Nibras Bin Sayed finds out how startup entrepreneur Rafi Mustafa has forgone the lure of lucrative jobs abroad and returned to Bangladesh to build two different businesses
‘Follow your heart ’is the most important mantra for Rafi Mustafa, a young entrepreneur of two start-up ventures, namely ‘ZuumZuum’ and ‘Tripooly’. Rafi adopted the mantra from his father at a young age and has been living according to it ever since.
The popularity of startups has increased exponentially over the last few years in Bangladesh and in the middle of such intense competition, it becomes difficult to survive, let alone flourish, however, Rafi seems to have found an edge over his competitors.
‘I was fortunate enough to spend a majority portion of my life in Australia, UK and Europe. I worked for companies like Amazon and Groupon. When I was in Bangladesh, my brother and I even ran an online music website called altermetal.com,’ states Rafi. Reflecting on his past work experiences, Rafi came to discover that he had an undying love for businesses that reveled in the applications of technology and the internet. ‘I am so passionate about this field that in almost anything I do, I make sure that there’s an online function. Thankfully, I have always been blessed with such jobs as well,’ he adds.
After gaining years of solid experience while working for different reputed companies abroad, Rafi decided to come back to Bangladesh and join the digital and economic revolution that the country has been undergoing for a number of years, and make a positive contribution even if it included giving up on a lucrative job opportunity at Twitter.
Initially upon his return, Rafi contemplated to join his father’s business which didn’t really have much to do with online technology. Then as he met new young individuals who were pumped up about the idea of startups, he realised that he had to try his skills at something new. ‘I was fascinated to see the amount of energy and passion some people demonstrated through making a bold statement professionally. This is when I made up my mind that I have to start something innovative,’ Rafivoices his excitement.
At first, he co-founded ZuumZuum, a popular, rapidly growing e-commerce clothing store where he is currently a director. ZuumZuum, almost two years old and with an office in Uttara, is one of the top ten e-commerce platforms in the country according to the statistics last month.
Soon afterwards, Rafi conceived the idea of marrying his love for travelling with his love for online entrepreneurship and sales, which eventually gave birth to Tripooly, a one-stop premium online travel marketplace that was launched a year ago. He is the sole founder and CEO of Tripooly, which aims to make travelling simpler and a fun experience for people.
‘Our company is not just another ordinary travel agent which keeps trying to sell packages to clients. We listen to our clients carefully, understand their needs, build relationships with them and most importantly, provide travel solutions,’ he says. Tripooly initially started as an online travel shop but soon it expanded its operations to offline as well, with an office in Banani.
At Tripooly, Rafi aims to provide customer service at all times, while maintaining a high standard. ‘We want people to feel that their decision of knocking on our door is worthwhile. Along with this, our flexibility and transparency are the characteristics that make us stand out among many in the industry,’ he asserts. Tripooly has been awarded as one of the top 100 startups in Asia at ECHELON in Singapore a few months back.
Rafi also believes that no business is only about one particular individual. He emphasises on the value of teamwork. According to him, every piece of work, big or small, needs to be valued and respected because everything is linked in a company to form a chain and if one of the limbs start functioning below par, the entire system would collapse. He keeps the team members motivated by involving them with the challenges that the company faces and making them realise that they are not just a part of the company, rather, the company belongs to them as much as it does to him.
Speaking of challenges, one constant struggle is the need for more funds to run operations and expand. He thinks there are certain challenges almost every young entrepreneur who dreams of making it big through a startup, faces due to our society. ‘We have been told to follow our heart from childhood but at the same time parents tend to pressurise their children to pursue career in a field that does not appeal to them for financial and social security. This needs to stop and I’m hopeful because I already see that culture changing which is a positive sign. Parents have to stop forcing their ideas and rather encourage children to pursue genuine ambitions,’ he says affirmatively. Rafi believes that one should let their child find his or her own true passion.
‘I would tell aspiring entrepreneurs to find that one thing that they love so much that it doesn’t let them sleep and in spite of all the obstacles, follow that path. You might hurt the sentiments of your elders while you set out on your path, but in the long run, once you are professionally content, it would only bring peace and happiness to both yourself and your family,’ adds Rafi, who acknowledges the constant support of his wife and family while establishing himself as a start-up entrepreneur.
He also firmly believes that youth of the country can make a huge difference. He feels thankful to be part of a society that has made its RMG sector the second largest in the world. ‘We are the third biggest pool of freelancers, from breaking ships we are making ships now; there are plenty of reasons for us to believe that our nation can achieve anything we want,’ elaborates Rafi. He is hopeful particularly, because according to him, local investors have started to rely on startups.
Bangladeshi people who are working abroad for years need to return to their home country and do something for the economy, he further adds. Moreover, he thinks that the concept of shared office spaces need to spread faster and wider as finding a place to kick-start a business could be extremely difficult, which is one of the initial hurdles.
‘I remember how my father told me never to be scared to fail as an entrepreneur. As long as you keep working harder, things will eventually work out, provided you are passionate and dedicated to your work consistently. Moreover, you need to have unshakeable principles, vision, hunger and need to be honest to yourself and to your work to go the distance,’ he says firmly.