A host of start-ups are trying to cater to people living in urban centres outside Dhaka with innovative business models. Their goal? They hope to contribute to decentralisation
Ki Lagbe, Sylhet
Zakir Hossain, a student of Murari Chand College (MC), lives in a boy's hostel along with some other friends.
Disputes over taking turns for weekly grocery shopping was a common scenario for them. They kept pushing each other to get groceries and would often offer bribes - the biggest piece of fish or chicken drumstick - to the one who would do the work.
One day, they came to know about Kilagbe, a startup that offers to do the chores on your behalf.
Kilagbe is a Sylhet-based online marketplace from where you can buy your grocery, snacks, medicine, vegetables, few cosmetic products and get it delivered within the city. In a megacity like Dhaka, an online marketplace with a similar model- Chaldal (founded in 2013), is pretty famous for their service. People prefer getting their grocery delivered at their doorstep rather than going to market enduring traffic jams and draining their energy.
However, in smaller towns like Sylhet, people do not face much difficulties in shopping for groceries. So, Kilagbe was kind of a new experience for Zakir Hussain and his gang. They have been using the services of Kilagbe for a year.
"None of us were very efficient in haggling at the market. Often we used to get cheated by the seller. Ordering from Kilagbe is beneficial for us as we get quality products at the market rate and there is no delivery charge," said Zakir.
There are more than 1,000 active start-ups in Bangladesh according to Light Castle Partners, a business consultancy firm. They all operate in different cities like Dhaka, Chattogram, Khulna, and Rajshahi.
Founded on unique ideas, they often struggle to gain popularity with their business model. However, when they get appreciated by customers, all the toil feel worthwhile.
For example, one of the founders of the startup Kilagbe, Muballigur Rahman Choudhury said it was extremely challenging for them to start something like Kilagbe in Sylhet in smaller cities where people's reaction is unpredictable.
Kilagbe is basically a question that asks you what you need. It is an initiative taken by four childhood friends hailing from different universities across the country. They all graduated in the year 2018. It was the time when they all were residing in their houses in Sylhet looking for jobs.
They were thinking of doing something on their own. Playing around with multiple ideas, they decided to open a platform like Kilagbe which will work as a personal assistant to the residents of Sylhet.
"Start-ups based on clothing lines have demand everywhere. But our idea was a little different. We were not sure if people would welcome it," said Nabil.
Starting in March, 2019, they have so far received a very good response. Homemakers and elderly citizens appreciated their initiative. Besides, to their surprise, they got 200 fixed corporate customers in offices. They also have a good demand in hostels.
They have a team of 10 members and around 1,000 products in their marketplace.
With a view to increase their services, they have included laundry in their list as well.
People were yet to get accustomed to their service when the coronavirus pandemic broke out. During the pandemic, although they lost their corporate customers, their service became popular across households.
Now, they are thinking of including a few more services.
Other than Kilagbe there is another similar platform in Sylhet named "ebaroo" which, in addition to popular services like grocery and food, offers electronic servicing and accessories as well.
Both Ebaroo and Kilagbe say they are creating employment in the city. Muballigur Nabil said, during the coronavirus pandemic they received around 500 CVs for the post "rider" and delivery person.
"Every year hundreds of graduates and young people run to Dhaka for employment. This is where start-ups like us can help by creating employment. This way we can also start the decentralisation process that will reduce pressure on Dhaka city," he said.
Khaas Food in Dhaka, Chottogram, and Cumilla
During his childhood, AMM Habibul Mustafa was always moving to different places as his father was a government employee. He grew up in fresh air and in uncontaminated environment.
Disturbed by growing media reports of food adulteration, he wanted to do something about it. To him, adulterated food is a "silent killer" of human beings.
While he was a student of Dhaka University, he became friends with people with similar concerns.
It was in 2015 when the idea of start-ups was getting popular. He, along with his two other friends, started their business with a capital of two lakh takas, which they saved up from their monthly expenditure.
Their motto was to promote unadulterated food. They started with small things like honey, black seeds, ghee, etc. They used one of their friends' houses as their storehouse.
Eventually, their services started gaining customers' attention. They grew within a short span of time; starting off with five people, now, they have a team of 100+ people.
When the business flourished in Dhaka, they decided to start their services in cities outside Dhaka.
"Food adulteration is not a problem just in Dhaka. Sometimes, we concentrate only on Dhaka while addressing this issue. People outside Dhaka, in smaller cities, suffer from food adulteration too" said Habibul Mustafa.
He said they expanded their business outside Dhaka because they wanted to create a collective awareness against this cause.
One can order online from their website and can also visit their nearby outlet. In cities like Narayanganj, Gazipur, Mymensingh, and Barishal, they do not have outlets but have their agents.
As their motto is to deliver organic food to your doorstep, anyone can order food from their website or Facebook page. They deliver products through courier services or through their appointed agents in cities.
Speaking of their business, they said that it was a little hard to convince people of their authenticity. "Our prices are higher than the market. This is because we do not use regular fertilisers in our products, and the production takes longer time and prices go high automatically," they said.
But they are hopeful of their business. They are currently working with 70 farmers and producing 150+ products.
They intend to include new produces among their range of products and expand their business as well.
Their plan is to open outlets in every city of the country.
Mustafa believes other than creating awareness on unadulterated food, Khaas Food will also reassure people of product quality outside Dhaka. The motto for them is to prove that, not only Dhaka, any city can be developed if we can invest in the right place.
Bd Assistant, Rangpur
To fight the very notion of major facilities being available only in Dhaka, two students of Begum Rokeya University - Abu Sayed and Al Sagor founded BD Assistant.
Their business model is similar to Sylhet's Kilagbe and ebaroo.
They have 22 home services including grocery delivery, electronic servicing, plumbing services, carpentry services, etc. It is because of the quality of their service, they have become a reliable name in Rangpur.
They are planning to introduce their services in Rajshahi and Bogura.
According to Sayed and Sagor, it is high time to break the stereotypical presentation of cities outside Dhaka. Start-ups on innovative ideas can improve the images of these cities and in the process, contribute to decentralisation.
According to Sajid Amit, Associate Professor, ULAB, and Director, ULAB EMBA Program it is very much possible for start-ups to contribute to overall development because advertising and reaching people have become easier in this digital era.
However, it will be better for entrepreneurs if they remain careful of a few things when they are operating outside Dhaka.
"In smaller cities people have their transactions based on community kinship. So the entrepreneurs should concentrate on that. Other than online activities and involvement in social media, they should run offline campaigns to gain the trust of the community people," he said.
Community leaders can play a role in this, believes Sajid Amit.
"Out of box thinking, regional adaptation and modification can help business grow outside Dhaka and contribute to overall development" he said.