The story of Analyzen is a story of unbridled ingenuity, one after another. Let me give you an example. Ridwan Hafiz and his co-founder started the company while at BUET. In 2019, when they came out of BUET, they had already worked for a while on the business but it was not ready to accommodate them full-time. Instead, Mr. Ridwan took a full-time job in sales to hone his sales skills, a quite audacious move for an engineering graduate, while working on Analyzen on the side.
In the early days, Analyzen founders had to take a lot of flank because of their young age. Potential clients would say you are too young for this job. Others would make fun of their titles such as managing partner. “Our age was a huge disadvantage for us,” said Mr. Rizwan. When the challenge persisted for a while, they came up with a strategy.
They changed their titles into abstract names. For example, Mr. Ridwan dropped his managing partner title and instead took the title The People’s Champ and his co-founder Sumit took up The Rainmaker. Eventually, they gave people titles like a Man of Steel, a Jedi Master, Rapunzel, and many more fictional characters. The change was a welcome surprise. The weird titles was an instant conversation starter that continues to lead to new opportunities even these days.
Paul Graham, founder and former President of world-renowned incubator program Y Combinator said, relentlessly resourcefulness is one of the key traits of good founders, founders who are likely to do well in building meaningful ventures. The story of Analyzen is a story of relentless resourcefulness, how to turn challenges into opportunities, how to take difficulties with a grain of salt and how to face the challenges of building a company with a small. This is a wonderful read. (The story is an excerpt from our interview with Analyzen Founder Ridwan Hafiz published in 2017. Some data about Analyzen is likely to be outdated since Analyzen has grown meaningfully in the past two years.)
Many people do not know this but I am actually a graduate from BUET where I studied Computer Science and Engineering. I was not good at programming. In my first year, I did a terrible performance. I got a C grade in my ‘C Programming’ course, C+ grade in my ‘C++’ course and I managed to fail successfully in my ‘Java’ Course.
By the time I made it to 2nd year at BUET, I realized that engineering is not my thing. I started looking for other opportunities. At the time, my friend Sumit Saha and I used to work part-time. We used to earn decent money. In 2008, we thought that whatever we were doing at the part-time jobs we could do it ourselves and make a business out of it, which eventually led to the idea of starting our own venture.
To be honest, we did not have any grand vision when we started. We knew that Sumit could make websites and I could sell them. That’s how Analyzen came into being in 2008, which happens to be the first digital marketing agency in Bangladesh and the largest to date in terms of portfolio.
We started with mostly offering technical services such as web development solutions. It was the early days of digital marketing. We could see that the internet would be a thing in the near future and every business would have to digitize themselves. Our first service was website building - helping companies to build their digital identity. The early days were tough. We had to endure a lot of trials and tribulations. There were many challenges. We were young for doing business.
The industry was different. We did not know much about how to run a business and so on.
I graduated from BUET in 2009. We had been tinkering with the business for a while now but our company was from a stable business. Naturally, I had to find something else to do. So I took a job. For the next three years, I worked at Banglalion and Qubee, both were startups at the time, for one year and 2 years respectively.
Although I had an engineering degree, I worked in both the companies, mostly in sales. It usually raised a lot of eyebrows. People used to ask me why, after having an engineering degree, I work in sales. But my plan was simple – I needed to learn sales.
While working full-time, I was also working on Analyzen on the side. I knew that eventually I would return to Analyzen and work full-time. I felt that I needed to learn sales, not only the technical know-how but also the practical experience of selling things and creating a brand out of nothing. I could see that it would be an invaluable experience for me when I pursue my business full-time.
After working for three years, in 2012, I realized that I have learned things that I could use to help my business to grow. By the time, Analyzen grew a bit and was in better shape.
In 2012, I finally left my job at Qubee and joined Analyzen full-time. Between 2010 – 2011, we made a video series called ‘REXposed’ in collaboration with Samsung which became a huge hit. It was, in fact, one of the earliest video series made for any Bangladeshi client for online marketing purposes.
We were four people from BUET when we started Analyzen, I and Sumit Saha and two other people. We did not have an office. We did many things - used shared office space. We used my father’s office after they closed it. We worked out of BUET dormitory many nights.
Today, we have a 3-floor office in Dhaka. We have operations in Singapore and Myanmar. We have partner offices in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. (This story was prepared from an interview done in 2017, Analyze has grown even bigger in the past two years.)
From 4 people, we are now a team of almost 100 people. Our ambition is to become the best in the world. This is something that we love. Analyzen is not a job for us. We are not a typical startup. We are not here to make money or exit when we find a buyer. We are here for the long-run. Analyzen has now operations in three markets namely Bangladesh, Singapore, and Myanmar (they have expanded into other markets after the interview). We have a presence in Sri Lanka and Philippine through partnerships. Over the next few years, our plan is to expand to more South Asian countries and eventually to the world.
When we started in 2008, startup culture was different. Today it is relatively friendly. It is cool to start a business. A lot of things are happening around startups and all. Our society now, more or less, has started to appreciate the fact that entrepreneurship is something important for society.
It was very different when we started. People used to think when a graduate could not find a job only then they start a business. It was seen as a sign of lack of ability rather than an inspiring endeavor.
Finance was a huge problem. The bank loan was not a feasible option. Banks usually don’t give loans to startups. Then VC funding was not a thing yet in 2008. So we had to find a way to earn and then invest.
The biggest challenge we faced, however, was convincing our families that doing business is a good thing. For me, it was relatively easier because my father is a businessman and he supported me a lot but other members of my family did not take it as something positive. Many wanted me to go abroad for higher studies and others to pursue a better and safer career path. It was psychologically challenging but we endured it.
To be honest, when I was in BUET, our tuition fee was about BDT 21. We enjoyed some of the best facilities in the world including laboratory, teachers, and classrooms. But someone had to pay for our education. Bangladesh's Government allocates generous subsidy for universities like BUET and the money comes from the public. It’s taxpayer's money that subsidized my degree.
We studied with the money of general people and many of us prefer to go abroad after graduation. I’m not saying it is bad, in fact, it is better if you go for gathering knowledge and skills and come back and serve the country. My philosophy has always been that the general people of this country paid for my education and I will do something to give that back. This mentality has helped me to develop perspective and endure both the pressure and temptation of life abroad.
When we started, digital marketing was not a thing yet. Many people could not understand our work. It was hard to convince people of the importance of digital marketing.
Another even bigger challenge we faced was convincing our clients that we are capable of doing the work and that we have expertise. Being young was a disadvantage for us. Many of the companies have told us that they could not give us work because we’re too young. Others objected that we’re a local company. Many people used to take my managing partner title, which was written on the back of my card, lightly. In fact, many found it funny. Our age was a huge disadvantage for us.
As a defense mechanism, we came up with a strategy. We decided that we would have a flat management hierarchy without any formal title for people. To date, none of us at Analyzen has any formal title. We have some cool nicknames but no managing partner type titles.
I dropped my managing partner title and instead took the title The People’s Champ and my friend, Sumit took up The Rainmaker. Eventually, we have got titles like a Man of Steel, a Jedi Master, Rapunzel and many more fictional characters. This has turned out to be a good thing for us because it piques curiosity in people. People often ask questions about our nicknames which leads to interesting conversations. Our small initiative turned us from a rookie in the industry into an interesting startup with cool nicknames that people could talk about.
There are two ways to look at challenges. One is they are brick walls and they are there to keep us out and another is they are brick walls but they are there to bring the best in us. The only way to overcome any challenge is through.
When we started working in the digital marketing industry, it was only us in the country. We went to almost every agency and tried to convince them that digital marketing is the next big thing in marketing. We tried to convince people about the changing content consumption pattern of young people that they are not interested in TV and newspapers, they are into Facebook and digital platforms. So Facebook and online platforms have to be the destination for your marketing where people from all backgrounds are.
I must say that we were not taken seriously. The reason was simple, it was hard to see the future. It always is unless it happens. Educating the market was a huge challenge for us.
But we persisted. As we have gained more and more clients and could show some success stories, many other clients got interested. Success is the best form of advertisement. The clients saw that digital marketing works and it allows them to target people they want to reach in a cost-effective and efficient manner. Gradually, we started to receive more queries from interested clients. After the initial one and a half years, we started to receive queries from interested clients which were completely different before. In fact, many times we could not serve inclined partners due to our limited capacity.
Things often change. Good days come. But it takes time. Your job is to stay in the game, endure and do your job with love regardless of the outcome. If you do good work, you will get noticed.
Read our collection of coverage of Analyzen here.