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On IDLC Venture Capital Fund, Investing in Startups in Bangladesh, and Lessons in Work, Management and Life With Syed Javed Noor, Deputy Managing Director, IDLC Finance Limited

Syed Javed Noor is the Deputy Managing Director of IDLC Finance Limited, the largest NBFI in Bangladesh. As part of his job at IDLC, Mr. Noor looks after an expansive portfolio and teams comprising Wealth Management, Treasury, Strategy, Change Management, Corporate Advisory, and Venture Capital Initiative of IDLC. He is also a Director of two subsidiaries of IDLC Group: IDLC Securities Limited and IDLC Investments Limited. Mr. Noor has over 20 years of stellar experience in the Banking Sector and worked for some of the most prominent brands in the industry across operations. 

In this excellent interview with Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader, Mr. Noor reflects on how passion for work and learning shape our career and life, talks about his banking career and his work at IDLC, how IDLC’s venture capital initiative came into being, how the fund operates and the ambition of the fund going forward, discusses the state of venture capital and tech startup ecosystem in Bangladesh, shares his thoughts on startup investment, exciting sectors, explores why trusting people is the best management strategy, building culture, his decision-making process, shares ideas on work, life, and learning, and much more. The interview is intellectually empowering and eminently enjoyable in its entirety. Enjoy! 

Ruhul Kader: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I want to start at the beginning of your story. Where did you grow up and how was your childhood? From there, could you please tell us about your path to what you are doing today?

Syed Javed Noor: I come from a middle-income family. My father was a banker. He worked for Sonali Bank. There were only four state-owned commercial banks at that time. He became the General Manager of the bank, which was an important position at the time. I saw how he was honored in society for being a guy who could dictate money.

I never dreamt of becoming a banker. My father always wanted us to stay out of the banking industry. I studied Pharmacy at the University of Dhaka. The majority of my pharmacy classmates moved out of the country, but I wasn't interested in moving out of the country. I chose to stay in the country. Upon looking at the job market, I realized that being a pharmacist would not take me to the top of an organization. I was ambitious. Hence, I decided to go for an MBA, and IBA was the most logical choice. I enrolled in IBA after graduating from the pharmacy. By the time I completed my MBA, it was a bit late for me to enter the job market after finishing two master's programs. 

I decided not to pursue an internship. I wanted a job instead. I took the first job I was offered with the Southeast Bank. I joined straight out of IBA. I worked there for six months. I was fortunate to be posted at their Chawkbazar branch, which at the time was the business hub of the country. As a result, I learned a lot about the types of relationships you need to manage with customers. 

At that time, a few of my peers from IBA worked for IDLC. I came to learn about an opportunity and joined IDLC as a management trainee. I spent almost 2 years as a management trainee. This was a great opportunity for me, and IDLC had, and still has a great reputation, so I decided to join. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make. My first job with IDLC was to manage their syndicated financing service, which was new at the time for the organization. I had two other colleagues, both of whom were senior to me. I worked there for three and a half years and enjoyed every moment. 

In addition to syndicated finances, we also managed IDLC's proprietary stock market investment. That was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about the market. I learned about when to get in, when to get out, and how to do it. Those lessons helped me a lot in my life. I worked for three and a half years and then our team more or less broke up. 

I decided to move to Standard Chartered Bank as a Relationship Manager in their corporate banking team. I was there for six months. 

I decided to rejoin IDLC, this time around as the Head of Sales. I was tasked with the responsibility of launching the direct sales team, a first of its kind at IDLC. We mobilized a 15-people home loan sales team. They used to go out to source home loan clients, deposits, etc. It was a completely different job from what we were used to at the time. From an individual relationship manager to a line manager, leading people who were driven by passion. I enjoyed the work and was in that role for one and a half years. After that, I felt it was time for me to move to a corporate role. 

In 2006, I got an opportunity to work at HSBC after one of my friends, who worked there, introduced me to them. I joined HSBC in their corporate banking team as relationship manager once again. Just a year later, I became their best relationship manager for booking a large number of clients. I was nominated for the Chairman's Award and that brought several other opportunities.

With that success, I was tasked with managing their Chattogram business. So in January 2009, I was posted out to HSBC Chattogram as Division Head. Following the 2008 global financial market debacle, Chattogram, being a commodity hub, was facing a lot of challenges. My job was to resolve issues plaguing the region’s books and streamline the business. After joining, I was able to cut down the book to almost half while managing to grow the revenue by two times in just three years. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the three and half years that I managed the Chattogram region. The city was lovely, the food was good, and I could manage the portfolio well as a team leader of a 110-member people. I had a fantastic time altogether, and my family also enjoyed it. While most banks struggled with their Chattogram portfolio, HSBC did excellent. Our NPL was nil at the time. 

In 2012, I came back to Dhaka and joined as Payments And Cash Management Head. I worked there for about a year. At the time, there was a restructuring going on within HSBC, and after the restructuring, I was made the head of their trade business, the largest business of HSBC, that contributed 55-60% of revenue for HSBC in Bangladesh. It was a large and diverse team of 150 people. We used to control roughly 10% of the trade flows of the country. 

It was a challenging time, and I was there for around three years. By this point, I had worked in almost every area of banking at HSBC. I was privileged to be a member of all the important committees of HSBC Bangladesh and had developed full insight into how banks work. 

At that moment, my former mentor at IDLC contacted me saying “we have a role for you, why don't you come back?” He offered me the role of General Manager and the responsibility of looking after the consumer business. 

As General Manager, I had to manage the business, but at the same time, I wanted to look over the capital market as well.  As IDLC already had a mature capital market subsidiary l was tasked with finding opportunities in the VC sector. The then MD & CEO allowed me the opportunity to float the VC fund even though the regulation had just formed at the time. In 2017, we started the groundwork for the venture capital fund. In 2018, we required layers of permissions for the VC fund and finally launched the fund in March 2020

In the meantime, we had to do many things for the first time. For venture capital launching, we took advisory support from IFC. We sat with IFC consultants to understand what it takes to become fund managers. Initially, we faced a lot of hurdles and discouragement. We were professional bankers with no experience in the arena. The consultant who came down from IFC was a former HSBC employee, so we could connect easily. He told us not to get into VC, and instead to get into private equity with one or two investments to develop our understanding. 

I was looking into Chaldal at the time who was looking for a local partner. We took it as a learning opportunity. We thought let’s make one investment, be part of it and we would at least learn about the due diligence process. In 2018, we worked with IFC to invest in Chaldal. During the due diligence process, we learned a lot about how to structure shares, what we should look at, and so on. 

With Chaldal’s parent company being registered in the US, we had to figure out how to not only invest in Chaldal Bangladesh but also decide whether we had an advantage if Chaldal decides to move outside Bangladesh. Because we could not invest in the Chaldal US due to regulatory limitations. 

We were the first fund manager in the country, and not in the ecosystem. We had to find partners who had some experience and find ways how they could be partners and remain motivated. VCs are not paid employees, so it was critical how we structure the fund, which took some time to figure out. We first solved the regulatory issues, then we looked into how we could keep the partners motivated, then launched the fund, and finally looked at investors who would give us money.

Right after launching the fund, the pandemic started putting a wrench in our plans, but things were progressing. We invested in Chaldal, and Chaldal did very well during the pandemic, so that was the story we sold — “look, we invested X dollars and it is now 2X .” 

I have a few friends who work for different organizations whom I persuaded to invest in the next round of Chaldal. They invested in Chaldal in early 2020 and liked the investment process and the opportunities. That was a big win for us. All of a sudden people started calling us to take their funds, people we never knew. We have a 45 crore fund, and at the moment we have commitments of up to 37 crores. I can foresee that in the next two/three months, this will be filled up. 

In the meantime, we had to establish all the processes such as how we should look at the companies, valuation criteria, and so on. 

The first investment we made from IDLC VC Fund was in Intelligent Machines Limited, and our second investment was in Truck Lagbe with IFC. We have a few more investments that are coming up. 

Ruhul Kader: Could you please talk about the regulatory process that you mentioned? How do you look at the regulatory environment for VCs in the country?

Syed Javed Noor: As the regulation was very new, no one within the regulatory environment had exposure to VC before. Initially, when things were done, it was a bit restrictive. The regulators, however, have been open to suggestions and recommendations from the beginning. 

From the VCPEAB, we send recommendations every year and regulators have been open to recommendations and implemented many of them one by one. The late founder of Maslin Capital Maruf Matin did a lot to bring positive changes in the space, particularly for changing laws. I would say that most of the roadblocks have been cleared. 

Things will change, but regulators have to take steps first. As of now, regulators have been very open to this and they wanted to promote venture capital and investment. 

Ruhul Kader: As you mentioned, Chaldal parent company is registered in the US. Most Bangladeshi companies that are raising money are registered abroad, either in Singapore or the US, or another third country. It is difficult for many local investors to participate. How did you structure the Chaldal deal where you invested in the local entity? I heard it was quite a difficult process. 

Syed Javed Noor: It took some time. As per our regulation, a local company cannot invest outside Bangladesh. Chaldal is foreign direct investment in Bangladesh. Chaldal Inc. is in the US and they invested money in Chaldal Bangladesh as a foreign 100% owned subsidiary. Since we could not invest abroad, we had to invest in Chaldal Bangladesh. 

What we did do is, we kept an option for conversion of Bangladesh Chaldal's shares to Chaldal Inc so that, in the event the Central Bank allows us to hold shares outside Bangladesh, we can do that. Whenever they permit us, we will convert our local shares to Chaldal Inc. 

At the same time, if someone wants to buy Chaldal shares and is not interested in the Bangladesh entity but in the US company, they will buy options and buy us back. 

Ruhul Kader: A lot of investors who invest in Bangladeshi startups, particularly international investors, insist companies register in Singapore or another third country and essentially don't feel comfortable investing in the local entities. Why do you think that is the case? 

Syed Javed Noor: The ease of repatriation. The business here in Bangladesh is fantastic, and there is very little difficulty in terms of repatriation of dividends out of Bangladesh. I have personally exercised it. You hardly face any challenge when repatriating your dividend. Sitting outside you get the flow of your dividend.

However, if you are holding equity in a local company and if it is not listed, it is a private company, if it sells and you have to take out the money, you have to go through permission of the Bangladesh Bank. With the fluctuating value of taka, if you are investing in taka and if you want to take out taka, you have to cross the regulatory hurdle and convince them of the valuation of a loss-making company. In most developed markets, you show the business model and tell them that you want to sell the business, and the next day you get the money and you transfer the shares. 

Ruhul Kader: Why can't we do that? 

Syed Javed Noor: As of now, our regulators are slightly conservative. Until 1990, we used to have negative trade balances and current account balances. We had to borrow to manage the BOP. The basic understanding/ethos was to protect and keep as much US dollars as possible. Till now, it has not been broken because our current accounts are not always positive. Although BOP is positive for most of the years, it is not always the case with the current account balance. We continue to shy away from breaking the rule but I think gradually things are opening up. 

Ruhul Kader: How do you see the progress? 

Syed Javed Noor: In my last 20 years in banking, I would say there have been a lot of changes in the last 5-7 years. We now have a regulatory framework that tells us who can invest and how they can invest. If you are an exporter, you can retain your money and buy shares outside Bangladesh. So things are changing. Everywhere in the world things are evolutionary. It starts somewhere and gradually progresses. 

Ruhul Kader: How does IDLC VC Fund operate? How big is your team? 

Syed Javed Noor: As of now, we have made two investments. There are two parts to our work: investment and housekeeping. For housekeeping, the fund is housed under the IDLC Asset Management. They have their team: finance team, regulatory affairs team, and so on. We borrow resources from them where necessary. 

For the fund, we have three partners and one analyst. We have invested in only two companies. Every week we sit at least for two-three hours. We share our experiences and remain connected in real-time. We have learned a lot and matured over the years. 

We have a simple assessment process for looking at startups: how big is the problem, what is the total addressable market, there are similar models across the globe, how these are valued, whether the team can tap into the addressable market, the ability, strength and energy level of the team. Then we look at whether the value is right when we are investing and at what value we can exit in 3-5 years. 

Ruhul Kader: Do you have any priority sectors? These are the sectors we are more interested in or are you sector agnostic? 

Syed Javed Noor: Initially, we were sector agnostic. Our idea was that anything sellable, scalable with a similar business model somewhere in the globe, we are in. Being the first VC Fund, we cannot be sector-specific. Two years after launch, we now believe that B2C is the hot spot. You can scale up pretty quickly.

Within B2C there are a few areas such as e-commerce that have established models across the globe and scale up pretty quickly. EdTech, transportation and logistics, and HealthTech. Tourism took a hit due to COVID, but it will make a comeback soon. These are the five areas where we think we can make a couple of investments and we can make good money for our investors and develop some insights over the period in these particular sectors. 

Ruhul Kader: You have made three investments and are looking into a few others. How do you work with your portfolio companies? 

Syed Javed Noor: It depends on the level of maturity of the founding team. If a founding team is mature enough, and they know their business’s ins and outs, we wait for them to reach out to us. We advise when they ask us and help when necessary. It is on-demand basis. 

For some of them, we feel that we need to be engaged on a daily basis almost because these are first-time entrepreneurs. They might need support in various areas such as governance issues, understanding the rules and regulations, access to networks, and understanding the dynamics of the regulatory issues. They do need some hand-holding. 

Our aim is not to invest money only, we aim to help the companies grow. If they grow, we grow. The good part with IDLC is that we are a respected brand in Bangladesh, whenever our companies need anything we can connect and pull resources for them. 

Ruhul Kader: Funds take time to offer returns. It would take at least 10 years to make considerable returns from the investments you are making now. 

Syed Javed Noor: Our philosophy, as of now, is to invest, add value for 2-3 years and start looking for opportunities to exit. We are in a market where we are the first VC Fund. We have a responsibility to show others that this idea or this sort of investment works in Bangladesh. 

We plan to look for profitable exits in a relatively timely manner and return the investments to our investors. If we find an opportunity to exit an investment at 3 times return in 3 years instead of 6 times that we originally hoped for in 6 years, we would take it and return the money to our investors. We want to give the investors proof that this is an investable instrument. That is our plan. The first opportunity we will get, we will return the money to the investors. 

Our fund is for seven years. We have passed one year. Six years are left. If we get an opportunity next year to divest one of our investments and return the money, we will take it. 

We want people to understand this, which will create more interest in the sector, and probably a few more fund managers will be able to come and raise money. Otherwise, the trust will not be established. 

Ruhul Kader: Do you look for companies that are in a certain stage? 

Syed Javed Noor: If you want to be an early bird, you should be a seed investor. We are currently investing in Series A and Pre-series A rounds. That's our current investment horizon. We don't want to go below that because the survival rate for early-stage companies is quite low. 

Ruhul Kader: Do you look for any particular traits or characteristics in the founding team or founders before investing in a company? 

Syed Javed Noor: Enthusiasm and energy level. These are the first two things we look for. The third is coachability: whether they can take feedback and work on it. The rest is the network: understanding of the problem they are trying to solve, and so on. If the first three things are missing, whatever the valuation or however great the idea is, we do not invest. 

Ruhul Kader: You made two investments from the fund and IDLC made one investment. 

Syed Javed Noor: For this particular fund, we plan to make 8-10 investments. I would say we wanted to do everything yesterday but it is a difficult process and we wanted to assess and understand everything before we do it. The speed we are in now, by next year the 8-10 investments will take place. 

Ruhul Kader: What is your experience of investing in early-stage companies in Dhaka? What are the challenges and upsides of working with early-stage entrepreneurs? 

Syed Javed Noor: These are young people. They are extremely enthusiastic, but when you are in the game of raising funds, you need to be compliant as well. That is an area where we are facing challenges. The idea is great, execution is excellent, but when you go and do the due diligence, you find probably there are holes and you need to have them manage those holes. That's the major challenge. 

When you are raising external money as equity everyone wants to look at the numbers and believe them. Establishing faith is the biggest challenge. Unless you are compliant it is difficult. Having an auditor certificate does not mean anything. When you send your auditor the next day, and you learn that the company is not fully compliant with VAT regulation and the most dangerous comment they could make is that they don't have the intention to be compliant as well. So this is a no-go for us because you just can't exit this company.

Ruhul Kader: What do you recommend to founders and companies trying to raise investment? 

Syed Javed Noor: If they want to raise investment, they should be excited about their idea and they should not shy away from pivoting. Nothing is perfect in this world. Your idea will not always work, so you need to be open to taking feedback and change. And when you are doing things and putting up the business, ensure you document everything. This will help you be compliant and put up your true story to the investors. 

When an investor is looking at your business, he is looking for scalability. He is not looking for or asking the company to return the money in the form of dividends. What he asks for is to increase the value. In most cases, these investors are not based in Bangladesh, they are global investors. They will see you through your numbers. If there is any chance or indication that your numbers are not reflecting your true performance, they will not invest. 

Founders need to be truthful in terms of metrics management. Founders face this challenge a lot, and I don't blame the founders for that. These are young people who get carried away with their adrenalin rush. They are not properly advised either. 

Ruhul Kader: What's your take on the overall venture capital ecosystem in Dhaka? The Angel investment scene has evolved in Dhaka over the past few years. Founders now can access angel investment. We have seen a meaningful rise in angel deals. We have a pool of angels now. Contrary to that, the local VC ecosystem has been quite lackluster I would say.

Syed Javed Noor: We are the first local fund in Bangladesh. 20-25% of our investors are foreign investors. One foreign fund has invested in us, the rest of it is all local money. We have made sure we take as many investors as possible. I think we now have 50 individual investors in the fund. We want to scale it up to 100 because these are the guys who will invest and if we can return the money with a good return, more people will invest and money will increase manyfold. That's what we are looking at. There is investable money in the ecosystem. The question is trust. 

Ruhul Kader: We have a couple of organizations with VC fund licenses or alternative investment licenses. But we don't see many active local funds. 

Syed Javed Noor: If you invest money in a VC fund, will you invest in the fund or invest in the individual or the fund manager? Do you see credible fund managers in Dhaka with VC experience? You may be a fund manager but have you ever managed a business? This is all based on trust. 

For our fund, we raised funds from people we know, people who trust us. They have confidence in our capability. That's something I would say is missing in most fund managers. Do these people have the experience and the credentials required to attract investment? That's the key question. 

Ruhul Kader: What do you see going forward for the local VC ecosystem? 

Syed Javed Noor: I would say the success of companies that are raising foreign money will encourage a lot of young people to set up their businesses. Currently, with access to mobile devices, and other digital financial services, the timing is great for reshaping the existing businesses and scale up quickly. There are a ton of opportunities and people who will take these opportunities. 

When you are starting a business and if your idea is great and you are on the right path, the world is wide open for you. Everyone in the ecosystem has proven that. Chaldal did not start with local money. Shopup did not start with local money. That's the case for many other startups in Dhaka. The world is wide open now. If you have a great idea and people trust that you are credible, money will follow. 

Ruhul Kader: Does that put you in competition with international VCs as well? 

Syed Javed Noor: Absolutely. We are very happy to see that international VC funds are stepping into Bangladesh. This will help us to exit first. That's for a selfish reason. If we are on the global map, we will see that the Series B and later-stage investors are coming in and we can exit. On the flip side, the more international investors come in,  the local startups will get funding. 

Ruhul Kader: But do you think if international VCs come in and invest in Series A and later-stage companies, is it going to be competitive and expensive for you? 

Syed Javed Noor: The beauty for us is that we are locals. We understand the local environment much better than anyone else. Whoever is coming in, all foreign investors will probably try to fit in as a VC in their own way but like IFC they want someone local who knows the local dynamics. There is space for a few local VC funds who can invest early and hand over the baton to the next level of investors. 

Ruhul Kader: One of the trends we are seeing across markets is that VCs are looking to get into early-stage companies through seed and early-stage deals. For example, Sequoia India invested in Shopup through its Surge program in the seed round. Many other VCs are trying to do the same because when you are investing early you can get to interesting companies early and deal flow is less competitive and so on. Do you see IDLC VC Fund doing something like that getting into early-stage investment in the short or long run? 

Syed Javed Noor: For Sequoia, which is an established VC with years of experience, it is easy to get into early-stage for them. For us, we are first-time fund managers. We need to be confident. We need to seek them first, filter out, and look at the second one. It improves our chances of success. 

Ruhul Kader: As you mentioned earlier, people doubt VC funds coming out of banks which is probably to some extent rightly so. How do you see that? Does operating out of IDLC put any limitation on the fund because how banks operate and VCs operate are quite opposite? 

Syed Javed Noor: If you look at IDLC, innovation is in our DNA. We introduce new things to the market at a regular interval. We started as a leasing company. From there,  we moved to home loans, to SME, to the capital market. After that, we started Asset Management and now the VC. You can see that the entire industry is now following us.

Like I said, you need to have it in your DNA. You need to have the stomach for new things to happen, see things budding up for 3-5 years and not making any money at all, and still, you have to be patient. For any new initiative, this is a must and that's in the DNA of IDLC. A lot of banks may try, but like I said, in the case of VCs, people don't look at institutions, they look at the fund manager. 

IDLC has succeeded because it is a great brand and it has attracted good talent historically. For this fund, the partners all have credibility and have investment experience. For banks to attract such talents is a challenge. 

Ruhul Kader: What are some of the verticals you are bullish about? 

Syed Javed Noor: In the context of Bangladesh, we are bullish about health tech. The healthcare system is not democratic as of now. You can't access a Dhaka-based doctor when you are sitting in Barisal. You need that consultation, but you don’t have access to it. Healthcare data is also a huge challenge. 

Our healthcare system does not have a system for patient data preservation. Hospitals are facilities for diagnostic, surgery, and post-operative facilities, but the diagnosis and everything are done by the doctors. Where they sit does not matter, all that the doctor needs are access to patients’ records, speak to the patient, and then advice. Tech can democratize the healthcare system, but we have not found any health-tech company as of now where we can start. 

People need to visit Dhaka to see a doctor in many instances, but it is expensive. Advanced diagnostic centers are available across the country. If a doctor can initially assess you, he can send you to the nearest diagnostic center, get your reports, and if he has access to your history, he can advise you whether you should travel to Dhaka or somewhere else for something specific.

People spend a lot of money on healthcare. People go broke from healthcare challenges. The Internet has the potential to democratize healthcare. Healthcare hardware-related technologies have also improved. You can send reports over the internet. The Internet could be a huge game-changer for healthcare in countries like Bangladesh. 

In ecommerce, many companies started in one vertical and then gradually expanded into relevant verticals. This is true for healthcare as well. You can start with one vertical and then gradually expand and integrate more services. 

Edtech will be a big one. 

In ecommerce, there will be a lot of competition, and people will lose money. Access barrier is low in ecommerce. 

Hospitality is something I think will be huge because our middle class is predicted to be 50 million by 2030 and people these days travel a lot as well. 

Ruhul Kader: What are the plans for the fund in the next few years? 

Syed Javed Noor: Whatever money we have now we want to deploy them ASAP on the sectors we mentioned. Within the next two years, we want to deploy the fund and prepare for the next fund. 

Ruhul Kader: You started your career in 2000 as a Management Trainee in the Credit Division of Southeast Bank Limited. Did you think at the time you would make it in the industry? What was your aspiration at the time? What were you thinking?

Syed Javed Noor: When I started as a Management Trainee, I was looking for things I was interested in. There was never a position that I chased at any time in my career. I'm not interested in positions, I'm interested in work.

Ruhul Kader: As the DMD of IDLC you look after an expansive portfolio of operations from Consumer, Wealth Management, Treasury, and Venture Capital Initiative. Could you offer us an insight into how you approach your work?

Syed Javed Noor: Very simple. When I get into any business, I try to establish efficient processes and systems. 

First I look at how it is today and then decide where we want to be, looking at the best practices of what is happening across the globe or looking at the opportunities that are present in the environment. We define what we want to achieve, the ways to get there, and develop metrics to follow and monitor progress. These metrics help me a lot.

I have businesses that provide me weekly reporting of the metrics we have agreed to deliver. For a few, I have daily metrics. That keeps you cool because you know where you want to be and how things are progressing. And if it requires intervention, you can make a timely intervention. You are never surprised any day. 

Ruhul Kader: Tech is transforming finance and financial services across markets. We are seeing unbundling of financial services. Companies like Robinhood in the US, bKash, and ShopUp in Bangladesh are building solutions in different areas of financial services. Tech startups and giants are getting into financial services. How do you see these developments?

Syed Javed Noor: I will be reserved because there are a lot of regulatory sensitivities here. With tech, you could make miracles happen in the financial services industry. In Bangladesh, the Central Bank is cautious and maintains a supervisory mindset. The understanding is that no one player should monopolize the market. No one should have a disproportionate share of the market. 

Bangladesh Bank intervenes whenever necessary which makes it difficult for startups to find big addressable markets. When you are building something and have some traction and suddenly one fine morning you may find that your business is gone. Something just came up and destroyed your business. Otherwise, it would have been top of the investible vertical for us. I think innovation in financial services in Bangladesh will probably be bank-led and in general, banks are slow.

Ruhul Kader: What does it take to build a successful career in the financial industry? 

Syed Javed Noor: It is not only in the financial industry, wherever you are if you want to succeed you have to be curious. You have to have a high level of energy and be coachable. You have to have the mindset of taking feedback. I may not like someone's words but if he is trying to find my fault he is doing a great job for me wherever you are.

Ruhul Kader: As part of your job, you make a lot of high stake decisions. How do you make decisions? 

Syed Javed Noor: One principle, it is not my money. So I can decide to give it to anyone I like, but if you look deeper, you realize that it is the depositors' money, one who could be my friends or family or someone else who has deposited the money with us. That trust is a fiduciary responsibility.

When you wear that hat, it is difficult to make bad decisions knowing that a depositor has kept his money with us. Now you can't make bad decisions knowingly. Whenever I make decisions knowing that this is not my money and I have to return it to depositors and if I destroy his return I'm destroying his trust, I become careful. Bank's money is not my money. It is the money of the depositors. That's what everyone should remember. 

Ruhul Kader: Do you use any framework?

Syed Javed Noor: It is simple. Whether this gentleman will return the money, whether his idea can generate enough revenue and whether he can return the money on a risk-adjusted basis. 

If you don't understand the risk, consult someone. I don't mind asking someone for insight and help. If I don't know something, I call someone up and learn.

Ruhul Kader: What is your management philosophy? How do you work with people?

Syed Javed Noor: Generally, I trust people. Once you trust people, it gets super simple to work with them. I'm generally hands-off. When you interact with people for 3-6 months, you come to learn who will need more supervision and who can operate with much autonomy. 

I prefer working with people who need a very low level of supervision. In general, when you decide the 'to be state' and make them believe that it is achievable, the rest is about putting together the framework, whether they are moving in the right direction or not. Set your metrics, get your metrics vetted from multiple sources, follow up, and the rest will take care of itself.

Ruhul Kader: You started your career in 2000. You have worked for some of the most prestigious financial institutions in the country. You have over 20 years of experience in the industry. What are the biggest lessons from all those years?

Syed Javed Noor: If you trust people you will not lose. Most people are good, but it is we who become skeptical and make things complicated. If someone is not capable, you could give them an opportunity. 

First, see whether they fail or not, but if you start panicking about whether they would be able to do the job or not, then you would start micro-managing. You would not only make your life complicated, but you would also make the life of everyone else complicated. 

If you can build up a trusting culture, which is present in IDLC, things are bound to flourish.

Whenever I'm running a business, the first thing I do is try to build up a trust culture. My philosophy is that if I don't trust you, I can’t work with you. We may be good friends, we would not work together. 

Ruhul Kader: A couple of books you would recommend to our readers. 

Syed Javed Noor: Direct from Dell by Michael Dell. I liked it. I think I finished in a day.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Ruhul Kader: How do you think about life?

Syed Javed Noor: You have limited time, why make things complicated? Trust people. Enjoy. If you don't enjoy anything, leave it and do something else.

Ruhul Kader: Do you have any particular way of enjoying things or do you enjoy anything in particular? 

Syed Javed Noor: I enjoy learning things every day. I'm happy to be exposed to new things. 

Ruhul Kader: Do you have a particular approach to learning things? 

Syed Javed Noor: I ask a lot of questions. 

Ruhul Kader: That was the last question. Thank you for being generous with your time and insight. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. 

Syed Javed Noor: Thank you. My pleasure. 

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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