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Hard Times #5: Styline CEO Khobaib Chowdhury and CTO Wasik Mursalin on Pandemic Productivity, How Styline is Dealing With COVID-19 Challenges and Styline’s Unfolding Post-pandemic Strategy

In this episode of Hard Times, I speak with Styline CEO Khobaib Chowdhury and CTO Wasik Mursalin, about how they are dealing with the impact of COVID-19 in personal life and in business, the impact of the pandemic on the modest fashion and lifestyle industry, the future of fashion in a post-pandemic world, what it means to deal with difficult times and what we personally can do to maintain our emotional sanity and what founders can do to ensure they survive through the pandemic and much more. 

Show notes:

(00:18) Wasik Mursalin: I'm trying to maintain a routine. If you are a parent, you need to schedule your day if you want to be productive. I try to divide my days into three parts. In the morning, I mostly attend things that need a bit of thinking and critical concentration and then do the meetings and communication-related things in the afternoon. Since we are all working from home, I try not to keep any task in the evening. I'm playing video games a bit more than I would in regular time. 

(06:17) Khobaib Choudhury: Running a startup is always stressful. What we are going through now, however, is bigger than anything that we have seen before. What helps though is when you can share your challenges and thoughts with everyone in the team. So we are consistently maintaining communication with the entire team. We are having chats, video calls, and regular meetings. This is not easy when everyone is working from home. But when you can do this, it helps. Personally, I have started an Instagram food blog. Apart from that, I try to write a personal journal. It helps you to regroup your thinking and it helps you to assess what you have done in a day. Apart from that, I'm trying to stick to my old routines and hobbies such as learning a language and so on. I think the best approach to dealing with stress is getting to a mindset where you assume that stress comes with the territory and you essentially don't complain because of the stress. When you decide to accept whatever comes your way, it gets easier to deal with it. 

In terms of structure, in normal time, I try to follow a routine, I divide my days into two parts: the first half and the second half. The first is the productive half. After waking up, your brain is fresh, I try to spend the time in thinking, brainstorming, and doing work that requires solitary time and deep focus. No meetings, no calls, the first half is about deep focus and solving critical issues. Second half after lunch, I usually do the meetings, calls, working with others and following ups, etc. Right now, we are not in a normal situation. This is more like wartime. There is no time for brainstorming. You need to do work and brainstorm together. There is no time for research and then work. You have to do both at the same time. You have to think and implement it at the same time. 

(12:20) Khobaib Chowdhury: Lifestyle is more like luxury products right now. People are more focused on Chaldal and Grocery instead of fashion and other things. Moreover, when do people buy lifestyle items such as fashion when they are going out but there is no going out now. You are stuck at your home. So that new hijab that you wanted for a party or an event is no more required. What happened in our business is that we took a big hit in early March because people got panicked and stopped purchasing. In April, however, we started to see a slow rebound when people started to get used to the new situation and started to spend some amount on buying things that we sell. In this Pohela Boishakh, if you went to your Facebook and Instagram feed, you could see that people are sharing black and red photos taken on their rooftops. This was something that opened my mind that people would continue to shop during major events. This is something interesting. People are anxious and bored. They need something to enjoy and celebrate. I'm saying this because we could see a rebound sing in our sales. Our retail is closed but our online sales are seeing a consistent uptick. A few weeks ago, we had this anniversary sale and we could not believe the result. Our Anniversary is on the 10th of April. This time we were not initially sure about whether we should do anniversary sales because we are going through a pandemic and there are public sentiment issues and fear of backlash and all that. Then we ran a survey among our customers and the result was excellent that 94% of our customers wanted an anniversary sales week. We usually do a 7-8 days sales week but this time we did it for three days and the response was amazing. We got 2X response that what we targeted originally. Among our product lines, dress and hijab are directly fashion and lifestyle. Our third product is halal and organic cosmetics. Organic cosmetics are very much connected to a healthy lifestyle. We have also launched some hygiene-related products such as hand wash and hand sanitizer. We are also working on a handful of product launches. We are bringing in 5 new product lines to stay relevant and support the same TG to shop from one destination. 

(16:01) Waski Mursalin: As Khobaib mentioned, we have been trying to understand how consumer behavior is changing due to the pandemic. At the same time, since we are relatively less occupied operationally than regular time, we are working on fixing the technological backlogs that we could not attend to in the past. Hopefully, using this time in the next 3-4 months we are going to be able to launch our new platform. At the same time, post-pandemic the world will be very different. Consumer demand will be very different and the market will be different. We are also investing time and effort to prepare ourselves for that future - how we can remain relevant and build sustainable operations in a post-pandemic world.  

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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