Ever wonder why Bangladesh is so data-poor? When it comes to numbers and statistics, some say this country is a graveyard of data, some would say sufficient data culture was never born here in the first place.
The readymade garments sector, the country's single biggest export earner, also lacks a data-driven decision-making mechanism and companies largely rely on top brass' intuition based decisions.
To make a difference in the RMG sector's traditional decision-making process and to develop business intelligence solutions, smart factory management tools and also skill up its marketing expertise, Merchant Bay, a start-up, was launched a year ago.
The Business Standard recently sat down with its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abrar Hossain Sayem to learn more about the start-up's background stories, how it works and its mission.
Sayem joined his family business, Sayem Group, in 2014 after completing his higher education in Australia's Macquarie University.
He researched merchandising and realised that Bangladesh lacks marketing expertise.
"Especially in consideration of the competition coming from Vietnam and other emerging countries, our marketing needs upskilling," Sayem told The Business Standard.
However, Sayem said that while researching RMG marketing, they realised that "our overall efficiency in running companies is also low compared to the global benchmark."
One of the reasons they found is "our intuition based decision-making. We try to solve a problem based on our past experiences. We do not pinpoint the exact problem. We don't have exact data. We don't see the numbers while globally any business would run by data and numbers."
This is where the conception of Merchant Bay emerged.
"Our question was, so much data is generated in garments every day, why cannot we analyse the data in our decision-making? Then we realised we need software to develop a data-driven RMG sector," said the CEO. And that is how the idea of Merchant Bay was conceptualised.
Sayem said that the existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to digitise industries is not cost-effective since it requires the digitisation of the entire company. "It is a big challenge and companies cannot sustain this. Since we are a labour-intensive manufacturing unit, digitising the entire system is not a matter of joke."
"So, our thought was to provide digitisation step by step."
What is Merchant Bay and how it works
The software that this start-up is taking pride in is called Merchant Bay Software as a Service (SaaS). It provides 'business intelligence' tools to Bangladeshi garments manufacturers for efficient orders and factory management.
The Merchant Bay business intelligence tools help the factory to make data-driven decisions. Every data that enters into the software integrates together to give analytics on factory KPIs and automatically prepares multiple reports that the management needs to see.
Every day RMG factory generates lots of valuable data which either enters into an excel spreadsheet or paper. However, having them enter in the same way to Merchant Bay software instead of excel makes the data organised into visualised reports and works as key indicators of performance.
This way, all stakeholders of the factory can benefit in monitoring, managing and decision-making. The software can be used for a single department or an entire factory. Each department's module is released one after another so that the factory does not have to take the challenge of digitising the whole factory at a time. Instead, they can do it one by one, and the modules will integrate with one another.
The manufacturers can also maintain their digital presence by uploading their company profiles on the Merchant Bay site. They can connect with other manufacturers, buyers and supply chains like raw materials suppliers, textile accessories, and sourcing requests.
So, it is connecting them with customers and also with internal stakeholders.
"We have around 1,400 registered suppliers including wholesalers, fabric, accessories manufacturers and importers, and around 700 RMG factories. We encourage all the manufacturers in Bangladesh to open their digital company profile," Sayem said.
"Through this profile, a customer can knock them.
Suppose a foreign company can send a quotation for a T-shirt order detailing the required certification from the expected companies with an expected delivery date. The quotation will reach the companies on our platform with proper certification. We will reach out to companies that this customer is looking for, would like to submit a quotation?" Sayed added.
The customers can manage orders to executions of the order through Merchant Bay tools online.
We asked the CEO if he would like to compare Merchant Bay like the LinkedIn or Upwork of garments companies. He said it is rather like the Ali Baba of the RMG industry.
Still in buds, a long way to flourish
The Merchant Bay software, however, has been tested only in 10 companies in the last two months. They are improving their software based on the clients' feedback.
At present, they are offering a month of free trial for their software. "The companies need to be satisfied with our software or else we cannot make revenues," Sayem added.
To begin with, Sayem launched the software in their family factories to experiment. "In the past, I would make five phone calls and 20 pages of a diary to understand what is happening in my factory, but the software made it easy. I can realise what is happening just by looking at the monitor and the error rate is also reduced."
"Our revenue model requires a subscription fee to promote companies on our site. But for now, we are not taking any subscription fees. We will not charge them anything this year or the next year," Sayem added.
However, if a customer wants to tag their merchandising services for a particular order through the Merchant Bay site, they charge a commission from the buyers based on the quotation price. If the buyers decide to work with the factory, they don't charge anything.
A team of 25 people, Merchant Bay, for now, is a small start-up with a big dream that is continuously working for solutions and a data-driven RMG sector.