Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel is the co-founder and CEO of ToguMogu, a Dhaka-based maternity and parenting platform that provides parenting services and products from pregnancy to kindergarten. Founded in 2017, ToguMogu has built a comprehensive solution for parents and kids from content for pregnancy to kindergarten, reliable shopping, to consultancy and services such, finding nearby daycare and schools, among others.
ToguMogu says its parenting app provides a 360-degree solution for parents. It also runs an e-commerce marketplace where it sells everything related to parenting and kids ranging from baby products, books, stationery, and additional items for parents. It also connects parents with third-party services like expert consultancy, caregiving services, baby and family photography services, etc. The company aims to become the ultimate family health and wellbeing platform in Bangladesh for parents and kids.
In this fascinating interview with Future Startup, Mr. Nazmul tells us about his background, founding and building a parenting and kids services platform from scratch in Bangladesh, talks about the state of ToguMogu, the early days of ToguMogu, and how the company came to where it is today, how ToguMogu work as a product and company, and its ambition going forward, discusses his experience of building a team, growing the business, shares his take on dealing with challenges of being a founder and much more.
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Future Startup: Could you please tell us about your background and your path to entrepreneurship and what you are doing today?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: When I moved to Australia for my Ph.D. studies in 2011, becoming an entrepreneur was not on my list of goals. Previously, I completed my electrical engineering degree from the Islamic University of Technology in 2008. The following year in 2009 I began teaching at Stamford University of Bangladesh.
While I was a Ph.D. student at the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, I got involved in many charities, started raising funds from the community, and sent them to Bangladesh to help underprivileged people, mostly students. Furthermore, I took on a number of part-time jobs, including establishing my photography business that gained popularity very quickly. In addition to my original passion for web and app development, I gradually developed my graphics design, video editing, and digital marketing skills. Data and Signal Processing Algorithms were my research topic for my Ph.D. which I received in 2015.
As soon as I completed my degree, I decided to return to Bangladesh and do something here. At that point, I believed it was the perfect time to come back; otherwise, I would have stayed there as an immigrant.
As I became familiar with the business world and startups, I began believing that doing impactful business with honesty is always better than charity. It inspired me to take the entrepreneurship journey seriously.
We friends co-founded an ed-tech venture named Light of Hope in 2016, and later, we co-founded ToguMogu to work with parents around family wellbeing and education that often goes overlooked. After co-founding ToguMogu, I worked as CTO before taking on the CEO role in early 2020.
Future Startup: When and how did you come up with the idea of ToguMogu and get started?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: We began realizing the pain points of young parents, and specifically the new parents, when one of our co-founders, Maruf, became a father of a beautiful daughter in 2016. He was one of the few people within our friend circle at the time to become a parent.
So, we started ideating a technology-enabled solution to help young parents across the country, which led us to launching ToguMogu in 2017. We wanted a name that would make people smile and be curious simultaneously, hence ToguMogu, which is represented by our mascots Togu, a tiger cub, and Mogu, a human child.
We spent some time understanding the needs and pain points of our target users. In addition, we conducted some research to try to determine how parenting works in Bangladesh and how technology could be used to help them.
In the beginning, we started as a content platform providing parents with authentic information, and then we gradually added other services, including an e-commerce shop, and integrated numerous third-party services, such as doctor booking, photography, and caregiving. We now have a fully functional app where parents can track their child's growth and enjoy other exciting features.
Future Startup: What went into building the initial operation of ToguMogu i.e. how did you put together initial investment and other resources to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months to one year of ToguMogu and your journey were like.
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: Getting started is always the most difficult part of any endeavor. There is often internal inertia that makes starting difficult. Once we get started, however, we usually move forward. It was the same for ToguMogu.
As we developed our business plan for parenting, we spent much time understanding the space and figuring out how to make a true impact. Our goal was to make sure that every product and service that we introduce should improve the parenting experience of parents.
Once we decided to launch formally, a few of our co-founders decided to leave their full-time jobs to run the venture. As co-founders, we have invested our personal funds in setting up the business in its initial stages. With our skills in web development, digital marketing, and supply-chain management, we started to utilize our expertise to put together the operation. We built a solid content platform in our first year and simultaneously launched our e-commerce section, which began to generate some initial revenue.
Future Startup: What were some major challenges you faced in the early days and how did you deal with them?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: We struggled with deliveries in 2017-2018 because the logistics services were not as mature as they are now. Occasionally, we, the co-founders, had to deliver products to customers.
We had a great deal of support from family members which helped us to continue during a difficult phase of the business. We have invested consistently in developing a trusted platform. There were times when we had difficulty keeping the business going since we were relatively new to the business world. We focused more on content development, figuring out users' needs, and improving our services as we evolved.
Initially, funding was a problem. We invested our savings into building out the business further. We did not raise any external funds until 2020. We didn't even pitch anyone. Prior to pitching, we wanted to mature our platform. In late 2020, we successfully raised an angel round of investment amid the pandemic.
Future Startup: What were some of the things that worked, strategically, in the early days that helped you to grow the business and become sustainable?
Nazmul Arefin Momel: As I mentioned earlier, making parents' lives easier was our primary focus. All of our planning and strategy was geared toward that goal. In the early days, this customer-centric strategy helped us build trust. There were times when we delivered baby products directly to the hospital after receiving a call from a customer. During pregnancy, this customer read our contents. As a result of the accurate information we provided, they converted to our customer.
There are many examples like this where we have gone the extra mile, and this has been our commitment since day one. Our goal was to source from the best suppliers and not sell any harmful products to the parents.
We also provided parents with advice about choosing the right product or service, which assisted us in gaining customer trust at an early stage. With regards to running the business, we always tried to utilize our co-founders' skills first, which initially saved us a lot of money.
Furthermore, we maintained a low or no-stock model and a good relationship with suppliers to deliver products directly from their warehouse, which also helped us save a lot of operational expenses. We still operate in this model to remain sustainable.
Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of ToguMogu today i.e an overview of your products and services, business model, how your operation works, size of business, etc?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel:
Although we started as a parenting content platform, our focus now is building a platform for parents where they can get all kinds of services based on their needs. You may call it a service marketplace for parents with embedded e-commerce.
Currently, we run our e-commerce business ourselves, and our products include baby products, books, stationery, and additional items for parents.
Additionally, we connect parents with third-party services such as expert consultancy, caregiving, and baby and family photography, etc. The service providers pay us a specific commission.
Currently, we are developing an automated service checkout platform where all our users can book a service, reschedule, pay, and review from within the app. As of now, the Bangladesh parenting market is worth over BDT 60 billion and is growing continuously. Our goal is to become the world's leading parenting products and services marketplace.
Future Startup: From a product perspective, how does ToguMogu work? How do you work with your partners and customers? How does the tech part work?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: Our parental app, ToguMogu, is our company's face. Our customers connect with us through the app. The app offers several free services, such as baby growth tracking, parenting guides, and finding nearest places for kids, etc. They can also order products that are delivered according to the national e-commerce guideline at the earliest possible time.
As we develop a service platform for parents and offer a variety of services, we collaborate with various organizations rather than recreating their services. As a result, we can offer our users the best services.
Amar Astha, Doctorola, and Lifespring have been our partners from the beginning. In addition, we have affiliations with several children's book publishers where we facilitate their orders or sales. In order to provide the best quality services to our users to ensure their children receive the best support, we will continue to collaborate with new partners.
As we provide a personalized journey, we guarantee each parent receives products and services that are required for their children. Our AI and ML engines provide age-appropriate content and recommendations. Some user-sourced data is used to cater for this personalized journey with the permission of users. Additionally, we are working on our own AI algorithm to further improve the user experience.
Future Startup: How have you attracted users and grown ToguMogu? Could you tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: Content is the heart of our user acquisition strategy. From the beginning, we have focused on creating useful content for parents, which can reach and attract users organically. In this process, we got funding from YGAP, Just Peoples, and many other organizations to create a collection of experts who vetted content for young parents.
In order to reach young parents, we used several digital platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube. The key to building and maintaining a loyal customer base is good communication.
Because we built a reputation through organic content from the beginning, our user acquisition costs were low and continue to be so. We have seen the same results since launching our app in 2020, which led us to continue making good content. We currently have more than 30 thousand registered users.
Future Startup: How much has ToguMogu evolved over the past years i.e. if you compare ToguMogu today with ToguMogu from the early days?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: As mentioned previously, we started as a content platform for parents and gradually launched an e-commerce platform and other services. We launched our app in October 2020 and released a significant update this April.
We are now totally focused on creating a one-stop Family Health and Wellbeing app that will harness the increase in internet and smartphone usage to improve the quality of life for Bangladeshi families by providing the right tools that enable access to authentic information and continuous monitoring. Using data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, we help parents make better decisions for their children.
We currently have 30 thousand parents registered on our platform. We recently launched our pregnancy and child growth tracking features, parenting videos, and soon a vaccination tracker will be available.
Already, we have seen a spike in our monthly active users and daily engagement time. While unlocking new features for millennial parents, our team is constantly improving the existing services. Following our recent investment, we are more focused on achieving KPIs and delivering value.
Future Startup: Pandemic continues to drag on: what kind of impact of the pandemic are you seeing in your business and how are you dealing with it?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: Although pandemic contributed to certain positive developments for us such as increased customer readiness to use digital services, a prolonged situation like this with lockdown and other restrictions, including health risks, severely harms the company. The users are stressed now that they have to prioritize their daily needs, whereas our employees are tired from working more to minimize the damage.
As a business, we have some excellent news regarding investment, business growth, user growth. At the same time, it has been immensely challenging for the entire team.
We are currently trying to energize our team with mental health support, flexible work hours, and a mix of work from home and office facilities. Even under adverse conditions, we are committed to keeping our standard upright toward the customer.
Future Startup: What are some mistakes you’ve made if any, that you want other entrepreneurs to avoid?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: This is the most crucial part of the interview, and I will be completely honest.
Here are a few mistakes we have made; the first is waiting too long to pitch for investment. In the early days, we wanted to perfect everything before we pitched, but it slowed our growth. Even if we did not receive funding, the idea could be improved if we started pitching earlier.
The second mistake was not having mentors to help build a startup. As part of an accelerator program, we have been mentored by Adnan bhai from Sheba. We are so fortunate to learn from him, and we wish we had sought a mentor when we started in 2017.
The third one involves hiring. Initially, we hired the wrong person. You need the right team and the ability to hire good resources is an important skill. A lot of founders make mistakes in hiring and that costs them a lot. This was also the case for us. In this case, I suggest taking experts' opinions into account when hiring.
Future Startup: Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous in the process of building ToguMogu?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: For startup founders, there is no alternative to studying startup cases and similar stories. We all make mistakes, but we must learn how to recover quickly, and for that, we need to know the solution. If the answer already exists, it is a waste of time to invent the same thing, so I always try to find similar examples and what other people have done to recover.
For ToguMogu, we went through a great deal of trials and errors, so I believe a founder needs a certain level of confidence and subject matter expertise before they start experimenting. Before attempting any service or solution, we always try to become subject matter experts. This helps to build a strong product.
Future Startup: Could you please us about the parenting market in Bangladesh? How big is the market? What are the major trends? What are the challenges and opportunities in the sector?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: Bangladesh has a large population, so parenting is a big market in Bangladesh. There are 25 million parents, and 8 thousand children are born daily. A middle-class family in Bangladesh spends around 6 to 9 thousand BDT per month on a child. The market is worth more than 60 billion BDT in total, excluding education. Even though there are many competitors in the regular product market, this sector has immense potential.
The biggest challenge is the price sensitivity of the customers. Furthermore, the quality and originality of the products are also major concerns where many illegal imports are present. ToguMogu aims to build a safe and reliable marketplace for parents where they can buy any product and service from anywhere in the country.
Future Startup: How do you deal with challenges and stress that come with being a founder?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: I am lucky to have co-founders who are my friends. We have been together for more than 15 years. It helps us assess and tackle challenges together. Additionally, having multiple co-founders who can lead has helped us reduce stress. While the coronavirus pandemic tested our nerves, we are glad that we have managed to overcome the difficult period and now are better than ever.
Whenever there is a problem, I always try to explore solutions before getting stressed out. I tend to worry more about the solution than the problem, which helps to reduce stress.
Future Startup: How do you stay productive and positive as a founder?
Dr. Nazmul Arefin Momel: In my experience as a founder, every individual needs skills to be productive and positive. A company can never be productive if its founders are not productive.
I strive to be punctual and follow through on commitments, which keeps me on schedule. Planning helps me avoid overlapping tasks. The primary obstacle to greater productivity is dependency — when you need to wait for others, but unfortunately, this cannot be avoided, so I recommend that my teams communicate more to reduce dependency.
Moreover, dividing KPIs into smaller targets and setting smaller milestones helps boost productivity.
When it comes to staying positive, I think family and friends play a crucial role. I always share important events and difficult times with my closest friends who are not my co-founders and family members and listen to their advice. I always benefit from it because it gives me a different perspective and boosts my energy.
I am fortunate to have co-founders who are like-minded and always work together to keep the team aligned and achieve the highest productivity possible.
Future Startup: 3 books you would like to recommend to our readers.
Although I am not a good reader, I still try to read whenever I get the chance. I recommend the book "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries, one of the most popular books about startups. Additionally, I recommend Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". And I plan to read the new book by Tajdin Hassan and Shuvashish Roy, Think Like CEOs, and recommend it to others.