Zanala Bangladesh, a leading communication services company based in Dhaka, was founded in 2001. Over the years, Zanala Bangladesh has built an empire from scratch. Started as a scrappy software development company in 2001, today, Zanala has businesses in communication, hardware and software development, tourism, pure food and much more.
In an interview with Future Startup, published in September 2018, Tamzid Siddiq Spondon, Co-founder and Managing Director of Zanala Bangladesh shared how Zanala came into being and the lessons that he has learned over the years from his journey. This is the creation story of Zanala Bangladesh extracted from our long-form interview with Mr. Spondon published in early 2018.
When and how Zanala Bangladesh came into being
In 2001, we, I and one of my School friends, started Zanala Bangladesh. And we continue to be the two partners at Zanala Bangladesh – I’m the Managing Director and he is the Chairman. When we started Zanala, I had not finished my graduation yet. The business was a new territory for me. I was the first person in my family to pursue entrepreneurship as a career.
We are five siblings. My father was a bureaucrat. He retired as DG, IMED. Although my parents eventually came to accept and appreciate our work, initially, they did not support my decision. My father wanted me to join the government service or get a proper and secure job.
The business was not encouraged in our society at the time. People did not expect someone with a university degree to start a business. There was a negative connotation attached to it. People did not see a businessman in a positive light. This perception continues to reverberate in our society even these days. However, the situation has improved a lot. In our time, it was way more intense. We had to endure many social challenges.
We started the Zanala Bangladesh with almost zero capital and literally out of a garage. We had one computer and a team of 5 people! So it was not feasible for everyone to work at the same time. We would work in rotation-basis because since we did not have computers for everyone in the team, we would schedule our work and time and manage somehow. All five of us started as partners, which means we did not have to pay a fixed salary to anyone and did not have much overhead. However, it did not continue in that vein for long.
After a while, when we decided to form a company, the rest of the members decided not to continue except I and my partner now. They realized that the business would not go anywhere and sticking around would eventually result in nothingness. It was a logical decision on their part, which made perfect sense at that time. Two of us decided to stick to it and see it through to the end. Although this sounds like a pretty straightforward decision today, it was not at that time. It was a difficult decision. We had to muster every bit of courage that we had. Moreover, things did not improve after that decision. Rather opposite. We had to go through pretty much all kinds of struggles.
Finance was a challenge because we did not have investment, we did not take any bank loan, in fact, to these days, we never took a bank loan, we have grown completely organically. One of the reasons, of course, we don’t understand banking that well. We are learning about it. Sometimes, it is tough to take a business to the next level without investment.
I would suggest to the new entrepreneurs that they invest time and effort in understanding these financial intricacies. We had to endure many strenuous situations for our lack of financial knowledge. There are many issues related to taxation, VAT and many other things which if you don’t know you would end up losing money.
We made all those mistakes for which we had to pay extra fees which we could have avoided if we were a little more prudent. After twenty years of business, we understand these things now. Young entrepreneurs should take these small and boring things seriously and pay sufficient attention to these areas from the very beginning.
The business has a fun part, it also has bitter parts. We often talk about fun parts and overlook the challenging aspects of it. I suggest you tread the not-so-glamorous part of the business with greater deliberation.
Zanala Bangladesh started as a pure software development company. Many experienced and well-known programmers worked with us in our early days. We worked with many international clients including Australian La Trobe University, Victoria University, etc and as well as local clients.
Life takes you places
At one point in Zanala Bangladesh journey, we became bored with what we were doing, developing software for clients and earning money. We were not enjoying our work. The business was doing well but we’re missing the joy at work. That’s when the thought of trying a change came to our mind for the first time.
We spent some time mulling over it. We spent hours contemplating the fact that we chose entrepreneurship as a career because of our passion so that we could do what we enjoy doing. Since we are not finding joy at work anymore, we should change. That’s how we decided to shift our direction to creative work because we have always been passionate about creative projects. Gradually, we pivoted to a communication company.
We started by slowly shifting our focus to new areas, increasing our range of offerings and shifting towards more specialized development. Eventually, we decided that Zanala Bangladesh would work only in digital content, content development, content management, and digital communication.
We gradually separated our software development component and turned it into another company called Zanala Systems Limited to work mainly on device-based solutions such as a kiosk for the financial sector, retailers, and others.
Today, Zanala Systems is the only company in Bangladesh that makes these products completely locally. We do everything, from hardware to software, in-house. We have our own production facility where we do the manufacturing. Although small, we do everything ourselves at Zanala Systems.
To date, Zanala Systems has over 450 installations all over Bangladesh. We have a small office in Nepal as well, where we are going to have installations soon. We started Zanala Systems in 2009. So you could say that from 2001-2009 we went through this shift.
Read our complete collection of coverage of Zanala Bangladesh here.