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Nuport, supply chain automation, productivity, and entrepreneurship lessons: An interview with Fahim Salam, Founder, and CEO, Nuport

Fahim Salam is the founder and CEO of Nuport, a Dhaka-based full-stack supply chain automation company. Nuport enables manufacturers, distributors, and eCommerce companies to automate their supply chain operations. As Fahim explains, “Nuport is a full-stack supply chain automation company. We work with manufacturers, distributors, and eCommerce brands in building out a back-end automation infrastructure so that you're able to scale and grow faster.”

Mr. Fahim has a multicultural upbringing. Born in Bangladesh, he grew up in Abu Dhabi and studied and lived in Canada before moving back to Bangladesh. Mr. Fahim started his first company when he was in college. Prior to starting Nuport, he was a co-founder at Dhaka-based logistics company Loop. 

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Fahim. We talk about the origin and evolution of Nuport, how Nuport work, what are the major challenges in supply chain management and how Nuport addresses them, the culture at Nuport, Nuport’s business today and ambition going forward, Nuport’s ambition to build an ecosystem of supply services, his approach to work and productivity, lessons from his journey so far and much more.

This is a fascinating read in its entirety. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it. Build great things! 

Ruhul Kader

Nice to meet you in person, finally. And thanks for agreeing to this interview. What are the biggest challenges in the supply chain that Nuport is addressing? 

Fahim Salam  

The biggest problem in logistics is that it's people-dependent. 

Ruhul Kader

Why being people driven is a problem? Is it because it's expensive or inefficient?

Fahim Salam  

Inefficient and expensive. Because the information has to be relayed from one person to another. There are elements that can be automated, like the approval process, but most of it is always a phone call because there is no medium to connect the two different parties. 

For example, someone is running a small e-commerce company or a small mom-and-pop shop selling baby goods like powders, creams, etc. How it generally works. Someone takes the order, and after taking the order, it goes through an approval process, you approve the orders, and then someone in the warehouse has to make sure that the orders match the current inventory, if the people who approve don't have access to the inventory information, and then you deliver. You can see it is an inefficient process.  

There is always this information gap. I got an order for 500 baby powder products. Do we have the products in the inventory right now? And then you have to relay that information to the warehouse guys and the warehouse guys go to that particular location where you store that baby powder. And then you have to count it and then you have to relay that information back. You see how it works. 

Ruhul Kader   

Is this how it works predominantly? I’m asking for real. 

Fahim Salam  

Everybody works this way. 

Ruhul Kader

The big e-commerce company as well? 

Fahim Salam  

Large e-commerce companies have managed to automate some aspects of their operation but not entirely. I'll tell you why. These large companies have systems, but those systems are not connected. Then it becomes the same problem as two people who are not connected. So you have to call them to find out. 

Ruhul Kader

So they have this warehouse management software that only warehouse guys know. But the guys who are working in logistics have their separate software. And nothing connects with nothing. 

Fahim Salam

Surprisingly, this is the same for big companies as well. Because many people tend to say that digital transformation is big and monstrous. By the way, it is not. 

This view I think comes from a different place. Some old-school ERP systems came into Bangladesh from the west. And those ERP systems are not useful for the way we work. Companies would think that these ERP systems from abroad are good because they're reputable. At the same time, our industrial operating model is different, and we don't have the right tools or processes in place just yet. So why would we go to the hassle of learning these big, heavy ERP systems, when our basic processes are not set up yet? First of all, it's complicated. Think of a simple Apple product that my parents who are from a different generation can still use just by tapping and clicking. That kind of approach was never brought towards enterprise software. And this disconnect just continued. 

The way we solved it, especially in South Asian countries, was by hiring more people to solve it when you have big orders. Since we have cheap labor, we could do it. But once you start scaling, because there are so many people, there are many more processes, and then one mistake gets relayed to another area, and, and the mistakes compile over the cycle. And that is something that we are trying to remove.

Ruhul Kader 

I'm trying to understand how the supply chain and logistics work, and how automation can change the game for companies. One problem is people's dependency. The operation is sporadic and you solve the challenge by bringing in more people. Are there any other challenges?

Fahim Salam 

The other challenges are that when customers place an order, they seek updates about their orders — when their orders will arrive and so on. It is a simple thing. When a customer places an order, they should be able to get an update immediately. You don’t need high tech or anything to send an SMS that says we received your order and it is confirmed and is on the way. 

They don't have to use any mobile app or anything. Every time an order is moved from a warehouse to delivery, it's scanned in or scanned out. The automatic messages will be sent to the customer, like “Hey, your products have been shipped and should be at your doorstep in the next three hours.” 

Ruhul Kader  

It is like tracking. 

Fahim Salam  

I'm not even looking at like hardcore GPS tracking. That's a whole different ballgame. Those are hard problems. But why are we going after hard problems when the easier problems are not even addressed? 

Simple SMS, once you do this, you can see a drastic decline in your follow-up calls by your customers. It's a big branding thing as well. Customers will be happy. They will tell other people that every time I work with this company, I always get updates. I don't have to call them. I know it's on the way and it's gonna arrive by tomorrow. Simple things like that can make a huge difference. But all of that has to start from how structured and integrated the company is from the backend.

Ruhul Kader 

For example, if I'm selling baby food or something else, now my customer placed an order for say 10 products. Once it goes from the warehouse to the logistic company, the customer gets an update that says your product is on the way or ready for shipping, etc.

Fahim Salam  

Yes. It is a simple status update. These are simple technologies that are not implemented on a larger scale yet. I think that's where the biggest opportunity is. Every person who's willing to buy and sell goods should be able to do this. This is just basic technology like Microsoft Office for distribution business. 

Ruhul Kader  

So first, people, and second, update. I placed an order and I have to call customer care service for an update. And when customers call, it's expensive for the company. They need to manage a customer care center or whatever. It is also a bad customer experience problem. Now that customers get automated SMS, it reduces costs and improves customer experience. Any other challenges?

Fahim Salam

The other challenges are mostly on the management side. For example, when a business grows from one core a month to ten crores a month, it's a much bigger business. Now your challenges are different. How do you keep track of all the information and the products that you're making? 

At that stage, you usually go around hiring analysts to review your data, you do some pivot tables inside Excel sheets and you come up with reports for different departments. Since your data is all over the place, it takes 3-10 days to come up with these reports. Now, if you’re relying on that report for making decisions, 3 to 7 days to get a report is too late. You need to know what products are working and what are not working as fast as possible so that you can make those changes.

As a business, you buy raw materials and goods. If you can predict that product A or product B is not working based on previous data before making the buying decisions, you can decide on time. For instance, you import from outside. You placed an order for bulk products. Then you received your report that some of the products were not doing that well. By that time it is too late to stop your orders. The vice versa can happen as well when you fail to order sufficient quantity for a product that is doing well. 

For instance, your product A is high in demand and you’re running low on the product. But you manage your inventory using a manual process. You get this insight too late. By the time you know that you’re running low on these products, you have 10 pre-orders but you don’t have products in stock. 

These things can be automated and can be real-time. You can know which products are fast-moving and can maintain your stock accordingly which can improve your customer experience and your operations.

What I'm coming to is that intelligence is something that you're receiving late because of your disconnected systems. Consequently, you're not able to make the right decisions at the right time. 

Real-time access to intelligence can transform your operation. It can help you understand the fundamentals of your business and make better decisions. It can improve your operational efficiency by ensuring superior coordination. You can know in real-time which orders are coming from where and organize them accordingly. If you see an order coming from a certain location, you can send it to the nearest warehouse, and so on. It can improve your operation at so many levels. 

Ruhul Kader  

How does Nuport address all these challenges? 

Fahim Salam

Nuport is a full-stack supply chain company. We build tools and applications for the entire supply chain journey of your distribution business. It starts with integrated order management. Orders can come from any channels such as Facebook, email, e-commerce website, phone call, distributors, third-party e-commerce companies, retailers, dealers, or any other sources, our system geocodes and integrates them.

You don't need to maintain a separate ledger or a typed-out address book. Whenever the person calls, we can pick up the address, and it's going to be saved in the system. Now, that is order management. We standardize all these things.

Ruhul Kader

For example, I'm an e-commerce company. I have a Facebook page, and some of my customers order through Facebook. So now when they place an order, is it like your system is integrated with my Facebook pages so that it pulls all the data and records it into a central backend? The same for other channels, be it mobile phones, websites, or email. That's order management.

Fahim Salam 

Yes. Most e-commerce businesses have a website, but that's it. Everything else is done manually in the background. It's quite common where e-commerce companies to manage orders using Excel because there are no other tools, it's just a website. And then everything else is just Excel sheets on the backend and a lot of manual work. 

Ruhul Kader 

That should be super complicated.

Fahim Salam

Yes. You are marketing your website, and you have a big reach. But once you have that big reach your problem is tenfold because the backend operations aren’t automated. Our ideal customers have a website that we can just integrate with, then that's the order management part. 

Then comes the planning part, which is distribution and delivery planning. Once you’ve approved orders, our system then checks with our warehouse management system (WMS) or an inventory system to check whether these items are available or not automatically. 

Ruhul Kader  

So you have all these different tools. One is order management, which is like you pick the order data from different places — websites, mobile, and retailers, and aggregating them, and then you have separate warehouse management software, which is connected with this system. Now you can automatically check whether the product that you're approving is available in the warehouse

Fahim Salam  

In that warehouse management system, there are tools that they may or may not need. If they don't need some of these tools, they don’t need to buy them. It's very micro-modular. We're not going to give you the whole thing. You use only what your business needs. When your business is generating l one crore a month in revenue, you need a certain set of tools. A few years later, when your business reaches 10 crores a month, you're gonna need a more advanced set of tools. Then you need barcode scanning and so on. So we set up your printers and everything for you. So it is based on your needs. 

After the WMS comes TMS, which is your transport management system. If you have your vehicle, you can integrate that into the system. If you work with third-party logistics partners, you can also integrate that. The transport management system has both internal fleet and external fleet management options. The external fleet is something we can connect to third-party logistics companies. You can also add a bidding module. We're working with a cement company right now to build a bidding module for them, where their truck vendors will be able to bid on rates daily. 

Now, do we expect every third-party transport provider to be technically savvy? No. So they don't have to use a mobile app. They can bid via SMS. From your system, you click on get rates and a request will go to all your vendors via an SMS. Your vendors can see the details in SMS and bid at whatever rate they want. You see all the bids and award the ones you want. 

So it's a very low-fi approach. We don't want people to be super tech-savvy. And that's not the idea. 

So order management, warehouse management, and TMS. And then there is supply chain intelligence, which is an overarching theme of intelligence and micro-intelligence with every department for the decision-makers.

So those are some of the micro modules. But you don't need to take that if you're in like a small e-commerce company. You can just add what you need. 

Fahim Salam 

This may sound like a big ERP. We do a lot of different things. But we don't market ourselves as such. Because we are not an ERP system. We understand the complexities of ERP systems. We know that clients require a lot of documentation and training. And it is something that many of our customers have been doing all the time. They've been doing the same thing in excel sheets, except they don't have an integrated system. 

Ruhul Kader   

As you mentioned, is there any learning curve for your product? As you mentioned, ERPs are a high learning curve. 

Fahim Salam  

If it were five years ago, probably yes. But today, I don't think there's a learning curve. 

Ruhul Kader

Do people find it that simple? You give them this software they start using it, if they need any help, they just call.

Fahim Salam 

Because they're not doing anything different. They were already adding orders on an excel sheet, for example, but think of an excel sheet that fills itself automatically with data. And then that excel sheet is connected to an inventory excel sheet, and that inventory excel sheet also gets updated automatically. And then another excel sheet that is taking care of all the trucking requirements. So these are systems that they are already used to. 

What we’re doing is that we’re giving them a platform where most of these things are happening in the backend. I would not zero a learning curve, but maybe seven days to figure out everything because they've already done the hard work in the manual system. So the automatic system is just a matter of integration.

Ruhul Kader   

You said you have several micro modules. When you tell people that we do all these different things, do people ask you, well, there are too many products? How do you go to customers, and then tell them okay, this is what we do, this is the company, and this is the product and this is how it works? 

Fahim Salam  

We don't tell them anything about us. Instead, we ask about their problems. We're a full-stack supply chain company. We know the problems in and out. All we have to do is listen to them. We do the basics first, which is fixing your order management. Everybody knows order management. We just fix that for them and at that point, I've done my part. I don't have to tell them anything. They start asking us, can you fix my inventory? Do you have a transport management system? I just bought three vehicles or I use 3PL that doesn't integrate with my order management, can you help us with that? 

My job is done at that point.

Ruhul Kader

Who are your ideal customers at this stage? 

Fahim Salam 

Mid-size eCommerce companies are trying to take their business to the next level, but aren’t able to do so because of technical bottlenecks. So someone who is doing, say 5 to 25 crores sales monthly. Those are our ideal customers. 

Ruhul Kader  

Do you see a lot of eCommerce companies that are doing that level of business in Dhaka?

Fahim Salam 

I think there're quite a few. It's just that they may label themselves as a distribution company. But the use cases are the same.

Ruhul Kader 

What do you mean by distribution company? 

Fahim Salam  

Distribution companies primarily are all the companies that are buying goods in bulk and building their distribution channel in Bangladesh. For example, the representatives of Unilever in Bangladesh. They have salesmen, they have dealers, retailers, and other distributors. They are selling to retailers, and retail shops, so how are they managing that? Right, so those are the distribution companies. 

Ruhul Kader 

That's an interesting market, but in that market, a lot of sales happen via, say, salespeople going from shop to shop taking orders. 

Fahim Salam 

But how are they taking their orders? On cell phones and forms? 

Ruhul Kader  

But how does your product get integrated there?

Fahim Salam

The order management part is diverse. Salespeople can take orders via Whatsapp, send them to a Whatsapp group, or use an app and take the order and tap to send it to the system. 

Ruhul Kader 

So it's a mobile app. You take the order using a mobile app and then it goes to the central system. 

Fahim Salam  

These people use mobile apps all the time. So they know how to place an order. All they have to do is just do the same in the mobile app.

Ruhul Kader 

That's interesting. I think there are several use cases there. People usually use sales force management tools for this purpose. 

Fahim Salam 

There are a lot of Salesforce management software products but they only do that.

Ruhul Kader

Yours is much more expansive. 

Fahim Salam   

And integrated. 

Ruhul Kader

How big is the market for a company like Nuport? 

Fahim Salam 

Globally, it's a $52 billion industry. There are over 26 million e-commerce companies in the world in 2022. And it's growing at 200% annually. Based on that, even if we charge, say, $200 to $500 a month, you can estimate the revenues. 

In Bangladesh, there are some 2000 active eCommerce brands, apart from Facebook-based sellers. Say another 2000 Facebook-based sellers. You have like 4000 to 5000 businesses that run manually and can benefit from a product like Nuport. That is the target market, at least for the E-commerce site and the SMEs. 

For the large corporations, I would say there are about 200 to 300 companies that are in our vicinity. They almost all spend money on extensive ERP, but they don’t get the results. Why? Because maybe only one person within their workforce uses the ERP, not everyone. And if you don't include everyone, then you still have areas where you have to manually enter data.

Fahim Salam

If I say $52 billion globally, 1/3 of it is going to be in Asia. It is hard to tell for Bangladesh but I don't think it's going to be that big as yet. 

Ruhul Kader   

How does your pricing work? 

Fahim Salam  

For eCommerce companies, it starts at BDT 10,000 a month for the back-end system. 

Ruhul Kader  

So whatever you do, it's BDT 10,000? 

Fahim Salam

10,000 taka and then if you add more complexity such as you add a warehouse management system, you add trackers, and you add fleet, it goes up and can go up to 50,000 per month. If you compare the unit economics here, it's just equivalent to a two-person salary, who are doing operations to run your entire backend system. So that's a lot of value addition for these companies.

Ruhul Kader  

You have been operating for a year, what kind of response are you seeing? How many customers do you have now? 

Fahim Salam  

I'm not gonna disclose the number yet. From what we have seen, our biggest revenue source is our large customers. However, for the past two months, we’re getting a lot of online requests from eCommerce companies. We’ve built a three-person eCommerce team to handle these requests. And this month, we just onboarded another four eCommerce companies. So it's going well, but we're not viral yet. And I think it's gonna take some time.

Ruhul Kader 

What do you think it’d take to build a super successful company in the vertical that you're operating?

Fahim Salam  

Excellent after-sales service. Everyone loves technology, but they also hate technology when it doesn't work. They need someone to help them when it is not working. That’s where after-sales service comes in. And it’s something that's missing 100% of the time. 

I'll tell you why it's missing. Because most of the software companies here don't build their own software. And which is why it becomes difficult. If you don't build it yourself, you don't know the intricate details of that software, and what it can and cannot do. And that's when it becomes difficult. When a customer asks you a question, you have to refer him to someone else. And that compromises your customer care. 

That's the area that I think we're gonna shine. Focusing more on customer service success. If you can build excellent after-sales support that your customers rely on that's when you know you've done something right. 

Ruhul Kader

What is unique about Nuport? What are your competitive advantages? What does the competitive landscape look like in the market? Are there any other companies doing well in this vertical? 

Fahim Salam  

I guess what makes us different is the fact that we are not just engineers. We come from a background in operations. We know the manual operations very well. Every one of us had had some sort of eCommerce business or an F-commerce business selling things from our home. So we know the operations well.  

Before Nuport, I had a logistics company. So I know the intricate details of what it takes on the field and the level of expertise needed to build technologies that people will use repeatedly. Because if it's complex for you, you’ll use it once and you're not going to use it again. We understand what sticks. 

The second thing is because of our domain knowledge: the manual expertise and the technical engineering expertise become all the more useful because now it's just not engineers talking to you, it's people from all levels of the organization. We have a deep understanding of the problem.

Then about competition. Locally, there isn't much. Regionally, there are a few in India and a few in Europe. But many of these solutions are super technical and focus on one specific field, which I think misses the larger market. You're so high-tech that you're only valuable to really big companies. 

I think that's a good approach too. But I also think, given the rate at which COVID changed the world and our mindset, that we want to run things from the comfort of our homes, and we need those tools to run our businesses. And we need to have that mass market approach, which is something that we do compare to other companies.

Ruhul Kader  

Can you give us an overview of the company today? How big is your team? How do you operate as a company? And what is your culture? Probably? How many clients do you have? Sort of a state of the union of Nuport.

Fahim Salam 

We're a team of 25.

We are an open culture. 

We operate with a customer obsession. Most of us have had some computer science engineering background and some work experience before, which helps us to be super customer-oriented. Just being good at engineering is not good enough. You have to know how to deal with customers. 

Our decision-making process is decentralized. Because if I'm making 100% of the decisions, then I don't think we're growing. I wouldn't be there every step of the way. We hired some quite senior people from other companies who have run their own teams before in engineering and product management. Our head of sales is from Grameenphone and has in-depth experience dealing with customers on the front end. And he's been training his team for doing that. 

In terms of customer signups and everything, we’ve double-digit value. And we expect to be a triple-digit value by mid-next year.

Ruhul Kader 

Triple-digit in the number of customers? 

Fahim Salam

Customers % brands. We're not going after explosive growth right now. Because we understand the economic situation. We don't want to burn too much. We want to move cautiously.  

Ruhul Kader 

We talked briefly about pricing. What does your cost structure look like? What are the cost centers and how do you make money? Can you talk briefly about the metric like unit economics and your path to profitability, etc? 

Fahim Salam  

The profitability in the SME sector comes from the number of customers we have. On paper, we're profitable from our big clients. Big contracts take months of effort. So we charge a license fee, an implementation fee, and then a subscription fee. The implementation fee is strictly based on how long a project is going to take complete. It's just the man hours that we calculate, add our margin to it, and then tell them that this is the fee and the rest of it is just the SAAS subscription fee. 

For eCommerce companies, it's just a monthly subscription, which starts at 10,000.

Ruhul Kader  

Is it tied to the number of users? 

Fahim Salam 

It usually starts with 10 users.

Ruhul Kader  

So 10 users 10,000 taka. 

Fahim Salam 

We give some discounts upfront. If they want to add five more users, we'll be like, okay, fine. But more than that will cut into our costs, which we don't want to. At that point, we tell them that the costs are going to be a little bit higher. Say you're going to add 2000 taka more. That's it.

Ruhul Kader 

In terms of costs, you have the building the products and operations, etc.  

Fahim Salam 

So, building the product. It's a SAAS company. Once we've built certain products, that’s it. Unless you need heavy custom work, which is why the enterprise clients are different. 

Ruhul Kader  

That's why you charge them more. 

Fahim Salam  

There's always that implementation fee that accounts for minor integrations and customizations, usually 10%-15% customization. With eCommerce companies, not so much. For eCommerce companies, we can make it operational within 24 hours. It's a simple operation. 

Ruhul Kader 

You went to this Flexport Accelerator program early this year. Have you raised any further investment? 

Fahim Salam  

We raised a little lower than an additional $200,000 since then. 

Ruhul Kader

What's the plan for fundraising? Do you have plans to raise investment anytime soon? 

Fahim Salam  

We do intend to raise $2 million within the next few months. We're actively having conversations right now. We have had commitments. So it's just a matter of time before we close.

Ruhul Kader  

What are the challenges for the company now?

Fahim Salam  

We’re going through a difficult global economic environment. We have to prioritize unit economics more than just growth. That's the biggest challenge right now. We’re having to choose between survival and growth. Because growth is going to be expensive.

I think what this economic situation taught us is that funding will never fix your unit's economics. And you can’t ignore your unit economics. Before you people could afford to at least overlook it temporarily. But it's now forcing them to pay attention a lot more. You have to make sure that your unit economics is alright and that your expenses are kept in check at all times. Something that people don't do often as a technology startup. 

Ruhul Kader   

What are some of the lessons you have learned over these years as a founder? 

Fahim Salam 

I’ve always been frugal. Being frugal has a lot of upsides. But you also have to spend a little bit to make sure that customers trust you. For example, you're so frugal that you don't even have an office, and the customer wants to come by your office to see a demo, and they don't find it. Especially in this day and age, it kind of kills trust. 

Always be professional. Everything in the B2B space is about trust and accountability. Document every conversation you're having with the customer and keep the customer in the loop. 

Focus extensively on understanding your customers. I think founders don’t do it enough. You should always try to learn everything about your customers and the industry you operate in and build your team accordingly.

As a founder, you may have some limitations. But you have to be aware of those limitations and act on them. Don’t think you know everything. Always prioritize hiring the right people and building a great team. 

Ruhul Kader   

What are some of the priorities and plans for the next three to five years for Nuport?

Fahim Salam

Within the next three years, we expect to be international. Bangladesh market is good but it's not as big compared to what this market has to offer if we go global. We have built a global product. Once this economic situation settles down, we’re going full force in going international. That means raising new funds, building support structures in multiple countries, etc. That's the priority.

Ruhul Kader 

What are some of the things that you find interesting and enjoy the most and what are some of the things that you find difficult about being a founder?

Fahim Salam   

I think they both are the same thing. I'm a naturally curious person. For this industry, I'm like, how do we grow from here? We’re a tiny software platform, how can we build it into a large network? 

Ruhul Kader   

Can I interrupt? I just want to turn your point into a real question. How can you grow from here say to a triple-digit number of clients? What's your path from here to there?

Fahim Salam  

That comes down to my grand vision, which is to turn Nuport into a supply chain network. We've built all these micro-modular components, APIs, and tools. We can build out a large network that connects manufacturers, distributors, warehouses, eCommerce brands, fleet management companies, logistics companies, and so on. We can build this entire supply chain platform that connects different parts of the supply chain. That's our grand vision. 

Again, I'm always curious. Always tinkering with ideas. We now work with manufacturing companies and eCommerce brands. Soon enough we're gonna work on warehouse challenges once these eCommerce companies grow and need warehouse space. We can help them find that warehouse space not from our operations, but from our network of warehouses. Currently, warehouses are disconnected all over the country. You don’t have data about where you can find available warehouse spaces. But as we build out our network, you can get that intelligence from us. 

We now manage some inventory and warehousing for our clients. They're already putting their warehouse details on our software. We can see when their demands go up and when they need another warehouse in a different location. How can they find a warehouse in the region where the demand is highest? We can match these data and connect them with warehouses in that particular location where there is excess capacity. 

After that, how do they move their goods? They either manually contact some courier companies or work with other partners. Why can't we build that courier exchange in the first place? All we have to do is a set of APIs that connects all these top-notch courier companies. So you have all these logistics providers and you can connect with anyone. It's going to be automatically picked up based on the performance of these courier companies. We could just build out a freight exchange. 

We’ll not operate anything. We don’t do any of these things, all we do is convince a bunch of independent bodies to come under one model. These are independently operated. We’re building an asset-light network. That is our grand vision. I was one of the operators when I was running a logistics company before starting Nuport. We realized there are limitations. How about we build up a network that everyone can use?  

For these eCommerce and trading companies, we give them the micro tools to manage these things. They don't need to learn anything. It's openly available. All they're doing is trading. It becomes so much better for them to scale their companies. Because many eCommerce brands at that point, all they have to do is just open up another warehouse in this location or that location. They fill out a downpayment for a year. And now their business is booming. They don't need to do a separate operation. That's the grand vision. It is going to be a hard thing to do.

Ruhul Kader  

That’s interesting. Since you have the intelligence. All the companies that work with you, put their warehouse data in the system, so you know, where the warehouses are. And you probably also know their capacities, because whether warehouses going empty, or half full, you have some data about that. So if another eCommerce company that you're working with needs a warehouse in a certain location where you know there is a warehouse with the excess capacity you can connect them. And 3PL companies are connected with your system, you can connect customers with them. That’s theoretically interesting. But execution-wise, it shouldn’t be easy. Because you’ve to build incentives for all the players first so they use your platform. 

Fahim Salam  

It's going to be hard. But very, very exciting too. 

Ruhul Kader   

Do you have any realistic path to get there? Like we’re going try these things and hopefully, if we try these things, some of them will work and will get us here, etc.

Fahim Salam

We're actually doing all of this right now. Except it's not divided into specific networks and not at scale. We're doing this on the backend. But what's going to happen is once we have large enough businesses in the things we’re doing now, we will have that moat for us to attract more warehouses and other players in the space. 

Ruhul Kader   

Because otherwise, why would they?

Fahim Salam   

At that point, we’ll be able to give them business. 

Ruhul Kader   

Now the question is you have to become dominant in the things that you do now? And how do you become dominant in these areas?

Fahim Salam   

Just laser focus on growing them.  

Ruhul Kader  

Do you have a strategy in place, say, these are the five things that we are going to do to have more eCommerce companies and more distribution companies come and use our software. You mentioned customer service and after-sales, etc. 

Fahim Salam  

That is to keep them. How do you put them through the door? That means you have to build a bigger door, which is basically as an internet company, you should make sure that customers can reach out to you via your website, WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn, and every other way. 

That's what we're doing as an internet company. Our penetration has to be high. We haven't done this at scale. Because we want to make sure that we're providing unscalable good service for the handful of companies that we're working with. After that, we hope recommendations are going to build momentum. This is our essential go-to-market strategy.  

Ruhul Kader  

How do your marketing and communication work?

Fahim Salam   

It's entirely on LinkedIn and Facebook. We're active on LinkedIn and Facebook. We've been running a few ads. We have seen pretty good responses. 

We’ve worked hard to create an effective messaging strategy. For example, you're an eCommerce company and you're thinking of hiring five engineers to build your back end. It is going to cost you several hundred thousand takas. I tell you that you can just replace that with our system, which you can start using right away. That's nonsensical for you to not use that. Those are the little basic messages that we use. We call them microblogs or micro-content. Like if it's a video, it has to be under 30 seconds, and you get it and then we're done. 

Ruhul Kader   

What are some of the really important things for early-stage founders?

Fahim Salam  

They should have a level of insight into something that is not common knowledge. Like they should have some sort of a secret that they found out. Without it, your chance of failure is high. Otherwise, you're just building the same thing. One unique insight that I found was that there is no one singular way of operating. 

You have to have that insight, and do the hard things to pursue that insight for a long time. But then and again, if you just keep on analyzing and not taking action, you'll not go anywhere. There has to be a balance between the two. 

Ruhul Kader 

And you have to do things. 

Fahim Salam  

The unique insight comes from doing the hard things.

Ruhul Kader  

Do you find it difficult to be an early-stage founder?

Fahim Salam  

There is always a new challenge. For a new company, it never gets easier. Because your burdens are always on your back. You're always expected to succeed. If you fall, then it's all on you. That should keep you up at night. No one is immune to that. 

Ruhul Kader  

How do you deal with that? What's your approach to dealing with the challenges that come with being a founder,

Fahim Salam  

I work. I get stressed when I’m in ruminating mood. I’m kind of a workaholic. I work almost 15/16 hours every day. I've been doing that for a while now. It doesn't seem like work anymore. 

Ruhul Kader  

What's your unique insight about being a super good founder? 

Fahim Salam    

Although bias towards action is something we talk about a lot, I think it is hard to overstate its importance. You must take action. 

A certain level of obsession is important. If it doesn’t keep you up at night, and you're not driven to solve it, then you might give up when things get challenging. 

Ruhul Kader  

Can you describe Nuport and the products and services that you offer in five sentences?

Fahim Salam   

Nuport is a full-stack supply chain automation company. We work with manufacturers, distributors, and eCommerce brands in building out a back-end automation infrastructure so that you're able to scale and grow faster.

Ruhul Kader  

What are you reading these days? Any book recommendations for our readers? 

Fahim Salam 

I'm rereading some of my older books. One is Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I read this one over many times. 

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. 

People should read Sapiens. There's another one by the same author 21 lessons from the 21st century. I just finished reading that. The other book is Box. It's a history of the container. It's a brief history of the shipping container. 

Ruhul Kader  

You said you work for 15/16 hours a day. How do you maintain it?

Fahim Salam  

It just doesn't feel like work anymore. It's just I'm in front of a laptop. I take a walk sometimes just to clear my head a little bit. But I'm always constantly making decisions. That's usually how it is.

Ruhul Kader  

How do you work? How do you stay productive? 

Fahim Salam

I timebox myself. I always leave the first two hours of my day for business development, and then investor relations. And then the rest of the day on product development and engineering and design and working with my team. That is how I time myself pretty much throughout the day. At night, it's mostly strategizing for the coming months.  

Ruhul Kader

Advice tips for people who are starting out. 

Fahim Salam 

The first thing is to get curious and be a nerd. People underestimate how important it is to become a nerd. You need to read and understand how the world works. Be willing to get to the bottom of it as to why things happen the way things happen, and then you can probably see if there's a better way to do it. 

Ruhul Kader  

We did not get to talk about yourself. Where do you come from as an individual? Can you please talk about yourself? 

Fahim Salam  

I was born in Bangladesh and grew up mostly in Abu Dhabi. When I was 20, I moved to Canada for my undergrad. I finished my undergrad in Biochemical Engineering. 

My first job was actually in a factory where I learned the nitty gritty of factory operations. I was basically moving plastic in a conveyor belt for 12 hours straight. It was one of the best jobs in terms of learning the nitty-gritty of every factory architecture, and factory equipment. 

Around this time, I started a company with my co-founder, Chris, a cloud kitchen business that failed miserably. That was between 2014/2015. 

I then got involved in trading. I was buying goods such as shoes, blankets, posters, whatever, random stuff, and comic books from China, Bangladesh, and India and selling them to retail in Canada. I learned about the complexities of international trade during this period.

It was late 2016. At that time, we used to struggle with logistics a bit. Most of our goods were coming from Asia. And there's so much of disconnect in this area, so much of a black box, you know, that we didn't know what's going on. 

And at that time, it occurred to us that we could try to solve this, even though we didn't know much. And that's what happened. That's when we jumped into digital logistics. After three and a half years of running that we realized that a small portion of our clients, almost 30% of them, would like us to focus on technology. That shifted us to Nuport. That is a summary of my journey.

Ruhul Kader 

So your first company failed. 

Fahim Salam  

That was mostly my second company. My first company was something I did at the university, which was not tech related. It was just a training program for engineers. That was from 2013. 

Ruhul Kader  

That's interesting. I think in our culture a lot of people misunderstand failure. We have this social stigma that if things are not working, it's not good. But most things don't work. And unless you build a high tolerance for failure, it's difficult to do anything worthwhile. 

Fahim Salam   

I think people normally have a high tolerance for failure. It's just other people don't. So you try to bury yourself in the opinion of other people. But the opinions of others shouldn't matter. Because it's your own journey. The moment you learn that then you're just infinitely making mistakes and learning new things. And it's just so much more exciting. 

I don't think this sentiment will last long. The new generation is more tolerant of failure and appreciates people who try new things. 

Ruhul Kader   

I think this is a good place to end this conversation. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. 

Fahim Salam  

Thank you. I appreciate it.

Ayrin Saleha Ria contributed to this interview.

Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based writer, researcher, and entrepreneur. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and the author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about entrepreneurship, business, strategy, technology, and culture. He can be reached at [email protected]

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