How Restaurant Discovery Startup Harriken Is Going Beyond Discovery With Adeeb Shams, Founder and CEO, Harriken

How Restaurant Discovery Startup Harriken Is Going Beyond Discovery With Adeeb Shams, Founder and CEO, Harriken

Flight Expert Credit banner

 

Harriken Founder and CEO Adeeb Shams talks about the his entrepreneurial journey, the beginning of Harriken, how he built initial operation of Harriken, how Harriken operates as a technology platform as well as a company, the state of Harriken’s business today and its ambition going forward, how Harriken is growing its users, the challenging of entrepreneurship, explains what we can learn from Harriken and his journey, why people often underestimate the amount of hard work and grit it takes to build a startup and how to prepare yourself for an entrepreneurial journey.

Enjoy the conversation!

Future Startup

What is your background? Could you please tell us about your journey to what you are doing?

Adeeb Shams

I spent my early childhood in Kuala Lumpur, and then in Dhaka. I was fortunate to have been with my grandparents. I attended South Breeze School here before going to the US for my undergrad.

Our family has a rich history of public service. After spending decades in civil service, my father ended his career with Grameen Bank, where he helped reform much of the Bank’s overall operations, as well a pivotal role in forming institutions, including Grameenphone and Grameen Telecom. Both my grandfathers too were in public service.

Although no one in my family was into business and entrepreneurship, it was perhaps the inclination to public service that inspired me into this line of work. While I studied abroad, I always wanted to come back to Bangladesh and do something here. Although I didn’t know what I would do, I wanted to return to the country although I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. I tell people that it’s okay to be undecided. The pressure of doing things that you feel you have to do always exists, but at the end of the day, it depends on what you want to do. Finding what you enjoy doing regardless of the pressure often gives you a sense of fulfillment that you cannot find elsewhere.

I did my undergrad at a liberal arts college in Ohio. I came back and had a few interesting experiences. I started off at CellBazaar, where I was there during when CellBazaar launched its journey and I spent there 3 months. Then I went off to Citibank, N.A. as a Management Associate, which was the dream job for any fresh graduate. I was there for 2 years; during which my resume was sent off to Hong Kong from HR. I quit the next day. I did a lot of things that would not make sense to many people but I did it anyway.

Soon after I joined another startup called Asian Tiger Capital Partners, which was positioning itself as a first-of-its-kind VC firm in Bangladesh, with equity research, private equity, the works. AT Capital started promisingly. We had a strong team from top schools in the country and abroad. We were very gung-ho in our hopes to do something. That’s when the 2008 global recession happened, as raising funds became increasingly difficult. It was then that it first struck me that for an idea to bear fruit, appropriate execution is needed as well, as there is a lot of luck involved in the process.

After AT Capital, I joined BRAC Bank where I worked for almost 4.5 years. I worked hard at the bank, and had the opportunity of working on many critical projects. I was in the structured finance team, as handling certain relationships with key top-tier corporate clients.

After working for a while at the bank, I hit a wall. I thought that there has to be more to life than what I was doing at that point in time, which is when I decided to go to business school in Fall 2013. I was fortunate enough that people were giving me good direction at that time. It might have been impossible to find the drive to study without their support.

When you apply to business schools, they ask you what you want to do, what’s your short-term plan, long-term plan and so on and so forth. It’s not about your answer; it’s about how you think. These things probably aren’t needed when studying in undergrad. However, at a critical junction, you have to know what you’re doing and why and how this experience is going to help you.

There are so many tools now; when Wikipedia came out in the early 2000s, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. And now there are so many far more resourceful tools that you can use. There’s no limit to learning now. I am self-taught to an extent; not because I’m smart but because I had to learn certain things having been left with no option otherwise.

The business school experience, being among so many bright and competitive people, and surviving in such a competitive environment, helped shape my outlook towards life.

I thought about the idea of Harriken while applying there. I didn’t want to return to banking with an MBA. I started following a few companies and some of the startups abroad like Zomato. I took a few entrepreneurial and marketing classes in business school, in order to leverage the teachings into my idea.

During the summer of 2014, when everyone was doing their internships back at business school, I came to Bangladesh to get the company registered with the RJSC after which I went back to complete my MBA.

A Message From Flight Expert

Flight Expert banner
It’s all about your journey!
Flight Expert is Bangladesh’s first online travel agency (OTA). Our goal is to unlock all the facilities of the online travel agency (OTA) so that you, our customers, can easily book flights or hotels online from anywhere without leaving the comfort of your home or office. We believe when our customers win, we win. Hence, putting your needs first is our business. Every day we work hard, seek new ideas and new ways of doing things to make sure that you experience the best trip of your life. You can learn more about us and avail our service here.

Future Startup

What went into building the initial operation of Harriken?

Adeeb Shams

I used to be completely illiterate when it came to tech

After my MBA, I returned in the summer of 2015 and was fortunate enough to secure some funding from Bangla Trac Group which has helped us to start our journey. We got immense support from our sponsors, Bangla Trac Group, from technology to recruitment, to funding. We were given the freedom to grow, and to explore. The importance of this cannot be discounted for a startup.

Very simply, for us, it made all the difference in the world. This would be an important takeaway for budding entrepreneurs.

It’s always great to raise Series A funding, get a $100MM valuation, etc. Obviously, that is the dream. However, it is key to find people who truly believe in you and believe in the idea you’re bringing to the table.

Besides all the sexy stuff, for a day-to-day operation to exist with someone else’s funding contributions, their acceptance of you is critical, and it gives you the confidence to grow as well.

That’s what Bangla Trac Group did for me. Institutional support is necessary. And now here we are.

Future Startup

How much has the company evolved over the past few years?

Adeeb Shams

One of the major change I would say in terms of strategy is the launch of our website. We started with a mobile/app-first strategy. When we launched, we did not have a website. It was a deliberate decision. We thought, since mobile penetration and usage is higher than desktop or other devices, it should be the right strategy to start with. Certain people had said that it was a bold move, in the context of Bangladesh.

11 months into our start, we launched our Web version as we came to realize that there is still a large number of people who would use a web version.

One of the challenges we regularly face is keeping restaurant information up to date. We used to do it mostly manually when we started. Over the time, we have added new features that allow our customers to contribute to the process. Restaurant partners have always been given the opportunity to update their own profiles. We also overhauled our entire backend and made a new set-up which was much more scalable.

Since we launched our website, we have been seeing a consistent growth of 15%-20% per month.

Future Startup

Why did you take a mobile first approach?

Adeeb Shams

I already spoke about mobile phone penetration and other issues. Apart from that, the user experience is better on mobile. We might have jumped a few steps forward and but it was how I saw it based on my experience abroad, where it is app-first and very central to everything.

With the advent of Uber and Pathao, the app culture might have seeped into ours and have started to understand these services better.

Future Startup

What are the services you offer currently at Harriken?

Adeeb Shams

Apart from restaurant discovery, we have launched Harriken Deals to increase the app usage. We have a product called Harriken Enterprise for restaurants which comes with a lot of added benefits including managing their own Harriken profile, priority placements for the restaurants on our platforms and many more.

The review is another important aspect of our service. Our users can review their dining experience as they visit restaurants. We have developed a system to ensure the authenticity of these reviews. This paves a way for restaurant owners to measure themselves. For the users, we provide them with a platform to voice their thoughts. We want to create a platform for honest, unhindered reviews. It’s a long way to that objective probably, but we’re getting there.

Our search engine is very intuitive, as a user can search by a restaurant’s name, location, cuisine and type. The nearest restaurants are always listed first and users can then filter by price point.

We are relentlessly working on offering new products and services to both our restaurant partners and the users. We have a long way to go but we are well on the way.

Future Startup

Do you offer table booking?

Adeeb Shams

In order to table booking service to work, a restaurant needs to be overbooked. In our local context, the only such time this could work is perhaps during Ramadan. Then there are other challenges related to time. For instance, the time has to be maintained which means a customer has to finish eating or meeting for another customer to come in and sit which is a little tricky in our cultural setting because we often don’t maintain set times when we enter a restaurant.

Our back-end is ready to take this service. However, as I mentioned, there are multiple challenges. Hence we are waiting for the right time. We had done this once last year and much of these concerns were validated then.

In the beginning, it (entrepreneurship) is easy to get frustrated because we start with a lot of enthusiasm and we expect the quick results, and when we don’t see the results, it is often to get bogged down. If you really want something, you have to stick to it. Good businesses are built over a period of time.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us about how the platform works in terms of collecting and updating information?

Adeeb Shams

We collect data and update it ourselves through a robust system that we have built over time. The restaurants also have an Enterprise CMS through which they can upload and update their information. We are continuously working on functionality enhancements and various collaborations to encourage our restaurant partners to use our platform.

We have introduced Harriken Deals which is basically a platform where we offer various deals by working together with restaurants and other interested parties.

Future Startup

As you mentioned, the information presented to the customers are not regularly updated by the restaurants. How do you ensure that information are always updated? Have you thought about automating the process or is there any way to automate it?

Adeeb Shams

Say, for example, you have a restaurant and you decide to change your menu. How would we know that? It can be done in two ways: You either let us know or we follow up. We have built relationships with some partners who update and for some, we follow up and collect the information and make the changes.

We have a feature in our app called “report an error”. Once you download the app and check out a few restaurants, if you notice a mistake somewhere, you can report it by suggesting an edit. Then we look into it. That’s one of the basic ways of updating. You may call this an automation in the sense that if our users feed us with information it would be way more efficient for us to handle the challenge because we could do only so much by ourselves.

It’s never going to be 100% perfect. The goal is to keep it to a minimum. And touch wood, our data integrity is now far better than what it was and we only expect to get better over time.

Future Startup

How many restaurants do you have on your platform? How does your business model work?

Adeeb Shams

We have currently over 4,000 restaurants profiled on our platform making us the largest restaurant database in Dhaka, more than that on both Google and Facebook While the number is growing, it is also a challenge for us to make sure that information about all the restaurants on our platforms is up to date.

Business-model wise, we have a few ways that we plan to explore in terms of generating revenue. However, we are not there yet. We have the sense of urgency to get there and we are working on it.

We are pushing a few projects. We are hopeful. We are also looking to integrate payment gateways. If the payment can be integrated with the app, it will reach new heights in its development. With the added services of restaurant discovery, menu selection and later via accepting payments, our entire journey will be fulfilled and we shall hopefully create the value that we envisioned.

Future Startup

How far along are you on this route?

Adeeb Shams

It’s difficult to answer that. We are making progress. There are many positive outcomes; after we get over the first hurdle, we can gain further traction in this route. The first few obstacles are always hard; after you get over them, you reach a certain height.

Currently, a good number of restaurants know us. Now it’s about fine-tuning what we are offering. We have good relationships with the restaurants now.

Future Startup

What are the challenges for you now?

Adeeb Shams

We are not too worried about other deal sites coming up. Maybe some are even inspired by us. However, we have already crossed the tumultuous time of a startup that those sites might not be going through. Our challenges and concerns are bigger now. We want to bring out a change in consumer behavior, which cannot be achieved overnight, so we are working towards that. We have small offerings right now, like Harriken Orders. It lacks the payment gateway; we have gift cards, promo codes etc. ready. Once the journey towards it is complete, a lot of things will fall into place.

We’re profiling 4,000 restaurants, available on our app, which is more than Facebook and Google. We are the largest Dhaka-focused restaurant database.

There will be challenges. But we have to stick to it and carry on.

As a start-up, credibility is an issue. Particularly when people use Facebook on an unfathomable level, where they are reluctant to go outside of it to any other platform. Indirectly they are a competitor. On the other hand, the unwillingness of breaking the status quo from the customer’s side is an issue. The willingness to try something out needs to increase; it’s an issue that nobody wants to be the first.

Future Startup

How big is your team now?

Adeeb Shams

Our team consists of 12 full-time people. And 6 part-timers.

Future Startup

How do you think about competition? There are a few players in the food space such as HungryNaki, Foodpanda and then ride-hailing companies are also getting into the space.

Adeeb Shams

Their “call to action” would be online ordering. That’s not our core focus. I credit them for integrating the Internet with food. They have done a commendable job; especially Hungrynaki, being a home-grown initiative.

For us, we are primarily a discovery platform where we facilitate our restaurant partners to grow their business by helping them to reach out to more people while also helping customers to discover great places to eat.

Future Startup

Do you want to go beyond restaurant discovery?

Adeeb Shams

The name Harriken was kept open-ended for a reason. Yes, we would ideally like to go beyond food discovery. In fact, we will have to over the time. We want to explore a lot many things but for that to happen, we have to first establish what we are trying to right now.

People often underestimate the amount of hard work and grit it takes to build a startup and to establish an idea that you believe in.

Future Startup

What are the plans for 2018?

Adeeb Shams

Payment integration is a priority for us which we believe could allow us to do a host of other stuff as well as provide better support to our customers.

The other priority is growing users on our App. We are doing a lot of app only things now and we plan to do more as we go. These are basically two major areas where we want to focus going forward.

Future Startup

What are the things you are doing to grow?

Adeeb Shams

We are paying a lot of attention to retention. We have built good awareness over the past months, we now want to retain users who come to our platforms.

The other aspect of upgrading our relationship with our users. Our engagement currently with our users seldom go beyond discovery and discounts, we want to build a more substantial relationship with our users.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Adeeb Shams

People often underestimate the amount of hard work and grit it takes to build a startup and to establish an idea that you believe in.

In the beginning, it (entrepreneurship) is easy to get frustrated because we start with a lot of enthusiasm and we expect the quick results, and when we don’t see the results, it is often to get bogged down. If you really want something, you have to stick to it. Good businesses are built over a period of time.

Future Startup

Any tips for founders from your experience?

Adeeb Shams

#NeverGiveUp. Be curious. Explore the world around you and never stop learning and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Know that people will have an opinion about you and your work. And all of these people would not be kind. Learn to filter out the junk from these opinions and deal with them accordingly. Look out for constructive feedback even when they can be hard to accept.

Find mentors from whom you can genuinely benefit from. A good mentor can save you multiple years of work.

There will be challenges everywhere. Every problem is unique; certain problems don’t even have a fix. Instead of balking at the face of a challenge, brace it. As long as you keep at something, you will find a way.

Invest in building lasting relationships. It is often hard to overestimate the value of your network.

Future Startup

Any last word? And where people can go to learn more about Harriken?

Adeeb Shams

I would additionally like to mention that many people have invested their time, effort, money, and patience in me. Their belief in me has made all the difference, because it triggered confidence in myself. Even criticism from these well-wishers was important to me, as I know it was made with the best of intentions. I’m grateful for their support and would like to pay it forward at some point. Finally, thank you Future Startup for the feature.

You can go to www.harriken.com to learn more about us, and download our mobile app, by visiting go.harriken.com/app, available on both Google Play and the App Store.

Know that people will have an opinion about you and your work. And all of these people would not be kind. Learn to filter out the junk from these opinions and deal with them accordingly. Look out for constructive feedback even when they can be hard to accept.

Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Shabiba Benta Habib

We Recommend

Type to Search

See all results
Shares
No Subscription? You are Missing Out!

No Subscription? You are Missing Out!

Join the tech and business leaders of Bangladesh who rely on Future Startup’s original reporting and in-depth analysis on business and tech industry of the country. 

Please Confirm Your Email Address By Clicking The Link We Sent To Your Inbox.