Solaric, Future Of Energy, and Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Didar Islam, Founder and MD, Solaric

Solaric, Future Of Energy, and Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Didar Islam, Founder and MD, Solaric

Ispahani Black Tea Credit Banner Didar Islam is the founder and Managing Director of Solaric. In simple, it is the SolarCity equivalent of Bangladesh. Started six years ago, Solaric has been revolutionizing the solar energy space in this part of the world with its innovations and better products. The 200 person company has a growing business spanning multiple countries including Singapore and Myanmar, launched three highly innovative products in Bangladesh and raised two rounds of funding. The ambition is to be in 10 markets in the next five years.

Mr. Islam is a deeply passionate person. Soft-spoken in nature, when he speaks he closes his eyes and speaks in full sentences often absorbed in his own train of thoughts. Prior to starting his own business, he worked a host of sectors starting from Academia – he started his professional life as a teacher at BUET which he left after a year to pursue higher studies in the US – to private sector both in Bangladesh and the US.

In this interview, Mr. Didar Islam illustrates his journey to what he is doing today, how Solaric came into being, its expansion plans and product strategy to difficulties he had to face due to the lack of support system for early stage companies to how openness defines Solaric’s internal culture and why finding right people remains a key challenges for his company and shares his ambition for Solaric over the next few years that includes expanding into few other markets and introducing its Solar rooftop technology, discusses the metamorphosis that the energy sector is going through and his views about the future of the sector and reflects on his management philosophy, hard work of entrepreneurship and why deeper meaning and greater satisfactions of life comes from building something meaningful that changes lives. – Ruhul Kader

Future Startup

To start with, please tell us about your journey to what you are doing today. Along with that, a little bit about Solaric and how did it come into existence?

Didar Islam

Growing up, I was quite different. We are five siblings – three sisters, and two brothers – and I was the one with a knack for breaking the rules. I had this passion for following the unconventional path. In some instances, it was a deliberate choice – I wanted to go beyond the convention – but in most cases, it was not. It just happened to me.

To give you an example, I started my schooling at grade three. Skipping grade one and two was not a great idea but I managed to catch up with my classmates. Then in class six, I decided that I would go to Cadet College which, naturally, surprised almost everyone around me. Because kids seldom want to go to Cadet College because of the tough and confined nature of it. Parents usually, often forcefully, send kids to Cadet College because it helps with discipline among other things. But I did the exact opposite thing. In fact, many of my family members opposed the idea except my mother who supported me. But I insisted and eventually I got into Jhenidah Cadet College. It was one of the most important turning points in my life.

If you are interested in achievement, discipline is a critical trait. It is more so when you are young and extrovert. When you are young, the world is pretty simple and nothing is too harmful or impossible. If you don’t create a boundary around yourself, you may end up doing things that you should not. For any extrovert, outgoing teenager, the vice is unlimited and at that age, pursuing vice seems liberation and rebellion.

When I look back now, I feel that it was one of the most important decisions of my life. I probably did it without understanding the consequence but it has served me well since.

Back to our story, with the support of my mother, I started Cadet College. I was not a particularly inclined student and was not fond of academic studies. But I was not a bad student either. I usually excelled at things I put my focus on. When I decide to pursue something, I try to give my everything to it. Complete dedication often pays off.

In cadet college, I was not an all-rounder. I was not good at athletics and other physical activities but I found that I’m good at creativity and I can focus. So I put myself into work to do my best in studies.

I completed my SSC and HSC from Jhenidah Cadet College. I did quite well in both the exams. In SSC I stood 4th in the entire Jessore Board and in HSC I stood 1st.

After HSC, my family decided that I should go to medical school. Three of my elder sisters went to medical college and my brother studied engineer. My parents wanted one of their sons to be a doctor.

I was not particularly interested in medical school but I could not manage to escape it either. I finally got into Dhaka Medical College. I did not have to appear for admission test because of my good result.

A few weeks into DMC, I became aware of the fact that this is not for me. I was at DMC for three months and I was bored to death. It was heavy on memorization whereas I preferred creativity and intellectually challenging exercise. It was too hard for me.

I reported back to my parents that I don’t want to continue but they advised me to stay on course – ‘things will get better if you persist for a few months’. But I was not convinced of the idea that things would get better. After some back and forth for a while, I did something out of ordinary – I vanished myself for one month. Connectivity was not a ubiquitous thing yet. It was relatively easier to get away with almost anything.

I went to Kolkata and then all the way to Kashmir where I stayed for seven days. I spend time with local people, stayed at their house and traveled extensively. At one point, I didn’t have any money and had to work to earn and live somehow. It was an incredible one month. I came to know myself better. It gave me the confidence that I could endure everything and anything.

After one month, I returned home and told everyone not to force me otherwise I would disappear again. Then I quit medical college and started preparation for BUET admission test. The next year I got into BUET in Electrical Engineering which I found very fascinating.

My class started in 1987. From the very beginning, I was very good at circuits. Not only at replicating circuits but also at coming up with new ideas around circuit.

I graduated from BUET in 1992 with very good result and eventually joined as a faculty at BUET where I stayed for a year. After teaching for one year, I decided to go to the US for higher studies. This was and is common in teaching. But which was not common is that faculties seldom resign from their position while going abroad. But I decided not to do that. The day I received an acceptance letter from university, I decided to resign from BUET. Chairman of my department asked me not to resign but I decided to go ahead anyway. I thought it would work as a pull back for me.

Options are bad for focus. If you have several options to choose from, you would often end up not choosing either. I wanted to eliminate my options and focus. One thing at a time.

I received acceptance letters from three universities, including the University of Texas at Austin where I had a guarantee that I would get a scholarship and the University of Florida where they did not offer me a scholarship. But Florida had the right field for me regarding analog circuits and Austin one was more related to physics.

People suggested me to go to Austin as they offered me funding and then shift to Florida if I do not like it there. But I decided not to do that instead I told them that I would find a way to survive in Florida. In January 1993, I went to the University of Florida spending all my savings. The first semester was very tough. I had to manage my living as well as hefty tuition fees.

After the first semester, two of the faculties told me that they would try to manage a Teaching Assistantship for me in the next semester but nothing is guaranteed. It was the toughest time in my life, but I did not break. I worked harder to overcome my hardships. Now that I look back, I can connect and understand that those days were the foundation of my entrepreneurial journey. It is our ability to endure difficult days and strive through hardships that make us go through the times of despair and chaos.

In the next semester, nothing happened. Things became even more stressful. We had seven days left to pay my tuition fees but I had no money. On top of that, I did not have any possibility of a scholarship or teaching assistant or research assistant position. It was a huge stress.

At that time, I came across an opening at a company where they were looking for people who are good at circuits. I faxed my resume for the position and eventually ended up with a job offer for a full-time position.

It was an interesting experience for me. There were more experienced people who applied for the position. In fact, I was the only applicant with an only theoretical understanding of circuit and no practical experience. But I was really passionate about it. I wanted to explore and see what can be done in the space which they liked.

After joining, I requested to put me in R&D and fortunately, they agreed. I think they liked my enthusiasm for the work. While I loved the work, it was an extremely difficult pursuit. The job was in Orlando, almost 112 miles away from my campus, it was a full-time job and I had a full-time academic degree going on on the side. Moreover, I was new at the job and the challenges were paramount.

I started working at AIT in 1994 in a research project with an ambition to make single chip RF for 900 MH frequency without any external components. Mobile phone technology was still in its early stage. The target market was small short range radio activities such as automatic garage door opening from a distance among other things. It was an ambitious project which many people considered infeasible.

In 1996 – after working for two and a half years – we built our first working prototype. It was no less than a breakthrough. In fact, when we had a working prototype, many faculty members of UC Berkeley were still writing papers on this technological advancement. It was a huge success for me as well. AIT later sold that technology to a company in California called MICREL who are selling the products to the garage door manufacturing company called Genie who manufactures and markets this product now. Almost 50% of US households now use it. That is also how I made my fortune. I was made a partner at the company after the chip development and the shares that I bought at $3 per share became $120 per share when I exited in 2001.

Afterwards, I moved to California where I lived for the next three years. I worked as an RF consultant at a company for one year during this period. But I was looking for opportunities to explore.

In 2007, I returned to Bangladesh and started a chip design company. The idea was to design chip here in Bangladesh and produce it in Taiwan and distribute it in China. Because Taiwan is the world’s largest chip maker. At that time, around 70% of the world’s chips were made in Taiwan and most of the motherboards that we see today are made in Taiwan.

That’s how Power IC came into existence. In the first two to three years, we designed 10 chips and a lot of those were used in portable devices like mobile phone, MP3 players, camera, wireless devices etc for Power Management.

In mid-2009, after two and half years into the business, I came across a product called Solar Home System in Bangladesh during a meeting with BRAC. They showed me the product. It was an interesting product but quite inferior in quality. You had to charge the battery first then you get 12V from the battery which was (and is) very insignificant to run the appliances.

It was a low price device and thus functionality was also few. They wanted a solution for this. I told them that we can solve the problem but I was not sure about the market potentials of the product. BRAC said that if we can come up with a solution they would buy almost 1000 systems per month. I later came to know that market was huge for this system. The rural people needed it to watch TV, charge mobile phones, laptop, and many other household purposes, mostly in off and semi off-grid areas. We entered into an agreement with BRAC under which BRAC will buy our system when we come up with the solution.

Within the next 6 months, we came up with a solution to this problem and built the world’s first and only high voltage or utility voltage solar power system. Everyone was using 120V AC which was costly and inefficient but we used 120V DC in our system as DC is better for backup, more efficient and used fewer resources and also affordable. That was our first milestone in 2010. We have patented this technology and we are the only company to supply 120V DC solar system solution in the world.

We changed our company name from Power IC to Solaric. We started with supplying to BRAC. And eventually, we started working with Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), the authority in this space. We came to know that IDCOL was financing all these Solar Home Systems (SHS) through the NGO network. Then we got involved with the network. Now, most of our systems go through IDCOL network.

Over the past years, we have supplied over 150,000 home systems across Bangladesh. We are also exporting to a few countries in Africa and Asia including Myanmar, Nepal, and India.

We started our formal journey as Solaric in 2011. IFC (International Finance Corporation) was our first investor. They had a fund for small enterprises through SEAF and we were chosen for that. The initial investment was $1 million. With that money, we established our first manufacturing plant. Now our manufacturing happens both in Dhaka and also in China. We bring components from China and the US and we have also a chip designed in-house.

IFC stayed with us till the end of 2014 and exited in 2015. Before the exit, they turned their preference share into equity. We bought their share back at 25% IRR, which was according to our agreement.

Since 2011, we never had to look back. Our revenue has been growing consistently. We have introduced a host of new products over the past few years. We have developed 220V DC, 120V DC and even 400V DC. We used the 400V DC in Myanmar as the world’s first mini-grid with 400V DC. We now have operations in Singapore, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.

We have raised another equity investment in Singapore from OSIRIS Group in 2015 when IFC took an exit. We raised $4 million for about 25% of the equity.

Our ambition is global. We have already started walking in that direction with our operations in Singapore and Africa and Asia.

Within the next 6 months, we came up with a solution to this problem and built the world’s first and only high voltage or utility voltage solar power system. Everyone was using 120V AC which was costly and inefficient but we used 120V DC in our system as DC is better for backup, more efficient and used fewer resources and also affordable.

We now offer three products. The first one is a solar home system that I have already mentioned.

The second one is a solar Nano Grid which you can put in one place and connect up to 40 or 50 households. We are giving 20V DC solutions to these households. Nano Grid has already been up and running in 40 different places in Bangladesh for the past 3 years. We did that without any donor money. It is a fully sustainable and commercially driven entity. Now we are in the process of upgrading it even further.

The third one is Mega Rooftop which we are currently working on. If you have a huge garments industry or a manufacturing plant and a big roof then it can give you around 30-50% of the energy requirement. It is cheaper than other alternatives. There is a host of factors working in favor of it. One is that you do not need batteries and there is no problem of storage. If your factory is running for 12/15/18 hours a day, you need all of its resources at daytime. Secondly, you do not need additional structures to install this system, you can use the roof as a structure. Thirdly, in the factories, the energy usage is almost always at 100% because there is no lack of demand. This solution can be cheaper than many other alternatives if we can utilize it properly.

This is, to some extent, similar to what SolarCity is trying to do in the US. They too have with battery and without battery system. The only major distinction, however, is that they are doing it for households with 3 KW to 4 KW and we are doing it for the industries with 300 KW to 500 KW. We are about to roll out the first few installations in the next few months and we have already a list of factories lined up for the installation.

IDCOL is also supporting this installation with a lucrative interest rate and a ten years time period for the factories. It is designed in such a way that factories will have a lower amount of per unit spending even after paying the monthly interests to IDCOL comparing to any other alternative. In one way the factories would not have to think about financing the installation, they would not have to depend on the national grid for power and they would have lower per unit cost for energy. It helps all the stakeholders.

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If you are interested in achievement, discipline is a critical trait. It is more so when you are young and extrovert. When you are young, the world is pretty simple and nothing is too harmful or impossible. If you don’t create a boundary around yourself, you may end up doing things that you should not. For any extrovert, outgoing teenager, the vice is unlimited and at that age, pursuing vice seems liberation and rebellion.

Future Startup

How many people work at Solaric now? Can you please give us an overview of your operations?

Didar Islam

We are a team of about 200 people along with 80 people in assembly at our factory in Dhaka.

Most of our operation, in terms of sales, is outside of Dhaka at the Upazila level. We have operations mostly in Eastern part of the country such Sylhet and Southern part of the country such as Barisal.

In terms of revenue, we are doing around 30 to 40 crores annually. We are selling about a thousand systems per month. There is a huge potential to grow, but we are trying to grow steadily and learn new things on the way.

Future Startup

How does the entire process of sales, installation and servicing work? I mean suppose I bought a home system from you, how does the entire process work after that?

Didar Islam

From our 8 to 10 year presence in this sector, we have learned some invaluable lessons that you need in order to succeed in this market. We have designed our process around that understanding.

Firstly, you need the right product that the customers want. You should not come up with a product that has no demand in the market and try to sell it. It could have been done in the earliest stage when customers had very little knowledge about the product but those days are gone. The first step is understanding the needs and demands of your customers and then go accordingly. This is how we start our product design and then manufacturing.

Secondly, we need to address the payment mechanism in a feasible manner. Since most of our operations are in rural areas, it is difficult for many customers to pay for the system in cash at once. There has to be some sort of installment program or EMI to facilitate the purchase. However, the challenge is when you provide a product in installment it is hard to ensure monthly installment because it is hard to monitor and follow-up who is paying and who is not. Even the banks are not comfortable with their business in remote areas. You need to design a mechanism that can solve this problem.

Thirdly, you have to ensure after sales service which is a growing challenge in this space.

We have identified these three things as the most critical things in our business and it has served us well.

We offer some of the best products in the market. Our 120V DC solution substitutes the IPS. When the power goes out, IPS kicks in and gives you energy from the battery at 220V. Our DC solution is a substitute to this IPS and inverter with all the benefits of it. Moreover, the loss and cost that comes with the inverter are absent in the 120V DC solution.

The next thing is our payment procedure. We provide a 12 to 20-months payment option through installment for our customers but we have designed a technology solution so that we can monitor the entire process and see who is paying and who is not and intervene accordingly. It is a pay as you go system. When a customer pays monthly installment then he/she receives a 4-digit code that our system sends automatically to customer’s mobile by which they can activate the system for another month. If someone does not pay monthly installment, the system would automatically be deactivated and we could send our people to check on the customer.

We are also providing the buyback option in our agreement with the customers. After using 2-3 months, if a customer wants to return the system they can simply sell it to us at a predetermined price. This offers customers assurance that they can rely on us. At the same time, we can manage our customers better.

Yes, there is a risk that many people may abuse this system but the rate should not be more than 2-4%. For rest of the customers, it is a basic necessity. We believe that if customers want a product, we do not need to force them, they will buy it intrinsically.

Finally, customer service. To us, this is of paramount importance. We have 24/7 call center support for our customers where anyone can call from anywhere and receive instructions on troubleshooting. All our products bear 5 years warranty and we provide services even after the completion of installment payment.

The next thing is our payment procedure. We provide a 12 to 20-months payment option through installment for our customers but we have designed a technology solution so that we can monitor the entire process and see who is paying and who is not and intervene accordingly. It is a pay as you go system.

Future Startup

Can you please tell us about the kind of challenges you faced in the early days and the challenges that you are facing now? If you look down the line 10 years, what challenges do you anticipate for Solaric?

Didar Islam

Financing was a challenge initially. In 2011, entrepreneurship culture was not strong yet, it is still the same, and the word startup was new to most people. Financing options were limited other than the family and friends. Even the policies and understanding were absent in terms of equity investment, book value and exit options. The banks were not willing to give loans.

Generally, in the early days, entrepreneurs waste a lot of time in pursuing different bank managers and trying to solicit finance. However, we did not spend any time running after the banks because I knew investing in startups is not their preference. I used my initial savings to start the company and gain initial traction. Then after a while, IFC came forward which was a huge support for us.

The current challenges are more of the growth pains. The market is open to commercial players, which was once highly controlled by IDCOL.This has both the good and bad sides to it. Over the past years, IDCOL has created the market and now many new entrants are trying to ride and milk that market without any innovation. Consequently, we are seeing a lot of new entrants with low-quality products, only cash based sells and minimum customer service.

Which means customers are experiencing low quality-low price-no service’ products. This has greater impact because once a customer goes through a bad experience they eventually start to doubt all the products in the market. We and many other renowned brands are now facing this challenge in the market.

Currently, we are the only company giving pay as you go model to customers along with customer service and high-quality products which have helped us to do well in the market despite the competition.

Our ambition is to become the Apple of solar energy. Our product quality, servicing, and technological usage along with being the only provider of 120V DC makes us better and unprecedented in the solar energy industry.

Generally, in the early days, entrepreneurs waste a lot of time in pursuing different bank managers and trying to solicit finance. However, we did not spend any time running after the banks because I knew investing in startups is not their preference. I used my initial savings to start the company and gain initial traction. Then after a while, IFC came forward which was a huge support for us.

Future Startup

What do you think about the competition in the market?

Didar Islam

The competition is fierce. We are seeing a lot of new players coming into the market and offering products at different price points. You can buy the same thing at different prices. There are also low-cost Chinese products in the market. The market has become quite unstable over the years due to these changes. However, this is nothing new or unique to Bangladesh. We have seen this to happen in other parts of the world.

For example, in Kenya, we have seen this kind of phenomenon. It got flooded with Chinese solar products of different prices and utility. However, just after one year, the market got disillusioned when customers started to complain about the products and return products which of course created discord between shop owners and customers. As result, many distributors decided not sell low cost and low-quality products opening up more space for quality players.

In Bangladesh, people have seen IDCOL and their high-quality products which is an advantage for players who are offering quality products. Even though some people buy cheap products for financial constraints, they still demand the high quality.

Future Startup

How much has Solaric evolved over past years?

Didar Islam

We are an innovation driven company. Since our inception in the solar energy, we have relentlessly been striving to bring new and better products to the market.

When we design a product, we start with understanding our customers and their needs. One of our key goals is to offer best possible quality at the affordable price. This is what differentiates us from others in the market.

The need and demand for energy is a never ending phenomenon. And energy is an increasingly complex problem. Solar is now being considered as one of the most sustainable energy sources and cheap as well. Due to climate change and other reasons, the world is now looking seriously for alternative energy solutions, renewable energy, and more innovations. In Bangladesh and many other similar developing markets, this is an even bigger problem. Our ambition is to contribute to solving this challenge.

Over the past years, we have introduced many new solar technologies that were not in existence before but we feel that we are just getting started. Take our rooftop innovation, I think this is something which will make a material difference in our industrial sector.

You see that Bangladesh is the only developing country where we do not have net metering yet for the factories. Net metering is a system where you can send back your unused power of solar panel to the national grid and offset some of the cost. But we don’t have that yet.

Moreover, power shortage is not an uncommon thing in our context. In our county, the factories need all the energy they can find as there is already a shortage. We came up with the rooftop solutions to address this issue.

We have designed a system for Bangladesh Bank which runs their entire old building with 128 KW power. We call this ‘Delta Charging System’. It is actually an example of on-grid solar solution.

Every union and Upazila you go, we have our system in the UNO office to power their router and video conference tools. These are some of the things we have done over the years apart from our more focused business.

This industry is new in the country and has a lot of innovation scope. One of the major evolutions for us is that we have become more structured now, we have a long way to go, but we are in a better shape than before. We ensure that ideas flow freely within the company. We encourage everyone to come with ideas. These are some of the areas I think we have made progress.

Our ambition is to become the Apple of solar energy. Our product quality, servicing, and technological usage along with being the only provider of 120V DC makes us better and unprecedented in the solar energy industry.

Future Startup

Can you tell us a bit about the overall solar energy industry in the country? Where do you see the industry is going in the next 10 to 15 years?

Didar Islam

There are two parts to this. One is off the grid and the other is on the grid. Bangladesh is one the largest off grid solar solution success stories. The market has been developed over the past years. There is a demand for this solution.

In the coming years, more innovative products will come in the market which will bridge the gap between off grid and limited grid area where load shedding is severe. These off grid installation was small and didn’t hold up much of space.

The next thing is utility scale 50 to 100 MW power production. The biggest problem is the scarcity of land because you need land to install this system. For instance, only 1 MW will need around 4 acres of land. So, the land has become a major obstacle. You look at rooftops as an alternative but then and again residential areas are a little complex to explore as an option.

With issues like 100% energy utilization, no supply to the central grid and large space, industrial rooftop becomes the best choice and also they have demand for it. In the future, the industrial rooftop solar power solutions will be the viable option and the economics also makes sense for a factory got for it. Moreover, IDCOL has already extended the support and financing and tech is no more a problem.

Future Startup

How do people work at Solaric? Can you please tell us about the organizational culture at Solaric?

Didar Islam

We have developed an open culture over the years. This has created cultural problems but overall the benefits easily outweigh the problems. Ideas can come from anywhere. A technician might have a better and more practical product idea that some of us who design the product might not have because he is the one installing and operating the products. He gets to see the products from a user’s’ perspective which is sometimes difficult for us. We encourage everyone to come up with ideas and take initiative.

Another thing that we do consciously is hiring young people. A lot of our management and field employees are 30 and below. Generally, young people are open to new ideas and have certain dynamism in thinking and problem-solving, but it also comes with its unique challenges such lack of experience, falling short in carrying out responsibilities among others. We have figured out ways to mitigate these problems through supervision and mentorship.

Another challenge we face is a lack of entrepreneurial ability in many young people. Job responsibilities are becoming increasingly vague and complex. In startups, where there is minimal structure, it is more so. Earlier the instructions were clearly given about how to do a task but now a task is given and you need to figure out how you will do it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Then we have to come with a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) and some kind of policy to develop a system around that.

Personally, after returning from the USA, I had to struggle and adapt to the work culture here in Bangladesh. I had to compromise and reduce my expectation from people. But over the years, I have grown used to it.

Future Startup

Solar is now one of the most talked about things in the world, thanks to Elon Musk, Tesla, and SolarCity. It seems, renewable energy, particularly Solar, is an interesting space and has a lot of potentials. What are your future plans for Solaric in the next 10 years?

Didar Islam

We are quite similar to what SolarCity is trying to do in the US except for geographical location. While they are working in the developed markets, we are working in Asia and Africa mostly in the off-grid areas.

In short, our ambition is to become an example of the solar solution in terms of product quality, service and output in Bangladesh and the world.

No one in the world knows off-grid better than us. We have been working hard for years to light up the areas where there is still not energy. We have developed a profound understanding of this market over the past years. We have developed the capacity to design and produce best solar solutions. If you look at our strengths, we can really go far.

Our challenge, for now, is financing because Bangladesh is not an ideal place for startup financing. Despite the challenges, we are working consistently to build Solaric into the world’s top brand in making solar solutions.

Future Startup

Do you have any particular goal or strategy for the next 5 years?

Didar Islam

In the next 5 years, we want to start full-fledged operations in 10 countries. We have mapped out some markets where we take interest in. We plan to go to these markets gradually.

We are currently looking for viable strategies for expansion including strategic partnership and other arrangements.

The need and demand for energy is a never ending phenomenon. And energy is an increasingly complex problem. Solar is now being considered as one of the most sustainable energy sources and cheap as well. Due to climate change and other reasons, the world is now looking seriously for alternative energy solutions, renewable energy, and more innovations. In Bangladesh and many other similar developing markets, this is an even bigger problem. Our ambition is to contribute to solving this challenge.

Future Startup

How are you doing doing business-wise, in-terms of profitability and all?

Didar Islam

We have been profitable from the very first year of our operations which is pretty unusual for any tech startup. Our product, market, and support from stakeholders like IDCOL helped us to achieve that.

However, we had a rough time in the last fiscal year because IDCOL’s market had collapsed and a lot of our products were attached to that channel. We are going through a transition period from IDCOL driven market to a non-IDCOL market which is more commercially driven with competition and greater participation from the customers.

Future Startup

How do you reach out to your customers?

Didar Islam

Our marketing and sales happen in two ways. One is through our direct branches and showrooms. We have over 15 branches all over the country. Then we have dealers and retail distributors all across the country.

We have around 700 to 800 dealers all over Bangladesh. For our direct sales and as well for sales through dealers, we ensure customer service through our central customer care.

Future Startup

If you look back to your journey, what are the biggest lessons from all those years of working, teaching and building?

Didar Islam

The first is that if you are into building anything, either it is business or something else, you have to develop a passion for it because the journey is so demanding that you would give up easily.

Business is like raising a family with lots of good days, bad days, ups and downs. If you are doing business just to make money then there is high chance that you will not survive long. Because business always do not generate money constantly. If you look at us, we do business and it is a profit making venture but we are also touching lives of people and making life better. I am doing this because I’m passionate about doing innovate new things to make things affordable and better.

The second thing is that you have to be persistent at what you do. Building a business from the ground up is a long time thing and it requires grit. If you are looking for making some quick bucks, starting a business is not probably the way you should choose.

The third lesson is that there will always be challenges. It is true for our context and it is equally true for any other markets in the world. But challenges are good. Small ones prepare us for the big ones. Big ones for the bigger ones. When challenges come, your first is not to worry or stress rather find out a way to solving it. In life, the only way is through.

I think it is important that you find your passion and work on it. Money will come sooner or later but you need to work first. Go after your passion no matter what your family says or anyone says for that matter. Music, art whatever you want, go for it.

Future Startup

How do you deal with stress that comes with being an entrepreneur?

Didar Islam

Running a company is a stressful affair but you get used to it because everyday something is happening, some new challenges are coming. I have developed perspective, thanks to years of experience. Now when some new challenges come up, I think ‘okay I went through this before’, so this time this is not a big deal.

My wife, who is also from BUET and looks after our Finance and Accounts here, supports me all the time. Sometimes when I lose myself, she helps me to see things from a different perspective.

My mother still gives me a lot of support in making decisions and looking at things.

Sometimes you just need to let it go and take it easy.

The first is that if you are into building anything, either it is business or something else, you have to develop a passion for it because the journey is so demanding that you would give up. Business is like raising a family with lots of good days, bad days, ups and downs. If you are doing business just to make money then there is high chance that you will not survive long.

Future Startup

How do you manage your day, organize and prioritize?

Didar Islam

I’m not a very tidy person. And running a startup is quite a demanding job and you get to do many different things parallelly. Sometimes I let things go. And these days I’m trying to delegate more and allow people to do their job which was a hard thing to do for me before.

As an entrepreneur, the biggest mistake that we often make is engaging ourselves with a lot of work at once. You have to choose not to engage yourself with some work so that you can finish most important works. When the company grows bigger, you have to delegate to people.

I realized recently that micro-managing is not productive. I need to let my people make mistake and learn and do things right.

The biggest challenge of being an entrepreneur is that no one will tell you what to do. You have to figure it out and then execute it which is a really tall order. It is hard to do the both at once. You can either do something or you can think about it.

I try to prioritize my work and pay attention accordingly which is helping me these days to become more efficient.

Running a company is a stressful affair but you get used to it because everyday something is happening, some new challenges are coming. I have developed perspective, thanks to years of experience. Now when some new challenges come up, I think ‘okay I went through this before’, so this time this is not a big deal.

(Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Mohammad Tashnim)

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