Munimul Islam is the CEO and co-founder of Misfit Technologies Limited. Founded in 2017, Misfit provides tech solutions to companies across industries in the Asia Pacific region. Over the last few years, the company has experienced excellent growth in a number of markets and has become a leading provider of tech solutions to a long list of companies across industries including telecom, FMCGs, e-commerce, travel, and B2C. The company now looks to expand to more markets in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Prior to Misfit’s incredible success, Munim and his co-founders successfully raised investment from angel investors in Bangladesh, India, and Singapore, and put together a structure that eventually helped the company expand to multiple countries within a short period.
Before founding Misfit, Munim spent years in the telecom and emerging technology industry working for ventures of Rocket Internet, Axiata, VimpelCom, Orascom Telecom, and Singtel among others.
In this excellent interview with Future Startup's Ruhul Kader, Munim talks about his path to entrepreneurship and how he came to found Misfit, the impact of his prior experience on his entrepreneurial journey, how he and his co-founders funded the company, put together resources, and orchestrated the growth in the early days, discusses the state of Misfit’s business today, operational intricacies and ambition going forward, how Misfit has built a model to spin off its successful products into independent companies, what he believes to be the biggest challenges for founders, how he thinks about business building and reflects on the lessons he has learned from his journey and much more.
Future Startup: What is interesting about Myanmar? What do you like the most about Myanmar? And if you compare Bangladesh and Myanmar, how are we different?
Munimul Islam: I mean we can’t compare the two countries in any way. Because Myanmar is different from us in terms of culture and people. It is more of a Southeast Asian country. And we are South Asian. We are more similar to India, Nepal in terms of culture and people.
What do I like about Myanmar? To be honest, people. There are a lot of misconceptions about Myanmar that we hear. Since I have been coming to Myanmar for a while now and lived here for a fairly good amount of time, I could see a different side of Myanmar. Although we are neighboring countries, we don't know much about Myanmar. The same applies to the Myanmarians. They don't know much about Bangladesh either.
The people of Myanmar, however, are some of the best people. You can keep your thing out in the open and no one will touch it. People are simple, easy-going, and fun to work with.
Business potential is immense. The country is beginning to adopt technology and open up to the world. It is in the early days of digitization. However, they are going at a much much faster pace.
They have some advantages. The population is one-third of Bangladesh in a relatively massive country.
The technology scene is growing at a much faster pace. When I started coming here, there was no broadband internet connection.
Things have since leapfrogged. Telecom operators started with 3G. They quickly launched 4G and 4.5G. The discussion around 5G has already started. Digital penetration has skyrocketed. Smartphone penetration in terms of percentage of the population is probably one of the highest in the world.
Mobile internet usage is very high. Broadband was not a thing even six years ago. Now every household has a broadband connection. They have made these changes fast. Although things might slow down due to the current political instability, they have been growing quite fast.
Another aspect I find fascinating is that they set quite high standards. They follow Singapore and Thailand. If you go to their airport, it is a mini version of the Changi airport. They have built 12 flyovers in seven months. If they put their mind into something, they can get it done. Things are much more organized. There are a lot of positive sides.
If we compare Bangladesh, to answer your question, Bangladesh is at least 10 years ahead of Myanmar in terms of technology, education, and business. But they are catching up pretty fast. That is at least my understanding from this market. They are inclined to learn and develop.
People here have the hunger to grow which is a good thing for us. Moreover, we have several proven use cases of our technology in this market. We are considered as one of the big players. We work with all four telecom operators in Myanmar. We are competing with companies like TCS, Wipro, Accenture, Deloitte and winning because the competitive landscape is equal for everyone, which is not always the case in Bangladesh.
Future Startup: That’s some fascinating insights. I was looking into your profile and from what I have gathered so far you studied telecommunication engineering. And when you started your career, you eventually moved into sales and brand communication, which is an interesting transition I would like to talk about. You have worked with some of the largest telecommunication companies as well as startups such as Rocket Internet. But I could not find anything about your upbringing and your childhood. Could you please tell us where you grew up and what your childhood was like?
Munimul Islam: I spent my early childhood in the Middle East with my parents. My parents both were banking professionals and got posted to the UAE where we stayed for almost eight years. My primary education happened in the UAE. We then came back when my parents were recalled to Bangladesh.
After returning to Bangladesh, I went to a school called Radiant from where I did my O Levels, and then to Mastermind from where I did my A-Levels. Growing up in the UAE, I could not write and read Bangla well. That’s one of the reasons for my attending English Medium schools. I overcame that predicament fast because I took that as a challenge. And at one point I started reading all the literary luminaries of Bangla literature from Buddhodeb Guho to Sunil to Humayun Ahmed to everyone in between.
I used to enjoy maths a lot. I did all the courses related to maths in my O Levels. In A-levels, I came to fall in love with economics. The business and economic concepts I studied in economics have stuck with me ever since. I wanted to study economics further. After my A-levels, I went to NSU to study economics. But fate had a different plan.
North South University announced the Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering Department at that time. In 2003, telecom was a booming industry. Grameenphone was there. Aktel was there. Banglalink was about to launch. So there was a lot of hype. So after one semester in economics, I transferred to ETE. The Department ran all the experiments on us. Moreover, telecom is a fast-changing industry. It means what you study for five years could become redundant by the time you graduate. The router you studied could become obsolete and you could end up with a new router. So we had to be prepared for these changes.
After graduation, I joined Rankstel. They were one of the first PSTN in Bangladesh. They had to shut down for various reasons. A few months into my engineering career, I decided that I don't want to be an engineer anymore. I would rather be on the business side of things. I saw in my short experience that business usually dictates the technology team. The technology team fulfills the requirements of the business team. So if you are not on the business side of things, you can't make decisions. I'm not saying everybody should do that. Of course, we need a lot of engineers. But I had this entrepreneurial thing in me and I wanted to understand different aspects of a business.
I worked at Ranks, later at Citycell and then Banglalink, and finally at Robi. At Robi, I worked with different teams. In large organizations, you never know what the team next to you is working on. I wanted to learn different aspects of a business. When I moved from enterprise to brand and communication at Robi, I kind of had a chance to deal with everyone. Mostly I was doing the BTL side of things. And I had this opportunity to meet a lot of people, do different things and learn.
Then Rocket came in. Rocket Internet approached me in 2015 to manage their venture Carmudi in Bangladesh. I did not know much about Rocket at that time. I started studying them and learned about who they are and their work. I eventually decided to take the job. They offer you an exorbitant salary which you could not refuse. So I joined.
They were early in the Bangladesh market. They would have done a lot better if they came a few years later. But they did the initial market education part for Bangladesh. Of course, they had some successes in Bangladesh. They started Daraz and sold it to Alibaba. That's one of the good things. Foodpanda is also a Rocket company which Delivery Hero acquired later. They taught internet commerce in these markets. Of course, a lot of other players came along. Bikroy came along. We now have so many ecommerce companies.
Rocket gave me the Bangladesh and Myanmar markets to manage. They put you in a high-pressure environment. They would give you a budget, team, and your business and let you figure out the rest. They would not manage you. Would not ask you to do things. They would not teach you strategy or anything else for that matter. You learn on the fly. You learn how to run a business. How to do a P&L. How to do procurement. How to manage people and everything. It was an excellent entrepreneurial experience for me. I did everything from buying a pin to setting everything up. I learned a tremendous amount about startups and running fast-growing businesses while working for Rocket for 16/17 months. Then I thought I want to do something on my own. I had always wanted to start my own business and finally, I realized I have the necessary connections and resources to start.
Coming to Myanmar also helped me to get exposure to the Southeast Asia market. Moreover, Rocket had a presence in several Southeast Asian markets. We used to have a lot of discussions with CEOs and leaders from these markets. There were discussion sessions with CEOs and leaders running Rocket companies in different markets. We learned best practices and strategies from different markets. Through this, I got to connect with a lot of Rocket CEOs, Country Managers, and Top Management from different ventures and regions.
That was an excellent network that helped a lot in the early days of Misfit.
These CEOs and country managers went on to lead different companies. Many of them started their startups and they needed technology support. That helped us to get early clients across different markets.
Future Startup: After 17/18 months at Rocket you were thinking of starting your own business.
Munimul: This was mid-2017. I wanted to do something of my own but was not thinking about anything in particular. And I was not thinking about Misfit. To be honest, Misfit was not my idea. Fahad, who now runs iFarmer, came up with the idea. You interviewed him. Fahad at that time was also in Myanmar working on some Care Australia and USAID projects. We used to meet frequently and discuss different things. By that time we had some experience in the Myanmar market. I was traveling to and from Myanmar for 17/18 months. Fahad was doing the same for a bit longer.
By the virtue of traveling and staying in Myanmar, I made some acquaintances by that time. Some of them would come and ask “you have tech talents in Bangladesh, we need a few tech developers or solutions, could you connect me with someone.” I would generally say sure I would connect you with some people from my network.
This is where Jamil, Fahad, and Shuvo come in. You also interviewed Shuvo who runs the Alice Labs which we spun off. Jamil and Fahad both are from NSU and probably a few batches junior to me. We used to play football together and all that. After university, we used to keep in touch now and then but nothing regular. Then in Myanmar, there was not a lot of Bangladeshis whom you could connect with. Fahad was one of those people I used to spend a lot of time with talking about what we could do here and so on.
One day Fahad came and said: “Let’s start a company and we will call it Misfit Technologies”. I asked why the name. Fahad explained: “you have experience in telecom and startups. I have experience in the development sector. I would bring two more people. You know Jamil. And there is Shuvo who worked with Jamil at Maya.”
Shuvo just graduated from BUET and started working at Maya. That's how the three of us came together. We sat together, talked, and launched Misfit Technologies unofficially after a few months with four developers. I was still working full-time at Rocket. Fahad was working as well. Jamil and Shuvo left their job and joined Misfit full time. Shuvo was playing around with Chatbot, a relatively new technology at that time. I used to show around the products to people I knew. For example, I showed the chatbot tech to a friend and he got interested. But we did not have a price for the product as yet. So we had to figure things out as we went. We started playing around with things. That's how we started Misfit.
We did not register the company officially yet and were using one room in Khairul bhai's office, who later became an investor in Misfit. It was the office of Edge Consulting.
Once things relatively settled down, I started reaching out to people: “hey, I have put together a small dev shop, let me know if you need any service.” And we got a good response in those early days. I reached out to the CEO of an ecommerce marketplace in Indonesia and he said he needed 20 developers. He gave us requirements shortly.
The good part was that Jamil and Shuvo were there. They understood the whole thing. They got the resources and prepared the team. Within 4 months, we became a team of 40 people. Then we became serious. We were like guys, this is shaping up and we need to do something about it.
Jamil and Shuvo were already working full time. After some deliberation, I decided to leave my job. I eventually resigned from Rocket in September but it took until December by the time I got released officially. I officially left Rocket in December 2017 and started full-time with Misfit.
In January 2018, we registered the company. I started visiting my contacts around the region presenting them what we could do based on our last three-four months of work. We have been lucky that to this day, we never lost a client for non-performance. We overcame many challenges and always delivered good work to our clients. Our clients always come back and give us more work. When you serve a customer well, they will give you more business. We had and still have a lot of businesses in Southeast Asian markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, and so on. We have business in Europe in Sweden and Portugal. We have some business in the US and Australia.
The business we are talking about is an on-demand tech resource supply business which we call tech outsourcing in Bangladesh. We still do it. While doing that we realized that we need to be a product company if we want to be a big player. We started talking within the team. You could have a nice business doing the outsourcing. It is good money. But if you don't have products, SaaS, or licensing, it is always building the same thing from scratch. You get the money but scale becomes a challenge. it does not make sense. Rather we have the product and when we get requirements from customers, we do some customizations and deliver to the customers. So we started building the back-end of marketplace products such as e-commerce, ride-sharing platforms, etc. Now when someone comes to us for an ecommerce marketplace solution, we can build it quickly. For example, we built an ecommerce marketplace for one of the largest companies in Bangladesh within a short period. We could do it because we had the backend ready and could deploy it fast. So we started working on products.
In markets where we were working such as Indonesia and Singapore, tech resources are expensive. Initially, we offered our services at a better price which helped us to attract and build relationships with customers.
Since we were coming to Myanmar, I discovered at that time that Myanmar has some unique challenges. In Bangladesh, we have an international standard national ID card. In Myanmar, national ID cards (NRC cards) are handwritten. The country does not have digital ID cards yet. You need this NRC card for doing almost everything from opening a bank account to buying a SIM card to opening an MFS account. You need this card everywhere. These companies take these NRC cards and type them and it takes about half an hour to process one. I realized this is a crazy thing and an OCR can solve this problem. We started working on and after a while developed an OCR that can read Burmese handwritten fonts at over 95 accuracies. It can also do facial verification with your photos and face matching and comparison.
Once the product was ready, I started reaching out to the telecom companies here. They initially did not see it as something useful.
Then last year PTD, which is similar to BTRC in Bangladesh, passed a new rule saying that there could not be more than two SIMs of a single operator against one NRC. There was no limitation before. The change created a major challenge for the telecom companies. They announced SIM registration and re-registration for the entire Myanmar population. That created an opportunity for our product. Telecom operators now use our OCR product. We are also giving it to the financial sector.
We have an excellent loyalty and reward system product. Many telecoms in Myanmar use our system. We maintain their backends and have long-term contracts with these companies.
We have built a long list of products from telemedicine to marketplaces. Alice was a product of Misfit. After getting huge traction, we decided to spin it off. But we still sell Alice as a reseller.
Software solutions usually require integration when you are giving these products to customers. That's where Misfit comes in when there are integration needs. Shuvo was once my partner and is still my partner. We now also have a business relationship. You know iFarmer which was also started within Misfit. Once the product received a lot of traction, we realized it should have its entity because it will be much bigger than Misfit. Alice and iFarmer, in terms of business and capabilities, both have huge growth potential. It was a good idea for us to spin them off.
We are testing a few other products and whenever we see a particular product getting a lot of traction, we will try to see bigger opportunities for that product. That’s how Misfit works.
We have a strong relationship with our clients in this part of the world. We are getting contracts competing with big players. We are going deeper into Southeast Asia and going towards the Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam. These markets are super tech-savvy. However, we think we now have the product, talent, portfolio of the clients — we have created solutions for Fortune 500 companies — to explore these markets. We have built that reference. We now feel that we should expand and that’s what we are doing now.
Apart from that, we are looking into the Middle East and African markets where tech explosions are happening. This is a personal passion project for me. While we don't follow these markets, smart people are following the developments in these markets.
Tech has underlying similarities. Once you have a product, you can take it to many different markets. What Uber did in the US and other markets, Grab and others are doing similar things in this part of the world. Of course, approaches and strategies are different. But the problem is similar. In many instances, the back-end technology is not much different either. It means the tech I'm selling in Myanmar, I can sell the same tech in Indonesia with some customizations.
We are eyeing expansion seriously and aim to get it done by early 2022. That's the plan for now.
Future Startup: I have a few questions about your model and would love to dig deeper into your operational intricacies. Before that, I want to go back to 2017 when you just got started with four people. What was it like? How did you put together the initial resources? You needed some capital, a structure for the company to run, etc. Could you please walk us through the first few months to one year? What were some of the major challenges?
Munimul Islam: This is an interesting question. One of the common challenges of the early days is that you have work but you could not grow for lack of capital and resources. It is always a chicken and egg problem. That was our situation. You have clients. And to serve the clients, you need to hire developers and give them laptops and other amenities. But capital is always a challenge.
Initially, we invested from our own pockets. We set aside a certain plan and investment goal that regardless of the business we would invest this much in the first year. I invested all my savings into the business. I think everyone did the same. We needed money to hire and provide tools to our developers.
Shuvo and Jamil played a crucial role in these early days. They understood these challenges. Since Shuvo came from BUET, he could manage people. For example, we needed 10 developers, he could manage to find 10 good people.
Having said that, finding the right talents has always been a challenge for us. It was more so in the early days. We have amazing resources in Bangladesh which everyone in this field knows. We have the talents who are if not better at least at par with very qualified resources from any other markets. Talent has never been the problem. But finding the right talent has been.
You need capital to hire and enable talents. For example, you have a client who needs 20 developers. The client would not pay you in advance. But you have to hire these people, pay them from the first month, get them high-quality laptops and tools. You need money for this. We went to the banks but the bank would not give us a loan because we don't have assets.
We were lucky that we had a few people who believed in us and invested in Misfit as angel investors.
Khairul bhai whom I mentioned earlier invested in us as an angel investor in those days. He works with the UN. We also raised an investment from Mahbub Rahman, a renowned businessman who owns organizations like Star Cineplex, Peninsula Hotels among others. I have been working with him for many years in my other passion project where I run an entertainment company and do event management. It is a hobby and I do it whenever I get a chance.
When I went to Mahbub bhai, he understood the business well because he has an IT company as well called Base Technologies. Base is one of the companies that worked on the Submarine Cable connectivity in Bangladesh back in 1996 and 97. When I pitched the idea, he asked what we needed. I said we need money. That we could not buy laptops for money. He agreed to invest in us.
These people were angel investors. They did not ask about valuation or anything. They gave us money. I feel good that we took their money and did something good with it. Still, they are with us and are happy to be with us. We have raised money from Singapore. And we have a partner from India. We have four partners in the business and four angel investors. Two of the investors are strategic investors.
When you do business in Southeast Asia, Singapore is the financial hub. That's why most companies operating regionally have their HQ in Singapore. When we approach any large client and when they see that our banking and our audit and everything is based in Singapore, they trust us. Singapore is one of the largest and most transparent financial hubs. To keep everything clean, we moved our HQ to Singapore. To register a company in Singapore, you need a Singaporean as a nominee director or a director, or a shareholder. My Singaporean partner is a Shareholder and a director in the company. He also works with us in our day-to-day operations. Plus he invested his money.
We have Sumit from India as our partner. Sumit and I both worked at Rocket. He was the founder of Shop.com which became Daraz. He used to look after the Myanmar, Nepal, and Srilanka operations. He played a vital role in the Alibaba acquisition of Daraz. As a tech entrepreneur and investor, he has a huge network in India and the South East Asian markets. He offers us insight into different markets, connects us with potential clients, and helps us understand the future direction of tech and competition. So that was the fundraising.
These all happened in the first half of 2018. We raised the capital we needed. We had a runway of 18 months. And we were fortunate that we got good-paying clients from the beginning. We never had to look back.
Today, we have 130+ people working at Misfit. We have teams in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia. We kept growing throughout the pandemic time.
To be honest, the pandemic was a challenge initially. We lost some clients, particularly in the European markets. We had some savings which helped us. We did not let any of our people go. We did not go into any salary cut. Instead, we asked our people to work on products throughout this period. If everything goes well, you will see something similar to Zoom from us soon. We are building this kind of tech keeping in mind that 5G is on the way and COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of digital services. We are working on some interesting technologies around audio, video, call, and conference, screen sharing, and co-browsing.
We asked our developers to finish these products during the pandemic. That helped us. We are now getting clients for these products and selling them with a two-three years license.
We also partner with other technology companies in Bangladesh and sell their products under some revenue-sharing model. That's something we do with several partners in Bangladesh. We believe in collaboration and partnership. We can't build everything. Rather if someone has the solution we are looking for and he is best at it, we prefer to collaborate with them.
Our on-demand tech service business is strong. We lost some businesses last year. But many of them are now returning.
Future Startup: What were some of the things that worked for you in those early days?
Munimul Islam: The first right thing I would say is that we chose the right partners. Jamil, Fahad, Shuvo, and I understand each other well. We got along very well with the investors who came on board. You need an operation or management team that works well together. For us, it worked brilliantly.
Four of us come with complementary skills. Fahad is a thinker and very good with strategy. Shuvo is superb at execution. Jamil is a brilliant operation guy. And I had the connections. This combination has helped us.
This is critical for every business. If your founding team is not in sync, it is a problem. We know stories of companies that simply failed because of founder issues. It has been a blessing for us that the four of us never had an issue. Of course, we have a lot of debates, arguments but these are all constructive.
We know our roles. We have separated our businesses but we are informed about what's going on in which company. We talk regularly. I think this is the most important thing, getting the right team. Then comes finding the right people, putting together the structure, and many other small things.
We also took a different go-to-market strategy in those early days. We decided that we would become a big player in at least one of the markets in South Asia or South East Asia. It was a challenging ambition. And we did not target Bangladesh in those days. Instead, we decided to go to markets where strategically we could win. Markets like Myanmar or Cambodia or Nepal, etc where there are demands.
Many people decide to go to America or Europe because those markets have more money. While American and European markets have money, competition is also steeper in those markets.
The different strategies we took going to these developing countries where there is a digital boom happening helped us to find a ready market.
Many big tech companies you see today are going to these markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam, etc because digital growth is happening in these markets.
I don't see a lot of Bangladeshi companies in these markets. These markets are dominated by Indian players. We made a strategic decision early on that we would play around in these markets which worked for us quite well.
We went as a Bangladeshi company and delivered quality at par with the market. When we started we were a little bit less expensive than other options in the market. The strategy worked and we received excellent responses. Now we quote quite high. We passed the phase where we had to offer price benefits to customers to compete.
Having said that, it has not been any easier for us to build businesses in these markets. These markets are unique. You have to understand the local dynamics to operate and succeed in these markets. If I did not come to Myanmar before starting the business, I would have never been able to offer relevant solutions. You have to go to these markets, research, and build solutions. Also, we were lucky that we had a network in these markets.
Finally, in every market we operate, we go as a local company. When I attend an RFP in Myanmar, I do it as a local company. I don't propose as a Singaporean or foreign business. We take a local approach in every market we operate which also helps. We have local people in every market on the business end of things. It has helped us. Understanding the market is important. We have quite a multi-cultural team which helps with learning and healthy competition for growth.
Future Startup: Could you please give us an overview of the company today? How many markets are you in? How big are the team and the size of the business? You have two aspects of your business. You provide IT outsourcing services and you also have products. The demands for each of these businesses are different. The mindset and demand for product development are different from delivering services. How do you navigate these dichotomies?
Munimul Islam: We have a physical presence in six countries at the moment: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia, Singapore, and Indonesia. In a few other markets where we have clients, we either work with partners or serve from Singapore. As I mentioned earlier, we are working to expand to these markets and have our presence as well. For the Middle East, the plan is the same.
While some of our largest clients are telecoms, we work with and have solutions for almost all industries. I would not go into the details. We have worked extensively in the financial industry including MFS and banks.
Apart from our productized businesses, we do the tech outsourcing business.
In terms of revenue, our transactions are in millions of dollars. When we started in 2018, we had a six-figure turnover. We are now a profitable company in every market where we operate.
We have separate teams for products and tech outsourcing businesses. Every product has a different team and assigned people. For every single product, we have a separate product team that also works with clients using that product. We have teams for new product development.
Our tech outsourcing business is a completely different team. We have people who are working for a single client for two years.
Future Startup: You have done an interesting thing: spinning off products as companies. So far two companies came out of Misfit and now operate independently. Is there any cultural imperative within the organization that allows you to turn products into companies because it needs a very different dynamic to do it?
Munimul Islam: It depends on the product owner. For example, we spun off iFarmer, which was owned by Jamil and Fahad. Their vision was very clear regarding where they want to take iFarmer to. I'm not that clear about iFarmer's vision. I know what the company does and I know what we want to do. But where the company will be five years down the line, that Fahad and Jamil only know. So it is the product owners. It was easy in the case of iFarmer because it was Fahad and Jamil. It was easy with Alice because it was Shuvo who took it off. Since product owners were very clear about what they wanted to build and had a vision, it was an easy decision.
This could happen again if we find the right product owner who has the vision and wants to take a product to the next level and build a company with our assistance, we would go for that. We have some very good people in the company working with us for some time who understand our mindset, and if these people can lead their own product and turn it into companies, we will immediately spin it off. So that's the vision.
There are a few products that we have that could scale up using a SaaS model. We plan to spin these products off once ready. We want to work with new technologies all the time. We are seeing a lot of new things happening in tech and we plan to stay abreast of these developments.
Future Startup: What are the challenges for Misfit now?
Munimul Islam: Pandemic is a challenge. Travel is difficult now. Before the pandemic, I used to travel to five countries a month but this is not possible now. Connecting with people over a Zoom call when the video is off is difficult. As a result, the fast-paced growth we expected and were having before the pandemic, we could not achieve due to the pandemic. This is not a problem for us alone. It is a challenge every one is going through. Moreover, customers don’t want to change technology when there is a pandemic going on out there. Companies are mostly risk-averse and want to stick with their existing solutions. It limits our ability to convince customers to switch to our products.
For example, Fresh Desk out of India is a huge company that has Fresh Chat. We are competing with them when we are selling Alice to the same client. But due to the pandemic, many of these customers are unwilling to change their vendor or service provider. When things get back to normal, things probably would change. But it is a bit challenging for us amid the pandemic. We are not being able to expand at the level we wanted to expand.
Similarly, we used to hire physically before using a rigorous process through which we could know a person better before finally confirming. But throughout the pandemic, we hired mostly digitally. As a result, hiring became quite slow. It has been difficult to expand the team.
Working online and in front of the screen all the time while you don't meet anyone in person is a challenge. It has taken a toll on our overall productivity. All these things have slowed down our growth a bit.
This is the biggest challenge. Going forward, I don't see a lot of challenges.
Future Startup: Apart from expansion, what are the plans for the next 2-3 years?
Munimul Islam: In the short term, we want to build a strong presence in the markets we already have a presence. We are not a major player in Bangladesh. We want to change that. In the next few years, we want to build a presence in our home market and be a strong player.
In the long run, if we can, we want to strengthen our position in South Asia and Southeast Asian markets and then go to markets like the Middle East and North Africa and then go to South America where there are plenty of opportunities.
One good thing is that since we call ourselves Misfit, whenever we meet someone they always remember us because it is a very unique name. For the company's branding, the name has been useful.
Future Startup: What are some of the things you enjoy being an entrepreneur and some things you don't like?
Munimul Islam: Entrepreneurship allows you to chase your vision and it is always rewarding to being able to do it. The second would, many of our work change lives. For example, we have done e-KYC in Myanmar and it helps a lot of people. Of course, we make money from it. At the same time, it helps people. It gives you deep satisfaction when your product is useful to others. We have made the entire thing online during this pandemic and it has been a tremendous help for many people amid this pandemic. When you see the impact of your work, it offers deep satisfaction.
Other than that, we are now a 100+ team and we never reduced people even amid the pandemic. Looking at the team, I see 100 families depending on the work we do which feels like a huge responsibility. If you can do it right, it is meaningful.
On the downside of being an entrepreneur, you are an entrepreneur 24/7. There is no fixed working hour. That's your mindset. You are working all the time which affects your personal life. Things that your friends can afford to do after office, you can't. You are still doing something else. That's the challenging part of it. You are always thinking about the business. There is no personal life.
Future Startup: What are some of the biggest lessons you have learned so far?
Munimul Islam: Keep the commitments that you make. As a business, if we commit and don't deliver, it means doom for us. So you mustn't over-commit. You have to be transparent and honest. Don't get overconfident because if you can build something somebody else can build it as well.
Don't stretch yourself to build everything. The partnership could be a good way to expand instead of building everything yourself. It is a much faster way to grow.
Be focused on what you want to achieve. We have always been focused.
Have role models. You should follow people who are better in the industry. We follow companies like Accenture, TCL, etc.
And finally, be aware of what's happening in the market.