Everyone wants to stay in Dhaka for its amenities. When someone is transferred to any rural area in Bangladesh because of employment, they usually see it as a punishment.
This very notion was what moved Abu Sayed Al Sagor and Al-amin, two students of Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, who wanted to do something in their own city of Rangpur so that people who live there do not feel deprived.
Today, with an app called BD Assistant, they are providing a host of services – from grocery delivery to home services – under one umbrella to the people of Rangpur. Currently, they are providing 22 home services – including computer, air-conditioner, fridge, oven and car servicing with their expert mechanics, technicians, plumbers and carpenters – via their call centre, app and website.
At a time when people are not doing well and many entrepreneurs are thinking of closing down their business amid this pandemic, BD Assistant has added two more wings – BD Assistant fresh groceries and BD Assistant premium. The founders had been planning to add these two wings for the last few months, but the pandemic has made them do this earlier, with a view to making everyone's life easier.
And with these, they are getting immense response from their customers.
In BD Assistant fresh groceries, customers can buy groceries and medicines from their closest stores and have those delivered to their homes. Moreover, through BD Assistant premium, customers are buying fresh mangoes and litchis at reasonable prices. BD Assistant buys these groceries directly from farmers.
Joarder Jafor Sadique, assistant professor at Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur has started taking services from BD Assistant since the outbreak of coronavirus. He has not expected their services to be up to the mark. With their recently launched BD Assistant fresh groceries, he ordered a few items and the service was fine.
Next, he took a leap of faith and used the BD Assistant premium service to send Rangpur's popular Haribhanga mango to his family and in-laws' house.
"I did not expect such an amazing treatment. They wrapped each mango in a tissue paper and packed those properly. But they did not include the measurement of packaging in the total weight. The mangoes were fresh and selected very carefully. My family and in-laws were pleased and so was I," said a satisfied Sadique.
After that, he took a few more services from BD Assistant with confidence and recommended the platform to everyone.
The app is helping the residents of the north-western city enjoy many of the facilities that inhabitants of Dhaka are enjoying regularly. Replicating such models outside Dhaka can alleviate the sufferings of local residents, and help improve their lifestyle too.
"We want people to get the solutions to their problems in their native places. Someone does not need to visit Dhaka just to repair a laptop. Certainly, we cannot provide all the services, but have initiated a few and with those, we want to solve their problem of going to Dhaka every now and then," said Sagor, chief executive officer of BD Assistant.
People who are taking their services are considered members of BD Assistant family. They have 5,000 regular customers. Sagor said BD Assistant is providing them a smart life that can only be enjoyed in Dhaka.
In 2016, Sagor and Al-amin pitched the idea of BD Assistant at Brac Urban Innovation Challenge 2016 in the employment category, and became the national champion. Then they formed a team with Umma Kulsum Popi, chief marketing officer and Jobayer Sheikh, chief technology officer. Later, they got seed funding and incubation support from Brac, and started in 2017.
This is a service providing business model where customers pay the service charges, which vary for each service. When a customer places an order, BD Assistant's customer centre instantly looks for an available service provider, inform that person via phone and connect him with the customer. Normally, a customer receives the service within half an hour to three, though there is an option for urgent service too.
When providing services, BD Assistant contact people who are experts in their sectors. According to their expertise, experts are recruited as freelancers. Not only experts, newbie technicians can also work after their training period is over. Here, service providers receive an amount as per the deed.
BD Assistant is promoting such technicians who do not have their own place to work. After working under experts or completing the training sessions, they can start working here.
"Nowadays, youths are very enthusiastic and always want to do something significant though their thoughts are always Dhaka-centric. Why cannot we start something involving decentralisation? Someone needs to start that. So, here we go," said a confident Sagor.
In the beginning, it was not easy to make people habituated to home services. To make people comfortable, the duo started taking clients over phone, then social media, and then they introduced the app and the website to their customers.
After a year, they became quite popular and started providing around 500-700 services per month. They offer a variety of services for home and office – on demand or on a monthly basis.
"Earlier, due to the pandemic, people were not taking services. But it has resumed, and the response is pretty impressive. Even middle-aged people are placing orders using social media," stated Al-amin, chief operating officer of BD Assistant.
Furthermore, university students and dropouts also get the chance to complete their internship here and can start their career.
"Approximately, we have trained 20 dropped-out students. Dropping out does not mean an end of life. We want to give people hope so that they can start from the scratch," said Sagor.
They have introduced online internship opportunities too. Already, more than 100 interns from different parts of Bangladesh have grabbed that.
Shirajun Nahar, an intern at BD Assistant, said she was looking for a job after completing her education. As she was not skilled in any area, she was not getting any job. So, she decided to do an internship at BD Assistant as a computer technician, and is now hoping to be recruited somewhere soon.
As BD Assistant got much popularity, the founders planned to expand and were working in Rajshahi and Bogura. Due to the pandemic, they halted this for a while but are dreaming to expand in other cities too within the next two years, where a minimum 1,000 people will be recruited.
As recognition of their work, they have received Joy Bangla Youth Awards in 2018 in skill development and entrepreneurship sector.
"BD Assistant believes that developments need to happen everywhere and in every sphere of life. Therefore, people should encourage more start-ups like this which are launched outside Dhaka in order to facilitate decentralisation," said Al-amin.