Co-founder and CEO of Airposted, Rayan Rahman, reflects on his entrepreneurial journey, talks about Airposted, how Airposted came into being, how Airposted operates, its business model and product details, the state of Airposted’s business today, its ambition going forward, shares his thoughts on the challenges of being a founder, taking it one day at a time as an antidote to stress of building a business, the importance of never giving up in entrepreneurship and much more.
Could you please tell us about your background and elaborate your path to entrepreneurship?
I have always wanted to build something. I did not want to work for someone growing up. I have always been an entrepreneur. I had a very interesting childhood. Building things was one of my natural inclinations. My grand-father has been the biggest inspiration in my life. He inspired me to work hard and be a person who could try to affect lives.
My first business venture was an event management firm called Live18 events. I was a teenager then and thought of building something like Viacom18 (that was where I had the idea of the name from).
I decided to start small and organized a few underground concerts. They were all very successful. All profitable. I saved all the money I made and in a couple of years, I had saved enough to arrange a big concert.
I went all-in with my savings. I organized it in Women’s Complex and it was a disaster. I lost almost all my money! I was like 18 or 19 and I lost almost BDT 750k.
It taught me two big lessons in life, ‘never rush and never give up’.
The next year, I started a non-profit in Bangladesh called Changing Bangladesh Foundation. It came from the idea of a simple Drug Awareness campaign that I organized in my neighborhood - it was only two people; I and my younger brother giving out anti-drug flyers that I got from an NGO in the US.
I put the photos on Facebook the next day and there was enough appreciation from everyone around me. I took it seriously and registered a company under my name.
I got a few of my closest friends together and started operations. We grew to 6 districts in Bangladesh in one year and helped hundreds of under-privileged children get a free and better education.
While all these happened, my family emigrated to the States in the late 2000s.
It was a hard transition for me. It is not easy to pack your life in two suitcases and move on. I had to leave my non-profit, friends and a life I was comfortable with to start something somewhere I knew nothing about. Everything in the US was different than it had been in Dhaka; the culture, people, lifestyle.
I remember in 2006, Jawad Karim (the Bangladeshi-German descent creator of YouTube) was a big motivation for me. I actually wrote him an email in 2006 (it was hard to find his email in the first place, which I managed to find somehow but he never replied, haha).
There were not many famous tech people of Bengali descent in the US at the time. Now, there are people like Imran Khan (Verishop Co-Founder/CEO) who I am a big fan of, but in the early 2000s, Jawad was my man. I always thought if I ever went to the US I would definitely start an internet company, like him. After I moved to the States, I did that.
When and how did you get started with Airposted? What motivated you to start Airposted?
Airposted started when I was trying to ship one of my friends in Dhaka a pair of Nike shoes. The shipping cost through FedEx was almost twice the price of the shoes itself. It was hilarious!
I saw there was a problem and wanted to build a platform where shoppers or senders could be connected to travelers traveling to their destination. This way, the senders or shoppers could get a product from a traveler at a fraction of the shipping cost they would have needed to pay FedEx or any other traditional shipping company while travelers would make some money. A win-win situation for both parties. Like Uber or Airbnb, but for international shipping.
What went into building the initial operation of Airposted? 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.
I believe, if you start something and be passionate about it, you will most certainly find like-minded people willing to help you in your venture. Now, it may need time and a lot of effort to find them but you most likely will find them.
I, my cousin and one of my friends started the initiative. I designed the UI and prototype. We launched it at our college campus, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, USA. I was a junior. The company received huge attention and interest.
And then some-time later one of the people I knew through a mutual contact, Mr. Iqbal Anwar, one of our co-founders, came on board. He helped build many of the functionalities and processes on the site that you see today. He helped Airposted to grow and scale.
He is a former Notre Dame college student who then went to IIT Kanpur (got his BA), came to the US and got two Masters. He is an incredible person and we have been lucky to have him from the start.
He was the missing part and the company took off soon after he joined the team. Airposted would not have been Airposted if it was not for him.
Could you please give us an overview of Airposted in terms of services you offer, how many users you have, the size of your business, etc?
Airposted allows shoppers to get products from the US delivered to their door-steps in 10-18 days. We have done two-day deliveries from the US too, which is the fastest international shipping from the US to Bangladesh can possibly get. In fact, we are probably the only platform in the world that can ship that fast internationally!
We are starting a Ship (send parcels, documents or gifts) service soon, where users can start sending their loved ones from US-BD or BD-US whatever they want as long as it is legally allowed. This will be a game-changer. We would be able to do it at 1/5th the cost of traditional shipping; maybe even less.
We currently have over 35k registered users.
We have just launched our iOS and Android Playstore app.
From a product perspective, how does Airposted work as a platform? How do you work with your travelers and partners? How does the tech part work?
It is an open platform like any other peer to peer platform. Travelers and shoppers can connect and make deals.
Airposted is just the platform where they meet and interact. Airposted acts as the intermediary if a dispute occurs or a transaction goes wrong.
What is your business model? How have you grown your revenue?
We have taken steps to penetrate the Dhaka market by university marketing and few branding techniques to grow our revenue.
Social media influencer marketing has also helped.
How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at Airposted?
Our team is 30+ people now. We have been growing as a business. Our services have also grown meaningfully.
Have you raised investment? If yes, 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?
We have raised $400k in seed funding.
We are looking to penetrate deeper into Bangladesh and then the Southeast Asian market.
To raise investment: the product or service must be good, you product has to solve a problem and you have to be persistent and have a never give up attitude.
Some people may find their investors in their first meeting. For others, it may take hundreds of meetings too. Spend some time in networking. Build meaningful connections. It always helps to know people.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What are the challenges now?
This is a relatively new field. Every day there is a new challenge. No one has got into this space in the last 60 or 70 years to make it better or easier.
I feel that traditional shipping companies have failed to reinvent the market. Since the international peer to peer shipping market is untouched there is pretty much nothing to look back and learn from. So, you learn from your mistakes as you make them and get better at it; be it logistics, product loss, product safety. There are a million moving parts in this business.
The logistics business is labor and capital intensive. It is hard and that is probably the reason there are only a few major players in this market.
What are the goals for the future?
With Airposted we are trying to help people; connect, communicate and share products and ultimately information - more efficiently.
We are working to simplify shipping. Make it fast, affordable, secure and easy! We want to be a known player in the global shipping industry. We first want to grow in the South East Asian market and take it from there.
What are some lessons you’ve learned? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your journey?
To never give up in life is the biggest lesson I have learned.
Nikesh Arora, who is one of my favorite CEO’s has a great quote, “A ship is safe in its harbor, but that is not what it is made for”. If you want to do something, go for it. Do not think much. You can never predict the future and so do not bother calculating it. That is how I see things in my life. It may not be the best advice for everyone out there though.
Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building Airposted?
I made some great connections both in Silicon Valley and Bangladesh. I have come to know some great talent. My partner, Mr. Anwar is one of my closest friends now; someone I spend more time with than my wife.
A mother in a tiny village in Nairobi, Kenya used Airposted to order powdered milk for her infant child from Amazon. An Airposted traveler, traveling from the US to Kenya delivered her the products successfully and the mother later contacted Airposted.
She thanked us and told us the milk was a lifesaver for her child. She had no words to express her gratitude.
So, while Airposted is the most affordable method of shipping in the world (thanks to the rising peer to peer culture), Airposted is also a platform where users can shop for unique products available only in a unique place. This story gives me the motivation to work harder.
How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder?
I work out, swim and go on long drives to relax. But even when doing these, the only thing in my mind is Airposted. So, I try to take it one day at a time.
Steve Jobs has a quote which I have etched into my heart and this gives me motivation every day, “When you grow up you get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again.”
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