From Bangladesh to Swaziland, establishing one IT business at a time

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Offline asif.gce

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Moshtaq Ahmed is the co-founder and CEO of the NybSys, Racson, and other companies which operate in six countries on three continents.

Moshtaq Ahmed. Illustration: TBS
Moshtaq Ahmed has an entrepreneurship bone in his body; but when you have a conversation with him, the soft-spoken, mild mannered tech entrepreneur in his late 40s would casually tell you that he never runs after money or business, rather, those 'happen' to him as by-products of what he does.

Moshtaq has always been a fan of sailing into rather unchartered territories.

Mundane or conventionality is not his cup of tea and he prefers coffee. Perhaps, that love for coffee took him to Africa – the mysterious and vast continent, known for producing some of the finest coffees – and prompted him to set up his IT business over there.

When asked about that, he smiled and said, "I am not that poetic. I crunch numbers. I sip coffee so that I do not doze off while working."

His jet-set life-style indeed flies on cups of coffees as he needs to look after his business set up in South Africa, Swaziland, and Bangladesh.

In recent years, Moshtaq, a Harvard graduate, tried to create an inroad in the US market.

"It is the toughest IT market to get into. Because it is the most mature one. I am having talks with different companies over there. I am trying to build partnerships there in the US market."

He said the best option for an IT entrepreneur now is to build a new company with a 'unique' product or service and sell it to the tech giant with a hefty price tag. That is the norm in the global IT market.

To him, there is no point of hankering after an IT product or a company after a certain point if it begets a good price from a giant. "If the time is ripe and the prices are right, sell it. That is my philosophy."

From business studies to coding

Moshtaq's background in business studies and street-smart upbringing shape his philosophy of business.

After finishing higher secondary education, he thought of studying physics and got admission in Dhaka University's physics department but his family asked him to get enrolled in business studies.

While doing his Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) at Jahangirnagar University, he found that the curriculum could barely challenge his intellect. "Yes, Philip Kotler's marketing was interesting but to be frank, I was not satisfied with what I was studying. I loved coding and devoted most of my time to learning new things about information technologies."

He also was a regular contributing writer to the monthly 'Computer Jagat' – a popular vernacular IT magazine. To a group of people, he also acted as sort of a cult IT mentor who taught them about the newest technologies.

He famously created a computer virus which gave birth to a legendary rumour in Nilkhet – one of Dhaka's famous books and stationery markets, frequented by students of different colleges and universities.

"Those were interesting days of my life.  During the 'Boi Mela' (Book Fair) of 1999, we thought of doing something new: Announcing book launches through animation in PowerPoint. We pitched the idea to Bangla Academy and they accepted it."

However, he said, while working on the actual animation, they faced trouble. "We used a 486 Pentium computer and we could not turn it off for five to seven days to render the animation but consistent electricity without load-shedding was rare then."

"While we had uninterrupted electricity at Jahangirnagar University, it was not the same case at Dhaka. Anyway, we completed the project at Jahangirnagar through networking. I still remember that challenging project."

A major breakthrough in career

The first real big IT project that he worked on was the birth registration system of Bangladesh which was introduced in the country back in 2000.

Now looking back at his illustrious career, Moshtaq admits that it was that work which helped him to jump-start a career that he has now.

"I worked diligently on the project, designed it and wrote the case-study about its function near the end of 2001. The case-study was published in Manchester and as a result my reputation started to grow. Before that, there was a time when nobody even paid me properly. Perhaps, they did not understand my work properly," he explained.

But after the successful implementation of the project, his reputation grew as people could see that everything was running smoothly and the immunisation and registration processes were in order.

He said, "After my article was published internationally, I received a call from DFI. I got the opportunity to work with the Bangladesh Water Development Board. Afterwards I had the chance to work with the ICT Taskforce."

A few days later, Moshtaq got an opportunity to work in Swaziland in Africa. "But there was a problem since I was a non-ACP citizen for Africa. ACP citizen means Asia Pacific and Africa. If you do not hold that citizenship, you are not allowed to become a consultant. But somehow I got the chance and I worked there for six months."

He worked with the Swaziland government and helped them to develop a system for their home loan distribution. "Interestingly, at that point, I had no plan of opening a company but later I was compelled to open one to receive the payment because apparently without opening a company, I could not receive the payment from the government as there was some complication."

That is how Moshtaq first opened his company named Dhaka Net in Swaziland in 2006. "I am now mostly based in South Africa but my family and I divide our time between Swaziland and South Africa, depending on the political situation of those countries. You never know what happens in Africa."

Exploring the fin-tech and hardware market

Two years later, Moshtaq expanded his business into financial technology and opened his fin-tech firm. "We have solutions for code-scanning, loan repayment, loan assessment etc. At present we are running the total system with the help of two countries. The entire process of credit assessment and loan recovery is conducted through our system. This system is operational in Swaziland where the annual transaction is around $65 million."

In between doing government projects and establishing companies in Swaziland, Moshtaq completed a masters in information technology from Harvard University in the US.

After fin-tech, Moshtaq had started working with devices. Since he had a good stream of revenue coming from fin-tech, he wanted to venture out in new areas and this time in Bangladesh: He established a company named NybSys in 2010.

"I have been investing Tk two to five crores annually. In the last nine years, the direct investment has reached approximately Tk20 crores. Here our primary work is on R&D. It takes a lot of passion to do R&D work," he said.

Moshtaq believes fin-tech is the future and Bangladesh eventually will adopt the latest trends of financial technologies. The questions that are critical to that adaptation are 'when' and 'how'.

He opined, "You see, if you want smart fin-tech in the country, then you will need smart citizens. You will need to create smart businesses and a smart government. Smart citizens and a smart government are strongly related to fin-tech."

He said Bangladesh is yet to become cash-less, even coins are in circulation. "At the toll-booth, you need to pay in cash. Overall when you can achieve the cash-less society, only then can you say that you have entered the age of smart fin-tech. If the government focuses on R&D and intends to do smart business in its base, if this is how they proceed then Bangladesh will go to the next level."