Over the last decades, the internet, an open medium that empowers consumers, has changed how advertising works. Consumers today have greater freedom in what they want to watch and attend to. On youtube, it is easy to skip an ad and a video if one doesn't like it. Distractions abound. The attention span of average humans has shrunk to that of goldfish. To that end, the age of the TV mindset is long gone. Today, there is no ad, every communication is content and storytelling. This is where Just Storys, a Dhaka-based online content marketing company, comes in. The company says it provides content marketing solutions to companies fit for the internet age.
We recently sat down with Breity Sabrin, co-founder, and CEO of Just Storys, to learn more about her journey to entrepreneurship, how Just Storys came into being, the state and evolution of Just Storys, and its ambition going forward, lessons she has learned from her journey so far, and much more. Ms. Sabrin is one of the Honorable Mention recipients of this year's WIL Inspiring Women Award by Bangladesh Brand Forum under the category of Inspiring Female Startup.
Interview, composition and edited by Tithi Chodhruy, additional editing by Ruhul Kader.
Future Startup: Could you briefly tell us about your background and your path to entrepreneurship?
Breity Sabrin: I was born and brought up in Dhaka. I completed my SSC and HSC from Viqarunnisa Noon School and College and BBA from North South University.
I was an executive member of the Young Entrepreneurs Society of North South University. My entrepreneurial journey started there. I was not sure about which sector I should choose in the beginning. I eventually found my passion for marketing and branding. I started my career in GrameenPhone as a part-timer during the last year of my university. Working in GrameenPhone helped me get an idea about the corporate world, learn corporate etiquette, and develop communication skills.
I have always been sure about what I want and strategic regarding my target. I graduated from NSU in 2011. The day I completed my graduation, I left GP to figure out what I really wanted to pursue and find a full-time opportunity. I eventually chose to work in Advertising and Marketing and joined Cogito Marketing Solutions Ltd, one of the top five local advertising agencies at that time, as an in-charge of the client and brand department. I worked there for about a year.
In 2013, I took a break and went to Malaysia to complete my Masters in Global Marketing & Management from the Asia Pacific University of Technology. My course was affiliated with the Staffordshire University of UK. In Malaysia, I worked for Robert Bosch in Corporate Communication as a trainee and had the opportunity to study with a diverse group of classmates from different countries such as Iran, Vietnam, Maldives, India, Pakistan, USA, Iraq, etc.
I came back to Bangladesh in 2014 and after coming back joined Ogilvy & Mather, a dream company for any advertising or brand professional, where I worked for around 3 years. I was in charge of brands like Perfetti Van Melle, Dan Foods Ltd, etc. When Dan cake was launched in Bangladesh I was the brand person of Dan cake and handled the launching with my teammates. We worked on the launch from Mumbai and I was there for 12 days, an excellent experience for me where I got to work with a Cannes-winning production house and some of the most talented minds in advertising.
Even when I was in Malaysia I learned more from my classmates than the courses.
I left Ogilvy in 2017 and worked for Robi Axiata Ltd. for a short time. I wanted to shift to the corporate and brand side of things after working for 4 years in an agency.
After leaving Robi, I took a break for two months. I was pondering upon doing something on my own. In the meantime, I got a job offer from Sheba Platform. Before that, I had only worked for multinational or large local companies. These were the early days of startups. Sheba had just started its journey.
Adnan Imtiaz Halim, the co-founder, and CEO of Sheba Platform, made me realize that having the experience of working for a startup would be useful for me before starting my own startup. He suggested I work for a startup to see the bumpy roads and challenges a startup faces in the early days which would help me to avoid mistakes in my own business.
When I joined Sheba, it was about to be re-launched. Working for the company was a turning point for me. I was in charge of brand marketing along with the VP of marketing. Together we hired a few new people for the in-house creative team. In less than one month, we did the rebranding, including brand and communication guidelines, etc. It was a huge success. Because if you recall, you will see that, from 2018, people started to recognize the Sheba Platform.
I worked in Sheba throughout 2018. I closely saw the growth of Sheba. It was a new experience because before joining Sheba, I worked for established companies with big budgets. Then I joined a startup, where we had to operate within a limited budget. After working in startup culture, I finally felt ready to build my own startup.
Future Startup: You have experience of working at large companies like Ogilvy, Robi Axiata Ltd, etc and you have also worked at startups. Where do you think is more opportunity to learn and gather experience?
Breity Sabrin: In both sectors, I worked in different aspects. Marketing is a vast sector and there are many areas in marketing. So one has to decide in which part of marketing s/he wants to be skilled. For example, I chose brand and communication. Of course, I had to work in other areas also. But I am more skilled in brand and PR, which is also another vast area and it is like a never-ending process.
The way I used to work with a brand 10 years ago, has changed with time. Brand and communication are changing constantly. Doctors always have to study to be upgraded continuously. The same goes for brand marketing professionals.
Ogilvy & Mather was a global advertising agency. They worked with global brands that launched their TVC with huge budgets. Working for Ogilvy was a different experience for me. Because the brands wanted everything to be the best. Working with a big-budget gives you a different kind of stress. Because you have to figure out how to utilize the budget in the right way. It has a high-risk factor.
Then I joined a startup where I had to do branding with a limited budget. I had to figure out the right way to utilize that to engage my target audience.
These two sectors are different from each other and we have to understand that. The pandemic has forced even large companies to shrink their budget and many become confused about how to utilize this budget to make good quality content. Amid the pandemic, Just Storys has worked with several big brands with small budgets. That’s when my experience of working with a small budget in my previous job came in handy.
So every part of my journey helped me to learn different things. But undoubtedly, working for a startup was totally a different experience and I think everyone should have the experience of working for a startup. I would suggest starting your career with a startup so that you can learn decision-making.
Future Startup: How did you come up with the idea of Just Storys? When and how did you get started with Just Storys? What was the motivation behind it?
Breity Sabrin: Since I was satisfied with my job and was being paid a good remuneration by the end of each month, the idea of starting my own company someday never crossed my mind. Having a regular job gives you stability unlike running a company which can be stressful.
After leaving Robi, I took a two months long break which was the turning point of my life. That break in 2017, gave me some time to reflect on my life and find out the path I want to follow. The stories of successful startups and my dream of doing something on my own inspired me to choose the path of entrepreneurship.
My inspiration behind starting my own business was to find a solution to a problem rather than following the trend of startups. I knew that I had to choose a specific area I wanted to work on.
The idea of Just Storys came to my mind after I started working in Sheba. Working in Sheba was a completely new experience for me as I have mentioned earlier.
Before Sheba, I worked for big local and multinational companies. When I started working for a startup, I noticed a significant gap between these two in the market. As brand professionals, we had to work with different people such as directors, writers, etc. I saw frustration among the writers and the ad-makers due to always following a certain rule while making advertisements. They would not get any opportunity to tell stories through advertisements, even if they wanted to.
In Bangladesh, it is quite hard to find a good storyteller. The great writers or storytellers we have don’t interact with the commercial sector, as storytelling doesn’t have significant demand from the client’s end in the market. Most brands do not realize the power of storytelling. In the 90s certain types of advertisements were popular. But with the time that trend has changed gradually. People have shifted to digital media. Because of the OTT platforms, the number of audiences for direct advertisements has reduced.
While working in Sheba, I saw that audiences pay attention to an ad for around 3-4 seconds and if they do not like it, they will skip or block it.
In terms of Facebook advertisements, we are one of the countries with the highest expenditure. But compared to the expenditure, the ROI is significantly low. Because people prefer stories they can relate to rather than an advertisement that only shows how good a brand is. It was the gap I found in content marketing.
Content can come in different forms. It can be fiction or nonfiction or even a podcast or simply an artwork. But that content has to have a story to tell, with subtle branding. In bottom-up marketing, the audience is the main focus and it tells the story of the life of the audiences to engage them with the ad. Branding is the secondary factor here and It can engage people more than direct advertisements.
Before starting Just Storys, I studied content marketing. In many countries such as India, content marketing is a trend right now to connect with the audience. In fact, I went to Delhi to meet the Scoopwhoop India team and I was honored to visit their office and get to know the story of their successful journey. That's how the idea of establishing a storytelling platform came to my mind.
Through our platform, we not only work with the brands, but we also work with young and talented writers and content makers to give them a platform to tell stories. We don’t give briefs of the brand when we tell our writers to write a story. We give them a brief of the lifestyle and main points of the target audience. That’s how we create stories.
Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of Just Storys i.e. how did you put together initial investment and other resources to get started?
Breity Sabrin: When I mentor new founders I always say that finding a good co-founder is critical. I consider myself lucky to have Yamin Haq as my co-founder who has the experience of working in the corporate world. I don’t come from a corporate background and I needed a co-founder with experience in the corporate world. Yamin joining us helped me to solve both problems. He is also an angel investor into Just Storys and the rest of our angel investors are mainly his acquaintances who put their trust in us. Since then we haven’t done any round of investment.
We officially started our journey in June 2019. Unfortunately within 8 months, the pandemic started. Although pandemic has negatively affected our business, we have managed to survive well.
For investing in our growth, we may do a funding round soon. Before that we want to focus on our goals for 2021.
Future Startup: Could you please walk us through your journey during the eight months after you started Just Storys in June 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic happened?
Breity Sabrin: It has been a fantastic journey. We started to gain traction before even starting our operation officially. During that 8 months, we have built a fantastic team and made 50+ quality content. We have our own studio set up and editing panel. We invested a lot in the things that are required to create good content such as editors, studio setup, writers, post-production team, branding team, etc.
Our strategy was to do a pre-hype campaign prior to launch. We launched 7 video contents, all at once, under a theme as part of the pre-launch campaign with a tagline called “It Matters”. Each content had some social messages. We posted them on YouTube and our Facebook page and gained excellent traction. It helped us to get noticed by brands. We started working with Twelve Clothing Ltd before launching.
We launched Just Storys right after Eid-ul-Fitr of 2019. During Ramadan, we got a project from Twelve Clothing Ltd. Twelve Clothing reached out to us and told us that they wanted a story based on the dignity of Ramadan. We created a story for Twelve Clothing Ltd. keeping the target audience in mind. Twelve Clothing liked our story and then it was published on several cross platforms. It got the highest number of views among all Ramadan-related content that year.
It was our first project and we achieved a great result. By the time we launched Just Storys commercially, we had already gained a noticeable amount of traction. Our social media followers grew fast and more people started to know about us.
We launched a travel show which was our in-house production with placements of 7-8 brands in it. We published the first three episodes of the show as a demo. It was the first travel show in Bangladesh with full-fledged production and brand placements that showcased the heritage sites of Bangladesh.
In February 2020, GrameenPhone launched a feature for sign language and we made content for that which got more than one million views.
We worked with several big names in the market during the first 8 months including ACI, Parachute, Mohammad & Sons, Cycle Life, etc. We worked with several startups, such as Romoni, Truck Lagbe, Sheba Platform, etc. During the pandemic, we made two mobile-based OVCs (Online Video Commercials), which were shot using smartphones. The cast recorded the videos at their home. One of the OVCs was for Parachute Beliphool hair Oil and the other one was for ACI Rice Bran Oil’s “Mother’s Day Campaign”.
It was a new experience for us. We provided guidance to our casts to shoot the videos and then our post-production team edited the videos. The OVCs did well.
We also did some social campaigns. We did an “Artist for Artist” campaign for which we worked with Kanak Chapa Chakma, Preto Reza, Emdadul Hoque Milon, Kaniz Almas Khan, Preema Nazia Andaleeb, and other artists. They gave us their artworks and we sold them through a social media group. A lot of non-resident Bangladeshis have bought those artworks. The money earned from that campaign was donated to unprivileged artists.
This year we have worked with UNDP on Valentine's Day and Independence Day on 26th March. We have worked with Center Fresh. We have launched a music show to promote new age musicians. That’s how we are doing so far.
Future Startup: What were some major challenges you faced in the early days and how did you deal with them? What are the challenges now?
Breity Sabrin: From the audience’s end, we didn’t have any challenges. As long as we provide good content, people will like it.
Our major challenge was to communicate with the brands and make them understand our concept. In the beginning, we were using our funds for making our original content. We needed to work with other brands to generate revenues. But we were approached by a small number of brands such as GrameenPhone, Twelve Clothing, etc. When we reached out to other brands, they liked our idea most of the time but were not sure whether it would work or not.
Our business development team and the brand team faced challenges selling ideas. It was a challenge for them to convince the brands that our idea of storytelling can engage more audiences than direct advertisement and help build trust.
Over time, we have developed some communication strategies and figured out ways to persuade brands to work with us. Now we try to make them visualize the concept first so that they can understand our work.
In terms of internal challenges, we faced issues with team development. We struggled with finding good writers. Either they were making complicated stories or giving a brief more like a traditional advertisement. The strategies of content marketing are quite different. We had to train our writers and ad makers to think differently. They had the talent and we showed them the way to think outside the box.
We consider our people who work in brand and client service as storytellers. For content marketing, every one of us has to be a storyteller. It took us a long time to train our team. I am thankful to our advisors who helped us in grooming and building the team in the early days.
The coronavirus pandemic is a challenge for us now. Brands have reduced their budget. While the situation is gradually improving, this is a challenge nonetheless. With the growth of the consumption of online content, the demand for storytelling is rising.
Funding is a challenge for businesses like us. It is hard to find investors who are willing to fund a content platform or understand the potential. There are some, but the number remains slim. Hence we are trying our best to become sustainable and working hard to grow the business so that our potential becomes self-evident.
Future Startup: What were some of the things that worked so far that helped you to grow the business?
Breity Sabrin: One of the strategies that have worked for us is taking immediate actions. Whenever we face any challenge whether it’s internally or externally, we took immediate steps to overcome that. From my experience of working with a lot of people, I can say that often companies take a long time to take action when facing an issue. They spend too much time finding out the right strategy.
I, as well as my team members, are go-getters. Of course, sometimes we make mistakes when we take immediate actions. I, however, always think taking a long time to make a decision while facing an issue will make the situation worse. Hence whenever our team faces any issue, we make immediate decisions which I consider as one of our biggest strengths.
Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of Just Stories today i.e an overview of your products and services, business model, how your operation works, team size, size of business, etc?
Breity Sabrin: Just Storys is a new-age content platform. We have our pages on different social media platforms. Our plan is to build our own website in the future. Maybe if we become successful, we will initiate a subscription model and make different kinds of content other than fiction and non-fiction. This is our ultimate goal.
Our main philosophy is we believe in the art of subtle branding.
We are currently a team of 12 people. We have a fantastic network of talented casts. Most of them are new faces in the industry and have been with Just Storys since day one. We are trying to make them the “Face” of Just Storys. We want them to give the opportunity to go forward in their career.
We are working with a group of young and talented photographers, DOPs, directors, writers, musicians, and actors. Moreover, we are working with many new composers and musicians. We consider these people as part of our team.
In terms of the business model, we work with brands in two ways: Original Contents where brands can be associated partners and do subtle placements, and Brand Contents that are solely for brands like the contents we have made for GrameenPhone, Twelve Clothing, etc. Brands give us a brief of what they want. Then we make a fully integrated strategy for them. We analyze their target groups, competitors in the market and products, to give them a full-fledged content calendar consisting of digital content including both fiction and non-fiction contents. That’s how we generate revenues.
Future Startup: If you compare Just Storys today with Just Storys of early days how much has Just Storys evolved over the past years?
Breity Sabrin: Now a lot of people know about us and our work unlike before.
We have reached a lot of audiences within a short time for our good storytelling content. In the beginning, people would not understand content marketing. We had to explain content marketing and subtle branding to them.
Now people easily understand our work. At present, we are quite established and there are others who are doing content marketing. To grow the demand, we need more agencies in this sector.
Now we don’t have to do a lot of push sales unlike before. Now a lot of brands reach out to us. We are working with a good number of advertising agencies. We have recently worked with well-known advertising agencies like Grey Advertising Bangladesh Ltd, Asiatic Marketing Communications Ltd., etc.
Our team is more mature than before. Our writers now know how to write better stories. The growth I see in my team is a big achievement for me. Having a team who knows how to improve themselves, is useful for the growth of a startup.
We now recognize the gaps we need to fill. In the past, we made much random content, a lot of which failed to gain traction. So we now analyze to understand what type of content audiences want, how we can deliver a concept to general people. So digital analytics wise, now we are more resourceful than before.
Future Startup: How do you work with brands? Could you tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth? How do your sales and marketing work today?
Breity Sabrin: We have talented young people in our brand team. We do both push and pull marketing.
In terms of push marketing, we progress strategically. For example, the holy month of Ramadan is near and we know what type of content we can create based on the concept of Ramadan. First, we make the content plan. For Ramadan, we have already made our content plans two months prior to Ramadan and we know what type of content goes with which brand. Then we go to different brands to pitch our idea and get the work.
Sometimes brands reach out to us and give us a brief of what they want. Then we make content plans for them and if our idea matches with their budget, we start producing content for them.
Besides, we constantly post our original content on Facebook and YouTube. Recently, we have started a podcast called “Just Human”. These contents work as advertisements of Just Storys and help us to get traction. At the end of the day, the more followers we have, the more demand we will create. We are working on growing our follower base.
Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made, if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?
Breity Sabrin: I always proudly admit that I have made a lot of mistakes in each step of my life. If I had not made any mistake, then I would not grow.
Identifying your mistakes and trying not to repeat them is important. When I make a mistake, I make sure I don’t repeat the same mistake twice and make a different mistake instead. I never think of not making any mistakes. Because not making mistakes means I’m doing something wrong or playing it safe, which can hamper my growth.
As a founder, the major mistake I made in the beginning, which I now know, was not being sincere in team building. I think if I could build my team differently, I would get better results.
If you want to be a founder, you have to be a good leader as well. There are several categories of leadership. Identifying what type of leader you are is difficult, but important.
I am more of a peace leader. I am a go-getter, but not aggressive. Sometimes when a leader is not strict, people may take him/her for granted and don’t follow the leader. It took me some time to create a balance between my leadership style and the company. Keeping a balance between both has helped me to improve my leadership skills. I don’t want to be too aggressive when running my company. I have, however, learned to push my team to a certain limit so that we can reach our goals.
Another common mistake founders make is making projections and coming up with strategies at the beginning, which don’t match with the operations of the company. Entrepreneurship is a journey where you constantly learn as you move forward and it is normal to make mistakes when you are doing these projections. What matters is how you accept your mistakes and what you do after that. Sometimes we lose our temper when we don’t get the expected outcome and lose motivation. It is tough when you leave a stable job and start running your own business.
Keeping the balance is a big challenge for founders. You need to learn to cope with these stresses and challenges. Not being able to understand this reality leads us to mistakes. Once you, however, learn to cope up with the stress, you progress in life.
Future Startup: Women remain underrepresented in the startup scene. As a woman entrepreneur, how much opportunity do you think women have to be an entrepreneur in Bangladesh?
Breity Sabrin: I agree with the fact that the number of women entrepreneurs in our startup ecosystem is small. Although entrepreneurship has been here for a long time, the trend of startups itself is still new.
If you go to villages, you will see a lot of women entrepreneurs running their own businesses on a small scale. The handicrafts, Jamdani saree, cotton saree, etc are mostly made by rural women. I would say there have always been women entrepreneurs in our society. But they did not get much attention.
In the startup ecosystem, the number of women entrepreneurs is growing. Of course, it will take some time for women to overcome the social barriers.
Now I see a lot of women entrepreneurs around me. I don’t think women entrepreneurs face more challenges than their male counterparts. Regardless of gender, all entrepreneurs face the same challenges while running a business.
As a woman, I do not think women entrepreneurs should get any extra privilege than their male counterparts. Getting extra privilege will actually do more harm than good.
Future Startup: You have worked for well-known companies for several years before starting your own startup. There are young people who want to start their own business right after their graduation. From your experience, which one is better? Working for a company for a few years before starting a business? Or Starting a business without any work experience?
Breity Sabrin: I think it varies from person to person. I know people who started their business right after graduation and are doing well. I also know people who worked for other companies for a few years prior to starting their own business and are now successful entrepreneurs. I never had any plan to start my business right after graduation. I had to learn before starting Just Storys.
When I interact with young people nowadays, I find them smarter than our generation. Today, universities provide students with a lot of opportunities to develop entrepreneurial skills. There are clubs, events, and competitions for young people to gather knowledge about business. The new generation is more prepared than we were.
For young people who want to start their own business my suggestion would be, find the purpose behind your dream — why do you want to do it. Don’t start a business because it is a hot trend. Because no matter how lavish the life of successful entrepreneurs may seem from the outside, they have to go through a lot of struggles and stress.
If you want to start a business to solve a problem and you are passionate and confident that you can make the change, then go for it by all means.
If you get the chance to gain experience by working for a company for a few years, it is even better. It will give you time to polish your idea and build a network that can help you to grow your business.
Future Startup: How do you deal with challenges and stress that comes with being a founder?
Breity Sabrin: I maintain a life-work balance. Entrepreneurs need to be health-conscious and maintain a specific daily routine. I try to follow a daily routine and work for certain hours and after that, I give time to myself. I meditate, work out, watch Netflix or spend time with my loved ones.
Obsessing over anything, even success is not healthy. I know where I want to reach within the next three months. I work to fulfill that target only. I do not focus on multiple things at a time unlike before. For me, if I can achieve my target for the next three months is enough and it indicates that I am heading in the right direction. Having a well-defined goal reduces my stress.
I maintain a notebook for scheduling my tasks. Maintaining a notebook, a to-do list, and writing down my tasks in the morning helps me to be organized.
People generally think entrepreneurs have to work all the time, which I think is a wrong idea. If I keep my tasks organized, I get enough time to watch movies or Netflix series and spend time with my family and friends in the evening. In the past, it was hard for me to make time for myself and my loved ones because of my busy schedule. However, I now make time to relax. Spending time with myself has helped me improve my leadership and team management skills.
Future Startup: How do you stay productive?
Breity Sabrin: After trying several apps for scheduling my work, I have come to learn that a paper notebook is best for me. I use the built-in note on my phone a lot, Google calendar, and reminders for scheduling and keeping track of my weekly tasks.
You don’t need to have everything stored in your brain. It is normal to forget things sometimes. It is useful to use tools and tech to keep track of things.
Future Startup: What are the lessons you have learned so far? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your journey?
Breity Sabrin: Be kind and flexible with yourself. Be open-minded. Being too strict on yourself can be harmful to your entrepreneurial journey. Being a founder is hard enough, don’t add extra burden to it by being too strict on yourself. Keep the basic parts of your life in order so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
It is important to find the right people. If your co-founders are not positive, cooperative, and kind, it can create a toxic situation. You have to face a lot of challenges together. It is important to have people you enjoy working with.
90% of the startups fail within a few years of starting. Be mindful of that and keep in mind that you might as well fail and accept it. Always have a backup plan.
Future Startup: What are the future plans for Just Storys?
Breity Sabrin: For 2021, our plan is to make a lot of good storytelling content with well-known brands. We have already started working with several brands. We are hopeful about two large-scale projects we are working on with brand partners and expect these projects will gain significant traction.
We have some large scale in-house project plans to be launched after Eid -ul-Fitr.
Just Storys has several wings such as Just Music, Just Drama, Just Kidding, Just Social, etc. Creating interesting and unique content across these segments is a priority for us.
By the end of this year, we plan to launch a mini web series, which is mandatory for a content platform like us.
Our ultimate goal is to create a content hub where we will collaborate with a lot of talented writers and filmmakers. We want to provide a platform where talents will flourish. We want to build a platform where people can enjoy different types of content through our website and app.
We want to create a content network where brands and influencers will be able to come together. Influencer marketing has been seeing growing popularity. Many brands, however, do not know how to leverage influencer marketing properly. We plan to work with influencers. We also have plans to work with musicians. We want them to consider Just Storys as a platform where they will be able to promote their original music.
Future Startup: A few books you would like to recommend?
Breity Sabrin: Tin Goyenda is my childhood favourite. Also I love science fiction stories by Muhammed Zafar Iqbal.
Three of my favourite books which I would like to recommended are:
The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma
Pandeymonium by Piyush Pandey
And The Inheritors by Willian Golding