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What We Learned from The Kow Company Founder and CEO Kowser Ahmed Interview

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Mar 16, 2021

We published a long-form interview with The Kow Company Founder and CEO Kowser Ahmed last week. The interview takes an in-depth look into his entrepreneurial journey and the business of The Kow Company and offers excellent lessons and insights into building businesses from scratch. 

Here are some takeaways from the interview: 

1. Your failures could be your stepping stones.

When we fail, we could respond to that in broadly two ways: one, by taking a path to resignation. Stop trying anymore. Giving up. Two, we can look back, reflect, and try to see what went wrong and where we might have done things differently. We might also consider whether we could find a way to use our failure to our advantage.

One of the lessons Mr. Ahmed’s journey offers that our failures could be stepping stones for our journey forward. We could use the ruins of our failures to build our next castle. Mr. Ahmed did exactly that with The Kow Company. When his garments buying house business came to an abrupt end, Mr. Ahmed did not have any job for about a year. But he maintained his relationship with his clients from buying house days that eventually led to the founding of the first iteration of which is now The Kow Company. 

“In late 2011, I started a garment buying house business. We were doing well. But had to shut down the business for some reasons after a short run. I was jobless for around ten to twelve months. At that time, I knew some buyers with whom I was still in touch online although my business ended. Through my interaction with them, I came to learn about photo editing. I learned about the importance of product photos and how the entire process works. This was how the concept of a content post-production business first came to my mind, the company name was bVcreatives back then.”

[....]

“The initial customers were my buyers from my failed garment buying house business and other people I knew in the sector. They all eventually became my customers.”

2. You take whatever opportunity comes your way.

Modern people no longer believe in the sacredness of things and work. Divide decisions are not something we rely on much. But when we do, it makes sense and our lives expand for it. In the early days, it is always difficult for any entrepreneur. Access to resources is always fraught with challenges. Founders are required to be relentlessly resourceful. This is where taking everything that you could access comes in.  If you are offered some resources when you have started small, you gracefully accept that and work hard to build on that. Mr. Ahmed found ways to collaborate with people he previously had experience working with. He entered into a partnership with his former boss and used to use his office in the night: 

“We took a small office in Bangla Motor. The owner of the space was a Bengali American for whom I worked for four months. We were on good terms. So when I decided to start my business, he wanted to be a part of it. We agreed and started on an equal partnership. We used to start our work in his office in the evening after everyone left, and sleep on the floor at night. He exited the business after a few years. We worked hard during those early days.”

3. Sales is a long-tail game, the more you fail, your greater your chance of success gets.

Wikipedia defines long tail: “in statistics and business, a long tail of some distributions of numbers is the portion of the distribution having many occurrences far from the "head" or central part of the distribution.” In simple, the more you try, the greater your chance of achieving certain milestones is.

For example, you try a certain thing 100 times, you succeed 5 times out of 100. If you try, 200 times, your chance of success increases proportionately. Moreover, with every new attempt, your chance increases because you as a player grow in skills and capacity. In sales, this is the ultimate truth.

While the percentage of your successful conversion improves as you mature as a business and as a salesman, at least in the early days, it is about the number of sales calls you make. The more calls you make, the more conversion happens. There are exceptions and you have to be strategic to achieve greater results from less work, but this principle is usually true in the early days. This is what Mr. Ahmed and his team did at The Kow Company in the early days: 

“Once we exhausted our initial network, we then did some research on e-commerce companies across markets to find potential leads. The process was something like this: we would find the contact person of a company, do a bit of research about him and the company, then send him an email, a reminder, and finally make a phone call. 

In the beginning, most companies would not reply. In the early months, we would email 500 companies and ten companies would reply, and out of those ten, we would eventually convert 1 or so companies. So around 2-3 companies in every 2000 companies would show interest. It was a tedious job but we were persistent and patient. It eventually paid off.”

4. The key to any long-term success is continuous evolution as you grow.

In business, strategic evolution is critical for sustained growth. The strategy that worked when you were a small three-people team is unlikely to work when you are a 100-people  team. This is exactly what Mr. Ahmed did at The Kow Company. As the company exhausted its direct sales strategy, it changed its marketing strategy to building community and network and scale its marketing effort. Here is from Mr. Ahmed:  

“In business, you only have to be right once. Once you have figured out a successful model, you can see that this is the right way to do things. From there onward, you simply need to repeat it. 

I am good at sending out proposals. Whatever you do, if you can find the right person, contact them, convince them to work with you, that’s all about sales. Then you have to have an understanding of how your market works.” 

[...]

“Today, we have a very different marketing strategy. We do a lot of references. We visit a lot of conferences for customers. I speak in a number of conferences abroad. So right now, instead of attracting customers, we attract interest as well as networking. Our model is actually to build relations. Our target is to become Asia’s most customer-centric editing and content production company. We want to be a super-efficient company. That’s our mission. We are still not there yet, but we surely will be there very soon. Through networking and relationships, we get the customers.”

The Kow Company followed the same path with its overall business strategy. As its content post-production business grew, the company gradually moved up in the value chain of content post-production management. In the early days, it only provided image editing support. Gradually, it moved up to build a studio network where it also helps companies shoot images, it now also does video editing. Now it does both shooting images and editing. The company gradually plans to control the entire value chain of the content post-production — from shooting to editing to everything in between. 

This strategic evolution and the constant shift in focus are likely to help the company maintain its growth for a long time to come and stay competitive in the market. From the interview: 

“The BPO sector is going through a transformation as artificial intelligence eats into many parts of it. This transformation is only going to accelerate. If a company working with a small part of the BPO sector does not broaden its horizon and take control over the value chain, there is a real chance that it will become irrelevant in the next couple of years as the market transforms.

To address this challenge, we have decided to move up in the value chain and make us an integral part of the entire value chain of image post-production. We have introduced a number of new initiatives, added new services, and introduced improvements into our existing product.”

Tithi Chowdhury contributed to this story.

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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business 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 ruhul@futurestartup.com

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