It was mid-2017. Two Bangladeshis, Fahad Ifaz and Munimul Islam, were living and working in Myanmar. Munimul was there managing the Carmudi venture of Rocket Internet in Myanmar as well as in the Bangladeshi market. Fahad was working on some Care Australia and USAID projects. They were old acquaintances as they played football together during their university days.
They had made some acquaintances in Myanmar and they would come and ask him, "You have tech talents in Bangladesh, we need a few tech developers or solutions, could you connect me with someone." And that is when the idea of starting a tech solution startup struck Fahad. They teamed up with another of their old football buddies Jamil Mohiuddin Akbar and Jamil's coworker Shuvo Rahman.
Munimul had experience in telecom and startups; Fahad had development sector experience; Jamil was working in Maya and Shuvo, right after graduating from BUET in Computer Engineering, had just joined Maya. These ragtag band of misfits founded a startup befittingly called Misfit Technologies.
Misfit Tech refers to itself as a design innovation and technology company providing solutions and platforms for multiple industries. From the early days of struggling for funds to becoming a Singapore based company that has eyes set on becoming a global powerhouse, Misfits tech has come a long way.
The early days
The biggest challenge of the early days was that they had work but could not grow for lack of capital and resources. "Initially, we invested out of our own pockets. I invested all my savings into the business," said Munimul.
But after some angel investors showed their trust in them and invested in Misfits, things started to change. They received investments from the likes of Mahboob Rahman Ruhel, a renowned businessman who owns organisations like Star Cineplex, Peninsula Hotels, among others. And in a few months their team grew to 40 and they have never looked back since.
What do they do
Misfits provide technology platforms and on-demand solutions. They have been serving clients in Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe. Over the last few years, Misfits Tech has been offering solutions to leading telcos, FMCGs, financial institutions, e-commerce, and startups.
The services they offer are On-Demand Solutions: Tailor made solutions as per the client's requirement. They also provide offshore technical development, support and maintenance teams on either dedicated or project basis. They provide a wide range of other services like Website Development Service, Mobile Apps Development and Gamifications Services, Chat Application and Chatbot Development, UI/UX Design, Wireframing and Design for Web and Mobile, Database Management and Data Migration Service, and Quality Assurance.
They work with a lot of cutting-edge technologies. Their team has worked with Blockchain, IBM Watson, Facial Recognition, IoT, Big Data, AI and Machine Learning.
Around 57 people work in their office located in Banani. They have a team of 30 in India, around 30 in Myanmar and 15-16 in Thailand. They also have teams in Singapore and Indonesia. The once ragtag band of Misfits is now a family of 120 and growing.
A Singaporean company with a Bangladeshi soul
Misfits Tech is headquartered in Singapore.
When asked even though their roots lie in Bangladesh, why is Misfits a Singapore based company, Munimul had this to say, "Firstly, if you think about countries like Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, in terms of digital penetration and technological advancement they are far ahead of Bangladesh. So, you learn a lot while you make tech for them.
Secondly, their payment structure is very good. We do all our billings from Singapore. When I registered Misfits with the authority, I made it into a Singaporean company. Although the tech comes from Bangladesh, the company acts as a Singaporean business entity.
And it makes things very transparent. It is much easier to do business in Singapore. The clients also prefer that. The Singaporean laws and accounting are very transparent and much more straightforward.
Thirdly, getting business overseas is much easier than getting business in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh when we go for any request for proposal (RFP) we are still considered a local company and they would probably still treat us as a local company."
When they participate in any tender outside Bangladesh they are treated as a foreign company or a Singaporean entity.
"We bid with the likes of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) or Tech Mahindra or Wipro or IMI or Freshchat; these are our foreign competitors. This is the type of competition we face when we go and bid outside, but we still win," says Munimul with a hint of pride.
When they go for a tender outside of Bangladesh in countries like Singapore, Thailand or Indonesia Misfits are treated with the same respect shown to any giant corporation. But in Bangladesh, they are treated as a small vendor.
"There is also a tendency to prefer foreign companies just for the sake of it. So, when we go and bid, they don't treat us the same as foreign companies. So, getting business in Bangladesh is still quite challenging. So that is why my core focus was always outside of Bangladesh and it has worked out splendidly for us. It's not just the ease of getting and doing business but also about the respect you get," said Munimul.
A look at their portfolio reveals that most of Misfits' clients are international. About 70% of their clients are from overseas.
"I work with Telenor. I give them solutions in multiple countries. The moment I go and pitch to their local counterpart I am considered a local vendor. So then getting the business for me becomes very challenging.
They will not pay me in USD or SDG, but if they take the same solution from Wipro or Tech Mahindra, they are willing to incur a higher cost and pay up in a foreign currency. But I am competing and winning against these very same companies outside of Bangladesh," laments Munimul.
According to the Misfits CEO, it is probably a mindset gap we have in Bangladesh. He believes It is a challenge local startups need to overcome and is hopeful that one day we indeed will. But that does not mean Misfits doesn't have clients in Bangladesh; Au contraire, they have big clients in Bangladesh like BAT, Unilever, etc.
The future of Misfits
The nature of their business meant Misfits were not that affected by Covid-19. The countries they mostly operate in had high digital demand and the technological adaptation was much higher compared to most other countries so the wheels kept moving. Their main issue was they could not expand themselves to new markets.
Munimul explained, "Let's say we build a product and it is a KYC (know your customer) product. If we build this software for one company in one country for a particular industry, the back end software is universal and you can take it and make it work in any country and sell it there. But the idea was we would enter more markets in south and southeast Asia. But during the Covid period, we couldn't open up in as many markets as we wanted to."
In the short-term Misfits hopes to get a strong foothold in the Asia Pacific region and play with new and upcoming technologies.
Munimul said, "The short-term plan for the next five years is that we want to be a major regional player in both south and southeast Asia. And also focus a little bit on the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) side of things. If we can cover the Asia Pacific region, we will have a foothold in 10-11 countries where we have our team, clients and base."
Since 5G is being launched in so many countries there will be a lot of new technologies that will evolve, thanks to 5G. Technologies like AR, VR and the meta concept that Microsoft and Facebook are working on are also coming up. These are the technologies they want to work with. They still do a lot of R&D projects.
Misfits' long-term goal would be to be a global company. "We want to compete with the big companies on the global stage," said their CEO.
Munimul has not lived in Bangladesh for some time now but he still follows the local startup scene closely. He thinks now is a good time to launch a startup. To him a startup can be anything, it does not have to be a tech firm. Any good business idea which can make money and grow very fast, which can be scaled up rapidly is a startup according to him.
"If anybody wants to do it, they should just do it. Doesn't matter what your background is, what qualifications you have, who or what you know, even whether you have the money or not."
The reason is a huge amount of investment has been coming into Bangladesh from angel investors and venture capitalists (VC), and the government is also funding ventures through the ICT ministry. There are VCs like BD angels and Anchorless who focus solely on the Bangladeshi market. Therefore, getting the necessary funds should not be too difficult if the concept is good.
Munimul remarked hopefully, "There is so much interest in the Bangladesh market now. Shopup, Chaldal, Pathao, Shohoz and many others have done very well [in terms of raising capital]. Taking a look at the trend there is a lot of international focus on the Bangladesh market as well.
So now is a great time for anybody with an entrepreneurial mindset to start a business. Yes, there will be challenges but I believe they will be able to figure out a way to overcome these challenges."
"If you want to be a good leader, my advice to you would be to stop thinking about challenges. Just go out there and try. You might fail at the beginning but if you keep trying you will succeed eventually," he concluded.