Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Virus and our Startups
By Sajid Amit

In the Sci-fi novel, “The Naked Sun,” Isaac Asimov brings to life, the unusual practices of Solarian society. Solaria is a planet hostile to Earth. In Solaria, there are more robots than humans. People are taught from birth to avoid personal contact. They communicate through holography and teleconferencing. Robots do most of the functions that humans do on earth, e.g., making coffee, driving cars, and dropping off groceries.

This may sound eerily familiar to our not-so-distant future, so it’s worth pointing out Asimov wrote the novel in 1957. Even televisions were a novelty then. However, the point is not to marvel at Asimov’s ability to see the future. Fiction writers have made the best futurists. However, to see that COVID will have dire consequences for startups may not require a storyteller’s imagination.  

Let’s start with Pathao, one of our best-known startups. Food delivery and ridesharing are two successful verticals. Foreign players like Food Panda and Uber ply in this space, as do local players like As ridesharing is banned, restaurants shut shop, and people cook at home, both verticals have been hard hit.

Between Uber, Pathao, Food Panda, and Shohoz, there is quite a large gig economy in place. For instance, Pathao has 300,000 riders, captains, food men, and delivery agents. Moreover, 30,000 e-commerce merchants and 5000 restaurants depend on its platform, not to mention 300 employees. Imagine the hit to livelihood from the unraveling of this growing gig economy.

Of course, the hits aren’t just local. According to the New York Times, American startups have begun to lay off workers, slashing OpEx, and pivoting where possible. Since the end of January, European tech companies reportedly lost €400 billion in value. Deals are falling apart, and unlikely to recover very much in the next quarter, as investors scurry to safer assets. Startups are a high-risk and illiquid asset class, so, naturally, investing will take a huge hit, globally and in Bangladesh.

However, every crisis brings forth bright spots and opportunities. So, what are the opportunities COVID have brought forth?

First, big tech is gaining new ground. Amazon is hiring 100,000 warehouse workers. Facebook’s video-calling and messaging usage has gone through the roof. Microsoft’s software for remote collaboration is going viral, no pun intended. Netflix and YouTube have unprecedented viewership. Even Apple’s performance has picked up, especially of its services. The pandemic has deepened our reliance on big tech, accelerating existing trends.  
Beyond big tech, videoconferencing solutions like ZOOM are seeing sharp growth. Health tech, especially telemedicine, is also exploding, while Fintech and Robotics are gaining ground.

But what about Bangladeshi startups? What about bright spots in the local ecosystem?
There are certainly some that worth a mention. The online groceries sector has few large players, but Chaldal is seeing a sharp rise in demand. Reports suggest that demand for groceries has gone through the roof, and Chaldal was even considering capital investments at this time.

Tonic has seen an uptick of 30% in daily calls. Beyond telephone consultations, Tonic has also launched video-based consultations and a COVID symptom checker. Sheba.XYZ has seen a rise in demand for deep cleaning services.

There have also been enterprising pivots and responsible social initiatives. Pathao, Uber and Shohoz have all launched services to enable on-demand delivery of foods and medicine from supermarkets and pharmacies, contactless.

Sheba.XYZ has manufactured hand sanitizers in partnership with chemists, to be distributed through emergency points. Other startups are contributing funds and technical knowledge to combat the pandemic.

Nonetheless, when it comes to business, the pandemic has hit Bangladeshi startups hard. This is a challenging time for founders, stakeholders and investors. To survive, founders need to introspect whether they have as much cash runway as they think. A careful reconsideration of costs is required, on what are core to business, and what are not.

According to industry insiders, pre-COVID, Bangladeshi startups were looking at a fundraising pipeline of $50-100M in the next 12 months. This is surely taking a hit, not just in terms of delays, but also cancellations. In fact, entire verticals may fall out of favor, temporarily.

To speak of high-potential verticals in Bangladesh, post-COVID, there is likely be a greater concentration of investor dollars in:

·       Contactless on-demand delivery of groceries, foods and medicine. For founders, now is the time to invest in a robust delivery infrastructure. This will be an instance of a pre-COVID trend accelerating.

·       e-Commerce. Many top designers and retailers will continue to take orders online and invest more in digital marketing, leading up to the two Eids. However, e-commerce will be more successful for staples and essential items, barring the Eid months.

·       Health tech. There is likely to be more investment in tele and video-consultations. We could certainly do with more investments in this space.  

·       Online education. Instead of trying to create a Coursera in Bengali, smart startups will create content that can partner with universities and schools to provide supplementary lecture content and opportunities for professional skilling. The market is much bigger at an institutional level and given our love affair with credible certifications.

·       Mobile wallets and fintech. Although the mobile payments industry is growing and likely to experience innovations on their platform, beyond payments, it is hoped that the crisis will reinvigorate initiatives such as e-KYC which will enable fintech, and digital lending, in a contactless world.

·       There is also a growing market for local streaming video and music

In the long run, discretionary e-commerce and freelancing ought to take-off. Car-sharing and ride-hailing will also take a bit of time to fully recover. Fintech beyond payments will depend on transactions picking up, and an enabling regulatory environment.

Projections for Bangladesh Startups (COVID-adjusted)

The virus has also exposed limitations of our IT and regulatory infrastructure and capacity to innovate at speed. Once the dust settles, it is hoped that there will be a fast-tracking of regulatory interventions to accelerate innovation, as well private sector impetus.
Globally, talks of consolidation are rife. In Bangladesh, among the larger tech startups, mergers have become likelier. Mergers can cut costs and allow each company to play to its strengths. When survival is at stake, fanciful valuations and egos have less sway and mergers are easier.

For smaller startups, in order to grow post-COVID, we have to look beyond the mastery of a pitch deck and market projections. Founders need more patience with potential investors and proactively develop transparent relationships.

In sum, the virus will fundamentally alter how we do business. Certain business models will fall out of favor. New winners will be created, and new losers. Regulations will reset the competitive landscape. Therefore, while revenues will drop this year, many will be poised for superior performance post-COVID.

From a macro point of view, if the virus serves the purpose of pushing us along the digitization curve, that would be welcome. That is one curve we don’t want to flatten, but only steepen.

Sajid Amit is Associate Professor, ULAB, and Director, ULAB EMBA Program, and Senior Advisor, He is a Richard Hofstadter Faculty Fellow at Columbia University, 2005-2007. He can be reached via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter at @sajidamit75

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Stress management for entrepreneurs -is it worthy to consider it in everyday life?

Entrepreneurship is great. It gives you freedom in your life. In your own business, you are your boss. You can do your work whenever, wherever you want. There are no 9-5 restrictions.

All the facts mentioned above sounds heavenly. They are true also. But everything comes with a price. Being an entrepreneur is no exception.

The price of being an entrepreneur is “a lot of responsibility”. Responsibility about your clients and your employees is more challenging than it sounds. It could become quite stressful over time.

In 2015, Drs. Freeman, Johnson, Staudenmaier, and Zisser conducted a study about the mental health of the entrepreneurs. They found that, among the entrepreneurs
  • 30% struggle with depression
  • 29% struggle with ADHD
  • 12% struggle with substance abuse
  • 11% struggle with bipolar disorder
If you have any of the mental weaknesses listed above and try to run your everyday business just by ignoring them, you are in grave danger. The unstable mental condition leads to bad decision making. Sometimes, a bad decision at a crucial point could bring the end of your dream business.

Don't be afraid. It is not the end of the world. Experts and doctors are suggesting some techniques to maintain great mental health. Let's find out some vital ways to stay on track.
  1. Eat healthily: Having a healthy diet and drinking plentiful water not only helps to hydrate the body but also provides essential nutrients and vitamins to the body and mind to function at its best.

    A balanced diet will help you to have a better mood, increased optimism, more energy, feeling a more relaxed and better social connection. Sometimes, entrepreneurs think eating healthy diest takes work and can even cost more money. But that's not always true if you are clever enough!

    Moreover, as a business person, if you just calculate the profit and loss of a good healthy diet, you surely will be inclined to have a healthy diet every day.

  2. Exercise: Have you ever get drowned in your entrepreneurial to-do list? It's a horrible experience. It's just like an endless loop. But you can overcome this by exercising!

    The most common mental benefits of exercise are stress relief. Exercise increases concentrations of epinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain's response to stress.

    According to a study, one-third of participants who exercised two and a half hours each week has increased their productivity.

    You may think, you need to go to the gym under a professional trainer to achieve the benefits mentioned above. But believe me, you can be your exercise trainer. Just search with “exercise apps” at your smartphone's app store or play store. Install the app you like and follow the instructions accordingly and see the magic happens!

  3. Learn to relax: At first, it might seem a little unproductive to some workaholic entrepreneurs. But, you must try to manage some time for yourself, where you can focus on a hobby or something you enjoy, this will reduce your stress considerably. This is a time tested solution to reduce stress.

    After taking a break don't rush either, take as much as you need before you feel ready to continue tackling your tasks.

That's a very short list to manage your stress efficiently. As an entrepreneur try to face your stress head-on and enjoy your win over it.

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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Success factors of e-commerce in Bangladesh. Part - 3

This is the 3rd and final part of the series, where we have analyzed two very successful e-commerce startups in Bangladesh. You can take a look at the previous writings here.

Previously, we have dissected “Chaldal” at part 1 and “Pickaboo” at part 2, who were B2C (Business to Consumers) companies. But today, we are going to dissect a B2B (Business to Business) e-commerce company, which is quite rare in the e-commerce industry here.

If you are a bit updated with the startup domain in Bangladesh, then maybe you have already figured out who is this. You are right, it is “Sindabad”.

Sindabad is one of the children of Zero Gravity Venture. It is led by Zeeshan Kingshuk Haq, one of the co-founders of the company. With the mission to create a new era for e-commerce in Bangladesh, Sindabad has revolutionized buying for offices and factories, cutting out the hassle and saving valuable time and money for the businesses. As of today, more than 20 people are working at Sindabad to provide a smooth experience to its clients.

Success factors of Sindabad in e-commerce

  1. Branding: Just as we have found previously company name plays a vital role in branding. The name Sindabad came from the famous Arabian Nights character, who was a great businessman & adventurer. It grabs the attention of people instantly & made them curious about it.

    The logo is very simple, just a ship with sails, along with the name “” written under it. This combination gives a feeling that this is something related to business. This is what a good company should do and Sindabad has done it well enough.
  2. Product quality and cost: As we are talking about B2B e-commerce, this is a very challenging space for Sindabad. They provide good quality product undoubtedly. But they are not best with the best pricing yet.

    Generally, most businesses buy products in bulk. I must say, when it comes to bulk pricing, in many cases, they fail to provide the lowest price in the market. But they are trying hard to develop the pricing.
  3. Website: Since its inception in 2016, Sindabad has modernized the website several times. At present Sindabad has a sleek, intuitive website with good cross-device functionality.

    The website also allows registration with the mobile phone to make the user registration process more comfortable, though it is not an international norm yet. As a user, you can also avail of variable pricing according to the quantity of your purchase of a specific product. This is a really useful feature, especially for business organizations.
  4. Delivery & Support: Sindabad supports free delivery for an order amount of 1000 BDT. At present, they officially take 3-4 days to deliver, but in real life, the product reaches you within 2 days in most circumstances.

    Sindabad also maintains 2 warehouses at different parts of Dhaka city to ensure more agile delivery. They are also in the process of implementing a “hyper-local model”, to reach their customers much faster than now.

    A dedicated call center ensures a one-stop service for the clients. Any issues regarding orders, products quality is being solved by the customer support agent there.
  5. Investment: Initially, Sindabad was funded by Brummer & Partners. This gives them a great competitive advantage to raise funds in later stages.

    In 2019, Sindabad has raised 4 million USD, led by Avisker fund of India. These good investors on their board helped them a lot to make this far.

With this article series, I hope many startups will get their lesson on how to proceed further with their venture.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Success factors of e-commerce in Bangladesh – Part 2

It was 2016. High-speed internet connectivity was available to mass people, especially in major cities. Telecom operators were rolling out 3G network all over Bangladesh. The expansion of the 3G network made internet connection with “acceptable” speed possible, even in the areas of the country.

Around this time, the Bangladeshi e-commerce industry started blooming. Especially in cities, shopping from an e-commerce site was becoming a common practice every day. Though, the wrong product, late delivery, etc. issues were hurting consumers very badly. Even after, facing a lot of issues, e-commerce companies were receiving a lot of orders during various festivals. But the orders were limited to fashion items, mainly. The average basket size was 1000-2000 BDT maximum.

In this bottleneck situation, an e-commerce company disrupted the market with a very bold & brave strategy! And now in 2020, we all know the name of the company, which is no other than Pickaboo! At this moment, we all will be agreed that their strategy worked fabulously. But entering the e-commerce market with electronics items was a very audacious decision during 2016.

Question is, what made Pickaboo this much successful? Just like our first writing of this series, I will analyze the strategies of Pickaboo to find out what are the success factors of them in the Bangladeshi e-commerce sector.
Pickaboo is a brand child of Silver Water Technologies Bangladesh Limited. Specifically, the operation started on 15 May 2016. Arun Gupta and Aminur Rashid founded Pickaboo, which now has more than 200 employees. Edison Group from Bangladesh and MoMagic from India were the initial investors, who invested heavily at the early stage of the company. Last year, Pickaboo has gone through some major hiccups including investments. Whatever, they recently have announced new funding from an unknown source.

Success factors of Pickaboo in e-commerce

  1. Branding: Back at late 2016, I was scrolling my Facebook news feed. Suddenly, my eyes got stuck to a happy, friendly light blue colored cartoon. It got my full attention and after clicking the Facebook advertisement, I discovered a new player in the e-commerce market with electronics products!

    Pickaboo mascot
    Dear readers, you might already have guessed correctly that, the new player was Pickaboo. By sharing about my introduction to Pickaboo, hopefully, you already got an idea how strong is the branding of it. From the very beginning, Pickaboo is service focused company & that's what they have reflected in their branding.

    They have perfectly matched the name “Pickaboo” with the friendly mascot of them. It gives a clear message to the customers that, they will get quality products along with great service. And this is what they are doing every day untill now.
  2. Product quality & cost: I have already mentioned that one of the founders of Pickaboo is Edison Group, who is the owner of Symphony mobile phone brand. By having Edison Group on board had enabled Pickaboo to get a very deep understanding of the mobile phone market of Bangladesh. This assists them to offer authentic mobile phones and accessories of all brands at a very competitive price.

    Besides providing best quality handsets, Pickaboo also had introduced the Equal Monthly Installment (EMI) facility available for a wide array of customers. This facility attracted a good chunk of handset sales.
  3. Website: Honestly, Pickaboo offers an average quality website to the consumers. Since 2017, they have not updated their website. But, I must admit if you want to order any product from them, you'll get a seamless experience. The platform might not be shiny or polished, but it just works.

    Moreover, to achieve better customer retention, they also offers loyalty points to customers. In my experience, they are one of the very few companies to introduce this facility in Bangladesh.
  4. Delivery & support: This is one of the strengths of Pickaboo, I must say. They know it very well that, in most cases, an e-commerce company provides mainly service to its customers. This is the principal product for them. That's where Pickaboo don't compromise with quality at all.

    The customer service team consists of 30+ members, who ensure perfect, on-time product delivery. It's delivery fleet also helped them to ensure smooth experience during delivery. If you face any issue in any stage of your order, you can contact them via call center, live chat or on their Facebook page.
    As they are service focused on the core, they are maintaining high-quality service till now. And this results in great favor for them. This strategy enabled them to achieve a comparatively higher retention rate.
  5. Investment: Investment is the key point where most of the startups have failed miserably in the past & now live in oblivion. This is where Pickaboo excels somehow.
    From the inception, Pickaboo had good investors behind its back, as I mentioned earlier. At the early stage, this has given them enough space to grow. But nothing lasts forever. 2019 was not a good year for Pickaboo. We have seen some news about the extinction of it. Though they are lucky to handle it quickly & announced new funding round from unknown source.
Having experienced and dynamic members on board ushered Pickaboo to every rudimentary principal in this sector of Bangladesh. And that is why they are at peak of the pyramid now. I believe, in coming days, they will lead the industry in a very interesting way!

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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What are the success factors of e-commerce companies in Bangladesh? Part 1

Success”, a very rare word in the e-commerce industry in Bangladesh. It's really unfortunate to see that, even at the beginning of the new decade, we have seen very few e-commerce ventures who have successfully made “some” impact on Bangladeshi consumers' buying habits.

During the research for today's article, we have asked ourselves some questions. What made this very few e-commerce ventures kept alive in the “blood bath” of other similar ventures? How are they different? The answers to these questions were interesting and I believe, what we are going to share today would be really helpful for many e-commerce and related ventures out there.

In the process of our analysis, we have considered some key points into our consideration, which are necessary for any business. Then against each point, we have analyzed each successful company separately. At the end of our analysis, it was pretty clear to us, why & how they have succeeded? I believe, their success till today is just the beginning, they will go much further.

Without further ado, let's start analyzing today's e-commerce venture, Chaldal.

Chaldal was founded by Waseem Alim, Zia Ashraf, and Tejas Viswanath. At this moment they deliver 2200+ orders per day across Dhaka city. Chaldal received financing from IFC, world bank. They also received financing from other private, national and international venture capitalists.

Success factors of Chaldal
  1. Branding: Have you ever thought to use an egg as your company's logo? I know most of the people will laugh, someone could even think that I am just making fun, but that's what Chaldal has already done. This is a very good example of an excellent branding strategy. Most of the consumers would be able to remember the logo very easily & that's the primary target of a good logo.
    After the logo, let's take a look at the naming of the company. The name consists of two of the most common commodity for any Bangladeshi. The message is very clear & straight. After hearing the name, you would easily guess that this is something related to “Grocery bazar”.
    If I analyze more, it would be another article. So, I am keeping things short here. All I can say, the overall branding of 'Chaldal' is really good.
  2. Product quality & cost: Providing a quality product to your customer is one of the fundamentals of success in any business. This couldn't be truer in the case of any e-commerce in 2020 in Bangladesh.

    Chaldal knows this very well. From the very beginning, they dedicate themselves to provide the best quality products to their customers with the best possible price.

    I know, some consumers have an unfortunate experience with Chaldal, but the percentage of “unfortunate experience” is negligible.

    It is really a tough job to compete with local “kacha bazaar”, but Chaldal has taken the challenge & they are doing quite well.
  3. User-friendly website: If you have an e-commerce company or want to start one, you should take this point very seriously.
    As far as I remember, Chaldal website was very smooth from the very beginning. Their user interface was attractive & intuitive. The website loading speed was great.

    They even introduced the “floating cart” feature on their website in Bangladesh, which is now an unannounced standard for almost any other grocery e-commerce.
  4. Delivery & Support: Chaldal first introduced “The 1 Hour Delivery” within Dhaka city. They have 6 own warehouses at the six major areas in Dhaka city, which enables them to facilitate their customers with this great feature.

    Even if you don't receive your product within 1 hour, you'll get it within a few hours for sure. With a large fleet of the delivery van and customized bikes, they have made this possible.

    With a dedicated customer service team, Chaldal is always there for you. Chaldal call center is available for 12 hours a day at your service. Also, don't forget the little chat box on their website.

    The warm and dedicated customer service team is another vital point of their success. Thanks to the centralized customer care solution of Chaldal, pre & post-sales support is well organized & coordinated.
  5. Investment: You may find it surprising, why investment is at number 5, but as I mentioned earlier many e-commerce ventures had good investments though they failed miserably. Whatever, along with all the above-mentioned strengths Chaldal had investment from IFC almost from the beginning. Later, their good investment strategy attracted a lot of good angel investors & venture capitals. This helps them to implement the plans.
Chaldal was careful with every important tiny detail from the beginning. And that pays them well enough. They are undoubtedly the number 1 grocery e-commerce in Bangladesh, at present & they are steady enough to maintain that position for the coming years.

The second part of this series is coming soon with another success in the Bangladesh e-commerce industry. Stay tuned till then.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Ed-Tech : Scopes & key players in Bangladesh

Since the beginning of human civilization, sharing knowledge was important. Over time the ways of sharing knowledge have been changed. Every generation in human history has found it necessary to pass their accumulated knowledge, skills, values and traditions to the next generation. Each subsequent generation must be taught these things.

In the beginning, people didn't need schools to pass along information. They educate youngsters on an individual basis within the family unit. Over time, the population increased and societies formed.

Soon, people realized that it would be more efficient & easier to have a small group of adults teach a larger group of children. In this way, the concept of the school invented.

The concept of school has been evolved over thousands of years. People have invented college or university on the same concept of “a small group of adults teach a large group of children”.

As we live in the age of digital transformation, we are lucky to see another drastic transformation in thousands of years. The technological advancement is questioning the very basic principle of educational institutions.

At this age of information technology, anyone can learn almost anything from anywhere in the world anytime, with just a computer/mobile with a decent internet connection.

Some companies around the globe have taken the lead of this incredible change. Khan Academy, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning or are some of them. Some big names like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Andressen Horowitz and some other giants of the venture capital world are investing in this space.

In Bangladesh, 10 Minute School, Care Tutors, Repto, e-Shikhon & some others are also trying hard to make a dent in the local education sector. Let's get to know a bit about the top 3 ed-tech startups in Bangladesh.
  1. 10 Minute School: 10 Minute School is the most prominent & established ed-tech startup in Bangladesh right now. Founded in 2015 by Ayman Sadiq just using a Youtube channel. Quality & effective content was the key to their success.

    Currently, they have investment & support from Robi Axiata Limited, the 2nd largest telecom operator in Bangladesh. 10 Minute School has a wide range of courses from class 1 to 12, including PSC, JSC, SSC & HSC focused courses. They also offer different university and IELTS, GRE, GMAT, SAT, BCS courses.

    The huge library of 12 thousand video courses also offers some skill development courses including English learning, Video Editing, Graphic Design, etc.
  2. Caretutors is the largest & first-ever online tutor matching platform in Bangladesh. It was started back in 2012 by Masud Parvez Raju. At present, more than 50,000 tutors are enlisted at Caretutors and receive 600 queries per month.

    Recently, they have broadened the range of tutors with the addition of a bunch of new categories. Now, you can hire tutors for programming, cooking, photography, learning language, driving, music & even dancing. This platform makes life a lot easier for many parents to find their required teachers with just a few clicks.
  3. Repto: Repto is the Udemy of Bangladesh. Repto has started their journey with Ishtiyak Sheyam as a GP Accelerator graduate. Repto primarily focuses on skill-based learning, which includes language learning, digital marketing, graphic design, and different other soft skills.

    At present, 121364 students have been enrolled for 134 courses. Interestingly, just like Udemy, anyone can join as a teacher with proper skills & experience, no specific qualification or certification is a must.
The ed-tech industry is just in the incubation stage in Bangladesh. I believe we will see more exciting & successful ed-tech ventures in the future. 

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

In A Digital Bangladesh, Where Are We With E-Health/Digital Health?

One would think that the hype about Digital Bangladesh is limited to purer forms of IT such as software development by looking at majority of the media coverage around the topic. Well, one would be wrong! The rise of startups in other sectors, albeit slowly, is noticeable and a remarkable number of them are in the Digital/e-Health vertical.

Just like many other countries in the SEA region, the logistical challenges of staying healthy and preventing diseases are felt by people of all walks of life. Digital Health/e-Health startups are all about solving those problems with the help of information technology. In doing so however, they themselves have been facing a similar, if not greater challenge of integrating IT into the lives of people who are largely disconnected from that apart from social media usage. Enter pioneers Praava, Telenor Health (Tonic), CMED, Maya, Olwel that have brought some sort of solutions to the table.

Praava has already proven its services as tremendously helpful for the users by offering membership plans, diagnostics and family health services from trained professionals. The predictably promising future it has however should be attributed to the great leadership of its founder Sylvana Quadir Sinha and her cohorts. We have seen it time and again how important it is to have good leadership to survive in the startup ecosystem in Bangladesh.

As the name suggests, Telenor Health (Tonic) is backed by Telenor which is a good indicator of its current worth and future possibilities. Unlike other sectors in the startup scenario, digital health or e-Health isn’t exactly a turnkey business opportunity and that means having an established investor helps with both initial sustenance and room for growth without constant profitability concerns. Their partnerships with existing healthcare providers are strong indications of their quality and promises.

CMED works with a rather unique architecture, their sensor or device accompanies an app to provide health monitoring service. Patients with ongoing medical conditions that require keeping tabs of their health, such as diabetics and stroke patients are their key demographic.

Maya is working in yet another underdeveloped sector, anonymous consultancy. Their reward? Apart from the funding from BRAC, getting accepted as the first Bangladeshi startup in Google’s Launchpad program and securing more funding shortly afterwards, Maya is a recognized platform for digital wellbeing assistance.

Olwel has been successfully bridging the information gap between a patient and the right doctor, a need that has been felt my most but not really fulfilled until it came along. The team they began with is worthy of being in multiple who’s who lists which is portrayed by their participation in a sector that’s been mostly untouched by professionals.

Even with a quick Glance at these teams, you can’t miss their passion for making the country a better place to live in for everyone. The challenges they have overcome as well as the ones they still face are apparently making them stronger and more focused. I for one, can’t think of a better driver. They are the kind of heroes we need the most.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Some positive & negative impacts of ride-sharing.

One of the biggest manifestations of the “sharing economy” is ride-sharing. This ride-sharing model has already disrupted the transport industry and moving forward with remarkable speed.

In Bangladesh, we have observed many interesting events with this ride-sharing model. In the beginning, people didn't even believe that the ride-sharing model is viable for us. They have proved wrong big time. Right now, 7 ride-sharing companies are in operation & even the government has developed regulations especially for these companies.

According to IDLC, 2 lakh people took a trip in November 2017, the number is much higher now without any doubt. It is obvious that ride-sharing drastically changed the way, we city dwellers commute every day. 

Now, with all these facts, did you ever think about the impacts of these ride-sharing services in our life? Are all the impacts are good? Are all bad? Let's dig in to find out more.

Positive impacts

  1. Economic independence: Pathao & Uber has changed the way of life of a lot of people. Earning 15K – 18K per month is now possible for anyone, with proper driving skills. It was unimaginable a few years back. Many people have left their previous job and get behind the wheel or ride a bike for their livelihood.

    Some people also drive their car to earn some extra cash. I have also found some university students who earn their "pocket money" by driving a car or riding a bike. Unarguably, they are well educated and well behaved.
  2. Fast & easier commute: From the commuters point of view, everyday commuting now far easier than before. All we need now a smartphone with internet connectivity to get a comfortable ride. No bargaining, no arguing, the ride is at your doorstep, which is just fantastic.

    Interestingly, Obhai has done some extra-ordinary jobs with the three-wheeler. If you book a three-wheeler ride using Obhai, a well trained, the well-behaved driver will arrive with a good condition vehicle. Some of these three-wheelers have sound system also!
  3. Safety: Some ride-sharing apps now support live sharing of your trip with your friends & family, which gives extra peace of mind to a commuter.

    Moreover, all the riders are registered with their national ID card & updated driving license, so fraudulent activity is not common if you use any of these services.

Negative impacts

  1. Increased traffic congestion: When we book a ride from our place, the rider needs to reach your place from a distance. For a single ride, this might seem insignificant, but when thousands of people use the service simultaneously, this insignificant “thing” could impact increased traffic congestion. And this grows with the growing use of these services.

    Ridesharing companies usually say, they help to decrease traffic congestion, but in a highly dense city like Dhaka, this logic is not as strong as it seems.
  2. Increased CO2 emission: Increased traffic congestion means increased CO2 emission, this is simple. What we generally know as ride-sharing is a ride-hailing & the carbon footprint of every commuter is much higher in ride-hailing service.
Ride-sharing services have positive & negative social & economic impacts on society. We can learn from other countries & implement that in our regulations so we can minimize the negative impacts on our society.

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

Gig Economy in Bangladesh: Challenges and Potential

Perhaps the easiest way to explain gig economy is to provide the example of ride sharing services like Uber, Pathao, Shohoz and the likes. They have literally revolutionized how riding a motorbike or driving a car can become an actual source of income.

Well, that’s how gigs have been disrupting the economy all over the world and unless something even more dramatic comes along, the future will largely consist of an ecosystem based on gigs, instead of the current model of jobs.

As multinational corporations have learned, sometimes through severe financial losses and rather painful experiences, Bangladesh can be a quite challenging market. Ask the ride sharing companies and they will probably say more or less so about their journey in Bangladesh. So how are the other, smaller ventures faring?

As good as can be expected in a country where orthodox views of conventional employment dominate how a person should choose a career. Gigs are nothing like 9 to 5 jobs and therefore harder to explain to the seniors, the decision makers in most families. This social barrier has been preventing many successful small business owners from quitting their jobs for the better part of a century.

Even if you try to explain that the service people such as handymen, plumbers, electricians have been making a living mostly through gigs, they will remain vehemently skeptical about choosing gigs as an alternative to other forms of careers.

The bohemians among you are probably rolling your eyes thinking those social barriers don’t hold water in this day and age. You’d be partially right since ride sharing alone has convinced everyone, at least the population of major cities that gigs aren’t going away anytime soon.

Part of the social protest stems from the inherent respect associated with the identity of a job holder and now that the freelance ride sharers are simply doing better than all entry level employees, the views are shifting. A key change in the mindset of the current generation is the focus towards money which is surprisingly gaining traction among older population.

If more gig platforms (like Handymama and Kajkey) keep thriving and convincing everyone of the potential, there is no reason not to expect them to become just as mainstream as BDJobs.

Major cities of Bangladesh are riddled with logistics issues that can be bypassed completely by making use of the decentralized network of workers or freelancers. While it’s understandable that several types of businesses can benefit from the facility offered through these platforms, some unusual clients (such as home-based f-commerce owners) are also likely to make use of the flexible options that are remarkably more affordable than conventional alternatives.

As these platforms grow, the next round of workforce registering for an account on those will also see how confident their potential employers are and how the demand for their services are constantly rising.

The current direction of our economy is quite promising but private sector investment is a problem. We are just not creating enough jobs to absorb the hundreds and thousands who graduate every year!

A growing number of fresh graduates are realizing this now while many undergraduate students are already working on their gig careers. It is starting to become a breath of fresh air in the stale unemployment scenario we have been observing for decades.

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At this very beginning of the new decade, it can be easily said that Facebook commerce or f-commerce has made a deep impact on the purchasing behavior of Bangladeshi consumers. 

According to the E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-cab), there are more than 8,000 Facebook-based businesses all over the country. Today in Bangladesh, from multinational to a single person e-commerce business can't even imagine their operation without a Facebook page. These f-commerce businesses are delivering thousands of orders, even to the remote areas of the country. 

However, the journey till now for the f-commerce entrepreneurs was not “Bed of roses”. They have come a long way, but even today they are facing several challenges. Let's check out, what are the top 5 challenges of these f-commerce entrepreneurs are facing currently in Bangladesh.

[1] Investment: 

Like any other start-up, investment is the biggest issue for f-commerce businesses. Almost all f-commerce entrepreneurs don't maintain solid records of their everyday transactions. They just calculate their overall monthly profit, by subtracting the purchase price from the buying or manufacturing cost. 

Lack of proper bookkeeping makes it quite difficult for banks or any other investors to understand the business in-depth. Besides, this issue, banks & other traditional financing companies generally don't trust virtual businesses for some misconceptions & lack of knowledge about these types of businesses. 

In this condition, Shop-Up is doing something appreciable, they have started a loan facility for these entrepreneurs. Though only Shop-Up is not enough in this huge field, it's nice to see that someone is trying to make a difference.

[2] Lack of customer retention: 

Most of the f-commerce businesses are not aware of customer retention. The majority of them just try to “boost” their page or product using Facebook promotion and get some sales. For this tendency, they have very few recurring customer base. I have found many consumers, who are satisfied with the product & service of a specific Facebook page, but they can't remember the name of the page, even to reorder the same product. 

This also hurt many f-commerce entrepreneurs last year, when Facebook brought some changes in the news feed algorithm. 

[3] Payment issue: As f-commerce businesses don't have their own website in most cases, they have to rely mainly on Cash On Delivery (COD) & Mobile Financial Services (MFS) for payment. 

A good number of f-commerce businesses complain about receiving late payment of Cash On Delivery (COD) payments from the logistics service provider. Besides COD, Mobile Financial Services are the secondary payment channel, but here comes another issue, the verification process for the merchant account is relatively long & sometimes tiring also. 

Moreover, major MFS providers don't get interested to enlist any business as their merchant, most cases they lose their interest if the monthly transactions over the MFS channel are lower than 4-5 lacs BDT per month.

[4] Delivery to remote areas: Though some logistics like E-Courier, Pathao, Paperfly, etc. are trying their best to ensure last-mile delivery to every corner of the country, it is not yet a reality to deliver any type of product to anywhere in Bangladesh within a minimum cost. Some products like furniture, electronics, automobiles take the huge cost to deliver, even sometimes the delivery cost could be almost 50% of the cost of the product itself.

[5] Fraudulent Order: A comment or message is enough for placing an order at f-commerce, naturally the rate of fraudulent orders are relatively higher than the mainstream e-commerce. There is no single word remedy for this challenge, entrepreneurs can verify the customer in several ways to keep the number of fraudulent orders at a minimum level.

Before starting any f-commerce business, you should consider all the measures on how you can face the challenges above!

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Monday, December 9, 2019

2019 Fintech Summit

Throwback to the #2019FintechSummit organized by Bangladesh Brand Forum

Pictures, videos and key-takeaways from the panel I moderated on digital payments:

1. Content is increasingly digital (eg. netflix, e-learning, etc)

2. We already have a reasonable payments infrastructure thanks to bKash, Rocket, Nagad, etc (and Bangladesh Bank)

3. Payments powerhouses like Mastercard and Visa are having to rapidly evolve as Bangladesh will skip the stage of large-scale penetration of plastic cards, and jump into the stage of widespread mobile payments ecosystem.



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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sufi Terms

Ibn Arabi
Fourth Way Ennneagram
Theory of Forms
Marsilio Ficino
Toshishiko Izutsu
Henry Corbin
Perennial Philosophy
Islamic Golden Age
Frithjof Schuon

Teachings of Garib Nawaz
Idries Shah
Ancient Hermes of Egypt
Ishraqi Philosophy
Unity of Intellect
One consciousness. one intelligence. one soul.
The Pool of Nectar.
Eckhart (Miester).
Islamic Institute in Mannheim Germany.
Sufism suited for inter-religious dialog and pluralistic societies.

Check out this book: