- NewsCred started its journey in 2007. This company, now rebranded as Welcome, has been recently acquired by Optimizely.
- Around 2012-13, they started collaborating with many international news sites (for example BBC) and licensing their stories to global platforms seeking relevant content.
- By 2015, they started developing software to help the marketers plan, collaborate and work better together. They are no longer into content creation and licensing. They sold that part of the business in 2020.
- In a little more than a decade of their journey, Welcome succeeded in raising nearly a hundred million dollars from venture capitalists and it is one of the leading 'marketing orchestration platforms' today.
When NewsCred started its journey in 2007, the concept of start-ups was new in Bangladesh. Unlike today where it seems like there are startups in every corner, only a few existed back then.
This company, now rebranded as Welcome, has recently been acquired by Optimizely, a global company that provides digital experience platforms software as a service.
What this means is that the company enables its clients to use the data provided by the consumers to create tailored promotions for them and test out new marketing techniques to determine which resonate the most with the consumers.
In an interview with The Business Standard, Welcome Co-Founder and Managing Director Shafqat Islam said that his company's exit was the biggest in the history of Bangladesh.
When TBS requested to put the amount in number, Shafqat said the number was in nine digits (more than $100 million) but declined to reveal the exact amount.
Welcome, one of the leading content marketing platforms today, was initially launched by "three nerdy Bangladesh kids who were total outsiders," as Shafqat explains it, as a fact-checking website.
Just as the name NewsCred suggests, the website would let the readers ask/vet the credibility of news. It was like a news aggregator where the readers could evaluate the credibility of a news story.
The founders, in the beginning, had little to no idea about content creation or marketing. But eventually, when big global platforms began to license content from them, they realised that it could be something bigger than what they ever thought of initially.
In case you are not familiar with the idea of content marketing, it deals with creating or licensing content like blog posts, videos, emails, graphics etc. for various companies.
Around 2012-13, they started collaborating with many international news sites (for example BBC) and licensing their stories to global platforms seeking relevant content.
"It was about helping the marketers. We would create content for them, or license the contents because the marketers would keep asking for more to publish that we did not have the in-house staff or the resources to create. So, we also used to provide content to them very much like an agency," said Shafqat, who has been featured by The New York Times and The Guardian.
"For example, let us say you are a marketer who has a brand about music, finance, or entertainment. We would license content for you from other big publishers and newspapers; all you had to do was just buy the existing content from us. As a result, you did not have to create everything from scratch," the managing director said.
However, during this timeframe, the company's activities were not limited only to content syndication with larger news sites. They created the content as well.
Welcome had around 200 employees in their Dhaka office. However, due to high demand, the emerging content marketing platform had to hire hundreds of freelancers.
By 2015, they started developing software to help the marketers plan, collaborate and work better together. Today, this is all Welcome is about and the company likes to introduce itself as a 'marketing orchestration platform.'
They are no longer into content creation and licensing. They sold that part of the business in 2020.
What is this software about?
It is like 'a complete code' of a marketer's life.
"As marketers spend more time on work about work [deciding what to work on and planning] than on the work itself, for example, meetings after meetings about a certain kind of content rather than really working on it, Welcome's software has made it possible for all marketing tasks to be performed on one platform," said Shafqat.
He added, "A graphic designer, for example, would not have to wait for certain meetings to receive feedback on his or her tasks, thereby delaying work progress. Instead, the team/boss can provide recommendations or feedback via the software."
Investors' awe in teamwork paid
In a little more than a decade of their journey, Welcome succeeded in raising nearly a hundred million dollars from venture capitalists.
"Raising money from investors is not easy. But ultimately, they invest in the team. Our team is not just about the founders. It is about everyone who worked at this company in Bangladesh and the United States.
They invested in the team and liked the vision that we had. They liked the idea that we were flexible about the journey, that we always found new products, new ideas, new markets and ultimately that is what they invested in," said Shafqat.
"We generated quite a lot of revenue between our two businesses – NewsCred's content business, and then the software business. It was indeed a pretty large business and so that is another reason why we were able to raise so much money from the investors," he added.
Building a global company was the mission
However, instead of just drawing on the investors' money and profiteering, the founders of Welcome had the vision to transform their business into a global company.
"We did not just want to make a company that would market or sell products in the Bangladeshi market. Our ambition was always to build a global company. So, we have done that over the years.
We added offices in New York and London. Our headquarters is now in New York," Shafqat further added.
After Optimizely acquired Welcome, the company is truly global today, and that too without losing its core team. Today, it continues to remain a very much a Bangladeshi company.
Welcome's biggest office remains in Bangladesh, where it will continue to operate and make new hires with larger investments, thereby creating local employment opportunities.
We asked Shafqat what it was about this business that they found appealing in the first place.
"It is actually a very different business than what we have elsewhere today. And to us, the biggest takeaway from operating our business was that where you start is often not where you finish," Shafqat replied.