Nazim Farhan Choudhury, a serial entrepreneur, is the Managing Director of ADCOMM-one of the largest advertising agencies of Bangladesh. He is one of those rare people who dare to dream big and remains an optimist even in the midst of despair and challenges.
Whilst Choudhury started out in his mothers advertising company and so didn't have the same startup experience as many, he has gone on to grow that business immeasurably as well as starting many other businesses demonstrating his singular credential and farsightedness as a serial entrepreneur.
His portfolio ranges from Direct Consumer Contact and Activation (AktiVision), recording studio (Art of Noise), production house(Screaming Girl), PR and Brand Consulting (Northbrook Consultants) and joint -venture DTP Studio with WPP's Young & Rubicon (GraphicPeople). He has also recently ventured into the tourism sector with the opening of two luxury hotels and resorts in Sylhet called Nazimgarh Resorts.
In 2007 Mr. Nazim Farhan was chosen as one of the 'Faces for the Future' by the New Age newspaper's Heroes Edition and received the “Brand Leadership Award” at the 17th Asian Brand Congress. In 2008, he was chosen as a representative of Bangladesh to the prestigious Asia Society's Asia 21 Youth Summit held in Tokyo, Japan.
Mr. Nazim Farhan is a perpetual optimist and he believes in the power of youth to bring meaningful change.
Recently, we sat with Mr. Nazim Farhan at ADCOMM HQ to get a deeper understanding about his journey as a serial entrepreneur, to understand what it takes to start and make ideas happen. We also talked about what the future holds for Bangladesh and its youth.
Taking initiative and starting something is terrifying, but we believe as you read through this interview it will inspire you to gather enough courage, put you in a place to believe in yourself and push you to make that leap of faith you have always wanted to make. Happy Making.
Briefly tell us about yourself and your passion.
I call myself a serial entrepreneur. I am involved in multiple businesses. Advertising, IT and hotel and tourism are few to name and recently I have started a radio station named Colours FM. I completed my bachelor degree in Economics and then joined in an advertising agency almost 20 years back. Since then, the AD Firm business that we have grown has become one of the top three business agencies in Bangladesh and has played an important role in the growth of this industry. We have also moved into the new ventures of ADCOMM which includes advertising related business like activation, PR and event management. We are also involved in businesses like IT outsourcing for the world-wide advertising industries, graphic designing and radio station. Besides this, we run two resorts in Sylhet.
I’m also passionate about youth and the future of the country like where are we heading towards and how can we leverage the power of youth to ensure a better future.
I’ve a long array of activities that I’m passionate about. Women’s rights, which means equality for all is one of the causes I deeply feel for. I’m also passionate about youth and the future of the country like where are we heading towards and how can we leverage the power of youth to ensure a better future. I think we can bring meaningful political and economic change by empowering youth and leveraging the potentials of our next generation.
Describe your path to becoming an entrepreneur and what you are doing today.
I grew up in a business family. Both of my parents were involved in businesses. My mother started her advertising agency when I was just three years old. Since then, I was taken to her office and used to do my homework over there. So, my passion for advertising and creative industry is rooted in my childhood.
I always used to look at how we can do more things. I have failed in many businesses but they did not fail in engaging me. I have learned things from failures and moved on.
Between the time when I finished my bachelor and my MBA admission I had almost 6-7 months break. During that time my mother suggested me to work in her advertising agency and that’s how I ended up in business for the last twenty years. My mother involved me in two of her projects and told me that you are responsible for these projects and now go and do something with these projects. My love for business started from that very day. And well I never got time to pursue my MBA!
I have a passion for setting things up and thinking up new things. I always used to look at how we can do more things. I have failed in many businesses but they did not fail in engaging me. I have learned things from failures and moved on.
What was your underlying motivation to become an entrepreneur?
One of the things is that you see an opportunity and you get involved to take that opportunity. It is a bit instinctive. I like to find opportunities and gaps in market and find solutions for those gaps. Since I work in an industry I often come across many new ideas.
For example, when doing advertisements for clients I found out that most of the clients lack sales force. We make great advertising that generates buzz but there is no efficient sales force to capitalize that buzz. From there, we learnt that we lack good sales people and there is market for it. Thus we got involve in the business of HR training. We brought trainers and started to train people. This business grew up from the need that I saw.
I like to find opportunities and gaps in market and find solutions for those gaps.
The thing that triggers me the most is “need”. Whenever I see an opportunity in the market I tend to take it. For example, a few years back, we used to develop retail space for the clients such as developing showrooms, sales centers etc. We were designing the whole thing but it was executed by other people. But we found out that their finishing was not good enough and there were room for improvement. That led us to get more involved into design and execution too. We get involved in choosing materials, sourcing material, finding the right button, sourcing it, designing it and then supervising the execution. As we’re working on it we found that although we’re doing pretty much everything of developing an outlet but the portion of revenue we’re getting was a tiny part. It was like if 100 taka is spent, I got 2 taka and somebody else got 98 taka but I was doing everything from supervision to design to sourcing. That’s how we moved into the interior decoration and subsequently in the furniture business. Now we have furniture business named “Studio 45”.
You have founded multiple ventures which is an extraordinary act. Many people have ideas but can’t start and many people complain they don’t get an idea. So, what does it take to start and take initiative and make it happen?
The straight forward approach is: firstly, you need to have an idea and understand the opportunity of that business. And then you have to understand how your business is different from other existing businesses. We have a copycat culture in Bangladesh. If one becomes successful in a business, people start copying that model subsequently spoiling the entire sector. That is not entrepreneurship.
So, you need to find a gap in market and come up with a unique idea to fill that gap. When you have the idea and get started you have to sweat, work harder, manage to get into the market and understand marketing to make your idea happen.
Was taking initiative and creativity a part of your childhood?
I had a wonderful childhood. Since my childhood my parents have always given me enough freedom to choose and forge my own path. They used to guide us but never imposed their decision on us.
After college, I decided to study in Delhi for university which was against the will of my mother. She wanted me to go to London but when I said I wanted to study a particular subject in Delhi she listened and helped me through the admission process.Now, when I look back I see that was one of the biggest mistakes I made. Both of my parents know this till date but none of them blamed me that you made the mistake.
See, my parents gave me freedom to choose and decide from very early days of my life. Sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed. But it gave me courage to take risk and also helped to develop a sense of confidence and independence. My father used to give me pocket money, but it was not a free lunch. He tried to teach us something in exchange. From that I learned how to use money, how to manage budgets and subconsciously it helped me to develop my ability to manage things.
Being said that-all these freedom, and choices and mistakes add up and make something bigger at the end. My entrepreneurial pursuit is very much grounded in this very culture of my childhood.
How did you get all these ideas? And after having ideas, many people get ideas but can’t start, how did you manage funding and connected all the dots and make it happen?
Majority of the businesses we are doing stem from advertising business. It’s kind of ecosystem business. When we see a gap in the market we try to fill it and that is how many of our today’s businesses originated. When developing an ad, we have found out that 70-80 percent of our ads are aimed to female audience. But there was no media for the female audience. We thought this is an opportunity we can tap. Besides, I am also passionate about women’s rights. So, I decided to set up a media for women that will promote women’s rights through entertainment and engagement. That’s how Colours FM started.
However, Hotel and Tourism is one of the few businesses we do that has no apparent connection with advertising. But our Hotel business also started in quite organic way. Since we are from Sylhet, whenever my friends, colleagues or clients go to Sylhet they used to ask me where they can stay. And I usually offered them to stay in our house there. There were few problems with that arrangement since we had no one to take care of our guests. So, I had to appoint a caretaker and also find chef for guests. Definitely these were costing me but I can’t charge since I was not providing any services. We thought about it a bit and that’s how the idea of starting a hotel business came.
We had four rooms in that house and we made it twelve and started the business. Once we started the business, the demand continues to rise and we expanded the rooms up to fifty in one resort. Now we have two resorts there.
You see, all you need to do is to identify a gap in market and then, go there and monetize it.
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Please share few lessons you have learned from your journey as a serial entrepreneur.
Failure hurts but it is a learning booster as well. I have learned many things but listing your lessons is a hard work. However, here are few lessons I try to carry with me as an entrepreneur:
1) We have a culture of copy paste in Bangladesh which I don’t appreciate. If an idea does not have substance, a unique distinguishable feature, then it will go nowhere. You have to have an idea that has the quality to stand out in market.
2) You have to believe in your abilities and your ideas to make it happen. Everything changes when you believe in it. It is such an energy and confidence booster! This is a tough journey and it will shake your foundation of self belief. But you have to keep faith and be the game changer.
3) Content is very important. Our music studio venture failed because we focused on wrong thing, technology, instead of right thing i.e. content.
4) Nothing happens overnight. You need consistency to build something step by step with rock solid foundation. Our problem is we expect it to happen early and when things don’t go accordingly we give up early.
5) Money may give you extra advantage but it can’t solve your problem. To solve your problems you have to act creatively.
6) Everything changes so fast but relationships. Build a credible and trustworthy relationship with the people you are working with.
7) One should look for long term benefits rather than short term one. Nothing lasts but the genuine connections you make with people around you. When I respect someone and let them be who they are and don’t maintain a distance just because of their position people remember these things. And one day this simple relationship will give you extra advantage.
We have a culture of copy paste in Bangladesh which I don’t appreciate. If an idea does not have substance, a unique distinguishable feature, then it will go nowhere. You have to have an idea that has the quality to stand out in market.
[su_note note_color="#f4f7f8" text_color="#081f38" radius="13"]Credits: Interview by Ruhul Kader | Edited by Samantha Morshed | Transcription by Moumita[/su_note]