Prothom Alo Digital COO Ahteram Uddin On The Future Of Digital Media Business, Leadership, and Learning As A Competitive Advantage

Prothom Alo Digital COO Ahteram Uddin On The Future Of Digital Media Business, Leadership, and Learning As A Competitive Advantage

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Ahteram Uddin is the Chief Operating Officer of Prothom Alo Digital, which is one of the most visited Bangladeshi and Bengali websites in the world. Mr. Uddin is a digital veteran. Prior to joining Prothom Alo, he built and sold his own digital marketing company, worked at some of the prominent media companies and internet companies in the world including Time Internet Group, Anandabazar and Opera Software.

Since his appointment as chief operating officer of Prothom Alo Digital four years ago, Ahteram Uddin has been instrumental in growing Prothom Alo Digital’s advertising business, has built strong relationships with business partners significantly reducing its dependency on third-party networks for ad revenue, grown its international ad business, and built a solid operation to support its growth.

In this wide-ranging interview we talk about: his lesson from 17 years of experience in building and growing digital businesses, the future of digital media business in Bangladesh and what are the opportunities in the space, how democratic nature of the web offers equal opportunity to everyone and also makes it challenging to build a differentiated brand in digital media space, how listening to your customers can give you competitive advantage, why leadership is all about team and being a good team player, why the best of digital is yet to come in this part of the world and how a passion for exploration and continuous learning can help you to stay ahead in the game in this constantly changing world.

This was a much longer interview, so we had to break it up into two parts. This is the second and final part of the interview, you may see the part one here.

Future Startup

You have over 17 years of experience in building companies from scratch and helping brands to grow. What are some lessons you’ve learned from your journey?

Ahteram Uddin

A lot of things have changed since I started. Mobile technology is definitely one of the most significant ones among them. The first time I saw a mobile phone was in the hands of my CEO at Mediaturf. It was an HP Smartphone and I was astonished to see it. Nobody could have ever thought that one day we would be roaming around with telephones that can perform many computer tasks and can even go online.

The lesson here is that in the case of technology, be as agnostic as possible. Don’t get attached to a particular device, medium or platform and be adaptive to changes.

Be open to changes and new things. There will be new technologies. Some will work and others will not. You have to keep at it. Read every day. Learn every day!

Also, and this is especially for digital marketing professionals, you need to always keep yourself updated. After 17 years in this career, I can’t say that I know digital media. I’m a learner every day. I’m learning as I speak.

I’m reading alway. I read about technology, media and advertising, marketing strategy and whatever I find relevant to my work. I follow big brands around the world and try to be aware of what they are doing because no matter where they work sooner or later that will happen in Bangladesh as well.

I strongly believe that Bangladesh holds great potential for digital. What it lacks right now are quality content and different kind of contents that are in Bangla language. I think more and more work needs to be done in Bangla. Because there is no shortage of English content. Bangladeshi audience going to global sites to read English content. But there is a limited supply of quality Bangla content online. I think sooner people will realize this and start working on it. Now that Bangla is supported by most of the ad networks, it has become even easier to monetize.

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Future Startup

What’s your take on the digital media industry in Bangladesh?

Ahteram Uddin

I strongly believe that Bangladesh holds great potential for digital. What it lacks right now are quality content and different kind of contents that are in Bangla language.

I think more and more work needs to be done in Bangla. Because there is no shortage of English content. Bangladeshi audience going to global sites to read English content.

But there is a limited supply of quality Bangla content online. I think sooner people will realize this and start working on it. Now that Bangla is supported by most of the ad networks, it has become even easier to monetize.

And as far as growth is concerned, more and more international brands are looking to connect with Bangladesh.

Digital advertising is growing. The revenue is increasing. The industry is getting bigger every day. Brands are looking at a wider range of Bangla content to support. I’m very optimistic about Bangladeshi digital market. I’m glad that I’m a part of it.

Future Startup

One of the things that we have learned over the years is that it is hard to build brands in digital. It is hard to differentiate meaningfully particularly when you are in content business and your contents are not markedly different. From your experience, what does it take to build a strong digital media brand that people take notice of?

Ahteram Uddin

That’s a difficult question. The fundamental thing for a digital media company to do is to successfully identify its audience and design content according to their nature.

The web is very democratic in nature. Everyone has a fair shot at getting popular. In order to build a successful web brand, you have to keep your ears and eyes open. You have to be open to changes and experiments.

Listen to your customers. Keep listening to what they are saying and adapt to that. Do focus group. Understand your audience and what they are looking for and give them that.

In my previous role at Opera Browsers, I used to love to listen to our audience in our focus groups. That’s what we do at Prothom Alo Digital as well. We listen to our audience. We look at social media, email and all places for customer feedback and insight.

Always keep your eyes and ears open. Be open to criticism. Take it positively, learn and apply that learning at your work. And make better decisions.

Future Startup

What does it take to be an effective leader?

Ahteram Uddin

I can shed some light on it from my experience and perspective. I believe an effective leader must be a team player. S/he needs to think in terms of “us” rather than “me”.

When you cultivate tolerance in your team and try from time to time to put yourself in other’s shoes, you increase acceptability among your teammates.

You can’t ask your people to go and work. You have to work with them as well. I always try to take a problem solver approach.

I tell my people that I’m here to help you and coach you and don’t see me as a boss who is here to dictate everything.

Future Startup

A couple of pieces of advice you would like to give to your 20-year-old self.

Ahteram Uddin

If I had met the young man, I would have told him to believe more in himself. Believe in yourself.

Throughout my academic life, I had been an average student and a lack of self-confidence was the main reason behind it. But through hard-work and sincere effort, today I am here working at one of the most revered brands in Bangladesh. I have built companies and had successful exits. So believe in yourself. That’s what everyone needs – to believe in themselves.

In my opinion, the real education begins outside the college because that’s when you enter the real work.

I remember being somewhat of an Internet-buff during my college days. There was a cyber cafe near the place where I used to live. It used to open up early in the morning and the rush hour began around half past nine.

To beat the rush, I used to get up very early in the morning and go to the cafe to surf the internet. I used to get updated about new technologies as much as I could.

In this hi-tech age of information, I believe everyone needs to do that as well – learn as much as you can. And apply that knowledge to make the world a better place.

Learn as much as you can. Have an open mind. Explore more. Take advantage of the opportunities that you are given.

That’s a difficult question. The fundamental thing for a digital media company to do is to successfully identify its audience and design content according to their nature. The web is very democratic in nature. Everyone has a fair shot at getting popular. In order to build a successful web brand, you have to keep your ears and eyes open. You have to be open to changes and experiments.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are working in the digital space?

Ahteram Uddin

To the “digital” people out there, there are exciting times ahead. If we can tackle challenges such as the shortage of Digital professionals and keep at our business for the next 8-10 years, our efforts will definitely pay off.

I would like to tell people that learn as much as possible. Keep an eye on what’s happening outside and advanced market. My one line advice would be read as much as possible. Be a relentless learner.

Future Startup

What books have you been reading lately?

Ahteram Uddin

I am currently reading Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. In this book the author, Sheryl Sandberg, pens down her personal struggle and how she came out of it.

It’s a great read, especially for people who are going through a tough time. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good read.

Throughout my academic life, I had been an average student and a lack of self-confidence was the main reason behind it. But through hard-work and sincere effort, today I am here working at one of the most revered brands in Bangladesh. I have built companies and had successful exits. So believe in yourself. That’s what everyone needs – to believe in themselves.


Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Rahatil Ashekan

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