Pickaboo, the electronics products focused ecommerce marketplace in Dhaka, is one of the fast growing ecommerce startups in the country. A relatively late starter in the space, the startup started operations in April 2016, within a short period of time it has managed to position itself as one of the most promising players in the industry. It has also been able to build a positive brand image and a loyal customers base over the past years.
Recently we sat down with Shahrear Sattar, Chief Operating Officer of Pickaboo and the man behind its rapid growth, to talk about his early career, how Pickaboo came to exist, challenges and growth, how Pickaboo, as a company, operates, and his plans for Pickaboo going forward. We guarantee you, this is a rewarding read.
We want to start at the beginning of your journey. Tell us about yourself.
I did my bachelor’s in Marketing from The University of Asia Pacific, Bangladesh and did my Post Graduation in Human Resource Management from Australia.
I completed my bachelor’s in 2005 and then worked for a brief period of time, two and a half years at Aktel, now Robi, before going for higher studies.
After coming back to Bangladesh, I joined Banglalink and worked there for almost two and a half years.
Then, I moved to EDISON GROUP (Symphony) in 2012. I have looked after several portfolios for Symphony and currently working to build Pickaboo, which, in a sense, is my fourth portfolio and biggest one with these great Investors.
How did Pickaboo come to exist?
I grew a passion for ecommerce from my time in Australia. eBay was a big thing in those days and I used to take their service. I was really impressed after experiencing their extraordinary level of service.
Soon I became very curious about e-commerce and started following eBay and became a fan of their way of doing business.
That’s when I, for the first time, thought about trying ecommerce in Bangladesh. I thought about traffic, which was and is a critical problem in Bangladesh, it takes hours to get from one point to another and commuting is often a painful experience.
I also thought that as a nation we love convenience. That’s not entirely our fault but that’s how we are. Then there are regions where people don’t have access to necessary products.
I thought about what if we could bring the bazaars to the doorsteps of the customers. I, somehow, realized that e-commerce has a promising future in Bangladesh.
But that was just a thought until I later joined Edison Group (Symphony). After working for some time, I thought that Symphony is the right platform to start such a business.
Symphony's market share was growing rapidly at that time. If total handset sales were 100 a day in Bangladesh, Symphony alone was selling 40-45 of those handsets.
This has an upside, you already have a certain level of penetration in the market. For instance, if we put a built-in app in a handset we already have reached to 50 percent of mobile phone users in the country.
From our experience of working at MoMagic, our VAS portfolio at Edison Group, we saw that if you put an app in a mobile handset, it automatically gets 80% penetration. People tend to click on embedded icons on their phone out of curiosity.
We thought there is already a huge smartphone penetration in the market and if we could put an icon in every one of these phones that would give us a huge advantage. That’s where Pickaboo Mascot comes in. If you look at Pickaboo Mascot, you would see it is designed in an interesting way that encourages curiosity.
We realized that this is a wonderful opportunity, we have such a great ecosystem, and Symphony has such a wonderful track record in the market, we should capitalize it. That’s when I decided to pursue this opportunity. Long story short, after much back and forth, we managed to put together things and agree on going forward.
The learning I have got from the owners of Symphony, who have accomplished the impossible feat of building a leading local brand from scratch, and my mentor Mr. Arun Gupta, the CEO and founder of MoMagic Technologies India, have helped a lot in building Pickaboo and making everyday decisions.
Once the decision about Pickaboo was almost done, I took a small trip to India to see and understand what’s happening there with the facilitation of Mr. Gupta.
This was back in October 2015.
Then, After returning from India we started preparing documentations. It was interesting because we knew next to nothing about the industry. We had to begin from scratch. We collected some market data to understand the current trend in the market. We had a business plan in place but it went through a process of modification over quite a long period of time, especially after I paid the visit to India.
Then, we started to recruit team members one by one. We were sharing MoMagic office back then. This is back in February 2016. In this way, at one point, we had about 10 to 12 people working at Picaboo.
We worked quietly on the background for the first few months.
We used to eat and sleep ecommerce during those couple of months. We wanted to put together process, internal value system and culture for the coming days.
We learned a lot from my our colleagues in those days and I also shared our understanding and vision to them that, we would never compromise with service quality and fulfillment of our customers. No matter what, we would make sure the best possible experience for our customers.
We shifted to this new office facility in April 2016. In May, we officially started our operations with just 2 power-banks. Upon entering the real game, we began to realize what e-commerce really is.
We have learned that time is the most critical factor in this industry. This is a very fast-paced industry, you need to identify a problem, analyze it and then take a decision to solve it instantaneously because people choose to shop online because it takes less time and it is convenient. Otherwise, retail would be the wisest choice.
We continued like that for 3 months and then we launched a new Symphony handset on our website in June.[blockquote source=]We used to eat and sleep ecommerce during those couple of months. We wanted to put together process, internal value system and culture for the coming days. I learned a lot from my new colleague in those days and I also shared my understanding that we would never compromise with service quality and fulfillment of our customers. No matter what, we would make sure the best possible experience for our customers.[/blockquote]
How did you come up with the name Pickaboo?
We put a lot of effort for finding a good name. We asked our family and friends for a good name. We gave them a clue for the kind of name we were looking for: come up with such a name which, when someone pronounces it, would make her/him feel groovy, a name when you pronounce it, it feels like there is a part in your mouth
An old friend of mine, with whom I used to play guitars during my university life, suggested a few names and Pickaboo was one of them. We really liked it. So, we took the name and designed a mascot that goes well with the sensation.
You touched upon this a bit, then and again, how did you decide which product to start with?
Edison’s reputation and experience in the Mobile and Electronics industry influenced the decision of going with the Electronics category only. Our investors are experienced in this industry and we know about the supply chain mechanism and can predict, to some extent, changes in the market.
Take chipsets, for example, most of the chipsets here are produced largely by Media Tech. If they are able to make efficient chipsets, we would be able to price our cell phones efficiently. This is a cycle and we understand this kind of changes in the market.
This is one of the reasons why we focused on offering electronics products initially.
After these past months, I would say this was an excellent decision. If we had started with all the other categories from the beginning It would have been very difficult for us to manage everything.
And this zooming in has helped us to focus. If you become a leader in one category then you can replicate that experience in other areas as well.
Electronics is a very sensitive item. We have worked hard to make sure that our customers are happy. I personally handled customers in many instances.
We have put together system and process to make sure that our customers receive best possible services and our people handle our customers with utmost sincerity and care.
Of course, we faced a few challenges initially. But, after these past months, I would say that it was not a bad decision at all. It would be a huge drawback for us had we started with products of different categories.
Add to that, we have always been trying to give the best possible customer experience to our users. In order to ensure the best experience possible, we have brought changes to our technological end.
Every order has a status based on at what level of processing it is currently on. Primarily, an order is made by a customer, then we authorize and process it.
We make sure that if we could not fulfill an order we inform our customers fast and buy extra time to manage the order if the customer agrees.
We maintain constant communication with our customers and every action creates reports and status and data that help us to understand challenges. We ensure that we apologize our customers when we fail to deliver immediately, without delay.
We are a young team. The advantage with a young team is that we are full of energy and we could go the extra mile but the downside is we don’t have that much experience. That said, we are learning and improving ourselves every day.
I personally work on things, including customer support and logistics, along with my team, I share an open space with them as well. This, I believe, will help to build an open and more empathetic culture.
What is your model now? Do you manage any inventory?
We are a marketplace, not an inventory-led one. We do manage a small inventory of products those are of high demand and low supply in the market. That said, we control the logistics part, we manage the delivery to customers. This is important to us because it let us ensure a better experience for our customers.
That said, the challenge with this model is that you can’t control certain parts of the customer services. Firstly, we can't always fulfill our delivery promises on time if the sellers/merchants fail to do so which we work hard to prevent from happening by working closely with our sellers, giving them facilities, allowing only select sellers on our platform, discharging sellers if they fail to meet standards consistently.
In Bangladesh, our infrastructure is not ready yet for e-businesses. For instance, it takes hours to go from Gulshan to Motijheel which is quite a challenge when it comes to maintaining timely delivery.
There is also problems with commitment and sense of responsibility as well from different stakeholders. Logistics is still a huge problem. There is a lot to be done here. Because of these problems, it is becoming increasingly challenging for us to ensure fulfillment.
There is a growing demand for ecommerce products outside Dhaka but it is often difficult to fulfill this demand due to logistics problems. People outside Dhaka now has access to internet and ecommerce and they now can order as well. We are trying to get around the problem to serve these customers better.
What are the products you offering now? And how many merchants are using your platform?
We now have 6 product lines under electronics category: mobile and accessories, computers and laptops, large appliances, small appliances, gaming consoles, and miscellaneous.
As for merchants, we currently have limited number of merchants doing business with us. We strategically try to have more than one merchants for a particular product category in order to have flexibility.
Other than that, the number of merchants is not a metric for us in that sense. We do merchant acquisition but we tend to maintain a process for that. We believe that having great merchants is critical for us.[blockquote source=]Building a company from scratch requires an extreme level of hard work and discipline. There is nothing called work/life balance. Life is all about work.[/blockquote]
What distinguishes Pickaboo from other players in the market?
First, and most importantly, Pickaboo, as an online shopping platform, gives confidence to our customers with the assurance that their orders will be taken seriously and Pickaboo would try best to fulfill and support their needs. That has always been our target: making sure that our customers trust us and rely on us. . Pickaboo always tries its best to meet customer requirements and make our customers happy.
Secondly, Pickaboo gives a certain kind of impression. Pickaboo, the name itself brings up a certain kind of assurance in the mind of the customers that Pickaboo would deliver on the promise or if it fails it would not take advantage of us.
And we want to make sure that we stay updated and keep evolving and keep launching new products and campaigns so that our customers keep following us. This is a common philosophy if you don’t evolve and grow you will die.
Are you considering any particular strategy to reach out to customers outside Dhaka?
Of course. We are planning to employ some strategies. Currently, about 55% of our total customer base live outside Dhaka. There are several barriers to overcome before we do so, especially by replacing our current third-party logistics service. This is why we often have to work overtime and for long hours.
We think the way we have positioned our brand in the urban regions is so far okay. We have been working hard to create a strong brand positioning.
Our priority, at Pickaboo, is building a lasting brand so that we get a loyal customer-base.
For outside Dhaka, we need smooth logistics support supports and decentralization for better fulfillment. We understand that there is an obvious difference between the market in Dhaka and outside. For that reason, we feel that we need to work things out and plan differently.
What are the channels and mediums you use to reach out to your customers?
Strategies and mediums change all the time. Nothing stays constant, you see. It depends on a host of issues. At Pickaboo, we mostly design our marketing strategies in-house. This sounds a little counter-intuitive but we have found it very useful.
For now, like all other ecommerce companies in the country, digital platforms takes up a large part of our entire marketing budget. That said, we have plans to explore other channels and ideas as well.
We are doing a little bit of print-ad, we did one recently. I think print and other mediums like TV are not going away very soon despite the fact that digital has taken over our lives to some extent. The appeal of ‘touch and feel’ will always be there.[blockquote source=]I believe in a straightforward approach when providing feedback. It hurts sometimes but it also helps us to improve and build long-term trust. When it comes to working with the team, I don't think setting KPIs or periodical objectives for employees help that much. I want to create such an environment, and utopia perhaps, where there would be no need to force people to work. They will have the urge to work themselves.[/blockquote]
How is your growth?
In terms of revenue, we are the second largest ecommerce in the country. At Present, we handle 100+ orders a day. Since we only sell electronics products, our average basket size is quite good.
Briefly tell us about your board and the team.
The board consists of four investors, who have experience of building multiple companies and brands, three members from Edison Group who have built a successful conglomerate from scratch and a brand like Symphony. Our fourth investor, MoMagic Technologies India is also an award winning successful venture.
We are currently a team of 75 people working hard day and night to give our customers a brilliant shopping experience.
How do you manage things? How do you think about management in general? How Pickaboo works as an organization?
I believe in a straightforward approach when providing feedback. It hurts sometimes but it also helps us to improve and build long-term trust.
Pickaboo is a team effort.
When it comes to working with the team, we don't think setting KPIs or periodical objectives for employees help that much. We want to create such an environment, and utopia perhaps, where there would be no need to force people to work. They will have the urge to work themselves. That is where I'm heading towards.
As for family, I've discussed everything regarding my work with my wife. I've taken 6-8 months from her and said that there will be happiness for everyone at the end. I am very lucky to have her understand it.
Building a company from scratch requires an extreme level of hard work and discipline. There is nothing called work/life balance. Life is all about work.
What challenges did you face in the early days of Pickaboo? What are the challenges now?
The early days were difficult, largely because we had to put together so many things, had to convince investors to invest into this venture, go through legal issues, find people and so forth.
Finding good people is a huge challenge in Bangladesh. Our education system is failing to groom youngsters for the future. It is so hard to find people with the sense of commitment and responsibility who also can deliver and work hard.
We are lucky to have some passionate and hardworking people at Pickaboo.
At present, our biggest challenges are the expansion of our operations and making small groups more efficient.
You have to be able to identify challenges quickly and find out solutions. To tackle such challenges, we take various strategies. A few days ago, for example, there was a problem in our supply chain management. So I joined the team and worked with them directly for 3 days and gained 40% more efficiency!.
There, we think, will soon be a price-war in the ecommerce industry in Dhaka which is very much evident in India because of the competition. What do you think about that? How do you plan to tackle competitions?
I think little about the competition and also told the team members to overlook what other people are doing.
We, at Pickaboo, always encourage independent thinking free of the negative influence that competition often inflicts. This kind of mindset has been a major driving force for this company.
I think we have got a competitive advantage in terms of our product line focus. Surely you have observed that there are not many companies who are solely focused on electronics appliances.
We have been quietly working to build our process and systems and ensuring best possible service for our users. We have succeeded to some extent and we plan to focus on those areas as we go forward regardless of competition.
What suggestions would you give to people who are just starting out?
Have confidence in yourself but never let it dictate how you make decisions and how hard you work. Try not to prioritize short-term goals in exchange for long-term ones.
What do you think about the ecommerce industry as a whole?
I think major international e-commerce players will be entering into the Bangladesh market within 2017-2018 because this industry has grown remarkably in the recent years. So there's very little time for the local companies to prepare for the battle with the e-commerce giants.[blockquote source=]Have confidence in yourself but never let it dictate how you make decisions and how hard you work. Try not to prioritize short-term goals in exchange for long-term ones.[/blockquote]
Update: This story has been updated for clarity.
[su_note note_color="#ffffff" text_color="#050a45" radius="0"]This story is made possible in part by our friends at G&R. G&R, the leading platform for advertisers and publishers in Bangladesh, empowers brands in the digital age and helps entrepreneurs and companies to tell their stories to 65 million internet users in Bangladesh through sophisticated targeting and its wide publisher network. You may know more about G&R here.[/su_note]
Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Rahatil Ashekan