On Building A Technology Business From Scratch: An Interview With Monjurul Alam Mamun, Founder And CEO, Aplectrum and Xtra

On Building A Technology Business From Scratch: An Interview With Monjurul Alam Mamun, Founder And CEO, Aplectrum and Xtra

Flight Expert Credit banner

 

Aplectrum and Xtra Founder And CEO Monjurul Alam Mamun on his journey to entrepreneurship, the early days of Aplectrum and Xtra, how Aplectrum has evolved and grown from a mere idea into a company with multiple products and revenue streams within a span of two years, how Aplectrum operates and its culture, sheds light on business model of Aplectrum and digital gift platform Xtra, challenges of Aplectrum, its business today and ambition going forward, the hard work and intricacies of building a business, shares his lessons from his journey so far and reflects on why having a growth mindset is critical for your personal and organizational growth and much more.

Ruhul Kader

Could you please tell me about your background and your journey to what you are doing today?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

My fascination with technology is nothing new. I have been into video games since my boyhood. When I was in class 7-8, I used to play video games that were available at the time. While playing the game, I was intrigued by the technology and how we could play something on the screen. That’s probably when for the first time I got my fascination for technology and computer science education. I probably would not have articulated it at the time but it became clear over the years.

After completing my HSC, I flew to Madras for higher studies. I studied Computer Science at the University of Madras. Then did my masters from IUB on the side of the job and later did a masters from Dhaka University.

I returned to Bangladesh after completing my BSc in Computer Science and joined Flora Systems where I worked for 10 months. To be accurate, I started my career in 1999. I have always wanted to work in an organization where I could learn. I never wanted to earn more money or anything. Rather learning has always been my priority and passion. In 2000, I joined Grameen Software Limited, which is now Grameen Solutions. Grameen Solutions was one of the leading technology companies in the country at that time. Over 100 people were working there. They had a big setup at Grameen Bank Bhaban in Mirpur. The offered excellent learning opportunity. And I was a hungry learner. At the time, my career goal was simple – learn as much as I can. Let me give you a sample. When I decided to leave Flora, I used to get tk. 8000 at Flora but when I joined Grameen, I joined there at a much lower salary – at tk. 4000. You could sense my passion and my objective. I could see that if I get an opportunity to work at Grameen, I would get to learn and grow and I would have a very different career. It did happen. My experience at Grameen helped me tremendously. I worked at Grameen Solutions as a senior programmer for two years and some time. I used to travel from Narayanganj to Mirpur every day.

After two years I left Grameen Solutions and joined M2SYS where I worked again for something over 2 years.

Throughout my career, I have seen that working at an international organization makes a huge difference in people’s lives. I have seen friends working for local companies as well as multinational outsourcing companies. After a few years, they turn out to be very different individuals professionally in terms of personal development, learning, and growth. I had this realization very early on in my career. That’s how I ended up joining at Jaxara, a fully US-based software company at Dhaka. Jaxara was a small company at that of around 6-7 people team and had an office at BDBL building in Karwan Bazar. Jaxara grew from there to close to 100 people and I’m lucky to have played a major role in that growth. We had worked with some very large companies in the US and managed exciting projects for big companies like BBC, Comcast, GMU, etc.

I worked at Jaxara from 2004 to 2016. Jaxara was the place where I saw and experienced real growth and where I grew as an individual and professional. I had an excellent career track at Jaxara. I joined as a Senior Software Engineer there and when I left I was VP and CTO of the company.

Every year since 2004, Jaxara grew in terms of team and size of business. We had an excellent culture and working environment. We used to hire great people and had a reputation for producing excellent talents. We had an excellent learning culture where everything was process driven. If you put a regular person in the process, he would improve over time. We had systems for people that ensured people performed at their best. At Jaxara, people had always been treated well.

I have learned a tremendous amount at Jaxara and grown as a leader. I had the opportunity to work with international business leaders, run a company in Dhaka that was growing consistently and working with a management that was markedly different. People know me basically from my days at Jaxara because Jaxara was (is) this huge thing and very well known company in the technology space.

Now that I’m running my own company, everything that I learned there are coming handy.

Together With Flight Expert

Flight Expert new ad
A Message From Flight Expert

Flight Expert, being the most prominent Online Travel Agency (OTA) in Bangladesh, is making life easier for every traveler around the globe. From booking domestic and international flights to reserving hotel rooms for your trip, Flight Expert has it all in one place, within the reach of your fingertips.

We Provide: Flight Booking | Hotel Reservation

Enjoy: Instant booking | Book Now Pay Later | Pay with EMI | Get 365 Days dedicated Customer Support

Contact us: Call: +88-09617-111-888 | E-mail: [email protected]

Flight Expert – all about your journey!

Please visit us here!

Future Startup

You mentioned multiple times about Jaxara and its culture and how it helps people to grow? Could you sort of demystify the components of Jaxara culture that made it such a great learning organization?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

One component is that we’re very action oriented. We never had this culture where you could put things off for tomorrow. There was no tentativeness in our operation. There was no “we would do that” and so on. Every task must follow a plan with a deadline and time requirement. If you are working on a project, you give a plan along with time requirement and report accordingly. If you could not deliver on time, you report and explain and take an extension. Then people would maintain a log of their hours of work. We had a rigorous performance review process. `Before starting a project or a task, the standard process of running a POC and plan and document the requirement such as how many hours it would take and then we would get into work. If one needs time extension there was an approval process. The process was so strong that we did not have to do anything. People who were inquisitive and hard-working, they grew automatically. The process made you productive. We had speed built into the organization.

When you hear this, it may sound like some sort of unwelcoming place. But that was not the case. We had an excellent environment for our people. We offered enough freedom to our people. Otherwise, we would not be able to retain people in the long run. We had an excellent retention rate. People rarely left for us local companies.

We had an excellent culture of encouraging mistakes. As a result, people would often happily try new things. It was a flat organizational hierarchy. There was no bossing.

While hiring we used to put enough emphasis on non-technical attributes such as helpfulness, integrity, good personality and so on.

One thing I have learned from Jaxara is that culture is everything. If you could build the right culture, it could change everything.

Monjurul Alam Mamun at Aplecturm office

Ruhul Kader

Going back to your story, you worked at Jaxara till 2016?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

I left Jaxara in 2016 and started my company Aplectrum Solutions Limited in 2016. The first decision we made after the launch was that we would do both: local works as well as outsourcing. While working on the local market, we realized that developing products for the local market is a good space. That’s how we developed a payroll solution for the garment industry called Spark. There are a lot of payroll software products in the market. There are a few in the RMG as well. So we choose a niche where we thought we could offer a superior product with cloud and mobile. Our ambition is to become the top product in the garment industry. Currently, there is a product called Kormee, which has been around for about 20 years, that is doing well in the space. We have now over 20 RMG factories under Spark and we are growing fast. We are putting a lot of effort into building a user-friendly product.

We have three hubs now: Spark, Xtra, and customized software. In customized software, we work with both local and international clients. We currently have big businesses in London and Sydney. We have recently made a manufacturing ERP for a London-based steel manufacturer. We have a few more clients in London but this is something really big and exciting. The ERP had a number of modules consisting of few mobile app, web app and desktop app.

Aplectrum, we have started in 2016, and we are growing very fast. As you can see, we have built products with this short period of time and we are doing other things as well. We have a long way to go but we are happy with the progress we are making.

A few things helped us in this process, we never compromise with quality and commitment. If we commit, we will do it for you. This has helped us in building the company. We get a quite interesting referral from the industry.

We should prioritize long-term gains over our short-term ones. For example, I see people changing jobs for a few thousand increments, often prioritizing pay over the opportunity to learn and personal development. This type of decision is detrimental to the long-term growth of individuals. People should prioritize what helps them more in the long run over short-term gains such as money. Unfortunately, humans are not good at thinking long-term. It is a struggle for us to see beyond a few days into the future. As a result, it is hard to deal with immediate gratification. However, the thing is that most good things take time to happen.

Ruhul Kader

I will come to Aplectrum in a moment. Before that, what are some lessons you have learned from your journey so far? Having good people is one thing and getting the best out of them is an entirely different thing, how do you ensure that your people are delivering at their best?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

We’ve invested in developing culture and systems so that our people could deliver at their best. We start it from the very beginning of our recruitment process. When a particular person come for an interview or get shortlisted, they learn that we go through a process and when they get hired he tries to maintain that.

We maintain a strict deadline policy. If you commit something, you have to turn it in on time. We make people learn our process from early on and ensure that they maintain it. We are pretty consistent about that. When a person learns that, he tries to cope up with the process which maintains our harmony at work. After joining, we do a training plan for each newcomer for few weeks whatever the position is. We teach them technical and non-technical stuff. We give them test tasks to make sure they understood our process before they get into the real tasks. We review an employee, for say, 4 weeks. Before the review, we train them, motivate them to work. If positive motivation does not work, we try motivating negatively. We teach them hand on and coach individually. Even an email written by them gets checked by me or an executive before so that they could learn from us. After reviewing, we kind of like throw them in the sea and ask them to get out of that by their own and we provide them all kinds of support.

When our employees get into a problem we help them to overcome it. We let them know how overcoming the problems personally benefits them. We teach them to be serious and passionate about whatever they are doing. Then we teach them to always be transparent. If they need a leave, tell that straight instead of disappearing suddenly. If they do not like something, tell that straight. We always ask them to maintain consistency because, without it, it is hard to advance an organization. So it is about people and process.

Future Startup

You had a great job, social status and were earning good money. It is not easy to leave those things and start a company. How the thought of starting your own business came to your mind?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

While I was at Jaxara, once I tried to start my own business side by side on my weekends. I shared that with my US management, but reasonably they did not agree on that.

Although I did not start the business at the time, I always had the ambition to start something on my own on my mind. That day eventually came after a few years of our first discussion when there were some changes in the business of Jaxara.

When Jaxara started having a challenging period in its business, we decided to sit together where we decided that I will stay at the company for 3 months then concentrate on my business.

I had two personal cars and sold one while I started my own business at Banasree during my last few months at Jaxara. I spent some time developing a website for my new company. Once done, I made the announcement that I started a company. I put together a model where I had a few part-timers who used to work remotely for me. I used to be the one man army. After that, I started reaching out developers and built a sort of an on-demand collaboration model for a while. We did not have a team yet. But I was gearing up to hire a team and all that.

Initially, I used to get projects of small amount like projects of BDT 50,000 to 150,000.

As a former CTO of Jaxara, I knew a lot of people in the technology industry. I started to reach out to people doing good business in Bangladesh and meet them to learn more about the local market.

I did a little research on the local markets to understand the market, dynamics, challenges and to find promising opportunities in relatively less crowded spaces. After much analysis, we came up with two product ideas. A platform for talent hunt to make hiring simpler and less hectic for companies. Another is Spark that is an HR and payroll management software for garments factory.

While working on all these things, we raised a round of investment. We had a few clients at the time as well that enabled us to move to this office to Baridhara DOHS in February 2017. It took us a while to get this read and we finally started working out of this office from February with a team of 5 people.

We have invested heavily in our garments HR product and it has grown since then. Our ambition is even higher today.

We have also got some very usual clients abroad. There is some sales pipeline in a few other countries.

I post about every project and our progress and share life experiences in detail on LinkedIn, Facebook and Youtube which have helped us to attract some international clients.

Aplectrum website screenshot

Aplectrum website screenshot on June 27

Ruhul Kader

How have your grown the number of customers? What are some activities and process that you carried out that helped you?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

Initially, it was mostly through personal network and reference. It continues to be our key source of growth. I know a lot of key people in different garments. Once we started Spark, I got in touch with a lot of them which has helped us to get some clients.

We sponsor events of garments community where we could show a demo of Spark. We currently have over 20 clients for Spark and over 10 who take our software solutions service.

Ruhul Kader

Could you tell us about Xtra?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

The idea of Xtra (www.xtragift.com) is simple. It is a digital gift platform where organizations and individuals can send gifts to their intended people using the mobile app. There are companies that want to send gifts to their clients or employees but since there is no platform that manages this process, it is a hassle for both parties. Now we are building a platform where companies could send digital gift coupons to their clients or companies and they could use the coupons to buy their gifts from the designated merchants. For example, any FMCG company can send gift to their hundreds of agents/distributors/clients in a single click.

We started as a predominantly B2B platform and have eventually launched our C2C service as well. Now not only the companies but any individual can also send digital gift vouchers to their family and friends too. For example, now how you give gifts during marriage programs? You need to go to shops to purchase something passing through traffic jams. Instead of this, you can send a digital gift voucher through Xtra’s mobile app, then the receiver can go to the merchant shops and select their own preferred gifts from there.

The response from the market has been phenomenal in such a short time. We already have over 20 companies and 4500 individual users in just a couple of months and we are hoping to grow that exponentially. The service is free of charge for the gift senders, we generate revenue from the merchants.

Fourth, a culture of hustle. Usually, the culture of any company is a reflection of its founders. People learn by seeing. We, humans, are imitators. When people see that the owner is diligent, transparent and working hard, then everyone normally follows that. I come out from home at 7 am in the morning and usually leave no before 10 PM. When your people see that you are working super hard, they at least give their best during the office time and they can feel and own the company.

 

Ruhul Kader

Could you give us an overview of Aplectrum Solutions?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

We are working on 3 hubs at this point in time. Spark, Xtra, and outsourcing. We are a team of 30 people and it’s growing.

Ruhul Kader

What are the challenges now?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

The first challenge is finding quality people. Initially, it was a challenge to attract good people because we are a new company. That part has solved because we have grown a bit as a company and we now have a better standing in the market. Despite that, finding and retaining good people is a challenge.

Second, sales. We have some great products but we have a long way to go turn it into sales. It is very tough to get quality salespeople in the market and then making sales in the local market is very challenging. We are putting effort there and hope to improve there very soon.

Third, managing clients expectations. Sometimes clients want things that are unreasonable but still, you need to meet them. We are trying to build a better relationship with our clients. Personally, I have long years of experience managing US-based projects, but managing local clients are not really very easy. While we build a product, we expect most everyone will use the same product in the same market, but local clients have their own preferences which make it hard for the local software companies to produce a unique product in a single market.

Ruhul Kader

You have these two verticals: you are developing your own products as well as providing software development services to other companies, how do you align these two different types of work?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

We have built systems and processes into the organization that allows us to run both sides of the operation efficiently. We have some other plans of setting up a separate organization which I don’t want to highlight now.

Ruhul Kader

Despite all these challenges, you have grown as a business, what has helped you to grow?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

In early life at Aplectrum, our personal reputation helped us to grow. The clients we got or the people we collaborated with in the early days came to us knowing our background and reputation of 20 years. That gave us our initial boost.

Second, we have always been a happening company. We never stopped working. We are always working on something. Trying new things. Testing new ideas. Building new products. After working on a few products, we launched Xtra. This has created dynamism in the team and then growth.

Third, hiring the best people. We have always assured that we get the best quality resources even when the cost gets higher. We always try to put the right person in the right place.

Fourth, a culture of hustle. Usually, the culture of any company is a reflection of its founders. People learn by seeing. We, humans, are imitators. When people see that the owner is diligent, transparent and working hard, then everyone normally follows that. I come out from home at 7 am in the morning and usually leave no before 10 PM. When your people see that you are working super hard, they at least give their best during the office time and they can feel and own the company.

Finally, an excellent working environment. We try to keep our people happy and motivated. We have built an environment where everyone feels at home.

Ruhul Kader

What are some plans for the future?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

Our client-facing works are going well. We plan to continue to grow that business. We have some big plans on the product side. We plan to grow our two products: Xtra and Spark.

Spark has already made a name for itself in the RMG sector as an excellent product. Within 2-3 years, we want the HR of garments factories to know Spark as the best product whether they buy it or not. We have seen pretty good growth over the past months. We have started to properly reach out to people. The response has been great.

We have a tremendous growth plan for Xtra in terms of features and making life easier digitally for the people and the companies. We have launched it in Dhaka and the response has been overwhelming. We have a plan to launch it gradually in divisions, districts, thana and then internationally too.

Ruhul Kader

Do you have any operational principles or values?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

While hiring people, we always make them understand that we look for each other. I will be honest with them and expect the same from them. They can share anything with me. I will take care of their development and they will take care of the business. We will not force them to work extra hours but the expectation is that they would own their work and operate accordingly. So taking ownership of your work, being honest, open and transparent communication are some of the values we practice. We try to embed these values in our people from day one.

Second, the customer is everything. We exist for our customers. We may have complaints against some of them or we may disagree, but at the end of the day, the customer is always right. We wholeheartedly follow this at Aplectrum.

Ruhul Kader

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Monjurul Alam Mamun

To go a long way in business or profession, we need to have the right mindset. There are two types of mindset – growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Growth mindset people believe they can build abilities through hard work, whereas fixed mindset people believe abilities are fixed and not changeable. You can see my YouTube channel where I explained all these.

We should prioritize long-term gains over our short-term ones. For example, I see people changing jobs for a few thousand increments, often prioritizing pay over the opportunity to learn and personal development. This type of decision is detrimental to the long-term growth of individuals. People should prioritize what helps them more in the long run over short-term gains such as money. Unfortunately, humans are not good at thinking long-term. It is a struggle for us to see beyond a few days into the future. As a result, it is hard to deal with immediate gratification. However, the thing is that most good things take time to happen.

A strong motivation to invest in our personal development. We should constantly look out for ways to better ourselves. Our way of operating and working and growing ourselves. Personal growth should be taken seriously by every one of us.

Be honest.

Be generous in helping people. Helping people is a good virtue. When you help someone, somehow you will get help in return.

Invest in building your own tribe. There is no lone genius. Genius happens in batch. You cannot grow all alone.

Together With Flight Expert

A Message From Flight Expert!

Flight Expert, being the most prominent Online Travel Agency (OTA) in Bangladesh, is making life easier for every traveler around the globe. From booking domestic and international flights to reserving hotel rooms for your trip, Flight Expert has it all in one place, within the reach of your fingertips.

We Provide:

  • Flight Booking
  • Hotel Reservation

Enjoy:

  • Instant booking
  • Book Now Pay Later
  • Pay with EMI

Support:

  • Get 365 Days dedicated Customer Support

Contact us:

Flight Expert – all about your journey!
Please visit us here!

We Recommend

Type to Search

See all results
Shares