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Eight Founders on Organization Building, Dealing with Entrepreneurial Challenges, Culture-building, Surviving and Thriving

Our latest collection of founder interviews features Amir Salihefendic, founder and CEO of Doist, Abdullah Al-Rezwan, Founder of MBI Deep Dives, Bijon Islam, Co-founder and CEO of LightCatsle Partners (LCP), Azra Salim, Founder of Shombhob Health, Mohan Belani, founder and CEO of E27, Parvez Akhter, Founder and CEO of ThemeXpert and ThriveDesk, Zareen Mahmud Hosein, and Rayana Hossain, founder and CEO of ISHO. 


I. Future Startup Interview: Amir Salihefendic, Founder and CEO, Doist

Amir Salihefendic is the founder and CEO of Doist — the company behind popular productivity and work apps Todoist, one of the world’s most popular productivity tools used by millions of people, and Twist, an async work communication app that helps remote-friendly teams run an organized, transparent, and balanced workplace. 

Amir was born in Bosnia where he spent the early few years of his childhood. His family fled war-torn Bosnia for Denmark. Amir grew up in rural Denmark and studied computer science at Aarhus Univeristet in Aarhus, Denmark. Prior to starting Doist, Amir was part of the founding team of Plurk, a social networking site before Twitter that continues to be one of the popular social networking sites in Asia. Before that, he created, built, and sold a successful spell-checking service, one of his many side projects. A passionate creator, Amir created Todoist in 2007 to manage his own tasks. At the time, he was still a university student juggling multiple programming jobs and side projects on the side. Todoist quickly gained popularity and the rest is history. 

Over the years, Amir and his team have built a distinct company that is well-known for its remote-first operation, excellent culture, and great products. 

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Amir about his journey, all things Doist, remote work, building products and organizations, personal productivity, company culture, and life. We talk about his early life and the impact of war, the influence of his parents on him,  his parenting style as a father of three small children, how living in multiple countries has changed his view about the world and humanity, how technology has changed our world and why our struggle is sometimes useful to make us resilient, ambition as a hedge against complacency and despair, we delve into the origin story of Doist, the upsides of adopting a creation mindset, the secrets behind the growth of Todoist, his views about the changing world of work, the state of Doist today, and ambition going forward, we explore company culture, the idea of mastery and craftsmanship, finding the right people, and reflect on why life so special and much more.

I had an excellent time speaking with Amir. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it. 

Read the full interview.

II. Future Startup Interview: Abdullah Al-Rezwan, Founder, MBI Deep Dives

Abdullah Al-Rezwan is a Bangladeshi-born US-based business analyst and entrepreneur. He is the founder and author of MBI Deep Dives, a subscription-based newsletter/website that provides in-depth research on publicly-listed companies, primarily those listed in the US. MBI Deep Dives runs on a simple model — one deep dive per month on a company of MBI’s choosing, which contains the full spectrum of both quantitative and qualitative research, including financial modeling to help readers better understand the sensitivity of variables and expectations embedded in the stock price. Rezwan, who goes by the alias "Mostly Borrowed Ideas (MBI)" on Twitter, has gained a broad following among the investment and business community in the US and beyond for his "superb insight".

Before starting MBI Deep Dives, Rezwan worked as a generalist at Madison Investments on their US large-cap team, where he covered a wide range of companies, from UnitedHealth to Amazon and Boeing. Prior to that, he worked for three and a half years in Bangladesh after his graduation from Dhaka University, covering the financial sector in sell-side Equity Research before pursuing his MBA at Cornell in the US.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Rezwan. We discuss a wide-range of topics including (but not limited to) his personal journey to what he is doing, how his upbringing and early life experiences have shaped him, the creation of MBI Deep Dives, what it means to be internally driven, the critical importance of high pain tolerance for entrepreneurs and creatives, we delve into the power of the internet, the rise of the pseudonymous economy, the impact of the social media platforms, the state of internet culture in Bangladesh, and what it takes to build a vibrant entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, we go deep into his approach to writing and running MBI Deep Dives, the state of the newsletter, and his ambition for its future, the upsides and challenges of working solo, his approach to work and productivity, and the future of the media business and we reflect on the nature of conviction and belongingness, the importance of finding and following your interests, his favorite podcasts, and the importance of finding joy in your work and much more. 

Read the full interview.

III. The rise of LCP and the business of management consulting with LightCastle Partners CEO Bijon Islam

Bijon Islam is the co-founder and CEO of LightCatsle Partners (LCP), a Dhaka-based management consulting firm that has experienced a consistent rise over the last several years. Started as a small operation, LCP is now often referred to as McKinsey of Bangladesh, and rightly so. 

We covered LCP a fair bit in its early days, including an interview with LCP co-founder and Managing Director Ivdav Ahmed Khan Mojlish in 2018. Between 2018 and 2022, LCP experienced phenomenal growth, going from a small team to an important player in Dhaka’s fast-growing consulting scene. Today, LCP is a completely different company with an expansive ambition to build a global consulting company out of Bangladesh. 

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Bijon. We talk about a wide range of topics including the evolution of LCP, secrets behind LCP’s phenomenal growth, LCP’s business today and ambition going forward, how LCP operates as a company, what are the major challenges for the company, culture at LCP, the business of consulting, consulting and research market in Bangladesh, we discuss his approach to work and productivity, lessons from his journey and much more. This is a brilliant read. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it. 

Read the full interview.

IV. Online pharmacy, entrepreneurship, and life lessons with Azra Salim, Founder, Shombhob Health

Azra Salim is the founder and CEO of online pharmacy and healthcare startup Shombhob Health. Prior to starting Shombhob Health, Ms. Azra worked in senior leadership positions in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry in Bangladesh. Before that, she worked in the US for several years where she worked as a consultant to Fortune 500 Companies. 

In this fascinating conversation with Ms. Azra, we cover her personal history, her journey to what she is doing today, her path to entrepreneurship and starting Shombhob Health, the state of Shombhob’s business and operation today, online pharmacy thesis, Shombhob’s ambition going forward, her work regimen, her realizations about work and life and much more. This is a brilliant read. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it.

Read the full interview.

V. Mohan Belani on the making of E27, the future of media business, the importance of trying things, great founders, and a good life

Mohan Belani is the founder and CEO of E27, a Singapore-based Pan-Asia tech ecosystem platform. Mohan and his team have built a Pan-Asia ecosystem platform at a time when the media business is considered one of the most challenging verticals. From a small team of four, E27 today is a team of close to 30 people and has grown to become a leading business matching and tech ecosystem platform for startups, corporates, and investors in Southeast Asia. 

This conversation with Mohan is one of my best interviews in recent times. It is raw, sublime, retrospective, and full of directional insights. We talk about Mohan’s journey to what he is doing today, how E27 came into being, the early days of the company, the trial and tribulations of the early days, his lessons from those days, the state of E27 today, and the ambition going forward, building media companies in today’s environment, future of media business, his takes on what makes a great founder, self-reflection as a personal growth strategy, life as a journey of making meaning, life-changing books, why leaving our ego is important for our work and growth and much more. 

VI. Building a global software company out of Bangladesh: An Interview With Parvez Akhter, Founder, ThemeXpert and ThriveDesk

Parvez Akhter is the Founder and CEO of ThemeXpert and ThriveDesk. Mr. Parvez is a serial entrepreneur. A self-taught programmer, he founded his first company when he was in college along with three of his friends. Naturally, the company didn’t survive its young founders. Mr. Akhter moved to freelance and then went to Malaysia to pursue a degree in computer science while freelancing and building his second business ThemeXpert on the side. A while into his CSE program, he realized he basically doesn’t need a CSE degree. The next thing, he drops out of University, comes back to Bangladesh, and officially launches ThemeXpert, a company that builds premium responsive Joomla templates, and extensions for global customers.

ThemeXpert, a bootstrapped company through and through, didn't take long to find a path to growth. A few years into the business, ThemeXpert launched its first no-code/low-code drag-and-drop website/page builder Quix, which has since crossed 100,000 installations. It is one of the most popular Joomla page builders in the world. 

Mr. Parvez is currently working on his third act. He and his team are building an all-in-one customer support management platform called ThriveDesk, targeting startups and small-medium-size companies.  

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Parvez. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

We talk about his journey to entrepreneurship, the making of ThemeXpert, the business of themes, templates, and plugins, ThriveDesk and its ambition, his entrepreneurship lessons, culture, management, mistakes founders should avoid, what it takes to build a successful company, and much more. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed doing it. 

Read the full interview.

VII. Future Startup Interview: Zareen Mahmud Hosein, Founding Partner, Snehasish Mahmud & Co, and Founder, Cholpori

Zareen Mahmud Hosein is a Dhaka-based successful serial entrepreneur, with a range of impressive initiatives across sectors. She started her entrepreneurial journey as a Founding Partner at Snehasish Mahmud & Co, one of Bangladesh's top audit, tax, and consulting services firms, and has helped to drive the company's success. She is also the Co-founder of Cholpori, an edtech company focused on transforming K-5 education in Bangladesh, and HerStory Foundation, a publishing and content company dedicated to empowering women and promoting girls' education.

Ms. Zareen's impressive career has been shaped by a wealth of experiences, including her fascinating upbringing, and her training at Smith College in the US. Before embarking on her entrepreneurial journey, she worked as a Vice President of Finance at Newton International, a start-up training and education organization where she helped set up the business, and as a Manager of Audit & Consulting at ACNABIN Chartered Accountants, one of the largest accounting firms in Bangladesh. She began her career in the US, working in the Corporate Tax Division at KPMG LLP.

Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Zareen about her personal journey and her work. We talked about her background and formative years, her experiences in the US, her path to entrepreneurship, and her experience of building several ventures. We discussed the founding and making of Snehasish Mahmud & Co, how HerStory Foundation came into being, and her passion for education and her ambitions for her latest venture Cholpori. We reflected on lessons from her journey so far, her approach to work and productivity, the incredible importance of practicing kindness and why we should actively cherish our life, and much more. The entire interview is a fascinating read. I am delighted to share it with you.

Read the full interview.

VIII. Rayana Hossain on growing ISHO, designing organizational dynamism, furniture business, and upsides of being yourself

Rayana Hossain is the founder and CEO of ISHO, a Dhaka-based furniture brand. From a humble beginning, ISHO has grown to become one of the fastest-growing furniture brands in Bangladesh. The company claims to be the number one online furniture brand in the country and is now eyeing expansion beyond Bangladesh. 

ISHO is a fascinating company. Achieving fast growth is not the only thing that separates the company, ISHO has built an equally fascinating organization over the years. And companies and founders would be wise to pay attention to the emerging furniture behemoth in Dhaka.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Ms. Rayana. We talk about the evolution of ISHO, what separates ISHO from other local and global furniture brands, the dynamics of the furniture business, how ISHO has built a culture of relentless dynamism, secrets behind ISHO's excellent growth, her approach to work and leadership, and how building ISHO from scratch has changed her as a founder, her thoughts on design and organization, the ambition of ISHO going forward, why a constant outward-looking orientation can limit our growth, and much more.

What follows is a lightly edited transcription of the conversation. This is the second appearance of Ms. Rayana in the Founder Stories series, you can read her first interview here. The interview is full of original thinking and unique insights. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it. Build great things! 

Read the full interview.

Updated on 24 August 2023

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

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