RN Tech, eCommerce and Entrepreneurship: An Interview With Joarder Atiqur Rahman, Managing Director, RN Tech Ltd.

RN Tech, eCommerce and Entrepreneurship: An Interview With Joarder Atiqur Rahman, Managing Director, RN Tech Ltd.

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Joarder Atiqur Rahman is the Founder and Managing Director of RN Tech Ltd, a Dhaka-based retailer of mobile accessories and women and children products. Prior to starting RN Tech, Mr. Joarder Atiqur Rahman studied, lived and worked in India and UAE for almost seven years. He returned to Bangladesh in 2010 with an ambition to start and build his own business, a decision that eventually led to the founding of RN Tech Ltd.

In this interview, brought to you by Ajkerdeal, Mr. Rahman reflects on his journey, trials, and tribulations he has had to endure and illustrates how he has built a profitable business at the intersection of offline and online brand from scratch.

Future Startup

Please tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today.

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

After my HSC, I went to India for higher studies. I joined in a university in Tamil Nadu and from there I completed BBA in 2006. Then I moved to UAE where I worked as an executive of an exchange house before joining a government organization as their back office executive. I ended up being the Floor in-charge after working for a while. I did my MBA on the side while working full-time in UAE.

After spending 6 and a half years abroad, I felt an intense urge to return to Bangladesh and explore opportunities here. I wanted to start something of my own in Bangladesh. Finally, in 2010 I returned to Bangladesh and decided to start a business.

I started a business of mobile accessories and tab after returning to Bangladesh. I had a partnership with HTS brand and we were one of the early few companies that started importing and selling tabs in Bangladesh. I ran that business for a few years and learned a lot and then I started RN Tech. I have been in Bangladesh for over 7 years now and it has been about 4 years since I started RN Tech.

Initially, we started with selling tabs in our own brand name which is RN. While tab business started with a great hope that it would replace laptop and become as ubiquitous as mobile, it did not happen. Adaptation to tab staled and in many instances it even decreased, whereas the mobile phone penetration and usage both have increased over the years. Eventually, we moved to mobile accessories, power bank and other utilities of smartphones business seeing a growing opportunity there.

Now we sell a wide variety of products starting from mobile accessories and other tech products to women and children products.

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Future Startup

Why did you choose to do business in this sector?

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

When we came to see that tab effectively failed to compete with mobile phones, we realized that there was no point in competing with the mobile phone companies because of the overall state of our business. Instead, we decided to curve out a niche for us that would help us to take advantage of the unprecedented growth in mobile phone penetration in the country.

I felt that as mobile phone penetration grows, there will be a growing demand for accessories and utilities related to mobile which could offer a good business opportunity. Moreover, people usually change mobile phones at an interval of 3 to 5 years whereas accessories like batteries, charger, headphones, USB cables or even the speakers are needed more frequently. It means that there is a much larger opportunity to build a scalable business on the back of mobile phone industry being its complementary.

For example, a person who uses two mobile phones would need at least six accessories over a year which means, if done right, there is better business to do in mobile accessories space. The market was relatively open and we could start easily.

After a while, we also added children and women products as part of our expansion and diversification effort. While running my accessories business, I came to see that there is a huge market for products for women and children and it was growing. That inspired us to get into these two categories as well.

We have seen a quite fast growth of eCommerce in Bangladesh over the past few years. Since the day, I have opinionated that the medium would go far, we have secured a strong presence on different platforms besides our own platform.

Digital commerce is the future. That’s what we have been seeing over the last few years in different markets in the world. I would say that if everything goes well, e-commerce would replace almost 50% of the brick and mortar shops in the next couple of years.

Furthermore, living in abroad, I have seen the power of convenience shopping. In UAE, you can have almost everything home delivered, it is just one phone call away. People naturally like the convenience and when they have options, they would likely to choose convenience over braving traffic and wasting time and energy. Instead, they would pay 50 TK delivery charge for a 35 TK product. That is why we have opted to start our eCommerce segment.

Future Startup

Please give us an overview of RN Tech.

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

RN means real needs of life. We are a registered company based in Dhaka. We offer a wide variety of products. A significant part of our business comes from mobile accessories and relevant products starting from mobile phone covers to headphones to chargers among others.

We also offer children and women products. We now offer a host of women products including cosmetics, jewelry, clothes among a few others. Our children category is not fully operational yet, our plan is to work on toys and clothes.

We directly import our products from China and it takes around 20 days at maximum to do shipment.
We also have a B2B wholesale operation which is mostly done through e-commerce platforms like ajkerdeal, bagdoom, and a few others.

We also supply to the local shops as retail and wholesale. We have our online shop 24bdmart.com where we allow our customers to shop online and directly from us. For delivery, we use third-party logistics service and sometimes our own.

Team RN Tech - Photo Courtesy RN Tech Ltd

Team RN Tech – Photo Courtesy RN Tech Ltd

Future Startup

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What about the challenges that you are facing now?

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

The first challenge was building a good team. Finding good people is a challenge in Dhaka and if you are a startup, it is an absolute uphill battle. We had to endure that challenge initially. We have managed to overcome that challenge over the years and today we are a team of 21 people, who are adept in their work and responsibilities.

The second challenge was finance. This is a continuous challenge for us. It is more so these days because of the growing competition in the digital space. On the other hand, financing for digital businesses is quite hard to get from formal banking channels and our equity investment ecosystem is not mature enough yet.

The third challenge was the logistics. Logistics is a two-sided challenge for us: on one side logistics continues to be a challenging affair that hampers our effort to ensure proper customer service. On the other hand, many customers also make it difficult for us to deliver on time when they frequently change the delivery address. There are customers who change their location multiple times for a single delivery. Now traffic is a challenge in Dhaka and you can’t go to multiple locations within a day for making a single delivery. This causes challenges for us.
While ecommerce offers immense opportunities, challenges also abound in this space. Fraud is still a challenge, from both ends – there are customers who want to take advantage of the medium and there are sellers who also want to take advantage of customers.

There are customers who take advantage of cash on delivery and often don’t accept product when delivered making the entire process inefficient and expensive for us.

Sometimes, security of the delivery man becomes a challenge. Delivery people face hijacking and similar challenges. There are customers who are involved in this and also there is an overall security issue as well.

Currently, there is a rather unethical price competition in the market. There are vendors who often in the hope of attracting more customers offer lower price of products that can’t be sold below a certain price if you have a small operation and have a team to pay at the end of the month along with the fixed operational costs.

This is a challenge we get to face regularly which we can’t solve ourselves alone and we need regulatory support to deal with these type of challenges.

On a similar note, I would say that if the government can ensure the logistics through post office for which Government has taken initiative, it would dramatically improve the experience and reach for ecommerce players in Dhaka. It would enable people from remote areas to take advantage of online shopping while allowing ecommerce companies to serve a huge customer base.

Now, these unwanted incidents have an impact on the overall ecosystem. We lose trust in even the good ones. This scenario has improved a lot over the past few years and I hope it will become even better as the medium becomes more mainstream and professional.

Human resource, Finance and Logistics were the obstacles, in the early days.
Fraud customers, Unprofessional price competitions and security are obstacles in present time.

Future Startup

How have you attracted customers and grown RN Tech in the early days?

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

This is not only for us but for anyone; I think the strategy is simple, that is to give superior products to the customers and serve them better when they need after sales support. Overall, ensuring a superior customer experience. That’s what we have tried to do over the past few years and it has served us well.

Now we use different marketing channels and mediums to grow our sales, but that’s is mainstream for all. We use Facebook pages and our collaboration with other platforms also help us grow our business.

According to my understanding, market behaves very differently in reality than how we perceive it to behave in an ideal world. This is more accurate for our market as it is still in its growth phase . Ours is a unique market with its unique characteristics as well as volatile customers. It often does not work if you follow the conventional wisdom. You have to think outside of the box and learn everyday just to keep pace with the market.

Future Startup

eCommerce is a competitive space. There are other brands that probably sell similar products like yours. How do you differentiate yourself from others?

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

That’s true; eCommerce is a quite competitive business. The entry barrier to online business is relatively low if you want to start a small operation which makes it even more competitive.

Many newly launched small seller sometimes undercut price in order to capture the market without understanding the reality that low price often does not buy you loyalty. This practice often poses threat to our business.

There are not much we can do to differentiate ourselves in product end because we are not the manufacturers. What we always do is that we work hard to ensure that we are offering the best product available to our customers at the best possible price. And then after making the sales, we try to provide the best customer service.

One of our strategic priorities is building a lasting relationship with our customers. That’s you can call our primary moat.

I think the strategy is simple, that is to give superior products to the customers and serve them better when they need after sales support.

Team RN Tech
Photo Courtesy – RN Tech Ltd.

Future Startup

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

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

The best form of education you can get is by doing things. Formal education does help, but we come to learn the intricacies of things when doing it in practice.

Building a loyal customer base is the best moat you can build your business. Now, how do you make a customer loyal? By offering best possible products and services. It is easier and less expensive to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one. When you have a recurring customer base who buy from you on a daily basis, your chances of building a successful business increases.

Honesty continues to be the best policy even these days. Be honest and work hard. Hard work rarely fails and it is the wisdom you will get coming at my age.

We should not harm others and should not look for unethical ways to make things difficult for your competitors. There is a price to pay for our every good and bad action.

Loyal Customer is the most useful strength you will get. Honesty should be your daily practice.

Future Startup

What are the future plans for RN Tech?

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

In the short term, improving the health of our online business is a priority. The ambition is to make it as stable as our offline operation. We see our online operation as something independent of our offline operation serving a different segment of customers, getting there is a priority going forward.

We are working on a plan to launch a hypermarket in Dhaka where you can find and buy almost anything starting from grocery till gold earrings. We want to do it both offline and online. My dream is to make something like ‘Lulu Hypermarket’ in UAE where you can find almost everything that you may need.

Future Startup

If you had the opportunity to start over, what would you do differently?

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

First, I would start with better preparation and understanding of the business. Probably, I would start a small shop first or work for a few years in a similar business to develop a deeper understanding of things.

Being a first-time entrepreneur, I made a lot of mistakes, many of which I think I could have avoided if I had started with more understanding of things. There is nothing better than having a real-life experience of doing business. Having a business degree is good and I believe academic knowledge is like GPS, it would help you at times to find the way but still, you have to know how to drive the car.

Secondly, I would try to get to break-even as early as possible. I would start with better financial planning and backup. Almost every business operates in a realm of uncertainty. There are forces that you can’t essentially control, hence you need to respond at times outside of your original plan. With backups and variation plans, I could have greater flexibility and agility to act in that situation.

Thirdly, I would diversify quickly in order to accelerate the growth. I decided to diversify in recent times with my products and I would amend it if I could get the chance again.

Better Preparation, Back-up Financial Planning and Strategic Diversification – are the things that I regret not doing in the early days.

Future Startup

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

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

We have been working with Ajkerdeal for over 3 years now and I would say that it has been a good experience doing business with them.

One challenge, however, that we often get to endure is when Ajkerdeal changes their Relationship Manager. It affects our business with them. This is an industry-wide problem.

There should be a proper procedure for changing relationship managers and merchants should get properly informed about it.

The exiting manager should train the newbie on how to deal with particular merchants. It seems, sometimes they do not do that and thus the newbie treats everyone on the same scale whereas it should not be the case at all. It hurts both our business as well as our feelings.

As I said, the experience with ajkerdeal has been good overall. But then again, I think there are rooms for improvement particularly in communication, particularly, RMs need to be more communicative with merchants.
We have seen a steady growth in our sales from Ajkerdeal, it sometimes reaches almost 60% of our total online sales.

Future Startup

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

Joarder Atiqur Rahman

eCommerce is just getting started in Bangladesh, there is a huge opportunity there to build meaningful businesses. If you are not aiming to build a platform, you can start an online business with relatively small capital. The only things that matter are hard work, sincerity, and dedication. This is not only for ecommerce business, it applies to every endeavor you pursue in life.

Secondly, this may sound cliche, be honest no matter what. There are still a lot of people who buy products from us on credit and never clear their dues. And they eventually go out of business after 6 months. Similarly, I have seen people sending ‘Soil’ in the exact same weight of an iPhone packing it in the iPhone packet to customers in distant places, an utterly disgusting thing to do as a human being. These actions have consequences. The merchant does suffer, at the same time, the entire ecosystem suffers from a crisis of trust as well.

Now, think about it, if he had given a good product and good service, he could have made more profit from that one customer over a period of a year or so. Unfortunately, we always look for shortcuts to make some quick bucks and it does not sustain, it never does.

We think that we could get away with doing wrong things and there would not be any repercussions of our actions. That it does not matter if it screws other online sellers. But there is a thing called karma – whatever we give, comes back to us.

Keep in mind – Hardwork, Sincerity, Dedication, Honesty and Karma

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