Maliha M Quadir, the founder of Shohoz, has been recognised as one of the top female founders in the world. In an interview with The Business Standard, she shared her views on how Bangladesh could attract investors from abroad
A woman's role in the society, as Maliha M Quadir put it, has always been deemed as a "caregiver" since the prehistoric era.
She mentioned how primitive men used to go out and hunt animals while their wives had to stay inside dark caves.
On Sunday, Businessfinancing.co.uk, a business finance and lending research and information website publisher, announced a list of top female founders.
Maliha made it to the list along with 107 female entrepreneurs from all over the world.
For Maliha, her "top female founder" tag is a testament that Bangladeshi women are rewriting the social codes which once forbade them from going outside and working on their own.
"It is always a pleasure to see the name of Bangladesh on an international platform. It is a win for all Bangladeshi women and not just me," Maliha said on her recognition as the top female founder in Bangladesh.
She partly attributes this success to her team at Shohoz – the start-up she built with sky high ambition.
In 2014, Shohoz started out as an online ticketing platform.
Within six years, the company has branched out into ridesharing, food delivery, trucking and now - health consultancy.
US-based research organisation CB Insight featured Shohoz as one of the most well-funded start-ups in Asia.
Shohoz could easily expand its verticals after receiving an impressive funding of $15 million from Golden Gate Ventures, a Singapore-based venture capital firm.
In 2018, start-up and technology news portal TechCrunch dubbed Shohoz as the "Grab" of Bangladesh for its ridesharing service.
Halfway through 2020, it would be an understatement to call Shohoz just a ridesharing start-up since its service is no longer confined within transportation.
According to Maliha, a lot of hard work is the reason Shohoz could lift off and thrive.
"Shohoz is built by the people who work here, and they are doing a tremendous job. I have never compromised when it came to hiring the right people," she said.
After graduating from Smith College in the US, Maliha worked in Nokia, Standard Chartered and Vistaprint.
She had two choices: Either settle abroad and have a respectable job, or, come back to Bangladesh and try to explore business opportunities.
She chose the latter.
Speaking of women in leading positions, Maliha said that she is proud that Bangladesh is being led by a female head of government.
However, for women in business, she shed some light on a grim reality.
"To get their due recognition and acclaim, women in general have to work harder than men," Maliha opined.
She also thinks that while men can mostly get away with their faults at work, it is not the same for women.
She stressed on the importance of highlighting female entrepreneurs, but she believes that the way Bangladesh is being showcased to the western world also needs to be changed.
"To be honest, Bangladesh does not yet have a clean image in front of western countries," Maliha said. "The international companies would only invest in our country once they get to see the real scenario."
Maliha mentioned Henry Kissinger's anecdote where he infamously called post-independence Bangladesh a "bottomless basket".
She said, "We have come a long way from being labelled as such, but does the developed world know it yet?"
"To many foreign investors, we are still a country of poverty and flood," Maliha said, but she also suggested a solution to change things.
"It is simple. Why do companies hire PR agencies? Because they want to enhance their reputation among their peer groups. To think of Bangladesh as a brave new world of business we have to uphold its goodwill among potential investors," Maliha said.
She explained, "Companies hire PR agencies for growth, Bangladesh should too. My suggestion would be to hire an international agency to rebrand the business image of Bangladesh. We would see interviews, advertisements, and other positive aspects of Bangladesh on international media."
We asked her if she had her own Aladdin's lamp, what would she wish for to change the business situation in Bangladesh?
Maliha replied, "I would change the three things that are posing as obstacles for growth. One, the local workforce needs to adopt critical thinking as a professional skill. Unfortunately, our education system does not foster such capability."
"Two, I would enforce better work ethics among professionals. It is partly missing in the professional world of Bangladesh. Three, which I mentioned earlier, would be to rebrand Bangladesh's business image to foreigners," she said.
"Do you have any regrets in your career?" We tossed our final question to Maliha.
"I do," she said, "I could not get into Harvard as an undergrad. But that is not really a big regret since years later I did my MBA from Harvard Business School."
Both Harvard and Shohoz have spurred moments of joy for Maliha.
She has proved that good things indeed happen to those who wait for the right time and seize the day.