future startup logo

Face To Face With Shaer Hassan Of Nascenia

Shaer Hassan is the Co-founder & CEO of Nascenia-an award winning Software Company based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He worked at Code 71, a USA based software company, Grameenphone--the #1 telecommunication operator in Bangladesh and Interspeed Advertising before he started his entrepreneurial journey in 2010.

Months back, I had the chance to sit with Shaer and learn about his journey, struggle, hope and aspiration. From a very humble beginning that started with little preparation and with common entrepreneurial doubt turned out to be a very successful journey. There were obstacles, challenges, and uncertainties but his dedication, hard work and ambition helped him to stay with the journey.

Taking the uncharted path is scary and it ignites doubt and fear. At the beginning of his journey, Shaer was in doubt and as he said, one of his biggest lessons from this journey is that-doubt kills everything. This interview is an incredible story of faith, hard work and choice and what can happen when you finally overcome your doubt and start making what you love with courage and hope and dedication. ~Ruhul

Briefly tell us about yourself and your passion.

I started my education at a Bangla medium school named Khulna Zila School. After school I went to Pabna Cadet College and then joined Marine Academy. After few years, I came back and did my MBA from IBA, Dhaka University. Having completed my MBA I joined a company named Interspeed Advertising and then at GrameenPhone and finally I ended up with a US based software company named Code71. At Code 71 I learned a lot about software and software business.

Code 71 decided to shut down their Bangladesh operation in 2010 and I founded Nascenia in the same year along with few of my colleagues. My passion is entrepreneurship. Particularly, I want to work in the education sector.

Previously I worked with Khan Academy and we translated 381 Khan Academy videos into Bangla. I am looking forward to working more in the education sector in the coming days.

Describe your path to becoming an entrepreneur.

It took me a long time to discover the job I love. I was brought up by my parents who were service holders. Neither my parents nor any of my family members were involved in business. Moreover, I was brought up in Khulna where business meant two things: one is government contracting, where you have to pay tons of bribe and second one is you take loan from the bank and do not repay. So, that was the general idea of business. It created a perception that if you want to do business; you have to be very cleaver in a negative way. You have to master the art of lying, fraud and more. Given the situation it was only natural for my parents to discourage us when it came to business.

There was a negative connotation about business in my family. Instead, my parents wanted us to have a secure job and be a service holder. So, the circle continued for few more days and I got married to a girl whose father was a service holder too.

But later on, I came to realize that there was a certain type of people who were more prone to become entrepreneur. And it dawned on me that I was one of that kind of people. I love freedom. I dislike being instructed by other people. I also dislike controlling other people. On the same note, I like to take risk, organize and motivate people to do something worth doing.

In a rare moment of contemplation, I found myself playing entrepreneurial role since my childhood. When I was at class five, I formed a detective group, I was entrepreneur there. Because, we used to read the series ‘Tin Goenda’ and we thought that we could do something of our own. Then in Cadet College I started an organization named Jagoree. I wasn't aware of any of these things back then but now when I look back all of these things make sense. I can see and relate the dots now but back then it was just about random acts of passion.

But as it happens all the time, I went to marine profession to satisfy the expectation of my parents and relatives. I worked there for a certain period of time. I went to different countries. I got to know lots of new people. But I was never settled. I left marine profession one year after I got married and my wife and family supported that. Then I studied programming and loved it balls to bones. My aim was to be a computer programmer. But that was the year of 2001- the year of the burst of dot-com-bubble and of 9/11. So, I jettisoned the idea of becoming a programmer. With influence of one of my friends I decided to study in Business Administration instead. It was the turning point of my life and I realized that business was not all that bad. So, I was immediately drawn to the business but I wasn't ready yet. So, instead of starting my own I worked with three companies that included an advertising firm, a telecom company and a software company.

Working at a software company was the most critical experience of my life because I learned a lot about business and software. And I loved all of it.

In fact, I joined at a Software Company at the first place because I wanted to learn how it worked so that I could build something of my own. I can remember that my interview was taken by a non-resident Bangladeshi who was living in USA. It was an over phone interview, he asked me- what was my plan for next 5 years and I replied -after 5 years I want to have my own company. There were two persons on the other side and they said -don’t you think it would be a ‘conflict of interest’ that you are working in a company and you are saying after 5 years, you want to have your own company? I said -may be not. Anyway, they hired me and I learned a lot from working there.

I met my partner there. I knew that I couldn’t do it all alone. I needed someone who was more technical. So, I persuaded Fuad Bin Omar, who was a software engineer, to join me. He was nine years younger than me. One day, I asked him,-do you want to remain a software programmer for rest of your life? Don’t you want to do something greater? Do you have any idea how much you can grow in software engineering or how much you can earn and if you have your own company, how much you can earn potentially? So, what is about taking a different career path where risk is high but return is way higher than risk? Fuad showed interest instantaneously.

It was in early 2010 or late 2009; we started working on few ideas related to IPO. Back then stock market was at the peak. We used to apply for IPO but the application process was preposterous and convoluted. There were lots of forms to be filled up.

So, we thought what if we could fix this application process and make it easier. After thinking about few ideas, we made a website named BDIPO.COM. We had different business models for the site but at the end we decided to make it open and free for all. Fortunately, people received the product very positively and the response was extremely good.

In the midst of all these, Code 71, the company I was serving as head of operations, decided to shut down their Bangladesh operation on June 30, 2010. We were not prepared for it. But it pushed us into the water. And we thought this might be some kind of sign from God. Okay, enough of doubting,-let’s go and do it.

Nascenia web screenshot
Nascenia web screenshot

We started Nascenia on 30 June 2010. We brought server, laptops, some chairs, and tables from Code 71. And one of my friends from IBA agreed to share part of his office and we moved new equipment and furniture to our new office on June 30. This is how we started.

For us, first one year was very struggling. I was kind of passively looking for job opportunities. Because, we were making insufficient money. I was kind of confused. I also doubted myself and the startup a lot.

But at the end of 2011 and at the beginning of 2012, we started to have good traction and we had a good size of business and a regular cash flow. Then we thought, enough is enough, now, we should focus on the business. We decided not to search job any more but people from different companies kept calling me to join there. I told them-please don’t disturb me; I am not looking for a job. Before that I used to say them, “okay, which company, let’s see etc”. Well, at that time, I wasn't even making as much money as I was making at Code 71. My partners were also suggesting me to join at a company. Yet, I decided not to pursue any job and to focus on business.

When we resolved our own confusion, we got into another, hiring good people. Attracting talents was a huge problem. Good people seldom wanted to come and work for us. We didn’t have a good office, strong brand. We used to talk about future and possibility but people didn’t buy it much. So, people used to come and go.

However, the good thing was that, 3 of us were giving 100% of our time from the very beginning to this end. This was an investment. Initially, I earned like 1/3 and then ½ of the money I could earn if I would take a job. We didn’t have any external investment. From there, we moved our office 4 times. Every time, we moved to better and spacious office. Today, we have 45 people working for us in a 6000 square feet office.

From all of this hardships and struggles, one thing I can tell you for sure is that, it took a lot of time to become an entrepreneur. The mindset of an entrepreneur and a service holder is entirely different. As a service holder you have options to put blame on others for not doing something or not having something but for an entrepreneur there is no one to blame. You are the person to be responsible.

For quite a long period of time I was in doubt whether I could really do it or not. Even sometimes I felt like,-why am I doing this? I could earn double working for some big companies instead of working so hard and getting less. Doubt is a terrible thing. It kills everything. It affected us a lot too. We were de-focused and this lack of focus hampered our progress.

A startup company is like a baby. If you don’t give it 100%, it wouldn’t grow.

To us, from 2010 to 2013, the greatest thing that happened was not the money we acquired rather the customers we acquired. Most important thing was that we, as founders, got transformed from service holders to entrepreneurs. And that’s the thing. I have read about Richard Branson and he went near bankrupt for multiple times.

I asked myself, what was this thing that gave Branson courage to take that level of risk? I found that, even after becoming bankrupt or losing everything at a certain point, he had something in his cart; he could grow again because people trusted him. The bank and the investors put money on him. Because they knew this man was a doer and he would not quit.

I did never become bankrupt in my life. I don’t think I could stand it. But for Branson it was not an issue. He himself was a defense force. Being bankrupt several times, he built resilience in him. The biggest difference between an entrepreneur and a service holder is the mindset. Mindset makes all the difference.

The biggest achievement for us in the last couple of years is the mindset that we have got. This journey has changed our mindset in three years. I see a big change in my partners. They think differently. This change in mindset could not come from reading books; this can only come from belief and experience.

We have learned that entrepreneurs think differently. They look for solutions instead of talking about problems. Average people say this is good and that is bad but entrepreneurs think why this is good, why that is bad? Growing this attitude takes time.

For quite a long period of time I was in doubt whether I could really do it or not. Even sometimes I felt like,-why am I doing this? I could earn double working for some big companies instead of working so hard and getting less. Doubt is a terrible thing. It kills everything. It affected us a lot too. We were de-focused and this lack of focus hampered our progress.

What was your underlying motivation to become an entrepreneur?

Job had been a very limiting experience for me. I couldn’t use my creativity. I couldn’t use what I thought was right. A lot of energy was wasted just because in a corporate environment you have to spend lots of energy to make people understand your ideas, make people happy and make your bosses happy. I didn’t like that kind of stuff.

Making a lot of money wasn’t my motivation. Of course, it was a motivation for my sustenance. But, I wanted freedom. I wanted to use my creativity and explore my potentials. I thought I was sent to this world to do something that would matter.

How many people were working at the beginning and what is the number of people working now?

We started with 4 people and now we are a family of 45 members.

Nascenia web screenshot-2
Nascenia web screenshot-2

Getting clients is one of the major challenges for startups. From your experience with Nascenia, please tell us how can startups tackle this challenge?

We are a service company that has a niche market. So far, we haven’t faced any problem to find clients. The problem we face is meeting deadlines. We couldn’t hire enough talent on our side. Talents were rare. As a result, we couldn’t make our customers happy due to resource limitation. For startup like us, making customers happy is critical. A happy customer is your best PR investment. If you can make a customer happy he will tell it to many people and refer you to others.

I think customer satisfaction should be the focus for startups rather than making money. Big corporation can afford to lose some customers since they have big brands, huge customer base. But, for a startup, each and every customer is equally important and deserves your best service.

Understanding customers and their needs are important to make a customer happy. You need to think about what makes your customers happy, you need to study, collect data and put real effort to make your customers happy. You have to understand each customer’s pulse. If you do that they will come to you recurrently.

If you're given a chance to redo everything from the beginning, tell us about a few things, if any, that you would do differently.

I would focus more on my baby rather than doubting. At the beginning when we were struggling, as I said earlier, there was a boom of share market and we invested some of our time and money there. Now I realize it was all futile. I wouldn’t do that again. We were shortsighted and wanted to make money easily. But we lost almost 80% of that money. If we invested that money in a startup it could generate 2-3 times revenue.

Next time I would try to be more careful and to see the future and act visionary.

On the other hand, I’m not a regretful person and I don’t spend much of my energy thinking what I could have done differently. Whatever we have achieved we have tried to give our 100%. That’s where satisfaction comes from. You try hard no matter what the result is.

Have you had any mentor along the way?

I never had a formal mentor but I have been learning and taking advice from people who have walked my path before me. Chairman of my previous company Code 71, Syed Rayhan, is one of such persons from whom I have learned a lot. He has always been very helpful to me and has supported me with good advice and suggestion.

 My ex-boss at Interspeed advertising, Sayyied Kabir is another person I go to when I’m in confusion. My ex-boss, Ghalib Ahmed Ansari at Grameenphone also helped me a lot. So, informally, I have mentors.

Taking advice from people who have walked the path might save you from making the same mistakes that they have made. It might help you to see things differently and give you perspective. If you are doing it all alone you might be depriving yourself from valuable resources. And if you repeat the same mistake that someone else in your field made earlier then you are absolutely wasting your time.

Do you think everyone should have a mentor?

We are a social being. We are wired to share. We want to learn from experiences and mistakes of others. Having people to talk when you are in trouble is necessary. It helps you to learn and grow.

Taking advice from people who have walked the path might save you from making the same mistakes that they have made. It might help you to see things differently and give you perspective. If you are doing it all alone you might be depriving yourself from valuable resources. And if you repeat the same mistake that someone else in your field made earlier then you are absolutely wasting your time.

Have you ever failed throughout your path? If so, please share a story with us.

We have a quite good track record in making successful products. But it does not mean that we never failed. We have stories of failure as well. We worked on a product for readymade garments where we invested lots of time and resources but at the end, we had to shelf the product.

Because the traction was not good enough and along with that there were lots of challenges and it required lots of investment too. However, we could have still been able to make it happen but we lacked commitment.

My take away from that failure is that in business sometimes money is very critical for success. If we had the investment it required, we might have been able to pull it off.

Yet, if we could have given our 100% we could have been successful. But we were not that much committed. I have also learned that, if I am not committed to giving 100% to something there is a good chance that things would not work out.

What do you think about failure?

I think, in our culture failure is underrated and success is overrated. Failure is required and a very much integral part of success. Although I said, my first two ventures were successful but there were failures too. I had two failed products. The products we launched successfully also took multiple failures and iterations.

Lots of people don’t act on their dream because they are afraid of failure and risk. The opportunity cost of this fear is very high. Fear of failure is way more dangerous than failure itself.

To be an entrepreneur, you must have the courageous to fail. You have to know that neither failure nor success is permanent. There will always be ups and downs. But what we need is a healthy approach to understand and examine our failures and make sure that we apply the lessons learned.

Let’s talk about hiring. It’s very difficult for startups to find the right persons who fit with organization. Moreover, people also don’t want to work at a startup. So, how do you tackle this challenge at Nascenia? What kind of qualities/attributes you look for when you hire people.

We hire two types of people: software engineers and business executives. For software engineers we need top students of a batch. There is only 2/3 persons in a batch who fit our requirements. If we don’t get that 2/3 persons, we usually don’t hire. It does not happen all the time. We don’t get right people. So, our strategy is to be in a hiring mode always. We keep hiring open for all the time and whenever we get someone who meets our requirements we take him/her in. This strategy helps because if we hire throughout the year, there is a good chance to get those talents we look for.

We normally hire people who are extremely passionate about their work and learn fast. And yes, it is hard to find them. We not only focus on academic result and skills of a person but also his/her motivation to work with us. Why you want to work with us is a big question because if you work for money then it delivers mediocre works and you might leave us as soon as you get a better option but if you love what we do it gives a meaning for your work.

There is a misconception among job seekers in market. Good people always pursue job at big companies. But I think for people who want to learn, big companies are just too less of an opportunity.

In a big company, there are very little things to be done. You will have all the logistic supports and you won’t learn much. But in a startup, you will learn tremendously. I learned a lot from my experience at Interspeed than that at Grameenphone. I almost learned all the facets of advertising.

If a young person comes to you and seeks your advice on starting a company/venture, what would you tell him/her?

Find your passion – the one thing that you can die for. Without strong passion you are not going to make anything remarkable. Do something that you love, on which you can spend nights without sleep and work for hours without getting bored. Passion makes things easy because starting anything is hard work and a very difficult trajectory to take. Without insurmountable amount of passion it would be very difficult to bear the difficulties of starting a venture. So, find your love first.

Start small. Start something which is very easy to do first. You need to reap some success first to encourage yourself, your family and the people around you. If success comes after 5 years, by that time you will be frustrated. Even it might happen that you won’t be able to continue. For startups surviving is the success. So, don’t go for the big thing. Always have a big dream, but start small.”

Please name few of your favorite books.

Business Stripped Bare By Richard Branson. It was a game-changing book for me and changed my perspective towards business. Planet Google by Randall E. Stross is another book I liked a lot. And I loved Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. These are the couple of books I have enjoyed reading.

Without strong passion you are not going to make anything remarkable. Do something that you love, on which you can spend nights without sleep and work for hours without getting bored. Passion makes things easy because starting anything is hard work and a very difficult trajectory to take.

In-depth business & tech coverage from Dhaka

Stories exclusively available at FS

About FS

Contact Us