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The Art of Entrepreneurship: Naim Ahamed, Co-founder, and CEO, Zingo

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Feb 23, 2021

Zingo is a Dhaka-based re-commerce company that has successfully built a second-hand smartphone marketplace and runs several relevant services around smartphones such as repairing, refurbishing smartphones, smartphone exchange programs, etc. Founded in 2017 as Humpty Dumpty, later rebranded to Zingo, and run by a small team of tenacious people, the company has not only experienced excellent growth, it has also built a strong business that makes money. 

Zingo is a fascinating story of determination, precocity, a critical trait for young founders according to Paul Graham, and the conscientiousness of its founder Naim Ahamed and its founding team. 

Naim Ahamed along with his friend dropped out of college as teenagers so that they could start their own company and buy a private jet one day. No matter how absurd that sounded, Naim never gave up on his dreams. That small step was the beginning of his journey as an entrepreneur that has led to the founding of Zingo, an online marketplace to buy and sell second-hand mobile phones.

In this interview, Naim Ahamed shares the story of his journey, how he started the earlier incarnation of Zingo called Humpty Dumpty and later turned it into Zigo, the state of Zingo’s business today and its ambition going forward, how he found helps simply asking for it using the power of the internet, what he learned from his journey so far and much more. 

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to this interview with us. Could you please tell us about your background and your journey to what you are doing today?

Naim Ahamed

I was born in Dhaka and spent part of my early years here. When I turned 12, our family moved to Rajshahi as my father, who is a government employee, got transferred. I did my SSC in Rajshahi and got admitted to Masjid Mission Academy in Rajshahi for my higher secondary certificate. After the first semester, I and one of my friends dropped out of college to start our own company because we wanted to make a lot of money so that we could buy a private jet. We used to watch a ton of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Biography videos on the internet. I showed my father an article of Suhas Gopinath, India’s one of the youngest CEOs, and told him that I wanted to be like him. I asked my father to give me some money so that I could start my web development firm.

Eventually, I and my friend started a web development company in Rajshahi. In 2015, Bangladesh Govt. ordered that every educational institution should have its website. We pitched our idea to almost all schools and colleges of Rajshahi city. 

My friend was a developer. I knew how to communicate with people. I would sell. He created the websites. We rented small office space and started working out of it. There were only two of us. We made websites for around 25 schools and colleges and two garment manufacturing companies. 

The business was successful. We were making a decent amount of money for our age. We ran that business till 2017. In 2017, we decided to sell the company because it was not an innovative enough company. We pitched to an IT firm in Rajshahi and sold the company for tk. 3 lakhs.

Future Startup

How did you convince them to buy your company?

Naim Ahamed

I knew an entrepreneur who was planning to start an IT firm. We told him that we had 25 clients, he could buy us out along with our clients. He agreed and we sold the company. When we told our families that we had sold the company, they were shocked because we were making good money - around tk. 40,000 monthly. 

My father is a police officer. He suggested that I join the Bangladesh Police as a Constable. I passed the viva and other exams and was put in the Faridpur Police Line. I was not interested in pursuing a government job. I wanted to build a massive business and become a billionaire. Before the medical test, I ran away to Dhaka. I did not have much cash at the time. I went to Bashundhara City Shopping Mall to sell my mobile phone. I noticed that there was no specific price for second-hand phones. It took me 3-5 days to sell my phone at a price that was not objective. 

That’s when the idea of selling second-hand phones came to me. My friend and I thought that this must be a problem for a lot of people. There should be opportunities in the vertical to build a business.  

We did not know much about the sector. We did some research online and came to learn about a company called sellanycar.com, a Dubai-based company that allows people to sell their old cars within 30 minutes. Sellanycar is not your average classified platform. It has developed technologies that can come up with a 100% objective price for an old car. Prices are not arbitrary. They have created a price engine that can generate object prices for old cars. I found it fascinating and was intrigued. 

I contacted the founder on LinkedIn. His assistant, Vanessa, replied to my message. I had a few questions. We had an excellent discussion. She told me details about their business, how it works, and so on. 

Sellanycar has created this excellent business model where it has built a marketplace for used cars. It has sellers in several markets in the Middleeast who buy cars from Sellanycar. Sellanycar buys from users and then sells it to these sellers in multiple markets. It can buy and sell cars in no time. 

With the understanding from Vanessa coupled with our internet research, we went on to start our first iteration of Zingo. We named the venture Humpty Dumpty. It was our first MVP. We were quite popular back in 2017-2019. The idea was we would buy any old stuff within 30 minutes. We rented an office in Mirpur. My father helped me a lot financially during this period. I had some money, my father invested tk. 7 lakhs to help us get started. We used to buy anything during this time, from old fans to refrigerators to mobiles to ovens, everything. 

We did not have any idea regarding the pricing of second-hand gadgets. I reached out to Vanessa to ask whether she could help. She told me about an Indian company called Cashify that deals with second-hand mobile phones. She suggested that I contact them.

I emailed the CEO of Cashify and requested an appointment. He agreed. I went to Delhi to meet him in November 2019. I had an excellent experience there. He started to guide me. I learned how to convince buyers, onboard them, about SOP and many other important aspects of running our business. That’s how Zingo came into being. It was in 2020.

Future Startup 

Did you shut down Humpty Dumpty by then?

Naim Ahamed

Humpty Dumpty was still running back then. We rebranded to Zingo about 9 months ago.

Future Startup

In the past, you were buying all types of gadgets. How did that business idea evolve to only smartphones?

Naim Ahamed

When we started we used to buy all types of electronics products such as fridges, microwave ovens, smartphones, furniture, fans, etc. The market, however, was not ready to buy second-hand large electronics products like a fridge, televisions, etc. It was difficult for us to find buyers for these products. We were losing money in these products. But we could see that there was a ready market for smartphones. Hence we eventually decided to do only smartphones and stop dealing with other products. 

Waseem Alim bhaiya of Chaldal and Mandeep from Cashify, both played a critical role in our evolution as a service. 

How I met Waseem bhai is an interesting story. Towards the end of 2017, I called Chaldal’s customer care and asked them how I could meet the CEO of Chaldal for some guidance. They suggested that I email their info@chaldal.com and that he would reply. I then emailed to info@chaldal.com asking for an appointment with Waseem bhai. He replied within a minute. He asked me to meet him the next day. The next day I went and pitched my idea. He asked me some questions and said he would invest. That’s how I met Waseem bhai.

Future Startup

At the beginning of Humpty Dumpty, your father invested tk. 7 lakhs. You also needed other resources such as putting together a team, etc, how did you put together those resources to start Humpty Dumpty?

Naim Ahamed

When I decided to start, my father told me about a person named Wahidul Islam from Rajshahi who had a mobile servicing center and also sold second-hand mobile phones. My father suggested I contact him to know more about this sector. I called him and invited him to come to Dhaka to start the business with me. He agreed. Wahidul Islam uncle is my first team member of both Humpty Dumpty and Zingo. 

I used to look after the marketing, while he was in charge of the inspection. When someone would come to sell a phone, he used to inspect the phone’s condition before offering a price.

Future Startup

How big was your team when you started Humpty Dumpty?

Naim Ahamed

We were a team of 4 people including me: Wahidul Islam uncle, a tech guy, my cousin Hasan Islam who was the co-founder of Humpty Dumpty. My cousin used to run a furniture business of 200 people before starting Humpty Dumpty. His experience of managing people came in handy for us. The tech guy was in charge of the website and the Chatbot of the website.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us about your journey from Humpty Dumpty to Zingo, a bit of how the business has evolved?

Naim Ahamed

With the investment from my father, we started off to learn about the second-hand product market. We did not have much understanding of the startup space. But we knew we needed to validate our idea in the market. We used to collect information about prices of both official and unofficial phones. We used to base our pricing on that. Once my cousin joined us, we started to search for specific buyers to whom we could sell our products. 

Before that, we did not have any specific buyers. We used to call up people, reach out to people in person and ask them whether they would buy a certain product, a phone, a refrigerator, etc. We used to sell fridges to bachelors at a low price. We sold our second-hand electronics this way for seven months in the Mirpur area. I know every area and kana-goli in the Mirpur area. It was a difficult business. We were losing money because we were buying products at a higher price for second-hand products and had to sell them at a lower price. 

Meeting Waseem bhai was a turning point for me. I learned a ton about how ecommerce works from logistics to pricing to team building, and operation, etc. He introduced me to a couple of people who were into the mobile phone business, which helped us to establish a channel for the business. 

We ran Humpty Dumpty like that till 2019. When I went to India and learned about Cashify, I could see the full potential of things. I was and am lucky that Mandeep of Cashify appreciates our work and continues to help us. 

I did not know about pricing much before going to India. By the time I went to Delhi, all of my cash was gone. But we were not discouraged. In India, we traveled to all the big cities to learn about the market. It was a super helpful experience. 

Future Startup

You bought and sold second-hand products in the Mirpur area for seven months. 

Naim Ahamed

We got some buyers through Waseem bhai. We told them that if they wanted to buy anything from us, they could contact us. We told them the price would be objective and would be fixed after comparing that with a brand new phone in the market. Whenever a seller would post on our website, we would call these buyers to ask them an approximate price of the gadget and then buy that gadget at that price. We wanted to understand the market. We followed this process for a year. 

In 2019, we ran out of money. I did not want to give up. Instead, I went to these buyers and asked them to pay us some advance if it was the only tk. 10k in exchange for leads. By this time, we narrowed down our focus to smartphones and laptops. 

The plan was when a seller came to us to sell something, we would contact our registered buyers. They would send the money via mobile banking service and we would take care of the logistics. A small number of buyers agreed with this idea because they could get good quality second-hand phones at a cheaper rate than the market price. It helped us to continue our business without any capital investment from our pocket. 

After three months, we started a commission-based model where we started charging the buyers a small commission on the price of a phone. The commission was initially 2% of the price. We asked the buyers to pay us in advance. We used to maintain books for each buyer. They could pay us a certain amount in advance and we would then deduct a commission from there as we go. We also changed the logistics model. We asked the buyers to go directly to the sellers and buy the phone themselves. We made some roles such as we only buy phones from an office address or a home address, nowhere else for safety reasons. The new model allowed us to offload logistics challenges and made it simpler for the sellers to sell a phone. 

We continued like this till April 2019. We did not hire any new teammates. None of us was getting paid either. We did not take any salary for months. We were running the company with zero capital in 2019.

Future Startup

Did you not feel discouraged when you ran out of capital?

Naim Ahamed

No. I believed that I would become successful one day. Whatever business becomes successful in other parts of the world becomes successful in Bangladesh. Seeing a billion-dollar company like Cashify convinced me that our idea would work in the Bangladesh market. I took the challenges as a momentary setback. 

Future Startup

Did you raise any money at this point?

Naim Ahamed

We raise a small capital from Waseem bhai. We did not have any cost other than marketing. We had two small revenue streams: commission from buyers and also a small delivery charge from our sellers. 

Future Startup

How many laptops and phones were you dealing with monthly at the time?

Naim Ahamed

On average, we used to deal with 40-45 mobile phones and laptops monthly.

The average value of each gadget was tk. 15k.  

Future Startup

How did your online marketplace work back then? How would sellers sell their phones or laptops?

Naim Ahamed

In 2019, the whole operation was pretty simple. Once a seller posts about a second-hand gadget, we would offer a price within 5-10 minutes through our chat-bot. When the seller agreed to take the price, we would inform our buyers. If a buyer agrees to buy the product, he would send the money via mobile banking. Then I or my uncle Wahidul Islam used to deliver the gadget to the buyer.

Future Startup

Were your partners working full time without a salary? How did you convince them to work without a salary?

Naim Ahamed 

Yes. All of us were working full time. I told them that one day we would own a private jet and that was enough to convince them. To be honest, they believed me and they still do. They rely on my commitments. Hence they decided to work with me.

Future Startup

What happened after you came back from India? 

Naim Ahamed

The India tour was transformational for us. We gathered a lot of information and realized we need to change our business.

We developed a fully automated website where we had fixed prices for different smartphone models depending on the condition of the phone. We built a deduction model. I contacted second-hand cell phone buyers in different shopping malls in Dhaka and onboarded around 20 buyers who had physical stores.

To fast pace our system, we initiated a 1 hour home pickup service and paid the sellers instantly. We are the pioneer of this service.

In the new system whenever a seller would post about a mobile phone which we called “lead”, the buyers would get informed and the buyer would send an assistant to the seller’s location to pick up the second-hand phone and pay them instantly. 

We used to just sort the information according to the location, a hyperlocal model. For sellers from Mirpur, we would inform buyers who have shops in Mirpur. We started to charge a commission for that. If a buyer would take five leads, he had to pay tk. 2000 in advance. That is how we started to generate revenue. It was during May 2019. By the end of 2019, we had 130-135 buyers.

Future Startup

How did you increase the number of buyers from 20 to 100+?

Naim Ahamed

The buyers are a close-knit community -- they know each other. Once one buyer found our service reliable, he told others. It spread through word of mouth. By the time, we made a good name for supplying legal second-hand phones in Dhaka. These buyers knew me and my uncle Wahidul Islam that we source good quality second-hand phones. 

Once we saw the growth and started to generate some revenue, we hired two people. We divided Dhaka city into different areas and assigned each of our team members as a relationship manager in charge of a specific area. The responsibility of a relationship manager of an area is to manage vendors of that location. 

Future Startup

How much revenue were you making at that time?

Naim Ahamed

We were making tk. 30k to 35k monthly. We were getting our commission paid in advance. We had a notebook for each of our buyers to maintain a record of payments and all that. 

We saw a rapid growth fueled by two factors. We could offer a lower price to our buyers compared to what was available in the market because we could buy from sellers at a competitive price. Sellers are willing to accept a relatively competitive price in exchange for all the benefits that we are providing such as pickup from home, fast processing, and instant cash payment, etc. 

Around this time, Waseem bhai agreed to invest in the company one more time. We raised another small investment from Waseem bhai. By the end of 2019, our revenue reached tk. 80k per month. 

We started to spend some money on marketing. Humpty Dumpty was quite popular back then. By the end of 2019, we were dealing with quite a good number of used phones. 

In 2020, we started to explore new areas. We built an app for our partners, which was synced with our website. It allowed our buyers to get informed about any lead immediately through the app. We started to get a lot of traction during the first quarter of 2020. 

In March 2020, we traded some 2700 second-hand smartphones and generated tk. 9 lakhs in revenue. It was the first time we traded 2000+ phones in a month.

Then the pandemic happened. We were worried whether people would sell or buy phones. But we were getting news that the Indian market was growing amid the pandemic. We decided to shut down our office and tell people to come to our house instead. People used to come to us to sell mobile phones and tell us to pay them within three days through bKash. Then the buyers would come to us and buy the phones. We did not have to go anywhere.

In May 2020, we decided to rebrand Humpty Dumpty to Zingo. Zingo is a board game where players have to match a picture with the associated word, just like we match buyers and sellers. 

We partnered with Cashify to improve our tech. They provided us three developers who helped us to improve our system. They built a diagnosis app that could give you a clear idea of the condition of a phone. We made our price engine better. As a result, our whole system has gotten a lot better. We now provide logistics support and buyers do not have to send their assistants to pick up phones from us or customers. 

Towards the end of 2020, we launched an exchange program in partnership with a smartphone brand where people could exchange their old smartphones for brand new phones from the nearest retail stores. We aim to expand the program this year. 

Today, we are a team of 8 people. We have an additional 25 people working in logistics.

Future Startup

How do you collaborate with Cashify?

Naim Ahamed

Cashify is consulting us in tech. We hired three former employees of Cashify who were working remotely from India helping us build the pricing and diagnosis engines. We get free consultations from Cashify. We have some unofficial understanding. 

Future Startup

How many mobile phones do you trade monthly?

Naim Ahamed

We trade on average 2000+ phones monthly.

Future Startup

How does your revenue model work?

Naim Ahamed

We have introduced a subscription-based commission model for our partners. We charge them commission based on the subscription level. We have three commission structures: Diamond, Gold, and Silver. 

We have introduced a payment system where whenever someone pays us a commission it goes directly to our bank account. We want to become a cashless company by the end of 2021. 

Buyers can open an account on Zingo, pay the amount of money they want to transact in a month in advance.

We deliver smartphones to our buyers within a day. Every day we pick up second-hand smartphones from sellers till 5 pm. We deliver the phones to buyers between 6 pm to 9 pm.

We have launched our Diagnosis app which can accurately diagnose a phone in 99% of the case. We are going to launch the Zingo app by the second quarter of 2021. 

Future Startup

How many buyers are you working with now?

Naim Ahamed

We currently have 333 buyers on our platform who buy phones from us. 

Future Startup

How are you doing business-wise? 

Naim Ahamed

We are 100% profitable at this point. We are expanding our service in three new cities: Chittagong, Rajshahi, and Sylhet.

Future Startup

Could you tell us more about your exchange program? 

Naim Ahamed

We started this program a few months ago. It is still a new thing in Bangladesh. We are exploring new ideas to satisfy retailers who work with us. We have partnered with Motorola and plan to expand the program this year significantly. We believe that the exchange is the future. 

Future Startup

Suppose I want to sell my mobile phone on Zingo, how could I do that? Could you give me an overview of the process?

Naim Ahamed

Go to our website www.getzingo.co, choose the brand and model of the phone you want to sell. Once done you will get an approximate price. Then you will be asked a few questions regarding the condition of your phone. Once you are done answering, you will be offered an estimated price. If you agree, we will arrange the rest of the purchasing process in 1 hour. That’s all. 

For safety, we only pick up phones from home and office. Providing the information on your NID card is mandatory. We pay additional money for mobile phone boxes, warranty cards, chargers, and other accessories.

Future startup

What are the things that have worked for you in terms of growth?

Naim Ahamed

We did not spend much on marketing. Instead, we relied on word of mouth. We first targeted the Mirpur area, as a lot of bachelors and students live there. We opened a stall in front of Dhaka Commerce College and told students to sell anything in Zingo. We still do that from time to time. We also offered coupon codes of 500-700 BDT, which convinced the students to sell things via Zingo. We continue to follow this strategy.

We have made it easy for sellers to sell a phone, you upload details, get paid and it is fast - within a day. We have made it easy for a buyer to buy it and that too at a competitive price. These two things have helped us attract users consistently. 

Future Startup

What are your plans for the next couple of years?

Naim Ahamed

Growing our exchange program is a priority this year. We want to establish a well-structured channel through which people will be able to get brand new phones in exchange for their old phones.

We want to build a refurbishing industry in Bangladesh in the next few years, where we will refurbish old phones and sell them with six months official warranty. There is a demand for low-cost smartphones. We aim to take that opportunity. We think we will be able to make a huge impact by recycling the waste as well as creating access to smartphones across Bangladesh. 

Future Startup

What are some of the challenges for Zingo now?

Naim Ahamed

Finding good people is the biggest challenge for us right now. There are other challenges such as logistics but we are hopeful that we will be able to overcome them. 

Future Startup

What are some lessons you have learned so far? 

Naim Ahamed

You don’t need a lot of investors to grow, one investor should be enough to put you on the right trajectory. Similarly, you don’t need to be right all the time, you need to be right once. 

Once you have a healthy business, raising money should not be a challenge for you.

Never give up.

Focus is critical in business and life. When I look back now, I think had we focused on only mobile phones instead of doing everything in the first two years, we could have saved us both time and money. 

Future Startup

You raise a seed investment of late. 

Naim Ahamed

We raised around tk. 3 million in seed investment from Mohammad Maaz, Managing Director of Steeltech Industries. He is an active angel investor in the Bangladesh startup ecosystem.  

Future Startup

How big is the market of second-hand phones in Bangladesh?

Naim Ahamed

To our estimate, the second-hand smartphone market is around tk. 170 billion. But this is guesswork and we do not have any data. The market for second-hand smartphones is bigger than the market for brand new smartphones. 

I think we need 2 to 3 more players in this industry to organize a second-hand marketplace

Future Startup

How do you operate as a founder?

Naim Ahamed

I usually make a five-day schedule for the weekdays where I spend time in meetings with our different teams. For example, I spend time with the marketing team on the first two days, the next two days with the finance team, and on the last day, I go through the overall operation, tech, and business. 

On the weekend, I spend time with myself - thinking and reflecting and also making plans with my partners. 

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