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Khaas Food Co-founder Habibul Mustafa On Khaas Food’s Challenges and Long-Term Strategic Direction, Safe Food Business, And Lessons On Entrepreneurship

Khaas Food Co-founder and Chairman Habibul Mustafa on how Khaas Food is addressing affordability and scalability challenge of the pure food business in Bangladesh, how he and his team think about the growing competition in the space, how finding meaning in his work keeps him going, why building a business is not about motivation or excitement or awards and rather about long-term commitment and the biggest lessons from his journey so far.

This was a much longer, so we had to break it down into two parts. This is second and final part. You can find the first part here.

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What are the challenges for Khaas Food?

Habibul Mustafa

Our main objective, as I've mentioned earlier, is to serve safe and healthy foods to our customers. We have seen many organizations and individuals undertaking projects in this space in the past. There are some very successful initiatives in this space even these days. The only thing that concerns us is that surprisingly almost none of them could scale much. Most of these initiatives are fairly small operations.

Since their scale is limited, their products remain quite hi-end. We are looking into their work and trying to figure out what stopped them from scaling up. If we can identify their challenges and apply that knowledge to scale our business, it would be wonderful for us in the long-run. Which makes scaling our model one of the main challenges for us.

We are a safe company. Safe food is relatively expensive because pure foods are costly to produce and maintain. That poses a market challenge for us. The number of people who are ready to pay a premium for safe food is limited.

If we want to scale, we have to find a balance between safe and reasonable price that is affordable to a large number of people. Our work is now figuring out this balance.

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How do you think about the competition? There already are a number of players in the grocery. A couple of major retail brands are also becoming more serious about ecommerce.

Habibul Mustafa

Of course, the competition has grown. It is likely to grow as the market grows.

One thing that we have learned over the time is that no matter how fiercely I ensure the quality and safety of the products, one of the characteristics that will continue to dominate the customer behavior in Bangladesh is that people will always be price sensitive.

In many instances, this is a challenge for us. Because there is no best product for cheap price. At the same time, many big players may subsidize their growth for as long as they want. We might not be able to do that.

Having said that, we are not essentially competing with the other big grocery companies or food retailers. Our offerings are very different from what other players are offering. In fact, we are solving an entirely different problem. We are a different type of brand.

From the very beginning, our strategy has never been cheap price-average products. We have always been mindful of food safety and it remains our top priority.

We are a safe food company which puts us in an entirely different league where we don’t see much challenge for us.

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What are the future plans?

Habibul Mustafa

Our focus, as I've said before, for now, will be on strengthening our distribution channels. We aim to reach as many people as we can through multiple channels. That’s the priority for this year.

Future Startup

How do you reach out to your customers? What are the things you are doing in marketing?

Habibul Mustafa

We have been very focused on customer service and retention. Delighting our customers has been the strategy.

Since we are still a predominantly digital business, we mostly use digital platforms for marketing. Facebook continues to get more attention. We also invest in Google Display Network. Locally, we worked with Eskimi as well.

We are also on some blogs as well. Our ideal target customers are female because they mostly make household grocery related decisions. Usually, our communications are designed to reach out to and build a relationship with this group of people.

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What are some lessons you've learned?

Habibul Mustafa

I believe one must be passionate in order to build a company. Without passion and true commitment, you can't hope to achieve something meaningful.

Building a business is not about excitement or motivation, it is about long-term commitment.

It is also crucial that your team also wants to pursue the same dream that you're pursuing. Especially in startups, every teammate should be ignited by the same passion and carry in their heart the same vision. Otherwise, it becomes tough to drive the organization towards a single goal.

Success doesn't come overnight. If it did, we wouldn't value it as much as we do now. Hence, patience is an essential quality of entrepreneurs. You need to work your way up and get inspiration from the struggle.

Entrepreneurship is hard and in our society, you have social challenges of starting a business as well. Many people think that business is only for the less educated group of people which is not only a misconception, it is a harmful one.

I have faced similar kind of difficulties when I first started this company. You need to develop a thick skin. Don’t heed to what other people say. People like to give opinions. There is nothing you could do about it. Work hard and let your work speak for yourself.

Another phenomenon that feeds this social stigma is the need for instant gratification exhibited by many entrepreneurs nowadays. There is a tendency now where we tend to seek validation for our work. A kind of a race for popularity and fame. Social media has made it easier to do so these days.

We have developed a constant desire to display and get appreciated for our tiniest achievements. These are distractions. Events. Likes. Talks. Fame. These are distractions and you should stay away from all these while building a business.

Future Startup

Building a business is stressful and challenging, how do you stay motivated?

Habibul Mustafa

My secret has been the satisfaction I get from doing my work. This is not a job for me. This is what completes me. I come here even on the weekends. It has become part of me. There is nowhere I would like to go or nothing I would like to do instead. So the question of motivation is kind of moot.

A business deal can go wrong, an operational strategy can be misapplied, but to know that I have been able to satisfy my customers, even one, with my products - inspires me to double my effort; that's where I find the motivation to keep at my work.


Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Rahatil Ashekan

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