In 1999, Antu Karim was studying Computer Science and Engineering at Pune University in India. That was when he first decided he wanted to be a businessman.
On October 1 of the same year, Antu and four of his friends launched a company named Pentagon that supplied stationeries to different organisations.
"We could assemble computers. So we started to supply computers to different customers," said Antu.
Antu is better known to most people as an actor and model. He became a familiar face to audiences through music videos such as 'Ek Jibon' and television dramas like 'Production Number 8'. But not many people know that Antu is also an extremely successful entrepreneur and managing director of Pentagon International Limited that imports a number of goods, including stationery and baby care products, and delivers them all around the country.
The company recently secured a location at an industrial zone and plans to go into manufacturing very soon. On October 1, the company celebrated its 21st founding anniversary.
The Business Standard talked to him recently about how it all started.
"There was a pressure from our families to sit for BCS examinations or at least securing a stable job. That pressure increased when we sought capital from our families to run the business. Two of our friends left the team then," Antu remembers.
"While supplying stationeries, I discovered that there was a shortage of good quality pens in our country. But a pen is something which is very essential to everyone. When I was in India, I used many nice pens. I talked to my friends about it. They also showed interest in investing in the business."
"We travelled to Boro Bazar in Kolkata. At that time, I did not know much about import. We bought pens from a trader of Boro Bazar and brought the pens back home. We sold the pens to a trader at Chawkbazar in Old Dhaka. We saw a huge demand for pens here. Cello and Montex pens entered Bangladesh via us," he continued.
But it was not possible to bring pens that way for a long time, added Antu.
A businessman from Kolkata suggested they open a letter of credit (LC) to import the stationeries in large quantities.
But Antu and his friends did not know how to open an LC or how to communicate with a company directly.
"Then, a bank official came forward to help us. But it required capital. At that time, two of our friends left the business," Antu said.
"I was also supposed to give up. My family could not help me financially. But I stuck to my decision to do business. Later, I borrowed some money from one of my friend's father on certain conditions," Antu continued with his story.
After that, they contacted different foreign companies through email.
They contacted 15 different companies. Meanwhile, a company of Lexi brand's pen showed interest in holding a meeting with them abroad.
"It was a great achievement for us that a foreign company offered to meet us. We went there with great enthusiasm and held the meeting. Gradually, we started to understand everything about the business," said Antu.
After that, Pentagon International Limited did not have to look back. But the problem was many other firms began to import pens from India following Pentagon's ventures.
The market of pens became unstable. So, they had to stop doing business with their Indian counterparts.
At that time, they had an office in Lalmatia. They contacted several companies in Thailand and talked to a Thai company named Nan Mee, from where they imported all types of stationery items from the brand Horse.
Antu said they supplied the products to all parts of the country. Gradually, they developed relations with different embassies. Besides, banks also worked with them.
They started taking business tours across the globe. This way, they continued the business till 2007.
"When our network developed, we thought to shift from stationery items to other products. So, we started to study about baby care products from 2007 to 2009. In 2009, we contacted Lion Corporation of Japan, which is famous for baby care products.
We started to import the company's Kodomo brand items. Still, we are selling these products all over the country," Antu informed.
"Now, 300 people work at Pentagon, who make sure our products reach different parts of the country," Antu added.
Pentagon International Limited has secured a place in an industrial zone. Very soon, it is going to manufacture products at home. Each item of Japan's Lion brand will be produced in the country.
In addition, Pentagon is now working on jute-made products. They want to export home-grown jute-based products to every corner of the world.
Antu once worked at different places – including banks and software companies - before he settled as a businessman. His passion for the media, however, has never left him.
Around a decade ago, a music video of Antu was highly appreciated. He became known to people for the music video "Ek Jibon". Shahid and Shuvomita gave voice to the song.
After that, Antu worked in around 15 music videos, one after another, as a model. He acted in around 50 tv dramas. He even produced dramas and films.
"I have worked in theatre as a child. My father, Mostafa, played a small role in the first talkie of Bangladesh 'Mukh O Mukhosh'. It was a great inspiration for me. While in school, I formed a musical band. From 2001, I started working in ramp shows. Then, from 2007, I started doing choreography. In 2005, I worked in 'Production Number 8' - the first play of my life. Koushik Shankar Das directed it. I produced a film named 'Common Gender' in 2008.
Antu is going to produce a film for children and wishes to continue his business with honesty for as long as possible.
"During the Covid-19 pandemic, not a single employee of my organization was fired. I do not want to even do it in the future. I want to continue my work with the love and good wishes of all. 300 people are now working in my organization, but I want to increase the number to 2,000 within the next two years. I am working to fulfil this aim," said Antu.