Sometimes, becoming an entrepreneur is not something a person plans to be but becomes one by chance. While setting up a startup was never in the plans of the founders of Tech Roasters, Mohaimen Ahmed and Faisal Azad, fate had something else in store for them.
MA: We never planned to be entrepreneurs. We were freelancers. I was a student at North South University in their 2009 batch, and I met Faisal there as well. Both of us began with freelancing. Faisal handled the ACO parts and also dealt with Amazon. I handled coding and the business sectors.
After we had graduated from NSU, we thought that we should increase our team members. We wanted to make our products better and improve our services. So we concluded that hiring more people would improve our work quality. The problem with freelancing is that the monthly income varies a lot. So we decided to release some products to bring in a more stable revenue. We had the skills to make the products, but we needed a team. This would also help us in estimating how much will be our income in the coming months.
FA: Another reason is that freelancers aren’t valued in Bangladesh. If you say that ‘Hey I’m a freelancer!’ people think that you only work with computers. This is why we built a team and made our own firm instead.
Setting up Tech Roasters
MA: Well, in this initial stage we are focusing on WordPress themes. But we are planning to expand to other categories soon. Even though we do not have a very wide range of products now, but we are targeting some markets. One of our products will be available at ThinkForest. We already have two available there, but some more will be added too.
Our team has a designer, an HTML coder, WordPress coder and the two of us. We are a small team.
MA: We just started in January. Our journey hasn’t been too long. But we have been planning to set up Tech Roasters for over a year. We brainstormed a lot about what to do after gathering a team. We estimated the costs, the salaries we will have to give, but until we had a product, we could not expect any revenue. So we knew we would have to run the team with our own money for a few months. And as for the journey… well, we are leaving our current working space in the coming month.
FA: We basically started this journey with team members from different countries.
MA: Oh yes, we hired remotely before from countries like Philippines, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc. We have the experience of working with people from different countries. We had foreign clients as well. So we had a notion of what we need to do and what we can do. But we found that their quality of work was not good enough. Our current team is an in-house one, and that was an external one. So we let that team go.
With that in mind, we came to a coworking space, Hubdhaka, since the rates were low and we can get a good space. We assessed our sales, team performance and if everything was alright, we planned on getting our own office. We will be moving in a few days after talking to the admins in this space. For the initial stage, the costs for a coworking space are reasonable. But once the team size increases as ours did, the per head cost increases even in a coworking space. Then it makes more sense to move the entire team to another office and pay for rent rather than the per head cost.
Starting off with coworking
MA: We did not just try out one space for our work. We took a look at other places such as Moar (Banani), Hive (Dhanmondi) and Wave (Banani) before settling in here. Sadly, those didn’t work out for a number of reasons.
A coworking space is a cost saving method for entrepreneurs. Our motive was to keep our costs as low as possible, which is why we took that space. It was the easiest way: pay for space, work and then go home. Maintenance, food and pantry facilities and other costs related to the office space would have been too much to handle for us.
We never worked in the corporate sector, so we are not sure what the differences are. But we can say that coworking space is less restrictive. At corporate offices, you see people wearing formals all the time and maintaining a professional front. Here, it is more casual. Our team members do not need to address us formally, and we can just wear casual clothes at work. Also, you can see many people here, socialize with them and it is less isolating.
FA: We see people outside of our professions here as well.
MA: Yes, we talked with one of the firms here regarding our trade license. There are other designing and IT firms whom we can consult at times.
There is always room for improvement.
MA: Well, what could be done is that if there were a database with the list of all the firms, it would have been easier for us to look them up. Like when we needed a person to do some marketing for us. So one of the firms here does work with Google AdWords. But we did not know them and were looking exrernally. If there were a list from which we could have searched, we would have known to approach that firm.
We would also have liked if there were some temporary partitions, you know the ones you can move and fold easily. Sometimes, it gets noise, or there might be certain distractions. So, some kind of a temporary partition would have helped.
The feeling of moving to a new office
MA: We actually did not want to move. The only reason we took this decision is that the costs were rising. We have seven members now, and for each of them, we will have to pay around 28000 BDT. If we took an office now, we would be paying rent of 10000 BDT. The overall cost is lower there according to the size of our team. Even if I take on more members, my rent is staying the same there whereas here my rent will only increase with each additional person. We could have stayed if there was a discount but since that is not possible, we all mutually decided to look for our office. But we got a lot of logistic support here, and our initial operations went smoothly. If our costs had not increased, we would have stayed a while more.
Thoughts on the coworking culture of Bangladesh
MA: A lot of people know what coworking is, but they are not very clear on the concept. My friends ask me ‘What is Hubdhaka? How does it work? What does it do?’ But for entrepreneurs or people coming in from big firms, coworking is effective for them, but they do not know about coworking yet. And as I said before, the per head cost should be reduced.
FA: What we mean is that if there are too many members, then a discount should be offered. The initial cost is quite affordable.
Advice for startups
FA: Estimate more than your predictions, especially when it comes to cost!
MA: Yes. When you enter a business, you will always end up spending more than what your calculations will show you. Our biggest problem was calculating our member’s efficiency. Another challenge was hiring the right people. The hiring process was chaotic. I put up an ad on job sites and gave many posts on social media. But the results were largely disappointing. Thankfully, we, at least, are experienced enough to plan out most of the things. So, always rely on yourselves and do not expect too much from others. Follow up regularly on your team’s activities.
FA: Oh and communication among the team members is extremely important. Talk to each other and with your team to properly relay what you expect from them.