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Grameenphone (GP) Reaches 10 Million Subscribers. What's In It For You?

In a recent press briefing held at Westin Hotel in the city Vivek Sood, CEO, Grameenphone announced that the company has crossed the 5 crore subscriber milestone as the first mobile operator of the country. The celebration is palpable all around. The city is literally flooded with blue billboards saying GP landed in 5 crore user base today, a likely celebration for the achievement as the largest mobile phone operator of the country. The number is staggering-- 5 crore is almost one third of the total population of Bangladesh.

GP is a large company; in fact, it is the largest of all mobile operators in Bangladesh. Managing and driving growth at a giant elephant is way harder a job than driving growth at a startup. But GP did it with some ease. Moreover, it remains as one of the forward thinkers of all 6 mobile operators.

But what has helped the company to remain at the peak for such a long time, since GP started its journey back in 1997?

This article is aimed at finding the answer to that particular question and also to extract few actionable lessons for startups from the journey of GP to apply in their own journey.

The Story

Iqbal_Quadir, Founder, Grameenphone
Iqbal Quadir, Founder, Grameenphone

Grameenphone was founded by a visionary. The idea was to provide universal mobile phone access throughout Bangladesh including its rural areas. It was originally conceived by Iqbal Quadir, a Bangladeshi and an MIT graduate. He was inspired by the Grameen Bank microcredit model and envisioned a business model where a cell phone can serve as a source of income.

After leaving his job as an investment banker in the United States, Quadir came back to Bangladesh to pursue his dream. He met investors and stakeholders that include New York based investor and philanthropist Joshua Mailman, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and the Norwegian telephone company, Telenor.

It took him three years to put things together. Finally he was successful in forming a consortium with Telenor and Grameen Bank to establish Grameenphone. Quadir remained a shareholder of Grameenphone until 2004. In November 1996 Grameenphone received its license for cellular phone operation in Bangladesh and started operations on March 26, 1997.

Now Telenor, Norwegian Telecommunication Company, owns 55.8% shares of Grameenphone, Grameen Telecom owns 34.2% and the remaining 10% is publicly held.

A lot has been changed since Mr. Quadir founded the company but it has remained innovative and visionary like its founder. We do not know whether this is because of the founder but certainly it is something that always kept the company ahead of the curve.

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The lessons

Grameenphone was not the first mobile operator company to start business in Bangladesh. It was CityCell, now least of all, which had the fast mover advantage. Another mobile operator, Aktel, now Robi, has also started its operation in the same year that of 1997. However, Grameenphone remained close to customers all the time and always worked hard to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.

There is a lot to be learned from the journey of GP. Let’s have a closer look at most important points:

1) Build Something That people Want

Grameenphone was the first company to introduce GSM technology in Bangladesh. Grameenphone originally offered a mobile-to-mobile connectivity (widely known as GP-GP connection), which created a lot of enthusiasm among the users.

The secret of building a successful company is creating something that people want. By far the most common mistake startups make, as put by Paul Graham, is that they solve problems that no one has. Hence they create something unwanted that fails eventually. The secret engine behind the rapid growth of GP is this very technique to approach the market.

2) One Feature Only

Since its beginning, GP remained obsessed with network quality- the most crucial feature of any cell phone network. Call drop rate, clarity of sound, availability of network- GP remained unmatched for all these things. People don’t buy your product for lots of reasons; people buy it for one most important reason. Be best at it. For a mobile operator, network is a critical feature. Once you meet that requirement, remaining will follow.

You need to find one most important feature in your product that your customers value most and that also match your strength and be obsessed about it.

Read the ad copy
Read the ad copy

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3) Customer Centric Attitude

“Today we celebrate our customers with this milestone. When we started this journey, we pledged to provide uncompromising service to our customers. I’m happy to say that we have not wavered and still strive towards ensuring the best services for our customers; our customers remain our utmost priority,” said Vivek Sood, CEO, Grameenphone.”

GP is the first company to establish 24-hour Call Center to support its subscribers. As part of its continuous effort to explore new avenues to improve dialogue with customers and best meet their needs, Grameenphone recently introduced a mobile app called 'customer first' for employees to empower them to better serve as the organization’s brand ambassadors.

4) Never Rest On Your Laurel 

As a company with huge differences from its competitors, GP never remained satisfied with its achievements. It strives to move faster than its followers cum competitors. With new packages, services, campaigns and renewal of brand image, GP remains relevant and resilient among its customers. Once 3g operation started GP was the biggest auctioneer and also so far it offers the best 3g support and focusing extensively on increasing its 3g subscribers with ever renewed offers.

5) Adapt Fast, Act Fast 


‘Only Paranoid Survive’ (one of best management books ever) wrote Andrew S. Grove former President and CEO of Intel and the man behind history’s biggest pivot. For startups it is an essential skill to understand what is trending and what is going to change and act and adapt quickly.

You need to make decisions every day. Decisions don’t need to be great but you have to make not so good decisions with speed.

GP understands this best among all of our local brands. Have a close look at their promotions and you will see it clearly.

6) Foresight And One Step Ahead 

CEO of Grameenphone, at the 5-crore celebration press conference, referred to the company’s data ambition to serve 50 million internet users on its network within the next five years. This is something you need to understand.

The next wave of business for mobile operators is selling data. Whoever wins this game will be the leader. So far GP is winning from the start. Now with this new milestone in mind the company is going to kill all else.

7) Don’t Compete, Let The Competition Follow You

Peter Thiel writes “All happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem” but what you can do when you are not in a business of monopoly? You outperform the competition.

GP remains a leader in the mobile operator business with a huge margin. It never competes but rather leads the competition.

These are the lessons that are very apparent and can be extracted from looking from outward. A deep analysis would bring more interesting and insightful lessons to apply. However, I hope this will help you to navigate through your startup journey and find a harbor since this is one of the hardest of journeys.

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In recent years, Bangladesh has become one of the most cited emerging economies of all attracting a huge number of eyeballs from international investors. With its huge, young population base this is a country of opportunities. What we need is eyes to look at the problems and find solutions.

What GP is doing is solving a problem very effectively. Lets’ find a problem you are passionate about and make ruckus.

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Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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