Shohoz is one of the highest valued and most important startups in Dhaka. Before founding Shohoz, Shohoz Founder and Managing Director, Maliha M Quadir worked at some of the top institutions, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered, Nokia, and Vistaprint. Toward the end of 2013, she decided that she is finally ready to pursue her lifelong dream. Starting her own tech company in Bangladesh. She left her job, raised a few million in seed investment and moved back to Bangladesh. Shohoz was born in 2014. A platform where you could buy tickets – bus, events, movie, and launch.
For the first three years, it focused solely on tickets and has built a widely recognizable brand for online ticketing in Bangladesh. In March 2018, Shohoz formally entered the ride-hailing market in Dhaka. A few months into it, it raised US$15M in funding from a host of investors including Golden Gate Ventures of Singapore. The largest funding round in any Bangladeshi early stage company so far. It has entered into food delivery, car and aims to add more services in the future. The startup has aspiration get into the truck and launch fintech products in the coming years. It aims to build a platform. “Shohoz is anything necessary,” says Maliha.
But this description does not convey the full story of how Shohoz was originally founded and the struggles and challenges the company went through in its early days.
In an interview with Future Startup, published in December 2018, Shohoz Founder and Managing Director, Maliha M Quadir explained how Shohoz was founded and what it was like in the early days of Shohoz.
Here is a short version of the story.
Question: When did you first decide that I want to build something in Bangladesh?
Maliha M Quadir: The ambition has always been there. I practically started working on it in mid-2013. In December 2013, I raised a small angel round from my network of Harvard people and moved back to Bangladesh. I started working on Shohoz in January 2014 and did a soft launch towards the end of 2014.
In the first couple of years, we mainly focused on the bus ticket – bus ticketing remains the biggest vertical for us and launch, movie, events are relatively smaller ones. We are working with over 70 large bus and ferry operators. We provide them a proprietary customized ticketing software. All these operators are using our software across Bangladesh 24/7 to run their business. They manage all their inventory using this software including the ones they sell through us.
We have focused on building our ticketing business for the past three years. After that, we wanted to expand into other areas, mainly in the transportation space. Ride-sharing came naturally. In fact, we wanted to get into ride-sharing for a long time. I met BRTA many times between 2014 and 2015. Since there was no regulatory guideline for ride-hailing business, we decided to wait. We had been following the regulatory changes closely. Then last year, we came to know that ride-sharing guideline is going to parliament and that’s when we decided that this is the right time to start into space. We already had some work done. We just launched our ride business.
Question: Going a little back to the early days of Shohoz, to 2013 and 2014, when you finally decided that I want to start this company, what went into building the initial operation? You raised a few million in seed investment from your Harvard network and friends and family, moved back to Bangladesh and then how did you put things together and get started?
Maliha: I raised a couple of millions and then hired my CTO – he is from India. That was the first thing I did. I first hired the engineers and accountants.
Question: How big was your team at that time?
Maliha: We were about six people team in January. We were running our operation out of my dining table. I just came back at that time. We were looking for an office but we did not make any progress towards that at that time. We would work together and do almost everything together. We finally found an office in February.
Today we are 150 people. The team is growing fast. We are hiring a lot of new people. We have launched food delivery recently and are building a lot of new things and hiring a lot of new people for that. We will become a 300 people team within a few months.
Initially, our job was developing the software and building our technology stack – understanding the requirements of bus owners by talking with them and getting requirements from them. They were not very good at giving requirements at that time. They have gotten very good at giving requirements over the time, but initially, that was not the case. It was tough to get all the requirements at once.
From the outside it seems like selling tickets is probably a simple task and probably the needs of every bus owners are similar but it is not. It is a complex operation. The needs of operators are diverse and everyone has different requirements.
We do a lot of customizations. About 80% is similar but 20% customization is always there. Yes, not all operators want customization, mostly big operators want customization. But the need for customization is there. All of these happened over time.
Question: How many bus operators you managed to onboard in the first year?
Maliha: In the first year, we had four operators.
Question: Was that a deliberate decision or you had challenges finding and onboarding bus operators?
Maliha: Finding and onboarding bus operators was a challenging job. Initially, it took long business development cycles. It takes a long time to onboard operators even these days. It is a relationship-driven business, in many instances. We had to build those relationships. At the same time, it is a large volume and daily metrics-driven business. Bringing them from cash-first business to cashless business is a strenuous job. It took us three years to onboard 70 operators.
Transportation is a challenging industry. We had to teach them how to operate a computer and software. The good thing is that these are smart people. They understand their business very well. When they are convinced that something has to be done they essentially do it no matter what.
Today, the kind of requirements we receive from operators is quite amazing. But initially, it was a grind. There are a lot of challenges there even these days. Industries don’t change overnight. It takes time to change an industry. But I think we have come a long way.
This is an excerpt from our interview with Shohoz Founder and Managing Director, Maliha M Quadir. To know the rest of Shohoz story and how it has come to where it is today, you could read our in-depth interview with Shohoz Founder and Managing Director, Maliha M Quadir here and here.