Building A Logistics Startup: Q & A with Biplob G. Rahul, CEO of eCourier
Biplop G. Rahul is the co-founder and CEO of eCourier– a next generation ecommerce focused logistics company. He studied Telecom Engineering and worked for a telecommunication company and then BASIS for a couple of years before embarking on his own journey.
Prior to eCourier, he founded Soft Call, a call center primarily helping ecommerce companies to handle their customer services.
In this interview, Biplob shares his journey of starting eCourier, reflects on how eCourier came to exist from a failed project, talks about challenges and prospects of the logistics business in Bangladesh and shares his personal and professional challenges as an entrepreneur. The company started out to make itself a company that could match the standards of a usps certified mail service.
Describe your path to becoming what you are doing today?
Back in 2012, I used to work at BASIS. That was the beginning of eCommerce in Dhaka. Companies like cellbazar.com, rokomari.com and ajkerdeal were just starting out. I had a call center named “Soft Call” during that time. We used to serve eCommerce businesses in their customer support.
On the side, I was trying ecommerce by uploading products on my website. Once I got a few orders but delivery was a big problem. That’s when the idea of an ecommerce focused logistics company came to my mind.
At that time, we’re working on an automation project for Sundarban Courier Service. We built a software solution for them named “eCourier” under the project. But when we delivered it to Sundarban, they rejected to install it.
They even decided to discontinue the automation project. By the time, we already invested a good amount of money in the project. Since we were already losing money, I decided to build a logistics business instead with the software that we developed. Eventually, it became eCourier.
We started working on the platform in January 2014 and launched it in July. It took us six months to get the registration with the General Post office (GPO) in the courier service category.
Tell us about the nitty-gritty of your business process. How does it work?
Clients register through eCourier’s online platform and make the booking from home. Once booking is placed, our team picks up the parcel from the client’s place and brings it to our local hub, and arranges delivery according to client’s need.
Clients can check everything online: delivery status, where his/her product is, whether it is delivered or not etc. Our clients are largely ecommerce companies and merchants. We also do emergency documents delivery in Dhaka metro in 4 hours.
Since fast delivery is what ecommerce is all about, we offer both same day delivery and next day delivery. Charges are applied according to the mode of delivery. Clients can see the status of a delivery online but we do make confirmation calls once delivery is made.
In Dhaka city, we handle the delivery directly. We have franchise operations in 60 districts of the country except 3 hill-track cities. However, in remote delivery, customers might need to receive parcels from a delivery point of franchises like the other traditional courier services.
We also help clients with receiving payments. Since most of the ecommerce transactions are Cash on Delivery (COD), we receive cash from customers. Once the product is delivered then we deposit the collected amount to the bank and then transfer to client’s account through a bank. The entire process is tracked and maintained by eCourier software which saves time and money.
Why eCourier use bicycle as a mode of transportation?
We are an ecommerce focused delivery company and the type of products we handle are largely light in nature and mostly less than 2 Kg which is easy to carry through the bicycle.
Top of that, eCourier promotes environment-friendly delivery and using the bicycle as a mode of transportation is our way of ensuring less energy consumption. To some extent, it is also less costly and efficient given the traffic situation in Dhaka.
I think, when we will start covering rural areas, it will give us the further advantage. We use bicycle all the time except for our hub delivery.
Tell us about your growth.
We have more than 2200 clients registered on our platform now. 60% of them are our regular clients. We are onboarding new clients every day.
In terms of the number of deliveries, we are growing at 20% monthly rate. However, we are eyeing for 25% pretty soon. We deliver 800+ parcels a day. If we continue to grow at this pace, we expect to reach break-even within the next couple of months.
What are the some greatest challenges of running a logistic business?
Cash is a big factor in this business. You need to have enough people and vehicles to pull off operational efficiency. Few local logistics giants like Sundarban and S.A. Paribahan have taken the operational advantage due to available transports.
Finding and retaining right people for delivery is a huge challenge to tackle as well. There are regular operational difficulties as well.
We maintain constant communication with our clients and make sure that everyone is informed. When things go wrong such as a delivery delay, we inform our clients in no time.
Most of these operational problems are regular in nature and unpredictable. Once we face a problem we rectify it and take the lesson from it and work harder to increase our operational efficiency.
Tell us about your team, how many people work at eCourier now?
We started with only 4 people. Today we are a team of 62 including operations, technical, delivery, customer service and call center division.
Great business is all about great people. We believe in investing in our people in order to improve them. We arrange monthly training for the delivery team.
We work hard to keep our people happy. We offer handsome pay package, continuous learning opportunity, and better working environment.
There are complaints about the service quality of new logistic companies that include timely delivery, fraud, missing, and so on. How do you ensure better service for your clients?
We do receive complaints from our customers as well. There are issues with timely delivery, handling of products and I’m not shy about accepting that we do have our shortcomings. But many of these problems happen for reasons that we could not control.
For example, since the majority of ecommerce purchases are COD, many customers take advantage when it comes to receiving products. Said that, there are problems that we can solve and we are working hard to not make a mistake twice.
We work hard to make sure that we ensure the best service possible for our customers. If we fail, we explain it to our customer. If necessary we make compensation.
We maintain a continuous feedback loop to get feedback from our customers. We periodically conduct customer satisfaction survey in order to collect feedback from our customers and ensure better service.
What are some of the challenges you face as a founder?
My family has a long history in business but I did not receive any family support to start eCourier. Initially, it was difficult to make people believe that you could start a small and lean logistic business, generate revenue, grow and build a sustainable business out of it.
In 2013, I met a non-resident Bangladeshi in Hong Kong who was living in Malaysia. I was attending a program on entrepreneurship in Hong Kong. I shared my idea and plan for eCourier with him. He showed interest in eCourier and agreed to invest in the company. Later in July 2014, we received our first investment.
I have been working hard to build eCourier as a trusted logistic company in the country since the day I started in 2014. I work 15+ hours every day for seven days a week.
However, it is still hard to continue at the same speed all the time. The most costly aspect of entrepreneurship is psychological. Almost no one understands your struggle. I think that’s the most critical challenge of an entrepreneur.
I have been lucky throughout my journey. I have a very good network within the industry from my time at BASIS. I got tremendous PR support from my personal network. That has helped me to overcome some of the challenges.
What are the few key lessons you’ve learned from your journey so far?
Work hard. Focus.
It is incredibly important that you understand your product and how to market it. Finance is a common weakness for many entrepreneurs. People tend to shy away from numbers and often underestimate the value of numbers.
But it is incredibly important. You have to be able to understand your financials, break-even, and scalability.
What does a typical day look like for you, if there is one?
I always try to get out of bed early, check email and make sure my inbox is zero. By 9.30 a.m I’m hard at work and distribute responsibilities to my team through email or WhatsApp. Most days, I will be at office by 9.45 am. I oversee operational issues until launch and after launch, I attend outdoor meetings if needed.
I sit with my team for the daily report after 4 PM. We do all clients updates till 7 pm and then I go for second round of outdoor meetings if any.
After 9 pm, I do another round at office and check all the parcel details and work till 12 am at office or at my home which is a few minutes of walk from my office.
What’s next? What’s your plan for the future?
We are expanding. Our plan is to launch in 64 districts by this year. Individual parcel delivery is yet another focus. We are going big with it. It means we will deliver your goods, documents, and everything.
Mobile is surging. We have felt that we need to get into mobile. We are working on our mobile application and will launch soon.
We are also getting into home delivery for repairing services. We will bring your gadgets, mobile, laptop, electronic devices etc, from your home and we’ll deliver it to your place once repaired.
These are a few things that we aim to achieve this year.
Interview by Omar Faruk, Transcription by Samiul Alam, Edited by Ruhul Kader
Omar looks after Community and Business Development at Future Startup.