Building A Regional Technology Company With Firoze M Zahidur Rahman, Founder and CEO, Loosely Coupled Technologies

Building A Regional Technology Company With Firoze M Zahidur Rahman, Founder and CEO, Loosely Coupled Technologies

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Firoze M Zahidur Rahman is the founder and CEO of Loosely Coupled Technologies(LCT), the Kuala Lumpur-based technology company that uses Artificial Intelligence, NLP and Data Analytics in business applications. Prior to LCT, Mr. Firoze founded SSD-Tech and built it into one of the largest technology companies in Bangladesh valued at US$63 million and a regional player in the Asia Pacific having operations in multiple markets.

In this excellent interview LCT Founder and CEO Firoze M Zahidur Rahman walks us through his path to entrepreneurship, how LCT came into being, the early days of LCT, how LCT has evolved and grown from a mere idea into a company with clients in multiple countries, sheds light on business model of LCT, internal culture, its business today and ambition going forward, talks about raising money, growing the business, challenges of being a founder, lessons he has learned from his journey so far and much more.

Future Startup

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

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

I am the youngest of my family with 4 siblings. My father was a government servant, retired as an Additional Secretary and Chairman, Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation. We were no different from any other middle-class family. We could not afford expensive education within the country or go abroad. Studying hard and getting to a good Public University was the only way forward. That’s what I did.

I am a Mechanical Engineer from BUET. Later, I did an MBA from IBA, Dhaka University. I also did a short Advance Management Program at Hong Kong University and a 6-week course from Harvard Business School (Online) (with distinction) on Disruptive Business Strategy.

I’m 40 now. My wife is a dentist. We have been living in Malaysia for the last more than 10 years. I have a 10-year-old son.

I am currently working with Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing. The focus is to drive sales automation using data analytics and AI.

Future Startup

Could you please elaborate your path to entrepreneurship?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

I’m known for having strong opinions and have been quite assertive throughout my life. My close friends used to say that I could never survive a proper job. On the other hand, I come from a service holder family. We have doctors, engineers, academicians, bankers in the family. After graduating from BUET, when I decided to start my own business, it was a bold decision. More so because I didn’t have any fund to start my business. Moreover, the social acceptance of entrepreneurship was painfully low in those days.

In those days, the general perception was – “if you cannot get a good job, you start a business”. I was in a relationship and I had to get married soon after graduating from BUET. The social pressure was huge. But my family was supportive throughout the way. So you may say I was in quite a precarious situation when I decided to pursue entrepreneurship as a career.

I started my first venture SSD-TECH (Systems Solutions & Development Technologies) when I was a student of 3rd Year in BUET. Over the years, SSD-TECH has grown into a regional player serving clients across the Asia Pacific region and having a presence in more than 4 countries.

Our initial focus was in the Financial Sector. We gradually expanded to customized development for large multinationals. Initially, I played the role of CTO, and then I led the organization as CEO till September 2016. During my tenure as CEO, SSD-TECH heavily focused on building telecom VAS platforms and expanded in High-Speed Optical Fiber-Based Internet Service – many of you probably know and use DOZE which is now rebranded as Carnival. Afterward, we hired a non-owner, professional CEO and I limited my role as a director of the board and 50% shareholder only.

From SSD-TECH’s investment arm Mind Initiatives, we have invested in a few companies in Bangladesh including E-Courier and Codero.

In 2017, I started Loosely Coupled Technologies in Malaysia, focusing on Artificial Intelligence, NLP and Data Analytics. We are heavily focused on identifying consumer insights and enabling data-driven sales. We have a presence in 3 countries and are serving clients across 5 countries now.

I started my first venture SSD-TECH (Systems Solutions & Development Technologies) when I was a student of 3rd Year in BUET. Over the years, SSD-TECH has grown into a regional player serving clients across the Asia Pacific region and having a presence in more than 4 countries.

Future Startup

When and how did get started with Loosely Coupled Technologies? What motivated you to start Loosely Coupled Technologies?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

This is an interesting story. After I got my new CEO joining SSD-TECH, the organization I built in 13 years, I had time to look back at my life. I was not planning to retire at the age of 37 in 2016. But I was looking for time off from technology business. It is stressful. You need to continuously learn, experiment, unlearn – it is too much. I started exploring T-Shirt business and other trading business options. But I was not enjoying any of those. It felt exceptionally dry. Meanwhile, I got myself enrolled in Disruptive Business Strategy course in Harvard Business School Online program. It was a life-changing education.

It was Chinese New Year, 2017 – we went for a family dinner. My friend and mentor, Zarif, who was a partner in one of the largest consulting companies across the world, showed me some article on Cambridge Analytica and told me that he wants to have a responsible public sentiment analysis and if I can do it or not.

I found it very interesting. I got super excited and eventually started building something as more of an exploration. At the time, one of my colleagues Promee, who built many core technology components with me at SSD-TECH, was planning a change. I asked her to join me. First few months, she worked from home in Bangladesh. In June 2017, we set up our development center in Bangladesh and this is where we are today.

Future Startup

What went into building the initial operation of Loosely Coupled Technologies? 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.

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

We started as a revenue-first company. Loosely Coupled Technologies had its revenue from the very beginning. We mostly grew out of our own revenue. The initial incorporation related expenses were born by me.

I myself along with one teammate, we started the company. It was a low-cost operation. We were only two people initially and our first contract was more than 60K USD which was more than enough for us to get started.
We were more hard-pressed with delivery than money. Financial pressure was not that high during the initial days.

Future Startup

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

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

We serve businesses. Our direct numbers of customers are around 20. We process around 6 GB consumer conversation data a month.

We have served around 120K unique user interacting with our BOT.

We are a 15 person team. We currently serve customers in 5 countries.

Future Startup

What is your business model? How have you grown your revenue?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

We do projects for large multinationals and governments. We serve institutional startups. It has always been referrals so far.

Now, we are focusing on generalizing our platform to reduce the complexity and make it more useful to a larger customer base. AI and NLP is a complex domain, linking it to right use cases so that our clients can start using it instantly is our current goal.

We are looking at pay per use, subscription-based and revenue share business model. We want our clients to get started at low involvement and taste the technology first. We are open and flexible in terms of the business model as we believe it has to evolve with feedback from the market.

I myself along with one teammate, we started the company. It was a low-cost operation. We were only two people initially and our first contract was more than 60K USD which was more than enough for us to get started.
We were more hard-pressed with delivery than money. Financial pressure was not that high during the initial days.

Future Startup

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

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

We are a programming company and work is our life.

We are a small team of 15 high functioning talented people. We believe in young talent who can challenge the status quo, are fearless and can build things from scratch. For us work is life and we believe there is nothing called work-life balance. We enjoy what we do. The work culture is intense, genuine and you cannot fake. We are a hands-on tech company. If you feel shirtless if someone looks into the codes you write and makes comment, LCT is not the place for you to work.

Future Startup

On average how many customers do you serve per month? How have you attracted customers and grown Loosely Coupled Technologies? Could you tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

We serve large multinationals and institutional startups, mainly. Our project value ranges from 50K USD to 100K USD. And project duration ranges between 6 to 20 weeks. In a year we serve around 3 to 6 clients.

So far we grew out of referrals – our one customer referred to another. Since we were a self-funded company we needed to run ourselves from the revenue we generate. It’s a very cash flow driven strategy. We were also building our core technology frameworks out of the free cash flow we had so that we could morph into a product company.

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned in growing a business? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your journey?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

You need to build software quickly and you need to recode as the business grows. There are stages of business that requires a different scale of programming. Speed should always be prioritized. You build systems that scale over time, but hitting the right functional fit quickly is the key.

Focus on your technology, that’s the only way to scale quickly. Data is a great friend; always validate assumptions with data as you move on. There is a huge gap between user intent and action. Technology must give proper visibility of that gap so that it can be minimized objectively.

The key is not in what you are building or solving, it is in how you are doing it so that you maintain and find your unfair advantage. There has to be some unfair advantage if you want to survive and win in the market in the long run.

You need advisors and mentors who will ask the right questions that will help you to think. Nobody else can solve your problem, you have to solve your problems but they can help you to frame your problem statement.

Future Startup

You have raised an investment recently; could you please tell us more about it? How much have you raised? What are the plans now? What does it take to raise investment? What should founders who are trying to raise investment be mindful of?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

It was more of a validation for us. We know from our heart that we are building exciting things that are in-style and in-demand. But it is always great to find someone else who also sees the same thing as we do and evaluates us independently. Most importantly believes in us with their money.

I think the most important thing that is needed to raise fund is knowing what the fund will be used for. For any founder, the key thing for fund-raising is to know how the money is going to help to make more money. End of the day as a founder or CEO once you start taking other people’s money, you must have a clear roadmap of maximizing their value. Some other people are going to put money on your idea, blood, sweat, and tear – it’s a great validation but you must show your position and the true level of commitment (focus on the word true level) so that your investors are clear whom they are getting married to.

As founders, we must know what we are looking from investors. For LCT, money was secondary; we had other options to consider. But for me, the key was to get someone else to do detailed due diligence, ask us the right questions that will help us to think and eventually will have the ability to build systems inside the teams without affecting the culture.

Speed should always be prioritized. You build systems that scale over time, but hitting the right functional fit quickly is the key.

Future Startup

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

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

I think the biggest challenge is to implement and maintain the development process inside the team. Aligning everyone to follow the design guideline and maintain the coding guideline and process is the biggest challenge I have always faced and still I think this is the biggest challenge. Everyone wants to write codes in their own way. Aligning that to the bigger roadmap is a big challenge always.

Future Startup

How does your sales and marketing work? You serve mostly enterprise/B2B clients, what are the secrets of B2B sales?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

Word of mouth and referral have been our key drivers of growth so far. I think the key to B2B sales is to speak customers’ language and be able to understand/frame the proper problem statement for the prospect. Everything boils down to one point, how well can you solve the problem for the business that can be implemented in their environment with minimum friction.

Future Startup

What are the goals for the future?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

The goal is to establish LCT as the industry standard for business insights and NLP framework in the region, especially around the local language conversational Artificial Intelligence. The immediate goal is to grow as a 100M USD valued company in next 5 years.

We believe that conversational text is going to be the biggest data source for all interaction, and AI will enable us to interact with all machines and applications just the way we interact in a human world. We don’t want all these to happen without us. Rather we want to drive it from the very beginning.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is about doing less not doing more. You need to focus on the most important 1 to a maximum of 3 items at a time. That is how you maximize the outcome. Spreading yourself too thin is a big risk.

The other most important lesson is that never go for perfection. It’s a big trap. Perfection is your own definition of correct or completeness that in most cases not a good fit for your customers. Always look for maximizing outcome and often that requires excelling in some key areas important to your customers, not really making something perfect as per your own definition.

I think the most important thing that is needed to raise fund is knowing what the fund will be used for. For any founder, the key thing for fund-raising is to know how the money is going to help to make more money. End of the day as a founder or CEO once you start taking other people’s money, you must have a clear roadmap of maximizing their value. Some other people are going to put money on your idea, blood, sweat, and tear – it’s a great validation but you must show your position and the true level of commitment (focus on the word true level) so that your investors are clear whom they are getting married to.

Future Startup

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building Loosely Coupled Technologies?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

I believe our speed of development and technology frameworks have been the biggest advantage that we have realized and leveraged in LCT. I believe that I and my COO has a unique way to approach and develop a solution that enables us to come up with business solutions for our customers very quickly that can help go to market faster.

Code flexibility is the key for us that we have learned and leveraged a lot.

One of the biggest learning that we had in LCT is, for new technologies, fresher grads from top universities work a lot better than many experienced developers who are already typed with certain styles. Freshers can be fearless if you enable them.

Future Startup

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

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

I pray, it always helps and I believe it is the most de-stressing thing that one can do. I sleep. I can sleep in 30 sec and almost anywhere. Besides, I listen to music, watch a movie with my wife, son, friends, and family. Hangout with best friends – real long hangout like 4 hours to 2 days – based on the situation. When I am stressed, I spend time with my wife, we eat out a lot.

One regular thing that I do is spend about an hour alone, reflecting and planning. For me, I need to write things down. Once I can see things on paper/drawn out, I feel less stressed. I am not worried about problems; I mainly need to know what they are so that I can decide if it is worth taking the stress.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is about doing less not doing more. You need to focus on the most important 1 to a maximum of 3 items at a time. That is how you maximize the outcome. Spreading yourself too thin is a big risk.

Future Startup

What is your advice for founders who are just starting out?

Firoze M Zahidur Rahman

Be good in technology and building stuff if you are in the technology business. Acquire functional /domain knowledge, be good in execution. Measure and monitor the thing you have built on a daily basis if not hourly or near real-time. I cannot comment on other business.

Build a great mentor network who can explain your situation and give you the right set of lenses to look at your situation.

Evaluate opinions and finally decide on your own. Feedbacks are important, more important is to decide which feedback you will work on and which you will live with. Also remember, ignoring feedback doesn’t mean it’s not important or it is not true. Be aware that it’s still there you just decided not to handle it.

Above everything, always remember, nothing is the end of the world. Always dream big. Make your own choices. It is you who will decide if you want to die BIG or live small.

One regular thing that I do is spend about an hour alone, reflecting and planning. For me, I need to write things down. Once I can see things on paper/drawn out, I feel less stressed. I am not worried about problems; I mainly need to know what they are so that I can decide if it is worth taking the stress.

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