*In conversation with ILMUL HAQUE SAJIB, Co-founder & COO of Sheba.xyz
VENTURE CAPITAL AND STARTUP CULTURE
“The fourth industrial revolution has allowed the youth to participate in the booming culture. In the last 3-4 years there’s been a tremendous shift. Nowadays, the youth and even the corporates are keen on the startup culture because it allows an individual to add value. Before the knowledge gap was tremendous, due to which securing a job was the only governing motivation and the idea of stepping out and creating something was not an entertained notion. However, nowadays university graduates, even students even as young as intermediate levels are initiating their own startups. This is a very important development because in Bangladesh the age of 18-40 year olds make up most of the population. They are the backbone to the country’s workforce which is why we should think about the proper utilization of the human resource, and it is integral that everyone involves themselves in the startup culture helping the country grow exponentially. For those of us who have shifted from big corporates to startups sustaining this culture is crucial.
In the last 13 years, my Co-Founder Adnan and I were in corporate positions and through the savings we had, we started our business – Sheba.xyz. However, the youth or recent graduates do not have the funds to run a company. Even with our savings, we faced challenges and this led to people investing. For those just starting out, venture capital is very important.
We never dreamt that angel investors would be interested in funding startups, especially in Bangladesh. People have become more confident in pursuing their ambitions. Some are doing it by establishing startups, some are doing it by investing in them. In the startup culture, entrepreneurs think about value addition because it fosters development in the mindsets of peoples and encourages them to be a part of the country’s growth.
The concern which plagues people when it comes to digital platforms is the money trail because with tech there isn’t a physicality to the service or the product. Tech service is boundless, it can’t be seen, but the impact is worldwide. Through tech startups we can reshape how we dispense service globally. I never say I am just working for Bangladesh or just running Sheba.xyz, I always say that I am adding value to the world.”
“We have 15,000 SME service providers on our platform as of now. And the objective is that by 2020 we’ll have 2 million registered service providers. Value addition is one of our main objectives.
For customers we have Sheba Marketplace App, and for service providers we have the Sheba Manager App, and through this app we began solving problems for SMEs. The Manager App is a product where you can manage all the services you provide. We piloted this in 2015, and improved it in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, we saw that an expert, who was a plumber working for a company, is now a company owner by using the Manager App, and manages 35 people under him, and offers 50-60 services to half of the city earning 1 – 1.5 lakhs a month. We cater to service providers so that they can improve their business, and to showcase his activities with transparency to service-seekers. As a Sheba.xyz user, consumers aren’t placing an order to Sheba.xyz, rather they are availing the service of a service provider who is registered on the app. For example, if someone wants their AC serviced, then the app shows them many AC service providers along with their customer rating, and through this, consumers will know who’s a better fit for them. We like to help a service provider with business management.
Our Manager app has training modules and training courses. For service providers, they have to go through the training, take behavior and technological quizzes. There are videos on customer interaction. I can track whether a service provider is following through with the steps. Now the Manager app is for owners. Experts work under managers, which is why we have an Expert app, and likewise they too have to go through a series of trainings and modules and quizzes.
We have an acquisition team who verify Managers and Experts, and it is during this step that we review their technical skills. Due to the rating system, service providers are encouraged to provide a 5-star service. We have also developed Sheba Bondhu which is a referral program, and it allows service providers to expand their business, and allows consumers to avail services from a verified source.
To encourage our service providers, we have hosted an award show for SMEs last September, 2018. We awarded 20 SMEs who performed exceptionally – Best Entrepreneur, Best In-Home Appliance. Kawsar Enterprise, a simple plumber who’s worked all his life and who never thought of being awarded, can now strive for respect, dignity and value through his work. Bangladesh government and other notable corporations were involved in this award show which was held in the same grand manner as any other award show would receive. We will do it every year so that SMEs are incentivized to keep performing well.”
“Needs change based on the area – the needs of an urban place will be separate from the necessities in a rural place, therefore services also change based on area. Right now we are beta testing in Chattogram. A business emerges with the intention to solve a problem. Our primary operation is in Dhaka, but we also have a presence in 5 districts outside Dhaka, and our aim is that by June 2019, we’ll have a marked impact on divisional cities and 64 districts, parallelly we are thinking of expanding into Southeast Asia like Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Myanmar where there is a need. We have conducted market visits and are checking the details to see how can we launch Sheba.xyz, and we are duly preparing the product. Other regions may not have the same need as Bangladesh, but I am creating a product that can be Plug & Play no matter where it goes. For expansion, market research, market study and understanding the needs of the region is very important.”
“When launching a startup, a key concern is to mobilize the right team, otherwise the startup will lose its pace. A startup has many challenges to overcome, needs solutions, which is why you need the right team. Developing the right team has been a learning process for us. Second is mentorship. We were lucky, because when we decided to set up Sheba.xyz, we had GP Accelerator – a GrameenPhone and StartUp Dhaka collaborative effort. We received excellent mentorship during GP Accelerator which helped us take Sheba.xyz many miles forward, and make the right decisions.
Third. The startup module has to be scalable. There needs to be long term focus on mitigating a problem, not just solving for the time being. Financial support is paramount to developing a startup. Businesses don’t become profitable before 2-3 years, and if you want to expand that’ll require further investment. Since a startup doesn’t have enough revenue in the beginning phase, they have to rely on investments. I have many service providers who work solely for Sheba.xyz, the reason being he is respected on the platform as an owner and a service provider. We at Sheba.xyz look to incorporate value into the lives of our service providers and customers. The most rewarding moment for me is when I see that value has been added to my client or customer – user and service provider – life. The delight factor of the customer is incomparable.”
“Most of the people working for Sheba.xyz are young; perhaps we are now the elder ones. There certainly is a need for technological innovation. We look for people who are willing to work and can envision the same dream we are seeing and match our speed while learning the process happens gradually. We prefer youngsters in the workforce, and we encourage the inclusion of women. We are definitely breaking social barriers, and allowing SMEs the opportunities to venture into their own businesses.
Since the inception of the startup culture, it has escalated and carried on in its own steam and volition in a short period of time. Well-wishers, people who use startup, or anybody following the news or keeping up with startups has the responsibility to extend their support to startups in terms of guidance, feedback. Have faith in startups, because they are working for the development of the country, as well as the world.”