The Advent of Startups in Bangladesh

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Startups are no longer an unfamiliar idea but the successful kind are rare and have followed some crucial ideas to get there

The recent demise of ekhanei.com, owned by Telenor Group alongside Schibsted and Naspers, brought into the light the fickle nature of startups. It has never been easier to take an idea from inception to execution, we live in an ever changing world where technology has engulfed every inch of our lives. And why shouldn’t it? Who doesn’t enjoy the comfort of taking an Uber to work, being able to see and talk to your loved ones, buy tickets online, organize meetings, collaborate with co-workers; all of it with a click of a few buttons? The mother of invention is no longer necessity – it is increasing efficiency, and these are the perfect conditions for startups. While the path to success can seem easy, the path to failure is much easier.

But while some experiments have been rewarding for certain startups, they have proved disastrous for others. There are plenty of variables that come into play such as your product’s popularity, the nature of your competition, your company’s structure and your in-house culture.
Startups that have seen success are aiming to disrupt the market they are trying to enter, this is where the concept of a sharing economy comes in. A sharing economy uses technology coupled with a peer-to-peer network to share access to goods and services to create online marketplaces. Who would have thought that a company that doesn’t own any real estate would be the provider for travelers to find their housing? A company that doesn’t own cars has more cars than any cab company? Even a company that doesn’t own any restaurants but can offer you food from a wide variety of them in your neighborhood, delivered to your doorstep? The concept of a sharing economy is not new, and the reason why these startups have found success is their ability to reward both parties. In each case people are getting what they want – somewhere nice to stay when they are travelling that fits their budget and the person renting makes money from the extra space they didn’t have any use for, a quick and comfortable ride to their desired location and the driver makes money from owning their car and getting food from their favorite restaurant without leaving the house while the restaurant also makes money from these deliveries.

Startups are always on the lookout to hire people who are not only good at what they do, but are also willing to wear multiple hats and have a genuine interest in the company’s success.

Startups in Bangladesh have definitely boomed in the last few years. But what does that really mean for the masses? Startups are about more than the fancy offices or the sometimes exciting benefits that employees get. It’s about being scrappy, which means knowing how to do something in the most cost-effective and efficient way possible. While the benefits are competitive, the demands from employees are also very high. You need employees who are “all-in” when it comes to the company. The effect that your work has on the company, mainly because startups are generally small, is clear and as a result you feel more accountable. The company relies on you to get your job done and do it right. The benefits are meant to be a reward for the occasionally erratic work hours to having to wear multiple hats at the same time.

Culture is also important at startups – you need to hire leaders and not managers. The key difference between a manager and a leader for me is that people tend to follow leaders automatically. They don’t need to be told what to do, set an example as a leader – this means sitting with the people you manage and being approachable. Flat-line structures can be a reason for the success of startups who have leaders, people who not only work hard but work smart as well. The co-founders and the first round of hires always set the tone for what culture at the company will be like and the more people you hire the easier it is to lose that on the way. To have the company grow how you want it to – you need to be an advocate for the kind of culture you want in your company. Startups that quickly increase their workforce think that it means instant increases in productivity and growth. However, that is rarely the case. You need to be picky about who you hire. Startups are always on the lookout to hire people who are not only good at what they do, but are also willing to wear multiple hats and have a genuine interest in the company’s success. Throwing lots of people at a complex problem doesn’t always mean it’ll get solved faster, so growing quickly should not be the only aim.

Culture is also important at startups – you need to hire leaders and not managers. The key difference between a manager and a leader for me is that people tend to follow leaders automatically. They don’t need to be told what to do, set an example as a leader – this means sitting with the people you manage and being approachable. Flat-line structures can be a reason for the success of startups who have leaders, people who not only work hard but work smart as well. The co-founders and the first round of hires always set the tone for what culture at the company will be like and the more people you hire the easier it is to lose that on the way. To have the company grow how you want it to – you need to be an advocate for the kind of culture you want in your company. Startups that quickly increase their workforce think that it means instant increases in productivity and growth. However, that is rarely the case. You need to be picky about who you hire. Startups are always on the lookout to hire people who are not only good at what they do, but are also willing to wear multiple hats and have a genuine interest in the company’s success. Throwing lots of people at a complex problem doesn’t always mean it’ll get solved faster, so growing quickly should not be the only aim.

If you have to fail – fail fast, and then move on. Change is necessary for continued growth but the death of any company is to hold on to the idea of something and not realizing that the masses want something entirely different. Companies have pivoted their whole mission to succeed. Amazon started out as an online bookstore and Jeff Bezos has turned his company into the giant it is today where they are not only the biggest online marketplace in the world but are also dabbling in technology with the Amazon Echo, Kindle e-readers, and Fire TV.

If you have to fail – fail fast, and then move on. Change is necessary for continued growth but the death of any company is to hold on to the idea of something and not realizing that the masses want something entirely different. Companies have pivoted their whole mission to succeed. Amazon started out as an online bookstore and Jeff Bezos has turned his company into the giant it is today where they are not only the biggest online marketplace in the world but are also dabbling in technology with the Amazon Echo, Kindle e-readers and Fire TV.

There are companies that have changed their names for greater success. However, change itself can have consequences. Ekhanei was more popularly known as CellBazaar; this name change had some impact on its ability to bring back its audience to its website. It worked out amazingly well for Google, previously known as Backrub but they did change their name before becoming popular.

There are companies that have changed their names for greater success. However, change itself can have consequences. Ekhanei was more popularly known as CellBazaar; this name change had some impact on its ability to bring back its audience to its website. It worked out amazingly well for Google, previously known as Backrub but they did change their name before becoming popular.
Companies need to iterate all the time, it should be a never-ending cycle. The way that companies used to work was to build out a yearly plan and work towards releasing that to their wider audience. Today, the customer is more powerful than ever, facilitated by their access to large networks using Facebook, Youtube and even LinkedIn. Software companies should release new features to customers as soon as possible and as fast as possible. At the very least get it out to your customers to beta test it and get feedback before deciding what to build next.

Success does not mean that you stop innovating. Competition can play a key role, the aim is to not only beat the competition but also to outdo them. There are startups that are competing alongside international counterparts – food delivery services like HungryNaki and Foodpanda, or transportation network companies like Pathao and Uber. On the other hand international startup Everjobs is trying to become an alternative to the already established local job portal, Bdjobs. A few other local startups have also experienced success such as some companies providing cleaning services like Sheba and Handymama, logistics companies like Go!Fetch and Oi Khali, and Cookups which lets you order home-cooked food from cooks in Dhaka. Initially companies want to acquire a loyal customer base and then retain those customers while ensuring that they don’t move to their competition. Whether it’s having a larger offering of restaurants or giving discounts to customers on usage, the competition can be tough. Ekhanei has recently come to light and I realized that I stopped visiting the site because Daraz and Kaymu were doing more interesting things like the Black Friday Sales. They made attempts to get my attention and won out against Ekhanei.

Startups should look to diversify when possible. Companies like Amazon and Google have different interests in the tech world with their interests lying in AI and robotics, among others. Previously known as “Replicant” and now consolidated into X, a subsidiary of Alphabet (the holding company that contains Google and its newer businesses), the moonshot factory is a semi-secret research and development facility that works on incredible projects. Conversely, Amazon has subsidiaries that are closer to their everyday business needs like Goodreads, Audible.com and Amazon Maritime Inc.

Lastly, those who believe in their idea and have found the right market-fit have a much higher possibility of success. Finding people who want what you are selling is key. Startups should, however, keep in mind a quote from Ben Horowitz,

“The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal. The hard thing isn’t hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things. The hard thing isn’t setting up an organizational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organization that you just designed. The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.”

 

ILLUSTRATION BY SK. YEAHHIA

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