Solving For The Community
Written by: Nomrota Sarker
NSU Startups Next (NSUSN) started its journey with the vision to inspire innovation and to support founders of the next generation. The first cohort of NSUSN is underway in their incubation program. At NSUSN, founders are learning from experts, forming strong connections with those in the startup ecosystem and building a network that will serve as strong foundations for the rest of their journey as entrepreneurs.
As part of the incubation program, NSUSN is hosting a series of webinars where industry experts discuss their individual learnings with founders. On the second webinar, ‘Solving for the Community’, the panelists were Farzana Kashfi, Development Practitioner and Impact Advisor, Ahmed Fahad, Vice President, Product at Pathao, Bijon Islam, Co-Founder and CEO at LightCastle Partners Ltd, and Fahad Ifaz, CEO of iFarmer. The webinar was hosted by Bijon Islam, followed by a live question-answer session from the audience. The panelists discussed what it takes to solve for the community and how to build products and services that create a lasting impact on the market.
Thinking about Impact as the Purpose of the Business
Ahmed Fahad, took a different perspective on what is ‘impact’ for a business; he framed it by saying “the word ‘impact’ is very subjective so I think it is better to term it as ‘purpose’. The purpose is what we can change in this world to make it better and how it matters to us.” He further added, “The main purpose of a startup or enterprise needs to be helping the larger community. People who provide capital are no longer only focusing on capital gains but also on how much the business is going to help people. Bkash getting funds from the Bill and Melinda Foundation is a good example of this notion.”
Impact Needs to be Measured
In the conversation about what to do when the impact is created through business, Farzana Kashfi raised an insightful point, “the impact of a business can be measured by using the triple bottom line principle which are People, Planet, and Profit, and also by understanding the impact being made on the stakeholders.” She added, “In management, it is said that what gets measured, gets managed. So, measurement is the key to managing an enterprise. [In order] to measure the impact of a business, feedback loops can be used with different stakeholders like employees or clientele rather than going haywire and fusing on too many impact indicators.”
iFarmer: With a Purpose, but its Challenges
As they moved on to talk about how businesses are creating an impact on a larger scale, Fahad Ifaz said “I have worked in the development sector for 10 years, mostly focusing on how to help farmers get hold of funding. There are 500 million farmers in the world and 80% of them are smallholders and they produce 75% of the food that we eat. That’s when I understood that the people of this community in Bangladesh need my attention. iFarmer aims to improve the life of farmers. We are not nonprofit, but with a purpose– as we create access to finance by sourcing money from growing middle-class people and [creating an opportunity for] an investment.
From what I’ve learned from the journey so far, is that it is possible for a business to be sustainable and also have a positive effect on people’s lives.”
When Bijon Islam asked about the challenges faced while setting up an agricultural platform in Bangladesh, Fahaz Ifaz promptly replied saying “The biggest challenge was collecting funds from individuals as they would ask us that if we would flee with the funding and it was often very demotivating. Every business will face questions about the product in the beginning so it is important to be prepared. The second challenge was reaching out to the farmers on a scale as they do not have much access to technology but we mainly focused on solving the problems of a small number of farmers and then the news spread and they caught up to us.”
Finding Product Market Fit for Scalable Impact
Ahmed Fahad spoke about the importance of scaling for businesses, “rather than focusing on a scale, it is important to focus on product-market fit and find products that people need rather than introducing a product that you want to exist. For example, Pathao wanted to find a solution to the already existing traffic problem in Bangladesh. So, rather than scaling the product initially, it is important to test it out and measure the demand for it.”
For the answer to the question asked to him by Bijon Islam on what the businesses should do today to deliver futuristic solutions and rise above the objective of just competing, Ahmed Fahad said, “The key is to think globally and act locally. Build products that solve problems, even from the future. For sustaining in the market, customers need to love your product and that’s only possible if you find the right product-market fit. If the product fit is good, the competition will follow and so, the solution can continue to serve and fulfill the needs of the customers.”
“Measuring progress along the way can ensure impact, but that is only possible if your business has a definite purpose.” – He concluded.
A takeaway for students:
“How can students develop entrepreneurship skills?
“To start with, it can be done by volunteering in different places to gain experience and to learn as the real world is not the same as the academic world.” – said Farzana Kashfi. “Students should also focus on extracurricular skills like joining university clubs and gain experience besides studying,” added Fahad Ifaz, CEO, iFarmer.