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What’s Next For GEEKY Social: An Interview with Md Saimum Hossain, Co-founder and Head of Business, GEEKY Social

Saimum Hossain is the Co-founder and Head of Business of Dhaka-based digital marketing company GEEKY Social. GEEKY is one of the earliest digital marketing companies in Dhaka. Over the past few years, it has experienced a generous growth, expanded beyond digital communication and to new verticals like training and introduced multiple new products. The company is now approaching its next phase of transition.

In this insightful interview, we caught up with Md. Saimum Hossain to discuss the current state of GEEKY Social and its ambition going forward, how much it has evolved over the past few years, its growth strategy going forward, the changing landscape of digital marketing, his take on growing competition and challenges in digital marketing and major digital marketing trends going forward, his management philosophy and incredible importance of having good partners, lessons he has learned from his journey so far and much more.

Future Startup

Could you give us an overview of GEEKY Social as well as how much have you evolved as a company over the last few years?

Md Saimum Hossain

I will tell you a few things. One is growth. We have experienced phenomenal growth over the past two years. Our revenue grew 10x. In addition to growth, we also hit break-even and eventually started churning out a profit.

In terms of team size, our team has grown almost three times. We have worked blending up BTL with the core digital services we had to run more effective communication and to achieve better KPI. Along with these, a big change has come in two years that is conversion oriented media buying and no other agency in Bangladesh can provide the service the way we do. We serve some of the biggest commerce companies in the country in the sense that we generate “actual sales” for these clients. So you can understand that more than helping in building their brand, we help them in generating their sales as in conversion You can see the testament of this through GEEKY Social being the only agency in Bangladesh to have two case studies (one for our client Khaas Food and the other for our client Sheba.xyz) published in Facebook’s global success case showcasing platform “Facebook for Business.” So, hands down, GEEKY Social is the best digital media buying company in the country at this moment.

Now, how we do it. Basically, we amalgamate 3 things to do this which you can call the “GEEKY Factor”. We combine, strategy, creativity, and content to make the conversion happen. I think that is all I can say about this proprietary method of ours publicly. Needless to say, our clients and potential clients have deeper explanations for our GEEKY Factor.

Future Startup

That’s a huge growth. What have you done to achieve that growth? What are some lessons you have learned?

Md Saimum Hossain

If you have a target and the right team, then no target is big enough. It may sound cliché but it actually a fact that I have learned over the years. It is all about having a great team and then having a meaningful target.

Future Startup

When we spoke last time in 2017, you had a few priorities including expansion, developing a couple of products and streamlining operation. How are you doing on those areas today?

Md Saimum Hossain

We have been able to successfully streamline operation. We have hired experienced leaders for each of our divisions. We have a Chief Creative Officer with more than 15 years of experience that probably sets us apart from the entire industry. We senior leaders leading all our departments including client service, creative, business development and all the divisions. We are quite happy with the operational development of the organization. We now have a layer of leadership who can run the organization smoothly in the absence of me or Sagor for that matter. However, I don’t think we have been able to attain the “autopilot” mode yet.

We have invested the last year to streamline our core operation. We are now investing in making our support systems streamlined. We had people for accounts from the very beginning but now we have systems and software and all that for managing our account books and now we get the monthly report timely. We have installed an internal financial control system and so on.

When you have a strong operational process in place, many things get easier. For example, since we don’t need to worry much about the operation on a daily basis, we could complete our yearly plan for 2019 about one quarter ahead, which was not the case before. Since operation takes care of itself to a large extent, our CXOs could manage time and get the planning done. When you have a strong organization, everything gets easier.

We have established a strong HR policy and system. It has been there from the beginning but last year we have organized it more. We created clear career maps for the advertising executives as in we have said how many years someone has to work in a post to get a promotion, we got them the opportunity to know what scores they are getting from their line manager and what future look like for them at GEEKY. We have established process and system for reviewing and so on. We have established processes for bonuses, salary payment and all that. We have established a lot of process and system that I believe will help us to go to the next level.

In terms of product development, after about two and a half years of R&D, we have launched a product from GEEKY called “SMEVai”, a one-stop platform for major business solutions for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In my last interview with you, I told you that we were working on a product and SMEVai is the output of our product development R&D process of c. 2.5 years. This platform (www.smevai.com) is a self-serving platform for SME accounting (SME Hishab), SME Marketing (Facebook promotion, basic creative & video-making support, SMS marketing etc.), and SME Delivery. Our vision is to help the 50 lakh SME businesses in Bangladesh track and manage their revenues, expenses, inventories, and profits better, segment and market to their customers better, and deliver to their customers using existing and in-house delivery systems in an automated manner. We launched SMEVai in this year’s SoftExpo.

Last time when we spoke we had a small tech team. It has grown since then. We now have a much bigger technology team who are always looking into opportunities and ways of automation and product development. We are also working on a few products on the side of technology to improve the lives of our clients.

Future Startup

Apart from SMEVai, product-wise what other things are you doing?

Md Saimum Hossain

We have some ideas up our sleeves but right now we’re more focused on getting a jumpstart for SMEVai.

Future Startup

Is there anything that you do on a regular basis that has contributed to your growth?

Md Saimum Hossain

One thing I and Mahadi Sagor, my co-founder and currently the Managing Director of the company, do nowadays is that we weekly evaluate our annual goal. We sit together and examine how much we have achieved in the last one week. We convert our annual goal into small weekly goals and evaluate what percentage we could complete every week. Initially, we used to do that monthly but now we do it weekly. For example, say we have a revenue goal of BDT 10 lac a month, we will check it in the third week of the month. Suppose, if we could do a business of 7 lac, then we are doing well and if less than that then we will check what went wrong.

In all these years I have seen that when we are not meeting the target, the major damages occur in one of the three places: client payment, internal operation or in my business development. When we seek to resolve the problem, sometimes we find out that the team is overburdened with work as we are operating in under capacity. Then what we do, we temporarily pick some people to complete projects. So it is not increasing my fixed cost.

When we were doing the overview on a monthly basis, we realized that we could not intervene to improve the situation in case we identify a problem because by the time the month ended and there was nothing we could do about it. So we decided to move the review to weekly and it changed everything. We now review our progress every week and when we identify some challenges, we intervene to solve those issues in the next week. It has helped us to achieve a better result. There are many things that we could do to grow our business but planning and rigorous review is something that we have found really useful.

Future Startup

What are challenges for GEEKY now?

Md Saimum Hossain

Finance is a challenge because of the nature of our market where B2B payment cycle is an unreasonably long and you can do little about it. As a result, cash flow management becomes a very critical thing. One of the reasons GEEKY has been doing well without any external investment is because of our astute cash flow planning. Despite that, one common challenge we see going forward is working capital financing. We have made an in-house model for addressing this challenge. But to overcome this challenge completely we will need our partners to pay us on time.

Finding the right people remains a challenge. Since I teach at University, we have some advantage regarding this. But still, it is a difficult problem. One challenge in our industry will always remain that should we hire people after getting a client or should we get client after hiring people.

Then there will always be an operational challenge as we grow as a company. The operational challenge of a startup and when you are growing as a company are two different things.

Future Startup

What are your major goals for 2019? Where do you want to go next?

Md Saimum Hossain

First, we want to grow in terms of revenue. The plan is to grow revenue at least five times. We have some plans to expand to at least one more market. While doing all these, profitability remains a priority. We want to grow as a profitable company.

Future Startup

How do you see the market? What are some major trends that you think will go big in the next few years?

Md Saimum Hossain

First, the opportunity is huge. We are scratching the surface when it comes to digital communication. I used to say we cover probably cover 10% of what could be done on digital. But I was wrong, we are doing no more than 1%. There is a huge room for improvement and growth.

Second, there is a lot of misconceptions about digital marketing. Many people consider digital to be a separate communication medium irrelevant to what other things the brand is doing. Digital has its own way of doing things, rules, and characteristics but it does not mean that digital is not part of your IMC. When dealing with digital, people should definitely play by its rules but at the same time, they should also not treat as something not part of their communication mix. You have to maintain your brand consistency on digital as well. There is a misunderstanding in the market where people don’t essentially treat digital as part of their marketing mix. Whenever I take classes on digital marketing, the thing I show on the slide in that, “there is nothing called digital marketing”. It is marketing. Digital is just a medium with its own traits. I do not know why this message is still not established in the market already.

That being said, the market on both users and brands have matured. The market has evolved a lot. There are some infrastructure challenges such as payment. If the positive changes in payment solution and infrastructure keep on happening, we will see a lot of digital activities apart from the general Facebook boosting we used to see.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned in all these years?

Md Saimum Hossain

Focus is of paramount importance. You have to be able to focus on what you are doing. You have to be able to internalize what you learn at universities and then apply them in real life. I think that if one can focus on what s/he is doing and implement what she learned at university, then it is not hard to be successful in this country.

Future Startup

You look after business and growth at GEEKY, what are a few things you’ve found advantageous on your way to growing GEEKY’s business?

Md Saimum Hossain

One thing I’ll say has helped me immensely which is building long-term-focused relationships with people from all walks and age groups.

Future Startup

B2B sales is pretty different from consumer products, how does your sales work? Do you go hunt for clients, how does that work? What does it take to sell?

Md Saimum Hossain

Since GEEKY has grown a lot in terms of its brand value and therefore mindshare in our potential clients’ minds, we usually get calls for new pitches. Therefore I’d say it’s more like pull-demand rather than push-sales.

It takes good work along with a good understanding of the market to sell in the B2B space.

Future Startup

What is your management philosophy?

Md Saimum Hossain

My hypothesis is that Bangladeshis, in general, have a long way to go when it comes to work ethic. Therefore my management philosophy revolves around that hypothesis and I can call myself a “proactive leader” in the sense that I push my team members way before deadline so that they can achieve their targets on time. This, in turn, contributes to the achievement of our organizational goals as well.

Future Startup

Any parting thoughts?

Md Saimum Hossain

Well, I think for some unknown reasons, entrepreneurs in Bangladesh still don’t get the respect they deserve from the stakeholders (parents, spouses, friends, government agencies, relatives, etc.). If we cannot value the work these risk-takers are doing, we’re soon going to see a dearth of new job creation. That is something frightens me to my core since we already have 28 lakh unemployed or underemployed graduates which is one of the highest in the world.

Entrepreneurs are the only group of people who can take care of this problem by creating jobs. But if the entire ecosystem is not conducive to entrepreneurship (socially, legally, financially), then I find it hard to excite the next generation of entrepreneurs. This might have a long-lasting negative effect on job creation in this country. That has the potential to lead to social unrest that might prove difficult to contain by brute force.

Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Sadia Tasmia and Edited by Ruhul Kader.

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