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Thu, April 25, 2024

THE PAINS, PITFALLS & TRIUMPHS OF FIRST GEN ENTREPRENEURS

B360
B360 March 8, 2024, 10:48 am
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According to the Department of Industry, 37,143 new firms were registered in fiscal year 2017-18, and 52,629 in FY 2018-19. The number dropped in 2019-20 to 48,854. In 2020-21, registrations leapt to a stupendous 83,386. As per the Central Bureau of Statistics 2021, 54.5% of all establishments in the country are owned by young entrepreneurs.

In this edition of Business 360, we spoke to some first-generation entrepreneurs who lack the experience and inherited knowledge of business operations, financial resources, networks and guidance to find out what drives them in their journey, what the challenges are, and what success means to them. 

Why did you choose to get into business?

Ajmeri Khatun: Since childhood, I had dreamt of becoming a doctor. But it’s life and you don’t always end up fulfilling childhood dreams. I ended up sudying IT and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. I love to delve deep into any subject matter and research it, and the IT field served my purpose. I found tremendous opportunities to research and explore IT intricacies and technicalities. During the second year of my graduation itself I started to freelance. I was working and earning through Google Adsense and other miscellaneous assignments. In 2016, I opened my own IT firm. I also stopped taking financial help from my family. Instead, I installed wi-fi, solar and generator in my house in Janakpur. But in two years, the house contract expired and the landlord asked us to vacate the place as they wanted to sell the land. I then had to face many challenges. I was a bit at loose ends and in April 2018, my friend and I decided to get into business. We started ‘The Naqabs Fashion’. Initially we started it as an online business and we dealt in watches. During the online boosting, we faced some copyright issues but giving up is not in my dictionary. So, we started selling ethnic clothing items. The online business was going well, but in between Nepal experienced an increase in online fraud. I realised that the market required a physical store. We opened our first store in Janakpur. When people started to come and physically get the experience of our clothing, they started to trust us. And in time we opened stores in Thapagaun, New Baneshwor and Pokhara.

Overall, I would say that I didn’t choose to get into business, it was a path. However, the journey from a career in IT to business was something that was backed by my dedication, motivation and skills gained from the IT field.

Niraj Bhusal: I think it was somewhat accidental. I had not planned to register a company or start a business. It happened organically. I kept writing articles and eventually companies like Huawei and Samsung started calling me to their events. After that we registered the company, created a team of around five-six people and decided to go commercial with it. Before we started, people perceived the role of tech blogs to be where they could find laptop and smartphone reviews. Our intention was to write about tech ecosystems and so on. We started partnering with events.

As my experience was with community building, we treated the site as a community. We were partners of almost 80% of events in Nepal. We were working as media partners at college level events, national level hackathons, not only in Nepal but in India, Bangladesh, Dubai and Malaysia. Our work was to connect our audience and the companies we were working with. Our team of just six was producing only text, but later we expanded to video reviews as well. We started having segments like Startup Stories, Tech Talks and FinTalk.

Megha Sharma: I have always been passionate about makeup and beauty products and I noticed a gap in the market in Nepal. Many customers were seeking genuine, branded makeup products but found them to be expensive or inaccessible. Recognising this opportunity, I was motivated to provide a solution by offering authentic makeup products at affordable prices to Nepali customers. I believe that everyone should have access to high-quality makeup products that not only enhance their beauty but also make them feel confident. By sourcing genuine brands and offering them at competitive prices, I aim to make premium makeup products more accessible to a broader audience in Nepal.

My goal is not only to build a successful business but also to make a positive impact by empowering individuals to express themselves through makeup without breaking the bank. I am excited about the opportunity to contribute to the beauty industry in Nepal and fulfil the needs of customers who share my passion for makeup.

Subash Sapkota: I pursued Bachelor’s in Business Administration then joined a Master’s programme but I dropped out. While studying BBA, I was also working part time with eSewa. After working for approximately eleven months, I felt the job would not provide me the financial freedom I was looking for. I wanted to have some level of independence in the work I was doing. Back then, I used to read a lot of books and ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ gave me a lot of knowledge about financial freedom and the concept of businesses. I realised that I could start a business on my own. My father used to work at Coca-Cola and he had a daily routine of 9 to 5. Observing him, I used to think that he had no control over his life.

Gradually, I developed a feeling that I needed to do something where I would not have to worry about timings or be under someone’s schedule. In some of the books that I read; it was mentioned that a job is like a rat race. No matter how fast you run, you will end up being a rat only. What I believed was paying my running bills only will take me nowhere in life. Therefore, I decided to get into business. While also working in eSewa I tried setting up a startup but it used to be very difficult to manage time. Ultimately, I resigned and started investing my full time in planning a business.

How did you choose the line of business you wanted to set into?

Ajmeri Khatun: When my friend came up with the name ‘The Naqabs Fashion’, we decided to give meaning to it. Naqabs means hidden. In a way it describes our journey as Naqabs started as a watch business but is now an ethnic clothing business. I have a very keen interest in fabrics. I have also studied and researched the needs and taste of people in ethnic fashion. It is always advisable to do business in the field where you have your expertise and knowledge. When you can research well enough in a particular line, you can ace it. Usually people say that food, housing and clothing businesses never fail. But if you are unable to understand the market and properly research it, then any business will fail. I thought I have to use my capabilities in the business to succeed. That’s how I stepped into the clothing line. But I also know that this is not the limit. We aim to come up with more unexpected product lines in the future.

Niraj Bhusal: I have always been passionate about technology. I have been a student of computer science since the fourth grade. Even in the 10th grade when we had to choose between accounts and computers, I chose computer science. When I reached +2, I had chosen science at KIST college, where only management students had the option to study computer science. Science students had to study biology. After a week of studying biology, I spoke to my coordinator that I wanted to study computer science. He said I had to come back with 12 students who also wanted to study the subject. I came back with 22. That is how much I wanted to study it.

I have been interested in IT all my life. After I completed my +2, I started contributing to Google’s many communities. I received a positive response in establishing a community in Dang, my hometown, as a sub-group of GDG Birgunj. I started blogging in 2012. There were hardly five or six people who held dreams of earning from AdSense. It was called nirajbhusal.com.np where my blog was ironically about how to blog. I started another blog called AnNepal, which due to various reasons I had to abandon. But I could not abandon my interest in blogging. So, during 2017-18 I was looking to start blogging again and I hit on the name ‘TechSathi’ which I started with the intention of being a personal blog, instead it is a business now.

 Megha Sharma: After conducting thorough market research and analysis of the potential opportunities in Nepal, I identified the cosmetics market as a promising and under-served niche. Nepal, with its growing economy and increasing consumer spending power, presents a significant opportunity for businesses in various sectors, including cosmetics. Through my market survey and analysis, I found that there was a clear demand for high-quality cosmetic products among Nepali consumers. I saw an opportunity to address this need and fulfil the aspirations of Nepali consumers who desire quality makeup products. Furthermore, the cosmetics industry is known for its resilience and continuous growth, making it an attractive sector to enter. By leveraging my passion for makeup and aligning it with the market demand in Nepal, I am confident that I can establish a successful business that not only meets the needs of customers but also contributes to the overall growth of the cosmetics industry in the country.

Overall, my decision to choose this line of business was driven by a combination of market research, consumer demand, and my own passion for the beauty industry.

Subash Sapkota: Health has become an integral part of everybody’s life. People want to have a secure, safe and healthy lifestyle these days. Unlike other countries, Nepal has not developed a good system of health benefits. Due to this, many youngsters are going abroad to secure their life and only the ageing population is left here. Ageing population goes through a lot of chronic health issues. Their families want to take care of them but they cannot do it as they are busy with their own lives. Having to admit parents for 365 days in a hospital will also not be easy for them. Also, it is not guaranteed that their parents will get the best treatment in the hospital. Hence, we came up with the idea of providing home health care and health services to the elderly population of the country. Firstly, we researched, we sought for the validity of the business idea and for that we first did a pilot exercise with a smaller audience and only later, went to widen our reach.

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My inspiration to stay committed and reach new heights also comes from my mother. She has always been my superhero. In light of the present circumstances of our country, no one is willing to stay here. All the youths are ready to go abroad. But witnessing my mother striving to educate all of us five sisters is incredible. If she can fight to make all of us independent and educated, then why can’t I stay in Nepal and fight all the challenges. Ajmeri Khatun CEO, Naqabs

Who inspires you in the business world?

Ajmeri Khatun: I look up to successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. They have had an incredible life journey and it definitely serves as a motivation for me. But I have not witnessed their life and life decisions closely. However, I have seen my maternal grandfather’s life journey and my dedication to thrive and strive is inspired by him. I am from Janakpur but I studied till class 10 in Dhangadhi where I lived with him and got an opportunity to closely witness his life. He is not a businessman, but he alone successfully leads a family of 27-30 people. He has made sure that all of his children are well-educated and has made them successful doctors and engineers. I really admire him for role as a responsible leader for the betterment of the family. He inspires me to lead in my work and life. Business is incomplete without successful leadership.

My inspiration to stay committed and reach new heights also comes from my mother. She has always been my superhero. In light of the present circumstances of our country, no one is willing to stay here. All the youths are ready to go abroad. But witnessing my mother striving to educate all of us five sisters is incredible. If she can fight to make all of us independent and educated, then why can’t I stay in Nepal and fight all the challenges. I was determined to stay in Nepal and do something here. And after setting up the business, when I started doing well, I even asked my dad to return from abroad. For the last 20 years he had been working in Saudi Arabia. I had my business here and I needed help as well so I called my father and he has been working with me in this business. This acts as a catalyst to my zeal to continue expanding my business.

The business world is never easy. It has many ups and downs but what matters the most is how you deal with problems and challenges. My grandfather and mother inspire me to effectively deal with everything life brings on.

Niraj Bhusal: The one who inspired me to start this business was a man named Ryan from the USA. He was a retired security officer. When I was blogging, I would generally host guest posts and would also write as a guest for others. We had a group where we compared which of the blogs received the most interactions, the ones with the most likes would be ranked first and would receive a guest article from every one of the others. That was where I first met him. He was the main person who pushed me to start TechSathi.

Megha Sharma: I draw inspiration from individuals like Sailesh Sigdyal and Neha Sharma, the co-founders, who have made significant strides in the business world. Their leadership, innovative thinking, and dedication to their respective companies have not only driven success but also inspired others, including myself, to pursue entrepreneurship. Sailesh’s vision for the business and his ability to navigate challenges with resilience serve as a testament to the power of determination and strategic thinking. Likewise, Neha’s leadership and commitment to excellence have set a high standard for success in the industry. As a budding entrepreneur, I aspire to emulate their qualities of leadership, creativity and perseverance in my own business endeavours. Their achievements serve as a constant reminder that with passion, hard work and a strategic approach, anything is possible in the business world. Having such accomplished individuals as mentors motivates me to strive for excellence and to make a positive impact in the business landscape. I am eager to apply the lessons I have learned from their experiences to my own journey and to contribute to the growth and success of my business.

Subash Sapkota: While I was a student, I used to watch Steve Jobs a lot. He used to be my inspiration back then. I can say that he has had an impact on me.  Secondly, I am inspired by Biswas Dhakal who founded eSewa, a digital wallet company. I have seen the transformational changes brought by him in Nepal.

How difficult or easy was it to organise the investment required for your business?

Ajmeri Khatun: Ever since I have navigated my business Naqabs, I haven’t really sought investment. After I shut down my IT business, I sold the furniture. So, I had some money from there which I re-invested into Naqabs. With that money, I started the watch business. Since then, I have been able to sustain Naqabs with the money we make. But when my business started to kick off and reach a peak, I realised that my business needed more money. After opening my store in New Baneshwor, I felt the need for additional investment.With my vision to expand my business, I had to take calculated risks and fuel investment. I proposed the idea of investment to my family. Since my business was taking off, they had confidence in me. And that is how I took investment from my family.

Niraj Bhusal: In the beginning we did not raise investment from anyone. In the first three months when I was running it, I received some amount from advertisements that helped me kick off the business. I used my personal savings to pay for the domain name. I had thankfully been investing in stocks and shares, the proceeds from which I used in financing a studio we were setting up. So, we have mostly been self-funded.

At the moment we are speaking to an investor with the intention of scaling up the business. We are hoping that having multiple minds and ideas will help with our growth. We had spoken to some other investors but we were never of the same mind. Many have shown interest but with the sole motive of capitalising on our growth. We did not want someone with such short-term set of goals, I wanted someone with whom my vision matched. I think I have met someone like that and we plan on making our operations more large-scale.

Megha Sharma: Starting with modest capital, I recognised the potential in the clothing and sari market in Nepal and decided to launch my business venture. With a passion for fashion and a keen eye for market opportunities, I began organising sales of clothes and saris, leveraging the power of social networks and local communities to build initial traction. As the demand for our products grew steadily, I seized the opportunity to establish a physical presence by opening our first store in Civil Mall. This strategic move not only allowed us to cater to a broader customer base but also enhanced our visibility and credibility in the market. Later, we sold that clothing store and opened our first store of PrettyClick in Civil Mall.

The journey from organising sales to opening our flagship store has been both challenging and rewarding. It required resourcefulness, resilience and a deep understanding of customer preferences and market dynamics. However, with dedication, perseverance and a customer-centric approach, we were able to turn our vision into reality. It has laid a strong foundation for our continued growth and expansion in the competitive retail landscape of Nepal. Looking ahead, I am excited about the opportunities to further innovate, diversify our product offerings, and enhance the overall shopping experience for our customers. Our journey is just beginning.

Subash Sapkota: For the funding, we tried for a loan in the beginning but since we had no collateral, we could not receive any. Then, we decided to contribute Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 each from our own side. Initially, we just needed a landline and a person to handle the calls for promotional activities. Slowly, we had to expand. We reinvested the profits back into the business. With time, the demand has increased, so has the service. Now, our vision is not to be limited to only the valley but also go beyond. We might need an investor soon.

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We are speaking to an investor with the intention of scaling up the business. We are hoping that having multiple minds and ideas will help with our growth. We had spoken to some other investors but we were never of the same mind. Many have shown interest but with the sole motive of capitalising on our growth. I wanted someone with whom my vision matched. Niraj Bhusal Founder, TechSathi

What are some initial hurdles you faced as an entrepreneur?

Ajmeri Khatun: My journey was not easy. There were many hurdles that I had to overcome. Initially back in 2016, when I was earning through freelancing and my IT business, I used to invest in the stock market. Whatever I used to earn, I used to invest in the stock market. I had even asked a few of my relatives to invest. But the stock market is unpredictable and all my stocks crashed. I had to face a lot of loss. And the termination of the contract of the IT company made the situation even worse. The loss and the taunts of relatives became overwhelming. To overcome this, I took a loan at a time in my life when everything was going wrong. I tried hard but it all went against me. In 2018, I went into depression. That’s when my mother came to my rescue. I realised that I was always pondering on what people would think of me but in reality, it did not really matter. I also realised that I had to make myself strong because people always attack those who are weak. Many people came and said different things but at the end of the day you know what you are doing. Once you start growing, the same people who hurt you will appreciate you. These were very valuable lessons that I have learned.

I then started from zero. With my friend, I started Naqabs towards the end of 2018. But the challenges were still there. Initially the business didn’t peak. At this point, I broke all inhibitions and got into social media actively modelling and selling the clothes. I became the face of Naqabs. Coming from a Muslim background, the society judged me for this too. The clothes were ethnic and decent but I was still criticised by people. People would constantly provoke my parents but they always showed their belief in me. After two months of opening the store in New Baneshwor, we had the Covid lockdown. The slowdown in the economy due to the pandemic impacted a lot of businesses. This January marls three years since I started the store in New Baneshwor store but I have hardly run it for two years. The pandemic was really a challenge but I knew I could not give up. I would recover.  I put my heart and soul into selling the products but insufficient delivery services back then were a problem for us. However, things changed and we are doing well now.

Niraj Bhusal: The most difficult thing in the beginning was manpower. If I put out a request for a content writer, I would receive a lot of applications but never from the niche we were in. When we were looking for content writers for something specific like gadgets, we needed someone who understood the subject which was very hard to find. For our segment FinTech, we could not have someone who has never used a digital payment platform. Some were capable at writing but could not speak in front of a camera, while it was the opposite for others.

Another challenge was during the Covid transition period between the first and second phase. We had built a studio in a dedicated flat, invested in furniture and equipment, after which the second phase started. We had a lot of difficulty paying the rent. Not only that, we had been producing a lot of videos during that transition period. Not uploading suddenly ruins the expectations that audiences have of regular uploads which affects YouTube viewership tremendously. YouTube itself ends up forgetting to promote you through their algorithm.
Besides these, I don’t think we faced many other roadblocks. I believe our intention to follow our passion instead of chasing success helped us the most. We were trying to build a brand instead of chasing profits.

Megha Sharma: Undoubtedly, one of the significant challenges I faced in starting my business was navigating through administrative and bureaucratic hurdles. From obtaining licences and permits to dealing with regulatory compliance, there were various obstacles that demanded time, resources and patience. In Nepal’s business landscape, administrative processes can sometimes be complex and time-consuming, which can slow down the pace of entrepreneurship. However, I approached these challenges with a proactive mindset, seeking guidance from experienced professionals, legal advisors and government agencies to ensure compliance while minimising delays. Building strong relationships and networking within relevant government departments proved invaluable in streamlining administrative processes and overcoming bureaucratic hurdles.

Subash Sapkota: In the beginning, I used to fear seeing my counterparts having settled jobs, a good source of income and a stable life. Belonging to a family who had never had any involvement in the business sector, there used to be a kind of pressure from my parents. When I first shared my business idea, I vividly remember my parents saying “You have gone out of control…Why don’t you try working for big companies like Ncell… Why not go abroad.” They even developed trust issues and doubted my abilities. They also did not understand the value of partnership and teamwork. They were very reluctant when I first shared the idea of a partnership business model. It was way too difficult to make them understand these things. At times my friends used to make jokes and were doubtful. Days were tough, I used to work late nights planning the business. At times, I used to feel very low, doubting whether I would succeed. But no matter what, I did not give up.

The other problem I faced was seeking a loan from a bank. They asked for collateral which I could not manage. When we actually started the business, it took so much time to gain trust from clients and our own staff. They used to doubt the sustainability of the company. We used to face a lot of problems related to retention as well. There have been days when salaries were delayed and I received piles of letters of resignation.

Unlike the second or third generation entrepreneurs, the first generation has to struggle a lot and that too all alone. There have been times, when we failed, we were stuck, with nobody to provide mentorship. Working with limited resources and with no backup or any pre-setups in terms of networking, availing loans, keeping records, governmental documents, financial discipline, audits, etc. is has not been easy. Due to lack of knowledge on proper documentation, we even had to pay government fines.

Now, we have established and expanded. We have a Standard Operating Procedures in place. We have an HR department for hiring. We have a group of nurses and a nurse in charge, and there are medical officials to oversee every nurse. We have adopted technology in every management procedure. We follow a roster to keep the records of nurses, the hourly payroll, etc. Recently, we got ISO certification too.

What are some qualities in an entrepreneur that can help a business succeed?

Ajmeri Khatun: As an entrepreneur, one must be very focused. One should have set targets. You cannot start a business without knowing what you want to do or where you want to reach. For me, the most important thing is to stop comparing myself with others. Healthy competition is always encouraged and good for business. But if an entrepreneur starts comparing and envying other businesses, s/he will be in a trap forever.

It is also important for an entrepreneur to have strong negotiating and marketing skills. Along with this, one needs to remain honest with their customers. You must build trust.

Niraj Bhusal: I am sure it is different in every industry, but while producing content for TechSathi I always felt the need to have at least a working knowledge of all the relevant skills required to run the portal. I am interested in photography, so I could always take photos if our photographer was not available. But I could not do that for many other roles in the office. I wish I had learnt about editing videos or at least known how to do some basic things so I could support my team members in times of sickness or leave. If you own a cafe, I believe you should at least have some barista training. The desire to learn is the best quality anyone, not just an entrepreneur, can have.

Megha Sharma: Endurance, honesty and hard work are foundational qualities that I believe are crucial for an entrepreneur’s success. The journey of building and growing a business is often filled with challenges and uncertainties and it is the endurance to persevere through these tough times that sets successful entrepreneurs apart. Honesty is equally important, not just in dealing with customers and partners but also in internal operations and decision-making. Maintaining transparency and integrity fosters trust, which is essential for long-term relationships and sustainability. Hard work is the driving force behind turning vision into reality. It is the willingness to put in the long hours, to tackle difficult tasks head-on, and to continuously strive for improvement that propels a business forward. Additionally, having an open mind regarding division of labour is crucial. Recognising that one person cannot do everything solely and being willing to delegate tasks to others who are better suited for them is a sign of effective leadership. It allows for the leveraging of diverse skills and expertise within the team, ultimately leading to more efficient and successful outcomes.

In my own entrepreneurial journey, I have found that embodying these qualities has been instrumental in overcoming challenges, building strong relationships, and achieving meaningful growth.

Subash Sapkota: The first and foremost thing is that entrepreneurs should be open to change. The main problem of entrepreneurs is they are so sure about their business ideas that they are very reluctant to change or modify. Secondly, an entrepreneur, while planning business ideas, should be very specific in choosing their target audience. Third, s/he must have the ability to make others understand their product. Most entrepreneurs understand their idea but when it comes to pitching the idea to others, they cannot explain well. A business concept and product should be easy to understand by the end users. Also, entrepreneurs must have interpersonal and communication skills. Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to go and approach people for anything. They must be open to talk. Confidence is the key.

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With dedication, perseverance and a customer-centric approach, we were able to turn our vision into reality. It has laid a strong foundation for our continued growth and expansion in the competitive retail landscape of Nepal. Looking ahead, I am excited about the opportunities to further innovate, diversify our product offerings, and enhance the overall shopping experience for our customers. Our journey is just beginning. Megha Sharma Managing Director Pretty Click

How do you view the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country and in your specific business?

Ajmeri Khatun: A wave of entrepreneurship exists. There are many people willing to enter into business. The entrepreneurship ecosystem is growing but more encouragement is needed. Many young people are discouraged as they do not see the opportunities in staying on in Nepal and starting a business or finding decent employment.

Niraj Bhusal: I believe the habit of jumping on trends to make a quick profit has been quite detrimental to the industry. I believe patience is necessary. Just because a business does not work in the first year does not mean it never will. It is important to take your time in developing a brand.

I think you should set some time caps by which you intend to have your business take off. Of course, if it crosses a certain threshold of time where you have not been able to make it work, you should understand it is not working out and stop or change your focus. Getting excited and starting something may result in it not being successful, there is a lot to learn about before. You also have to be prepared for things to go wrong. If you are starting a business where you deliver your products online, you have to imagine your delivery driver’s bike getting stolen. Only then can you prepare for such eventualities. You have to think about the challenges. If you only get into it looking solely at the profit the business might end up in loss. Even a huge company like Netflix only started making profit after ten years of functioning.

I also believe there is a lack of cooperation. If you are running a cafe, then it would be in your interest to cooperate with a bakery, instead of making the bakery items yourself. If there are existing companies that already do what you need then you should outsource your work. Or you should at least be able to provide a platform for those who have the experience to do something you have no idea about.

Megha Sharma: The entrepreneurial ecosystem in our country is undoubtedly challenging, with numerous hurdles stemming from inconsistent policies, widespread corruption and bureaucratic red tape. These factors not only hinder the growth of businesses but also discourage aspiring entrepreneurs from pursuing their dreams. Inconsistent policies create uncertainty and make it difficult for businesses to plan and invest for the long term. Moreover, navigating through a maze of bureaucratic procedures often leads to delays and increased costs, further burdening entrepreneurs, especially those with limited resources. The prevalence of corruption adds another layer of complexity to the business environment, as it creates barriers to fair competition and undermines trust in institutions. Entrepreneurs may find themselves entangled in corrupt practices simply to navigate through regulatory hurdles or secure necessary permits, compromising their integrity in the process. Despite these challenges, I believe there are opportunities for positive change and improvement in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. By advocating for transparent and accountable governance, promoting policies that support entrepreneurship and innovation, and fostering a culture of integrity and ethical business conduct, we can create a more conducive environment for businesses to thrive.

Subash Sapkota: The first-generation entrepreneur is only capable of talking about the ecosystem when they get into the business domain. Initially, we do not focus on the business ecosystem because we do not feel we are counted. Those who are established and renowned are leading all the chambers and forums in the country. The first generations are still struggling to be recognised in such groups. If we get a chance to represent ourselves, be visible and heard, then things can be different. There are two types of entrepreneurs, one is inside the radar and one outside of it. The entrepreneurial ecosystem will not impact the people outside the radar.

In the current economic situation, how are you working on sustaining your business through the existing challenges?

Ajmeri Khatun: In addressing the current economic situation sustaining one’s business seems precarious.  But we are sustaining and fighting the challenges. We are regular with our customers and business. We continue to show our presence through both the digital and physical mediums. We also continue to maintain transparency in our products and our customer interactions. And most importantly, I believe that we walk with the market. The market does not have the money but it has the need. We identified this need and we created demand in the market.

To be honest, there is nothing like a lockdown or crisis that can stop you from doing your business. At times, even if you get sick for around six months, your business will go into loss. So, it is all about how you view the crisis. You must have the belief you can do it. With god’s grace we are sustaining well despite the Covid 19 and lockdown. It is our regularity, punctuality and our market presence through which we are able to fight the sluggish economy.

Niraj Bhusal: Every company during periods of trouble looks at which sector of theirs is working at a loss. This invariably ends up in cost-cutting measures on the product and staff. The objective being achieving the maximum profit from minimal manpower. The primary aspect that receives a cost-cutting measure is the marketing. In Nepal, especially the same sponsors are spotted in almost all e events, we have a very small market. Our customers are either Nepalis or Non-Resident Nepalis, so a major challenge is that our audience market is small as well. Speaking in the context of other countries, it is possible to sustain yourself through just a platform like Google through ads. But the same is not true for a Nepali business where even if they receive one million views, they will not get the same amount of money.

Another major challenge that every business in Nepal faces is the brain drain, the number of people leaving Nepal. At most, what we can do is be hopeful and try our best not to cut costs so much. To motivate the people integral to our organisation, instead of paying a salary, we give them a share of the profits so that then they feel responsible and work even harder.

Megha Sharma: In light of the existing challenges in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, we have adopted a strategy focused on making decisions on a day-to-day basis and implemented flexible working norms. This approach allows us to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and navigate through the uncertainties inherent in the business environment. By making decisions on a day-to-day basis, we are able to stay agile and responsive to emerging challenges and opportunities. This means continuously evaluating market conditions, customer feedback and internal operations so that our decision-making process is an informed one. It also enables us to prioritise tasks and allocate resources more effectively, ensuring that we remain focused on the most pressing issues at hand. In addition, implementing flexible working norms has been instrumental in sustaining our business amidst the existing challenges. This includes allowing remote work arrangements, flexible hours and cross-functional collaboration across teams.

By empowering our employees to work in ways that suit their individual preferences and circumstances, we are able to foster a more productive and motivated workforce. Furthermore, maintaining open lines of communication and fostering a culture of transparency has been key to ensuring that everyone in the organisation is aligned and informed about the decisions being made. This helps to build trust and resilience within the team, enabling us to overcome obstacles together and drive the business forward. While the challenges we face may be daunting, we are confident that our proactive approach to decision-making and flexible working norms will help us sustain and grow our business in the face of adversity. By remaining adaptable and resilient, we are positioning ourselves for long-term success in the ever-evolving entrepreneurial landscape.

Subash Sapkota: We are now focusing a bit more on cost control mechanisms. We are following strategically contingent models. For example, we are shifting towards an installment model of payment among clients so that we can sustain ourselves in the long run. Adapting to technology in everyday operations has made it easier for the smooth running of the organisation with limited human resources.

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Those who are established and renowned are leading all the chambers and forums in the country. The first generations are still struggling to be recognised in such groups. If we get a chance to represent ourselves, be visible and heard, then things can be different. There are two types of entrepreneurs, one is inside the radar and one outside of it. Subash Sapkota
Co-founder, Doctors on Call

Any policy level change that could help you?

Ajmeri Khatun: Certainly, there are a lot of things that can be done at the policy level. Policies for better education and awareness are also important. In businesses like ours, sales and marketing is very important. Better education will definitely help people gain better marketing knowledge which they can use to grow their business. Another thing would be encouragement. The policies should be crafted in such a way that it will benefit the business, government and the country as well. If such benefits are shown, we would be further encouraged to do more in business. And if there would have been a proper pattern of taxation then it would be helpful for businesses like ours. Export and import businesses do require a proper taxation system which is not very well conducted at present.

Niraj Bhusal: When we were starting, the process of registering a business was very obtuse. It has become much easier now that it is online. Even processes related to taxes have become easier. If you comply with the rules that the government has created, it is not difficult to succeed. The policies set by the government to help startups has been a bit misunderstood. The government or any bank will not give you a loan depending on your vision for the company but rather on how much you have earned in the past year. To get money in terms of your vision, you need to find an investor. Comparing the process of getting a business like mine started I have noticed that it has definitely become easier.

Megha Sharma: Implementing consistent and entrepreneur-friendly policies is paramount to overcoming the challenges we face in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. Consistent policies create a level playing field for entrepreneurs, allowing them to make informed decisions and plan for the future with confidence. When regulations are clear, transparent and consistently enforced, it reduces the risk of compliance issues and enables businesses to focus their resources on innovation and growth. Policies that would help streamline licensing procedures, tax incentives for startups, access to finance, and support for skills development and innovation can be given priorities. Creating an environment that fosters innovation, creativity, and risk-taking, governments can catalyse economic growth, job creation and social development.

Entrepreneurship is a vital driver of prosperity and progress, and it is essential that policymakers recognise its importance and take proactive steps to support and nurture it.

Subash Sapkota: The biggest challenge is funding. Easy availability and accessibility of loans through subsidised loan techniques is necessary. Second, just like ‘Idea Bank’ of India, if the government could also start something similar in Nepal, it would have been better.

The second biggest problem is mentoring. Therefore, mentoring from a policy level could help. Here, the focus should not be only generating entrepreneurs, the focus should be nurturing entrepreneurs and bringing them to the forefront. The government could also introduce a team for validating ideas. To prioritise the entrepreneurship model, initiatives similar to ‘Make In India’ would be best suited.

Lastly, entrepreneurs must be made aware of the governmental policies they are obliged to follow.

Are you a part of any network like FNCCI, CNI or bilateral chambers? Why or why not?

 Ajmeri Khatun: No, I am not a part of any network like FNCCI, CNI or bilateral chambers. Currently my entire focus is on my business. First and foremost, I aim to expand and set up my business and reach new heights. And I believe that it is crucial for me to give my time and dedication to my business at this point. But in the future, I am definitely looking forward to such opportunities.

Niraj Bhusal: No, I am mainly a part of Google’s Volunteering company. We do have a group of friends who are in similar industries like Offering Happiness’s Santosh Pandey and Neeraj Kafle, my friends from Mero Kishan and many others, we have a lot of weekly-monthly informal gatherings where we discuss a lot, but I have never been a part of any organisation as such. I would only go to a committee as such if I felt I could add value to it. If there is someone who has more than ten years of experience than me, I think they would be a better choice than me. I could just meet those people for advice. I don’t have to actually sit on the board. I also feel if you have an interest in such things, it often gets political.

Megha Sharma: While we greatly value the contributions and support provided by established networks such as FNCCI, CNI, and bilateral chambers, our business operates independently and is not currently affiliated with any formal associations. As an independent entity, we take a self-reliant approach to managing our operations and navigating the challenges of the business environment. While we recognise the benefits of belonging to industry networks and associations, we have chosen to focus on developing our internal capabilities and leveraging our own resources to drive success. This independent approach allows us the flexibility to tailor our strategies and solutions to the specific needs and circumstances of our business. While we remain open to collaboration and partnership opportunities, we are confident in our ability to thrive and succeed through our self-reliance and entrepreneurial spirit. Moving forward, we are committed to continuing our journey as an independent business, while also exploring opportunities for collaboration and engagement with industry stakeholders and relevant organisations to further our growth and impact.

Subash Sapkota: We were able to receive the first position in the first award ceremony conducted by NYEF and were also able to come in the top eight finalists of the startup award conducted by CNIYEF, but we are not involved as a member in any of them. Currently, we are a member of a campaign called ‘Make in Nepal – Swadeshi’.  

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E-Magazine
MARCH 2024

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