NewsCred is typically this kind of “nugget” we find while travelling in emerging markets.
We usually take a list of countries, try find out the best tech event there to meet people and get to understand how the startup scene and working.
And then you have big, unsuspected discoveries like a startup from Bangladesh with $45 million in funding.
NewsCred is quite a success story in both the worlds of content marketing and of South Asia startups. Here is an interview we had with its co-founder and CTO Iraj Islam.
From Sweden to the US, via Dhaka, Bangladesh
Innovation is Everywhere: You’re one of the founders of NewsCred, which is likely the best funded startup to date from Bangladesh. Can you share with us your experience before that?
Before NewsCred, I was CEO and co-founder of Halvera.se, an e-commerce startup aiming to disrupt online shopping based out of Stockholm, Sweden. I originally dreamed up Halvera.se during a business plan competition at Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship while I was still a student there.
Innovation is Everywhere: Did you receive any specific support in Bangladesh to launch NewsCred – grants, tax credits, incentives?
No. However, while we didn’t receive any grants, tax credits or other state sponsored incentives, we did find an amazing pool of talented engineers in Bangladesh. Our original core team in Dhaka worked very hard to keep the lights on at NewsCred during the early years and they are still with us today.
Innovation is Everywhere: Where were you for your funding and did you use raise any funding from Bangladesh?
We raised most of our funding from venture capitalists based out of New York and Silicon Valley. During our Series A our team was still mostly based out of Bangladesh where I was located while Shafqat and Asif established NewsCred in New York.
NewsCred, from the “iTunes for content” to content marketing
Innovation is Everywhere: Did you get partnerships from telcos or other big tech companies, or even agencies, as you are in the marketing field?
In the early years, our product vision was mostly centered around building an “iTunes for content”. The majority of our initial partnerships were content licensing deals with larger publishers such as The Guardian, McClatchy Tribune and Reuters. Today, now that we’ve pivoted to content marketing, we’ve partnered with various tech companies and agencies to make our product stronger.
Innovation is Everywhere: Have any of your Bangladesh employees left and started their own ventures?
Not yet. Our hope is that the next generation of Bangladeshi tech entrepreneurs can come from companies like NewsCred.
Innovation is Everywhere: How do you split your activity between the US and Bangladesh?
I am based out of Dhaka and committed to the cause of Bangladesh. The potential of this country is enormous and companies like NewsCred hopefully prove that we can build world changing companies. However, there is merit to physical proximity, especially when discussing company decisions and news, which is why I fly to the US every six weeks for our board meetings.
More players to support the startup ecosystem in Bangladesh
Innovation is Everywhere: What’s your feeling about the Bangladesh startup scene? Many of the people who are “leading the pack” in Dhaka are diasporans, are you doing any work to help them build the ecosystem as well?
The Bangladesh startup scene is currently experiencing a vibrant renaissance. There is a vibrant and active community, complete with events and organizations such as Startup Dhaka, StartupBash BD, StartupWeekend Bangladesh, Innovation Xtreme and Bangladesh Startup Cup.
Innovation is Everywhere: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Will you be in Bangladesh? How often do you come back, and what to do when you are there?
I am committed to the cause of Bangladesh and will continue to be based out of Dhaka for the rest of my life. 5 to 10 years is far away, but my hope is that, as a community, we can change the meaning of “Made in Bangladesh” from the current assumption of cheap labour to meaning innovation and invention. This can only be done by building more global Bangladeshi brands that change the world. Needless to say, I’m very excited about the future of Bangladeshi startups – we’re just getting started and the potential of our hardworking community is limitless.
Innovation is Everywhere: Thanks!