I started a company recently in Dhaka called HackHouse. We have an amazing office located in Banani. It is more of an experiment for me to see what can be done out of this country of raw talents. There is a buzz in the air. A buzz that will eventually turn into the wave we see in India: billion dollar tech startups, flowing foreign investment, and a spotlight on a country that is often overlooked. It may not fully reveal itself for another 5 years but I am sure excited to be a part of it. HackHouse is all about finding the best f**king talent Dhaka has to offer. Just checkout this office:
Its an awesome place to work from. We have great perks. Highly-competitive salaries. Free lunch. Ping pong table. Plenty of junk food. But the most important thing is to create an amazing culture people want to be a part of, thats the hardest part, and I’m definitely still working on that. But as excited as I am about the Dhaka tech scene, there are a few things that concern me:
1. Regulatory rules are slowing business
It took me 6 months to set up a foreign investment company so I could properly send funds to Dhaka. During this time it was incredibly frustrating to send payments and I had to do several work arounds with paying through Western Union and other means. Why is it so damn hard to start a business? And why is everything so complicated and messy? My finance guy is spending every waking hour of his day going bank to bank to fill out reports. Thats his full time job and we’re only an office of 10 people! Bangladesh – you want people to be focusing on the business, not adhering to inefficient rules. Furthermore, there are numerous regulations that stifle competition, and in turn produce inefficient markets. The telecom market is highly regulated, which I found out first hand. There are numerous price floors that are set by the government, which usually ensures competition is limited and big players can always stay ahead. If you want innovation, you need to let people compete on an even playing ground.
2. Lack of focus
Asians have a tendency to start conglomerate types of businesses. It first starts with a plastic factory, then the brother runs the garment factory, then the cousin starts an IT consulting firm. This is traditionally how many of the largest businesses in Bangladesh have grown. But when it comes to technology, it moves too fast, you cant’ do too much at once. You need to focus on one single thing and do it brilliantly, better than anyone else. What I’m seeing is startups that say they are making a product/service but then the mission is clouded with the offerings of other secondary services: IT consulting, digital marketing, server hosting, sms marketing, you name it.
This not only confuses your end user but does not let the entrepreneur devote a proper amount of time and thinking into what should be a killer product.
3. Lack of experience/proof
There are few very tech startups in Dhaka that are doing well. Most are losing money and many have no idea what the roadmap for a tech company should be. Many are advised by people that have have no real technology experience and no wins under their belts as far as past successes/exits. So in turn, this is putting alot of bad knowledge out into the scene. Just saying, if you’re a pastry maker, you have no place advising a technology company.
Tons of people want to work for a startup, not because they want to learn or because it is what truly interests them but because its cool. While there is something to be said about creating a movement to make tech cool, in the end you just have a lot of posers who just say they want to be entrepreneurs, without the actual chutzpah (working on my Yiddish) to follow through. Its noise and makes it harder for investors to find the gems.
Can yall stop this dumb shit already?
All in all, Dhaka is a great place to be. Even with these potential issues, I see a bright future ahead for this city of 15 million and growing.