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The Evolution of Raise IT Solutions: An Interview With K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

Digital advertising is a fast-growing industry in Bangladesh. With the rapid of growth of internet penetration, 68 million people have access to the internet, and smartphones usage, there are 117 million mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh, digital very much looks like the future.

Co-founded by K. A. M. Rashedul MazidRaise IT Solutions Limited, a Dhaka-based IT company, started as an outsourcing and IT solutions firm. After a few years in business, the company started to design its own products, RITS ads, a digital ad network, is one of such products. Started in 2013, RITS ads used to largely serve foreign ads to Bangladeshi audience, today the network offers services to a host of local advertisers and works with over 5000 local websites.

Recently, we sat down with K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid, co-founder and CEO of Raise IT Solutions, to know more about his entrepreneurial journey, early days of Raise IT Solutions, RITS ads, digital ad network business in Bangladesh and his plans for RITS going forward.

Future Startup

Briefly tell us about yourself.

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

I completed my graduation from International Islamic University and post-graduation from United International University in 2005 and 2007 respectively in Computer Sciences and Engineering.

I got a job at Haroon IT Solutions Ltd. soon after my graduation. After two years, I became the CTO of the company and was leading a team of 20-30 people.

Then, I moved to Roots Information Technology as a CTO where I stayed for another one and a half year. After leaving Roots, I started my own company Raise IT Solutions Ltd.

Future Startup

How did you get into the business? 

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

When I took my first job, I noticed that many of my friends weren't getting any work. Almost every company wanted to give jobs to the experts and the inexperienced yet potential new-comers had to struggle a lot. Seeing them jobless I thought, for the first time, why we don’t try something on our own?

Then, five of us got together and formed a company within a short time. We all invested Tk. 3,000 each and as for necessary equipment to run an IT firm, all of us got personal computers at home. We named the company "Raise IT Solutions."

With the cash investment, we managed to buy some chairs and rented a small one-room office space. We started with outsourcing. That’s how we started.

There was a market for outsourcing but none of the marketplaces that we see today was popular or as accessible as today. It was hard to get work.

Still, there were people getting good work and earning good money but people were reserved about sharing that information and guide others on how to get works. No one was willing to provide information about how works could be accessed. We had to search for jobs on our own.

Initially, we worked in 3 different marketplaces but were far from hitting the sweet spot. Besides, we also started working in the local market. All of us had the technical experience and I could provide consultancy on how we should run the business as I was working at a company.

We continued the business for a year, then we hit a bump. The profit we were making wasn't enough. After that one of the partners decided to go solo after getting an investor for starting a new company. That was the beginning, after that, another partner left Bangladesh to do a Masters in Malaysia.

We were 3 people left with the dwindling company. We still wanted to go forward. We made plans to continue for one more year as we were getting jobs from online marketplaces despite everything. But soon the remaining 2 of partners lost interest. They did so because everyone else had traditional jobs with security while, we were doing something very different. We also didn't have any investor at that time. We had to earn money by ourselves and re-invest that into the business. But we didn't have regular cash-flow which was a huge problem for the business.

Unfortunately, the situation worsened after one month. Everyone eventually quit but the office was still there. I decided to continue on my own. Luckily, after 2 months, I got a new partner. We set up an office at Bangla Motor, Dhaka. The company started to run quite well. The number of team members increased to 30 within a year. As the company started to grow, I left my job to work full time at Raise IT.

As soon as I started working at Raise IT, I realized that it's one thing to carry out a set of specific responsibilities for a company and it's another thing to run an entire business by yourself. I saw that cash was going out faster than income. Moreover, we had exhausted all of our funds. My partner and I decided to keep going for a few more months. That was the second time the company had almost reached a point of no return.

There was one client that I had been making a deal with at that time. He proposed to manage good deals for me if we agreed to do the first one without any upfront charge. We took the risk because we had nothing to lose. We decided to do the work without any upfront payment. We completed the project and submitted to the client, but he didn't respond. 3 days passed, I was a bit disappointed and send him an email expressing our frustration. The reply was quite surprising! He gave the work to someone else but promised that he would work with us in the future.

And he kept his promise, after 14 days he gave me an work order, and that was the starting. The person I'm talking about is Dustin Sparks. He used to run a big IT company but now he runs a hospital. We worked for $40/hour with him. Also, I was establishing connections with other clients. Our outsourcing business was running well till 2012.

Outsourcing was good and we’re doing well but I gradually came to realize that there is nothing of our own in this business. We're working hard, delivering, but actually creating an asset for someone else. And because of NDA clauses on the agreement, I can't even demand work credits. That said, I do value outsourcing and any work for that matter. We do outsourcing these days. This thought was more of a strategic contemplation.

As a result, I decided to do something on my own. As I used to do outsourcing, I had various types of work ideas, one of the work type was digital advertising using a different ad network. We helped many clients to do programmatic advertising to reach their targeted visitors using an algorithm.

Ad network or digital advertising was not a cool thing back then. Only Google was providing that service on a limited scale and facilities. So, we decided to tap into this niche market with our digital advertising project. I opened up the business in June 2013. The project took six months’ time to get ready for the market.

After a lot of hard work and effort now we are doing quite well. We cover the top 500 news portal in Bangladesh. They are our clients and direct publishers. As for the advertisers, almost 90% of the international companies who advertise in Bangladesh are in our clientele. As we were dealing in programmatic, we were not offering direct sales. Our inventories were being sold programmatically. We faced a lot of problems during 2013 and 2014 with some DSP companies concerning policies, like advertising in Bangla language and URL transparency.

To tackle this problem, we went into direct sales from February last year. We started to approach local companies. Currently, there are 50+ international and 18+ local companies directly buying ads from our network.

RITS Ads is one of the four projects that have succeeded so far. Our other projects include domain and hosting solutions, Website and web apps development, Customized software development, e-commerce solutions, Mobile applications development, SMS marketing and Email Marketing.

Raise IT Solutions
Raise IT Solutions

Future Startup

Tell us more about RITS Ad network. What is it? How does it work?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

When we launched RITS ads, it was financed by our parent company, Raise IT. Our target is to build it successfully and then turn it into a separate brand.

We are still operating it as a part of Raise IT, but the model is already successful and it has got satisfactory standalone value. We are hoping to make a different identity of it very soon.

RITS Ads is offering holistic solutions for digital advertising. Using RITS Ads platform an Advertiser can get to the right consumer at the right time by targeting them using our programmatic platform. The advertiser can target specific devices along with city and keywords targeting.

Special features of RITS Ads is advertiser can do any kind of display advertisement in local language whether it is expandable or take out ads. In our platform, there is no restriction on language. Our platform can ensure more than 70% conversions from an advertising click. As a part of 360-degree advertising solutions, our advertiser can also buy facebook, google, twitter and LinkedIn Inventory using self-serve platform offered by us.

Future Startup

You've got competitors like Google and G&R in Bangladesh market. What are the aspects that differentiate your product from the rest?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

In the case of digital advertising, there is always the risk of fraud. It is hard to keep track of any fraudulent activities that might be occurring. We have come up with a solution to this largely-overlooked problem in association with Fraudlogix.

Another thing that we have done is partnering with OpenX which is currently the number one advertising company in the world. We are their only premium partner in Bangladesh.

This ranking is done by The Pixalate. It's a third party company dealing in advertising fraud as well. They rank the companies that are succeeding in the field of programmatic advertising around the world. It is done on a monthly basis. They call it the Seller Trust Index as the ranking is based on which company the customers rely on the most. Like the ranking in the last month tells us that OpenX is the most trusted company both in the US & internationally right now.

We are the first one to provide a solution to fraud-related concerns. If you spend 'x" taka on advertisement, we ensure that you will be served with exactly 'x' taka worth of advertisement. On top of that, there is no human intervention in the process.

We can serve advertisement in the local language, all types of advertisement like rich media, overlay, takeout, expandable etc.

Future Startup

You don’t control your technology. Does not it create some sort of dependency on your part and also hamper customer experience?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

Yes, it was a concern initially. But, we have been a partner with OpenX for over a year now and we are still very independent. We have such contract with OpenX that we can install any new add-on in the system.

As you said, it still creates a certain level of dependency. That said, it has both positive and negative impacts. I would like to point out the advantages first.

First of all, if we had decided to manage the platform by ourselves, we would need a lot more personnel and resources. It would have been way more expensive for us. But OpenX now is providing us that service which is also of global standard. Besides, they also offer us a support system which we wouldn't have received from others.

As for the disadvantages, there are some restrictions we face related to policies. Before partnering with OpenX, we had our own servers and could choose publishers whom we thought fit with us. But, now we have to deal within OpenX's policy perimeter. The publishers now have to be approved by their approval system. Only then we can go into business with them. Around 150 publishers register to our system every day. But we are only able to take in a mere 5% of them since a large number of them do not qualify.

Future Startup

As you said, you are working mainly with foreign clients. You have just recently started working with local ones. But do the Bangladeshi audience wants to see the foreign advertisements? How are relevant foreign ads to our media consumers?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

Good question. If a user visits our websites and his interest doesn't match with our database, he will not see our ads. But if your interest matches with any of the ads we are currently serving, you'll see those ads. This means these ads are largely targeted and seldom misplaced.

For local operation, we have just started promoting our platform. We have over 5000 publishers on our platform now, but Many people don't know yet about us. And many people aren't aware of its potential.

We are going into partnership with different organizations and agencies soon. You will see more local ads from our network in the coming days.

Currently, we serving over 60 million impressions per day. We have covered almost 80% of Alexa ranking sites in Bangladesh. We are the first one in Bangladesh to do something about fraudulent activities. We are the first who introduces programmatic and RTB in Bangladesh market. We have a direct partnership with over 5000 publishers and we manage their inventory.

Future Startup

What are the key challenges for you in the local market?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

The first challenge was that we were very new in the market. Our USP was and is also relatively new. People know about fraud but they don't understand how it happens. Advertisers back then didn't even take fraudulent activities as a challenge. They were unaware of the fact that at least 30% of their investment was being stolen away by frauds.

We are thinking of highlighting our USP so that people would realize the severity of fraudulent activities and that they should prioritize local ad agencies over the foreign ones.

By choosing local companies they will be able to save a lot of money and hassle. In the case of programmatic advertising, for example, there are multiple parties that the publishers have to approach. These parties demand commission. If the advertisers work directly with us, they will be able to save themselves these extra costs.

Future Startup

How has the growth been for RITS Ads?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

Currently, we serving over 60 million impressions per day. We have covered almost 80% of Alexa ranking sites in Bangladesh. We are the first one in Bangladesh to do something about fraudulent activities. We are the first who introduces programmatic and RTB in Bangladesh market. We have a direct partnership with over 5000 publishers and we manage their inventory.

We look at two metrics: i) how many advertisers we have got and ii) how many publishers we have onboard. The number of our publishers is increasing daily. As I've mentioned, we receive hundreds of registration request from publishers on a regular basis. But because of quality control and international policy, we can't take more than 5% of them onboard. We are very careful of who we are taking in.

As for the number of advertisers, we have many direct advertisers including companies like Huawei, Symphony, Rangs Ltd, Mercedes Benz Bangladesh, TeleTalk Bangladesh, The City Bank Ltd., Mentos, Ogilvy Bangladesh, Digital Bagher Baccha, Bagdoom, AjkerDeal, Lotto and Gadget & Gear. We are also finalizing deals with several agencies soon.

When we started first, we used to serve 5 million ad impressions daily. Now, after 2 and a half years, it has grown by 1200%.

Future Startup

How big is your team now?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

Currently, 12 people are working in our ad-network team. There are 4 other people in the sales department and the rest of the teammates are in campaign management, monitoring, accounts and others. Raise IT is a team of 20 people including 12 programmers.

Future Startup

What are your plans for the future?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

Our main goal is to morph this project into a separate company. We want to establish RITS Ads as the #1 Digital Advertising Company in Bangladesh. We want to be the go-to place for programmatic advertising.

At Raise IT, we provide outsourcing services internationally. We have launched first Bangladeshi mobile browser, which will give the user a unique experience.

Future Startup

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from your journey?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

2012 was a disastrous year for us. The ICT sector experienced a hard crash due to 9/11 issue. Many of our clients shifted or switched to different business. And, due to some internal problem, our key marketer quit his job. At that time I didn't have the opportunity to create alternative resources. We had to suffer for more than one and a half years for this. We were 30 people back then. But we didn't have any job for our company, not a single one.

But I didn’t lose my hope. No matter how big the problem is, there is always a way out, we just need to pay attention and seek. Suddenly I realized that; in the previous years we have been helping build products for our clients and we did it proudly but, we never built a product for ourselves. That was the starting off building our own product.

Building a business is hard work. It requires an extraordinary amount of hard work and grit. And grit only comes from loving your work and having joy in what you do.

Future Startup

What suggestions would you offer to people who are just starting out?

K. A. M. Rashedul Mazid

There is a common misconception about investment and funding. Many people consider it to be of paramount importance and complaint that they could not start a business due to the unavailability of venture funding in Bangladesh. But I don't think it's true.

Investment is probably important, but not an absolute necessary. There are very successful companies built without any VC funding.

I think what is important is passion and hard work. If you're passionate about something, it will hard to feel tired until you reach the destination or aim.

Building a business is hard work. It requires an extraordinary amount of hard work and grit. And grit only comes from loving your work and having joy in what you do.

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