Co-Founder & CTO
Co-Founder & CEO
Interviewed by Mohammad Jubayer Ahmed, Team MBR
Mohammad Jubayer Ahmed: Airwrk is Bangladesh’s first international tech talent marketplace, which offers a diverse range of non-traditional services like connecting top Bangladeshi talents with high paying, full-time, remote jobs. Could you kindly tell us how you came up with this idea and what was the most motivating factor for you?
Sayem Faruk: It started when the pandemic hit. A few close friends lost their jobs, and I, too, had to let go of 85% of my team at Alpha, my previous company. It was a team that I had built and nurtured over the last 5 years. That is when I came up with the idea that talented Bangladeshis needed a platform where they could demonstrate their abilities not just to the country but to the world. And, that is how Airwrk was born.
Mohammad Ahmed: Since Airwrk’s mission is to build a community of remote Bangladeshi workers who can demonstrate their capability by developing world-class products from anywhere in the world, to what extent do you believe that this objective has been achieved? What are some of the strategies being implemented to accomplish this?
Sayem Faruk: Since we are in our early stages, I would say we are only 2% there. And, we may never reach 100% because what we are trying to achieve is so challenging that it is better for my team and me to focus more on improving the journey and not worry about the destination. We have taken a lot of steps to ensure that we maximize our chances of success. For instance, from the get-go, we registered the company in Delaware. This immediately opened up a lot of funding opportunities for us. We have recently on boarded angel investors who are relevant to the SaaS space we are in. And, being a part of the Grameenphone Accelerator, we regularly receive some of the best guidance one can ask for from some of the greatest minds in the local startup ecosystem. We are in the process of setting up a solid team at the moment. Attracting top talents to become a part of this journey would be integral to our success.
Mohammad Jubayer Ahmed: Given that you work with tech-savvy individuals, how difficult was it to integrate them into a single platform? What challenges do you anticipate Airwrk will face in the future, and how do you intend to address them?
Sayem Faruk: Marketplace technology has been in existence for a while now, so building the MVP was not that challenging. In fact, the current version was actually built by me and a junior developer after spending a month learning how to build web apps on a no-code platform. The next product iterations are where the challenges lie. We are building smart assessment tools that will automatically assess a candidate’s skills and abilities to profile them. An AI will then match them against the jobs posted by employers while refining a model that predicts job compatibility and future job success. Ultimately, the biggest challenge will lie in building the ecosystem. We envision Airwrk to become a comprehensive platform that does more than just matchmaking. In the next couple of years, we want the platform to take care of payroll, benefits, taxes, equipment sourcing, office space rental, training, etc., i.e., a one-stop shop for setting up remote teams in South Asia. Building the right partnerships for this ecosystem is going to be extremely critical to our success, but early signs are telling us that it is possible to build this if we simply stick to it.
Mohammad Jubayer Ahmed: Since Bangladesh has recovered to some extent from global pandemic effects, many companies have restarted their traditional hiring practices, offering full-time offline jobs where employees can network easily, which is not possible in remote jobs. Therefore, do you think your idea is feasible and that people will be willing to do remote work for your company in the future? How was the candidates’ response in the recruitment stage, and what changes do you observe now?
Sayem Faruk: If anything, COVID-19 has taught us that it is possible to run a company successfully from the comfort of our homes. However, being 100% remote is something that is applicable to very few roles and industries. I personally think a hybrid model works best where, let us say, 3 out of the 5 working days can be remote. The reason behind this is that certain collaborative tasks, like brainstorming, are best done in the presence of peers. At Airwrk, we want to address this reality of working, which is why we have plans to integrate co-working spaces into our marketplace. As teams grow, we want individual talents to be able to meet with their colleagues physically.
Mohammad Jubayer Ahmed: Please tell us about your company’s unique service that makes you stand out from the competition.
Sayem Faruk: Firstly, we are giving access to untapped talents who have been left out of the global talent pool. These are talents employers never knew existed. Employing these talents will also result in significant cost savings for employers. For instance, a high-calibre software engineer in India with 5 years of experience would get a salary of USD 50,000 to USD 60,000 per year. But one can hire an engineer of the same calibre from Bangladesh for just USD 25,000 per year. Besides the cost savings, we are giving employers access to a pool of already 28 of 35 vetted talents. This pre-vetting will cut down their recruitment timeline significantly. Airwrk is also a pure marketplace where the forces of demand and supply determine the rates. Competing platforms operate like agencies, where they force the clients to sign NDAs so that they cannot ask the talents how much they are getting paid. These platforms take advantage of the information asymmetry and pocket the difference between what the talents are getting paid and what the clients are paying. We, on the other hand, encourage our talents to publicly list their expected salary on their profile. Our model is a more transparent one as we charge a fee on top of the salary disbursed. Lastly, the ecosystem we want to build should be a game changer, as it not only gives the employer the convenience of setting up and managing a remote team but also acts as a vehicle to pass down company culture through us. For instance, if a team member is feeling sick, the employer should be able to send a care package through us. These human touches are what differentiate a great culture from an average one.
Mohammad Jubayer Ahmed: The tech industry is booming. So, what are some of the breakthroughs you would like to see for Airwrk, and when do you think they will happen?
Sayem Faruk: In the next 5 years, we want to see Bangladesh established as a destination for technology services and sourcing technical talents. As one of the most densely populated countries, I wholeheartedly believe that our only real asset is our people. And, what better way to position ourselves in the fourth industrial revolution than by becoming the world’s hub for talent? When that happens, we want Airwrk to be the bridge that welcomes the world to Bangladesh.
The invention of the mobile phone and mobile technology was groundbreaking. One gadget with so many capabilities is transforming the world by placing everything in the palm of our hands.
China, Vietnam, and India are the world’s leading manufacturers of mobile phones. Bangladesh joined those ranks through the hands of local tech giant Walton Group in 2017. Also, world-renowned companies like Samsung, Nokia, Vivo, and Xiaomi have started assembling and manufacturing operations locally in recent years.
Because of the government’s supportive fiscal policy throughout the journey, the mobile phone manufacturing and assembling industry, which began in 2017, is now capable of meeting more than 80% of local market demand. Furthermore, the industry is showing enormous export potential.
Howbeit, the mobile phone manufacturing industry seems to have high growth potential; the industry is facing a branch of challenges, i.e., import dependency for key components of mobile phones, lack of strong R & D facilities, and trading of unofficial handsets, etc. In addition to that, it has been proposed in the budget for the fiscal year 2022–23 to withdraw the existing 5% VAT exemption at the trading stage of mobile phone sets, which will affect the affordability of mobile phones consumers in Bangladesh.
Even after being faced with multiple challenges, it is undeniable that Bangladesh is the 9th largest mobile device market globally. The thriving mobile phone manufacturing industry in Bangladesh has almost all the right things going for it for another “Made in Bangladesh” dream to come true.
Md. Shah Jalal
IDLC Finance Ltd.