In many parts of the globe, pop culture and fandom, a part of entertainment ecosystem, is a thriving business genre. Bangladesh has also its share in this but to a very insignificant extent. Part of this insignificance can be attributed to lack of market player and lack of attention from global players to this market. But fans are here for sure and they care about what they love.
Mehedi Hasan, the co-founder of Knock - a business around pop culture and fandom, saw this vacuum and thought of doing something. He is not the first of his kind but he is working on a whole different level. Let’s get to know Mehedi and his venture Knock.
Mehedi Hasan was born and raised in Dhaka. He went to Oxford international school for O level and A level and graduated from University of Windsor in Canada in 2014.
Growing up, Hasan had an interest in robotics and thought that doing a bachelor in Mechanical Engineering would help him realize his dream of making Robots, but by the end of the graduation, like all of us who discover that we’re passionate about the wrong thing, he realized that neither science or nor Robotics is his cup of tea and he lost his interest in the subject.
"I also used to be passionate about photography, however it has also gone away during my graduation. Engineering was a time-intensive study", Mehedi recollects.
Since Engineering was not enjoyable to him, he made a deal with this father that he would finish graduation if only he’s allowed to make final decision about his career. His father reluctantly agreed and he returned to Bangladesh right after the graduation. The goal was to do something on his own.
"I never liked the idea of working for other people or under someone's supervision. I was not sure about what to do, but what I felt is that our country is a greenfield and there are millions of opportunity in almost every sector", Mehedi was confident in his observation.
He returned home in November 2014 and started Knock in the next month. "I met some of my school friends and discussed various ideas. Initially, we decided on three ideas. Apart from Knock, we were also trying a startup more like backpack and tea shirt making. "But the other ideas never got any traction or customer acceptance whereas Knock was getting good traction. So we decided to focus fully on Knock", Mehedi said.
"Our idea was to identify popular cultural trends and start working around them. We started with selling only badges. We made badges that represent pop-culture", Mehedi recollects.
"The word pop-culture means the popular culture. Say we watch the movies of Harry Potter. You will find fans of this movie in our country. Fans want to collect different apparatus of their hero and show-off. It is a kind of identity... say if you are a Metallica fan, you may love to use a Metallica logo engraved key-ring", Mehedi explains.
Globally business around pop-culture and fandom is huge. Apart from collectibles and accessories, different industries such as home furnishing, electronics are accepting trends from pop-culture to appeal to the fan-feeling of their customers.
"You will see fans gather here in Dhaka Comicon and get dressed in their favorite fan-attire. It is a kind of social gathering that stems from Fandom. Fans are ready to spend extra buck if you can give them the merchandise they value.", Mehedi outlined his Business Mantra.
"I invested four thousand taka in the beginning to make badges. I designed a couple of badges, made them and uploaded the picture on Facebook and to my surprise, people liked the design and the items were sold within a very short time. Then I started making more badges and added posters as well. That is how we got started", Mehedi said.
Mehedi came from a business family. His father runs a wholesale clothing business and imports cloths from China. In one of the trips to China, Mehedi accompanied his father and wandered to China to see what merchandise he could add to his new venture. He found good quality Key-rings and bought a shipment.
“The criteria I always apply to choose key-rings or any product for that matter is simple: do I like this design or this product, if the answer is yes, I go for it. I watch a lots of movies, play lots of games. So, when it comes to choosing products, I always focused on what I like. I treated myself as an emblem of my customers and it paid off. The like-minded customers loved it a lot.", Mehedi said
After China shipment, things started to become even more interesting. The response was overwhelming and it made Mehedi even more courageous. He began bringing merchandise using his father's channel.
Mehedi started Knock along with his three other school friends. At the beginning, all other partners were students and Mehedi was the only full-timer and had to look after almost all the aspects of the business. At present, his co-founders joined full-time in the business.
In any business, understanding your customers and the ability to see beyond the line are the two most important qualities. It seems Mehedi has an innate ability that can gauge the customer mind. In fact, he used to help his father in clothing business during the peak season. "I used to go to the shop and deal with customer deliberately. I loved mingling with the customers. My Father is a wholesaler, so we get to handle customers from around the country".
"During my graduation, I worked part time in Canada to make up some study expenses and there I realized that working for others is not my cup of tea. So, when it came to doing something out of my academic field, entrepreneurship became a natural choice", Mehedi said.
During his first year at Knock, Mehedi used to work for over 14 hours a day. He loved his venture so much that he used to work, eat, sleep and then work. "I never felt bad working for growing Knock, because it is my own thing", Mehedi said.
How do you validate an idea is often a big question for early stage companies. For most companies it boils down to one thing: do people want their products. For Knock, the answer was a big yes from the day one. "Wherever I go, people praise posters and badges that I designed, It has been a huge inspiration for me to keep going" Mehedi said. Being said, Mehedi has always been very serious about offering quality accessories to his customers and his customers continued appreciating the quality.
It is true that pop-culture based initiatives are yet to be mainstream in Dhaka, as it was in western countries during its early days. There is a widespread misunderstanding that pop-culture in an "English-medium school" thing, to which Mehedi disagrees.
"The awareness of this idea of pop-culture and fandom among the students of English medium students is higher than the other medium students. But fandom has always been there. Think about the Band song craze of 90s. And Harry potter is liked by almost all students regardless of mediums", Mehedi explained.
He estimates that the customer size is around 0.5 million for his product in Dhaka alone. When asked about his current customer distribution, Mehedi informed us that 80% of his customers are from Dhaka and rest are from Chittagong and Sylhet.
Mehedi is a collector of fan merchandise from his early childhood. "Anything I liked, I would keep them in my collection, but not all my classmates were like me", he said. and it has certainly helped shaping this understanding of the product he is dealing with.
Mehedi usually collects merchandises from China. In some cases, Knock designs and makes accessories like badges on its own, but on a limited scale. Upon collection, they push the product to the customer using online media, mainly Facebook.
"We used to be fully dependent on Facebook. People used to find us there and we also reach out to customers using the social media, which is true for these days as well, but we have a website now and people can order on our website which people hardly do. Before launching our website, we were a full fledged f-commerce", Mehedi explained.
Knock currently use third party logistics partner for delivering products. The company now employs two more people apart from its co-founder and is a team of six.
Trust is an indispensable fabric of our social construct. The same is true for business. Trust is very basic to any commerce, be it offline or online. Due to socio-economic nature, and in some instances previous bad experiences, people are not yet ready to trust an e-tailer easily. In fact, it takes longer period of time for an e-commerce to build customer trust than a physical shop. Mehedi had to face this issue many times.
"On average, 20% of our customers have trusted us blindly seeing our product quality but 80% rest didn't. This is due to the previous e-commerce experience of our customers that did not go well. There is often a huge gap between the quality that is promised online by the sellers and the product delivered. People used to ask us whether they will get the exact product we are showing on Facebook", Mehedi explained.
This underlies the issue of trust and Mehedi was facing problem in convincing his customer. "Most of our products are priced a bit above regular level and this is because of the quality we maintain. Due to this, customers ask us whether we have physical location. When they know that we didn't, they just didn't trust us. So, we had to think seriously about taking a shop", Mehedi said.
However, the rate of returning customer at Knock is high, as customer got convinced about the quality after their first order.
Facebook is the primary channel for Knock to reach out to its customers, although it has a website now, but it receives majority of its response from Facebook. But things are getting complicated on Facebook. Mehedi said that they used to get good engagement organically before the social network changed its algorithm. "Now we have to spent $1.5 to bring one order. Being said that, if the product is new and exceptional, then it still gets organic engagement", Mehedi said.
Apart from Online, Knock attends all pop-culture events such as ComiCon. They also arranged a carnival on their anniversary.
From revenue perspective, Knock is having decent growth, given the green field status of the market. At the end of 2015, Knock was closing monthly sales in five digit number and by the end of 2016, it has quadrupled.
In terms of number of orders, Knock was receiving 250 - 300 orders per month at the end of 2015 and it reached 700 by the end of 2016.
"We usually look at the number of sales, amount of sales, number of people we are reaching etc. We also look at month on month growth. We are adding new items every now and then. New product addition is also another key metric", Mehedi said.
Competition is always there for every business. What differentiates a business from others is what helps them survive and thrive. "At Knock, we always strive to get the best quality merchandise for our customer. We take pre-order of items that we do not have. We maintain a constant communication with our customers and always ask them what would they like and go accordingly. It helps us to make things that our customers want. We do not think much about competition rather want to focus in serving our customers better. ", Mehedi sounded confirmed.
Mehedi took some loan from his father and friends, but eventually repaid them. From the beginning, he has been very focused on building a revenue-first company. Over the past years, he has managed to earn and reinvest into the business. He has also started an offline shop.
"We are planning to start a franchise model and open more shops, so more people can buy a business. We want to branch out to related product business, and we may need investment at then", Mehedi said.
When asked about the reason of branching out, Mehedi re-affirm his notion of opportunities in the market and want to use business insight he gathered from running Knock into other business sector.
Bangladesh's pop-culture is mostly based on global trend. However, it is not a barren land for either and we have our heroes and role-models. Mehedi aims to make products locally around the idea of local heroes and cultures.
"We will produce locally, like making a souvenir around our very popular cricket team. Our band music is very popular and band artists are icons of pop-culture. we want to make products on this idea too".
Mehedi observed that there is a lack of localized entertainment eco-system, which is why our pop-culture is more foreign entertainment driven here.
"Say Doraemon is a part of pop-culture among the kids and Hindi TV serials among the ladies. If we have similar entertainment sources, we could have products around that too."
For now, Knock wants to grow as much as it can in the next two years. Besides stabilizing Knock's growth, Mehedi wants to branch-out into related product items in the meantime.
Mehedi considers reaching out to customers to be the key challenge to his growth as he is working on two trenches. "The Bangladesh Market is huge, and we can reach a very small portion of it via online and shop. Reaching out to customers is a big challenge", Mehedi said.
Mehedi envisions Knock in the level of Archies and Hallmark and would have franchise globally.
Mehedi was never satisfied with his work at Knock. "Hard work is the key to everything and there is no other route to success. I used to work and work and then felt that I am not working enough. The level of work you put on your venture is equal to the passion you have", Mehedi said.
Mehedi said that he always knew where he was heading toward and it helped him to stay put in the course amid huge peer pressure from relatives and friends after returning from Canada and starting Knock. "Knowing the goal and working to achieve it was the key for me", Mehedi said.