup

What challenges do you face as a venture capitalist? Or what are the major challenges for VCs in Dhaka?

Shawkat Hossain

Investment readiness of the potential companies is a concern.

For instance, recently we have been contemplating to invest in an enterprise that has an excellent performance record. They have also successfully integrated state-of-the-art technology in their business. But the problem was that they do not have proper account books.

As a result, we can't readily invest in the business and have to wait till they pitch again with proper records. This is not a unique problem.

We have also discussed the problems with valuation earlier. Since the market is still in an embryonic stage, the expectation gap between the investors and the entrepreneurs persists.

Add to that, there is an absence of effective instruments as well. For example, we could make investments more conveniently and accurately if we could transact convertible bonds. In that way, it'd be easier to meet interests of both parties. But due to the lack of regulatory frameworks, it is not possible. Once we have these flexibilities, it should not be a problem.

"What I hope is that as the market matures, the gap reduces. In this business, both VC and entrepreneurs are interdependent partners. If entrepreneurs don’t succeed, VCs have no business. While there is a competitive dynamics in this relationship, it is purely because of business. The goal for both parties is same - making the business a success."

Future Startup

What are the reasons you generally decline investment proposals?

Shawkat Hossain

Investment readiness which I was just describing is one. Many a company get rejected due to their weak market research. Take, for example, the ride-hailing/sharing market. After the success of Pathao, ride-sharing companies are springing up in hundreds, regardless of the scope of the market.

Contrarily, we have recently been pitched by a company that aims to expedite the process of locating an address in Dhaka. To do that, they have been physically visiting localities inside the capital and cataloging addresses. This type of serious efforts really pays off in the long run. We need more original businesses. There are too many 'me-too' businesses right now in the market.

Apart from the technical aspects, we need to be mindful of maintaining integrity as well. VC investment is especially dependent upon trust between the related stakeholders.

As an entrepreneur, if you do not feel honestly committed to your business, you should better not opt for venture capital. Since the industry is still nascent, it is particularly essential for participants to cultivate an environment of credibility. It's not only about a single breach of trust; it's about reliance among the industry insiders in order to build a strong, conducive ecosystem.

Future Startup

A recent white paper from Banglalink suggests that some of the key challenges for Bangladesh’s digital ecosystem have been a dearth of IT professionals, difficulty to raise seed investments and to investing in foreign markets. What is your opinion can be done to tackle these challenges?

Shawkat Hossain

First off, I do not think that startups need to think about international or regional markets from the beginning because the local market is pretty huge. If you consider the education sector, the market comprises of at least 20 million students. Although many students (in effect, their parents) have less spending capacity, the sheer number of pupils can ensure the sustainability of a business.

Secondly, there's no denying that lack of IT professionals is a huge obstacle to technological advancement. In this respect, I think universities are failing to meet the industry demands. They are still following the old-fashioned curricula whereas the present skill-needs of the industry are totally different.

If the academia doesn't pay heed to the real business world, we could have a serious crisis up ahead. Similarly, there should be well thought-out plans from the industry as well. A concerted effort can provide a solution to this stagnation.

As for the seed investment situation in Bangladesh, I think information gap is a more critical problem than the lack of enough angel investors. We have no formal network of angel investors here. The absence of such an organized community actually deters a potential early-stage company to meet a desirous investor.

"Apart from the technical aspects, we need to be mindful of maintaining integrity as well. VC investment is especially dependent upon trust between the related stakeholders. As an entrepreneur, if you do not feel honestly committed to your business, you should better not opt for venture capital. Since the industry is still nascent, it is particularly essential for participants to cultivate an environment of credibility. It's not only about a single breach of trust; it's about reliance among the industry insiders in order to build a strong, conducive ecosystem."

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Jatri has recently received a $1.2 million in Pre-Series A funding from Reflect Ventures, Brain-Too-Free Ventures, SBK tech ventures, and prominent global strategic mobility investors. The funding comes their way after 2 years of operating a public transportation platform. Jatri enables users to access tickets of buses so they don’t have to wait on long lines or struggle to get in the bus. Having acquired their ride-sharing licenses not long ago, they can now provide a more selective and premium ride sharing experience via better rides.

They’ve partnered with local government business BTRC to increase their accessibility and unlock more locations than before to cater to consumer needs. The CEO of Jatri, Arman said, "The progress of Jatri is a testament to the dire need for digital reforms in the Bangladeshi transportation sector.” They’re currently operating in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.

Source: Jatri

241747525_402228241605626_55937609025362

 

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4 hours ago, Joel Ahmed said:

Jatri has recently received a $1.2 million in Pre-Series A funding from Reflect Ventures, Brain-Too-Free Ventures, SBK tech ventures, and prominent global strategic mobility investors. The funding comes their way after 2 years of operating a public transportation platform. Jatri enables users to access tickets of buses so they don’t have to wait on long lines or struggle to get in the bus. Having acquired their ride-sharing licenses not long ago, they can now provide a more selective and premium ride sharing experience via better rides.

They’ve partnered with local government business BTRC to increase their accessibility and unlock more locations than before to cater to consumer needs. The CEO of Jatri, Arman said, "The progress of Jatri is a testament to the dire need for digital reforms in the Bangladeshi transportation sector.” They’re currently operating in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.

Source: Jatri

241747525_402228241605626_55937609025362

 

https://www.tbsnews.net/dropped/startups/mass-transportation-startup-jatri-raises-12-million-301750#.YT73oJ4c0Ag.facebook

TBS Report 

13 September, 2021, 12:55 pm

Last modified: 13 September, 2021, 03:19 pm

Mass transportation startup Jatri raises $1.2 million

Jatri is rapidly expanding its operations throughout Bangladesh with double-digit month on month growth through strategic government and private sector partnerships

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Bangladesh and Singapore-based public transportation platform Jatri has raised $1.2 million in a pre-series A round participated in by Reflect Ventures, BTFV vision fund, SBK tech ventures, and prominent global strategic mobility investors. 

As well, existing investors took part in the round.

In about two years of its operations, the company has made thousands of bus partners and transacting over 3.5 million transport tickets over its proprietary platform, across just 3 in the cıtıes that counts 170.000.000 population that on a daily basis uses this mode of transportation as its preference, said a press release. 

Jatri is rapidly expanding its operations throughout Bangladesh with double-digit month on month growth through strategic government and private sector partnerships. 

Jatri was founded by Aziz Arman, Khandokar Taswar Zahin and Zia Uddin in early 2019 with the vision to comfort public transportation travel in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Jatri provides smart technological solutions for the public transport industry with a platform providing digital services to customers and bus operators.

This current pre-series A round will fuel Jatri to rapidly expand its nationwide coverage and service offering that goes beyond ticketing and rentals. 

To establish a noteworthy footprint in the sector, Jatri has partnered with the Government transport corporation BRTC to offer a wide selection of routes which may result in mass adoption of its services within the nation. 

Earlier this year, Jatri also attained the ride-sharing license from BRTA to contribute better quality bus segments with premium microbuses.

Beyond the popular inter and intra city operators in the private sector, its operations are intertwined with stakeholders and proprietors of the public transport sector, creating waves of change in day-to-day bus operations.

"The progress of Jatri is a testament to the dire need for digital reforms in the Bangladeshi transportation sector. We are determined to ride on that momentum with this fresh round of funding along with our diverse set of industry specialists and investors with connections to continue to expand our services. We are truly grateful for the indisputable support and trust we've received from BRTC, prıvate bus owners, and our users. We look forward to deepening the trust they have placed in us." mentioned Aziz Arman, co-founder and CEO of Jatri: 

Sonia Bashir Kabir, Managing Director, SBK Tech Ventures, stated, "While technology has touched every aspect of our lives solving intricate & complicated problems, many of us have forgotten to solve problems that are right in front of us. I congratulate the founders of Jatri for embracing problems of the masses and impacting public transport in Bangladesh in a transformative manner."

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https://www.prothomalo.com/business/উদ্যোক্তা/চিকিৎসকদের-জন্য-ডিজিটাল-প্ল্যাটফর্ম-ফ্রন্টলাইনারস-পেল-প্রথম-বিনিয়োগ

চিকিৎসকদের জন্য ডিজিটাল প্ল্যাটফর্ম ফ্রন্টলাইনারস পেল প্রথম বিনিয়োগ

মুনির হাসান

ঢাকাসাধারণ সম্পাদক, বাংলাদেশ গণিত অলিম্পিয়াড কমিটি

প্রকাশ: ১৪ সেপ্টেম্বর ২০২১, ২১: ৫৬

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চাকরির বিজ্ঞপ্তি, মেডিকেল কেস নিয়ে আলোচনা, ক্লিনিকে ডিউটি খোঁজাসহ চিকিৎসকদের নিত্যপ্রয়োজনীয় পেশাগত বিষয়ের নেটওয়ার্কিং প্ল্যাটফর্ম ফ্রন্টলাইনারস প্রি-সিড পর্যায়ে প্রথম বিনিয়োগ পেয়েছে। আট কর্মী নিয়ে পথ চলা মেডিকেল স্টার্টআপটি তাদের সেবাগুলোর উন্নয়ন ও বিকাশ নিয়ে বর্তমানে কাজ করছে। মুঠোফোন অ্যাপ ও ওয়েবসাইটের মাধ্যমে এসব সেবা দেওয়া হয়।

প্রতিষ্ঠানটির সহপ্রতিষ্ঠাতা ও প্রধান নির্বাহী কর্মকর্তা সালমান রহমানের মতে, এই বিনিয়োগ দেশের চিকিৎসকদের জন্য তাদের ডিজিটাল পরিষেবা সম্প্রসারণে সহায়তা করবে। ‘দেশের ফ্রন্টলাইনের যোদ্ধাদের নিত্যপ্রয়োজনীয় বিষয়গুলোকে নেটওয়ার্কিং অ্যাপের আওতায় এনে তাঁদের জীবনকে সহজ করতেই ফ্রন্টলাইনারস অ্যাপের শুরু’—বললেন সালমান রহমান। ফ্রন্টলাইনারস তাদের প্রথম বিনিয়োগের পরিমাণ প্রকাশ করেনি।

কেবল চিকিৎসকদের জন্য এমন ডিজিটাল সেবা খুব একটা নেই বলে জানালেন সহপ্রতিষ্ঠাতা ও প্রধান পরিচালন কর্মকর্তা মো. শফিকুল ইসলাম খান। তাঁর মতে, ‘এই করোনা অতিমারির সময় আমরা আমাদের ফ্রন্টলাইনারদের জীবনের ঝুঁকি নিয়ে কাজ করতে দেখেছি। তাঁদের পেশাগত জীবনকে সহজ করার জন্যই ফ্রন্টলাইনারস কাজ করছে।’ চিকিৎসক, বিশেষ করে নবীন চিকিৎসকদের দেশের হেলথ নেটওয়ার্কের সঙ্গে সঠিকভাবে যুক্ত করতে পারলে তা শেষ পর্যন্ত স্বাস্থ্যসেবাকেই উন্নত করবে বলে দাবি করেন শফিকুল।

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ফ্রন্টলাইনারসের তিন সহপ্রতিষ্ঠাতা। বাঁ থেকে মো. শফিকুল ইসলাম খান, সালমান রহমান ও বাশার ভূঁইয়া। 

ছবি-সংগৃহীত।

ফ্রন্টলাইনারসের প্রি-সিড পর্যায়ে বিনিয়োগে নেতৃত্ব দিয়েছেন ডব্লিউপি ডেভেলপার, এআরকমের প্রতিষ্ঠাতা ও এনজেল বিনিয়োগকারী এম আসিফ রহমান। ফ্রন্টলাইনারস টেকনোলজিসে বিনিয়োগ প্রসঙ্গে তিনি বলেন, ‘আমাদের স্বাস্থ্যসেবাকে ক্রমাগত উন্নত করার জন্য, চিকিৎসক, বিশেষ করে তরুণ চিকিৎসকদের জন্য স্মার্ট ও ডিজিটাল সেবা প্রদানকারী কোনো উদ্যোগের অনেক প্রয়োজন।’ চিকিৎসকদের প্রয়োজনমাফিক ডিজিটাল সেবা প্রদান করে ফ্রন্টলাইনারস এ ক্ষেত্রে অগ্রগামী ভূমিকা পালন করতে সক্ষম হবে বলে তিনি আশা করেন। অন্য বিনিয়োগকারীদের মধ্যে ডব্লিউপি ডেভেলপারের প্রধান নির্বাহী নাজমুল হাসান মনে করেন, ‘পরিকল্পনামাফিক এগোতে পারলে ভবিষ্যতে এটি ডাক্তারদের জন্য একটি সুপার অ্যাপে পরিণত হবে।’

কৃত্রিম বুদ্ধিমত্তা ব্যবহার করে ফ্রন্টলাইনারস নেটওয়ার্ককে মানবিক ও কার্যকর করার জন্য বিনিয়োগের অর্থ কাজে লাগানো হবে। এ তথ্য জানিয়ে প্রতিষ্ঠানের তৃতীয় সহপ্রতিষ্ঠাতা ও প্রধান কারিগরি কর্মকর্তা বাশার ভূঁইয়ার ধারণা, অভিজ্ঞ চিকিৎসকদের জটিল কেসগুলোর তথ্য ও উপাত্ত তরুণ চিকিৎসকের কাজে সহজে তুলে ধরা গেলে সেটি তাদের এগিয়ে যাওয়ার ক্ষেত্রে বিশেষ ভূমিকা রাখবে।

এ নেটওয়ার্কের মাধ্যমে চিকিৎসকদের মধ্যে পারস্পরিক অভিজ্ঞতা বিনিময়েরও একটি সহজ মাধ্যম গড়ে উঠবে বলে তিন সহপ্রতিষ্ঠাতা আশা প্রকাশ করেন।

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https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/14/chaldal-bangladeshs-largest-grocery-delivery-platform-raises-10m-series-c/

Chaldal, Bangladesh’s largest grocery delivery platform, raises $10M Series C

Catherine [email protected] / 12:42 PM GMT+6•September 15, 2021

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Founded in 2013, Bangladesh’s Chaldal was one of the first grocery delivery startups in the world to use the “dark” store model, picking up orders from its own warehouses instead of retail stores. Now the company says it is the country’s second-largest grocery player and the largest grocery e-commerce platform, with 27 warehouses located in four cities. Chaldal plans to expand into 15 new cities with a recently-closed $10 million Series C. The round was led by Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of Wise; Topia chief product officer Sten Tamkivi; and Xploration Capital, with participation from Mir Group.

When Chaldal launched in Dhaka eight years ago, it first picked up orders from local grocery stores. But most retailers in the city are very small and Chaldal was unable to guarantee items would be available for its customers. As a result, it decided to start building its own network of warehouses.

“When we started, Instacart was still the dominant model, but we took a different stand and said we want to deliver from our own warehouses because that leads to better inventory management,” co-founder and chief executive officer Waseem Alim told TechCrunch.

Now the company, a Y Combinator alum, has 27 warehouses located in four cities (Dhaka, Naryanganj, Chattogram and Jashore). It will expand to 15 new cities and plans to open 50 warehouses by the end of this year. In addition to its flagship grocery deliveries, Chaldal will expand GoGo Bangla, its on-demand logistics service for small e-commerce businesses, and the Chaldal Vegetable Network, which connects farmers directly to retailers. It also has plans to launch a direct-to-consumer pharmacy.

Chaldal claims that has generated $40 million in revenue and performed 2.5 million orders over the past 12 months, growing about 120% year-over-year. It currently sells about 8,500 kinds of products and wants to expand that to 30,000 SKUs by December.

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One of Chaldal’s “dark” stores, or warehouses

Alim says Chaldal’s core grocery operations have been profitable for a while now, and it only invests cash in building its technology or launching new verticals. One of the reasons it is able to make money is because Chaldal began batching deliveries early on, sending out riders from its full-time fleet with several orders at a time (it recently launched a part-time driver program). Batching also means Chaldal is able to offer deliveries in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.

Chaldal also worked closely with suppliers and manufacturers. “We are one of the most efficient online grocery retailers in the world in terms of amount of capital that has been invested in us versus our size, and that’s mainly because we have been really working with our supply chain and all those details,” Alim said.

For example, it sources produce directly from farms, and partners with large manufacturers like Unilever. “Walmart and stores like that don’t exist here, it’s mostly small retailers, so we’ve been able to have a huge impact on the supply chain side of things,” said Alim. “We are continuing to expand our micro-warehouse model and have started supporting, as part of the delivery mechanism we have built, a lot of small merchants,” including many sellers who signed up for GoGo Bangla during the pandemic.

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https://futurestartup.com/2021/09/20/the-state-of-startup-funding-in-bangladesh-till-september-2021/?utm_content=bufferd6dcd&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

The State of Startup Funding In Bangladesh till September 2021

By Future Startup

|

Sep 20, 2021

  • To date, 37+ Bangladeshi startups raised more than $120Mn in disclosed investments. Many startups raised seed and pre-seed money that has not been disclosed. The increase is significant compared to previous years. In 2020, the total funding was around $40Mn. We still have a quarter to go, so it is logical to anticipate that the final quarter of the year will be eventful. 
  • The overall angel and seed-stage funding environment has improved significantly. Getting late stage funding has also become relatively easier for Bangladeshi startups in 2021. If socio-economic and demographic developments are any indication, Bangladesh should become a technological innovation hotbed in the coming decades. Investors should pay closer attention to the developments in the country. 
  • Funds have been raised by a wide range of companies. However, ecommerce, healthcare, logistics, education, and fin-tech continue to attract the most investment. Bangladesh's startup scene has grown rapidly in recent years, producing increasing numbers of high-quality startups. 
  • See which companies have raised money so far in 2021 below. For queries and feedback, please email us at [email protected]   

 

Company Transaction Name Money Raised Investors

ShopUpSeries B$75Mn Valar Ventures, Prosus Ventures, Flourish Ventures, Sequoia Capital India, and VEON Ventures.

ChaldalSeries C$10Mnaavet Hinrikus (co-founder of Wise), Sten Tamkivi (CPO of Topia), and Xploration Capital, Mir Group

Protein Market-$100kM Asif Rahman, Nazmul Hasan Rupok, Jahangir Alam, and Md. Shahjahan

Frontliners Technologies-UndisclosedM Asif Rahman, and Nazmul Hasan Rupok

JatriPre-series A$1.2MnReflect Ventures, Brain-Too-Free Ventures, SBK Tech Ventures

Alice LabsSeed$500KAnchorless Bangladesh, HOF Capital.

ShuttleSeed $750k Accelerating Asia. Robi Axiata Limited (r-ventures), Impact Collective (The Ventures, South Korea), and Bangladesh Angels Network (BAN), Uber's Head of Mobility Innovation Programs Zulkarnain, and Co-founder & Managing Director of foodpanda Bangladesh Zubair Siddiky

Shadhin FinTechPre-seed$165kBangladesh Angels

Praava HealthSeries A Prime-General David H. Petraeus, Esther Dyson, SBK Tech Ventures, Dr. Jeremy Lim, Dr. Rushika Fernandopoulle, and Geoff Price

ZingoPre-seed--

ShikhoSeed$1.3MnAnchorless Bangladesh, LearnStart, Learn Capital, Wavemaker Partners, Ankur Nagpal.

MedEasy (Daktar Bondhu)Pre-seed-SBK Tech Ventures

ROOTs EduPre-seedUndisclosedOmicon Tech Ventures

Aroggapre-seed$200k-

DataBirdBridge Round$3MnSkycatcher

Kludiopre-Series AUndisclosedSteve Vickers, Impiro

MayaSeed$2.2MnAnchorless Bangladesh, The Osiris Group,

Frontier NutritionSeries B$6MnAdjuvant Capital, the International Finance Corporation, DSG Consumer Partners, DSM Venturing, Shazi Visram, Seth Goldman, Bridgette Heller, and Great Point Ventures.

Intelligent Machines-BDT 4crIDLC Venture Capital Fund I

Paperfly-BDT 100crEcom Express

Arogga-UndisclosedFalcon Network

Pathao--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Dhaka Cast--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Moner Bondhu--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Chaldal--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Eduhive--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Sheba.xyz--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Intelligent Machines--Startup Bangladesh Ltd

Ajke.livePre-seed$50,000Mohammad Maaz Mamoon

HappihubSeed$60,000-

ShebikaPre-seed$600,000

E-Desh$235kMaslin Capital

Mainframe LabsPre-seed$75kTiger IT Foundation

ChayaPre-seed$45kMohammad Maaz Mamoon and Isra Mamoon

MarkopoloPre-seed-Deko Isho Group

StridesCoPre-seed-Bangladesh Angels

Truck LagbeSeries A$4MnIFC, IDLC VC Fund 1, Millville Opportunities

UpskillPre-seed$110kVint Valley

 

 

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https://www.tbsnews.net/economy/corporates/ifc-invests-tk2142-cr-truck-lagbe-305005

TBS Report

20 September, 2021, 01:35 pm

Last modified: 20 September, 2021, 03:25 pm

IFC invests Tk21.42 cr in Truck Lagbe

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The International Finance Corporation (IFC) has invested Tk21.42 crore in Truck Lagbe, a leading digital trucking platform in Bangladesh, to help expand its services and maintain critical supply chains, especially for delivering food and essential items during Covid-19.  

In a press release on Monday, World Bank's sister organisation IFC said it partnered with Truck Lagbe to improve and modernise the logistics sector in Bangladesh. 

Truck Lagbe is used to book short-haul and long-haul freight trips, with trucks of different sizes, across all 64 districts in Bangladesh. It is one of the largest e-logistics platforms in Bangladesh catering for over 43,000 unique shippers, with over 20,000 registered trucks.

"As traditional methods became inaccessible during the Covid-19 pandemic, Truck Lagbe became the go-to platform for thousands of small businesses and truck owners for hiring trucks. This helped them to continue their business," said Anayet Rashid, Truck Lagbe's Co-Founder and CEO. "We are very excited to have IFC as a partner who have already invested in similar startups in other countries. This will help us to expand in every district of Bangladesh along with bringing in various support services to facilitate everyone to move from the fragmented and unorganized local market to our tech-driven logistics platform."

Transport and logistics services have faced severe financial stress and job losses due to the impact of Covid-19. Digital platforms such as Truck Lagbe offer the opportunity to support economic recovery by improving transport connectivity, facilitating trade flows and generating additional income and productivity gains in supply chains.

"It is crucial for Bangladesh, which aims to become a middle-income country over the next decade, to have an efficient transport infrastructure and logistics services, which not only provides more support for the shipment of goods during the pandemic, but can also help transport exports to markets," said Nuzhat Anwar, IFC's Acting Country Manager for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. "In addition to its financing, IFC is providing the company with knowledge and innovative support by leveraging insights from previous investments and will be connecting Truck Lagbe to more prospective clients."

The transport and logistics services market in Bangladesh has a value of US$15 billion (PwC 2018), equivalent to 6.8 percent of gross domestic product, GDP. IFC's investment will support the expansion of the Truck Lagbe operations, help widen the logistics network in the Bangladesh market, and support the expansion of value-added services for truck owners through the sale of fuel, tyres and lubricants.

Truck Lagbe's technology platform empowers small truck owners by displaying their available trucks and price quotations, as well as easy access to market information, enabling truck owners to find freight jobs, improve their income and more effectively utilize their trucks.

The Dhaka-based company won the "Startup Challenge 2017" competition in 2017, organized by the Information and Communication Technology Division of the government of Bangladesh.

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