How To Build A Profitable Tech Product Business In Bangladesh: An Interview With Abul Bashar Md Sharif, Director and COO, Easytrax

How To Build A Profitable Tech Product Business In Bangladesh: An Interview With Abul Bashar Md Sharif, Director and COO, Easytrax

Brought to You By Evaly

 

Abul Bashar Md Sharif is the Director and COO of Easytrax, a Dhaka-based company that offers GPS tracking and fleet management solutions. Mr. Sharif co-founded the company along with his friend as a side project while working full-time at Grameenphone. After a few months into the business, he left his job at GP and became a full-time entrepreneur. The first year was tough. The growth was slow. There were too many challenges to address with limited resources. Mr. Sharif and his partner did not give up. Slowly and steadily the business grew.

Today, Easytrax is one of the leading players in the GPS tracking and fleet management solutions space in Bangladesh. The company has built a profitable subscription business, expanded into new areas and is now looking to explore new growth opportunities.

In this excellent interview with FS, Mr. Abul Bashar Md Sharif shared his journey to entrepreneurship and his thoughts and lessons on building a profitable bootstrapped tech company in Bangladesh.

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

I am a business Graduate from East West University where I majored in Management Information System (MIS). I started my career in Citycell as a call center agent when I was still a student.

After graduation, I started to apply to all mobile operators because I was passionate about the telecom industry. As a student, one of my ambitions was to work at Grameenphone. After a while, I was selected for a part-time position at Grameenphone. It was not a lucrative position for a graduate. The position was for a contractual job. However, when I joined they gave us a letter for a part-time job. There were other students with me. We all accepted it because most of us wanted to work at Grameenphone. That’s how I started my career at Grameenphone. Our job was scanning SIM subscription forms and data entry of new customers. The job was basic menial work – scanning papers, doing data entry, working at the back office to activate connections, and so on. I took it with respect.

I eventually got many opportunities at Grameenphone working in the product team developing Internet products and working with technology and commercial colleagues in various interesting projects.

Working at Grameenphone changed my career path and lead to what I am today. I started my career doing basic things. It was a huge learning opportunity for me because as I moved up in the ladder, I learned everything from scratch from customer service to product development to customer experience management.

My journey into entrepreneurship is a story of serendipity. I first came to know VTS when I bought a 2nd hand car. The VTS was installed in the vehicle. I got intrigued by its functionality and started to explore the product. The product was simple – a simple app with some basic features. I thought to myself that I’m paying for this basic product, could I find something better to track my vehicle. One thing led to another. I started to explore the space further. Before long I was looking to find GPS manufacturers in China. I reached out to a few manufacturers and ordered some sample devices. I started to learn, install and test these devices.

One of my good school friends, who has been an entrepreneur throughout his life, always tried to influence me to start a business with him. He had an interest in tech and wanted to collaborate. He already had 2-3 SME businesses. I shared the idea with him that I am interested in this business. He gave a positive go ahead. That’s how we got started.

Before the commercial launch, we unofficially started to sell the product to friends and family to test the market. To our surprise, the response was good. After about 3 months of testing the market, we decided to start a formal GPS Tracking business with a BTRC license.

I was still working full-time at Grameenphone while doing all these things. I used to work after the office and on the weekend. I used to run tests and R&D after the office. I practically installed 200-300 devices along with my vehicle technicians directly going to customers’ homes after office.

The traction was good. I could see the potential. As the business grew, my confidence started to grow as well. When we finally got the BTRC License, after some thought I finally decided to leave the job after 13 years.

Fortunately, I took the special retirement scheme that was offered to employees at the time which helped me to take the big decision to start as an entrepreneur.

My friend took all the responsibility for investment. I took the responsibility of building the company. Over the past years, we have been able to build a brand and a company to follow in this industry.

Future Startup

What went into building the initial operation of Easytrax? 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.

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

The investment was a difficult part for us. My friend took the responsibility of managing the operational costs, funds for importing devices, govt license fees, and other expenses. He managed the investment from his other small businesses. It was a tough job for him.

We started small. We bought devices in small quantities. Paid back our vendor after selling the devices. We are in a subscription business. We needed our system to manage the subscription.
We hired a developer to build our billing, CRM and accounts software. Another friend of mine, who owns a software firm, helped us and continues to help these days to manage the development. Our developers have a space in my friend’s office and are building our software to manage the service efficiently.

Bootstrapping a company is challenging. We struggled with investment sometimes. But my friend and partner, he never gave up and always supported all our requirements in building the company.

We have invested in branding and digital marketing. It has helped us to build a strong brand over the years. I always personally follow-up all campaigns and promotions and go deep into the impacts of our marketing expenditures.

We never make any decisions without discussing it among ourselves. Each cost is approved and needed to be justified before spending. We worked with a brand agency that helped us to achieve meaningful brand visibility. We offer excellent after-sales service and other advanced features and services which are not offered in the market.

We had interest from external investors in the past but we decided not to take outside investment. We wanted to build a company that is true to our values and do it within our capacity. It has served us well in terms of paying more attention to sustainability.

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

We provide GPS tracking solutions. We don’t manufacture or assemble any devices as we think there are companies that are great at manufacturing GPS Tracking devices. Instead of spending time and money behind manufacturing our device, which a few players are trying in Dhaka, we are investing that resource in coming up with new technology and features that others are not being able to provide.

We provide GPS tracking solutions for any type of vehicle, asset, and personal tracking solutions. We offer fleet management solutions for large and small companies to easily manage their fleet.

We tried some campaigns with personal tracking solutions for kids and elderly people and also for Hajj where parents or others can track their nearest ones from anywhere.

We have developed some software products related to fleet and employee management. We have built an employee tracking solution where companies can easily track employees, assign tasks, and upload images, etc.

We have been in operation for 2 years now. We currently have over 5000 plus devices installed in vehicles and over 3000 customers that use our products and services.

We are currently a team of over 15 people including vehicle technicians. In terms of hiring, we mostly hire young graduates and help them learn and grow. I learned and grew at GP.

We are a profitable company. Our monthly subscription business helps us to generate healthy revenue each month.

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

Our business model is simple. Our revenue comes from our monthly subscription charges and device sales. Making money from device sales is not easy since import cost is high and processes are complicated to import devices.

Our focus has always been on quality products and services. Instead of competing on price, we have invested in quality service and innovation and offering new features to our customers.

We charge a Tk 500 subscription per month. This has been our subscription fee from day one. While many companies are trying to lower prices to achieve volume, we have largely tried to stay away from such a move.

Competition has grown in the GPS tracking space over the past few years. Many new players are coming into the market without proper preparation who are trying to undercut the price. There are big players as well who are also trying to play on price.

Recently, Google maps increased their prices almost 11 times for using their maps, street view, and geocoding services which have impacted our industry. People know that Google Maps is free. But their enterprise version is not. They have significantly raised the price in the past two years.

Future Startup

Could you tell us about your culture at Easytrax?

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

We are a customer-first company. We take customer service and user experience very seriously. All of our teammates at Easytrax have to start from the basics which are support centers. All my colleagues started their career with Easytrax in after-sales support and then gradually moved up in the ladder.

Today, some are leading accounts team, regional sales team, corporate sales team, and even technical team. But everyone starts in customer support.

We have an open culture. We try to enjoy our work and always put our customers before whatever we do.

There is a limited hierarchy. Everybody is open to come to me and discuss openly any issues. Even these days, I receive customer calls for support and sell products along with my teammates.

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md. Sharif

We serve around 200-300 new customers per month and about 1000 customers pay us bills every month on different cycles.

We strictly manage our after-sale service through a ticketing dashboard. We all could immediately see if there are some technical complaints. We try to solve all the technical complaints within 72 hours. We have different support channels for after-sales service that are open round the clock including mobile, emails, telegram group, Viber group, Whatsapp and live chatbot on our official website. We have also launched our Telegram Bot which has changed our after-sales service process a lot.

We have never hurried in anything. Even these days, our strategy is moving steadily and trying to do all within our budget and capacity.

We have always tried to be the 1st mover in the market with new products and campaigns. We are now playing with online payment offers where our system is 100% automated and we have tied up with most of the banks for 20% offer.

We get lots of referral customers from our existing customers who are happy and satisfied with our services. We also get customers each month from old players who are still unable to provide features and services like us.

We always focus on simplifying our processes. We have made our sales process simple and fast. We have made our subscription sales process simpler so that our customers could avail it easily.

We never over commit to our customers that we can’t fulfill. For example, our hotline service is available from 9 am to 11 pm. Many companies say that its 24 hours but is not 24 hours. We openly say that our human agent service is 9 am – 11 pm and we communicate that with customers. Some customers expect 24 hours and we are losing those customers in some cases. But we would not make a false commitment.

We have always trained up our colleagues to say the truth. Vehicles are precious assets to our customers which they value highly. When we make any change in a vehicle, say we need to cut a wire to activate remote shutdown feature for cars, our technical teams always explain and share it with the client before doing that.

This extreme consciousness about the betterment of our customers has helped us to grow over the past years.

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

I have been learning a lot in terms of running a business. I’m learning every day. Making mistakes and learning from each mistake is critical. I encourage my colleagues to make mistakes but never give the chance to make the same mistakes twice. This goes for me as well.

People should think twice before starting a business. Once you take the path to become an entrepreneur, you should be steady in your work.

Be open to ideas. Ask for help and wisdom from others.

Entrepreneurship is tough and you would likely fall short in your struggle to building a successful company. Ask for help.

I share my problems with my friends and partners. I ask for advice and suggestions. It always helps.

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

There are is a black-grey market for this industry. This is one of the challenges.

One of my ambitions was to form an association for this industry where we will work together for the improvement of the sector as well as work with the Government. I took an initiative and invited all owners for a meeting. We are now in the process of legally establish our association. We are working hard to register our association which is named VTSPAB.

Another big challenge is the lengthy billing cycle in Bangladesh. Corporates and big companies often take a long to clear bill; it is often a 2-3 months payment cycle, which is hard for SMEs. The credit culture and lengthy payment culture is a real challenge for small companies in Bangladesh.

Future Startup

How do your sales and marketing work?

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

I was never a sales guy in my career before starting my own business. I always worked on the backend. After starting Easytrax, I am now a full-time salesman. We now have a small sales team of 4 people who visit clients and do sales. We are also trying to establish dealership countrywide. We have already set up a franchise in Mymensingh similar to GPCF models and getting good results.

We do digital marketing. We run BTL activities through our sales team. We try to influence our existing customer base to get more new customers. I still receive calls from sales lead and then pass the leads to my sales team to complete the lead.

Future Startup

What are the goals for the future?

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

My goals are clear. Launch new products considering the technology trends. Ensure steady revenue growth each month. Ensure the best after-sales service so that customers stay with us for a long time and ensure steady subscription revenue.

Besides, we are experimenting with a vehicle advertisement concept that might be bundled with our service. We are looking for potential companies that would be interested in putting ads on vehicles. We already have 200 plus registered vehicle owners who want to give ads on their vehicle bodies. This is something that I see a huge potential in the coming days. You can find about it here: https://www.easytrax.com.bd/car-advertising/

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned? Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building Easytrax?

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

Every day is a challenge. Meeting new people and trying to sell a product is not an easy task. I try to meet people and customers directly to understand the users, their expectations and concern.
I even go with my technical team for installations when we launch new products, try to do R&D with the team and then handover the full product to all. There is no alternative to getting your hands dirty.

Whatever you do as a founder you need to know all processes and find gaps in the process to simplify them for better operations.

Future Startup

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

Abul Bashar Md Sharif

Always think twice before starting a business.

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Brought to You By Evaly

This story is made possible by our friends at Evaly, a leading digital commerce company based in Dhaka. Evaly has been changing online shopping in Bangladesh, learn more about Evaly here.

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