Mr. Nazmul Islam is the founder of Avijatrik, a community tourism platform in Bangladesh. Avijatrik has been active in this sector for last couple of years and is one of the very first incubated business from YY Goshti. Currently, Avijatrik is impacting more than 41 communities and aims to create change in the tourism industry of Bangladesh.
We talked to him at the EMK center with a cup of coffee.
Q1. How did you first conceive the idea of starting AVIJATRIK? What inspired you?
Nazmul: My friends and I used to travel a lot right after HSC. We visited about 13-14 districts at that time. Later on, we decided to open a travel agency since we knew a lot about travelling. But it did not sustain in the market. Then I submitted this idea for Social Business Champ to solve a social problem – Low Rural Development. Although our villages are poor, we have one great asset – Nature, So I came up with the concept of community tourism, which is very popular in countries like Thailand. So I did some research; read blogs, talked to people and finally decided that it is a good idea. That’s how we started AVIJATRIK.
Q2. We would like to hear more about your team.
Nazmul: There were four co-founders including me. Our team is divided into three departments – Marketing, Operations and Content. We mostly handle Digital Marketing. We have three people who oversee Operations that mainly deals with Guiding. And then there is Content.
Q3.Why did you choose social business specifically?
Nazmul: Our plan is to help the society and sustain our business in the future. Under the social business model, we have some additional benefits like investors. Besides, I am a huge fan of Prof. Dr. Yunus – and that is why I was more attracted to the concept of social business.
Q4.What impact has AVIJATRIK created so far?
Nazmul: Whatever the hosts earn through our business – that is what we consider as our impact. Moreover, we aim to involve local tourism in this business. We already have 41 local communities with at least 10 families in each community. Apart from that, we have at least 30 single families who host our tourists. Only in Sundarbans, our local hosts have earned almost 7 lac taka last year. Our hosts all over Bangladesh earned a total over 19, 50,000 taka in 2017. This includes areas like Bandarban, Khulna, Shatkhira etc.
Q5.What are the challenges that you have faced in your journey?
Nazmul: Unlike many start-ups, we did not face funding problems. But our first challenge was validating our concept. We launched a pilot project at Lauacchara, Srimangal in a Khashia village. For the first 4-5 days, they kept stalling us and then they finally refused our offer. The same happened in Nijhum Dip and also in a place near Dhaka. Nobody liked the institutionalized form. So we decided to go door-to-door and approach families we were acquainted with. This change helped us more. The main problem we faced in our growth stage is communication*.
Q6.Where do you see AVIJATRIK in the next 10 years?
Nazmul: Within the next five years, we are aiming to have 200 hosts in Bangladesh, which means more than 1000 families. Our market is a seasonal fluctuating one. Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation helps us a lot though there is no proper structure in Bangladesh. We aim to expand both in the outbound and the domestic market. We want to turn AVIJATRIK into the biggest community tourism platform within the next 10 years and operate in at least 5 countries. We want to shape the industry.
Q7.Tell us about your journey with YY Goshti. How did YYG help you grow?
Nazmul: Our journey with YY Goshti has been life changing. Since our incubation in 2016, YY Goshti team has helped us with training, mentoring, prototyping funding and a lot of resources. Whenever we have a problem, I just call Shazeeb bhai (Shazeeb M Khairul Islam, CEO of YY Goshti). After we attended the 7-day long bootcamp at YY Goshti incubator in 2016, we started realizing our dream and started to go forward with our business. It also helped us come up with a proper framework for our business. YY Goshti is holding our hands in every step for the last two years.
Q8.How important is it to have incubation and mentorship in the first few years of a social business?
Nazmul: I believe that it is way too important especially since we are currently having new scopes of venture capital in Bangladesh. Startups are coming from the young people, and we also have a budding entrepreneurship ecosystem blooming in our country. Ours is a third world country and we have a lot of problems. But most of the time, business ideas fail due to the lack of mentoring. I believe that finding a mentor is more important than finding investors. In a business, money is not everything. The time for these incubation programs should be more than 7 months. Social business startups need this even more because their field is more challenging.
Q9. How is the social business environment in Bangladesh?
Nazmul: The social business ecosystem in Bangladesh is growing. Currently YY Goshti is the only one operating in this field. We need more organizations to come forward. Since the concept of social business grew from our country, we need more organizations like YY Goshti here.
Q10. What is your message for new social business entrepreneurs?
Nazmul: We have so many ideas and we put too much value on it. And then, some of us do not want to share these ideas because we are scared that others may steal them. I find it odd. You should share your idea because even if the idea is good, the implementation should be better. They should focus more on implementation. Take our case in the villages for instance. We had to change the model repeatedly till we found a feasible one. So new entrepreneurs should not focus too much on funding, but on implementation. They must have good plans, proper prototypes and suitable investors.
Interview: Kaniz Ahmed