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6 Unusual Tips From 6 Bangladeshi Entrepreneurs On Building A Great Company

Right after a year of our independence, in 1972, Fazle Hasan Abed, then a senior corporate executive at Shell Oil, sold out his home in London to start a NGO called Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. Today, after 43 years, BRAC is world’s largest NGO.

Back in 2000 when we were just getting introduced to internet, Fahim Mashroor, then fresh out of university, decided to build an online job portal. Today BDjobs is the largest online job portal in the country.

Rubayat Khan, after working for few short stints at media and NGO found that none of those jobs command his interest and he was neither interested in corporate jobs like his friends. Right out of university, Khan decided not to settle for anything unless he found his passion and stayed at home doing nothing and travelling until he found his true calling in now mPower Social Limted then ClickDiagnostics. Today, mPowers is one of the most interesting development sector organizations in the country.

Finding one's passion is rather a journey than mere discovery. It does not come to you in one fine morning when you drink coffee or walk around. It comes to you when you try hard and only hard enough to find it.

Going forward, you will find one thing common in these people, different in age and sector, they all started somewhere not knowing whether they would love the thing they were about to do but knowing that they would find it out eventually. They neither thought about success or failure but they thought about the work and thought there is an opportunity to contribute and make a difference.

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Entrepreneurship is not about money. It calls for more than mere drive for success. It is almost metaphysical in nature how successful entrepreneurs feel about their venture.

While it is quite difficult to understand from the outside that what drives entrepreneurial success but we can peek into the lives of these people to understand what it is that makes them different.

Over the past few years we have spoken to entrepreneurs from different walks of life and examined lives of successful luminaries like Prof. Muhammad Yunus of Grameen, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of Brac and more. Here are seven tips or lessons that we have learned interviewing entrepreneurs and reading about extraordinary makers of our time on building enterprises that succeed and sustain while making a difference at the same time.

These lessons are not universal in nature and might not applicable for everyone interested in building a company but these might help one to think and ponder upon the idea that building something is hard but a journey worth taking.

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[blockquote source]Finding one's passion is rather a journey than mere discovery. It does not come to you in one fine morning when you drink coffee or walk around. It comes to you when you try hard and only hard enough to find it.[/blockquote]

1. Practice Frugal Innovation and build a learning organization

Disruption is the new normal. New technologies are taking over old ones on a daily basis. To be in the game you must be active and innovate regularly. This is one of the reasons why companies like Google and Facebook and Apple keep investing in innovation and cannibalize their own products. This is the same reason why companies like Yahoo, Nokia and BlackBerry struggle and face death threats.

However, for startups and early stage companies, it is hard to invest hugely in innovation. The idea of Frugal innovation, widely used by BRAC, comes handy here. As Sir Fazle Hasan Abed Put it: “Frugal innovation, we call it – innovation which doesn’t cost very much, but which is very effective”.

However, innovation is not enough. You get to innovate for the market you serve which is only possible when you take feedback regularly and keep learning. As Sir Abed suggests, as an organization you should “find new ways of responding to the needs of the people you serve”, and always remain a “learning organization.”

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2. Work hard and live on less

People often don't follow the simplest of strategies because they seem too simple to work. It is that you work hard and let other things follow. We often caught up with the things that seem important but not as important as our work. We tend to think that it requires a big team to build a company and we must start with one to even give it a try. But people who have built great companies often tell a different story.

As Fahim Mashroor of BDjobs.com said: “for first few years I had to do almost everything by myself. I did look after accounts, clients, HR and everything. I don’t essentially suggest everyone to do that but it did help us a lot in-terms of keeping our expenses on check and also me learning ins and outs of the business.”

Yet another misconception about starting a business is that, one should have big office and team to start with. Most people talk about lavish office, overhead and more when it comes to building a startup. However, advantage of a startup lies in its ability to survive lean. While recounting his experience, Fahim Mashroor said, “In first three years our total burn was in few lakhs. I used to work from my own home. We turned a room of my home into office and we had three people working in data entry and few other stuffs”.

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3. Learn to think for your client

“Many time when we go for selling something we remain busy with our product and the sale and seldom pay attention to the need of clients,” said Rubayat Khan of mPower Social, “I think that’s detrimental.”

Selling is human and it is rarely about sales itself. “Understanding the mindset of your client,” said Rubayat, “putting client’s interest at the top is very important.” This is how you really sell something.

No matter what business you are in, sales is the most important thing you do. While achieving sales leads is critical, sales itself is largely about offering a solution to a problem of your client. As long as you put importance on the problem of your client and design something that works for him/her, you should be okay.

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4. Keep your family on your side

“Having the alignment with your loved ones and keeping them informed about your work and maintaining transparency with them is very crucial for any entrepreneur,” Said Mohammad Abdul Matin Emon of Doctorola, “so that family could understand your situation.”

Building a business from ground up is often hard work and full of ups and downs going forward. Having one’s family on the side makes things helpful for an entrepreneur. When things go wrong one can share the problems and even can have a shoulder to cry on.

“I think our families are always supportive of what we do because they love us and since they love us they also love our passion,” said Matin, “so if you keep them informed they will always support you and having your family backing you makes the hurdle less for you.”

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5. Copy-cats die hard

“We have a culture of copy paste in Bangladesh which I don’t appreciate,” said Nazim Farhan of ADCOMM, “if an idea does not have substance, a unique distinguishable feature, then it will go nowhere.”

This is such an irony in Bangladesh, very few people tend to work hard around an idea and come up with something that adds extra value compared to that we already have in the market. If someone is doing good in eCommerce, everyone competes to start that same eCommerce. That’s not only detrimental for business, it is also harmful for the ecosystem as a whole.

“You have to have an idea that has the quality to stand out in market.”

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6. Don’t think that you are in a position of unique disadvantage

“It’s difficult for young entrepreneurs to build a company in Bangladesh,” said Iraj Islam of NewsCred, “But it’s also difficult to build a successful company anywhere else in the world. If you read the biographies of great people who changed the world, you will undoubtedly find that most of them came from underprivileged backgrounds and lived under very harsh conditions.”

This is an incredibly important anecdote to remember. We tend to believe that other end of the river is always greener which is often not the truth. There is something not so green about that other end of the river that we don’t know yet.

Building a company is hard in Bangladesh which is equally true for anywhere else in the world. In Bangladesh, we may have some extra disadvantages like that of a disapproving society that looks down to entrepreneurs, but contrary to that, we are a land of immense potentials. Going forward, we have immense growth potential where many other markets are getting increasingly messy. The competitive advantage while you are building a startup is not how well-resourced you are rather how good you are at using your resources.


About the sponsor: This story is made possible in part by our friends at BetterStories Limited, a premium future building agency that works in the areas of Information Technology, Strategic Consulting and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Building, based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, whose generosity enables us to publish premium stories online at no cost to our readers. Thank you, BetterStories, for teaming up with us in 2016.

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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