- Tell us something about your firm’s service, Mr. Shajedul Haque.
Well, I actually have three firms. The one which is more known right now is Sadia Corporation because it is a joint venture with RFL Plastics. This one is my first business venture. We quote and look after the deals on the industrial side. Also, there is some industrial equipment of RFL Plastics. We are the first ones to supply these to different factories nationwide in enclosed volumes. The other business I have is a textile chemical based firm. We import the chemicals from abroad. We also have an online website called Industrial Bazar. We sell equipment through this site only to the garments sector.
- What inspired you to set up Sadia Corporation?
There is a story behind this. I used to be an employee at RFL Plastics and developed industrial equipment for them. At that time, there was not much plastic equipment in the garments sector of Bangladesh. So back in 2012, I bought some plastic products from China. I launched those products which consisted of industrial baskets, plastic pallets etc. Those were not selling that well though. The plastic pallets, while they were very useful and hygienic, were very highly priced.
So at one point, I thought of ‘you know what, let’s go for a merger and do something on my own.’ I mapped out some plans based on the buyer’s’ recommendations. See in the market, the buyers had demand for many of these plastic products, but the investors did not want to take the risk. So at that time, I took the risk and imported these equipment from China and sold them afresh in the Bangladeshi market.
- Why did you choose to be an entrepreneur?
I think everyone has the capability to be an entrepreneur, but there is a personal decision making element such as whether someone would rather work another person or not. Another circumstance is that you have an idea which can benefit the market and the firm too but your supervisor doesn’t approve of it. They might prevent you from implementing the idea because they deem it as a failure. Even when you are doing proper research and talking to the buyers in the market who are interested in the product, your superiors still might not approve it. So there is a clash of ideology.
That’s when I thought that I should become an entrepreneur and go my way.
- You recently managed to earn $100 million revenue for RFL. How did you manage to achieve such a marvelous feat?
In 2016 when we did the company’s budget, we fixed a target while other factors being variable ones. We were determined to reach the $100 million sales target, but we were willing to compromise on other things like pricing. We had a fixed forecast. We toiled hard 12 months for this. We set up the team consisting of people in the distribution channel, finance department, and the other relevant departments. So after intense planning, we managed to acquire the people and resources needed to accomplish this.
There are 6 or 7 people in my team. Each is handling a specialized area. One deals with distribution; one looks after tax related issues; one is in charge of accounts; one manages marketing and so on. I channel my work in particular ways and ensure everything is properly organized.
- How much were you familiar with the concept of coworking when you first started your business?
I had two offices of my own. Both were in different areas of Dhaka. But those places were not convenient for me since I also had showrooms. So, at that time, I used to visit Shahin’s Helpline, another firm at this space. When I visited him from time to time, I noticed that the environment of this place is really good. The people here were very friendly, and there were no rowdy crowds here. Since I used to come to this area a lot, it was convenient regarding location as well.
- What benefits did you get in the coworking environment?
First of all, in my previous office, there were only three employees. I didn’t need them. I had a security guard to whom I used to hand over the key. Then there was one staff who was always at the office during the work hours. We had to keep that office open for long hours because what if a client came in and no one received him or her? Also sometimes my acquaintances stopped by and started to chat with me. This did create some distractions. Here, I don’t have to maintain anything of that sort. Then there were all those bills I had to pay in my office. I don’t have to pay all those here; that is being taken care of by the coworking space providers. Moreover, since my close acquaintances come here, I don’t get distracted anymore.
- Do you face any problems working in a coworking space?
Not yet. I think that everyone here is very professional. In a lot of coworking spaces, people might complain about the service or other petty issues. So far, I don’t have any such complaints.
- Do you think the coworking community is growing in Bangladesh?
I believe that coworking is severely limited in Bangladesh. It is restricted to social media and word of mouth. There isn’t any marketing for it. I have a team in another part of the town, and they are looking for a room at a cheap rate to operate from there. But they are not getting any shared office space. They do not want to pay such a high amount in advance to rent an office; it’s too expensive. Setting up a startup business has many hassles and add office rents to that, the expenses go sky high. So that is a major setback right in the beginning. If there were organized coworking spaces in all parts of Dhaka, it would be easier for startups to set up their businesses. All they have to do is, bring their laptops and start working. Very convenient.
- Corporate vs. Coworking?
It’s like a dais. Jobs are designed in ways that make it hard to think out of the box. Like I said, the supervisors might not like the idea. Your opinions are not valued nor will you be consulted much. In a coworking space or as an entrepreneur, if you are clear about your plans and can strategically match your visions then you don’t require someone else’s approval to go through with it. If someone wants to work without any hassles, they should go for coworking. This will also encourage more people to take up entrepreneurship.
But it needs more marketing and awareness. People don’t know about it whereas they should. There should be at least one coworking space in all the main areas of Dhaka to ease the access to office spaces for startups.
- In the future, would you like to continue to cowork with other entrepreneurs/freelancers?
Sure, I have no problem in coworking with other startups. I used to work mostly offline but started to deal with the share market after coming here. I am now trying to fully integrate into an online system so that it will become easier for the clients to communicate with us.
- Advice to future entrepreneurs
Well, I completed my MA in English and MBA in marketing. At one point, I wanted to do what I like, where my interests lie. I used to like corporate dealings with companies like Nestle and Unilever. When I used to talk with them and work with them, I realized that working for an organization and working for personal satisfaction are two very different things. If you give good service to the clients, then your brand value goes up. Even if the organization does not fully support you, go ahead with your ideas and create your own startup. Decide what you want to do and train yourself. You can gain experience from a job to help you in learning about the business. Then forecast the costs and create budgets to estimate your investment. Then dive into the market with your business. There is a saying I quite like, ‘Winners never quit, and quitters never win.’ You will see a lot of people who will get cold feet after quitting their jobs and starting a business because they think that ‘oh leaving the job was a mistake,’ and then they give up. But they never stop to think that their companies might have become more successful, had they persevered.