future startup logo

Ashique Hassan and Kazi Shahinur Rahman: The Making of Blubird Interactive and A Demonstration of Entrepreneurial Grit and Perseverance

Ashique Hassan and Kazi Shahin Rahman are founders of Dhaka-based software development company Blubird Interactive Ltd. Founded in 2013, the company started as a small boutique software services shop and has since grown to a 30-person team, with clients in a number of markets including the US. 

A true bootstrapped success story, Blubird is an excellent case study of entrepreneurial grit and perseverance. Its story offers a nuanced picture of what entrepreneurship looks like in action: trying again and again despite all kinds of challenges and setbacks, making mistakes and failing until you learn the lessons, and finally finding a path to consistent growth. Blubird story offers a window into the true nature of an entrepreneurial journey, its many surprises, and the constant requirement of courage and grit to overcome ever-present challenges. 

In this fascinating conversation, I sat down with Blubird founders to tell the powerful journey of Blubird and uncover essential lessons in venture building. We talk about Blubird’s origin and its journey, discuss the history and the current state of the company, examine the growth trajectory of Blubird, and try to identify key lessons, we talk about surprising challenges of entrepreneurship that people often overlook, we talk about the evolution of Blubird, the secret behind its eventual success, and its ambition going forward. We also reflect on the lessons Bluebird founders have gathered from their unique journey so far and much more.  

This is a brilliant read in its entirety that offers a penetrating look into the unique and often surprising journey of building companies. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed doing it. Be bold. Enjoy! 

Ruhul Kader: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Please tell us about your background — where you grew up, went to school, and from there how you came to start Bluebird Interactive. 

Ashique Hassan: I studied BBA at Khulna University. Kazi Shahinur Rahman, my co-founder, who studied CSE at Daffodil University, is my childhood friend. We come from Satkhira District and our houses are near each other. We grew up playing together. While Shahin moved to Dhaka when we were in class 9, I stayed back in Satkhira and completed my SSC and HSC from our local institutions. 

While I studied BBA at university, I always wanted to build my own business. In our fourth year, we had campus recruitment events. Large local and multinational companies used to come to our campus and recruit business students. I never participated in any of these events and never applied for any job. From my third/fourth year in university, I used to tell my friends that I'd pursue business. 

This was in 2011/2012 and Khulna was not a happening place in those days. We didn't have many opportunities to pursue besides studies. If you wanted to earn some money, the main option was tuition and teaching at coaching centers. I was not interested in either. I was looking for alternative opportunities where I could earn some money as well as learn. 

I came to learn about freelancing around this time. I knew a few fellow students who were into freelancing. I reached out to a few of them to learn how I also could do freelancing. While many people went out of their way to help me, some of them were not really helpful. However, I was determined to learn freelancing. 

Afterward, a friend of mine and I reached out to a senior brother who was into freelance article writing. We shared our interest in doing similar work with him and requested to give us some work. He gave us some work. I remember we helped him rewrite some 2000 words and he paid us $1 for each 500 words. At the time, $1 was equivalent to BDT 70, and it was pretty good money for a student at that time comparing the commodity cost. That was my first income from doing something quite different. Most importantly, he highly praised our work, which was hugely encouraging for me. 

After working for a while, I thought about whether I could find work myself instead of going through someone else. That thought led to the opening of my first freelance writing profile on Odesk, a freelancing platform at the time. First few weeks, I bought a modem for the Internet, learned how to bid, applied for a lot of work, and within a week I received an article writing task for $10. That's how I started. Before I submitted that work, I received another $100 work. 

In the midst of all these, I and Shahin were in touch. We would talk over the phone from time to time and share what we were doing. When he heard I was doing freelancing, he also opened a profile himself and started doing some small work. Freelancing became a consistent source of pocket money for us during the later years of university. 

After graduation, I came to Dhaka. In the meantime, we built quite good profiles on these marketplaces, making BDT 20,000-25,000 monthly individually. In Dhaka, we started to again have more time to speak with each other and share our ideas. At one point, Shahin proposed that we start something together on the back of our freelancing work. We discussed how we would manage initial investments, eventually managed a small fund, and took our first office, a sublet with a senior brother, in October 2013 in Shyamoli and that’s how Blubird Interactive Ltd started. 

I remember we made BDT 45,000 in revenue in the first month. 

Our services at the time were web development and content writing. We used to ask our happy clients to refer us to others and were also looking to work in the local market. We did quite well right out of the gate. We didn’t see hyper growth but we made consistent steady progress. 

Around June/July of 2014, we hit our first major non-business-related challenge, a local group demanded we pay a BDT 5 lakh taka in extortion to continue the business in the area. They said we were doing business with computers, we had VOIP business and if we wanted to continue the business out of that area, we must pay certain extortion money. 

We were two young kids without much knowledge about the world just getting started, this was a huge challenge for us. It was an extremely demoralizing event. The first few days were very difficult. In many instances, when you are trying to do something on your own as a fresh graduate out of college, you don't have the consent of your family in the early days. You completed your studies at a good institution, and your parents expect you to find a good job but instead, you started a business. Our families were not entirely happy with our decisions. So we couldn't really tell our families that we were facing this situation because of the fear that they might force us to stop working on the business altogether. 

In the meantime, we came to know that a senior brother of one of our friends knew these people who were asking for money from us. We reached out to that friend and shared our predicament. He told us not to worry and that he would tell his brother. That senior brother was not involved with the group but had a good relationship with them and they used to respect him. When he told them about us, they let us off the hook. But we were quite heartbroken after that and decided not to keep the office there. Within four months of that incident, we moved our office to our new location. 

It was a major turning point for us. Once we managed to handle that challenge, it gave us enormous courage and encouragement. We started to believe that since we could solve this challenge in a place like Dhaka, we could do something if we stayed in the game and persevered. 

The second challenge was different. We started our journey with WordPress. At the time, there were a lot of product companies in the market. Many freelancers were building products. Shahin and I discussed many times whether we should get into theme and plugin development and every time, I vetoed the decisions that we shouldn't. My logic was as a company I wouldn't be able to compete with a freelancer who doesn't have any overhead per se. If I want to compete in that space, I have to plan and prepare accordingly. 

For many people, if they build a product and it does not work, they can overlook it but for us, if we fail in a product and lose our investment, we couldn't afford that. We provided custom WordPress solutions but we didn't enter the WordPress plugin or theme development. We decided that we would only enter a market if we could do something exclusive. Otherwise, we wouldn't enter a highly competitive market. Micheal Porter has a five forces model where one of the forces is the entry barrier. In niches where the entry barrier is low, we have to be careful if we decide to enter there. Entry and exit barriers are quite important for a business. 

Later, instead of going in that direction of WordPress product development, we focused on PHP. We realized that if we want to survive in the long run as a software company, we have to move to PHP. So we recruited PHP resources at that time and paid greater attention to PHP. This was in 2015. 

Ruhul: That’s a wonderful reflection. I want to ask you a few retrospective questions. I also studied business in university and my observation is that a lot of BBA people don't start businesses after graduation. Why did you decide to pursue entrepreneurship? 

Ashique: In our batch, we were 55 people. I think I was the only one from my entire batch who started a business right out of university and is still doing it. I had a university batchmate as co-founder of BluBird but he didn’t continue after 2015. A couple of my batchmates eventually started businesses after working for a few years in the corporate sector, but that number was very small right after graduation. 

I have been quite independent-minded since my childhood. The same is true for my partner Shahin. We used to enjoy freedom and always wanted to do our things. We didn't like rules and barriers. I think that was part of the motivation behind starting our own business. 

Ruhul: Was there any influence in your childhood that shaped your ambition and inclination? 

Ashique: I wouldn't say there was direct influence. My father was a government service holder. He used to live a very disciplined life—leave for the office early in the morning at 8/8:30 am, come back after work, and give time to children. 

From a young age, I enjoyed spending time with friends and people. I would not say I was an extrovert but I enjoyed spending time with people and had a large circle of friends. 

Traditional jobs never attracted me. I had a fascination for the military and I applied once but didn’t get in because of my eyesight problem. When people asked me what I wanted to become: my answers were either I would join the military or start my own business. When I got rejected from a defense job after HSC, the only option left for me was business. I never considered any other alternative. 

I and Shahin never worked a traditional job for a day, which was both an advantage as well as a disadvantage when we started Blubird. 

Ruhul: Could you elaborate on why not working a traditional job was both an advantage and a disadvantage for you? 

Ashique: The advantage was that we were never afraid of trying things. We made quick decisions — thought about a service at night, and launched it the next day. We worked extra hard for quite a limited return. I had a pillow in my office and spent many nights there until I got married. 

We tried many things because of our naivety. Since we didn't know any better, we tried everything. We had the courage and we never contemplated that we might fail. We had that feeling that we have to make this work whatever it takes. We can't go back. This was to our advantage. We operated in a certain manner because we were beginners and were not necessarily indoctrinated in any particular way of doing things. 

Knowledge can be limiting sometimes. You can become accustomed to a certain way of doing things and consider any new ways as infeasible or inappropriate. You can become fearful and indulge yourself too much in thinking about how to do certain things and the right and wrong way of doing it. Contrarily, our approach was more like starting first and then figuring it out as you go along. If something needed to be done, we started doing it without thinking twice and then we learned and improvised as we went along. If a certain approach didn't work, we tried a new approach. 

Even today when we take an initiative, we operate differently. Today, of course, we need to consider various variables but fear rarely paralyzes us. We accept the fact that we might fail and we still plow forward regardless. 

Since we failed many times in the early days with many different initiatives, we no longer have that fear that we might fail and that we might lose money and time. Instead, we focus on whatever we might achieve from our failure. We might learn new things. If nothing happens, we would at least be able to share the failure story. 

Let me share a story related to this. Around 2019/2020, we started a small startup in Australia. That startup didn't work. However, that experience gave us invaluable insights into how we should approach launching new businesses—start small, run fast experiments, iterate using users' feedback before launching a final version, and so on. If we had not burned our money and efforts on that project, we would not have been able to launch our new product DeshiCommerce.com the way we are doing it now. 

In a nutshell, we didn't have the inhibition of a learned man because we didn't have any prior job experience. We acted fast and that helped us to learn through repeated actions. This was the advantage of inexperience. 

The disadvantage of inexperience is that we didn't grow as a company as much as we could have. The age of our company is now almost 11 years. It took us almost six years to reach a 10 people team and from there it took us four years to become a 30 people company. 

Ruhul: You said you made some mistakes in the early days of your journey because of your inexperience. Please tell us about any specific mistakes that you made due to your lack of experience. 

Ashique: The first thing I would say is that we didn't have a mentor. We did everything the way we understood would be the best for us. We did so many things in those days, investing our time, efforts, and money that we find quite funny today when we look back. Many of those things now surprise us that we actually did those things. The number one challenge would be that we didn't have a mentor. We suffered due to a lack of proper guidance. 

Shahin grew up in Dhaka. He had his circle of people. But we didn't know many people who were entrepreneurs. For me, it was even more bleak. I came from outside Dhaka and I didn't know many people in Dhaka. In those days, we always felt that we didn't have people to consult before making decisions. 

Now when some juniors come to us for suggestions on starting or running their businesses, we give them time. We try to help them as much as we can because we felt that need when we were in our early days. We feel that if we had proper guidance in those early days, we could have doubled our growth as a company. 

We did start to receive some guidance and mentors later in our journey. We later became a member of BASIS and received support and advice from people in the industry. But until then we mostly walked solo. 

I would identify three mistakes that we made in those days. One, we didn't seek out mentors. We never reached out to people for advice and suggestions. We didn't have the idea that people would give us time and advice if we had reached out to them. 

The second is not investing in marketing. Although I come from a marketing background, we were not sure about whether we should invest in marketing or not. Each penny was hard-earned, so we were extra careful before spending any money. Now we don't think much when it comes to investing money in marketing or any potentially productive area, but that was not the case in those days. We used to be very careful and think very hard before spending any money. For the first five years of our business, we didn't allocate any budget for marketing. Our marketing was limited to word of mouth through our common network, friends, and family. All of our clients came through reference. This was a major mistake. 

Third, we didn't build our own products. We worked for our clients and served them well, which also helped us to earn money and grow. We did projects continuously and delivered them well. We earned good money in return. But we didn't think much about creating our product or service. Having your product or service can be a huge advantage for long-term sustainability and scalability, something that we realized quite late. These were some of the mistakes. 

Ashique Hassan and Kazi Shahinur Rahman: The Making of Blubird Interactive and A Demonstration of Entrepreneurial Grit and Perseverance
Blubird Team | Photo by Blubird

Ruhul: If we come to the latter four years where you have experienced excellent growth, what are some of the things that you have done right during this period? 

Ashique: We worked on these three areas. We started to participate and be active in the community. We shared our problems with people. Attended events and community meetings and addas. We also invited people and requested meetings with people. We spent time learning from others in the community. We reached out to people for advice on specific decisions and challenges. We asked people about their journey, the challenges they faced, the problems they faced, and how they solved those problems. 

For instance, I asked you at the beginning of our conversation about the challenges you faced in the early days of Future Startup. Now it has become a habit when I come across anyone who is running a company, I ask this common question about challenges. We came to learn that almost everyone went through similar challenges. We are still learning but we have overcome that primary stage. 

The second area is that we have started dedicating a budget for marketing. We made a decision that we would spend at least $100 every month regardless of the result. We have been doing it for the last five years. 

Third, we have started working on two products. We have partnered with one Indian company and another UAE-based company to resell Google Workspace in the Bangladesh market. We had different strategic calculations behind this move. Email is a service that everyone needs. We thought if we started with email, it would allow us entry to almost any company. That's why we started working on this service. We now offer this service to 60+ customers including organizations like BKMEA, Dainik Ittefaq, Security360, etc.

The second product is an ecommerce SaaS solution we are calling DeshiCommerce. In 2018/2019, we were getting a lot of requests for e-commerce website making. I'm now talking about a time when we were determined to make a software product of our own. We were getting a lot of requests for e-commerce websites at that time. So, we eventually decided that let's do an e-commerce product because if you wanted to do a good quality e-commerce website, it was quite expensive, whereas many clients lacked such budgets. As a result, many people used WordPress to make websites or took the help of people they knew to make low-cost websites and then suffered because they couldn't get support and functionality to achieve business success. 

After much thought, we decided that we would make a SaaS solution for e-commerce websites to address this challenge in the market. We created a structure within 3/4 months and started marketing it. Within a year, we managed to onboard more than 20 customers. However, once customers started using the product, they started to report all kinds of issues. When we tried to fix one problem, it created a new problem somewhere else or we couldn't execute the change requests our customers were making. We eventually came to realize that our structure had problems and wouldn't be able to move forward with the version. After much thought, we announced that we would discontinue the version. We told our customers that they could either use it as it is or they can close it and get a refund and that we wouldn't continue the version and wouldn't provide support after a certain time. Alternatively, if they decide to continue using the old version, we will provide them with the new version free of cost for a long period

In the meantime, we worked on a plan for a new version. We also created a separate business entity for this new business. We have been working on it for the last three years and have just released the beta version two months back. We already have 15+ customers as of now. 

Ruhul: That’s wonderful. We will come back to this story. Before that, I want to go back to the early days a bit. You and your co-founder decided to start a company, took an office in Shyamoli, encountered challenges, and eventually came where you are today. Tell us your story from there to today from a few perspectives: one is organizational perspective—how has the organization grown over time, the second thread would be how has your service and products evolved, and finally, how has your thinking as entrepreneurs changed over time? So three threads of evolution: evolution from the perspective of products and services, organization, and your thinking as entrepreneurs. We can start with the organization. Initially, you two were the whole team. How long was that? 

Ashique: We worked as a two-person team for about two months. I think we hired from our second or third month. 

Ruhul: What was your revenue at the time? 

Ashique: In our first month, our revenue was about BDT 45,000, and from the second/third month, we were making over BDT 100,000. So we hired people from the second month and we were paying about 12,000-15,000 in salary. We had 2-3 people in the team. We kept whatever was left for ourselves. 

We didn't have a family at the time and we were not thinking about money, so it was good money for us. Our first one/two years, we spent with a small team of 4-5 people. 

Ruhul: What were your services at the time? 

Ashique: We were giving website development, article writing, SEO, etc. services. 

Ruhul: Through the freelancing marketplaces? Tell us about any specific challenge that you faced and also any inflection point from this period. 

Ashique: We were working on the marketplace but we had some direct clients as well. We also had a few local clients. Some people who knew us in our network started to give us some work. So we had quite a diversified client base. We were working with a small team and the client base was growing slowly. 

Since we were a relatively unknown company, hiring was a challenge for us. Many people would apply and then wouldn't attend the interview. We had issues where people quit in the middle of a client project. In many instances, we had to end a project half-done, give up on payment for the delay, or request an extension because of this challenge. We faced all kinds of challenges around this time. 

After operating for a few years, we realized that we couldn't keep going in this manner. This was around 2016. The thing was that we not only lacked experience in those days, we also lacked expertise. We didn't have enough skilled people in our team to do the work that we were getting. We couldn't deliver a fully finished product as per clients' requirements. We could do the work but we couldn't do it to the expectation of the clients and we could see the limitations. 

When we failed a few projects in this process and clients rejected a few projects because the product was not working because of our faulty work, we realized that we had to make some changes if we wanted to survive and grow as a company. So we made some changes. We started hiring external consultants through reference to help us with relevant engineering works for a fee.

Since we were mostly hiring junior developers in those days, many struggled with solving complex problems. These new consultants helped our people in solving problems. Our external consultants helped our people in coding the solution when they faced any development challenges. After hiring external consultants, our project failure ratio came down to almost zero. 

It was a useful realization on our part that we needed expert help for delivering the projects we were getting and it saved our company. We realized that we had to hire experts but we couldn’t hire expensive talents because of affordability. So, we filled that lack by hiring external consultants. 

Around this time, we also realized that to deliver quality work you need quality people. We realized our limitations and the limitations of our team during this time that everyone can't do everything. We then started to be selective about both taking on projects as well as hiring people. By that time, we started working on PHP and started working on custom software development. This was in 2015. We started in 2013. For the first two years, we were focused on web development via WordPress. In early 2015, we started working on PHP and started custom software development. We were doing some small work before this time. But we started full-fledged development in 2015. 

We also made some other shifts around this time. We were working on Codeigniter in those days but Laravel was on the rise globally. Laravel was a new framework but everyone was talking about it. We kept working on Codeigniter saying that it is an established framework and stable whereas Laravel was not. However, after a year or so, we started to realize that if we doggedly continue working on Codeigniter and don't adopt Laravel then it might create challenges for us in the long run. Thus we decided that we have to move to Laravel. We recruited a Laravel expert and started working on Laravel in 2016. 

Towards the end of 2015, we faced another major setback. We were a team of 8-9 people at that time. Since we work with international clients, our weekends are usually Saturday and Sunday. We used to work on Fridays. And everyone would go to pray Jummah during Jummah prayer. One Friday, after returning from Jummah prayer, our team found that someone had broken into our office and stolen 5 laptops. I was in Khulna at the time to attend my university convocation. When Shahin called me with the news, I was devastated. 

We had about 3 desktops and 5 laptops at the time. Shahin gave leave to the team because we couldn't work without laptops. I returned to Dhaka the next day. Once the initial shock passed, we sat down in the evening. We had another partner in those days and the three of us sat down to find a way out. We couldn't keep the operation shut down. We came to the decision that we could buy two laptops with office cash without limiting our ability to make other payments. Our other partner, who was working with us part-time as he had a full-time job, had a credit card and he agreed to finance two more laptops via installment. So he paid for two laptops with his credit card and I paid for two more from our cash and we bought four laptops the next day.

This was a really difficult time and we were emotionally devastated. We were facing one challenge after another and those were not even business-related challenges. 

We were not making a lot of revenue in those days, monthly about 3-4 lakh taka in revenue, and laptops were quite expensive for us as we needed high-configuration laptops for our work. It also shocked everyone because it was such an unexpected event. This was towards the end of 2017. We started to feel that we needed to find ways to grow faster. 

Ruhul: How big was your team and what were you doing as a company? 

Ashique: We were a 7-8 people team and were providing WordPress and PHP development services. We consolidated our services by then. We stopped working on SEO and content writing. In the meantime, we felt that we had to adopt new technologies. We had already hired resources for Laravel, doing one or two projects on Laravel. 

We had already crossed our fourth year at the time. Shahin had already gotten married. I had not yet. There was pressure from our homes to show some meaningful results after four/five years of business. We also faced some typical local challenges such as non-payment from clients despite delivering work. 

In 2016, Trump came into power in the US. We had a few quite large clients in the US and in a few other Western markets. We were getting a significant percentage of our revenue from a large US client, which was almost enough to fund our entire operation. We were using other revenues for other purposes. We burnt some of that money doing unnecessary things. However, that client suddenly stopped giving us work at one point. A few more clients followed suit. Our international business took a huge hit in those days. At the same time, we were not doing that well in the Bangladesh market either. Our office theft happened amidst all these business challenges. 

From early 2016 to the end of 2017 had been the worst year of our business. Meanwhile, the owner of our office space told us that he wouldn't renew the lease and we would have to shift to a new office space. Now shifting offices is quite an expensive affair. Not only does it involve advance payment but it also means you have to invest again in office decoration and all that. Those two years were extremely difficult for us. 

Ruhul: How did you deal with this difficult time?

Ashique: Almost nothing was working for us. That was the only time Shahin and I sat together in a sort of informal meeting where we discussed whether we should shut the business down or continue. I asked Shahin his thoughts and he said "If you want to continue, I want to keep going." Deep in my heart, I wanted to continue as well. But I needed to hear it from my partner too because it was not possible to face all these challenges solo! So we decided to keep going. Our other partner who was with us hinted indirectly that he wouldn't be able to continue as a partner because it was also getting challenging for him. But Shahin told me that he wanted to keep trying if I also stayed. 

After much discussion, we decided we would see it through to the end. We had already invested five best years of our lives. Our common childhood friends were annoyed with our obsession with business. They would complain whenever we get together, we talk business. We realized at that time that if we gave up now, we would never get a second chance to return and start working again. Once we decided that we would continue, we collected some capital from friends and family, took a new office, and restarted our journey. 

We also realized that we couldn't continue the business as usual. If we want to do well, we must build a quality team, deliver quality work, and pay well to our people. We also felt that we have to find ways to do long-term projects with our customers. We also felt the need for marketing. We made some decisions in those days, some of which I already mentioned, that helped us chart our next trajectory. 

In 2018, we hired our first dedicated marketing team member. Now we have a four-member marketing team including myself. In 2024, our focus is to grow our marketing team and invest more in marketing. 

Then onward, we have focused on hiring quality people and building a more capable team. That decision to focus on people changed the entire trajectory of the company. We started to see a change in that our clients are happier, they are referring us to others, and giving us more work. 

We started that phase of accelerated growth and then the COVID pandemic happened in 2020. We maintained our office for five-six months at the beginning of the pandemic although we were not going to the office because of the pandemic. When we came to realize that we didn't know what would happen, we finally decided that we would let go of our office and move to a remote operation model. That decision helped us to save some money, about 70-80,000 taka and we allocated that to our team. We decided to go for even better quality people by increasing our salary. So we started to invest that money, some in marketing and others in the team. When we started to do that, our business started to turn around rapidly. Our business originally started to turn around at the time of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

We made some of these decisions in 2019 but couldn't implement them. The pandemic created an opening for us. We could save some money after leaving our office and turning remote, which allowed us to hire good people and they started to turn the company around. 

We also got some really good projects around this time. However, the transition to remote was not any easier. The first few months we struggled a lot. Our productivity took a hit because we didn't have a process for effectively operating remotely. We came to see that a lot of our people were struggling to adapt to the new remote work setting. We had some long in-person conversations with all of them. We helped them in ways we could. 

After a while, we came to see that they wouldn't be able to deliver in a remote setting, so we discussed it with them and decided to let them go. We had to let go of a large percentage of our team because they were not able to adapt. We have since built an entirely new team who joined us during and after the Coronavirus pandemic. 

This time, I and Shahin sat together and created an SOP. We told our team that this is our SOP, this is our reporting process, and these are performance appraisal systems. We gave our SOP to every new hire and made them internalize it. We made sure that everyone was following the SOP and the system. We had everything in writing. These changes have helped us to regain our productivity gradually. Since the team was relatively new and we had a meaningful SOP in place, the team started to come into shape within 3-4 months. Since then we have always focused on having good people and creating a structure and a culture where they could work. 

Ruhul: Did you make any changes to your services and products during this time? 

Ashique: We didn't. We focused on WordPress and custom application building. After the pandemic, we started to see a new trend, a growing demand for Javascript frameworks such as react, node js, etc. Since we had an experience of adopting Laravel, I and Shahin discussed how we should adapt to the new changes in the market.

After much discussion, we decided to take some time to understand the entire thing. We started by hiring some advisers and part-time JS framework developers. The deal was you work with us on an hourly basis and we will pay you based on your bill. We worked using this approach for some 4 months. Through that, we built some small portfolios. After that, we decided that we were ready to take the JS framework work. When you reach out to a client for work, the client asks for the portfolio and previous record of work. Once we had some work to show potential clients, we hired two full-time employees for these new skills. Then we started to push the new projects to our clients to work on JS framework and similar things. So we have gradually grown these businesses. 

Ruhul: This is a fascinating arc of a journey. What is BluBird Interactive today? 

Ashique: What I tell our people is that we wanted to build a platform where we wanted to have people whose vision of career matches with our vision as a company. We tell our people all the time that leadership positions at BluBird Interactive are always open and you all have the opportunity to hold these positions if you qualify. You all should strive to get to a position where you have the skills and capabilities to manage and run a business. You not only understand sales or marketing or coding but you know how to run and manage a business. 

Second, we have worked hard to build a particular kind of culture. We have a lot of stories about our cultural components that we call ABCD of Blubird Interactive. We have some policies associated with each of these ABCD of our culture and there are penalties associated with each of these. Our people find these values and rules interesting. An interesting development is that now our people remind each other when they see anyone violating these rules. 

Post coronavirus pandemic, we have tried to build a culture that offers better work-life balance. After the pandemic, when people started to resume office work, we sat down with our people and many of them suggested we have consistently been delivering work, we have a system and process for working remotely and we can continue working remotely instead of taking the challenge of commuting. Now we are a fully remote company though we provide hybrid facilities too if anyone wants to enjoy the office environment as well. 

We have a no-question-asked leave policy. If someone asks for leave and if there is no serious event, leave is usually granted without asking any questions. 

We have a flexible break policy where anyone can take a break anytime. The only thing is you have to inform your team before taking a break. 

We have tried to create a culture that enables our people to be productive. Because in remote work if you don't establish some system and process, it can create chaos. 

We organize a team get-together every quarter we call D Day, short for ‘Discussion Day’. In these get-togethers, we meet, organize discussion sessions, have Q&A sessions where people can ask questions and provide answers, discuss our work and process, and new team members get introduced to each other. 

Our employee turnover rate has been almost zero over the last two years. We maintain a good relationship with many of our former colleagues and at the end of the day, these relationships are our gains. 

I tell our people that BluBird’s standard is the performance of the most low-performing team member of BluBird. So, we always have to work extra hard to upgrade our performance. 

We now introduce BluBird Interactive as a software development company. We have developed a couple of products and services and we are now planning to turn them into separate entities. 

Ruhul: What services do you offer now? 

Ashique: We currently offer custom software development services. Our stack includes Laravel, PHP, React, and Node JS frameworks. However, we do significant work on react and node JS. We have recently started hybrid mobile app development. 

At the same time, we have launched a separate product under a separate entity that I mentioned earlier called DeshiCommerce.

Apart from that, we provide a Google Workspace solution. We have recently started doing digital marketing as a service for international clients. 

About 90% of our clients are international and 10% are local. 

Ashique Hassan and Kazi Shahinur Rahman: The Making of Blubird Interactive and A Demonstration of Entrepreneurial Grit and Perseverance 1
Blubird Team | Photo by Blubird

Ruhul: How does your marketing work? 

Ashique: Reference has been the most consistent growth strategy for us. We regularly ask for referrals and introductions these days and it has been an extremely useful strategy for us to grow the business.

In the US, we have developed a vendor-ship kind of model with a couple of our US clients and they give us all the work they get in the US. 

We have some regular large clients who need regular maintenance as well as service. We have a US-based client who has been working with us for four years and they continue to give us good work. 

Ruhul: What are some of the main challenges for the company? 

Ashique: One challenge for now is, of course, growth — how we go from here to the next level. 

The second challenge is the pace of technological change. 

One lesson we have learned early on is that we shouldn't earn more than 20% from one client. We suffered in our early years because our revenue became dependent on one client. When that client stopped working with us, it became an existential challenge for us. We now take different strategies to avoid similar challenges. If we depend on one client for more than 20% of our revenue, it can create a major challenge for us if that client fails. We have applied a consistent strategy over the last several years to avoid similar challenges. 

Ruhul: How are you planning to address the growth challenge? 

Ashique: We are currently more of a project-centric company. We have realized that if we want to maintain our growth, we have to become a 50% product and services-centric and 50% project-centric company. 

Currently, we earn 10% of our revenue from services and 90% from projects. We want to rebalance it. If we can balance this out, our business will be more stable and revenue will grow faster. 

Ruhul: You provide products and services to clients. There are software companies that provide resource augmentation services. How are you different from these companies? 

Ashique: When you are in talent augmentation, you just provide talent to your clients. You are responsible for the management of your people, you ensure they have everything to do their job well. However, you are not responsible for their tasks as in designing a solution or a product. Your developers work with the client and develop solutions based on the instructions of the clients. That's broadly resource augmentation. 

In project-based work, the client is not worried about who is working on their project or what they are doing, they give you their specifications and you work on it and deliver the outcome. 

We work on both models and we are quite flexible about how we work. We always try to adopt any kind of model that the client feels comfortable with. 

Ruhul: What are the plans going forward? 

Ashique: Of course, one of our ambitions is that BluBird will survive a long time and remain active beyond our lifetime. We see many multinational companies that have been around for many years. 

Shahin and I discussed what will happen to the company after us and we are on the same page that if our next generations are not up to the task, the company will be run by competent management. 

We regularly tell our team that the CEO and CTO positions are always open in our company and anyone can fight for these positions. 

Our near-term ambition is to become product-centric to some extent. We have beta-released one product and we have ideas about a few more products. Since our resources are limited, we want to focus and do one thing at a time. Our focus now is on making this product successful. Once this becomes successful, we will look to expand the business outside Bangladesh. We have an excellent base in the US and we are looking to build a base there. We already have a small office in the US and we also want to have a similar entity in the Middle East. 

In the next three years, we have two goals. One, we want to have an office in two more countries outside Bangladesh. Second, we want to have a mix of products and projects in our revenue. 

I had a conversation with my team last year where we shared with them that we want to be one of the top 20 companies in Bangladesh over the next five years. I then asked them whether they could be among the top 20% of talents in their field over the next five years because we could become in the top 20% of the companies only when our people become among the top 20% of the talents. The same is true if we want to become the top 10% of companies, we have to be among the top 10% of the talents in the industry. 

A lot of our people took the message very seriously. As a company, we have never focused on ourselves, we have always wanted to grow as a team. 

Another thing we have done is KPI implementation and this is 360-degree transparent. Teammates give feedback to other teammates. While it puts a lot of pressure on us, in BluBird, our engineers receive 3 salary increments in a year based on this feedback. There are other benefits along with it. We have come to this position through a lot of trial and error. 

Ruhul: What are some lessons you have learned over the last 11-12 years of your journey? 

Ashique: If you want to do something, you have to do it from the heart. You have to take it to heart and do it accordingly. In Arabic, there is a proverb that says,”ما خرج من القلب دخل في القلب” - what comes out of the heart, enters the heart. We have associated this thing with our ABCD.

The second lesson is to never give up. There will be times when things will get out of your hands, you will have to adapt and pivot in those instances. If you start something, you have to stay the course and must not give up. If something does not work, you can change course, strategy, or idea but you must not give up halfway on your journey. 

Kazi Shahinur Rahman: Since I look after the technical side of things, I can share some lessons from a technical perspective. One remarkable change that we made was in 2015. During the first years of our journey, we mainly worked on WordPress. We later used Codeigniter. But we noticed around this time that the market was changing. Laravel, a new framework of PHP at the time, was on the rise. We observed the market, looked at the trends, and discussed on the forums the performance of these tools and decided to adopt Laravel. Since then we have been working on Laravel. We gradually came out of Codeigniter. 

Being able to make the right decision at the right time is incredibly important. This is more so when it comes to Bangladesh. When you are making these kinds of changes, you have to understand the market, you have to understand the shifts in the market, and you have to understand your strengths and weaknesses and choose accordingly. You should also be aware of your vision and whether the tools and technology that you use are aligned with your ambition. It is important to be able to see three/four/five years down the line. If we had not made that change at that time, we might have been in a different place and situation. 

Similarly, we used to rely on Bootstrap for front-end development-related work. We eventually came to realize that there are many robust systems for front-end related work in the market and we have to adopt them if we want to grow and satisfy our customers. Now we use the popular frontend-related framework in the market. 

Now we are looking into how we can incorporate AI into our work and process. A while ago, I worked extensively on email and I know the ins and outs of email solutions. Now if anyone comes to me for an email solution, I can guide them properly. But if you ask me about AI, I can't give you an opinion readily. So I think entrepreneurs should also spend time learning and educating themselves. 

Ashique and I were having this discussion of implementing AI into our work and when Ashique asked me how we could do that I told him to give me six months to give my thoughts. At my level, I don't necessarily need to implement these, my people will do it but I have to know and understand it to the extent that I can make the important decisions regarding when and how to use these tools and also guide my clients. 

Now adopting new ideas, approaches, and technologies is not easy. It requires a lot of communication work both on the side of clients as well as the employees. However, if you can master it once, you have a bright future. It becomes a skill. 

The second lesson is always preferring the details. In many instances, we don't look into the details of things. When we are speaking with a client, we don't clarify the details and requirements and get to work without clearly understanding the detailed requirements, which then creates other challenges. I think we should start with getting the details right, communicating clearly, and understanding the needs and requirements, and then only we should move forward.

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

In-depth business & tech coverage from Dhaka

Stories exclusively available at FS

About FS

Contact Us