The news came as a bolt from the blue for Mahboob Hossain.
On a late September morning, Mahboob, an associate director of the Bangladesh office of Nielsen, was getting prepared for just another work-day—setting up a laptop, and readying the day's files to brief his team members over a zoom meeting. The Covid-19 pandemic had forced all the Nielsen employees to work from home from March last year.
Then an email flashed on his screen. The regional headquarter has called up a 'Town Hall' with all the employees on September 30. In Nielsen parlance, a Town Hall refers to a meeting in which the company employees log in, virtually, to discuss policy level matters with regional high-ups. That September 30 meeting had something unusual though.
"Each and every member of our Retail Measurement Service (RMS) unit was marked in the invitation where the South Asia head and Asia head of Nielsen were also included. Generally such high level officials do not send any invitation to such low level of employees, down to the auditor level," Mahboob told The Business Standard.
A murmur began to circulate among the employees of the RMS unit. They tried to figure out the reason behind such a Town Hall. Word on the street was that the RMS unit of Nielsen in Bangladesh was probably going to shut down.
"I wouldn't say there wasn't any reason behind such speculation. In June last year, Nielsen shut down its operation in Nepal. Since that move, we got a vibe that there might be an impact on small revenue generating countries," Mahboob said.
But RMS unit of Nielsen's Bangladesh operation was a profitable one, Mahbbob added. "It is not that we were incurring losses, we had been making profit non-stop. So even though the thought of a shutdown of our unit flickered in our mind, we really didn't want to believe it."
Their worst fear however came true. At the September 30 meeting, they were informed—through a mixture of corporate jargons and euphemism—that the global office of Nielsen had decided to shut down its RMS operation in Bangladesh.
"We were given a three months' notice period till December 31," Mahboob said.
Why is RMS important?
Marketers of different products often struggle to bridge the void between the theoretical concepts taught in schools and the practical knowledge and understanding that is required in the industry.
To aid these brands and to bridge the gap, global companies like Nielsen offer RMS. The RMS tracks the sales of goods from retailers to consumers, at specific outlets in a predefined geographical area referred to as the retail universe.
In simpler words, RMS measures and tracks the sales information a company needs to garner a leading position in the marketplace. US-based Nielsen is a global leader in providing RMS.
"Nielsen takes pride that it covers most of the countries (over 100 countries) in the world sans the ones which are struggling with civil war, famine or other political turmoil," Mahboob told The Business Standard.
"Bangladesh obviously doesn't fit the criteria for its non-operation. In fact, in previous global meetings, the Nielsen high officials praised Bangladesh's operation and termed the country very important for its business. They were marking Bangladesh's remarkable economic rise as well," Mahboob said.
So, he said, the officials of the Bangladesh office of Nielsen were earlier convinced that Nielsen would never pull the plug in Bangladesh. "There might be some modifications, upgradation or restructuring. But honestly, we never thought of a shutdown. We were taken aback by that decision," he added.
After the declaration of shutdown, Mahboob was ruminating about his next career move. There is not a second company in Bangladesh which provides comprehensive RMS like Nielsen did. Market research industry is in fact very small and Nielsen was its lone dominant player.
"Some of us have been working here for two decades and the knowledge that we gathered about the local market and industry are invaluable. All will be lost if there isn't a company that provides RMS. With that thought in mind, I had taken a rather bold decision—I will form a new company which will keep continuing providing RMS to the local industry," said Mahboob.
The birth of Insight Metrics
The formation of a market research company is not something that can be done easily but Mahboob had one great resource for doing so—a ready human resource.
"All the former employees of Nielsen who haven't switched their jobs to other industries were available to me. I also wanted to form the new company on a humanitarian ground as, like I said earlier, that the research industry is a small one and job opportunities are not abundant," he said.
But only a ready human resource wouldn't suffice to form a new company unless there are clients.
"I immediately contacted some of the clients of Nielsen and told them there will be no RMS report after December. Industry needs market data to understand their sales. I talked with some senior people in the industry and asked them if they would support us if I take an initiative to restart and continue RMS here. Everyone gave me positive feedback and told me to go ahead. I got confidence upon their assurances," said Mahboob.
At the same time, there was a brief float in the market seeking a RMS provider in Bangladesh for 2021 by a leading company in Bangladesh (name withheld as per request) after they became aware of the major reshuffling in this field.
"That proposal reached me on October 11 and the deadline was October 13. Just a day earlier I had decided to form a company and we got the proposal the very next day. In two days, I came up with the name 'Insight Metrics' and filed for registration," said Mahboob.
Mahboob then contacted Nielsen South Asia head office and asked them to provide Insight Metrics with their sensitive data. After protracted negotiations over price points, Insight Metrics finally was being able to get the data from Nielsen.
"You have to understand that data is everything in this business. I was able to purchase the name and address of all 561,000 shops from Nielsen where they conduct their sales census," he said.
Mahboob said they purchased the largest ever shop census data in Bangladesh. "We received the back data for all the sales categories from January 2018. It provides me with the ability to show the comparison between all the categories to the industry."
As a company, Insight Metrics now has 80 permanent employees and 120 freelancers working on a regular basis for them. "We are financially sustainable and have been receiving funds from ORG India, who are our shareholder and investor," said Mahboob who now acts as the Managing Director of the company.