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Three Important Yet Overlooked Success Factors for Early-Stage Companies

Successful companies are the fruit of many things done right. You have to get lucky. The timing has to be right. An idea ahead of its time rarely succeeds no matter how potential it appears. Product has to find a market. The team needs to be excellent to execute the idea. And a long list of other things. 

We don’t have empirical evidence for why some startups succeed while others fail. However, studies suggest several common denominators that separate successful companies from the ones that fail. 

For example, finding product-market fit, which in simple terms means there are customers for the product you are selling. On the other hand, co-founder disputes are among the common causes of startup death. 

If you are into startups and venture building, this is common knowledge. But knowledge is rarely useful unless we understand the context and use them. 

Founded in 2017, Misfit Technologies provides tech solutions to companies across industries including telecom, FMCGs, e-commerce, travel, B2C, etc in the Asia Pacific region. 

Before its incredible success, team Misfit 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. 

In a recent interview, we asked Munimul Islam, CEO and co-founder of Misfit Technologies Limited, this question: what are some of the things that worked for Misfit in the early days and what can other founders learn from its success? His answers offer useful insights into venture building: 

1. Co-founders 

“The first right thing I would say is that we chose the right partners,” says Munimul Islam. “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.”

Y Combinator, one of the leading startup incubators and VCs in the world, is famous for not backing single founders. Paul Graham, the founder of YC and a leading thinker, suggests that solo founders often struggle. Since building a company is difficult, it is necessary to have co-founders you can rely on. 

Having co-founders is not enough, you need to have a good working relationship. If you and your co-founders don’t get along well, it can turn into a mortal challenge for your company. As Mr. Islam said, having partners who work well together gave them a headstart in the early days. 

“Four of us come with complementary skills,” says Mr. Islam. “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.”

He then goes on to explain:  

“This is critical for every business,” says Mr. Islam. “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.”

He offers tips about what help stay in sync as a team and maintain a healthy relationship: 

“We know our roles,” says Mr. Islam. “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.” 

Clear boundaries and consistent communication are two of the best strategies to maintain a healthy relationship in a founding team.  

2. Go-to-market Strategy

“We took a different go-to-market strategy in those early days,” says Mr. Islam. “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.”

Choosing the right market for your product can make a lot of difference. One of the things Misfit did right in the early days was choosing the right market. Mr. Islam explains the thought process behind going to Southeast Asian markets: 

“Many people decide to go to America or Europe because those markets have more money,” says Mr. Islam. “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 a digital boom is happening helped us find a ready market.” 

He then goes on to explain what makes these markets lucrative: 

“Many big tech companies you see today are going to these markets such as Indonesia, 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.” 

3. Understanding the market

But choosing the right market is not enough. You have to understand the market and choreograph your moves according to the needs of the market.  

“Having said that, it has not been any easier for us to build businesses in these markets,” explains Mr. Islam. “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.” 

Only understanding the market is not enough, you have to be able to put it into practice: 

“Finally, in every market we operate, we go as a local company,” says Mr. Islam. “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 multicultural team which helps with learning and healthy competition for growth.” 

This is an excerpt from our interview with Munimul Islam. Read the full interview here

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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