My entrepreneur is Anwar Hossain and his company is called Bluemela** (http://www.bluemela.com/).
(**Note: This business was started in the early 2000’s and, though the domain still is owned by Anwar, he’s no longer selling artisanal goods through the site today.**)
The business idea centers on Anwar’s recognition of the lack of creative, artisanal products (e.g. handbags, candles, leather goods) from Bangladesh on the global market. Similar-styled goods are available in stores like Pier 1 or Cost Plus World Market, but never had they originated from Bangladesh. Anwar sought to change that – though not in contracting with and distributing Bangladeshi goods to these retail chains. Anwar’s goal was to market the Bangladeshi goods directly to consumers through a number of channels, namely: website, hosted parties, direct mailers, and through trade shows. In addition, given that he himself is from Bangladesh, this served an altruistic purpose for Anwar – providing more global exposure to artisanal Bangladeshi goods.
The market for goods such as these already existed but it didn’t include Bangladeshi products. In this way, Anwar proposed to introduce them and serve as an existing market disrupter. Anwar was seeking environmentally conscious shoppers in that the majority of his products were made from a Bangladeshi fiber called jute (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jute_trade). Jute is a high tensile, eco-friendly plant fiber that can be used to make various products; but, as stated earlier, there was little exposure for these products globally, especially in the United States (where Anwar was located at the time). The key differentiators in Anwar’s product were its location of origin (Bangladesh), its predominant construction material (jute fiber), and style in which they were made (unique design).
In my conversation with Anwar, the channels used to reach his customers are below:
- Website – being a web developer himself, this was a low cost entry into the direct to consumer market. Anwar was able to advertise his products through the site and take physical orders from customers willing to put down credit card as their payment instrument. Search engine optimization may have helped Anwar drive more traffic to the site, though realize these were still the early days of search advertising and search optimization.
- Trade shows – Anwar stated he went to trade shows in Georgia and Florida to get word out on his product. These trade fairs were used to develop relationships with store owners and for Anwar to take orders directly from others seeking his goods. During these trade shows, ‘representatives’ would help broker these conversations amongst the businesses. A pivot point occurred during these conversations in that Anwar realized store owners often wanted customizable product – i.e. adding names, locations, etc. to his goods. This is something he originally wasn’t prepared to include at the time, though could have offered another point of differentiation, if pursued.
- Direct mailers – low cost method employed to reach constituents within certain demographic markets.
- Hosted parties – Anwar mentioned that he would use friends/colleagues in certain neighborhoods to host events where his goods would be displayed. These were successful and often resulted in orders. One potential drawback to hosted parties were that the orders produced were often not made in sizable quantities allowing Anwar to capitalize on production economies of scale. It was more advantageous for him to batch production in sizes of 100+ items.
Overall, my thoughts are this was an impressive effort by Anwar to develop a business that he felt passionate about and had the skills necessary to get it off the ground, all while working at a primary job (this was his side project!). The MBA he’s currently getting at Foster today provides an interesting point of reflection because he acknowledged he likely would have approached the business differently given some of the tools he’s picked up since then. But hindsight is 20/20…..