Waseem Alim, CEO, Chaldal

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FROM DELIVERING GROCERIES TO GROSSING MILLIONS

You have mentioned that one of the biggest hurdles for startups is to create a loyal customer base. How did Chaldal overcome this challenge?
The key to loyalty is consistency. At Chaldal, we try to improve the quality of our service every day. When we started this business, we were not able to fulfill 20% of the items that customers ordered, but we continued to work on it – we got our own warehouses, we fixed our inventory management, we improved our ordering algorithms. Currently, that error rate has come down to 0.08%.

The other part is offering good customer service. As a startup, you are bound to make mistakes in the early days. However, what matters most is how the situation is handled. We have had very lenient policies around customer complaints from day one. We always assume that the errors have been made on our end and compensate customers.
We have been in the business for 5 years, and that has helped us with the loyalty aspect.

What sets apart Chaldal from its competitors? Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?
What sets us apart is our focus on figuring out the correct engineering solutions to the grocery delivery experience. Most people think that it’s just about putting up a website. The website, in reality, is just 2-3% of the work we have done.

We have imagined the business as a delivery-first business. From our early days, we wanted to deliver perishables and we wanted to do it fast. There are a lot of decisions that we made that would seem counter-intuitive if you did not have the delivery model in mind. There is a lot of thought that goes into process implementation and technology.

Also, as companies grow, they become boggled with bureaucracy. Right now, we have over 500 employees. Innovation stifles as a result of people not being empowered enough. We realize this and are fighting hard to make sure this does not happen at Chaldal – and that we continue to function as a startup for as long as we can.

What would you say are the biggest problems of running an online grocery store in Dhaka? Are there any plans for providing similar services outside of Dhaka?
In five years, we see ourselves playing a significant role in the food supply chain of the country. Currently, it is a massive system that is extremely fragmented and has lots of inefficiencies. Every single one of us is dependent on this system. We want to work on making the entire food supply chain more efficient, which in turn should help improve the quality of food and reduce prices.

We believe that hunger is a distribution problem, and with the right system, no one should go hungry in the world. Once we succeed in Bangladesh, we want to try out our model in other countries.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? Alternatively, what is the most rewarding part of it?
The biggest problem that is unique to Dhaka is the infrastructure. With very limited roads and many of them in bad conditions, it becomes very hard to transport products like eggs. Plus, we live in a country with 6 seasons – each with its’ own flavors. So, you need to build a very robust system that can adapt to changes.

Our plan is to expand to cities and suburbs near Dhaka – like Narayanganj and Savar – rather than making a jump to cities that are further, like Khulna. We want to be able to tap into our supply chain and if we go to a city like Khulna, we would have to rebuild the supply chain and our advantages would be limited.

The most challenging aspect of my job is to focus. At this scale, it becomes difficult to keep the team and myself focused on one problem. There are always so many conversations about what we should be doing – especially since we live in Bangladesh, where there are lots of opportunities. I also think of focus in broader terms, in the sense that when I am focusing on a very difficult problem this causes some friction.

The most rewarding aspect is being able to work on something that you truly care about. I am very content with what I am doing and feel that I have found my niche in the universe. It is truly a blessing.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs of Bangladesh, what would it be?
Do not assume that it is more difficult for you than it was for someone else. It is very easy to get discouraged thinking that someone else had an advantage and hence he or she succeeded. The truth is that starting and growing a startup is extremely difficult – and the difficulty is what makes it a good and rewarding idea.
It is natural to question yourself and you will face a lot of resistance. The key here is determination. Make sure your ideas are built of bullet-proof logic – that will help you fight the doubts when they arise.

Who do you turn to for inspiration when stuck with a problem?
I try not to get paralyzed with the problem. Often, I will skip the problem and work on something else for a while. But when I do get stuck, I try to find the person who is best placed to help me out and then reach out proactively. Inspiration is over-rated in the case of problem-solving.

However, inspiration is useful in finding the right ideas to work on – especially, while figuring out how ‘big’ an idea should be. I am an avid reader of biographies. In that regard, I find inspiration in too many people.

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