Field Buzz co-founders Alexis Rawlinson and Habib Ullah Bahar were interviewed by the Dhaka Tribune.
The original article is available here: https://www.dhakatribune.com/business/2018/08/07/software-field-buzz-helps-manage-small-businesses-efficiently
Below is a transcript of the interview text:
Software Field Buzz helps manage small businesses efficiently
By SM Abrar Aowsaf
Published on August 7th, 2018
Field Buzz, a software company that helps small businesses manage their field operations and distribution, uses the transformative power of mobile technology to reach people who are normally cut off. “If you want to build your own start-up from scratch, you have to start early and be open to the idea of making sacrifices,” said Habib Ullah Bahar, managing director of Field Information Solutions Ltd, or Field Buzz as they are known to their clients.
Co-Founder Alexis Rawlinson said they mainly want their product to help improve society. “We are a social enterprise. I spent most of my career as a management consultant on international development in the aid industry, and I was always frustrated with how inefficient it was and why so much money was being wasted,” he explained. The platform enables small businesses to do what is done by traditional retail outlets using smart phones and mobile Internet – it tracks the activities of employees, customers, beneficiaries, farmers, and transactions up to the last mile.
Field Buzz’s vision
Field Buzz is very strict about whom they sell their products to, and they refuse to sell their product to any organization that tends to have a negative social or environmental effect.
“We would never sell our product to a tobacco company,” said Alexis.
They are also committed to transparency – both in and out of their organization. Their own organization structure is transparent, and the product they sell also forces their customers’ businesses to follow suit. The motivation behind this start-up was to reduce the gap between field operators and the office.
Without their software, it was impossible for one of their clients, the Neuman Kaffee Gruppe (NKG), to deliver microfinance to the smallholder coffee farmers in Ibero, Uganda. There were a lot of problems with middlemen and loan sharks buying the flowers while they were still on the tree. Since the farmers are poor and were in dire need of money, they would settle for low prices in return for getting the money upfront. NKG were unable to do anything about it, since they could not track the payments. After implementing Field Buzz’s technology, every farmer now has an ID card with a unique code. Every transaction with the farmers is now tracked with the use of their smartphone app, eliminating all middlemen. The farmers are now investing a lot more on their farms, and many of them have already doubled their income.
Achievements so far
As a relatively new start-up, Field Buzz has already achieved many of their goals. Starting with an initial capital of €120,000 in 2014, they broke even by the beginning of 2017. Their clients include Foodex (Paramount Group), Crown Cement, the World Food Programme, Care, the Clinton Foundation, and KFW Development Bank/Aga Khan Foundation. They have worked with major International clients including Danone (Grameen Danone), Unilever, and Munich Re.
Along with having a presence in many rural parts of Bangladesh, they now have systems for clients in politically volatile places like Iraq, Mali, Afghanistan, Burundi, and Haiti. Field Buzz has won many awards so far, including Seedstars Dhaka (2016), Connecting Start-ups Bangladesh, and most recently, the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund with which they are planning to introduce Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) subscription model. Customers using this version of the software will be able to configure certain aspects of the software to fit their needs. They will be able to upload and manage their own product and price lists and other master data in the system, at the cost of a per-user monthly fee.
Field Buzz’s pride
When asked about what they were most proud of, both co-founders responded that it is the team they have formed in the last 4 years. “We started with 9 employees, and now have 28 full-time team members. The team is really strong and committed, and I feel proud of them,” said Alexis. “Our product is not just a product, it is also about transforming an organization. To do that, you need to have a good needs analysis and really understand what the different interests of stakeholders are, and who would gain or lose from more transparency. How can we align different stakeholders’ interests so that everyone will want to use our software?”
Staying true to their core value of meritocracy, Field Buzz only hires the most talented and experienced individuals for their company. Alexis, being a former consultant, handles and guides the consultation team, and Habibullah handles the technical developers.
The secret of their success
Despite facing numerous difficulties in the past, the company has seen rapid growth whereas many start-ups tend to fail within the first few years. Habibullah gives credit for this to the government. “The government is continuously trying to make it easier for us by pushing through with their Digital Bangladesh vision. In 2013 and 2014, a lot of the processes were manual, but now everything has become digital,” he explained. One of the biggest advantages the organization is currently getting is that there is no tax for IT companies, helping tech start-ups to significantly reduce their costs.