The State of Startups in Dhaka

Dhaka City

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:

HackHouse Office

HackHouse 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.

So what's your product again?

So what’s your product again?

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.

4. Hype
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.

5. Hartals
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.

10 comments on “The State of Startups in Dhaka
  1. Hasan Mahmud says:

    Loved the writeup. Very much informative and inspirational. Would love to see more post from you. All the best for HackHouse

  2. Masud says:

    Hey Fahim, Great writeup, some not so often told stories about startup scenarios in Dhaka, which can only realised by someone who is actually working in a Dhaka based startup. I would like to add that, there are some positive things going on as well, for example, Founder Institute (https://fi.co) is running a session in Dhaka this year. Hopefully, we will get more similar accelerator or incubator programs in near future, that will help maturing up the ecosystem and in the end resulting to attract more successful startups in Dhaka.

  3. Khadem Yusuf says:

    Good article. I agree with your most of the observation. I came back to Bangladesh
    after 17 years in USA and did 2 successful startups in Bangladesh.
    I am surprised that it took your company 6 months to setup as a foreign investment
    company. We setup a joint venture company under 2 months. It can be done within
    6 weeks. When you are in Dhaka we will have a meeting. We can help you to get through
    all of these obstacles.

  4. Ali Islam says:

    Respect for the start up in BD. These issues are the reasons so much talent and business is going to waste. Yet there is still so much in comparison to the rest of the world, in my opinion it is still vastly profitable to do business in growing sectors even with the hardships. Although the most damaging hardship has to be Hartals and politically motivated sabotage of businesses. During my 3 year journey and experience in Bangladesh from 2011-2014, I have to say you took the words right out of my mouth. So much threat to safety, yet I am still highly motivated to invest my time and money and ideas into Bangladesh. Insha’Allah by the time I return, the political landscape will be revolutionized.

  5. Well , that was quite inspirational …. can you share more with us in near future ?

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  1. […] This piece originally appeared on Fahim’s blog. To find out more about HackHouse, visit http://www.hackhou.se. More of Fahim Saleh at http://www.fahims.com. […]

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