"In order to attain any success, you have to be loyal and honest to yourself and to everyone around you. Building credibility and reputation for oneself is the biggest asset any entrepreneur can possess." – Riyad Husain
With 20 percent of the total population being 15-25 years of age, Bangladesh has limited resources to cater to the young and expedite talents. Among many problems that involve the youth, unemployment still remains unresolved as a blemish on our economy. In recent years, however, the promotion of entrepreneurship as a possible source of job creation, empowerment and economic dynamism in a rapidly globalising world has attracted policy and public attention. Despite this attention, there has been no systematic attempt to look at it from a youth angle. The tendency has been either to subsume the youth into the general adult population or to ignore their efforts to forge a livelihood through enterprise activities. But as always, people with courage and convictions are ahead of rulebooks and theories. One such individual is Riyad Shahir Ahmed Husain. With an entrepreneurial head on his shoulders, Riyad has shown the ability to realise his vision by the age of 30, with unparalleled foresight.
When I first met him, I was pleased to see a creative marketer pitching for ambitious plans with immense confidence. It's the personality and ideas that grab attention. His modest attitude certainly is another plus point, if you were a client. Having met many veterans through my profession, it seemed a little unlikely for a young talent to lead a marketing agency; the marketing scene is brutally competitive in Bangladesh at the moment.
Born in Hemel Hempstead, UK, Riyad returned to Bangladesh when he was 3 and studied at Scholastica in Dhaka. In 2001, at the age of 18, he left home and moved to UK for higher education. While his parents managed to afford the tuition fees throughout 4 years at Richmond University, he worked part-time at various places in order to pay for living expenses. After graduating in Business Administration (Marketing) he got into a Graduate Programme with Arcadia Group, where he worked for a year.
Seeing his father work in respectable positions for various multinational companies over 30 years, he wanted to do the opposite. During his time at Arcadia, at a panel interview with Robert Peston (Business Editor of BBC News) and Sir Philip Green (the global retail guru who owns Arcadia), the latter bluntly told him, "I don't see you working for Topshop in the long run. You will leave to start your own business." He was right. One fine morning, Riyad decided to leave everything and move back to Bangladesh in search of what his heart was looking for -- entrepreneurship!
Having spent a substantial amount of money on education, and coming back to a mere dream with absolutely no savings, was something tough to justify. So he decided not to borrow any money from anyone and start literally from zero. In 2007, there was a vacuum in the market for high quality designing and printing services catered towards smaller clients. The bigger agencies were busy catering to the big fish and there weren't much small communication agencies like today. Seeing this opportunity, Riyad partnered up with Munazer, a friend, and started researching great designs on the internet and approached SMEs about their designing and printing needs. Little did the clients know that they didn't even have the capital to afford an office and they were actually working from one of the business centre shops in Gulshan-2 (behind American Burger). All they had were the crisp white shirts, nicely ironed trousers, shiny shoes and of course their convincing sales pitch! They worked out a few deals from that cramped shop and a few more deals later with which they purchased their first PC (TK 40,000) and rented a small office room on sublet. Soon they were able to hire the designer from the business centre and by the end of 2007, they moved to a 600 SFT office with 2 staff members and 2 PCs.
After 2 years of hard work, they launched a communication agency called ROOT Marketing Services in 2009, which is when Riyad's 2nd partner, Amer joined them. ROOT started to provide services in event management and audiovisual productions but printing was still their biggest revenue earner. After 3 years of serving international development organisations such as IFC, GIZ, Save the Children, Oxfam etc, they made an attempt to diversify and expand.
In 2012, they separated the printing business and started Printex Limited, a brand new printing press. A few months later in early 2013, with some funding from private investors, they started a Digital Advertising Agency, Magnito Digital Ltd. Today, each of the partners leads the 3 businesses and combined, employ over 30 people. Looking back at the last 6 years, Riyad's biggest satisfaction has been the fact that till today, they have not taken any loan. Everything has been generated from ploughed back profits, starting from their days at the business centre shop.
From the passion of contributing to the society, Riyad joined Nash Islam and Salman Hossain in 2012, as one of the co-organisers of Google Business Groups (GBG), Dhaka -- a community that promotes the adoption of technology and internet in Bangladesh through networking events. So far they have reached out to over 1200 people in Bangladesh from diverse walks of life through 15 GBG events in a year. That has led them to being awarded by Google as the best GBG chapter in the world for the first quarter of 2013 at the recent Search Summit in Indonesia. Riyad also has a social initiative called Zakat Connect, which is a web platform to enable Zakat donors to help the neediest people across the country towards sustainable causes such as starting their own businesses with Zakat funds. Most admirable of all is their initiative to bridge the geographical and information gap between the richest and the poorest by using technology in our country.
While cherishing his adventurous start, Riyad believes he still has not achieved even a fraction of what he aspires to, and pushes himself every day. He confessed that during his early days, it was money that used to motivate him but today he has learnt that money is merely the bi-product of success. What motivates him now is "making a difference".
Riyad is a workaholic but then it's in his genes. ? His mother is Sangita Ahmed, an entrepreneur in the food Industry (Time Out Restaurant and The Sky Room Dining Ltd), a rights activist, President of Bangladesh Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a well-known news presenter and a writer.
Riyad's next challenge is to "decode the secret formula of balancing work and family life.”
Umama Nowrose Ittela is a communication specialist, marketeer and a development worker. She is also a passionate dancer, history enthusiast, travel maniac, movie buff, avid reader-writer and a believer of fate.