Tahmina Ferdousi, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of HungryNaki, is passionate about driving change for the better. Tahmina started her career at Unilever Bangladesh Limited as a Management Trainee in 2005 and kept rising up the ranks during her eight-year stint at the company. She has earned an esteemed track record in multi-category development and FMCG scale-up while working for Berger Paints Bangladesh Limited and Marico Limited. In an interview with ICE Today, Tahmina Ferdousi elaborates on the current scenario of the online food delivery industry and how HungryNaki is evolving to rise to the shifts in consumer demands in a post-pandemic world.
What’s the current scenario of the online food delivery industry in Bangladesh?
We can dissect the online food market in Bangladesh into various segments. The entire ecosystem is the online environment, and within the online environment, there is another segment called quick commerce, which is basically anything delivered within 1-2 hours. From that angle, the online food market has boomed. It was already growing, but from 2020 the market has grown at an astonishing pace.
From a consumer angle, the pandemic has catalysed the mass adaptation of the ecosystem across various segments. It’s not just internet savvy using the platform; the user base has expanded to the mass population. Additionally, existing users are increasingly incorporating the use of quick commerce into their busy lives. Therefore, the industry is growing with the combination of new and existing users.
In short, the industry is evolving as a result of a shift in consumer behaviour regarding online platforms and consumption. People are now accustomed to ordering online, given the convenience. This trend will continue. There are multiple players, however, the market will consolidate as we scale up.
HungryNaki has recently been acquired by Daraz Bangladesh, a concern of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. How will the change in leadership impact its operations?
There has been no change in the DNA or what the company stands for. We want to provide food to the broader Bangladeshi consumer base, and we want to partner with restaurants and create a good working environment for our riders. The acquisition will allow HungryNaki to leverage the strengths and scale of Daraz and the technical knowledge a global company brings to the table. We have the local insights, but to scale our operations smoothly and efficiently, we also have the support and technical know-how of Alibaba and Daraz.
HUNGRYNAKI IS BACK AND SCALING TO SERVE THE BROADER BANGLADESHI CONSUMER BASE WITH ITS NEW LEADERSHIP AND GREATER OPERATIONAL EFFICIENCY ACROSS THE BOARD
What are the primary operational and logistical challenges?
Last year, there was a pause in HungryNaki’s operations for a brief period, and anything that begins after a pause comes with a set of challenges. We need to ensure that an adequate operational pace is attained. One of our prevailing challenges is meeting the overwhelming rise in demands after promotional activities. We are keeping a close eye on what’s happening at the ground level because it’s quick commerce and things can change in a matter of seconds. As demand usually snowballs beyond the predictions, maintaining the accuracy of demand forecasting is a lingering issue. There is no historical data that we can use for forecasting, as the market is so fluid and dynamic, that you have to adjust to the changing scenario. It has shown us to think both long and short term. We have to consider the long term infrastructure and processes we need to bring on board, and the capabilities we need to develop to ensure all facets of HungryNaki are working hand in hand.
HungryNaki is scaling up to serve the broader Bangladeshi consumer base with new leadership and greater operational efficiency across the board. We anticipate that the demand for riders will rise significantly as we scale up. In terms of logistics, there are a few challenges. There is a demand-supply issue from a rider perspective which we have addressed by facilitating a new ordering system that ensures better visibility and efficiency for the riders. From an interim perspective, the solution is to recruit more riders. But HungryNaki always has fixed riders in its paybook as dedicated resources. While the market operates in a freelance model, we have continued to keep full-time employees as it allows certain operational advantages. To ensure efficient recruitment and retention of riders, we have devised a full HR policy that focuses on their well-being and engagement with the company. At the end of the day our riders are our first line of ground-level staff, and we rely on them to provide our customers with the best services possible. To encourage that, we have to holistically manage our operations so that our financial packages make sense for our riders.
As a woman in a leadership position, how would you assess the current environment for women working in Bangladesh? Are there gender-specific challenges that still exist in our corporate culture?
If I look at it from our company’s perspective, a significant number of our workforce are female employees, and we are continually working towards building a diverse and inclusive workforce. I think in the tech industry, we need more women in the workforce because they bring in more diversity. Moreover, female enrollment in the education sector is now higher than it used to be a few decades ago.
However, a few things still need to be addressed in terms of career development for women. There is a need for structural changes in HR policies regarding hiring women and retaining them after marriage. Our government policy regarding female workers needs to be reassessed and restructured as it was devised during the British Era and was primarily intended for factory workers. Things have drastically changed; we have women working in different positions across various industries. Therefore, it is about time a proper policy is implemented which addresses women’s issues in aggregate. Furthermore, we see a significant drop in female employees after childbirth due to a lack of childcare facilities in the workplace. Lack of proper childcare facilities is one of the biggest impediments to the progress of women working in Bangladesh. The corporate sector can start by providing child care and other supporting facilities so that women can come back and join because otherwise, we lose a lot of talent in the process. At the government level, there is a mandated six-month maternity leave which all companies have to comply with. Additionally, policymakers need to look at the structural changes required to create an equitable workforce.
In reality, there isn’t any difference between men and women in terms of aptitude and attitude. They have equal ambition and aspiration. However, what we have seen is there is an issue regarding security.
Both men and women coming from outside Dhaka face housing and safety issues. Most offices do not provide transportation to return home after work, so safety and security becomes a concern, especially for women.
These are some of the things that policymakers need to think about. Having said that, I will also add that the situation has improved a lot compared to when I joined the workforce. Companies are now realising the importance of having both men and women in the workforce as different perspectives help provide holistic solutions. HungryNaki, as a company, practices inclusivity and diversity. In terms of retention, we will ensure that the structural scaffolding is in place to retain our talent, irrespective of gender.