Who is not aware of Facebook and Facebook Messenger, Yahoo News, as well as Amazon, which started off as an e-book platform?
These applications have become an integral part of our lives and brought people from all over the world together on one platform. Their simplicity have earned them worldwide popularity. But outside of these global platforms, there are many localised ones that cater to the specific needs of people from different regions, cultures and languages.
In China, Tencent QQ is popularly used as an instant messaging app and WeChat has become the Chinese Facebook. Even, India has made local apps like Sharechat that are commonly used instead of Facebook.
But how about a local version of these platforms? Now that is what Ridmik Labs is aiming to do. The company has already launched a news app and an e-book app and is also going to launch a messenger app and a social media app by the end of this year.
"We have already launched Ridmik News where national, international and breaking news – all the categories – are available to readers," informed Shamim Hasnath, founder and CEO of Ridmik Labs. "A tiny button on the Ridmik keyboard displays the icon for Ridmik News. Once a user clicks on that, it leads users to Ridmik news."
With Ridmik News, its future plan is producing original content. It has now one and a half million downloads and every month 250,000 people read it. Ridmik Labs plans to monetise this service, without disturbing its readers. So, they are still exploring the various modalities. Here, they publish news in Bangla so that it gets the attention of locals.
"Currently, we are just focusing on hyped news and publishing those in a few lines because we realised people mostly want the updates. We have also added an option for audio news. We are building a team of writers who will pursue different content. We dig up a topic only when we notice people have interest in that," said Shamim.
Ridmik Labs has also decided to showcase the talent of writers on their platform Boitoi, an e-book reader platform, where authors can self-publish. The only thing that writers need to do is design the book cover and then they are good to go. For each unit of sale, Ridmik receives a commission.
A few writers have already shown their trust in Boitoi, such as writer Rumana Baishakhi. She has recently published twelve of her books on this platform and ten more books are going to be exclusively published soon.
"I did trust the idea and the courage of these young people who are working relentlessly to make it piracy free, smoother and user friendly. I would say their hard work is paying off. People are buying books from here and many writers are now coming forward to publish their exclusive books here," she mentioned.
In future, books on this platform can be purchased with Ridmik's digital currency: Bits. However, on this basic concept, Boitoi is struggling as it is not a very popular concept in Bangladesh. They are struggling to bring readers, writers and publishers under the same platform. There are around 80 publishers and more than 100 writers here.
Boitoi is also accessible from Ridmik keyboard and offers an audiobook option for its readers. Over 1,800 books can be found here and of them, more than 300 are free. Around 40,000 people are using it on a monthly basis and 40% of them are regularly buying books from this platform.
How it all started
In 2012, during the month of Ramadan, Shamim got a month-long vacation. Back then, he was only a student of Computer Science and Engineering at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
Instead of enjoying the break, he started building a keyboard app that provides a phonetic Bengali keyboard. Back then, as an aspiring student, his only interest was coding and building different apps, where he could implement his learnings. During his long vacation, he created the Ridmik keyboard that is now well known to all of us and can perhaps be found in everyone's phone who writes Bangla on social media or direct messages.
"It is now one of the top communications apps in Bangladesh which has been downloaded more than 50 million times and has 25 million monthly active users. Interestingly, this app has been absolutely free for its users since the very beginning and it will be like this," Shamim hoped.
Ridmik keyboard was just the first step of Ridmik Labs. After teaming up with DataBird in 2018, they have raised US$5 million in seed money and are looking for Series A investment now. Today, around 25 people are working in the core team to build Ridmik Labs.
Kashef Rahman, chief executive officer of DataBird said, "We believe Ridmik Labs has the potential to dominate the market, especially among the youth. It is clear that we can reach out to Ridmik keyboard's 16 million daily users without any promotion for our other ventures. Basically, it made us interested to work with Ridmik. We are already a brand but we believe five years down the line, we will be on top of the list and dominate the local market."
Journey from Ridmik keyboard to Ridmik Labs
The journey of Ridmik Labs was not something planned. Shamim unknowingly built the app Ridmik keyboard and launched it. He was quite irregular in providing regular updates because back then, he was quite busy too. And he never had any vision about it either. Later, when he started getting users' feedback, he concentrated on updating the app frequently, yet it was not anything from a commercial perspective.
"Since the beginning, I was very sure not to monetise the app. Because, I wanted people to use this app more, so that we use Bangla on digital platforms like social media. Advertisements were the only reason that users lost interest in using Bengali keyboard. So, I refrained from that and kept working on how people can have a smoother experience. Moreover, we never collect any data of our users as we respect their privacy," said Shamim Hasnath.
After launching this app, he found many angel investors who only showed interest in monetising this app. As his interest never aligned with them, he could not move forward with his plan. So, he decided to go abroad to pursue higher studies. When he was about to leave, all of a sudden he received an email from Siamac Kamalie, the angel investor of Ridmik Labs, who showed interest in building things instead of monetising. Instantly, Shamim scrapped his plan to go abroad and that is how the Ridmik Labs started.
A future in Bangla
Some of the most used apps worldwide are Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. There are many other social media apps but none of them came close to beating these giants. Keeping this in mind, Ridmik Labs is planning to launch Ridmik messenger and BondhuBuzz. In fact, a few users are using their beta versions.
According to Shamim, as these apps have been developed specifically for the Bangladeshi people, features and utilities that the apps provide are also designed keeping our people in mind.
"For example, on the Bondhu Buzz app we have tried to create a safe environment to meet people and find friends. On the messenger app, the stickers and gifs that we have developed, should resonate very well with how we communicate with our friends. As people are already using the Ridmik Keyboard, they can accumulate our digital currency Bits as they type, and use those Bits to buy interesting and fun products on the messenger app. This is how it is going to be unique," uttered Shamim.
Interestingly, the messenger has more than 50 sticker packs. These sticker packs are created observing current social trends, memes and behaviours. Users can use these sticker packs spending Bits, which can be earned by using Ridmik messenger and Keyboard.