Story Of FRNDz Lifestyle: One Founder’s Journey From Humble Beginning To Building A Profitable Online Fashion Business In Dhaka

Story Of FRNDz Lifestyle: One Founder’s Journey From Humble Beginning To Building A Profitable Online Fashion Business In Dhaka

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Mehedi Hasan, Founder and CEO of Frndz Lifestyle, has a BBA and an MBA from North South University (NSU) and Dhaka University (DU) respectively. After completing his BBA from NSU he worked for a year at a company while pursuing his MBA from DU in the evening.

This was 2014 and online business was a relatively new thing in the town. But Hasan realized that the way technology was taking over many industries across the world, it would not take much time online businesses go big in Bangladesh.

Hasan, along with two of his friends, opened a Facebook page in 2014 sitting in the lobby of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall of Dhaka University and officially launched their business.

After that, the journey was not easy. A couple of months into business, his two partners decided not to continue. His family was not convinced that after having business degrees from two of the top universities in the country why one would pursue an uncertain career. Withstanding much of these challenges with courage and patience, Hasan has come a long way.

In this interview, brought to you by Ajkerdeal.com, Hasan shares his journey to what he is doing today, explains why he started Frndz Lifestyle and how he built it into a profitable business and trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship and his ambition for the company going forward.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your background and how did Frndz Lifestyle come into being?

Mehedi Hasan

I studied Finance and Accounting at North South University. After completing my BBA in 2012, I worked for a company for a year while doing my MBA in Marketing at Dhaka University in the evening.

That’s when I first thought of trying something on my own which eventually led to the founding of Frndz Lifestyle. This was the early days of online business but the sector was already showing the sign of a bright future. We, I and two of my friends, decided to explore the opportunities in the space. We were doing our MBA at Dhaka University together.

We created our official facebook page sitting in the lobby of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall, Dhaka University in 2014. That’s how it started.

Our spelling is a bit different because speaking in short form was a major trend at that time. Since our target audience was mostly young people we wanted to show that we are one of them by following their trend.

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there will be many ups and downs in business and in life as well. You will have to struggle and go through hard times. There will be sufferings. And it will take a long time to build a sustainable business. If you are truly into building a business, do not surrender or give up and fight until the end to see your dream come true.

Future Startup

What was your motivation behind starting Frndz Lifestyle?

Mehedi Hasan

We are the generation that saw VCR, Floppy Disk, CD, DVD and then the internet. We have seen the transformational power of internet from the very beginning.

We wanted to do something that would be able to withstand the fast-changing nature of the world. We realized that technology is going to change commerce and everything in our lives and we wanted to ride on it.

My father had a traditional B2B business where I used to help him occasionally. While working with my father, I came to use Alibaba.com and other international sites which made me even more interested in online business.

Moreover, I used to work on oDesk (now Up Work) back in 2010 as a freelancer where I worked with online businesses from abroad. Through all of these exposures, I came to know the potential of online business which motivated me to try my own thing.

Over the past years, our business has experienced consistent growth. We have also been able to build a community of regular customers. This loyal group of customers is what makes our business sustainable.

Future Startup

What went into building initial operation of Frndz Lifestyle?

Mehedi Hasan

Initially, three of us agreed to start the business with BDT 20,000 contribution each but one of the partners decided not to continue, so we were two. We invested an equal amount of money each, BDT 20, 000, and our total capital was BDT 40,000. That’s how we started.

However, after working for a while, my partner became very busy with his job and decided to withdraw his investment from the business which made me the sole owner of Frndz Lifestyle.

We started with selling export quality Polo T-Shirts. We had contracts with a few garments and buying houses who used to supply us high-quality products at a good price.

In 2014, the market was not like what it is today. I still remember my first order. Dummy or other tools to take pictures of your products were not a commonplace thing at that time.

The first few product photos that I uploaded to my Facebook page was taken by my mobile phone putting the T-shirt on the floor. I took the photo and uploaded to Facebook with some minor details. After a couple of days, I received around 10 orders. That was it and that’s how everything started rolling.

Over the past few years, the market has evolved a lot. Today if you post the same product photos that I posted in 2014 no one would even ask you a question.

Future Startup

Please give us an overview of Frndz Lifestyle in terms of products you offer, size of your operations, and team etc.

Mehedi Hasan

We are a fashion lifestyle platform offering products around clothing and ornaments. While we offer a wide range of products, we try to make sure that our products are of best quality in the market.

Before offering a product, we first ask ourselves whether we would buy that product if the answer is positive for ourselves only then we offer it to our customers.

Currently, we offer fashion products for men and women. We sell saree, three pieces for women and Jeans, shirts and pants for men. We are currently in conversation with a Korean brand for jewelry and we hope to start offering high-quality jewelry in the near future.

Over the past years, our business has experienced consistent growth. We have also been able to build a community of regular customers. This loyal group of customers is what makes our business sustainable. In fact, many of our customers come to us with the recommendation of products they have seen elsewhere and ask us to offer it for them which shows the trust they put on us.

We are currently a team of 5 people. We have third-party logistics partner who takes care of our delivery.

We have partner manufacturers who make products for us according to our designs and we also source readymade products.

Logistics remain a major challenge for us when it comes to the delivering our products outside Dhaka. If we could have a reliable logistics mechanism outside Dhaka, the ecommerce industry would have grown manifold. The ICT division has done some interesting projects with the Post Offices but more needs to be done.

Apart from Dhaka city, we are delivering products to 120 points across the country. On an average, 60% of our sales come from inside Dhaka and 40% from outside Dhaka.

By the time I reached my client in Malibag from Kakrail, I was completely drenched in water. I managed to sell 7 sarees out of 10 on the spot at that office. On the next day, I got two more orders from them. It taught me an important lesson that if you keep your commitment and work hard, it will certainly pay off.

Frndz Lifestyle - Photo Courtesy Frndz

Frndz Lifestyle – Photo Courtesy Frndz

Future Startup

What were the major challenges you faced in the early days?

Mehedi Hasan

Initially, one of the major challenges for us was finding the right logistics partner. We were a relatively small operation and new in this space. So we did not have much idea about what to do and how to go about it. It took us a while to find a reliable logistics partner.

I still remember one incident from those early days. On a rainy day just before the Eid vacation, I was in Kakrail area at the S.A paribahan to post a product outside Dhaka. I was also carrying 10 Indian sarees in a bag for a customer in Malibag who wanted to see the product before ordering. It was raining cats and dogs. The street was clogged with knee height water. I was carrying two bags one in my hand and another on the shoulder and barely holding an umbrella.

By the time I reached my client in Malibag from Kakrail, I was completely drenched in water. I managed to sell 7 sarees out of 10 on the spot at that office. On the next day, I got two more orders from them. It taught me an important lesson that if you keep your commitment and work hard, it will certainly pay off.

Digital marketing was another challenge for us in the early days. Everyone now knows how to run Facebook campaigns and all that, but back in 2014, it was hard to find people with a proper understanding of the digital space. We also did not have much idea about how to display products, how to use product description etc. Overall, communication was a challenge for us in the early days.

Initially, my family was not happy about my decision at all. Naturally, they expected that after graduating from NSU, I would get a decent job and pursue a stable career. It was a constant source of distress for me for the first couple of months of my journey. Moreover, in 2014 most people did not understand online business.

Having said that, my father used to offer me respite and inspiration. He is a businessman and has been a constant support throughout my journey. He asked me in the early days that if I am serious about it, I should be persistent and work hard. Otherwise, I should not waste my time. He believed in me which gave me the courage to continue.

In all these challenges, I had an advantage in sourcing. Some of my friends at that time was involved with buying houses in Dhaka who helped me to get quality products. In some cases, I had to pay a little higher price as I was not aware of the market and options but I usually got quality products.

Initially, my family was not happy about my decision at all. Naturally, they expected that after graduating from NSU, I would get a decent job and pursue a stable career. It was a constant source of distress for me for the first couple of months of my journey. Moreover, in 2014 most people did not understand online business. Having said that, my father used to offer me respite and inspiration. He is a businessman and has been a constant support throughout my journey.

Future Startup

What are the challenges now?

Mehedi Hasan

We have been in this business for three years now. We are a stable business and growing consistently. However, we feel that we need to scale up further.

Having said that, achieving scale is not an easy thing. We identified two challenges, one is finance and another is advice and guidance.

We have already approached Mr. Dr. Belayet Hossain of Marketing Department of Dhaka University, who is a teacher of mine, to take on an advisory role. He has been a constant support for me for a long time. His addition, we hope, will allow us to streamline our operations further.

For the financing part, we are in talks with a couple interested people and I am hopeful about the progress.

Future Startup

How big is your operation in terms of revenue and other aspects?

Mehedi Hasan

We generate a couple of millions taka in revenue per year, from both offline and online. Our online business contributes around 60% of this revenue and rest comes from our offline operation.

Our offline operation is more wholesale in nature. We have some loyal customers who regularly take products from us. People usually call us or come to us directly when they need products.

Distribution-wise, among our products, saree is our crown jewel with most of the revenue coming from it. Frndz Lifestyle is the first company to introduce Katan saree online and we alone organized a Katan Nights with Ajkerdeal. We have a strong position in Katan saree category in the market.

We take customer satisfaction very seriously. Customer retention is the most important metric for the sustainable growth of any business. A satisfied customer not only give you more business, he or she refers you to others. We work hard to make sure that we offer best possible service to our customers.

Future Startup

How have you attracted customers and grown your business?

Mehedi Hasan

We have been using Facebook to reach more customers. We regularly launch new offers and discounts which help us to attract new customers. Apart from these, we are present in a couple of platforms such Ajkerdeal.com that offer us growth.

We have also created some hubs or points of sale for our products in the city from where customers can buy our products. They can also buy from our office cum store at Taltola Market, Khilgaon. We have also a website from where people can order our products.

On top of that, if a potential customer wants to compare multiple products and then buy from us then we send our own people to their address with products.

We take customer satisfaction very seriously. Customer retention is the most important metric for the sustainable growth of any business. A satisfied customer not only give you more business, he or she refers you to others. We work hard to make sure that we offer best possible service to our customers.

On the promotion side, we plan to use Google Display Network (GDN) in the near future.

The early days were really tough. There were endless sleepless nights. There were times when I felt like I’m climbing a mountain without an end in sight. Things have improved a lot over the years. Today, I believe that if I am applying the right methods and tools, I can deal with any challenge.

Future Startup

How do you deal with challenges that come with being an entrepreneur?

Mehedi Hasan

In the last three years of doing business, I have always considered that every problem has a solution.

I am an eternal optimist. Every time, I am faced with an obstacle, I try to find a way around it. I try to identify the source of the challenge and then address it.

The early days were really tough. There were endless sleepless nights. There were times when I felt like I’m climbing a mountain without an end in sight. Things have improved a lot over the years.

Today, I believe that if I am applying the right methods and tools, I can deal with any challenge.

Future Startup

Fashion is a competitive space business and there is no shortage of competition. How do you differentiate yourself from the other fashion brands in the market?

Mehedi Hasan

The first differentiation point is our obsession with quality. We make sure that all of our products are of highest quality. When we offer a product, we make sure that it looks good, it is comfortable to wear and it meets the demand of our customer.

If you don’t offer value, customers would never come back to you. This is the reality of every business and we understand that. Rather than offering mere design variations, we focus on offering better quality products. We have a host of B2B clients who buy from us because of our quality.

The sourcing a big deal in fashion. We are meticulous about our sourcing. We have a sourcing partner in Surat, India who bring the best quality Katan saree for us.

Future Startup

What are some of the biggest lessons from your journey so far?

Mehedi Hasan

To quote Founder of Bdjobs.com, Mr. Fahim Mashroor, “most businesses are not a 100-meter sprint, they are a marathon. You have to start with a long-term plan in mind.”

Building a business requires sweat, pain, and tear. You have to give everything that you have got and that too for a long time. There will be disasters, there will be storms and then after going through all these sufferings, there will be the success. You have to persist through all of it. That is my biggest lesson.

Future Startup

What are the future plans for Frndz Lifestyle?

Mehedi Hasan

The first plan is to create display shops in the major divisional cities so that we can build reliable relationships with our customers. No matter how hard we try, the trust and reliability issue with e-commerce business and brick and mortar business still remain at large. With a display shop, the customers can come, see and touch the products they need.

Product-wise, we are planning to add ornaments to our product line. As I mentioned earlier, we are in talks with some Korean exporters and hope to get somewhere in the near future. Previously, we worked with Chinese exporters on ornaments. However, this time we want to start in a better way.

Building a business requires sweat, pain, and tear. You have to give everything that you have got and that too for a long time. There will be disasters, there will be storms and then after going through all these sufferings, there will be the success. You have to persist through all of it. That is my biggest lesson.

Future Startup

If you could start all over again, what are a few things that you would do differently?

Mehedi Hasan

I would invest more in marketing from day one. In 2014, when we started we did not take marketing seriously, but now I realize that we could have done a lot better if we had invested more in marketing and communication.

I was afraid of spending money on marketing and branding thinking that it would increase our expense and I myself was not sure about many things and I had to understand things by doing. Now I know if you don’t invest in communication your business would not grow much.

I would do more rigorous research on my product to understand it better so that I could make better decisions. I would have invested more time in understanding which of my products are my cash cows, which are my stars, dog or question mark. It took me a while to understand my products and work accordingly.

I would create more opportunities for others. Giving often brings immense pleasure.

I would maintain a close relationship with my customers, particularly early ones and try to satisfy them in every possible way. Early customers are special for every business and they also feel a certain kind of attachment to the business their first consciously buy from.

The promotional cost on Facebook has gone over the roof in the past few years. The reach per dollar has fallen drastically and competition has grown. I still remember that in 2015, with $1 you could reach 12,000 people and today, it is hard to reach 1000 people with $1. That’s how the market has changed over the past two years. I would take more risk and do things faster with more urgency. Now is the best time to do whatever you intend to do.

Frndz Lifestyle - Ajkerdeal shop (Screenshot on November 25)

Frndz Lifestyle – Ajkerdeal shop (Screenshot on November 25)

Future Startup

How long have you been working with Ajkerdeal.com? How has your experience been with Ajkerdeal?

Mehedi Hasan

I am working with Ajkerdeal for almost 4 years now. I have been with them from the very beginning when their office was just a room beside Bdjobs Training Room and delivery section in Shukrabad area. In fact, I am one of their oldest merchants. It really feels good to see how far Ajkerdeal.com has come over the past few years.

From a business perspective, my journey with ajkerdeal has been delightful. I personally know Mr. Fahim Mashroor, founder of Ajkerdeal.com who is a wonderful person and has a great story of building an internet business from scratch. I have also endured a lot as an entrepreneur in my short journey over the last few years.

The best feature of Ajkerdeal is their merchant panel. It offers a complete overview of your business and allows you to maintain a relationship with your customers. They also continuously help merchants to grow.

The promotional cost on Facebook has gone over the roof in the past few years. The reach per dollar has fallen drastically and competition has grown. I still remember that in 2015, with $1 you could reach 12,000 people and today, it is hard to reach 1000 people with $1. That’s how the market has changed over the past two years. I would take more risk and do things faster with more urgency. Now is the best time to do whatever you intend to do.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Mehedi Hasan

Do proper research, understand your product and market and then start. Time has changed, the market has become more competitive, now you can not sell a single order by taking a mobile photography and uploading it online. You better start with proper preparation.

Secondly, understand and plan the complete supply chain for your business. Where you want to source from, where you want to store, where you want to produce and from where you want to deliver and how would they do it – all of these has to be planned and the entrepreneur should have a deep understanding about the nitty-gritty of these issues.

Maintain your commitment. Never take an order that you would not be able to deliver on time. Many early-stage founders take orders without knowing their capacity, and at the end fail to deliver. When a customer has a bad experience with you, they would not usually come to you a second time.

Finally and most importantly, there will be many ups and downs in business and in life as well. You will have to struggle and go through hard times. There will be sufferings. And it will take a long time to build a sustainable business. If you are truly into building a business, do not surrender or give up and fight until the end to see your dream come true.

Maintain your commitment. Never take an order that you would not be able to deliver on time. Many early-stage founders take orders without knowing their capacity, and at the end fail to deliver. When a customer has a bad experience with you, they would not usually come to you second time.

(Interview by Mohammad Tashnim, Edited by Ruhul Kader)

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