Shaer Hassan is the Co-founder and CEO of Nascenia, a software solutions provider based in Dhaka. Started as a small IT company about eight years ago, the company has come a long way. Today, Nascenia serves clients from a long list of countries, has a growing business and is considered as one of the most prominent IT companies in Bangladesh.
In an interview with Future Startup, published in July 2017, Mr. Shaer Hassan explained how Nascenia was founded. Below is a short version of the story.
It took me a long time to discover the job I love. I was brought up by my parents who were service holders. Neither my parents nor any of my family members were involved in the business. Moreover, I was brought up in Khulna where business meant two things: one is government contracting, where you have to pay tons of bribe and the second, you take loan from the bank and do not repay.
So, that was the general idea of business. It created a perception that if you want to do business; you have to be clever in a negative way. You have to master the art of lying, fraud and more. Given the situation, it was only natural for my parents to discourage us when it came to business.
But later on, I came to realize that there was a certain type of people who were more prone to become an entrepreneur. It dawned on me that I was one of those people. I love freedom. I dislike being instructed by other people. I also dislike controlling other people. On the same note, I like to take risks, organize and motivate people to do something worth doing.
In a rare moment of contemplation, I found myself playing an entrepreneurial role since my childhood. When I was in class five, I formed a detective group, I was an entrepreneur there. We used to read the series ‘Tin Goyenda’ and we thought that we could do something of our own. Then at Cadet College, I started an organization named Jagoree. I wasn’t aware of any of these things back then but now when I look back at all of these, things make sense. I can see and relate the dots now but back then it was just about random acts of passion.
But as it happens all the time, I went to the marine profession to satisfy the expectation of my parents and relatives. I worked there for a certain period of time. I went to different countries. I got to know new people. But I was never settled. I left marine one year after my marriage and my wife and family supported that. Then I studied programming and loved it. My aim was to be a computer programmer.
But that was the year of 2001- the year of the burst of dot-com-bubble and of 9/11. So, I jettisoned the idea of becoming a programmer. With the influence of one of my friends, I decided to study business instead. It was the turning point of my life and I realized that business was not all that bad. I was immediately drawn to the business but I wasn’t ready yet. Instead of starting my own company right out of the gate I worked with three companies that included an advertising firm, a telecom company, and a software company.
Working at a software company was the most critical experience of my life because I learned a lot about business and software. And I loved all of it.
In fact, I joined at a Software Company in the first place because I wanted to learn how it worked so that I could build something of my own. I can remember that my interview was taken by a non-resident Bangladeshi who was living in the USA. It was an over the phone interview, he asked me what my plan for the next 5 years and I replied after 5 years I want to have my own company. There were two people on the other side and they said don’t you think it would be a ‘conflict of interest’ that you are working in a company and you are saying after 5 years, you want to have your own company? I said maybe not. Anyway, they hired me and I learned a lot from working there.
I met my partner there. I knew that I couldn’t do it all alone. I needed someone who was more technical. I persuaded Fuad Bin Omar, who was a software engineer to join me. He was nine years younger than me. One day, I asked him, do you want to remain a software programmer for the rest of your life? Don’t you want to do something greater? Do you have any idea how much you can grow in software engineering or how much you can earn and if you have your own company, how much you can earn potentially? So, what about taking a different career path where risk is high but the return is way higher than risk? Fuad showed interest instantaneously.
It was in early 2010 or late 2009; we started working on a few ideas related to investing in the stock market. Back then the stock market was at the peak. We used to apply for buying shares in newly IPO-ed companies but the application process was complex. There were lots of forms to be filled up.
We thought what if we could fix this application process and make it easier. After thinking about a few ideas, we made a website named BDIPO.COM. We had different business models for the site but in the end we decided to make it open and free for all. Fortunately, people received the product positively and the response was extremely good.
In the midst of all these, Code 71, the company I was serving as head of operations, decided to shut down their Bangladesh operation on June 30, 2010. We were not prepared for it. But it pushed us into the water. We thought this might be some kind of sign from Almighty. Okay, enough of doubting, let’s go and do it.
We started Nascenia on 30th June 2010. We brought servers, laptops, some chairs, and tables from Code 71. One of my friends from IBA agreed to share part of his office and we moved the equipment and furniture to our new office on June 30. This is how we started. But we were not entirely focused on the business. It was more of a gig for the time being.
At the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, we started to have good traction. We had a good size of business and a regular cash flow. Then we thought, enough is enough, we should focus on the business. We decided not to search for a job anymore but people from different companies kept on calling me to join there. Finally, I told them please don’t disturb me; I am not looking for a job. Before that, I used to say to them, “okay, which company, let’s see etc”. Well, at that time, I wasn’t even making as much money as I was making at Code 71. My partners were also suggesting me to join somewhere full-time. But I was determined. I decided not to pursue any job and to focus on business.
The good thing was that the 3 of us were giving 100% of our time to Nascenia from the very beginning to this day. This was an investment. Initially, I was earning like 1/3 and then ½ of the money I could earn if I had taken a full-time job. We didn’t have any external investment. From there, we moved our office 4 times. Every time, we moved to a better and spacious office. Today, we have 45 people working for us in a 6000 square feet office.
From all these hardships and struggles, one thing I can tell you for sure is that it took me a lot of time to become an entrepreneur. The mindset of an entrepreneur and a service holder is different. As a service holder, you have options to put blame on others for not doing something or not having something but for an entrepreneur, there is no one to blame. You are the person who is responsible.
For quite a long time, I was in doubt whether I could really do it or not. Even sometimes I felt like, why am I doing this? I could earn double working for some big companies instead of working so hard and getting paid less than what I used to get paid. Doubt is a terrible thing. It kills everything. It affected us a lot too. We were de-focused and this lack of focus hampered our progress.
A startup company is like a baby. If you don’t give it 100%, it wouldn’t grow.
Between 2010 to 2013, the greatest thing that happened was not the money we earned rather the customers we acquired.
Most important thing was that we, as founders, got transformed from service holders to entrepreneurs. The biggest achievement for us in the last couple of years is the mindset that we have been able to develop. This journey has changed our mindset in three years. I see a big change in my partners. They think differently. This change in mindset could not come from reading books; this can only come from experience.
We have learned that entrepreneurs think differently. They look for solutions instead of talking about problems. Average people say this is good and that is bad but entrepreneurs think why this is good, why that is bad? Growing this attitude takes time.
We started with 4 people and we are now a team of over 70 members. There are fixed and long-term projects and short-term projects. Right now we’re working with around 15 clients from UK, USA, Canada, Japan, South America, Middle East, and a few other countries. Our growth slowed down since 2016. We’re growing at a rate of 10-15% yearly now.
Entrepreneurship is a journey that takes time: Entrepreneurs think differently. There look at problems and solutions differently. This way of thinking does not come on day one of starting a business- it does for some people, but for most of us, it is a matter of practice and long game. We receive the training on the job and gradually develop the mindset of an entrepreneur. Important thing is that you have to be deliberate in developing your entrepreneurial mindset.
Everything changes when you commit: Most of our life is spent in a half-committed ambivalent mode. We are not sure whether we want to do it or not. We are always in doubt of one or another kind. This is not good for business. In order to do well in business, you have to commit. Once your commitment is there, everything else will follow.
Follow your inclination: We all have inclination. We fail to see it because we don’t pay enough attention. Pay attention to who you are and what you do when no one is telling you what to do, you will have your answer to what you should do for the rest of your life.
Leave your doubt. Doubt is bad for life.