Ron Mahbub Talks About SmartKompare, Growth, Personal Challenges Of An Early Stage Founder, And A Big 2016
SmartKompare is one of the few Fintech startups launched last year in Dhaka and so far we know, the startup is seeing steady growth and is about to close an investment round.
Ron Mahbub, Founder and CEO of the company, is an interesting person. A programmer by trade, Ron has an unique approach to work, and building company.
Recently, I sat with Ron and we talked about the past and the future of SmartKompare, his personal challenges as a founder, growth and more. Ron is a very open and accessible person and we had a great chat.
Omar: We have covered SmartKompare for few times before, how is your growth now compared to earlier last year?
Ron: For us growth is how many applications we receive, not the traffic on our website. Last couple of weeks, we have been growing at 10 percent weekly. Last month alone, we received 417 applications. Except the time when facebook was down, we have been seeing a steady growth in user adaptation.
For last couple of months, we have been putting lots of energy into building the product and making it tick. Now, we are more into growth and numbers.
Omar: Have you been using any particular strategy for growth? Any growth strategy or tools that worked for you?
Ron: Content marketing has worked for us, so far. We are also applying few tools to promote SmartKompare online. Largely, we are experimenting with tools and approaches in order to find best ones to use. Hopefully, we will find something better soon.
We use google analytic to measure growth. It is a great tool. We take number of leads as our key metric. We set weekly goals and maintain a manual process to keep track of growth.
Use your perspective. Work harder to see the brighter side of everything
Omar: Talk a little bit about the challenges you are facing with growth.
Ron: Growth depends on product. If you have a great product and can figure out few optimal ways of distribution, you are likely to be there. But it involves trials and errors. Getting a product tick is a hard work.
We are experimenting and working hard to understand and offer the best experience for our users. That’s what I consider as the most important challenge to tackle.
For instance, we made few changes in our design recently which resulted in increased number of applications. It was an interesting insight for us.
We are constantly experimenting with product and ways of distribution with the feedback and data from market.
Growth depends on product. If you have a great product and can figure out few optimal ways of distribution, you are likely to be there. But it involves trials and errors. Getting a product tick is a hard work.
Omar: It is incredibly hard to build a company. Particularly, the journey of building a company from scratch is hard one for the founders. Many entrepreneurs referred it equivalent to eating glasses. Let’s talk about your personal challenges as an early stage entrepreneur.
Ron: There are many! But may be the most common one is the psychological cost of not getting enough support and attention one deserves. When you are small and fragile, that is the time you need attention and support most but what happens in reality is the exact opposite of the said situation. When you are a startup, everyone tends to ignore your existence.
However, I have a quite good support network of friends and family. Early 2015, when I was planning to leave my job and work full-time at SmartKompare, I shared my plan with my close friends and family. In response –there were both positive and negative feedbacks. However, I decided to start and move forward.
It has been a brilliant journey for me. As I said, challenges have been there but I learned a lot. Most importantly, I’m enjoying the journey.
Omar: Do you think you missed something that, if you had access to, could have made your journey a lot better?
Ron: If I had a mentor earlier I could have done better but then and again, I’m okay with what I have achieved so far.
Omar: Tell us about few lessons you have learned from your journey so far.
- When you decide to start something, be very confident. Ask again and again what you want to do. It will help you to understand your goals and prepare you for challenges.
- You should have a mentor along the way. It helps to have someone to guide you through the puzzles of life.
- Experience is invaluable. Go and meet with people who have experience in your field and learn from them.
- Keep learning.
- Use your perspective. Work harder to see the brighter side of everything.
Omar: Tell us about your day. Do you maintain a daily routine or something? How do you operate?
Ron: I start my office at 10 in the morning. My work related priorities go something like this: looking after operations, lead disbursements, communicating with customers and people, team meeting, working on overall planning and strategy.
In the evening, I communicate with the content team and manage the technical aspects by myself. Later in night, I reflect on the day and plan for the next day and assign tasks to different teams.
Omar: Any particular challenge you are facing now at SmartKompare and strategies you are using to outperform that challenge?
Ron: Our main goal is to help our customers better. For us challenge is always finding something better to serve our customers and grow consistently while doing so.
We have identified some growth techniques to tackle the growth. However, out-executing is always a challenge worth having and we are doing our best.
Omar: Tell us about your team and team growth since you launched last year.
Ron: We started with 2 people and after 8 months we are now a team of 5 full time members and 18 part time members working in different teams including operations, research, content, growth and technical divisions. Part of the team works remotely while operation and technical team works out of our office in Dhaka.
There are many! But may be the most common one is the psychological cost of not getting enough support and attention one deserves. When you are small and fragile, that is the time you need attention and support most but what happens in reality is the exact opposite of the said situation. When you are a startup, everyone tends to ignore your existence.
Omar: We know few things about funding of SmartKompare but not all of it. Would you like to tell a little bit of your current state of funding?
Ron: We are in talk with a few local investors. Hopefully, we will be able to provide good news very soon. Any fund we raise now will be used to take our product to the next stage and maintain the growth.
From the start, I have bootstrapped and put money from my pocket and from few of my friends and family.
Omar: You started with just personal loan comparison tool, how much your product has evolved since you launched last year?
Ron: As you know, it is a place where people can compare financial products and choose best options according to their need and capability. People can apply for loans through our website. Then we call and verify clients and connect them with the respective financial organizations. We have a call center in place to verify loan seekers information and also to connect them with banks and financial organizations.
We started with personal loan and now we provide home loan, car loan, and credit card comparison services as well.
Omar: How is the response from banks? Banks in Bangladesh are largely organizations from past era and comparatively less open to new ideas. How responsive they are in honoring applications through SmartKompare?
Ron: It depends. In around 25% of instances banks and financial institutions don’t respond. This is something we can’t control. However, our users are happy with our service and report that we help making a perfect bridge that works. When we receive an application we actively try to send it to the right channel so that it becomes a success but, then and again, it depends on the banks.
Omar: What’s your plan for 2016?
Ron: In 2016, SmartKompare wants to reach out to all the people of Bangladesh who need loans and financial products and then help them to make better decisions. We are planning to launch the Mobile application and comparison services for more products this year.
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