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On Madviser And Technology For Making Better Decisions: Conversation With Md. Mubir M. Chowdhury Of Humac Lab

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Jan 18, 2016

Mubir Chowdhury is the co-founder and COO of Humac Lab Ltd., a tech startup based in Dhaka. Recently, Humac Lab designed and launched a mobile application named Madviser that helps the users to make better decisions in choosing data and voice packages for their mobile phone usage by comparing different packages.

Madviser recently topped Seedstars World 2015, an international startup competition, Bangladesh round and is preparing to take part in the global final round in Switzerland to compete with 58 other startups to run for world championship in March 2016.

Graduated from IBA, Dhaka University, Mubir has an astounding body of work including working at Grameenphone for almost a decade. We recently had an opportunity to speak with Mubir about Madviser, his experience as an entrepreneur and more.

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Click on image for more
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Omar: Briefly tell us About Madviser.
Mubir Chowdhury: Madviser, a free app by Humac Lab, helps you to reduce your mobile and internet bill by suggesting the best packages for you. When you install Madviser app, it collects and analyzes the last 30 days’ call and and mobile internet usage pattern and then the app’s in-built rating engine compares your usage profile with every available packages of the 5 Bangladeshi GSM operators tariff plans.

Eventually it recommends exactly how much you could have saved by switching to the most appropriate package comparing with your current one in terms of voice, data, and combo packages. It also helps to identify the most appropriate FnF numbers, activating which further helps to reduce your mobile bill. You can change to recommended packages (wherever applicable) very easily with the help of this app just by pressing a button.

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Omar: How did the name Madviser come to exist?
Mubir: Madviser came from the name 'mobile adviser'. Here m stands for mobile. We had a few options while brainstorming, but we consciously chose to stick with this name particularly for the ‘mad’-ness around the name! :)

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madviser
madviser

Omar: Briefly tell us about growth and the strategies you used to achieve your growth target.
Mubir: From May to August 2015, Madviser was launched as a beta version. During that stage, we received a lot of feedback from the initial users and made necessary changes to make it more stable and user friendly. When we soft launched the full version, we received some very good response and witnessed around 14k downloads over the last few months. We are still fine tuning the app and get as many users as possible on the go. Right now, revenue is not something we are looking for rather creating a good product and user acquisition is the focus. It may take us a year or so to reach breakeven.

Madviser’s technical team has continuously been working to upgrade its back-end issues. We are regularly improving the product which is now at an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) stage. We are working hard to ensure consistency and best result delivery with the app. Right now, most of the improvements are based on the feedback from our users, and some are based on our planned improvement activity.

We are about to launch the second version of the app that we believe will significantly improve the overall consistency, stability, and user friendliness of the app. Once we are on a smooth track and start receiving regular positive feedback from users then we will go for massive promotion to break into growth.

We have plans to get into strategic partnership with mobile telecom operators which can be a great opportunity for the operators as well to help their users on deciding the right packages, and thus ensure more loyal customer base. It will help them to refer their clients to choose the best package according to Madviser’s recommendations, being a neutral package recommendation engine.

It’s very interesting to see that people’s mobile requirements constantly change due to the changes of daily activities, availability of new packages, and internal change in the current packages… however, the worst part is that almost 99% of the users are not using the right package as they are not aware of their requirement changes.

Madviser has this unique potential to go global. We can scale up the product anywhere in the world. Once the product is fully stable, we plan to test it in few more price sensitive markets like India, and more.

Over the time, we aim to add more features in order to provide more relevant suggestions, based on further parameters.

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Omar: What are the few key barriers to Madviser’s growth?
Mubir: To use Madviser app you need to have a smartphone and internet connection. There is a direct connection between internet and smartphone penetration and our growth.

Both rate is growing fast in Bangladesh and few other markets that we are looking into for expansion and growth. However, for expansion we need to inject more capital and we are looking for further investment to take this further.

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Omar: What is your business model?
Mubir: Primarily, we are planning to become a Micro marketing platform for mobile telecom and MFS (Mobile Financial Service) operators. It can be a great platform to acquire new customers as well as retaining the existing ons.

We are still in investment phase at Madviser and working to deliver a seamless product experience. Once we are fully ready, we’ll take necessary actions to acquire more users rapidly. The Number of users we have on our platform will have huge impact on our monetization potential.

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Humac Lab
Humac Lab

Omar: It is hard to build a business from scratch. Please tell us about a few of your personal challenges as an early stage founder.
Mubir: Entrepreneurship is not something that our society appreciates easily. Parents and Families expect us to take up or continue a secured job instead of doing something risky like starting a business. It happened to me as well. Since I was in a good MNC job and used to earn a fairly good salary, my family was happy with the socio-economic security but when I left my job and started my own initiative- Humac Lab, things started to get a little complex as now I’m on a risky path with no monthly fixed income. It also impacted my social status and privileges as the ‘MNC’ seal was gone!

At the initial stage, there was a psychological shock as well, as in a structured office environment, we are used to take many things for granted. Just for example, you can print anything any time and you have lots of support. However, once you are an entrepreneur and starting something from scratch, you have to arrange the whole value chain from arranging the laptop to printer - paper and everything in between.

And there are other challenges like legal and procedural problems. The system is not designed around the idea of encouraging entrepreneurship and you rarely receive help when you need it. The opportunists at different levels are just waiting to get rich at your cost. However, I think things are getting better as more people are taking up entrepreneurship to pursue their dreams.

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[blockquote source]In December 2013, me and a few of my partners took a sudden decision on a 10 days notice to leave our jobs and started Humac lab in January 2014. If we could spend more time to prepare a good plan we could have done even better.[/blockquote]

Omar: Do you think you missed something that, if you had access to, could have made your journey a lot better?
Mubir: In December 2013, me and a few of my partners took a sudden decision on a 10 days notice to leave our jobs and started Humac lab in January 2014. If we could spend more time to prepare a good plan we could have done even better. We made a few costly mistakes that impacted us financially and more importantly it delayed the outcome. When you have very limited resource and you are trying to make the best use of it, sometimes indirect hindrances like delay in achieving milestones have more significant economic impact than direct financial losses.

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Omar: How do you work? How a typical day of you look like?
Mubir: I usually try to make a relaxed start of the day by remembrance of the almighty early in the morning and take some time to prepare myself for the day through a nice breakfast while going through newspaper to keep myself updated.

I usually start my office at around 9.30 am by preparing a daily list of to-dos. It helps me to keep up with my priorities. I also try to the make the best use of MS outlook Calendar option. I always prefer to pre-schedule my meetings well in advance and keep sufficient space to execute the works in hand.

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Omar: Tell us about few lessons you have learned from your journey so far.
Mubir:

  • Building a startup is a journey of learning. You inevitably will make mistakes and then learn from your mistakes as you go.
  • It is your business, so you have to be ready to do everything of your business even if it means cleaning office space, at least until you establish a minimum system to do so.
  • Try to develop resources as per your preference, don’t just jump in to do everything by yourself. If you remain busy in daily execution, who will develop the business?
  • Patience is critical. As you start from the scratch, you will come across problems and difficulties and have to overcome those problems with patience.
  • Business is all about trust and commitment. Make sure that you keep your commitment and act upon your words. Even if you can’t deliver as per expectation, make sure to say sorry to your customers. If you have sufficient logical reason, you just might get a second chance to make things right and build a sustainable business relationship.
  • Plan is critical. A good plan is important for a start-up journey.
  • Resource limitation is a common thing for any startup, so never waste any resource under any circumstance.
  • No matter how enticing it is to skip the legal and other required documentation and get directly down to the business, it is extremely important that you have all the necessary original documents in hand. May be at the initial level you can get away from legal issues and get things done and feel good about it but you will have to pay for these trifles when you will try to grow.

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[blockquote source]Entrepreneurship is not something that our society appreciates easily. Parents and Families expect us to take up or continue a secured job instead of doing something risky like starting a business. It happened to me as well. Since I was in a good MNC job and used to earn a fairly good salary, my family was happy with the socio-economic security but when I left my job and started my own initiative- Humac Lab, things started to get a little complex as now I’m on a risky path with no monthly fixed income. It also impacted my social status and privileges as the ‘MNC’ seal was gone![/blockquote]

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Omar: Tell us about challenges you are facing now.
Mubir: There are few challenges we are working hard to minimize:

1. A steady cash flow is extremely critical for any business, and especially for a startup. so, we are taking all necessary steps to minimize the gap of cash inflow and outflow. One way to sustainably solve this challenge is launching products in the market that work and we are working on it with full throttle.

2. We are still at the soft launch phase of Madviser. Our challenge is to minimize the time by making the product stable and stabilize our back-end issues ASAP to make it a cash generative and scale up significantly within the shortest possible time.

3. At this moment, we are largely relying on personal reference of the users (Madviser has a fairly good user rating of 4.3 out of 5) and occasional publicity through media for growth but we need to promote the product for further growth. 

4. Most users think that this is a one-time-use app only, but it is not. We are trying to educate our users that they should use this app on a regular basis to get the maximum benefit out of it.

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Omar: What are you doing to outperform these challenges?
Mubir: Our technical team is working hard to ensure that Madviser delivers consistent good experience in a simple manner. We are taking regular feedback from our customers and working on the issues to improve.

We are also working on strategic partnership with a few telcos to promote Madviser, however, we are very keen to ensure and maintain the neutrality of our app so that it truly reflects the original market scenario and provide the best suggestions to its users.

We are constantly trying to improve the product. Our users loved it when we launched the Bangla version, and it was directly reflected in the increased download of our app. We are working hard to understand our users’ and customers’ preferences and provide them with the best customer experience.

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We maintain a flat organization, and practice very open culture. Everyone can access to everyone, with an open door policy of the management team.

Omar: How big is your team now? Please tell a little bit about your team growth.
Mubir: Since January 2014 till now, Humac Lab has grown from a team of 5 to a team of 13 full time members. Alhamdulillah, we have a super committed, dedicated, and honest team to deliver their best at all times.

Naturally, we maintain a flat organization, and practice very open culture. Everyone can access to everyone, with an open door policy of the management team. We discuss our challenges together once we come across one. We organize one to one sessions with the team members every month and also sit together regularly to discuss about our vision, results, and how to do things better.

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Omar: How did you manage early funding?
Mubir: Our partners invested the initial funding. We also reinvest our current revenue. If we can do well in SeedStars World final round in Switzerland, we hope we will be able to get a good attention from international investors. We have a few local investors as well who have shown their interest in investing in Madviser, and Humac Lab.

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Omar: What is your plan for 2016?
Mubir: Establish the product in Bangladesh Market. Get into a few strategic partnership in order to increase our user base and of course our revenue. We also plan to start operation in at least one more country. We are already in talk with potential partners in a few foreign markets but yet to finalize.


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Omar looks after Community and Business Development at Future Startup.

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