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Rounak Ashrafi Prema, once a Facebook merchant, knows the pain of the small merchants sourcing products from Thailand and thus, now working to help grow the women-led businesses
Facebook is currently one of the most popular ways of online shopping in Bangladesh. There are around 2.5 lakh Facebook merchants in Bangladesh.
In the last two years, Facebook-based e-commerce expanded in Bangladesh like other countries as the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns turbocharged digital shopping, reads a press release.
According to Meta, more than 70% of women-led businesses in Bangladesh were set up on Facebook since the pandemic began.
However, one of the main problems faced by these Facebook merchants is sourcing products.
Around 35% to 40% of the merchants on Facebook conduct business with products from India, Thailand, UK, Korea, US, China, and some other markets in Southeast Asia.
Most of them depend on different importers or wholesalers to source their products. Some of the major problems they face are purchase rates of the products, timely delivery, and selecting the products that their customers want.
As the volume of products a merchant purchase is not big, they can't import by themselves. So, the rate they get is not favourable to the majority of the customers. Along with these, the hassle of logistics and customs is also painful.
Rounak Ashrafi Prema, once a Facebook merchant, also knows this pain very well and now she will work on how to solve these issues and help to grow these women-led businesses.
Prema started her business journey as a Facebook merchant in 2016, and she turned into an SME entrepreneur during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As I was once a Facebook merchant, I know how tough it is to source products from abroad. That’s why we are forming this venture to support Facebook merchants. Now even a micro merchant can import the required products from Thailand directly,” she said.
Although Prema started her business as a Facebook merchant, now she expands her business to cosmetics and fashion accessories wholesale from Thailand, Cloud Kitchen, and co-invested in a couple of restaurants in Phuket and Chiang Mai.
She is also working as an HR consultant in a multinational software company based in The Netherlands.
Apart from being an entrepreneur, she is also a fitness enthusiast. She is a strong believer in ‘health is wealth’ and she thinks body fitness is also important to keep oneself motivated towards one’s goals in life.
The starting journey
Prema’s dream of becoming an entrepreneur started in 2012 with the thoughts of doing something else than traditional jobs.
Before becoming an entrepreneur, she also tried to get a job but her mind didn't support it and after completing her studies, she fully focused on her business.
Back in 2015, Prema used to search potential business ideas on the internet whenever she had the time.
Meanwhile, she visited Thailand with her husband and after exploring the Thai market, she decided to start a business on customized items. At that time, those items were scarce in the Bangladeshi market. And then finally, her journey of becoming an entrepreneur began in 2016.
Starting with one and a half lakh taka investment, Prema got about 45 orders at an average of Tk550 at that time and found her motivation to move forward with these orders.
Till the end of 2019, she has served more than 17,000 retail customers, which she stopped during Covid lockdown.
By this time in 2022, she has served more than 100 wholesale customers and she does wholesale mostly in the US, UK, Australia, Malaysia, and obviously in Bangladesh.
The next steps
Regarding the plan for the next five years, Prema said: “Due to the recent economic turmoil and market conditions, it would be very tough to talk about my 5-years goal. I think during this type of condition, a business person should have to be very agile in processes and what business he/she is doing. Prema believes that people should not stay in one portfolio or one type of business in this critical time. They need to expand their portfolio and gain experience in different kinds of businesses.
It will help to diversify the risk. Anything out of my control could happen at any time. “Yes, I have some plans for the next couple of years. In the next couple of months, I will expand my wholesale business. We are forming a type of joint venture with a big business entity in Bangladesh and will offer any type of legal product import support to FB merchants from Thailand,” she said, adding that initially, they will focus on cosmetics, ladies' fashion accessories, and food items, then expand it to other product categories too.
Prema thinks that women have impressive reasons to start a business and inspire others to believe in their entrepreneurial abilities.
“When you think of changing the world, the only way to do it should be by following your dreams. If one of your goals is to become an entrepreneur, you are on the right track to make a difference,” she said.