Iqbal Quadir founded and built GrameenPhone, one of the most successful companies in the history of Bangladesh. It took him five years to convince people that starting a telecom company in Bangladesh is a good idea but in those five years, he never relented. Today, GrameenPhone is the largest company in Bangladesh having 55 million subscribers.
Quadir lost his father when he was just 14 but with the support of his mother he continued to study hard and subsequently got a scholarship to study in the US. “ I guess I was an entrepreneur,” said Quadir, “My father died when I was 14 years old, and I somehow aspired to get a good education. My mother had provided some funds, but I managed to get to the U.S. with some scholarships. I simply tried myself.”
In an interview, we reprinted from the Knowledge@Wharton, Quadir shares some insights for young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and developing countries about how to look at a problem and build a sustaining organization.
Necessity is the mother of all good business
A good business solves important problems. It makes something that people want and for which people would be willing to pay. Quadir suggests that young entrepreneurs should think critically about the necessity in his/her society. Starting with asking ‘what is necessary’ can be a good approach.
“My own example itself could be followed,” says Quadir, “I am not trying to sell myself, but what I am trying to say is that I have more authority on myself. I got an education in the West, therefore, I was informed.” It is important that we understand what we need first and act accordingly. Back in those days, it was hard to find information and educate oneself but it is easy today, thanks to the internet.
“I tried to think clearly of what is necessary,” said Quadir, “but nowadays that is easier than when I tried to educate myself. There was no Internet, for example. Now you can even sit in Pakistan and learn some of these things.”
Everything is a process
You have to get to step one in order to reach step two. That essential mechanism of how things work needs to be understood. You have to follow this law of process and work through the stairs.
“You need one thing to get to the other thing, said Quadir, “The fact that cellphones now exist through my work or other people’s work, then that should make their lives a little bit easier in getting the information. You can get a lot of things that did not exist before, but it is always important to get an education, to think clearly.”
Try not to reinvent the wheel. Instead, redesign and contextualize
There are solutions for almost every problem that a developing country like Bangladesh faces in the work of entrepreneurs in the developed countries. Instead of trying to come up with an entirely new solution, it is wiser and cost effective to adapt existing solutions.
“Think about things that might be available in the West that can be adapted in the lower-income countries” says Quadir, “There may be other ways of solving these problems, but this is the one that I found to be profoundly transformative, and things can hang together around that kind of economic interest dovetailing.”
Building business is an act of continuous toil. You get to try, put yourself into work, and work harder to outperform your yesterday, every day. It is important that young entrepreneurs understand their work and what they are trying to build.
It always starts with finding a need and working through the process to get to the point B. Often, it is useful to find inspiration in the work or solution that has been applied somewhere else that has some relevance to your context.
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