Work together to disseminate knowledge
"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it."
Like 19th-century American journalist Margaret Fuller, Maliha M Quadir, founder and managing director of Shohoz, the fastest-growing start-up in Bangladesh, believes in disseminating knowledge.
She believes that working together is the best way to disseminate knowledge, and the free flow of ideas, debates, and discussions within the organisation is vital for things to get learnt.
"I like horizontal structures so that there aren't many layers. Too many layers don't let you talk to the people at the bottom," said the ICT entrepreneur.
She explains that bringing youths to the meeting was also important, and it was her learning from multinational investment bank Morgan Stanley, where she started her career.
"In Morgan Stanley, seniors used to bring us to meetings with the CEO and the CFO. Listening to them was a great way to learn," Maliha said, adding that she also takes the opportunity of monthly town hall meetings to encourage young colleagues.
She also believes in sharing her dream with her colleagues at Shohoz, which was launched in 2014.
The Shohoz Super App serves as a single portal connecting local people to local businesses providing a wide range of products and services like food, tickets, rides, truck rentals and healthcare.
"I'm not the best in showing them the big picture of what we're building, but I try. Motivation comes through this," said Maliha, adding that a good corporate environment was also crucial for motivation.
"A good environment, in my definition, is where there is a level of trust among the people which comes from transparency."
"In a start-up, we do new things, and there is an inherent amount of excitement in what we do. Besides, showing the career path is also important to motivate people."
Recognised by businessfinancing.co.uk, a business finance and research and information website, last year as one of the world's top female founders for raising the highest amount for the country's fastest-growing start-up, Maliha believes balancing creativity and control is a tricky manoeuvre.
There must be another type of control over the colleagues in a service organisation.
"Control is giving people the freedom to experiment with business ideas, try new things by taking the risk together and not to penalise for the failure of ideas," said the ICT ministry's Best Female ICT Entrepreneur Award winner.
"But if one starts taking unnecessary advantage of the freedom, it will destroy everything else surrounding it," she said, adding that service was about quality which was driven by the people working in a disciplined manner.
Maliha also has a different approach toward collaboration. In her career, she understood the reasons why people do not want to collaborate.
"The desire to prove by showing that he is the one doing everything is sheer ego. Some people even do not want to share knowledge too," she said.
Maliha said unintentional mistakes in collaboration happened when the organisation structure was more complex, and there must be a clear definition of everyone's responsibilities.
"To make the organisation's tone right, I admit my mistakes always, and that is an important culture for a start-up and any organisation."
Maliha, the recipient of The Daily Star Best ICT Startup of the Year 2018 Award, said they carried out corporate branding through LinkedIn by portraying the life at Shohoz and through word-of-mouth.
"Alongside company branding, the corporate branding is also being done that is helping in attracting people as well," she said, adding that Shohoz had a plan for campus recruitment, but it was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Maliha, a Young Global Leader of 2019 of the World Economic Forum, characterises herself as always being studious and competitive.
"I just wanted to do everything perfectly," she said, adding that her dream was to study at Harvard.
After passing the higher secondary certificate exam in Bangladesh, she got admitted to Smith College in the US in 1996 for a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and computer science.
Maliha believed that a job at any Wall Street firm could give her a better opportunity to enrol at a good business school.
She then started her career with Morgan Stanley as an intern. In 2000, she joined the Fortune 500 company as an investment banking analyst.
She got married at that time, and with the support of her husband, Maliha worked under tremendous pressure. She considers it "the best learning experience of my life."
Working at the mergers and acquisitions department of the company, Maliha learnt about the impact of strategic decisions through financial analysis of any company from the ground level.
With a recommendation from Morgan Stanley, Maliha finally achieved her dream of getting admitted to Harvard Business School for an MBA degree in 2004.
"Harvard has been a very gratifying experience and a good learning experience. I took some entrepreneurship classes there. This was the time when I began thinking that I would start something of my own," said Maliha.
After Harvard, Maliha decided to move on to technology, considering it the future.
Meanwhile, she worked for BracNet Ltd in Bangladesh as the head of the online portal from 2005 to 2007, when she launched the country's first classified website.
She then moved to Singapore with her family and joined Standard Chartered Bank in 2008 as an associate director for a brief period. In the following year, she joined Nokia as a senior manager for strategy and business development and worked till 2012.
Maliha also worked at Vistaprint as a director for a year, where the idea of Shohoz struck her mind.
In 2013, Maliha followed her dream to start something of her own in the technology field, and the foundation of Shohoz was laid.
"Shohoz comes from a long story. Internet is making people's life easy, and I used to read a magazine named 'Real Simple'. So, from there, Shohoz was born," she said.
To Maliha, the toughest challenge as the leader of a start-up was raising funds as Bangladesh was not on the top list of investors, even though the situation has changed in the last five years.
Keeping the bigger picture in mind and making the everyday decisions while keeping the funding scenario in thoughts too is the life of the CEO of a start-up.
"And that is the toughest part of what I do," said the entrepreneur
She also has a suggestion for budding entrepreneurs.
"While facing a challenge, you don't have to work hard. Instead, think and remove your emotions out of the way, and think objectively about what you do and have faith. These things will help overcome any challenge."
Maliha said leadership was a lonely affair as a lot rested on the leader, which cannot be shared with the team.
"The other side of leadership is to stand up to the criticism."
About challenging times, Maliha understands that finding inner peace was difficult because of the conflict with ambition.
She said inner peace was more about being confident in one's own schemes.
"Inner peace is really about being truthful, honest and fair to everyone. That gives a lot of courage."
For newcomers, Maliha suggests keeping an eye out on the future and knowing what is happening around.
Networking also helps to extend possibilities.
"If you know the future trends and if you keep a stock of where you started and what are you doing now, things become easier," she said.