Belancer, a local freelancing marketplace, beta launched early this year with a vision to help local companies to avail the service of freelancers to get their projects done. The problem Belancer aims to solve is pretty simple: you can’t post a project on existing freelancing marketplaces like Upwork or Freelancer.com etc. from countries where outward remittance transfer is restricted. As a result countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and many other developing countries can’t post project and hire freelancer via existing platforms.
This is a big inefficiency because as a market Bangladesh is pretty big for freelancing works. Belancer started with the goal to contribute to fix this problem.
Naturally, the startup received a quite good response from market in terms of people appreciating the initiative and all. We recently had a chance to talk to Md. Shofiul Alam, co-founder of Belancer, about how Belancer is doing, growth, challenges and future plan.
Shofiul is ambitious. “We want to launch Belancer in India, few other countries in Asia, Africa in coming years,” says Shofiul, “but for now we want to focus on Bangladesh market.”
The process how Belancer works is almost similar to all other freelancing platforms. To start with, you open an account either as an employer or a freelancer. Once you have an employer account, you can post a project. You provide details of the project, upload a sample work for freelancers to see, give a budget and submit the project. Once you submit the work, freelancers will start bidding for the work. Different freelancers will bid for the work, submit their profiles for the work, and ask for a particular rate. Once both parties agree, employer announces the winner. Then they send money to Belancer bank account. Once work is delivered, Belancer transfers the money to freelancer by using bKash, for small amount, or one of the local money transfer platforms. Belancer has both domestic and international payment gateway integrated to its platform.
Team Belancer has been working quietly to make the platform supper good. It has launched version two few months ago and it got good response from the market. “Now we are about to launch version 3 of our platform, says Shofiul, “and this version is going to be huge with tons of new features.”
The problem Belancer faces is very common one. People often demand for the features that global marketplaces offer. “This is a little difficult for us since it took those platforms for years to come at this stage, says Shofiul, but we are working hard to match the demand.” Running a marketplace is a robust system says Shofiul and it took today’s giant many years to build a stable system technologically which we are trying to achieve in a few months. “This is why we have not launched a full version yet, says Shofiul, but we are working hard to make it as good as possible. If we compare it with global marketplaces now we have already covered it by 70-80%.”
The platform has been seeing a steady growth since the launch. “We have not pushed for growth yet, says Shofiul, “but we are seeing a steady growth in users acquisition.” However, the challenge for the platform remains in retaining the users.
Although informally people/companies hire freelancers in Bangladesh but using a freelancing platform is relatively new experience for most people. Consequently, employer education is a huge challenge for Belancer. Attracting good talents remains another big challenge for the platform. This might be because; good people can earn more on international freelancing platforms.
“It is hard to find good people”, says Shofiul, “there are works but there are not enough good talents to bid those works. Similarly, employers often mistake one thing with other. On a freelancing platform you don’t put a rate thinking that people would ask for more.” Employers giving low budget have become a big problem for the platform. Freelancers often complain about low paying jobs on the platform. “Customer education is a big challenge. We are working on educating our users, says Shofiul, “but as I said this is going to take time.”
After months of struggle to get things in place, the startup has reached operational breakeven recently by helping big third party freelancing projects to accomplish. For making money, the startup charges both parties. It takes 5 percent commission from employers and 5 percent from workers. Shofiul says they take, 10 percent of the total project value from two parties because they don’t want to burden one by charging more. This is almost similar to other freelancing platforms including Upwork. However, other platforms exclusively charge freelancers whereas Belancer divides the charge on both sides.
Shofiul has a long story of starting things. Before starting his own company he worked for couple of startup companies as well. He helped few of them to grow from a four people team to fifty plus people team. He started his first company in 2010 after leaving his high paying corporate job in Middle East. The reason was he wanted to build something of his own. So he knew, to some extent, what it takes to build a company.
The biggest challenge Shofiul faced was finding right people and building a great team. “It is really hard to find good technical people, says Shofiul, “similarly it is hard to find people who are motivated to do everything to build a company.” Shofiul also says, there are not many good product minds in Bangladesh.
According to some research, Bangladesh is a market of $160 million for IT and ITs jobs per year. This is itself a huge market. Belancer aims to get a share of this market. At the same time, there are plans to take it to other Asian countries and emerging markets of Africa as well. Belancer is now planning to launch its third beta next month and then they will go for a final launching. Shofiul plans to give a big push after third beta launch for growth. Belancer is also exploring investment opportunities to push the growth and technology.
Since launching operation in Dhaka, Belancer has done pretty well. As I said, it consistently updated the platform, kept the growth up. But Shofiul says, at times we did things without proper planning. We jumped into things without thinking much. Shofiul considers focus as the most critical component for achieving any goal. “I think focus is the key to success, especially when you are building a startup. I learned from my past mistakes and at Belancer we will remain focused in building the platform up and maintaining the growth.”