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Building A SaaS Startup In Bangladesh: An Interview With Iram Rahman, Founder and CEO, Landknock

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Aug 10, 2019
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Landknock is a SaaS startup that offers a field force management software. Founded in 2015, the company went through multiple phases of challenges and pivots before landing on a product that works. It has since grown, both as a business and team.

Landknock offers companies that have field force, be it sales force or delivery personnel, or any other field force for that matter, a software using which they could monitor and manage their field force real-time. This has various implications. One part is data and insight. Businesses can get real-time data about sales, if it is about sales force, and make decisions that could have an impact on the growth of a company. Second, monitoring and performance of your field force. Landknock makes it a lot easier for managers to monitor and manage the performance of their field force.

The growth of the usage of field force management software has been on the rise in Dhaka over the past few years. As the access to smartphone grows and data becomes cheaper, the market for such solutions is likely to grow. That being said, building a SaaS business is not easy. Recently, we caught up with co-founder and CEO of Landknock Iram Rahman to learn more about Landknock, his path to entrepreneurship, how Landknock came into being, its evolution over the years, his lessons in B2B sales and how he is building a SaaS business in Dhaka and much more.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us about your background and what you are working on now?

Iram Rahman

By education, I’m CSE major. I attended American International University Bangladesh. However, I have been working as a freelance User Interface Designer and Web Developer on various freelance marketplaces since 2010. Initially, I started as a User Interface Designer and gradually became a Web Application Developer. I’ve worked with clients, both startups and individuals, from a host of countries including UK, USA, Canada, and Australian.

One of my best clients came in my 12th Grade, my higher secondary school. Mike was from Silicon Valley and had a web design firm where I used to work a User Interface designer. I did not have a personal computer. My family did not have the confidence in me that I should own a personal computer. Because you know with access to computer and internet comes many risks for young kids. I used to work on the common PC in my home, particularly at night. My eyes grew dark from working late into the night and had a funny experience with a doctor after that.

The second customer was Ken from Vancouver. I did some design and web application development work for him. By the time I was an undergrad student at university, I had my own personal laptop. I was fortunate to work with 50+ individuals and startups from all over the world. One thing leads to another and eventually, I went on to found my own company.

Currently, I am working as the CEO of Landknock Ltd. In October 2015, I along with some of my friends started Landknock Ltd, a field force monitoring solution. We provide field force monitoring and automation solution to companies in FMCG, Pharmaceutical, Logistics, Telco, and Mobile Financial Service industries.

Future Startup

Could you please elaborate your path to entrepreneurship?

Iram Rahman

While I was not aware of it at the time, my entrepreneurship journey started in class 9. I don’t know how that idea came because the kind of family I was born into, everyone expects you to be the topper in your class and eventually pursue a secure and prestigious BCS cadre job or go abroad for higher studies.

But I somehow became interested in earning money. The urge came for the first time when I was in class 9. I just wanted to earn money. I was looking for opportunities. I went to some local fast food shops to work as a server. I did not get a job because the owner did not feel okay employing a school boy at his shop. I applied to a TV program for children in ATN Bangla as a news presenter. I also sent an email to PBS, a bookstore in our area, to work there. None of that worked. So I had to continue the pursuit without any success. After the SSC exam in 2010, when my friends were going on to tours and attending coaching to study ahead for college, I was busy with trying to make some money.

I could never make you understand how deep the urge was but let me give you two examples. I made a vow to myself that, I won’t wear any winter clothes until I earn enough to buy my own winter clothes. I literally spent two winters without any winter clothes. Another example would be: during the post SSC exam vacation period, my maternal uncle wanted to gift me a smartphone. I refused to accept and told him “I would earn and buy my own smartphone”.

Then my elder brother advised me to take some graphic design course during the vacation. That was a great advice. I got enrolled in a graphic design training institute in my local area. My mother gave me 6 thousand taka for doing that course. I felt bad for that but I had to take it to prepare myself to earn money.

I literally learned nothing there. But it made the wheel turn and I started learning graphic design online using free resources.

When I could do some design work, I created accounts on a few freelance marketplaces such as vworker, limeexchange, oDesk, elancer, etc.

It was a relatively new idea for me. It took me one and a half years to get any job. Initially, it was mostly small jobs of low-value work. Then I met Mike, which changed it for me. Then suddenly a lot of money came. I became one of the top rated workers in upwork. I could afford expensive things. I bought my own personal laptop and of course those winter clothes. I gave my mother’s money back and started contributing to my family.

In 2013, I founded Webix Design with some of my cousins, relatives and close friends. I was a first-year university student at that time. Webix was a web design firm targeting foreign customers on different marketplaces. Although we had enough customers, it didn’t work because managing and delivering work was hard. Everyone on my team was a student at the time. Although we had no problem with customers, we couldn’t get their work done due to time management. The business eventually failed.

A few months later, I opened a graphic design training center out of my home. You already know my bad experience with learning graphic designing from a local coaching center. I knew that there was a need for this service. I printed out 1000 leaflets. Along with my friend Noman, we distributed those in front of College and Universities. After six months of trial, I shut it down too. I was still providing service to my customers. So, I did not care that much.
In 2015, I along with my friends Iftekhairul and Noman founded Landknock Ltd.

Future Startup

When and how did get started with Landknock? What motivated you to start Landknock? Why did you start a business in this sector?

Iram Rahman

I have worked on many products for clients as a freelancer. In some of my early projects, I worked as a team lead as well. That’s where the inspiration for building a product came.

When I first wanted to earn money, I was a regular boy from a middle-class family. I was average. When I took the target to earn money, it challenged me and eventually defined who I am. It was hard, challenging and at the same time rewarding. I learned that the bitter experience is the sweeter the reward is. When you want to achieve something which you are not, suddenly Mother Nature will mock you, it will try you, challenge you. It will teach you all the education which is required for you to stand strong in the later stage when you are rewarded. You have to “deserve” that reward first. This process changes you, makes you a better person and eventually gives you a new identity. I learned that during my pursuit to “earning money” period.

When I was a child there was a TV program called Alif Laila. In Alif Laila, there was a witch called Gul Bahar. Gul Bahar had a special power. She had a crystal ball. She would go before the crystal ball and utter any person’s name or the name of any places. Then with some magical thundering around the crystal ball, she could see what the person is doing, where, etc. If she could say the name of any area, the crystal ball could show that. I wanted to have that crystal ball with me. But there was nothing in the world which could give me that. When my elder brother first showed me google earth (when I was a student of class 7), I used to explore google earth all the time because it gave me the feeling of that crystal ball.

In 2015, I realized that my childhood-dream is no more magic or unrealistic now. It is very much possible. All I need is just to build a platform which has everyone’s location and one day suddenly it will become that crystal ball where a person can search any other person and literally see his/her activity and location. Just imagine, if there is a passer-by, you could just open the app, and see that person’s information and immediately chat with him/her. Using this technology, you could literally visit any place and see all those moving people, moving car, activities on that map, just like that crystal ball.

I along with my friend Iftekhairul and Noman, started Landknock with this idea in October 2015. We were ambitious but it was a tough project. After working on the project for a year, we realized that the project is going nowhere. All the efforts went in vain.

But we had those source files and the passion of “showing people on the map”. In 2017, we realized that maybe for consumers this product is too early or very expensive to implement. Instead of targeting consumers if we target organizations that have field workers in the field, maybe there is a market for that.
Without wasting any more time, we started afresh with a newly defined target audience. This time, it is for any company that has a field force. It can be any company in pharmaceutical, FMCG, Telco, Logistic industry or any distribution company for that matter that needs to manage field force. That’s how Landknock came into being. If we can’t give that crystal ball to the mass people, at least give it to the organizations maybe!

Future Startup

What went into building the initial operation of Landknock? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and the challenges you faced.

Iram Rahman

We are four founders including me. Iftekhairul is our CTO. We have been friends since class six. Iftekhairul and I have 3 years of great working experience together when I was a freelancer. He is hard-working, responsible and talented programmer. My other co-founder Noman is there, who does the managerial responsibilities.

We started our journey with some BDT 1 lakh as an investment that we had saved from previous work. We left our high earning life of freelancing. We were doing our 7th or 8th semester at the time. We had enough pressure from school. We would mostly work at night. When we realized that work is getting hampered, we dropped a semester to work on the Landknock.

Our family did not like it and it was an expected response on their part. I remained silent and focused on work. In March 2017, when we realized that Landknock’s consumer version won’t work or need more money to make it work, we pivoted. I have already shared that part of the story.

After the pivot, we took an office and took a loan from Noman’s mother and another person. We hired an android developer and found our first trial customer. Suddenly, we realized that we underestimated the enterprise customers. They are already using top notch solutions and have a different taste. Besides, the understanding industry is crucial. In order to sell to big corporates, you need corporate environments, a great sales team, and a good track record. Big organizations don’t want to work with startups.

I used to make cold calls and visit potential customers. After many visits, I realized three important things: a) most of the time, I was not reaching out to the right person in an organization. b) our solution was not enterprise ready c) and third, even if I match their requirement, they won’t buy from me because there are many international products out there that are popular and better than us in many ways.

Those were useful lessons. We narrowed down our target customer to small and mid-sized organizations. Then came the challenge that most of the field forces of these organizations do not have smartphones. Without smartphones, how could their field force use our solution?

We made yet another change and focused on a small group of logistics companies who have field workers. A number of logistics companies are being established every month. Since they don’t have a proper system, their productivity is getting lost. We targeted them and it eventually worked.

We were growing slowly and adding new features regularly. In order for getting some new sources of revenue, we also provide services like website development to those delivery companies. This is how we were growing slowly. Suddenly a pharmaceutical company took our service in the last quarter of 2018, which pretty much changed our trajectory.

Future Startup

Could you please give us an overview of Landknock in terms of services you offer, how many users you have, the size of your business?

Iram Rahman

Currently, we have 13 companies working with us, each having on average 70-80 field forces. We provide service to companies of different sizes. In the smaller size companies, delivery companies are there. We have around seven delivery companies using our product. We have two mid-sized pharmaceutical companies. We have one large distribution company in the mobile financial service industry. Recently, we have on-boarded Mycash. One service provider company is also using our product which is providing support to Telecom companies. They monitor their field working engineers and technicians using our solution.

Our focus is to provide a workforce monitoring solution to organizations having field workers mostly in Pharmaceutical, FMCG, Service, MFS, Logistic, Telco industries.

Future Startup

How does Landknock work as a product?

Iram Rahman

We have two versions of the product. One is the web version which is used by the managers, supervisors and/or admins from head office or regional offices. Another version is the android app which is used by the field workers.
In order to use our product, companies must either provide smartphones to their field workers or have field-workers who already have smartphones. Companies pay us a registration charge which includes basic installation, one training and initial data entry for the registration. After that, companies pay us a monthly subscription fee based on per user. You could call us a SaaS company.

Besides that, most of the cases, mid to large level companies need customization. We provide customization time to time to the companies as well which is another source of revenue for us. Sometimes, we provide “customer” panel for our customers, we take a fixed one-time charge for that and we provide that in white label. This also adds great value to our service.

Many companies already have an existing system or ERP that needs integration between the existing one and our product. In such cases, we do the API integration with them which is also another earning source for us.

Future Startup

How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at Landknock?

Iram Rahman

At present we are a small team of 7 people. 5 of us are on the product development side. The other 2 are on the business development side. Our office starts at 10 am and with a lunch break of 1 hour, it ends at 7pm. We work 5 days.

We have our in-office lunch which our office cook prepares. We work overtime and sometimes stay at night at the office. When we do not have any work, we take extra days off to compensate that overtime work.
We are like a small family and sometimes we have lunch or dinner together to pass some easy and friendly time. For team communication, we use slack. For task management, earlier we used to use Asana but now we are mostly board based.

In the business development team, Rahat and Noman are there. Rahat does the cold calling every day to find leads and lock meeting and also takes care of bill collection. Noman, on the other hand, finds prospects online and gathers information about prospects to help Rahat. Noman also takes care of the day to day operation part.
For me, mostly I am not at the office. I visit potential customers, present our products, and follow up with them. So you could call me a salesman for the company rather than the CEO. Everyday I let Iftekhairul or Noman know whether I am having lunch that day at the office or outside because if I am not, they will tell the office to cook about me not having lunch. So the office cook won’t prepare any food for me that particular day.

Technical team members sit together weekly to discuss plans and prepare the product map. Iftekhairul is responsible for the technical team and the software. If there is any glitch on the system, Iftekhairul is the responsible person. If any existing customer faces any trouble, they knock Iftekhairul. Even if they knock me, I transfer them to Iftekhairul.

A new customer is my responsibility and existing customer is Iftekhairul’s responsibility. Whenever a new customer is on-boarded, we create a Whatsapp support group for the customer and add one or two responsible persons for that company in our Whatsapp group to provide dedicated support.

Future Startup

How have you attracted customers and grown Landknock? Could you tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth?

Iram Rahman

In order to attract customers, there is no alternative to knowing your customers better. It’s simple yet hard to do. When first I target a particular industry, I try to learn as much as possible about that industry. I use online resources and try to learn from people who have been working in the industry. Once I have a sound understanding, then I would meet my potential customer.

It is always about the industry expertise, telling customers a story which is related to their pain points and sharing how our product can solve his/her problem. This has been a useful lesson for me.

When I realized that I should make industry-specific pitch, I realized that our software should have those options. That way we can sell it to any industry having field forces. So, we changed the architecture of our product. We re-designed in such a way that different kind of companies gets a different kind of experience within the same product. This unlocked a lot of opportunities.

We continuously cold call and meet prospects. We try. Make mistakes. Learn and apply that into work.

Future Startup

What are the lessons you’ve learned in terms of growing a business? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your growth journey?

Iram Rahman

Flexibility is important when you are testing a new idea in the market. For us, had we built a product for both consumer and enterprise market from day one, we would not have to waste the first 1.5 years in the beginning. Be flexible and open to thinking about your options early on to make your business work.

We spent a lot of time and resources in building a perfect product. In doing that we wasted a lot of time. We built unnecessary features that our customers did not want. Eventually, I realized, maybe the whole universe will die one day but the product perfection won’t ever occur.

I learned that the best approach is building a minimum viable product. Go to customers and based on customer’s feedback you gradually add features to the product.
In the early stage, we were building the product first, without any testing and validation. We wasted many months in the process. That taught me to stay humble and be doubtful about product features. Instead, build an MVP and test and build as you go.

Future Startup

Have you raised any investment?

Iram Rahman

We started out with our small savings. After a while into the business, we took a small loan from our friends and families. At the end of 2017, we took a bank loan. Right now, we are looking for investments.

Future Startup

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What are the challenges now?

Iram Rahman

I will tell you two stories. It was 2017. We had one-month runway. We just pivoted from the consumer version to enterprise version and working on the product. Our team became depressed. We are sure that we are leaving the office and after that, maybe there won’t be room for any development. We didn’t have any sales at the moment. Suddenly, we got a call from Mercantile Bank. They have opened a scheme for startups. With small security, they would provide a loan.

They got our contact info from Banglalink. How Banglalink has our info? We participated in a competition in Banglalink back in 2015-16 where we became one of the top 25. It was a time when we were thinking to close our operation and get back to our regular life to save more money and retry later. Just a single phone call changed that whole scenario overnight.

The second story was about hiring. It was in early 2018. We hired one backend and one android developer. A few months later, we had to end the contract with them because we realized none of them is a good resource. So, we were in search of people again. We got a backend developer soon but we couldn’t get an android developer. It hampered our development a lot. On the other hand, we had a few potential customers waiting for the product. I could not make you understand the feeling unless you ever fall in the same situation. We tried many ways like hiring agencies and trying for other resources but none worked. Eventually, we solved that by hiring an Indian android developer (remote) who worked very hard and met our requirements. Though the solution was expensive, considering the work quality and delivery time, we were happy.

We still have money and resource problem. We solve it all the time in one way or another.

Currently, our challenge is scaling. We are at a very good position to scale. So we need some bigger funding and sales strategy. I hope we will also solve this problem very soon.

Future Startup

How does your sales and marketing work? What is the secret of B2B sales? What is the key to B2B sales and growth

Iram Rahman

We never spent a penny on marketing. Truth is, sometimes we tried. But eventually, we couldn’t execute any marketing. So, I cannot tell you any marketing strategies. Regarding sales, it’s simple. If you are good at math, you understand it. You see, our target customers are business people. So traditional facebook marketing won’t work here. We cold call them. If we make 10 calls, we get one customer who wants to meet. Every 10 potential customers we meet, we get one customer who purchases from us. So its 1 customer in every 100 cold calls. You wanted to know the secret, this is the only secret.

Besides, you must have a system to track your sales activities. Sometimes, some potential customers who declined may purchase from you 6 months or 1 year later. So for sales, every activities and history need to be recorded. Hubspot is a very good system for that.

Here are a few ideas regarding B2B sales that worked for us:

  • Don’t show product demo first. Build a presentation with a screenshot. Don’t show what you have. Show what the customer needs. If you don’t have that feature in your product, don’t worry. Just design the UI or make a sketch and then put it in the presentation. Customer needs to see that you know their requirements.
  • Enterprise sales may take upto 6 months to 1.5 years. But don’t get frustrated by the time length. One enterprise customer is equal to 10-20 small customers or more. So, you have to have that strength to keep following up, showing updates of your features.
  • Giving an extended software trial never works. 7-14 days is okay.
  • During this period, you do the presentation and show demo. Your customer will also be in touch with other vendors. Not only product based company like yours will be in the competitor list, but also other software firms will be there who will say “I will give you a full copy of that”. This is why always focus more on demonstrating your strength.
  • One last and important thing. Most of the time your customers will compare you with market incumbents and say “Why will we take your service?”. Tell them “Look, Mr. Customer, I know they are incumbents. However, you need a good vendor who can provide you good business right? I can give you one thing. Those giant companies can afford to lose you. They won’t care if you stop doing business with them anytime. Because they have more customers like you. But for me, I can never afford to lose you, this is why I will always give my everything to keep you which you will never get from those giant companies. This is why you should take service from me”. Then pause and stop. Let your customer feel what you said. Trust me, the customer will at least call you for next meeting.
  • One final note is, be shameless, smart and competitive. The fittest will survive in the game.

Future Startup

What are the goals for the future?

Iram Rahman

The market size of field force monitoring solution product is 4 Billion USD in 2018. The market is growing at a 13% rate per annum. It will soon be 7 Billion in 2023. Increased usage of smartphones, low cost of mobile data and more automated workflows will add to the growing demand of field force monitoring solutions.

We want to automate field activity of every company that has field forces. Although, we are in the market only since July 2018, every company in Bangladesh that has field workers will know the name “Landknock” and will use our solutions. Once we are done with the enterprise segment, we plan to work on the consumer product of Landknock to give the crystal ball to everyone with which we plan to compete globally.

Future Startup

How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder?

Iram Rahman

I have a simple mantra for dealing with challenges. That is “get shit done”.

Regarding stress, I come home bone-tired. I take my dinner. Then I just lie on my bed turning the light off. I don’t take any office call or work on anything when I’m at home. Instead, I watch funny videos on youtube and forget everything.

When a big milestone is achieved, I along with my co-founders visit some relaxing spots to have some fresh air.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to founders who are just starting out?

Iram Rahman

If you are choosing entrepreneurship because you want to “be your own boss” and will have your own time of work, then you are not an entrepreneur, you are just lazy and arrogant. So many young students told me “I don’t want to pursue a corporate job because I want to be my own boss”. All of them are wrong. All of them are arrogant. In entrepreneurship, you have to learn to be humble by respecting others and have to have that ability to shift your own mind. You have to agree that you don’t know many things and read whatever you can with a goal to improve yourself.

Second, don’t get excited about your ideas. Honestly, no one cares about your unique idea. Don’t focus too much time on trying to make your idea unique. Instead, talk to customers first, launch your incomplete product first. Then you will know if it will work or not.

Finally, learn to sell. You have to be the first salesman for your product. Make cold calls. Get out of your building. Go and meet people. Work till you become bone-tired and don’t need to take sleeping pills to sleep. Growing a business is boring. You have to do the same boring thing over and over until you see your dream is slowly coming to life.

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