A large faction of the young generation seems to be plagued with a dilemma. Whether to stay in Bangladesh or settle abroad seems to be the burning question that starts to occupy the minds of teenagers to graduates and young professionals. Many blame the demoralising political, social and economical problems of the country and yet many demur to the corrupt system to nudge the scales to the cons of settling down in Bangladesh.
The story of Riyad Husain, who is currently the CEO of Magnito Digital, one of the leading digital ad agencies of the country, is one that can offer some assurance that obstacles can be overcome anywhere including Bangladesh with will and determination.
The office of Magnito Digital at Kamal Ataturk Avenue is refreshingly different. A table tennis court lies right in the middle of the office where the employees can play to take a break. Same goes for the PS3 set up in the office. Tasneem Tarannum Misha, the PR executive of the firm said, ‘The office is equipped to give the staff those all important five to ten minute recreational breaks when we can play or listen to music so that we can stay productive throughout the day’.
This dazzling office, Riyad Husain’s astounding success with Google Business Groups, his entrepreneurship skills in the ever expanding food industry of the country and his philanthropic works with Zakaat Connect, all by the age of 31, are remarkable achievements. But after speaking with Riyad Husain, you get the feeling that what is even more remarkable is the story that made him, or rather the story that he made. Even after attaining impressive heights, the humble, yet resilient and confident Riyad Husain hasn’t forgotten his modest beginnings.
He was born in UK, but came back to Bangladesh at the age of 3. He was privileged to attend Scholastica, a reputed English medium school in Dhaka. By the time he was 18, he went back to UK for higher studies. ‘My parents provided funding for my education at Richmond University, while I worked several jobs to meet the high living expenses of UK,’ shares Husain. Upon completing his bachelor degree in Business Administration, he participated in a graduate programme, which is modeled after the renowned TV reality show The Apprentice. The top three performers of the graduate programme had the rare opportunity to become apprentices of Sir Philip Green, the CEO and owner of Arcadia, who is also considered as one of the pioneers of retailing in the world. Riyad made it to the top five from a pool of 400 dynamic contestants. Eventually he secured a role as a graduate management trainee with Arcadia Group, one of the leading multinational retailing companies of UK. But UK could not keep Husain tied for long.
He returned to Bangladesh in 2007 and started looking for entrepreneurial opportunities. ‘I literally had no money to invest in any business,’ states Husain, but still did not lose hope. He conceived the idea of starting up a digital ad agency. Husain noticed that all the big advertising agencies were chasing the corporate giants, where smaller companies were in need of better printing and designing requirements. Armored with his friendly smile, he started knocking the doors of these smaller companies, but had no means of affording any office space. It was at this time that Husain joined with his partner Munazer.
In Husain’s words, ‘We started going to a stationery shop behind Gulshan American Burger outlet, where we would collaborate with the shop’s computer operator to create graphics designs for the clients. We started with designing calendars, brochures and cards. The clients didn’t even know that we didn’t have an office’.
After toiling for about half a year, Riyad Husain and his partner managed to save up and rented a small room for 5,000 taka rent as office.
‘We used to spend entire nights at printing press to make sure the printing of the client’s products ran smoothly’, recalls Husain.
In 2009, his business found a little stability and he formed a company called ROOT Marketing Services. Meanwhile, he continued to lead his small team to push forward and got a big break in 2013.
During that time, the entrepreneurial scene of Bangladesh got a positive boost through the concept that Riyad Husain termed ‘angel investors’. He explained, ‘Around that time, there was this new business trend in Bangladesh that saw investors willing to fund innovative business projects by young entrepreneurs. So I had started looking for investors to expand the company and diversify. Eventually, I found two investors who put their money into the firm’.
Husain launched Magnito Digital about 8 months back after getting funds from investors and the company has already landed 32 clients including a few big names, while employing a team of 14 young individuals.
Husain didn’t limit his entrepreneurial initiatives within the advertising sphere and expanded into the food industry, as he drew inspiration from his mother, who is the owner of popular Time Out restaurant in Dhaka that has been running successfully for 15 years. His newest entrepreneurship in the food industry is Crepe ‘O Momo, a small eatery in Banani, selling crepes and momos as the name suggests.
Riyad Husain is also quite involved with Google Business Groups, which is an initiative by Google to provide tutorials to different groups of people on how they can use technology to better different aspects of their lives. Google runs these business groups in 160 cities around the world and Husain volunteered to start the Dhaka group for Google. His group was ranked the number one group in the world last year in terms of achievements for which he went to Indonesia to collect an award.
Besides being an entrepreneur, Riyad Husain is also a philanthropist. Zakat Connect, which is a charitable initiative of Husain and his wife Navin Ahmed finds real needy people and features them on the page so that donors can find people who actually need money. The initiative generated 20 lacs for the Rana Plaza victims and has also created livelihoods for people by gaining them funds for rickshaws and tea stalls.
Riyad Husain’s story serves as a testament that there are career choices for young individuals who would rather have their own entrepreneurial start-ups than climbing a corporate ladder and that at the end of the day, giving back to the community is as important as pursuing a successful career.