After three years, Hubdhaka is going to bid adieu to its oldest member, Dhaka Insider, in the coming March. Starting its business in 2014, Dhaka Insider was the first member at Hubdhaka’s coworking space. We caught up with Rafaat Wasik Ahmed of Dhaka Insider, to share his thoughts on his journey of coworking and about the plans for his firm in the future.
Graduating from the 16th batch of IBA-DU, one of the most prestigious universities of Bangladesh, Mr. Ahmed is now one of the co-owners of Dhaka Insider. ‘ I was not involved with Dhaka Insider from the very beginning,’ he said. ‘Initially, it was known as Media Muse and was run by my two friends from IBA, Sadek and Shayek. I, on the other hand, started my own project which was known as Prep Matric. It was an online preparation for students who intended to give university exams. After leaving Prep Matric, I joined Media Muse which is a content writing firm.
Over time, these young entrepreneurs started to etch a very clear goal of what they want to achieve. Initially known as Dhaka Beats, they wanted to provide a voice to the youth of Bangladesh. ‘We felt that the young generation did not have much of a voice in the important matters,’ Mr. Ahmed expressed. ‘But the problem was that there were not many youth-based events at that time. Because the response was low, we re-branded ourselves to Dhaka Insider and focused on being a youth based magazine.
‘The road was not always smooth,’ he reflected. ‘All of us had different directions in, mind and our opinions conflicted a lot. Finally, we decided on one particular path: to showcase the talents of the youth.’
Despite Dhaka Insider’s success now, the initial stage of the startup was not easy. When bootstrapping the team, they realized how difficult it was to gather the team together under one roof. ‘We realized that rent of office spaces in Dhaka was sky high,’ Mr. Ahmed said. ‘We had to gather at coffee shops or someone’s place. But obviously, those settings were not appropriate for conducting a proper business. We also faced quite a lot of trouble for our trade license. We did some research and found out about a coworking space called Hubdhaka. We were not familiar with the concept of coworking, but we decided to give it a shot.’
Coworking has been emerging as one of the most trending business ideas of Bangladesh. So how difficult was it for Dhaka Insider to adapt to it? ‘Adapting to a coworking space was not an issue for me,’ Mr. Ahmed replied. ‘The two other people I had on my team did take long to digest the setting at first since they were habituated to a more corporate environment. But we liked the idea of working alongside many firms.’
At a coworking space, startups and freelancers get dedicated seats along with logistics support for their startup phase. For a new firm like Dhaka Insider, coworking was able to solve a lot of problems. Slowly, they started to gather their team but also discovered other benefits of sharing space with other entrepreneurs. ‘At a coworking setting, we got different types of experts under one roof,’ Mr. Ahmed said enthusiastically. ‘There are designers, legal advisors, freelancers and other entrepreneurs, from whom you can ask for help or advice whenever you want. It makes the bootstrapping a lot easier.’
‘After we started to use a coworking space, gathering the team got a lot easier. Here, we met a lot of different people,’ he added. ‘Each people here have specialized skills in various areas. You get a lot of opinions and also learn a lot.’
‘At a regular office, you will see that it is a closed space and there is no room for interaction between people,’ he observed. ‘But that is not the case here. I can communicate with people freely here. If I need legal counseling, I can simply walk over to one of the freelancing legal counselors and ask for help. If I need a designer, I can simply turn around and ask one of the designers at the next table to make our designs. This interaction is missing in corporate settings.’
Coworking also had profound effects on Mr. Ahmed’s views and his way of thinking when doing business. ‘When I was at Prep Matric, my perspective about my business was limited to my ideas and some research from the internet,’ he said. ‘At a coworking setting, however, I got to see wholly different perspectives. Some entrepreneurs gave their opinions on why my perspective was right or wrong.’
After spending three years at a coworking setting, what will Mr. Ahmed miss the most? ‘I will surely miss the discussion sessions I had with Mr. Shamael of PPC Rockers, Mr. Bari who was a freelance content writer, Mr. Shafiul of Wowzer and many others,’ he said. ‘We all sometimes sit together and discuss a lot of things. Now that Dhaka Insider will be moving away soon, I will miss those sessions with them.’
‘I will also miss the roof,’ he said. ‘We had an amazing view from there, and it felt nice to hang out there at times with my team and fellow entrepreneurs. There is one thing I will not miss though. The 8 pm closing time. I will not miss that at all. Since I am a workaholic, closing the coworking office at 8 pm was at times a hindrance. I preferred it more when the office used to remain open till 11 pm.’
While leaving the comforts of coworking will be hard, Mr. Ahmed is looking forward to the new things in store for Dhaka Insider. The biggest challenge for an online community is to sustain its growth. How is Dhaka Insider going to maintain that? ‘Now that we are going to move out, we are thinking of making our community more inclusive,’ he revealed. ‘We have big plans to make our community grow and increase interaction among ourselves.’
‘Planning events at a coworking setting was difficult since it would have disturbed the other firms and freelancers, but now we have the liberty to carry out our plans. At our new premises, we will be hosting offline meetings to gather the members of our community. Dhaka Insider will promote the creative expressions of the youth. They can demonstrate their talents in whatever field they are interested in, be it music, digital art, literary or even technical for electronic enthusiasts.’
Before signing off, Mr. Ahmed shared some advice for new and aspiring entrepreneurs. ‘Definitely, go for coworking,’ he emphasized. ‘You can think of expanding once your team grows, but in your initial stage, you will need a lot of perspectives. Bootstrapping your team is important, and you need a proper premise for that. Coworking provides the facilities for the teams to gather.’
‘Moreover, you will also get to broaden your perspective and field as you learn something from everybody. When you start a business, you need all those opinions. So get through that phase. Bootstrap your team, get and validate ideas. Know what are your opportunities through a coworking setting before venturing out on your own.’