After working as a freelancer for almost eight years, Ashiqur Rahman shifted towards game development.
He worked alone at the beginning but after meeting his classmates Minhaj Uddin Chowdhury and Ahnaf Rahat at North South University who shared similar interests with him, he decided to build a team.
Seven to eight months were spent on game development but soon they realised that just knowing how to create games was not sufficient. The market was different now. They also needed to understand how the business works.
"We decided to sell the games we developed and we sold 59 games. When we earned USD35,000 revenue, it inspired us to further explore the market for digital assets such as games or other apps. We saw that nobody else was working on it in Bangladesh and then the concept of AuctionVilla gradually came to us," said Ashiqur, the founder and CEO of AuctionVilla.IO.
What is AuctionVilla.IO?
Simply put, AuctionVilla.IO is a marketplace for digital assets. Instead of developing digital products from scratch, users can buy or sell ready-made products here. Currently, the platform is dealing with mobile apps with a plan to expand towards other digital assets in future.
At the moment, it is offering auctions for android apps. So sellers would need to either publish their app in Google Play market or have one already there. Then they would need to register an account with AuctionVilla.IO.
Whoever places the highest bid till the end, wins the auction. Sellers can put a fixed price and buyers can buy an asset right away without competing with other bidders. They can communicate with sellers anytime for further explanation or questions.
Upon winning an auction, the fund should be deposited into a safe escrow account.
Although the market for freelancing and outsourcing is quite advanced in Bangladesh, we do not have a reliable marketplace of our own.
Foreign freelance marketplaces dominate the scene and sometimes seem to act like monopolies.
Freelance professionals from Bangladesh have the necessary skills to thrive in global markets but a lack of capital and opportunities hinder them from having a sustainable career.
AuctionVilla.IO is trying to change this situation so that freelance professionals can turn their service-based business into a product-based one.
Ashiqur said, "Instead of depending on foreign clients for projects, they can develop their own products and sell them to buyers at a reasonable price for both parties through auctions.
"The clients no longer need to chase freelancers for getting a product done from scratch but can own what is already available to kick start their business. The concept inspires true entrepreneurship for both ends."
The freelancers are also able to create a brand identity as an esteemed product developer.
Minhaj is co-founder and lead backend engineer and Ahnaf is co-founder and lead product engineer at AuctionVilla.IO. The team also includes Ashiqur's wife Toha An Najiat as the lead of operations along with two other new recruits.
Offshoring to bypass bureaucratic bottleneck
AuctionVilla.IO was formally registered in June 2020. It is incorporated in Estonia through the e-residency programme which made the company registration a fairly easy process and it quickly got accepted into the Startup Estonia visa programme.
He said, "At present, our primary market is Bangladesh but we may physically move to Estonia. Till now, we have achieved quite a few things, got recognised by Estonia, and became a part of NSU Startups Next where we received very good mentorship. But our dream is to grow bigger and get higher recognition, which is why we may move to another country in the future."
AuctionVilla is currently at the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) stage. The auction and app listing feature are at an operational stage.
Their beta programme had 500 plus users and the public version was released on December 16. Most of the features are now available and the version is operational.
"Our investment target is USD100k, already we have raised USD20k and most of our investors are San Francisco based. Our Bangladeshi registration process is going on," Ashiqur informed The Business Standard.
Lamenting about the long and bureaucratic registration process and lack of investment, the AuctionVilla team said, "In Bangladesh, company registration goes on for weeks whereas, in Estonia, it took us only two hours. New ideas are not always encouraged here. Moreover, the freelance market is huge in our country, but it is not ours," he added.
"This is why product development skill is not expanding and there are very few researches going on. But our freelancers are experts in their own fields and we can easily engage in product development from Bangladesh and become app exporters. Our ecosystem is very developed and we have qualified people who work very well," continued Ashiqur.
A fresh idea
Talking with The Business Standard, Rahat Ahmed, founding partner and CEO, Anchorless Bangladesh and the senior advisor of NSU Startups Next, said, "What AuctionVilla is doing is quite fascinating."
"They provide local developers and people around the world a mutually beneficial opportunity. This proves that the market potential is much larger than just local consumers."
Ryan Cartwright, lead investor, AuctionVilla.IO and the head of enterprise delivery, WW FinServ & Strategic Partnerships, Armory.io, said, "AuctionVilla is trying to establish firm control over the virtual assets space, starting with mobile apps and games. We have already seen how the world is transitioning into a virtual one. The fact that a virtual asset marketplace will thrive in the near future is inevitable. As the platform's lead investor, I have strong confidence that AuctionVilla will turn into a successful venture."
Ashiqur's advice for young entrepreneurs like him is to dream big but begin in a linear process and continue in an organised manner. "Follow the process part-by-part while sticking to your own creativity, only then things would become easier."