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Muhammed Asif Khan

1. Alpha Catering: How Alpha Catering Is Changing A Big, Traditional Industry In Bangladesh Using An Old Playbook With Muhammed Asif Khan, CEO, Alpha Catering

Muhammed Asif Khan is the CEO of Alpha Catering, a catering service company based in Dhaka that aims to bring the global standard to local industry. Founded in 2016, the company has already made a name for itself in the market within a short period of time, thanks to its quality obsession, and continues to enjoy rapid growth. The story of Alpha offers an interesting case study for entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts alike in understanding the challenges of building a startup from scratch in Bangladesh, the realities of building a solid business, the demanding nature of entrepreneurship, and how to break into a big, established the traditional industry.

Read the full story here.

Mahmudul Hasan Likhon

2. Hello Task: Building An On-demand Maid Service Startup In Dhaka With Mahmudul Hasan Likhon, Co-founder and CEO, Hello Task

Mahmudul Hasan Likhon is the co-founder and CEO of Hello Task, an on-demand maid services startup based in Dhaka that connects verified maids with customers through mobile and web. Founded in 2017, the company has grown to a team of 12 people and aims to become the Uber for maid services in Bangladesh.

Read the full story here.

Armin Zaman Khan

3. Romoni: Building An On-demand Beauty Services Platform In Bangladesh With Armin Zaman Khan, Founder, and CEO, Romoni

Armin Zaman Khan is the founder and CEO of Romoni, an on-demand beauty services startup based in Dhaka that offers on-demand salon, makeup, spa, and bridal services. Founded in 2016 as a simple Facebook page, over the past few years, Romoni has evolved into an independent platform and a team of 12 people.

Read the full story here.

Zulfikar Ali

4. BDTax: Growing A Digital Tax Processing Platform To 35,000 Users In Bangladesh With Zulfikar Ali, Founder and CEO, BDTax.com.bd

Zulfikar Ali is the founder and CEO of BDTax, a digital tax processing platform based in Dhaka. Founded by Zulfikar Ali and Shah Rahman in 2017, BDTax started with an ambition to provide an easy online platform for taxpayers in Bangladesh to prepare and submit their returns. The current version of the platform allows taxpayers to prepare their return online, download it and then submit the return in their NBR tax circle or at the tax fairs. Currently, 35000 taxpayers use BDTax.com.bd platform to prepare their income tax returns.

Read the full story here.

Rifat M Huq Shikhbe Shobai CEO

5. Shikhbe Shobai: Inside Online Learning Platform Shikhbe Shobai With Rifat M Huq, Co-founder and CEO, Shikhbe Shobai

Rifat M Huq is the Co-founder and CEO of Shikhbe Shobai, an online education company based in Dhaka. Founded in 2017, the company has grown significantly and built a widely recognizable brand in the online learning space within a short span of time. It offers paid courses on a wide range of subjects including graphic design, UI/UX, Web and app development, etc.

Read the full story here.

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Future Startup by Aayrin Saleha Ria - 20h ago

Inside Online Learning Platform Shikhbe Shobai With Rifat M Huq, Co-founder and CEO, Shikhbe Shobai

Founded in 2017, Shikhbe Shobai offers paid courses on a wide range of subjects including graphic design, UI/UX, Web and app development, etc. It has grown significantly and built a widely recognizable brand in the online learning space within a short span of time.

Teaching Entrepreneurship In Bangladesh With Mohammad Shibli Shahriar, Head, Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, DIULaunched in 2015, DIU’s Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a 4-year bachelor degree in entrepreneurship that teaches both the theoretical underpinnings of entrepreneurship as well as practical realities of starting and building a business.
How Alpha Catering Is Changing A Big, Traditional Industry In Bangladesh Using An Old Playbook With Muhammed Asif Khan, CEO, Alpha Catering

Alpha Catering is changing the way the catering industry has operated for years in Bangladesh. CEO Asif Khan describes the strategy that made them a catalyst.

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When thinking outside the box becomes too mainstream, thinking within the box is almost an act of extreme courage.

This is the case with our time. Particularly, if you look at the startup space. Everyone one wants to disrupt something. Innovate. Bring forth something groundbreaking into the world. Change an industry. A country. The world. Thus almost everyone falls into the same predictable trap. Build yet another ecommerce startup with a slightly different model. Launch yet another ride-hailing company. Bring that model that succeeded in India and contextualize it in Bangladesh. This is not to say that ecommerce or ride-hailing is not good business or not something worth building. There are many interesting and important things to be built in the most saturated of places.

But this is not how you build the future. Not even a hugely successful company. This is not how you go from zero to one. Peter Thiel, the successful entrepreneur, and venture capitalist, agrees. In his widely read book Zero to One, he proclaims:

“The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.

Of course, it’s easier to copy a model than to make something new. Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.”

Go for mundane and overlooked instead

We recently published an interview with a Dhaka-based entrepreneur who is building a new generation catering service. The company, called Alpha Catering, is founded by two graduates of IBA, Dhaka University. The company has experienced tremendous growth in the past two years and is now looking to expand into more areas. Catering is something most people would not see as something hugely potential space to start a business, particularly in a time when almost all of us is looking for the next big thing.

One of the best approaches to finding solid startup ideas is looking into things that are mundane and overlooked. That almost nobody is taking seriously. Often treasures are hidden in the most unexpected of places.

Photo courtesy: Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash

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Rifat M Huq is the Co-founder and CEO of Shikhbe Shobai, an online education company based in Dhaka. Founded in 2017, the company has grown significantly and built a widely recognizable brand in the online learning space within a short span of time. It offers paid courses on a wide range of subjects including graphic design, UI/UX, Web and app development, etc.

We recently caught up with Mr. Rifat M Huq, Co-founder, and CEO of Shikhbe Shobai, to learn about his path to entrepreneurship, how Shikhbe Shobai came into being, what is Shikhbe Shobai, how Shikhbe Shobai operates, the state of Shikhbe Shobai’s business today, its ambition going forward, growth lessons from Shikhbe Shobai, challenges of being a founder, lessons he has learned from his journey so far and much more.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us about your background and what you are working on now?

Rifat M Huq

I’m Rifat M Huq, you can call me Rifat. I specialize in User Interfaces, Graphic Design, Responsive Web Design, Front-end Development, Brand Identity, Digital Marketing, and Project Management. I enjoy work that allows for more user empathy and creativity. I believe it is important to pay attention to detail and focus on the little things that make a big difference for UX. As an end-to-end UX designer, I focus on Research and Interaction Design.

I am also skilled in completing Requirement/Data Analysis and UI. I’m an entrepreneur who loves to be part of a growing business. A UI/UX and Graphic Design Mentor who has been working in this sector for more than 6 years and trained almost 5500+ students. Currently managing a team of talented creative and multitaskers. I am Currently working as a CEO, UI/UX Mentor and Co-Founder of Shikhbe Shobai and Instructor.

I have completed my graduation from United International University. My focused area was EEE. I have solid 5 years of practical experience in online and offline teaching, trained almost 5030+ students all over the world. Also, I have started my freelancing career 3 years ago and successfully completed 250+ freelancing projects on the different global and local marketplace.

Future Startup

What motivated you to start Shikhbe Shobai? Why did you start a business in this sector? When and how did you start Shikhbe Shobai?

Rifat M Huq

Shikhbe Shobai was founded by 11 like-minded, young and motivated individuals with a vision to take freelancing as a career path to 160 million Bangladeshis and to create a community of successful freelancers.

Our mission is to help people learn the in-demand skills they need to achieve their full potential and establish a path towards a brighter Digital Bangladesh.

Shikhbe Shobai was founded in 2017 with an aim to empower people of 64 districts in online freelancing and to create a sustainable self-dependency through online employment model all over Bangladesh.

Shikhbe Shobai Founders | Photo Shikhbe Shobai

Future Startup

What went into building the initial product? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and the challenges you faced.

Rifat M Huq

We started our journey in April 2017. First, we have to give thanks to Socian Ltd. for sharing their office place with us. In July 2017 we move to Banani House#74, road # 7, Block # H, to our new office. I can recall those days that ways too messy, one of our interns even left us saying that she can’t work here. We used to sit in a bedsheet on the floor. That was the real struggling period.

Future Startup

Could you please give us an overview of Shikhbe Shobai in terms of services you offer, your business and users, team size, operations, etc?

Rifat M Huq

  • Formed the best and most dedicated team (currently 28 employees) in Dhaka, Bangladesh and established a proven business model in education, skill development, capacity building, and online employment arena.
  • Launched country’s first Smart Campus in Banani, Dhaka. Just after three months and nine months, we launched 2nd and 3rd labs respectively. We have now 3 labs in total in Banani and in two years we have another branch in Mirpur having 2 labs of 50 accommodation at a time.
  • Launched country’s first Online Support Center for Freelancers which provides 18/7 support to freelancers all over the country.
  • Shikhbe Shobai is an ITES company working for capacity building in the IT sector through developing skills. In the last 2.5 years, we have trained around 4500+ students across the whole country. Among them, 2200 students had trained up under “Online Education” platform. The happiest moment for us that already 1500 students are dominating the freelancing marketplace like Fiverr, Upwork, and so on. This year, on February 23, 2019, 1500 freelancers were certified in our certificate program and the top-rated freelancers were given awards, whose income was above $25000. Till now our trainee’s cumulatively earned approximately $3,50,780 from those online marketplaces by selling their skills.
  • Impacted 1000 lives, secured 450+ families. We are proud to have a strong impact matrix which is on average 1 family per 5 students.

Future Startup

How have you attracted people and grown Shikhbe Shobai? Could tell us a bit about your process and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth?

Rifat M Huq

Quality is the key. We make sure that we offer the best courses and the best service to our customers. The second thing would be our credentials. The success stories of our students have helped us to attract more students.

Future Startup

What are the lessons you’ve learned in terms of growing a business? What other entrepreneurs can learn from your journey?

Rifat M Huq

Focus on your customer. Give them the best possible service. Make them happy and satisfied. The rest should follow. Business is all about serving your customers. As long as your customers are happy, you should be okay.

Future Startup

What is your business model? How have you grown your revenue?

Rifat M Huq

Students are the main customer for us. Our business model is simple. We offer paid courses. Students pay us for accessing our courses and we invest that money in operations and other areas. We offer a wide range of courses on various subjects including Graphics Design, Web Design, UI and UX design, Web Development, Android App Development, Digital Marketing along with special freelancing session for each course.

Future Startup

Have you raised any investment?

Rifat M Huq

We have raised an internal round of investment recently, mostly from friends and family who have invested before. I can’t mention the exact figure, I would say that it is a small round.

Future Startup

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What are the challenges now?

Rifat M Huq

We want to bring out a change in the skill development sector in Bangladesh which cannot be achieved overnight, so we are working towards that. We have small offerings right now, like international standard project-based learning.

We’re offering online courses for students outside Dhaka who usually don’t have access to these type of contents and also for students in Dhaka. We understand that there will be challenges. The answer to all these challenges is sticking to it.

We are operating in a new industry and as a start-up, credibility is a challenge for us. Customers are not essentially used to the services we are offering. It is always tough to break the status quo. That’s one challenge that we are trying to overcome.

Future Startup

How does your sales and marketing work?

Rifat M Huq

Word of mouth has been our biggest growth engine. We get a healthy amount of students through recommendations from our previous students. We are happy with that and we plan to continue to invest in that space so that our customers refer us. Apart from that, we have invested in channels like Facebook, university campaign, students meetup, affiliate meetup, Fair, etc.

Future Startup

What are the goals for the future?

Rifat M Huq

Shikhbe Shobai works to create a borderless world for skillful potential persons who are determined to develop their career and become self-employed. To achieve this vision Shikhbe Shobai works as a guide to help these dedicated soul regarding IT skill development and spread the knowledge for building freelancing career by showing them the online marketplace opportunities and career facts to them.

At Shikhbe Shobai Solutions, we aim to build a personalized learning experience for each of our students.

Future Startup

What are some lessons you’ve learned?

Rifat M Huq

People often underestimate the amount of hard work to build a startup. We often start with a rather cozy picture of hard work that entrepreneurship demands. That often leads to frustration in the beginning because we start with a lot of enthusiasm and we expect the quick results, and when we don’t see the results, it often hurts our morale. My lesson has been: never give up. As long as you stay in the game, there is no failure.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to founders who are just starting out?

Rifat M Huq

Stay focused, work hard and never lose hope.

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Bangladesh is a nation of young people – the median age of the nation is 26. The conversation around the demographic dividend is a commonplace thing. At the same time, the youth unemployment rate has been growing consistently even though the economy has been seeing impressive growth.

It is true that having a young population offers an advantage, but you have to provide them opportunities as well to have a positive outcome.

Globally, unemployment has become a growing challenge for nations. This is where entrepreneurship as an intervention comes in. Entrepreneurship has emerged as a viable intervention to the growing challenge of youth unemployment.

In the last few decades, the world has witnessed the unparalleled rise of entrepreneurship and the wealth Silicon Valley led technology entrepreneurship has unleashed. As a result, the interest in entrepreneurship and startup is at an all-time high. Efforts have been made to create entrepreneurs through various programs and training. While many people believe that entrepreneurship could not be taught in an academic environment, it did not deter academicians and policymakers across the world from trying. We have seen programs on entrepreneurship from leading educational institutions across the world with varying degrees of success. There are programs like Y Combinator that teach and fund startups and there are also programs from institutions like Stanford and Harvard.

In Bangladesh, Daffodil International University (DIU) is the first institution to offer a 4-year full-time bachelor degree in entrepreneurship. Launched in 2015, DIU’s Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship offers a 4-year bachelor degree in entrepreneurship that teaches both the theoretical underpinnings of entrepreneurship as well as practical realities of starting and building a business. We recently sat down with Mohammad Shibli Shahriar, Head, Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Daffodil International University (DIU), to learn more about the program.

Future Startup

Why did you think of establishing the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship?

Mohammad Shibli Shahriar

Every year, 46 million new workers are adding up in the world’s labor force and many of them are from developing countries. The global youth unemployment rate was 12.6% in 2013 and the rate increased to 12.8% in 2018. As long as the rate of unemployment is increasing, it will increase regional disparities; and improvements in the world economic order will offset by youth unemployment. In Bangladesh, the rate of educated unemployed youths is increasing. At present nearly 47 percent of graduates are not getting any jobs after their graduation.

With the vision of solving this youth unemployment problem, the Department of Innovation & Entrepreneurship was established in 2015. Our mission is to create young leaders in the society who will be able to solve the social problems or fulfill the needs and wants of their targeted people. It also aims at providing students a platform to develop relevant entrepreneurial skills through practical assignments and project work and elevating the growth of new ventures through continuous mentoring and funding supported by venture capitalist, angel investors, entrepreneurship development fund and other seed funds.

Future Startup

Could you give us an overview of the Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Daffodil International University? What is ambition?

Shibli Shahriar

We started out with an ambition to create 500 entrepreneurs within 2021. We set out with that goal in mind and it remains our north star. However, we have evolved a lot as an academic department. Our approach to the overall eco-system has changed a bit. The way we approach teaching entrepreneurship has changed. It seems that we still have a lot more to do to get to a point where we have a relatively competitive and enriched system of teaching entrepreneurship.

When we first started, we used to run a competition, which continues to date, to select students. Unlike the regular programs, we have deliberately made it difficult for students to get into our program because we wanted to attract students who are genuinely interested in entrepreneurship and understand the demands of the program.

Our main undergrad program started off with HSC passed students. The program is designed to teach entrepreneurship as a four-year undergrad degree to students who are looking for an entrepreneurship program.

When we started working on the undergrad program, we came to see that a lot of graduate students, as well as professionals, also seek similar entrepreneurship program where they could learn about entrepreneurship hands-on within a shorter period of time. So we introduced diploma courses and MBA on entrepreneurship.

We are the only University in Bangladesh right now offering a 4-year degree on entrepreneurship. Many universities around the world have been working on programs on entrepreneurship with varying degrees of success and failures. We would not say that we have found the silver bullet yet but we are in search of it!

Our learning is significant over the past few years. In the early days, we would pressurize students and would depend entirely on our curriculum, which was customized to cater to the perceived need of an entrepreneur. It was stricter with limited flexibility. But we have changed that. We realized that we need a program that allows students to explore their own ideas in their own way. We decided to give students the floor to work on whatever they feel like they are passionate about. Now there are classes and class works and at the same time, we ask students to decide what they want to pursue and then we try to make the learning around that. We are now building collaboration with different organizations and companies to offer our students more hands-on learning for their future initiatives as entrepreneurs.

Over the course of the last few years, we have received a tremendous amount of response from all over the world. Prominent people in the space of entrepreneurship have visited us in the past years. We have established collaboration with the much-renowned organization in the space.

Entrepreneurship is of paramount importance for a nation like us. It creates opportunities. It helps grow the economy. Maximizes the national wealth. Create employment opportunities.

We would have the first batch of graduates from the department this year. We are super excited to see how they do in the real world. Our ambition is not that we would turn everyone who studies entrepreneurship and innovation into an entrepreneur. Our goal is that if we could make 10% of the students who go through the program into entrepreneurs, it would be a huge success for us.

Future Startup

Apart from the 4 years bachelor program, what are other things you do at Daffodil?

Shibli Shahriar

As I mentioned earlier, the ambition of our chairman is huge. We want to build an ecosystem for entrepreneurship development. We have a venture capital company at Daffodil called Bangladesh Venture Capital Limited that invests in early-stage companies. It means our graduates could potentially raise money right out of the gate if they have an interesting idea.

Apart from that, we have an entrepreneur development fund at the department from which we provide funding in the form of an interest-free loan to our students up to 50,000. If anyone fails to repay within time, we extend the deadline and if s/he cannot repay anyway, we ask him/her to drop an application and we see what could be done.

We bring successful entrepreneurs to take sessions. We have a popular lecture series where CEOs and big personalities come and share their stories with our students.

We arrange startup fair every year where students can have stalls and sell their products. We are also involved in a few government initiatives.

Future Startup

What is your take on the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem in Bangladesh?

Shibli Shahriar

First, entrepreneurship is still not something most parents would encourage their kids to pursue. There is a social stigma around doing business in our society. We don’t essentially see our businessmen with the respect that is prevalent in other cultures. This scenario has been changing for a while now but we should work harder to improve the situation further if we are to encourage entrepreneurship.

Second, we need more collaboration in the ecosystem. We alone cannot develop the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country. So does no individual organization. In order to have a vibrant ecosystem, we need all the organizations, universities, government and other stakeholders to come together with a concerted effort to build the ecosystem.

Third, starting and building a business should be easier. There needs to be policies that support entrepreneurship and encourage people to start businesses. Doing business is not easy in this country. It is expensive as well. We need to pay attention to these areas. Starting a business should be inexpensive and doing business should be easier, systematic.

Fourth, funding and access to mentorship and similar support is still a challenge. Access to funding and mentorship and support should be easier for founders.

Fifth, international collaboration is important. We could learn a lot from markets like China and India and Estonia. We should have collaboration in place with such hotspots of entrepreneurship so that we learn from these markets and apply that learning into our market.

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Muhammed Asif Khan is the CEO of Alpha Catering, a catering services company based in Dhaka that aims to bring the global standard to a local industry. Founded in 2016, the company has already made a name for itself in the market within a short period of time, thanks to its quality obsession, and continues to enjoy rapid growth. The story of Alpha offers an interesting case study for entrepreneurs and business enthusiasts alike in understanding the challenges of building a startup from scratch in Bangladesh, the realities of building a solid business, the demanding nature of entrepreneurship, and how to break into a big, established traditional industry.

We recently caught up with Mr. Asif Khan, the Co-founder, and CEO of Alpha Catering, over an email, to learn about his path to entrepreneurship, how Alpha Catering came into being, what is Alpha Catering, how Alpha Catering operates, the state of Alpha Catering’s business today, its ambition going forward, how quality obsession has helped Alpha to become a serious player in a big, traditional industry, growth lessons from Alpha, challenges of being a founder, lessons he has learned from his journey so far and much more.

Future Startup

Could you please tell us about your background and what you are working on now?

Muhammed Asif Khan

I have completed my secondary and high school education from St. Joseph Higher Secondary School & College. My father always wanted me to study at BUET, but I wasted the preparation days having fun with friends, and ultimately gave a very bad entrance exam. I still made it into the waiting list but didn’t want to pick a bad subject. Also, I didn’t have the required grades to even sit for the IUT entrance exam. So things were looking bleak. Finally, my sister suggested I try sitting for IBA, University of Dhaka. At that time, I did not know anything about IBA. But just by visiting that place, I felt like I should be there. I only had 20 days to prepare for the entrance exam, but miraculously I managed to get in. To date, that has been the most important achievement of my life. Because the four years at IBA helped me come out of my shell and become an outgoing, hardworking individual. I learned a lot of important life skills such as being assertive, working out of my comfort zone, public speaking, networking, leadership, etc.

Right now, I am working primarily on Alpha Catering, which is an almost 3-year-old catering business. Alpha Catering aims to change the perception of catering in the country by delivering great food across different cuisines with eye-catching food presentation. I am also working on a new spin-off startup, Alpha 360, which is going to be a marketplace for events vendors. It will launch hopefully by August.

Future Startup

Could you please elaborate your path to entrepreneurship?

Muhammed Asif Khan

My life goal of becoming an entrepreneur took root when I was a teenager, like 11-12 years old. Back then, the word “entrepreneur” was not common so I used to say I want to become a businessman. That is also what I wrote in one of those “Aim in life” essays at school, and I remember my teacher expressing such a surprise! She thought of it as a demeaning goal, that I should rather aim to be a doctor, pilot, etc. Nevertheless, part of my desire to become an entrepreneur stems from watching my father, who also runs his own business.

My first “venture” would be BuzzDHK, which I started during the final year of my university life with 3 other friends. Actually, they came up with the concept and on-boarded me to help with promotion. It was an online site which provided news, stories, updates, etc. on various topics that concerned the youth of our country, such as sports, games, TV shows, business competitions, concerts, etc. It started off well and we even received as much as 1.6 lakh hits one month. A couple of brands even approached us on sponsored content deals, which was our primary revenue target. But disagreement with the founders on workload and the direction of the venture eventually cut short its life.

Towards the end of my fourth year, I got the chance to get involved in another venture, which is a catering business. I have not looked back ever since.

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Future Startup

When and how did get started with Alpha Catering? What motivated you to start Alpha Catering? Why did you start a business in this sector?

Muhammed Asif Khan

My business partner Sayem Faruk and I always had a fascination towards food business. In fact, we worked on a group project on the food industry of Dhaka city but became quite appalled by the status quo, such as the use of adulterated food, unhygienic practices, price manipulation, etc. So we got down to thinking about what we can do to make a difference.

We began doing some initial market research and realized that catering would be the best food business to work on. We saw that the catering market is quite big and growing, but all the existing players are stuck with the mentality of the 1950s.

There is hardly any innovation or incorporation of technology in this sector. So we knew if we came up with new concepts we would do well. We then prepared a basic plan and got in touch with a senior who we knew invested in businesses. He introduced us to three more investors in his circle. They all liked our business plan. That is how Alpha Catering was born.

Future Startup

What went into building the initial operation of Alpha Catering? How did you put together initial investment and other things to get started? Please walk us through what the first few months of your journey were like and the challenges you faced.

Muhammed Asif Khan

The first task was building a proper kitchen and storage facility at the vacant plot at Ibrahimpur. We hired a contractor to help us with the construction, but we were struggling with the design. The interior of a catering kitchen had to be developed carefully, keeping in mind many factors, so that during work there is no hamper of the workflow. We consulted with a restaurant chef we knew, and sketched the initial design and got to work. It took more than 6 months to get the construction completed, but during this time Sayem supervised very diligently to get all the details right.

While Alpha’s kitchen was being developed, we got the opportunity of running the snacks café of a new TV channel company situated at Kawran Bazaar. We took it up thinking it would be a good learning experience. We hired two cooks and a cashier to get the project started. We would be selling snacks items like samosa, singara, chicken roll, nuggets, sandwich, etc. We faced innumerable obstacles just in getting the counter started, but the worst was when on the first day, our main cook quit and went abroad, after taking a good sum of money as advance salary. Immediately we got into deep trouble and had to find a replacement cook quick. We eventually did.

For the first one month, while my small team was learning the ins and outs of running the snacks café, it was up to me to do the bazaar shopping. For one month, every day, I would take 4-5 trips from Kawran bazaar to the TV channel office, carrying groceries in two hands and inside my backpack. During rainy days, I’d get completely drenched while shopping for potatoes, cauliflower, chicken, etc. in Kawran bazaar.

When my cashier had to go for a break, I’d be manning the cash counter, taking money from customers and serving up their orders. During very busy days, Sayem and I would both help wash the dishes. The dishwashing zone was directly in view of the customers. We would also sometimes clear the tables and bring snacks directly to the customers. One day, when chatting with one of the customers, when he learned that I graduated from IBA, he was shell shocked. He kept asking why I was doing such menial work when I could easily join a multinational and earn at least BDT 40,000!

Two years later, we catered for the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, along with all her ministers and advisers, for a per plate rate of BDT 25,000. A few months later, we catered for the daughter of the Managing Director of Square Group in partnership with an Indian catering firm and earned revenues of 50 lakh just from two events.

That is why I ditched the multinational route and joined entrepreneurship! Looking back, all of those efforts were certainly worth it, as they brought us to where we are today.

After our main operation started, one of the most critical challenges we faced early on was in serving regular office lunch. Our growth was good, and within the first 1.5 years, we were serving 500+ customers a day for office lunch. However, what we realized was that the more we grew, so did our losses. Serving regular lunch at a city like Dhaka has its own set of perilous challenges, such as beating road traffic to deliver food on time, but not setting off so early that the food became spoilt. We also had to contend with companies not paying us for 2-3 months under various pretexts. So our receivables grew while our bank balance was going to zero. People also have a very strange perception of office lunch where they expect quality and tasty food but with prices like BDT 80-90. Our competitors could meet that price simply because they were using substandard ingredients and cooking in unhygienic conditions. We never could do the same. So the unit economics did not make sense to us no matter how much we grew in this market.

At one point, our investors became tired of putting more and more money into the business and hinted that they might pull the plug. Fortunately, by then, Sayem and I had enough market data to come to the conclusion that it is simply impossible to generate a good profit from office lunch. We were also catering for private and corporate events during that time and noticed that the gross margin of those orders were substantially better. So we made the risky decision of completely pulling out from the office lunch market (60% of our revenues at the time) and focusing only on events. We had to heartbreakingly let go of half our staff, but thankfully each of them got placed soon in other companies, some by their own effort, some because of our contacts.

Since then, we soon became profitable and didn’t have to look back. Our position in the market became much stronger, and we have found the right business model to thrive in the market. The same four investors who were thinking of pulling the plug 1.5 years back have recently invested the full amount as a new investment. None of them allowed any external investor to come in because they didn’t want to get diluted!

Future Startup

Could you please give us an overview of Alpha Catering in terms of services you offer, the size of your business, how your operation works, etc?

Muhammed Asif Khan

Primarily, Alpha Catering provides food catering services for any private or corporate event. It can be a home dawaat, an office meeting, an annual conference, or even a wedding. We have an ever-growing menu that currently includes around 300 items, and cuisines like Bangla, Indian, Thai-Chinese, Continental, etc. We have catered for premium corporate events where around 30-40 items were served including 5-6 types of appetizers put forward to the guests by roaming waiters in a pass-around service, an assortment of main dishes from different cuisines, food prepared live in front of the guests like BBQ Chicken, Grilled Vegetables, Prawn Tempura, Tenderloin Steak, Sizzling Brownie etc. and a wide range of desserts from Golab Jamun to thematic Cupcakes.

We are gradually developing menus which would strip away from the usual bland local wedding affair of serving only 5-6 items with just Kacchi Biryani as the main attraction. Even in India, wedding catering is a very sophisticated affair with lots of live cooking, different counters offering different cuisines, use of eccentric items like liquid nitrogen, etc. We are bringing this into the local market. To serve the wedding clients, we recently got enlisted in Golf Garden. We have also come to an understanding with other halls like Senamalancha, Falcon Hall, Shaheen Hall, Ladies Club, Uttara Club, etc. So we can cater there as well. We have also catered for a destination wedding at Mymensingh in February, and have more lined upcoming winter in different resorts outside Dhaka.

We don’t provide just food. Along with food, every single other aspect of associated support you may need, such as plates, cutlery, tables, chairs, chafing dishes, etc. we can provide for you. We also provide highly trained servers who work in 5-star hotels like Radisson, Le Meridien, etc. for our customers. In short, we do not want customers to take any hassle when they choose our service.

Recently, we have also ventured into event management, albeit on a limited scale. We take care of all decorations, starting from conceptualization to execution, and also source elements like musicians, games stalls, magicians, etc. as per client needs. We usually execute 2-3 such events every month for now, with zero marketing. All of them are existing customers who also want us to handle their event management needs. We have plans to grow this department on a wider scale later.

Future Startup

How big is your team? Could you tell us about your culture at Alpha?

Muhammed Asif Khan

We maintain a lean workforce, which is important for our business model. Whenever there is high order pressure, we have a list of chefs, who work in different food businesses, who we call on a daily basis. We do the same for servers. That way, we save on having to pay for them for the entire month. However, we are gradually developing our management pool. Right now, our core team consists of 20 individuals.

At Alpha, we focus a lot on performance. We do not believe in retaining a person just because he is loyal to us, has been in the company for a long time, etc. If an individual is not performing up to expectations even after repeated counseling, he/she is let go. By doing this, not only do we protect the office culture, where employees may get demoralized if they are working really hard while someone else isn’t, but we also give the employee an opportunity to find another firm where he is a better fit.

Sayem and I are maniacally focused on customer satisfaction, and that has trickled down on our employees over the years. The chefs know the food has to taste fantastic every single time. The delivery people know that they have to deliver the food exactly when the customer asked for it, and not a second late or not even too early. Our account managers know they have to be extremely polite and courteous to customers no matter what.

Our extreme focus in these areas has turned our culture into one that is strongly dedicated to customer satisfaction. For example, all of our food items are tasted and approved by our production manager before being sent out. For crucial orders, our head chef himself brings the food to me or Sayem for tasting. Once, while neither of us was in the office, our chef called to inform me that some of the mutton in a Kacchi order got burnt after cooking. As there was no way out of the situation, I told him to discard the burnt pieces, and informed the client of the situation, offering a full refund. Thankfully the client did not mind, and the crisis was averted as the food was still enough to feed all his guests. I appreciated our chef letting me know the situation even though he knew he could be blamed for it. And we did not berate him.

At Alpha, we have a high tolerance for mistakes and failures provided they are not done out of irresponsibleness and aren’t repeated. Secondly, we go to the root of what happened and found that the mutton provided by our supplier was of poor quality. Since then, we shifted completely to sourcing from Bengal Meat for all our protein needs.

Our culture is also highly focused on honesty and teamwork. Over the years, we have sacked two individuals after finding evidence of theft. We have made it clear that no matter how good you are if we find any proof of dishonest activity, you will be let go immediately. In a country like Bangladesh where corruption is epidemic, such habits are very hard to curb, but we have tried doing so from the get-go so that honesty, whether with customers or internally, becomes a core part of our values.

We have also dismissed two other employees, one of whom was a retired army official because they did not get along with others. The teaching we impart is that you may be the most efficient employee we have, or come from a great background, but if you fail to work together with your team, we have no place for you.

Others may perceive us to be strict on our employees, but it is necessary to grow a culture of A+ players. We make up for it by giving them higher salaries than the industry standard, generous leaves, medical allowances, etc. Whenever the company makes a good profit from a big event, we distribute a portion of it to the employees. Plus, I always interact with them with politeness and respect. I’ve learned that good behavior goes a long way towards employee satisfaction. Till date, no employee has left Alpha of their own accord, and we consider this a testament to our employee’s overall satisfaction working here.

Future Startup

On average how many customers/users you serve per month? How have you attracted users/customers and grown Alpha Catering? Could tell us about strategies and activities that you carried out to achieve the growth?

Muhammed Asif Khan

For the first 3 years, user attraction has been almost purely organic. In a food business, word of mouth is the best form of marketing. That is exactly how we have grown. A person would order us for their home dawaat, their guests would love the food and find out about us, then order for their own events and so on. This has always worked for us remarkably well.

In addition, we have maintained a basic presence on Facebook. We never had the time or budget to expand on our Facebook activities, but whatever we invested in it gave us great returns. For example, if we spend BDT 10-15,000 on boosting, we’d generate sales worth BDT 1.5-2 lacs. We once got an order worth 4.2 lakh from Facebook!

However, part of the investment we recently raised is being directed towards ramping up online marketing. We hired a digital marketer last month, and have earmarked substantial budget for Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn as well as SMS and email marketing. We are also looking into creating videos for content marketing. We are slowly working towards developing each of these sales channels. We’re also adding ecommerce capabilities to our website and investing in software automation to get rid of redundancies. We are positive online sales will grow dramatically and our operations will become more efficient and error-free once these changes are implemented.

We also get a substantial order volume from our website. Our SEO is already optimized so that when you search for local caterers online, our name would be first or second. Sayem worked hard on developing our website himself, and it gets good feedback from clients for its aesthetics and ease of navigation.

Finally, we have a team of two account managers who keep liaison with existing clients and pursue new leads to generate orders. We provide them with sales training but guide them to act as consultants, not salesmen.

Future Startup

What is your business model? How have you grown your revenue?

Muhammed Asif Khan

Our business model is the same as any caterer. However, we do not believe in using discounts to attract customers. Our prices are on a par with the leading caterers in the country. We strongly protect our margins so that we never have to even contemplate about compromising with food quality.

Future Startup

Have you raised any investment?

Muhammed Asif Khan

As discussed before, Alpha started off with a seed investment from our 4 investors, who have again recently invested in another round. Unfortunately, we cannot disclose the figures.

Future Startup

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced? What are the challenges now?

Muhammed Asif Khan

There are so many challenges we’ve faced so far in this journey, that it is difficult to list just a few. However, one of the biggest of all is in recruiting quality talent. It may sound controversial, but our workforce is still very much lacking in terms of quality and work ethic compared to countries like India or China. Even an employee competing for a BDT 25,000 salary job will not be able to use Microsoft Word or Excel properly.

During the interview process, many candidates would act supremely confident, only to falter after being hired. We had to refine our hiring system a lot over the years to ensure we do not pick the wrong people. Thankfully, the team we have now are all very qualified and hardworking individuals, and we’re proud of them.

The second challenge would be in making customers appreciate our hygiene and food safety practices. At Alpha, since the beginning, we have always used branded and high-quality ingredients for any food we make. Whether its oil, salt, spices, flour, etc. we would always use well-known brands and not the unbranded variety which is much cheaper.

Since the end of last year, we have been sourcing all our proteins from Bengal Meat, whose prices are understandably higher than the local market suppliers. Our kitchen is scrupulously clean, anyone working inside has to wear a protective uniform, and we conform to all hygiene standards necessary for a food-producing establishment. All of these consequently increases our costs by a big margin. However, we are still unable to charge a correspondingly higher price to customers in spite of such practices. In the end, most customers resort to our lower-priced rivals, who can offer such rates simply because their hygiene standards are horrendous, and they use substandard ingredients. So honesty is eating into our sales, and giving competitors an unfair advantage over us.

The third challenge is in overcoming the trust factor, especially for high-value orders. For example, when it comes to a wedding, the venue, event planner, photographer, etc. will be decided by the..

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The brief:
  • Mercantile Bank, one of the private banks in the country, announced that it has been working on putting together a venture capital operation as a subsidiary to invest in startups in Bangladesh.
  • First reported by the Daily Star, the bank said it has already started working on the project and has applied to the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission for approval.
  • The subsidiary will be named MBL Asset Management Company.
  • Previously, LankaBangla Finance and IDLC Finance, two leading non-bank financial institutions, have made formal entry into venture capital space. IDLC Finance has also made an investment into Chaldal.
The Insight

Over the past few years, Bangladesh has seen a rapid growth in the number of tech startups. Companies like Pathao, Shohoz, Chaldal and bKash among others have raised millions of dollars in equity financing from investors across the world.

However, venture capital is a relatively new thing in Bangladesh. The alternative investment rules 2015, under which these new investment companies operate, was formulated in june 2015. A handful of players has acquired venture capital company licenses but not all of them are active in the market. Among the companies that have venture capital license, BD Venture, one of the earliest players in the space, has been the most active player making about 4 investments per year.

Mercantile Bank has been making investment in startups through a special product it developed called Udayan. It has made investment through the vehicle into companies like eshoshiki, Togumogu among others. It has so far invested in 24 startups. Udayan provides a maximum of Tk 50 lakh as collateral-free loan to a startup.

Bangladesh startup ecosystem has seen a steady growth in the past few years. While funding remain a challenge for the fledgling ecosystem, seed and angel investment space has seen increased activities in the last two years.

Last year saw the launch of first formal angel network in the country named Bangladesh Angels. There are some international funds operating out of the country including Indian Aavishkaar, Frontier Fund of Brummers and Partners.

That said, post-seed and late stage funding remains a scarce thing. More players like Mercantile Bank means more activities for the space and is generally a good news for the overall startup ecosystem.

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Raihana Asral/Shutterstock

By Marco Haenssgen, University of Warwick

Pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa, are becoming ever more resistant to drugs. People speed up this natural process by over-using antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs in medicine and agriculture, and by leaking them into the environment. The World Health Organisation (WHO) regards antimicrobial resistance as one of the top ten global threats to health. In response to this “superbug” crisis, governments have created an action plan that includes global awareness campaigns. However, our latest research suggests that this strategy may not work. In fact, it may even be counterproductive.

For our study, we wanted to understand the role of education and awareness raising in non-Western countries. To do this, we held half-day educational workshops across five villages in Thailand and Laos. The findings of our research challenge the conventional wisdom that awareness campaigns are one of the best tools to change the way people use medicine.

Educational workshop in Thailand.
Marco J Haenssgen

Public health awareness campaigns can have unintended outcomes, including stigmatising people or inadvertently encouraging the behaviour they set out to discourage. Similar problems exist in antimicrobial resistance campaigns and they become even more complicated in the non-Western cultures of rural Thailand and Laos. People may not think about illnesses being caused by bacteria or viruses, or they might not use technical words for “antibiotics” but rather colloquial terms like “ampi” (for ampicillin) without necessarily knowing (or caring about) what these drugs do.

We adapted the language in our workshops to this context and “awareness” increased. An extra one-third of the participants understood “drug resistance” and its meaning after the workshop. But we could not prevent people from making their own sense of the new information. One participant felt so much more confident after the workshop that she began selling antibiotics from her village shop!

It is appealing to think that knowledge will improve behaviour, but the evidence is mixed. A recent survey in China detected, for example, that more educated people were more likely to take leftover medicine instead of going to a clinic when they had respiratory infections.

We noted similar complications in our research. In Laos, workshop participants became more likely to go to public health centres when they were sick, but they also consumed double the amount of antibiotics than before the workshop. In Thailand, rumours arose in the most educated village that our workshops were intended to ban all local medicine sales.

Information alone won’t cut it

Even in theory, it is implausible that education and awareness campaigns alone will completely change people’s health behaviour. People’s actions are not just the result of an absence of knowledge.

For labourers or factory workers who earn £8 a day to support their families, advice to undertake a journey to a distant public health clinic for a prescription may be futile. They may take medicine from local stores in despair and (rightly) consider the global health goal of tackling drug resistance secondary to their hardship.

And yet when circumstances change, behaviour might change, too. Our study in Thailand revealed that the behaviour of people whose family members help them through an illness was more in line with recommendations from the WHO, irrespective of their awareness about drug resistance.

Remote mountain villages face difficult access to healthcare.
Patchapoom U-thong

One hundred and twenty-five countries are now carrying out drug resistance awareness campaigns. Before we congratulate ourselves on the global action, we need to evaluate their effectiveness and whether their side effects outweigh their benefits. If factors like poverty, insecure income or lack of access to healthcare prevent people from acting on good advice, then superbug education and awareness campaigns will prove costly, ineffective and insensitive to people’s lives.

Marco Haenssgen, Assistant Professor in Global Sustainable Development, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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Future Startup by Future Startup - 2w ago

1. Grameenphone Signs A Corporate Agreement With Kutumbita and SQ

Grameenphone has partnered with Kutumbita and SQ as a connectivity partner to facilitate garments associates with smartphones and data at affordable prices.

2. OPPO Revamps Brand Identity, Aims to Strengthen Position in Premium Segment With Reno Series in Bangladesh

Reiterating its commitment to consumer-centric approach, OPPO, a leading global smartphone brand, has introduced its new brand identity that focuses on quality, craftsmanship, and uniqueness in every detail. OPPO, a pioneer in smartphone innovations, has emerged as the fastest growing smartphone brand in the premium segment globally with an unprecedented 863% growth according to the […]

3. A Series Exploring The Future of Coworking In Bangladesh: Call For Submissions

If you are someone who is running a coworking space or a ready-office provider company in Dhaka or involved with one or know such a place that deserves greater attention from the business and technology community in Dhaka, I would appreciate if you nominate the company for this series

4. Sindabad, The B2B E-commerce Platform, Raises $4 Million

Sindabad, the B2B e-commerce marketplace that aims to build a friction-less experience for B2B customers and a platform for anything and everything that an office needs – usual operational and consumable items, announced that it has raised US$4.15 million in Series A funding.

5. Building An On-demand Maid Service Startup In Dhaka With Mahmudul Hasan Likhon, Co-founder and CEO, Hello Task

Mahmudul Hasan Likhon is the co-founder and CEO of Hello Task, an on-demand maid services startup based in Dhaka that connects verified maids with customers through mobile and web.

6. Where Good Ideas Come From

You are your best customer.

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Grameenphone has partnered with Kutumbita and SQ as a connectivity partner to facilitate garments associates with smartphones and data at affordable prices. The Corporate Agreement signing ceremony took place on May 30, 2019, at SQ Corporate Office, Dhaka.

Through this agreement, Grameenphone (GP) will be aiding Kutumbita in implementing their SAAS-based platform amongst prospective clients who have a need to connect digitally. Kutumbita is a workforce management solution especially for the apparel and garments industry in Bangladesh. The key features of this application support better management of absenteeism, productivity, employee morale, compliance, cost, and improving life skills of the workforce.

SQ group will be Kutumbita’s first client through this partnership where they will be providing smartphones from GP to their associates. SQ is one of the leading apparel manufacturing companies in Bangladesh and operates 3 of the top 10 most environmentally friendly factories worldwide. SQ has always been one of the market leaders when it comes to introducing digital innovation and technological advancements in the workplace.

Md. Nasar Yousuf, Head of Corporate Business, Grameenphone, said at the signing ceremony that “Ready-made Garments (RMG) industry occupies a unique position in the Bangladesh economy. Through this agreement, Grameenphone will be a part of the initiative that drives the betterment of the RMG workforce.”

The signing ceremony was attended by Md. Nasar Yousuf, Head of Corporate Business, Grameenphone; Warisul Abid, Chief People Officer, SQ; and Alvi Awwal, Business Development Manager, Kutumbita who was present on behalf of the CEO of Kutumbita, Rameez Hoque.

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