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From Rangpur To UIC To Building An Impactful Business With Passion: An Interview With Abu Sayed Al Sagor, Co-founder and CEO, BD Assistant

Abu Sayed Al Sagor is the co-founder and CEO of BD Assistant, an offline and digital on-demand service delivery company based in Rangpur. Sayed, a fresh graduate from Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, started BD Assistant along with his two friends while still an undergrad student following an unconventional path. After a six month incubation at BRAC’s Urban Innovation Challenge 2016, he went to work full-time at the company growing the business from scratch to a team of 12 people.

In this interview, he opens up about his path to entrepreneurship, how the idea of BD Assistant came into being, the state of BD Assistant business now, challenges of being an entrepreneur when you are a fresh university graduate, challenges for BD Assistant and its ambition going forward, how his team and BD Assistant have grown during his time as one of UIC’s debut incubatee startups, how UIC has helped them to turn an idea into a full-fledged business, and reflects on his lessons from his entrepreneurial journey and why it is important to maintain a healthy dose of realism regarding the hard work and challenges of building a business.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your background and your journey to where you are today. You took a courageous path, what was the motivation behind starting BD Assistant?

Abu Sayed Al Sagor

I did my BSc. in Statistics from Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, where I am settled now. I haven't pursued my masters yet since I'm currently focused on my business. I was in my third year when I and my two friends and co-founders of BD Assistant, Al Amin Islam, who was also a student of statistics and currently pursuing a masters and Umme Kulsum Popi, who was a second-year student pursuing a degree in Geography, got interested in social work and making a difference in the society.

Prior to starting BD Assistant, we worked together for a few organizations. That’s how we bonded over our shared mission in life which is doing something for the betterment of the society and also probably make a business out of it.

The number of dropouts (out of school) is high in Rangpur. I had a particularly emotional experience with dropouts. I know many of my school friends who had to discontinue their education due to financial shortcomings and other challenges. One particular case affected me deeply which was of one of my school friends who had to drop out of class 9. He was a good student and we studied together until class 9. One day out of the blue, he dropped out of school. When I met him again, I was in my first year at university and he was selling tea out of his tea stall.

He told me his story. In class 9 year, his father had died suddenly. He had to shoulder the responsibility of his family and he could not continue his study. I thought If only he hadn't dropped out, he could have been a university student, like me.

I was deeply moved. At that time, even though there wasn't anything I could do, I wished there was some sort of policy or support system to help the dropouts.

Since we were students, there was little we could do regarding support or creating job opportunities. That was, you could say, the very first impetus for us to try something in enabling young people who don’t have access to opportunities.

In the next two years, we worked for various organizations and kept the dream alive of doing something in the space. We noticed that people often face challenges with fixing their electronic gadgets. This obviously was a challenge we ourselves faced.

We used to go to shops that provide such services who would, invariably, take time which most of us could not afford. Because many of these devices are our daily companion. That’s when we recognized an opportunity to make a difference and the idea of BD Assistant came into being.

We thought what if we could connect these needs for services with dropouts who need work. The idea was simple we would offer electronics, electrical and daily handy servicing through properly trained technicians, who are dropouts which would allow these people to have decent jobs and earning opportunities. Thus began the journey of BD Assistant.

We also found out that properly trained technicians are scarce in Bangladesh; even more so in Rangpur. Our idea was simple. We would hire dropouts as interns, train them and then offer them a full-time job as our in-house technician.

But the execution is not as easy as coming up with an idea. We tried several times. Attended a few competitions. When we finally got selected for UIC last year, it changed everything for us. UIC was a game changer for us. We received training, mentorship, learned about venture building and a seed investment which helped us to kick-start our operation.

We currently have a small team and growing business. We train dropouts and offer them employment opportunities. Our mission is to make receiving quality services easier for the customers and at the same time, to provide a livelihood for those who have dropped out of schools.

Future Startup

That’s an inspiring story. I have a few questions related to the early days of BD Assistant and we definitely want to learn more about your journey to where you guys are today. Before that could you please give us an overview of BD Assistant. What are the services you are currently offering and how big is your team?

Abu Sayed Al Sagor

We are a service company based in Rangpur. We fix anything that needs a fixing for our customers - from computers, AC, fridge, IPS, and other devices that are in daily use.

We do electrical house wiring and related electrical services. We also offer handy services such as cleaning, carpenter, painting, plumbing etc. Broadly, we offer home appliances repairing services, cleaning services, event management services, home delivery services. You can get all these services from your home’s comfort. You simply call us with your requirements and we take care of the rest.

We also have a category called "anything else", where we listen to the customer's need. If we do not have the service that the customer needs at the moment, we note it down for future reference and survey purposes.

We offer about 19 services in total, under 4 categories.

We are a 10-people management team. We have 12 interns and a couple of part-timers. We currently have about 40 technicians who work with us. We have already trained and employed two dropouts in our company.

We are a relatively young company. We are only at our 10th month of operation now. As we grow over the time, we believe we will able to offer opportunities to more dropout students.

Future Startup

Let’s go a little back to your early days. Could you please tell us about what went into building the initial operation of BD Assistant?

Abu Sayed Al Sagor

We came up with the BD Assistant idea around 2016. This was not our first try though. Before BD Assistant, we tried another startup and failed.

Once we came up with BD Assistant idea, we participated in the Youth Fest competition by the Bangladesh Brand Forum in 2016. And we were champions in the entrepreneurship category. Initially, our idea was to have an offline operation and we later decided to have an online platform as well.

Then we applied for Urban Innovation Challenge by BRAC in 2017 and got accepted which eventually changed the entire trajectory of our journey. UIC helped us to turn BD Assistant into a full-fledged startup. Along with training and other supports, we’re given a grant of BDT 5 lakh which helped us to launch our operation in September 2017.

Future Startup

What is your business model? How do you generate revenue?

Abu Sayed Al Sagor

We have two types of service assistants at BD Assistant. We have permanent employees who provide the on-demand and regular services. They are our employees and are salaried monthly. Then we have contractual service assistants. We maintain a profit-sharing relationship with the contractual service providers.

For our full-time service assistants, it is regular business and from contractual employees, we earn a sort of commision on services they provide through us.

In terms of process, when a customer calls us for services, we take for a 15 minute time window from them to collect pricing, the time needed and other details for fulfilling the service from our operations department. Then we get back to customers with the pricing and the details. Once they confirm the order, we deliver the service.

In the future, we plan on making it fully online and connect them directly to the technicians.

Future Startup

What were the challenges you faced in the early days?

Abu Sayed Al Sagor

There are personal challenges and there are organizational challenges. The personal challenge is that entrepreneurship is not something that is encouraged in our society. People still do not view it as something that a university-educated kid should pursue. It is no different for me. My family and friends are more interested in me doing a proper job than pursuing the entrepreneurship route. They see this as something too risky a move and they prefer me to pursue a more secure path which is a job.

This creates additional pressure for me that I have to keep proving to them that what I am doing is right. The reality is similar for my two other co-founders.

On the business end, we wanted to make BD Assistant a digital-first platform which has proved to be an ambitious goal so far given the poor internet penetration in Rangpur. This also makes it challenging for us to grow fast.

The other challenge comes from the operational side. The service providers who we work with often come from a less-educated background which makes our job a little challenging. To properly guide and train them in terms of time management and behavior is a challenge we are working hard to overcome.

Future Startup

As you mentioned, you are a graduate of BRAC’s UIC program and it was a game changer for BD Assistant, could you please tell us about your experience of UIC? What has the program been like for you? And how has it helped you in building BD Assistant? Would you recommend the program to other aspiring founders, why?

Abu Sayed Al Sagor

UIC was an exciting and very different experience for us. As I told you we had been in a few competitions with BD Assistant idea. Even though we won prizes and money, there was nothing substantial enough to start our operations. But UIC was different because it was not a mere competition rather it was a program focused on helping us to build a business.

We worked hard for UIC. The incubation phase after UIC competition was particularly helpful in jump-starting our operation. It was a true learning opportunity for us because none of the founders was from a business background and we had no idea about how to start and build a business. This changed after the incubation phase of UIC.

We learned a tremendous amount about the intricacies of building a business, growth, business model, building a team and other important aspects of building a social enterprise. Through UIC we got to know investors, mentors and important stakeholders which helped us tremendously.

UIC helped us progress from an idea to a startup. As I already mentioned several times, UIC was a major turning point for us and it helped us to get where we are today.

The platform is an amazing opportunity for aspiring youths like us to get a breakthrough. I would definitely encourage others to take part in UIC if they want to scale up their idea.

There are many young people in Rangpur who have an entrepreneurial outlook and want to do something, but they are not getting anywhere because of the lack of proper support. Eventually, they fizzle out. I have suggested many of them to apply to UIC.

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