FS Bangladesh Tech Briefing: Issue 02 covers
Bangladeshis — companies, and individuals — routinely use subscription solutions. Bloomberg has a decent presence in the country’s financial sector. Last time we estimated, Netflix had several hundred thousand paid subscribers in Bangladesh. Trello, Basecamp, Asana, Mailchimp all have decent user bases in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi tech companies use a myriad of SaaS solutions from Google Workspace to Office 360 to Zoho to Cloudflare to DigitalOcean to AWS to Microsoft Azure and many more.
But local SaaS solutions or Bangladeshi companies developing SaaS for global users are not common in Bangladesh. Because subscription is not common in Bangladesh. Until now, the country did not have the infrastructure — payment, tech, cultural imperatives — to support SaaS companies. However, this is about to change. Although the infrastructure is no better today, it has improved in the past few years. Recurring payments are possible now. Cultural awareness has happened over the past years — thanks to the international tech subscription products and services I mentioned above. The local SaaS market, however, will take a few more years to fully bloom.
While the local market remains a challenging terrain for SaaS companies — for now, a new trend is emerging — a small but growing number of Bangladeshi founders are now building for international customers. Instead of domestic markets, founders are now eyeing the international markets. This development is further aided by a fast-developing trend where local tech companies are establishing international entities for various reasons such as regulatory and fundraising. Increasingly local startups are setting up international entities in Singapore and the US. This has been happening for a while now.
Services like Stripe Atlas, Estonian e-passport, and easy access to Singapore have made it easier and relatively inexpensive to establish international entities for local companies.
Having an international entity offers many benefits including allowing companies to offer simpler solutions to international users, better integration for accepting international payments using solutions like Stripe and PayPal among others.
Aided by these two forces coupled with a new batch of ambitious founders, we are seeing a small number of SaaS startups offering services to both local and international users.
Some of these companies such as Dorik are part of a fast-growing global meta trend namely low-code, no-code software enabling anyone and everyone to build websites as digitization accelerates across the world.
Others are building solutions for ecommerce and businesses as they move online such as Alice Labs.
Apploye builds a winning product in the time tracking space for international users. Time tracking is an established trend. The pandemic has made it an essential tool for a growing number of teams. The company has seen excellent growth within a short period.
In another example, Onethread is building a project management SaaS solution for the Bangladesh market. Onethread, being the only company in the list serving the local market and the only company which is relatively at an early stage compared to other companies in the list, is an interesting case in that the company aims to offer an alternative to international products such as Trello, Asana, and others. Many of these services have a strong footing in Bangladesh.
All of these companies are in their early stage either just closed their seed investment or pre-series A round. But each of them offers a peek into a different side of Dhaka’s startup scene where a growing number of founders are looking outward and looking to build for the global market. The other important insight from the list: that the world and work both are going digital at an ever-accelerating pace.
Below we profile four startups that are building exciting SaaS companies for the local and global market out of Bangladesh.
Founding year: 2018
Founders: Shuvo Rahman, Munimul Islam
Vertical: SaaS, Customer Service Management
Disclosed Investment: $500,000
Disclosed Investors: Anchorless Bangladesh, HOF Capital
Founded in 2018, Alice Labs has developed a multi-channel customer service solution and a virtual assistant called MyAlice which allows e-commerce and online businesses to connect all of their customer-facing channels including websites, social media, messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and automate conversations with customers helping them to increase sales and reduce customer support costs.
In an interview with FS, Alice Labs CEO Shuvo Rahman says: “MyAlice automates customer interactions and helps organizations reduce support costs and response times. It also structures conversational data which help enterprises to understand their user base thus managing their customers from a myriad of sources.” [....] “Businesses can connect all of their customer-facing channels, such as website chat and social media messaging platforms, to MyAlice to automate conversations for both sales and service through natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) with the ability to smoothly transition to a live operator when required.”
Alice Labs currently operates in a number of markets in South Asia and Southeast Asia including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka serving hundreds of e-commerce stores and enterprises, including major brands and retailers like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Giordano, and Maybelline, among others.
In February, Alice Labs raised a US$500,000 in seed investment led by Anchorless Bangladesh and HOF Capital. With the new investment, the company plans to further build out its product, build new partnerships and expand to more markets in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
As we wrote previously, “Alice Labs taps into a fast-evolving phenomenon — messaging as a core platform for customer interaction and service management. As commerce and communication move online, messaging increasingly becomes an important platform for customer interaction. A report from Facebook suggests, every day more than 175 million people contact businesses via WhatsApp. The trend is only getting started.
The challenge for businesses comes from the abundance of messaging and online customer interaction platforms — there are simply too many options, and customer support agents need to attend to too many channels and windows at once. For companies, this is unproductive and costly.
Alice Labs offers a solution to this problem. The company's MyAlice automates interactions with customers. It claims its solution can automate over 70% of conversations and reduce customer service management costs by up to 30%.
Read our interview with Alice Labs founder Shuvo Rahman here.
Founding year: 2019
Founders: Sheikh Shourav
Vertical: SaaS, Productivity, HRTech
Disclosed Investment: $250,000
Disclosed Investors: Friends and Family
Founded in 2019 by Sheikh Shourav, Apploye provides a centralized all-in-one time tracking, monitoring, and scheduling platform to customers all over the world. The company enables businesses to track time, monitor employees at work including tracking apps and URLs, tracking GPS Locations, and do much more helping improve overall employee productivity. Using a central dashboard, companies can see the overall productivity of the team and make data-driven decisions.
Apploye offers three plans: time tracking, field tracking, and remote tracking. Time Track provides management tools for managing your general team, including hourly wage payments, scheduling, task assignment, and project management. There are no employee monitoring features. This feature can be used to track your employees if you do not need to monitor them.
Field Track is for companies who need to track field operations and have outdoor teams such as construction teams, hospitals, sales teams, or marketing teams and need geofencing and location tracking services.
Lastly, the remote track is for remote teams or if you have freelancers working for you, you can use this feature to find proof of their work. Remote tracking is a different application that lets you track where your employees spend their time through the use of the software on their PC.
The company has managed to achieve excellent growth within a short period and says it currently has several thousand companies using its product across over 66 countries.
Around the world, remote work and productivity are growing verticals. The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the landscape of this industry pushing the growth to completely new levels. As more and more companies adopt remote work permanently, which appears to be the future in waiting, products like Apploye will become essential for every company. Apploye sees this opportunity and the company is now investing in new features such as employee attendance and leave management among other things.
Read our interview with Apploye Founder Sheikh Shourav here.
Founding year: 2020
Founders: Mizanur Rahman, Anwar Hussain
Vertical: SaaS, Web Development
Disclosed Investors: N/A
Dorik is a Sylhet, Bangladesh-based startup that offers a flexible, easy-to-use, and affordable no-code single-page website building and hosting platform. No-code is a fast-growing trend across markets now and Dorik appears to have built an excellent product — a new version of its product launched on ProductHunt recently became the number one product of the day.
The product received rave reviews from users. One user wrote: “Dorik has been extremely easy to use and has beat all other platforms offering similar page-builder solutions in price. The founders have been accessible and communicating clearly from day one.”
The platform comes with an easy-to-use interface and offers 120+ beautifully designed UI blocks and ten pre-built templates. Users can simply select and start building websites for anything. It also allows users to connect a custom domain and subdomain easily from any type of domain provider to the platform and host the websites on a reliable server. The platform also offers several integrations such as Zapier, Integromat, Pabbly Connect, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and MailChimp, etc.
No-code, low-code is a fast-growing global meta trend. Within a short period, Dorik has seen excellent growth — the company says 6000 plus users now use Dorik. We will be following the company as it builds out its platform.
Founding year: 2021
Founders: Rashik Hoque
Vertical: SaaS, Work, Productivity
Disclosed Investment: N/A
Disclosed Investors: N/A
Onethread is a Dhaka-based SaaS startup that provides a seamless multi-team project management solution for efficient collaboration. OneThread is the only company in this list building for the local market and is in a relatively early stage compared to its peers in this list. The company says it has developed a product that is affordable and accessible to SMEs and Startups.
Founded by Rashik Hoque, Onethread is an interesting case in that the company offers an alternative to international products such as Trello, Asana, and others. Many of these services have a strong footing in Bangladesh. For local users, however, international products come with many challenges such as payment issues and cost is often a concern. Onethread offers an alternative to the local users — better price with benefits of using a local service. Onethread says it has built a product that is seamless and addresses the many of the challenges users face when it comes to using productivity tools such as the need for using multiple tools such as messaging, meeting, task management, and so on.
OneThread aims to build a platform that reduces the need for juggling multiple platforms and allows you to manage your collaboration from within one app from team meetings to task management to collaboration.
The company says it has over 300 users and is seeing a growing demand among local firms for a local project management tool.
Productivity is a big thing. While the vertical has many prominent players such as Trello, Asana, Basecamp among others, it continues to attract new players trying to address the complex world of work in a digital-first work ecosystem. The vertical continues to attract big investor money.
Work remains a big unsolved problem. It is more so for markets like Bangladesh where digitization of work is in its early days. The challenge for any product like OneThread would be that Bangladeshi users are not yet comfortable with the idea of paying for software. OneThread will have to find a way around that mental barrier.
OneThread suggests its product aims to solve some of the most pressing issues facing collaboration at work for digital natives. However, the company’s product remains in its early days and will need further development before it reaches a place where it could effectively compete with many of the products I mentioned above.
Tech happenings we’re watching
Sheba Turns Five, Sheba’s business. Sheba Platform, one of the fascinating startups in Dhaka’s startup scene, turned five last month. Sheba started as an online service marketplace and quickly rose to fame with its unique branding initiatives and execution in the vertical. Over the last five years, Sheba has evolved into an entirely different company with a controlled service marketplace and multiple B2B software products. Today, it is hard to define all of Sheba’s work in one coherent description without missing some part of it. Here is from Sheba CEO Adnan Imtiaz Halim from CEO’s message on 5 year’s of Sheba:
“Over the last five years, we developed an ecosystem of 3 distinct yet interconnected digital platforms called Sheba Platform Limited. We stepped in with a service marketplace, known as Sheba.xyz which became the largest service marketplace in the country with 80+ services and a trusted name for more than 500,000 families. In 5 years, we have had ZERO complaints at the DNCRP (Directorate of National Consumers Right Protection) because of our strong dedicated 24X7 customer service. We have introduced training, authorized products, proper equipment, uniform, and financial services for 15000+ service professionals till today.
On the other hand, sBusiness is connecting a pool of verified service providers to 780+ emerging corporations and digitizing the offices with user-friendly SAAS solutions from HR management to Procurement in just 1 year.
While 2 of our business units were already changing lives, we learned about the struggles of micro and small businesses. That’s why we built sManager to provide full-stack accounting and financial solutions and digitize all flows of a small business. Astonishingly, we got our first million registrations, spread across 492 Upazilas within a year of launching.”
A lot more nuances right there in that description. I plan to do a separate piece on Sheba’s five-year run later this week.
Golden Harvest Eyes Ecommerce. Golden Harvest Agro Industries Ltd, a publicly listed company and one of the pioneers in frozen food manufacturing in Bangladesh, says it plans to launch an ecommerce venture in the next few months. The platform, which will be launched within the next 4-5 months to be exact, will sell everything from food, grocery, and medicine to bookings and ticketing. Golden Harvest has an IT services company called Golden Harvest InfoTech that primarily serves international customers. The company now aims to use the strength to launch an ecommerce business in the local market.
Local conglomerates launching ecommerce platforms are not new in Bangladesh. Several local corporations have their own ecommerce platforms. For example, Pran, one of the largest local conglomerates, launched Othoba.com a few years ago. While Othoba.com has built a decent presence in the market and sells a wide-ranging of products from books to bikes to grocery and everything else, the platform continues to focus more on Pran products — a dichotomy corporate product-focused ecommerce marketplaces never manage to overcome. This is the classic case of the innovator's dilemma. It would be interesting to see how Golden Harvest navigates it.
People on the move
Daraz Bangladesh hired Tajdin Hassan as its Chief Marketing Officer. Mr. Hassan was previously the Chief Strategy & Digital Transformation Officer at the leading English daily the Daily Star.
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