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Zanala Bangladesh, Digital Communication, And Entrepreneurship With Tamzid Siddiq Spondon, Managing Director, Zanala Bangladesh

We published part one of our long-form conversation with Tamzid Siddiq Spondon, Managing Director of Zanala Bangladesh on September 19, 2018, covering the beginning of Zanala Bangladesh, becoming of Tamzid, and the rise of Zanala as a digital content management and communication consultancy company. It is a beautiful read. Try it here.

In this second installment of the interview we dive into the Zanala Bangladesh, how it operates as a company, the state of communication industry in Bangladesh, how Zanala has been dealing with the changing landscape of communication business, Zanala Systems - Zanala’s technology enterprise, how Mr. Tamzid and his team had overcome common challenges of building a company in the early days, Zanala’s ambition going forward, why hustle is the ultimate antidote to all your challenges and why complacency is a threat you should always be aware of and the importance of living a disciplined life while pursuing an entrepreneurial life and much more.

Future Startup

Could you please give us an overview of Zanala Bangladesh in terms of your team, business and operation?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Zanala Bangladesh is a communication company. We provide digital content management service and brand consultancy.

We are an 18 years old company. In the last 18 years, we have served more than 200 companies locally and internationally.

While we have served and continue to serve international clients, our main focus now is the local market. The local market has been growing rapidly over the past few years. We see a huge potential in our market.

We are a team of 70 people at Zanala Bangladesh and growing.

Future Startup

What do you mean by digital content management?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

I’m not talking about digital marketing alone. We support our clients in designing digital strategy, the business model in the digital age and much more. We also work in digital media and digital assets management for our clients. The world is going through a lot of changes. Businesses are transforming. We support companies to manage these transformations. Along with these, we have design solutions, creative and multimedia services, which come as the requirements of the other services. You can say we provide 360-degree services to our client.

We work with clients in the long-term. The type of service that we provide requires long-term collaboration with our clients. Because when you are offering strategic inputs, it requires an in-depth understanding of the business of your clients, which you can’t achieve overnight.

Our operation is spread all across Bangladesh. We are currently working on a project which is running in 17 districts.

Future Startup

How does your business model work? Usually, communication companies follow a project-based model, which is one-off in nature, which has both certain limitations as well as upsides. The challenge with this model is that every time you need to look for a new project because the revenue from a single project is not recurring. How does your model work?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Our business model is similar to other communication companies. One important distinction is that we work with a client from the beginning of a project - from the idea formulation stage. We get involved in the strategic level and then move up on the ladder to execution and beyond. As I mentioned earlier, as a result, our collaborations are long term.

It does not mean that we don’t work on one-off projects. We do. But whenever we get an opportunity we actively try to work with our client from the strategy level. It allows us to build a long-term relationship with our clients and deliver a better result.

Future Startup

On a monthly basis, how many clients do you serve?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

At this moment, we are serving about 40 clients. This number goes up and down depending on the demand of our clients.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us more about Zanala Systems?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Zanala Systems is a product company. We make these sophisticated products for the financial and retail industry. Our products come with hardware, built-in software, high-end sensors, machine level programming, and all the necessary things. We are the only company making these products in Bangladesh. Then we have a few software products as well.

Zanala System business model is simple: we sell products. And with it, we get into AMC (Annual Maintenance Contract) with the clients. We are not into making custom software. We are into making products and then we sell them in the market.

Future Startup

How many products do you have (at Zanala Systems)? How big is your team there?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

We have a number of products under four categories: deposit machines for cash and cheque, Multimedia Kiosk which comes with a number of designs, Feedback Solution and so on. Under these categories, we have many other products.

Zanala Systems is a team of 35 full-time people. We have part-time people as well. Then we do many developments using the 3rd party partner, mostly for software developments.

Future Startup

What are some of the challenges?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

The first challenge came from our lack of business knowledge. We had no clue how to go about things. As a result, we made many small and big mistakes that had hurt our growth in the early days and made things challenging for us. Had we have a better understanding of operation and business, we could have avoided a lot of these mistakes.

Our most critical challenge in the early days was convincing our customers of our worth and capability. We used to get this small value work from our clients and they used to hesitate to give us large value work. We knew that a client had a big project but we would not get it. Now when I look back today, I can see the mistakes we made at that time and why clients did not trust us with large value work. Eventually, we realized that it is a skill and we decided that we have to develop it. We gave huge effort but there was a gap and it took us a while to understand that.

Sales is all about confidence. Before your client believes you, you have to believe in yourself. If you do not have confidence in yourself, then where would your clients get the confidence? We eventually discovered the gap (for not getting high-value work) and it was our lack of confidence. We were too nice to take seriously. Eventually, we worked on it and overcame that challenge.

Then there were challenges related to financing, people and much more. Many of those challenges persist even these days. Then and again, in business, there will always be challenges. Your job is to find ways around it and move forward.

Today, the biggest challenge is finding the right people. We need people who would work with a sense of responsibility and commitment and work their ass off to make things happen. We lack these kinds of people. You can’t grow a business alone. As a founder, you have limits. You can work 16 hours a day but that’s not enough. If you want to go far, you need people who can take initiatives and make a difference on their own.

I work for over 16 hours a day. I wake up at 6 am in the morning and go to bed at 11 pm. I don’t have any Fridays. I work 7 days a week and manage family time in between. But if we can’t find good people, we would not be able to do much no matter how hard I work.

Future Startup

What are some goals for the future?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Our goal, for now, is to be the largest digital content management company in Bangladesh. And then the largest in South Asia.

The second priority is to build a sustainable organization that can survive in the years to come - establishing corporate governance and building a strong culture that can take the company forward. We invest in our people and want to continue to do so and create new leadership team so that we can stand the test of time as a company.

At Zanala Systems, we have been creating unique products and we want to do more in that area. Achieving commercial success alone is not our goal, we want to innovate products that would solve social challenges as well.

Innovation is what propels our world forward. Take, for instance, Steam engine, which has changed the trajectory of human civilization. We may not be able to innovate at that level but we can try to do something that is meaningful and improves the lives of people.

Future Startup

How do you think about the competition in the digital marketing space?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Competition has grown in the digital marketing space over the past few years for several reasons. It is relatively easy to enter the digital marketing business due to the low entry barrier. However, it does not mean that making it in digital is any easier. It is even more difficult to build a sustainable business in this space. But most people don’t get this reality unless they go through it.

Since there are too many digital marketing companies in the market, there are companies that unwisely undercut price that creates an unnecessary price competition in the market. There are good companies of course who are doing great business. But the number of imprudent actors are there as well who make it difficult for everyone else.

At the same time, client education is a challenge for our market. There is a lack of overall awareness in the market. Some clients think that digital means cheap. As a result, they contribute to the overall degradation of quality. If clients are matured enough and well-informed then quality concern the company will get more work without difficulties.

The next 2 to 3 years is crucial for digital marketing, digital content, digital technology and those who can survive the next few years will rule the future.

Our priority has always been quality. We are not in competition with anyone. We are not a mere digital marketing service provider. We go deeper with every client we work with. We provide solutions that help our clients to take their business to the next level.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you have learned from your journey?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

Firstly, never be complacent. It is easy to get comfortable when things settle down, but know that it is a dangerous thing to do. Never give in to the idea that you are in a good position. Always be competitive. Keep pushing forward. Keep talking to your customers. Keep delivering your best possible services.

Secondly, the driving force of any institution is people. Without people, there is no business. How good you are as a company depends on how good your people are. Investing in people and empowering them so that they own the company is critical if you want to build an institution that will last. The sense of ownership in your people would take you far.

In the early days of a company, founders are probably important. But as you grow, it is critical that you build systems and processes and eventually an institution instead of making the organization too much dependent on you. I have tried not to mix up the identity of Zanala with myself. I prefer to be known by the name of my company instead of my company being known by my name. My focus has been on building a brand for my company, not for me.

Future Startup

How do you deal with stress and challenges that come with building a company? Could you also give us an insight into how do you operate as an individual, a sample of a typical day of you?

Tamzid Siddiq Spondon

I try to live a disciplined lifestyle. I try not to be late for my appointments and manage my task list in an organized manner. I maintain 3 diaries and I always carry them with me. One is for my ideas, one is for my meeting notes and the last one is my to-do list. Each of these diaries has their format and I update them on a daily and weekly basis.

I have a priority task list for each of my companies. These are pre-planned. I know at the beginning of the month what I needed to do and how to go about it. There are contingencies, of course, and I try to address anything urgent when it happens. I have found this style of meticulously planning ahead very helpful.

I used to exercise before but it became difficult to do so regularly of late. Exercise is super helpful when you are doing a lot of mental work. It helps to recalibrate your mind. Since I could not hit the gym regularly anymore, I walk whenever I get an opportunity. I thoroughly enjoy walking. I find it meditative.

I think everyone should stay mentally and physically fit. Building a business is a stressful job. If you are not at your best, both physically and mentally, you would not be able to go far. Meditation can be helpful.

I do not have a Facebook App on my mobile, a decision I‘m very happy about. Social media often takes up so much time. I do not allow my children to use phones or other gadgets. Most of the time they play with real books or make their own games. Every month, I travel about 10 days, which helps refresh myself as well as I can prepare the agenda for the next 20 days.

Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription Rifat, edited by Ruhul Kader | The interview was conducted in September 2018 | Read part one of Mr. Tamzid's interview here. 

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