On Growth: Lessons From LCP, Pathao, Chaldal, and TBBD
Looking to find users/customers for your product? Learn from the experience of 05 entrepreneurs who share how they grew their users and business.
Respond to the need of the market. Use content marketing strategically, and build a personal network – Ivdad Ahmed Khan Mojlish, Co-founder and Managing Director, LightCastle Partners
When we started LCP, we were four people on the team. We didn’t need much in the beginning. Knowledge was the raw material and the Internet was our main supplier.
We initially set up our office in a small room in Elephant road at one of our co-founder Saif’s technology firm; we brought our own laptops and thenceforth the journey of LCP commenced.
We used to do everything by ourselves in the beginning. But as the business grew and the number of clients increased, we had to expand our team and look for investment. Since we mostly serve the private sector and development sector clients, we thought in order to make a mark in the market we need to have an office in a good location. As a result, six months into the business we raised our first, and till now the only round of investment.
In our early days, we faced some serious challenges. We started LCP with the vision to educate the local market about the significance of data in day-to-day business decisions. We didn’t think it would be too far-fetched an idea provided that the rest of the world was already experiencing sort of a data-wave at that time. But sadly the market wasn’t ready. Data wasn’t as big a deal as it should be here. So, we had to pivot in order to survive.
While we pitched our data solution, local companies were approaching us with requests for conducting market research. We realized that our core business idea needs a little “fine-tuning” considering the current level of awareness among our target group. Therefore, in order to establish our footing in the market and create credibility among customers, we decided to cater to the existing market need and keep our vision in the background for the time being.
Soon after our inception, we were able to develop our own research tool: LightCastle Data, which was recognized both by Facebook and Microsoft as one of the top innovations in Bangladesh at that time. With that program, we began to build an information network by accumulating data from enumerators around the country. Our tool provided a set of services including data collection, analysis, and presentation.
In doing market research, we saw that people were fairly satisfied with our performance and they were making inquiries as to how they could apply the research findings in their business. Simply put, they wanted our consultation. Consequently, we decided to provide consultation service as well which included value chain analysis, business model development, strategic assistance, investment advisory among others.
Our company took on new positioning in 2014. The business verticals were getting into a firm shape. We began to work closely with various organizations in the public sector and the development sector. Several international players like the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ricardo Energy and Environment started collaborating with us.
Later on, besides the research and consulting services, our customer started to request us to help them with implementing the strategic decisions. So, that became another product vertical for us. We provide assistance to companies with resource acquisition, capacity building, and efficient training programs and so on. One of the largest implementation projects that we have been doing includes Unnoty, a robust SME accelerator program, supported by USAID Agriculture Value Chain.
While running the SME accelerator program, we realized that most of the current startups in Bangladesh are technology-focused, and concentrated in and around the capital. But Dhaka isn’t the whole country, and the small and medium enterprises that are spread all across Bangladesh actually comprise the lion’s share of the economy.
We wanted to bring these SMEs into our network and provide the services to help scale up their businesses.
To start with, we chose to work on agro-SMEs. We decided to apply our very own business model, Smart Capital that we developed for SMEs in line with the Silicon Valley model. Therefore, as a new vertical, we opened up LightCastle Impact, an impact investment arm that aims to accelerate the growth of the small and medium businesses through smart and growth-oriented capital and ecosystem development. It was started in late 2017.
Another initiative that we have undertaken recently is LightCastle Center for Advanced Learning (LCAL). While working with private and development sector organizations, we observed a need for awareness of analytics among the professionals. We understood that we could educate the workforce about the significance and basics of data analysis and communication by introducing a training program, that is highly quantitative in nature. LCAL came as a result of such an endeavor where we are currently offering courses on business and market analytics, project management, financial modeling among others.
At the beginning of our conversation, I said that our ultimate vision is to work on big data. That vision has just started to materialize. Working with tech firms for years has given us the necessary experience and resources to design our own analytics applications.
We have already created a separate unit, LightCastle Analytics, to work in this area. Currently, we are working with a few development clients on some exciting and emerging technologies including machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Going forward, our vision is to provide cutting-edge digital and analytics solutions to organizations for simplifying complex decisions, leading to higher efficiency, increased revenues and greater impact.
On how LCP has used a personal network of its founders and content marketing to grow its business:
Before starting LCP, the four of us who founded the company used to work in different organizations in different fields. Some of us worked in the banking sector while others worked in the nonprofit sector. During our time in those organizations, each of us tried to build up his own network. So, when we came together to build LCP, all of our networks were combined and we got a huge base of potential customers. That’s how we actually acquired our initial customers.
Another thing that helped us grow in the early days was great mentoring. We have been blessed to have great mentors who provide valuable advice on every occasion and guide us through tough times.
Our personal networks and great mentoring gave us the initial traction that the business needed. Then we soon realized that since we are in the knowledge space, we have to establish ourselves as a thought leader in the industry in order to attract more customers which eventually led us to invest in content.
We started creating great content, which we continue to do even these days. We began partnering with various organizations and organizing business-related events. For example, we affiliated with the government’s Access to Information (A2I) project to conceptualize, design and co-develop the first-ever Open Government Portal of Bangladesh.
We also took it upon us to keep working on important publications such as Business Confidence Index. With such affiliations and endeavors, we wanted to advocate a culture of thought leadership and position ourselves in the market as a source of reliable data and analysis. And if the clients need more, we are happy to help. These small initiatives helped us to get attention in the market and move above the noise in the market. Content continues to be a core marketing and customer acquisition strategy for us.
Launch fast, and doing things that don’t scale – Hussain M Elius, Founder, and CEO, Pathao
Launching the (Pathao) app was a big part of it. We did not have any engineers when the app first launched. The first iteration was built by just me, Adnan and Fahad. We rolled something very simple out at first.
Our core philosophy back then was and it continues to be one of our core values: “done is better than perfect”. Now we call it ‘bias to action’. All it means is that we don’t stay busy with just making plans. Even if the plan is not perfect, we get down on the ground and we roll with it and push it through execution. That way we can incorporate market feedback faster and build product or operations around how things actually work and take the path-of-least-resistance forward.
For example, before us, there have been a few ride-sharing companies. So what did Pathao do differently? We rolled our sleeves and got down on the ground. We stood in front of universities in Banani area and did hardcore sales to put people on our bikes.
We would ask people where they wanted to go and tell them that “I’ll take you there on this bike for a 100 taka”. They would be very confused and scared, naturally, since we are taking them on a bike and it’s an alien concept to them. But we kept up and pushed people to get on the bike and take the first few rides. We did this for three days and gave them our card to call us and book.
On the fourth day, they would start calling us. After the fifth day, they started talking to their friends about us. And that’s how we got initial traction. Instead of spending time on a lot of planning, we directly engaged in the market.
We pushed our customers from the ground level. Since we addressed a need in the market, our service quickly got product-market fit and expanded.
We cultivated a sense of community in our users from the very beginning which has helped us to build a loyal user base who not only used our services but also told about us to their friends.
Now the times are different. Our focus is now on what the customer really needs and wants. We launched Pathao Food and we did it keeping in mind the common people, a service that could cater to a large group of people. Our competitors have 600 restaurants over 13 areas in Dhaka; we got down on the ground and enlisted over 3600 restaurants to start
Pathao Foods. We also thought about the affordability of people.
A common consumer would not be willing to spend tk. 400 on an average for a regular lunch which makes a lot of existing platforms exclusive for people who could afford and it limits your market size; there needed to be a place where people could order anything of any value.
We launched the service all across Dhaka, believing that everyone should have this service. And we have received tremendous response from the market. This idea that making the product for a large group of people and making sure that there is no entry barrier for customers is critical in an emerging market.
At Pathao, we always strive to hire people who are better than the existing team. That has been our core principle when hiring. We have something called the “Bar Raiser Program”, where every new hire needs to be better than the current average. The calculation of it is albeit subjective. Is this the new hire better than employee A or employee B? If they are not better, then we don’t invite them in. This has been a huge driver of growth for us. At the end of the day, companies are people.
Now that the company is 500 people big, with multiple verticals, as the CEO I can’t do everything. We need people who could take initiative, push things forward, come up with effective ways of doing things. These are people that are smart, driven and share the common vision of the company. They operate independently with their own sets of responsibilities and accountability.
Get the basics right and keep surprising your customers – Shahrear Sattar, CEO, Pickaboo
In eCommerce, if you are doing the basics, such as keeping your promises, ensuring good customer services and maintaining commitment, you are most likely to succeed because there are enough players who are not maintaining the hygiene factors in the market.
Complains of customers not receiving a product after one week of placing an order and that too without any communication from the end of the seller are quite rampant in Dhaka. We have actively tried to avoid such incidents.
From the very beginning, we have worked hard to ensure the best possible service for our customers and maintain seamless communication with our customers.
First of all, when we receive an order, we make sure that we deliver it on time. If we fail for some unavoidable reason, we immediately inform our customers, arrange a refund and apologize and offer alternatives.
Secondly, we have regularly introduced new services and products to make the lives of our customers easier.
As I mentioned earlier, we introduced EMI for the first time to bring customers to our platform from a physical shop because that’s what we consider as our main competition.
Then we introduced FastPick, we introduced membership and loyalty program, pre-booking.
When you serve your customers, they give you business. We don’t worry about business because we know that if we make our customers happy they will return and that’s how you build a sustainable business and a competitive advantage.
Retention is the key to sustainable growth – Zia Ashraf, COO, Chaldal
To maintain growth, we have employed a number of strategies. First, we have always tried to sync the rise in order quantity with the availability of products. If we don’t have enough products available, we won’t be able to serve the increasing number of orders ultimately resulting in a decline. That has helped.
We faced this challenge in the past. We now have a new Head of Growth whose key responsibility is to maintain this crucial synchronicity. He works with the Chaldal team as well as with customers to find opportunities and hiccups on our way to growth.
We have focused on improving our retention rate.
We have reached out to our old customers who might want to return because of our recently gained brand value or don’t actually know about the changes we have made over the years and offered them value to return to us.
Retention is at the core of growth. This has helped grow our business significantly.
While customer acquisition remains a priority for us, we pay a lot more importance on retention. It is cheaper and effective to retain a customer than acquiring one.
Make your customers happy and let them do the sales for you – Kashef Rahman, Founder, and CEO, TBBD
TBBD has been an extremely customer-centric company. Everything that we do we put our customers at the center. This has resulted in a lot of happy customers who not only take our service repeatedly, they also refer us to their friends and family. Hence, referral continues to be the biggest source of growth for us.
Travel is a referral driven business. People usually ask each other for the suggestion before making a travel plan. That’s where the biggest growth opportunity lies. If people suggest your service to their network, you have a huge business right there without doing much.
Communication-wise, we have been very active on Facebook from the beginning. It has been one of the biggest acquisition channels for us.
We started investing in Facebook since 2013 and it has paid off well.
TBBD is the only agency that has a public channel on Viber which is growing daily. We work hard to ensure a presence on every mobile platform where we may reach out to potential customers.
Apart from that, we have sponsored cricket matches too, particularly, corporate cricket tournaments. We were the travel partner for Rajshahi Kings in the last BPL. We have also sponsored a corporate tournament and the teams were the likes of HSBC, SCB, GP, Robi, Banglalink, BRAC Bank, EBL, etc. We try to invest judiciously.
We have an app where we have 3000++ plus downloads combining Android and iOS. We spend a bit on Adwords and so on.
The most important for growth, to my understanding, is ensuring that you are serving your customers best. There is no other way to grow. Sustainable growth only comes from serving your customers better than anyone else in the market.
Photo by Startaê Team on Unsplash
Ruhul Kader is a technology business and technology policy analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at [email protected]