Building The Right Culture For Your Startup

In the early days of your startup , you may think your biggest priorities are to attract the best talents, search for funders, and launch your product. These are important, but more important is building the right company culture for your startup. According to Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos:

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

Today, Zappos is known for its great customer service. Although it is now under Amazon, Zappos still maintains its own identity and quality. This level of success has only been possible due to its business culture.

So building a great culture is important for your startup to succeed. As Brian Chesky, the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb says,“A company’s culture is the foundation for future innovation. An entrepreneurs job is to build the foundation.”

In this article, learn what makes a great startup culture and how to make one for your own startup.

Start with defining your values:

What do you think when you think about startup culture? Foosball tables, no cubicles, yoga mats and such? These might make you think startup culture is about fun and play only. However, a startup culture is more than that.

In his book “Zero to One”, Peter Thiel writes : “No company has a culture; every company is a culture. A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside.”

From Thiel’s word, it is clear that culture comes from within the company. And it starts from the founder(s).  The values and beliefs of the founder(s) form the company culture. For example, at Zappos, Tony Hsieh believes in the power of individual. So he built a culture where personal characteristics and organizational demands went in harmony. He gave employees autonomy in their work roles. Call center employees don’t read any scripted texts. Rather they are empowered to use their own creativity to handle customers. They even don’t need the permission of their managers regarding this. Once a customer had lost her shoes she ordered from Zappos. She called one call centre employee so that she can get another pair of the same shoes. However, Zappos didn’t have that shoe in their stock. So the call center employee went to a rival shoe store, bought the shoe and delivered to the customer free of cost!

Such an empowering culture has been beneficial for Zappos.  As a result, employees don’t only feel motivated, but customers are satisfied by receiving personal and human messages.

So begin building your startup culture by finding out what you value the most. Then instill it in your business. If you value open communication and good relationships , create a culture where employees can directly contact anyone, including the CEO! Be more approachable- greet them, have personal conversations with them, show interest in their personal development and help them when you can.

Find people who will fit in the culture:

By now, you must be convinced that building a startup culture is important. But a culture you envision for your startup will only be realized if everyone at your startup believes and fits in the culture.

Therefore, it is necessary to hire people who will fit in with your culture. Even though an employee might be an expert in their field, they won’t bring value  unless they fit in your company culture. For example, in Zappos’s early days, Tony Hsieh personally led the hiring process . He offered a two part test. The first part tested skills, while the second part assessed how the applicant would fit in at Zappos. This involved some tests or working with the team. According to Hsieh:

“Even if a person is great at their job, even if they’re a superstar at their job if they’re bad for our culture we’ll fire them for that reason alone. And performance reviews are 50% based on whether you’re living and inspiring the Zappos culture in others.”

So try to see whether the characteristics of the person and the values match with the culture of your startup. If it doesn’t you shouldn’t hire that person.

Ofcourse, culture shouldn’t be the only metric to decide whether a person should be hired. But try to see if that person is skillful and at the same time, will be able to work with everyone else in your startup.

Make employees learn the culture

Now that you have hired people who will fit in with your company culture, instill the culture in your employees. A company with a strong culture is the one where employees are aware of and one with the values, beliefs and traditions of the company.

According to Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix:

“A strong culture should be a true articulation of how your employees work at their best. It should be grounded in your shared mission, the thing you are trying to accomplish. It should be understood by everyone and built by everyone, and it should start from your earliest days as a startup.”

So make your team learn and understand the company culture. This way, they will learn to emulate the culture you want to inoculate in your startup.  The way you as a founder can make employees learn your startup’s culture is by your actions. For example: At Styline (a startup focusing on fashion and cosmetics), CEO Khobaib Chowdhury believes in a culture of learning. So he arranges a weekly meeting with all the teams of Styline. Members discuss their progresses and get valuable feedback in return. In this way, Khobaib built a culture of learning at Styline.

Create refresher sessions

Creating refresher sessions is a fun way of instilling your company culture among your employees. Not only do they learn the culture, but also feel they belong to your startup. And that is quite important for you to retain talents.

You can create refresher sessions by hosting some ice breaking sessions or arranging outings or treating your employees to an outside treat. When he ran Next after being ousted from Apple, Steve Jobs would take his employees to an outdoor retreat at a resort. In a relaxed environment, employees would share new ideas to an often light-hearted Jobs.

Even if you can’t afford such entertainments, you can always use simple ways to refresh your employees. Sit with your employees in lunch. Talk with them about work or personal stuffs. Make close relationships with them. This way, you can build a better bond with your employees and can motivate them.

Or, start weekly gatherings where everyone shares something new with others. At Praava (a healthcare startup dealing with family healthcare and diagnostic services), CEO Sylvana Quader Sinha arranges weekly gatherings where every member teach others something new. One might teach meditation, other might teach good posture habits, another brushing!

Now you know the importance of a great company culture for your startup to succeed. So try the steps mentioned and you can create a great culture for your startup.

Writer: Farhan Uddin Ahmed

Building Your Startup Team

“From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in science to Fairchild Semiconductor’s “traitorous eight” in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better.”

-Peter Thiel, ‘Zero to One’

A startup is on a mission to change the world. And it is impossible to change the world for better without a team. A team, full of diverse members, each with their own opinions but with the same conviction to change the world is a must for a startup.

However, building a team for a startup is not easy. There are a lot of roles to be managed. In addition, finding the perfect people can be quite hard- one person not right for the job can ruin your whole business. Again, maintaining a group of diverse people while dealing with other issues can be difficult as well.

This article provides you with the basics of a startup team, how you could hire teammates and tips on how to build and maintain a successful team.

Who should be in your team?

There are lot of roles to be performed at a startup. More often, most roles will overlap as in a founder might also be the chief investor. Although each startup is unique, a startup team should consist of these following roles:

  1. Founders: Founders are the parents of the startup. The idea is born from them. So they are the most important member of any startup team.

An idea doesn’t sprout from a single individual. Most great startups are the brainchild of two or more people. Think about Apple (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak), Google (Sergey Bing and Larry Page) or Airbnb (Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk)- all startups formed from the combined ideas of two or more persons. Thus, from the very beginning, a startup is formed from a team.

Often founders meet at college or were childhood friends sharing the same passion. Whatever the reason, all founders make a great contribution to the starting of a great business.

  1. Mentors: Although the journey of each startup is a road never taken before, it does help to have someone who can guide you with his/her experience. Here’s where mentors come to help.

As Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group says,

“It’s always good to have a helping hand at the start. I wouldn’t have got anywhere in the airline industry without the mentorship of Sir Freddie Laker. Now, I love mentoring young entrepreneurs. As American author and businessman Zig Ziglar said: “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” Find a mentor.”
A mentor for your startup should be someone who is really experienced in his/her field. These are the people who believes in you and most likely they are volunteering to help you grow. But a Mentor can play a great role in the administration of your startup by advising you and giving you guidelines to follow while you build it.

  1. Investors: As your startup journey starts, you will encounter a lot of costs. Handling such costs can be quite a headache. This is where investors come in.

Although you might think of bringing investors in your team later, the opposite is more beneficial. According Heidi Zak, co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove (an inner wear startup):

“You can’t spend six months building a prototype, then wake up one morning and decide it’s time to fundraise and watch the money flow in. You have to network in the finance community as you build your business to secure the right funding.”

Thus, investors should be an early part of your startup team. They are most likely to get board seats and will give you access to a lot of network and resources.

4) Employees: Though they may not have any possession or control of the business, employees play a crucial role in a startup success. It is them who will carry out the decision made by the founders and the investors. They are also the one who will more likely engage with the customers the most. So for an effective startup team, maintaining and managing employees are important tasks.

Tips on hiring and maintaining employees for your startup team

As startups are different from established business, they way employees are hired and maintained are different. To help your startup have and retain some of the best employees in the team, here are five tips on hiring and maintaining employees.

  • Ask, “What can you provide to your team?”

Before finding out people to work for you, begin with yourself. Ask yourself, “What can I provide at my startup that no one else can?” You need to show prospective employees compelling reasons to join your startup.

This necessarily doesn’t mean monetary compensation. What you need to show is your organisation is a place where everyone can make a meaningful impact. It is a place where one would love to work even if the compensation is low because what he/she works now will be valuable for the future.

Read this excerpt from Tim Cook, now the CEO of Apple, when he gave a commencement speech at a graduation ceremony in 2015:

“Steve (Jobs) was an idealist. He convinced me that if we worked hard, and made good products, we too could change the world. I took the job, and it changed my life. It has been 17 years, and I have never once looked back.”

When Cook took the job at Apple, the company was in bankruptcy. Yet, the vision Steve Jobs showed to him made him work there. This is what you should also show to any potential teammate before he/she decides to join your startup.

  • Find passionate people

Having people with the right amount of skills and experience is necessary. But you also need people who are passionate about the work they are doing. Moreover, you need people who will fit in your startup well. This means, you need people who are passionate about both the job he/she is doing and the place where he/she works.

Why is it necessary to have a person with both skills and passion? Well, you just don’t want someone to do the job right, you also need that person do the job better. And that person will only do the job better if he/she believes that the work being done is something valuable. That’s where passion comes along.

What about being passionate about the organisation? A person should not just love the job he/she does, but also the place. He/she shouldn’t mind putting the extra hours needed for a startup to succeed. He/she wouldn’t mind doing things he/she didn’t do before.  That’s being passionate about the organization.

  • Align your team to your goals

After you found your team, your next duty as the founder would be to align your team to your goals. Your team should believe in what you believe in. All of you must have the same goals to pursue.

To relate, look at this excerpt from Peter Thiel’s ‘Zero to One’:
“The early PayPal team worked well together because we were all the same kind of nerd. We all loved science fiction: Cryptonomicon was required reading, and we preferred the capitalist Star Wars to the communist Star Trek. But most importantly, we were all obsessed with creating a digital currency that would be controlled by individuals instead of governments.”

Believing in the same goals make your team members work together to fulfill the goals. They will be more likely to give more efforts for fulfilling the goals.

  • Be a team inside and outside work

In the early days of a startup, your work and personal life will always mix up. So will your team members’. Thus, you will spend a huge and an important amount of time with them. It is important you all maintain the same team spirit both in and out of the team. That is, you understand each other both inside and outside work.

Just working fine during work as a team but disbanding after work is not a good thing for a startup. This means, your team is just there for the sake of the work and nothing else. On the other hand, having good relationships outside work but working terribly as a team is also not a good thing. It means you are not aligned towards the same goals.

You don’t need your team to like everything you like but you do need to have a team who gets along well both inside your startup and outside. Your teammates should become your closest friends.

  • Allow open communication

You have people who are passionate and aligned to your goals. That’s great. But now you must make your team do the most important task- work.

Even if your teammates have the same goals, they have different personalities. Some are shy and less talkative. Others might be proactive and try to take the centre stage. Still others might go on talking and talking while letting others be silent. Such actions might demotivate the less talkative ones and make them feel unimportant. This can seriously affect your team performance.

How do you manage such situations? Google conducted a two year research titled “Project Aristotle” to find out what made the best team. The findings are applicable not only for companies like Google but for startups as well.

The findings found teams were everyone was allowed to voice their opinions equally were more likely to perform better. Building such a team requires building an environment where everyone can say anything and be respected. The findings also found out that frequent socializations instead of focusing on the task can lead to better team performance.

So on your quest to build a great team, allow all of your members to have a say in the work. Allow them to express themselves, about their lives, their likings and their dislikings. This will empower your teammates and motivate them to work better.

This is how you can build and maintain a great startup team. And with a great team, you can build wonders for the world.

Writer: Farhan Uddin Ahmed

YYTALKS: Tete-a-tete with Mr. Nazmul Islam

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

Mastering The Art of Networking

Simply put, networking is an art of building relationships. It can be with anybody for any purpose. For an early stage startup, you as an entrepreneur would need to network with a lot of people like investors, mentors and the market. But, you also need to work on your product/service. In such times, networking will seem unnecessary. Yet, as you will see, networking is essential for your startup to succeed. Again, with so many options available, it can be difficult to select the best method of networking.

In this article, learn why networking is important, where to network and how to network. Eventually, you will learn how to master the valuable art of networking.

Why networking is important?

In a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit back in 2016, networking is vital for 78% of startups to succeed. So if you are working on a startup, networking is not a good-to-have activity, but a must. Not only networking will help you in your professional life, but you can build relationships that can last lifetime.

Here are some reasons as to why you should consider networking:

  • You can find your mentor

Wish there were someone who has passed all the difficulties of building a startup you are having? A mentor is the perfect person for you. Your mentor can give you essential advice on how to move on with your startup. He/she can also help you find potential investors and customers.

Networking is the key to finding your mentor. The only way someone will guide you to success is if you reach him/her. By being an effective networker, you can find your guru. Bill Gates met Warren Buffett in a family gathering. After that meeting Buffet became Gates mentor, the former giving the latter useful advice on prioritization and time management.

  • You can meet potential investors

Funding is important for your startup. According to a poll, 29% of startups fail for insufficient funding. You need funding to develop your product/service, sell it to customers and maintain operations.

Investors are busy people. They come upon a lot of potential startup pitches. The only way you can attract their attention is by making your company look exceptional. And only skillful networking can help you with that.

  • You can build up your team

In this modern world, doing stuffs by yourself is impossible. Startups are not exception. They are basically a team of few people who have this bold vision of changing the world. The only way to succeed is for all the members of the team to work cohesively with each other and with the same goal.

Finding people with the same vision as you is difficult. Here is where networking saves the day. By reaching out to potential people and acquainting with similar minded people, you can gather people to buy your idea and work with you.

  • You can find customers

There are thousands and thousands of businesses around the globe, all trying to capture the attention of customers. And cliche advertisements won’t help you attract customers. What you need is networking- building valuable relationships with your customers. You expose your business to potential customers through networking which in turn can influence him/her and others to buy your product/service.

  • You can connect with fellow startups

Who else can empathize with you more than someone going through the same phase you are going? Only another startup founder can. He/she is probably facing the same problems as you. Sharing problems with each other, you can solve their problems and yours as well. Moreover, they can provide you with valuable advice as well.

Where to network?

In a digital world where we are ever connected, networking is literally in the tip of your fingers. However, online networking is not enough. To master the art of networking, you need to network both online and offline. Here are some places where you can start networking.

  • LinkedIn: A request from a stranger on Facebook is creepy. You don’t want to appear as a stalker to someone you want help from. That’s where LinkedIn comes. As it is more professional, the person whom you want to network with will be able to trust you more than he/she can do it on Facebook.

However, it can also be creepy to accept a request from LinkedIn as well. So at first, you must build up your profile. That way you will let people know who you are. Second, you just can’t send a connection request. That is weird as well.

When you send a request for connection to someone on LinkedIn, you also have the option to send a note. Use that well. Tell that person why do you want to connect with him/her. It can be for asking for advice or anything. But do mention it.

Another thing is that mere getting accepted to a connection doesn’t mean you have networked well. You must follow up. Try to set up a face-to-face meeting. This will develop trust.

  • Networking events: Networking events offer a wide range of opportunities to network. Not only can you meet experts but also you can meet peers and sometimes co-founders. UBER co-founders Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp met at a tech conference in Paris. From there the idea of the ride sharing app grew. A lot of networking activities take place now a days. Just search on Facebook and you will find plenty. There is also a separate filter for networking events in Facebook Events. So searching for networking events has never been easier.

Most networking events consist of experts delivering speeches. Some may include group activities as well. However, passive participation won’t guarantee success. You must actively search for peers with interest similar to yours. Connect with them and follow up soon. The same thing goes when connecting with the experts. Go to them, talk a bit about yourself and your business, hand them your business card and request for a follow up.

  • Co-working spaces: Co-working spaces allow you to work on rented space. There will be other entrepreneurs as well who will be working on that space. Thus, co-working spaces give you ample scope to network. You can get help from fellow entrepreneurs and give help as well. You can also build good relationships.

There are a lot of co-working spaces out there. YY Goshti provides co-working spaces for startups with flexible timings and affordable packages. You can try out other coworking spaces including Inhouse, hubdhaka, Bonik Coworking SpaceMoar, Office Suites, YY Goshti Space and HIVE.

  • Trade associations: Trade associations help you bond with people engaged in your trade. Hence, you can meet people who have experience plus people who are just starting up just like you. So a trade association can be a vital source of networking.

Trade associations often hold gatherings and other events frequently or at certain intervals. Try to participate in these events. Just like networking events, you must be an active networker. Constantly seek out people whom you think who can help you. Approach them, tell them about your business, give them your business card and follow up.

  • Facebook groups: Facebook groups allow you to access a community of similar minded people. There are a lot of Facebook groups now a days catering to specific needs. These groups can provide you with advice, help you find raw materials and even help you to find team members.

Facebook groups made for start-ups in Bangladesh include Desperately Seeking Entrepreneurs, Desperately Seeking -Dhaka (DSD) and Ashen Babosha Kori.

Tips for networking:

Networking can be your make or break situation. You can either make a valuable connection or you can screw right up. Networking through Facebook groups and coworking spaces can be easier as it is often informal. However, when networking for mentors or investors, you really need to level up your skill. To master the art of networking, here are some tips that you should follow:

  • Plan

Before heading out to give a connection request to someone on LinkedIn or going to a networking event or any other cases, PLAN. Is the person right to ask? Is this the event I should be going? As an entrepreneur, it might be hard to maintain balance between your work and networking. So plan carefully on whether you should network with that person or not. Before giving a connection request, think on what to write as an introductory note. Before deciding to go to an event, think if you should go or not. Plan on what you wish to achieve. Or if you want to coldmail, plan on how to craft your mail to attract the person.

  • Know about the person

It is very important to know about the person you wish to connect with. Learn about the person, his/her work history, achievements and experience. Try to know about his/her interest and if there is any that matches with you. It will help you start off conversation in a friendly manner. Try to find out if both of you have a mutual connection. That can help you get acquainted with the person easily. Try to see if you can help him/her in any way. For example: Before interviewing Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey read a lot of her works before. Oprah was fascinated by Angelou and the latter became Oprah’s mentor afterwards.

  • Give before you take

According to master networker Heidi Rozen, who has been an entrepreneur, venture capitalist and an executive at Apple, “Successful Networkers are givers.” Don’t think of networking as just business transactions- but opportunities for developing human relationships. So try to offer something of value to the person you wish to network before asking something in return. If after learning about the person, you find something he/she needs that you can provide- do it. That person will be glad to reciprocate with similar actions.

  • Be specific

Make the person know what you want properly. Also make the person know you properly as well. He/she won’t help someone whom he/she doesn’t know anything about. Introduce yourself well, describe about your business and what it does. At times, you can provide work portfolios to the person so he/she can understand your business well. Your queries and requests must be unambiguous too. So he/she can properly help you out.

  • Follow up

After the meeting is over, follow up. Most of the “How to Networking” articles you come online will tell you to meet at a coffee place or have a lunch or something. That is great but for someone who is constantly being asked for coffee or lunch, it might be impossible to maintain your request.

Instead of the usual coffee dates, you can write an email to that person after a few days. Thank him/her for the time given and you can share articles he/she might find useful. You can also mention further questions at this stage as well. You can also ask for a second meetup if that person comes to town again.

  • Connect both online and offline

Though Facebook and LinkedIn may ease the networking process for us all, they aren’t enough. Similarly networking events are a one time affairs and you need to connect frequently. Thus, you need both online and offline media. Don’t think one is the substitute for another. In fact, both of them are complementary to each other. So use both of them wisely.

Networking is an art. An art that takes a lot of preparation and skills. You cannot succeed always but if you do, you will thank your networking skills for helping your startup to grow. So work carefully on your networking skills and do write to us if you have succeeded using any of the tips mentioned above. Happy networking!

Writer: Farhan Uddin Ahmed

Mastering The Art Of Pitching

Pitching-a single action that can determine the future of an entrepreneur’s lifelong work. Mastering the art of pitching is the key to making your dream business idea come to life.

In a startup, pitching follows the Pareto’s Principle-80% of results come from 20% of efforts . A founder gets only a few minutes to present his/her ideas to investors. But the results can lead to a make or break situation. You get the funding and guidance needed to succeed or you don’t get anything at all.

Thus, pitching for your social business startup is extremely important. In this article, we will share 10 steps to master the art of pitching and get your startup to the place you want it to be.

  • Start with a story

We all are familiar with the saying, “First impression lasts forever.” Thus, the first few seconds are important for you, as the entrepreneur, to impress your potential investors. And what better way than telling a story? Research shows the brains of both the speaker and the audience (your investors in this case) sync up when the speaker tells a story.

But more importantly, telling a story will show to your audience about your passion and determination towards your project. It shows what the product or service you are building means to you and your team.

Creating a story for a social business is easier than other types of businesses. This is because social businesses are created out of an idea to change society for good. And this idea often comes from an experience a founder encounters. So create the human touch with your investors first by starting with a story.

Back in 2009, Professor Yunus started his commencement speech at Wharton School of Business in the following way:

When I finished school, got my PhD, I had no idea whether my life would someday be of any use to anyone else’s. But in the mid-seventies, I was back in newborn Bangladesh, and out of frustration with the terrible economic situation in Bangladesh I decided to see if I could make myself useful to one poor person a day in the village next door to the university campus where I was teaching.

When I went into the villages, I could not miss seeing the ruthlessness of moneylenders in the village. First I lent the money to replace the loan sharks.  Then I went to the local bank to request them to lend money to the poor. They refused. After months of deadlock I persuaded them by offering myself as a guarantor.  This is how microcredit was born in 1976.

See how Professor Yunus started with a story? You too can start with a story about how you came up with the business idea.

  • Create a one sentence soundbite

In news, you might see how tweets by celebrities, sportsmen, politicians or even CEOs can create a storm. This is because, the short phrases written by those people seem to be remembered by all and influence them as well.

Investors are like twitter users. They will encounter a lot of pitching by other companies as well on the same day you pitch. So probably they will forget about most of the companies.

As a social entrepreneur, you will be more worried as investors also would not like the idea of giving away the profits. Here, your business comes to the rescue. But what you think is a radical idea may not be the same for your investors. Have a sound bite that explains your business in one sentence to the investors.

For example: Shishir Water goes by the line, “MAKING WATER PART OF OUR LIFE”. This simple but effective soundbite helps investors to remember the purpose and motive of Shishir Water’s social business.

  • Create short and simple slides

Have you ever seen Steve Jobs giving presentations? In case you have not, I suggest you do. Though there might be a presentation file displayed on the back, everyone focused on what he had to say.

One of the mistakes, anyone of us giving presentations commit is to concentrate on slides more than the speech. A slide is important, no doubt. But it is not the most important thing.

However, you might need to use slides to complement what you say. You don’t need to be a doctorate in designing but a simple template will do the trick. Avoid making slides wordy and avoid making a lot of slides. Here you can follow a rule known as 10/20/30.

The 10/20/30 Rule of Powerpoint is simple: A pitch should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.

Why it works? First of all, humans can’t comprehend more than 10 concepts at a time. Second, after twenty minutes of an uninterrupted session, human attention decreases largely. And finally, font less than thirty points can make the slides unreadable for audience at the back

  • Visualize your numbers

How many of us have liked math classes when we were at school? Very few. That is because we take numbers as abstract signs bearing few context.

Investors are no different. So when you have to show finances or statistics, show them in a way that even a child can understand. Remember, Steve Jobs bringing out a Macbook from an envelope? He could have easily said the Macbook is 5cm thick. But instead, he showed to the audience how thin 5cm really is. By this way, everyone could understand the slickness of the Macbook.

Similarly, in your pitch visualize your finance and statistics. Use bars and charts to show numbers. In this way, investors can grasp an idea about the feasibility of your business.

  • Go through the seven points

You might have a lot of things to say about your social business or nothing at all. So how can you go through all about your business in a short amount of time? Follow these seven points and it will cover almost everything about your startup.

  • The Problem: What problem of society do you wish to eradicate through your business? Why is it a problem? The problem Shishir Water wants to solve is the lack of pure drinking water in Bangladesh.
  • The Solution: What does your business do to solve the problem? For example: Shishir Water decided to solve the water crisis problem in rural Bangladesh through “Clean drinking water in a jar for consumption at affordable price, produced in a energy efficient way.”
  • The Method: How does your business solve the problem? Here, show the process by which your product/service will solve the problem. Shishir Water uses UV LED lighting to purify surface water. It sets up community based plants through franchisees and delivers the jars to disadvantaged communities.
  • The Model: What is your business model? What is your production target? How are you managing the finances? The business model will help investors understand whether you have a feasible plan for your business. Shishir Water’s business model consisted of its production target (6000 litres per month), monthly revenue and franchisee fee.
  • The Competition: Who are your existing competitors? If there aren’t any in your particular field, choose from a related industry. During pitching, show how your business serves customers better than the competitors. Shishir Water’s main competitors are subsidised water production systems and existing bottled water companies. What sets Shishir Water apart is that it supplies clean water using advanced energy efficient technology with a smart monitoring system.
  • The Strategy: How are you going to reach your target customer? This is mainly about the marketing of your product/service. Shishir Water reaches vulnerable communities through raising awareness among people and through direct sales.
  • The Team: Who’s your team? Co-founders? Here, you can talk about your team and their experiences.
  • The Progress: How far have you progressed? Have you reached milestones? Here, you can show the number of customers reached and how people have benefitted from your business. Shishir Water has reached more than 2 thousand people and has created jobs for 8 people.

This by no means is a comprehensive list on how to master the art of pitching. However, differentiating yourself from a bunch of companies saying the same thing can really help make the difference. So next time you pitch for your company, please do follow these steps. And if it works (or it worked before), do mention it in the comments section below.

Photo Credit: Next Venture Corp (P1), Social Business Youth Alliance/ Prito Reza Productions (P2), Shishir Water (P3).

Writer: Farhan Uddin

Meet Latest Batch of Startups at YY Goshti

After a rigorous national search, team YY Goshti has welcomed eight emerging social businesses in its six month long incubation program. These startups are solving critical social issues in the field of agriculture, craftsmanship, youth employment, waste management and urban safety. Here is the complete list-


YOUNIFI: YOUNIFI is a platform for connecting youth and positive impact organizations to develop skills. It helps young individuals to develop their skills through voluntary activities which will help them to apply these in their professional lives. helps users find and connect with their potential roommates. It provides a platform for people to rent out their rooms or to rent one as per their needs. The revenue model is subscription based.

Travel Bangladesh: Travel Bangladesh is a travel information portal and service provider. It is a platform that provides information about each and every place of Bangladesh and generates revenue through tours, advertisements and other services.


Self Protect: Self Protect App is an application designed to support users to connect and provide safety. It allows the user to contact with the concerned authorities in case of any crime. Revenue is generated through advertisements and service subscription fees.

GARBAGEMAN: Garbageman is a platform that aims to convert waste into resources. It collect waste and processes them into compost fertilizers that are sold to customers. Revenue comes through selling compost and fees.

Jute Monarchy: Jute Monarchy makes Innovative and diversified jute products. The aim is to create employment opportunities for unskilled and less skilled persons. It promotes Bangladeshi art and craft in its signature products produced for mostly foreigners.

Nagarkrishi: Nagarik Krishi’ provides eco-friendly gardening solution by utilizing a website/ app platform. Urban centers are polluted and citizens are staying away from farming activities. To improve this situation, it makes people conscious about gardening, planting tree, and green revolution by providing online and offline training.

Shoyong: Shoyong aims to bring variations on spinning and weaving by automation and changing on twist, color combination and fabric design. It provide export quality tribal fabrics with unique designs by empowering disadvantaged Bangladeshis living in Chittagong hill tracks.

We are bringing in our tried and tested Entrepreneurship Development Protocol that has supported 30+ social entrepreneurs in Bangladesh since 2016 to help these startups grow with support from EMK Center, PUM Netherlands and our generous mentors.

Writer: Kaniz Ahmed

What is Social Business? Learn from Dr. Muhammad Yunus

Social business is a cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point. Purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company, no personal gain is desired by the investors. The company must cover all costs and make profit, at the same time achieve the social objective, such as, healthcare for the poor, housing for the poor, financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water, introducing renewable energy, etc. in a business way.

The impact of the business on people or environment, rather the amount of profit made in a given period measures the success of social business. Sustainability of the company indicates that it is running as a business. The objective of the company is to achieve social goal/s.

Clarifications on Social Business

I am not opposed to making profit. Even social businesses are allowed to make profit with the condition that profit stays with the company; the owners will not take profit beyond the amount equivalent to investment. Social business is a new category of business. It does not stipulate the end of the existing type of profit-making business. It widens the market by giving a new option to consumers. It does not intend to monopolise the market and take the existing option away. It adds to the competition. It brings a new dimension to the business world, and a new feeling of social awareness among the business community.
When we approach the concept of social business from the philanthropy side, it looks very convincing and logical. Why should everything in philanthropy be given away? If some of these goals can be achieved more efficiently and sustainably in a (social) business format, then why not take that route? After all our purpose is to achieve the social goal.

But when you approach it from the orthodox business side, it tends to look a bit out of tune. Why on earth give up profit? Why should anyone run a business without profit? I understand the surprise perfectly.
Let me clarify: I am not asking any businessperson to give up any of their businesses. Nor am I asking them to convert some of their businesses into social business. The idea of “giving up” something creates this shock wave. I am not asking anybody to “give up” anything. All I am saying, if you are worrying about a social problem (while totally engaged in your routine business) I have a message for you, you can make a significant contribution in resolving the problem. If you put your mind seriously into it, you may even open the door to eliminate the problem globally. You can do both: conventional business and social business.
It is all upto you to decide whether you want to do a such thing or not. Nobody will raise an accusing finger at you if you do no such thing. But you may feel happy if you do it. I am suggesting a way which may make you a happier person.

A Learning Process

It is a great learning process. You are doing things which you never did before. You are thinking in a way which you never did before. You are surprised to see you are enjoying it a lot. You start digging into your experiences to see what is relevant for the task. You check through the reservoir of technology that you are familiar with, start contacting the pool of experts that you have gotten to know in your business, to achieve your new goal. You start exploring a new world which was totally unknown to you. You realise that you are now wearing “social business glasses” on your eyes, you see things which you never saw before. You start sensing that your eyes were fitted with “profit-maximizing glasses” all along, while you thought these were your natural eyes in your economic world.

Now when you turn your eyes to your own profit-making businesses you start noticing things which you never noticed before. You bring new-gained experiences from your new business to your old businesses. Slowly you move towards becoming an multi-dimensional person, rather than a robot-like person.
Some people ask me why can’t you run businesses with some profit and some social benefit “doing well by doing good”, as it is popularly described.

Of course, it can be done. I am never against it. But I am trying go to the ultimate point where you don’t make any profit for yourself at all. This is easy to identify, easy to handle in day to day decision making.
When you mix profit and social benefit it gets complicated for the CEO. His thinking process gets clouded. He does not see clearly. More often this CEO will take decision in favour of profit, and exaggerate the social benefit. Owners will go along with it. Social business gives a clear unambiguous mandate to the management. There is no balancing act involved. If you can agree to take a “small” profit, you can also persuade yourself to take zero profit. Once you get there you get rid of all old ways of thinking. You prepare yourself to explore a new world, a new way of seeing things, and doing things in a different way. When you were in the world of a “small profit” you were still operating in the old world, with old ways of doing things, only restraining yourself here and there.

Another way to put the same question is: Why can’t you allow thee investors in social business to get a small fixed profit say, 1% dividend. My answer is the same. I may describe this situation by saying something like this: you are in a “no smoking” building, you are arguing “Why can’t I be allowed to take just one small puff ?” Answer is simple it destroys the attitude. In Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink until the after the sunset. Why not take a sip of water during the day? It destroys the strength of the mental commitment. You lose a lot for a small favour.

Social business is about making complete sacrifice of financial reward from business. It is about total delinking from the old framework of business. It is not about accommodation of new objectives within the existing framework. Unless this total delinking from personal financial gain can be established you’ll never discover the power of real social business. Some times you can set up a technically correct social business with the purpose of making profit through your other companies by selling products or services to this social business company. This will be a clear sabotage of the concept. There may be many other subtle ways by which one can weaken the concept and practice of social business. A genuine social business investor must make all efforts so that he does not walk into this trap unwittingly.

Capitalism has created poverty by focusing exclusively on profit. It built a fairy-tale of prosperity for all. This never happened. That’s why Europe decided to entrust the government to take care of poverty, unemployment and health. They were smart enough to figure out the emptiness of capitalism in solving these problems.

Author’s Summary on Creating a World Without Poverty

While free market capitalism is thriving globally, almost unopposed now, and bringing unprecedented prosperity to many, half of the world lives on two dollars a day or much less. Eradication of poverty remains the biggest challenge before the world. Colossal social problems and deprivations, mostly poverty-related and very unevenly distributed around the globe, continue to shame us everyday. Obviously the free market has failed much of the world. Many people assume that if free markets can’t solve social problems, then governments can. After all, the government is supposed to represent the interests of society as a whole. But decades and even centuries of experience has shown that while government must do its part to help alleviate our worst problems, it alone can not solve them.

Fortunately for us there is a keen desire among many to lend a hand through charity, for addressing the problems of poverty and other social problems. Charity is rooted in basic human concern for other humans. These days concern is usually expressed in the shape of non-profits and NGOs which may take various names and forms. Then there are aid organizations sponsored by rich governments’ bilateral and multilateral. Nonprofits and aid organizations are trying to keep the problems within some control. But charity is a form of trickle-down economics; if the trickle stops, so does help for the needy. On the other hand multilaterals like World Bank focus only on growth as the means of helping the poor, but can not see that the poor people can be actors themselves. There are serious questions about the type of growth that can help the poor. As another response to the global social problems some businesses are identifying themselves with the movement for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and are trying to do good to the people while conducting their business. But profit-making still remains their main goal, by definition. Though they like to talk about triple bottom lines of financial, social, and environmental benefits, ultimately only one bottom line calls the shot: financial profit.

I always believed that poverty can be totally conquered in our own lifetimes if the right approach is adopted. I based my belief on the inherent ability of the poor that can be unleashed once they are given the opportunity to help themselves. This I have proved in action through my three decades of experience with Grameen Bank. The concept of microcredit did not exist before I initiated Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which basically recognized that credit without collateral is a fundamental right of the poor. Our success with this in my own country has been widely replicated all over the world including in some of the richest countries; and the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for Grameen Bank and myself is one recognition of that success. The story of Grameen Bank has been told in my earlier book: “Banker to the Poor”. In this new book I have described the further evolution of Grameen System. But more importantly I have introduced and elaborated here my broadened concept of social business, that the Grameen experience has led me into.
Grameen allowed the poor to be an actor in the free market and to enjoy some of its fruits to try to come out of poverty. It is fundamentally a business model, pure and simple, but a social business. There can be other social businesses. They are just like any other business; but for social objectives and not for personal gain or dividend. I have tried to show in the book why social business can succeed in addressing social problems where other means mentioned above have failed. social business should not be confused with the term social enterprise which is used in a more encompassing sense and includes NGOs, personal initiatives, charities, etc., and may include social business too.

Social business introduces a totally revolutionary dimension to the free market economy. It does not interfere with the mechanism through which the normal Profit Making Business (PMB) works and prospers capitalization, expert business management, competitiveness etc., but investors here do not receive any dividend, though they can recover their investment if they want to, to reinvest in other social businesses or PMBs. The satisfaction gained in achieving the stated social goals are the only motive behind the investment, and the business will be evaluated according to that standard. Essentially it is a non-loss, non-dividend business aimed at social objectives education, health, environment, whatever is needed to address the problems faced by society. The profits here remain with the business and help it to grow further. The whole thing is based on the premise that entrepreneurs need not be motivated only by the profits they personally receive, but can also be motivated by social goals and may enjoy success there with equal satisfaction. The important thing is not to mix up a Social Business with a PMB. In fact the inclusion of Social businesses alongside PMBs in the business world will give the free market capitalism a larger, nobler and a more fulfilling purpose. Its advantages over straightforward charity are many efficiencies, continuous use with each turnover, competition with PMBs following the same rules, utilization of business innovations being some of the most important ones.

There can be two types of social business. Type One focuses on businesses dealing with social objectives only, as has just been mentioned. Type Two can take up any profitable business so long as it is owned by the poor and the disadvantaged, who can gain through receiving direct dividends or by some indirect benefits. There are various ways how the ownership can go to the poor. The two types can be mixed together in the same social business as has happened in the case of Grameen Bank. In a similar mixture of the two types, a socially beneficial rural toll road or bridge can be built by a company as a social business whose ownership will belong to the poor. On the other hand a huge project such as the Deep-Sea Mega Port in Bangladesh, which I have been advocating for, which will be used by several countries in the whole region and can potentially change the economic face of Bangladesh, can be built as a social business owned by the poor women of the country.

Is this an utopia? Will there be social businesses outside the realm of microcredit? Who will invest in such social businesses? I could answer these questions confidently in my new book, not only because I have faith in my idea and on the ability of the entrepreneurs to have social motives as well as profit making motives; but also because I am seeing this actually to happen at this very moment. I have devoted a good part of the book on the details of the first such social business we have started Grameen Danone Company which went into operation in early 2007. The idea of the company was born over just a casual lunch I had with Franck Riboud, the Chairman and CEO of Groupe Danone, a large French corporation a world leader in diary products. It took just that time for me to convince him that an investment in a social business is a worthwhile thing for Danone shareholders. Even though it will not give any personal dividend to them, he agreed to the proposition even before I fully explained it to him. It took somewhat more time to fix up the modalities, the product (a fortified sweet yogurt for the poor malnourished children of Bangladesh at a price they can afford), the financing, tax and regulatory issues, new yard sticks for evaluating business and many other such details. And I have devoted many pages of the book on these details to show how all these things can be taken care of. The yogurt “Shokti Doi” (Energy Yogurt) is already in the market.
The Grameen System has invested in a second social business this time an Eye Hospital where the poor can have eye treatment and cataract operations at a very low cost and all others in the small town and the villages around will have an excellent medical facility where there was not any like that before.

Social business is a new concept and its practice is just beginning. As my book reveals, it has to make a lot more exploration while gaining more experience. There are challenges to be faced and solutions to be developed. For example, we had to invent a totally innovative marketing system to keep the market fragmented so that the low cost “Shokti Doi” is reserved only for the poor children and does not disappear in the urban market for the well to do. I have also touched upon other issues such as how can the ownership of the Type Two social business be transferred to the poor, or how can the wonderful opportunities offered by IT be best deployed for social business.

One thing is very clear to me that with social business taking off, the world of free market capitalism will never be the same again, and it then will really be able to deliver a deathblow on global poverty. I am sure, many business wizards and successful business personalities will apply their abilities to this new challenge the challenge of creating a poverty-free world within a short time. At the moment we are seeing merely the line of horizon. Soon a good part of business genius, creativity and innovation of the world will devote itself to this new goal of social good. A whole new stock market with its new indices will thrive in the financial capitals of the world motivated by this new incentive. It will accelerate the process of poverty eradication to an unthinkable pace using the same market mechanism which accelerated the global prosperity for the rich in the first place.

Welcome to the new world of social business.

Muhammad Yunus
25 December 2007
Source: Yunus Centre

Social Business Day 2018: Towards A Better World

Social Business Day 2018 took place on 28-29th June in Bengaluru, India at Infosys Campus, Electronic City this year. This year’s theme was “A World of Three Zeroes: Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, Zero Net Carbon Emissions.” Every year, Social Business Day is organized by Yunus Centre and Yunus Social Business to discuss and celebrate the concept of social business. It brings together experts and enthusiasts from different fields to discuss and exchange their ideas for solving social problems. It is the biggest platform to learn, share and interact about social business, and every year, it hosts Social Business Day to further promote the ideas.

In the opening ceremony, Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus directed a speech where he emphasized on how people are becoming profit-driven robots with only profit in sight, “Profit is important but we need to put bifocal glasses with a near and a farsighted vision”. In the speech, he talked about the effects of technology, how it inspires and takes away jobs, and how it can work hand-in-hand with Social businesses to bring forth profits and work solving the global issues as intended. The other key speakers from the ceremony were Emmanuel Faber, global CEO, Danone, Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, and Devi Prasad Shetty, managing director of Narayana Hridayalaya.

The two-day event was co-hosted with Yunus Social Business India, Infosys and INK. Over 1200 delegates from 42 countries had registered to participate in the event. And as the programs rolled, pressing issues of the society were put on focus whereas a number of plenary sessions and panels were scheduled and held during the two days.

Like every year, YY Goshti sent a delegation team to attend Social Business Day this time as well. Our founder, Shazeeb M Khairul Islam was also one of the speakers at the event. Social Business Day always provides YY Goshti to find new inspiration and ideas in their quest to build a better world and helps to sketch newer dreams and newer plans onwards that goal.

SBD 2018 included keynote speeches, plenary and panel sessions along with country forums and a magnificent immersive cultural program. It covered a wide variety of topics ranging from Agriculture, Health, Nutrition to harnessing creativity, Technology, Sports and Youth as the driving force behind social businesses. SBD is known for recognizing young dreamers and the interested and showing them a glimpse of the real world where people from around the world share their experience and ideals. The speakers included entrepreneurs, activists, academicians and journalists from the business and social business arena. The second day also included a country forum for countries and regions that have strong social business ecosystems.

Our Founder, Shazeeb M Khairul Islam spoke on “Building thriving ecosystems for Social Business and Youth”. He also spoke about Bangladesh’s opportunities, challenges and action plans to help build social businesses in real time and in the currently activated initiatives inside the country during the Country Forum. YY Goshti was also a part of the Social Business Academia Conference 2018. YY Goshti considers it as an excellent opportunity to build better connections and venture into new opportunities. YY Goshti puts extra effort upon these events to gather effective knowledge regarding what will come forth, and how to face upcoming challenges with maximum effort.

The two day long summit came to an end with the Nobel laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus providing the closing keynote speech. We hope to use the teachings of this summit to have a greater impact on our mission to build a world without poverty – and start from within the country and go global with our efforts.


Writer: Kaniz Ahmed