Telenor, the parent company of GrameenPhone, has taken down Ekhanei.com for good as it could not transform the online classifieds site into a sustainable and profitable business. One of the first online marketplaces formerly known as CellBazaar, the amount of resources they have had at their disposal, it is really shocking that they could not make the most of it. Being a subsidiary of Telenor Bangladesh they had access to almost two third of total mobile internet users in the country at their disposal. Whereas for any internet business, access to the users and get them on board is the primary as well as one of the biggest challenge. Yet having such upper hand, Ekhanei failed miserably.
I have been working in the information technology and service industry for almost 10 years now. For last 1 year I’ve been predicting such incident might happen in case of some of the online marketplaces and used to talk about this with friends & co-workers for sometime, though I didn’t expect this quick. Over the past years I’v experienced first-hand both failure and success big time of a startup . I’ve observed that there is rarely one reason for a startup to fail. There are a common set of reasons that startups struggle and fail, and a consistent set of factors that make startup companies successful. I wonder if my observations were
supported by hard data, and my curiosity around startup success and failure eventually got the best of me. I decided to do some in-depth investigation around this topic and share my observation.
So what was it for Ekhanei? as I understand it any of the below reasons not limited to, could have been the reason that has caused the shutdown of it:
• No Market Need
• Ran out of cash
• Not the right team
• Get out-competed
• Pricing/Cost issues
• Poor Product
• Need/Lack of a business model
• Poor Marketing
• Ignore Customers
• Product Mis-timed
• Lose Focus
• Disharmony on Team/investors
• Pivot gone bad
• Lack Passion
• Bad Location
• No Financing/Investor Interest
• Legal Challenges
• Don’t use network/advisors
• Burn out Failure to pivot
If you look into the reasons I laid out above, you probably can now relate a few of those could have reasons of Ekhanei’s failure and also you would find for some of the cases they have a very strong stand in comparison to many other startups in the country. I would say it had all the opportunities and possibilities to become the Alibaba.com in Bangladesh if they wouldn’t have been so focused on making insanely expensive TV commercials rather than focusing on the quality of the product, take necessary actions to implement those and respecting customer feedback. People do like a good PR, but it also does set a level of expectation. And if your product doesn’t meet that standard, users won’t come to give it a second try. There is a possibility that similar businesses might share the similar fate if they do not learn from the mistakes and take necessary actions to rectify.
Having all these said, I’ve laid out a few observations that I think could have been reasons for the failure of Ekhanei:
Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback. I think they didn’t spend enough time talking with customers, gathering enough input from clients and were rolling out features, changing designs without knowing user expectation that they thought were great, but they didn’t. They didn’t realize it until it was too late. It’s easy to get tricked into thinking your thing is cool. But if you are to be successful you must have to pay attention to your customers and adapt to their needs.
Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Continuously upgrade/enhance/optimize the platform with latest global trend and technology, improve design; more importantly take customer feedback very seriously and act accordingly; and in there Ekhanei failed I would say.
Many startups go wrong is believing they are the only ones with the best product and not doing enough competitor research. Ignoring the competition is a recipe for disaster in of startup failures. As Peter Thiel suggests, ask yourself what you’re doing that no one else is doing. Or if someone is not doing it well enough, what are you doing differently to win the market?
Building a product, developing a business model is not easy and online business is surely not. Just having a website and product showcasing doesn’t make it an e-commerce platform. You need to make sure that your commitment to the customers always remain intact. The SLA you promised, you actually are being able to comply with. It is about building relationship, and Trust is the key here; Ekhanei wasn’t quite very good to make such relationships.
Constantly running tests your product, do functional, do A/B testing; check what’s working and what’s not; look into your analytics everyday see what is that your users like, what they don’t. The same thing customers have liked some time ago; they might not like it now. Your best friend is your customer’s feedback and data. Remember you might be right or wrong; but data never lies. It shows actually whether you are doing it right or wrong. Therefore, never show arrogance, it will ruin you and everything in the process.
When you don’t validate your market aggressively enough, you can’t build a good product. I think that’s where Ekhanei had significant lacking. Without measuring, trusting the numbers, tracking, validating, and optimizing the data you get from your clients, it’s not possible to create a viable product in high demand.
Remember the interview of the CEO of Nokia crying and saying: “We didn’t do anything wrong”. That was the biggest wrongdoing that had essentially broke the once giant mobile phone company. Evolve quickly, keep up the pace of continuous evolving of the global market. Others will, if you don’t. There is nothing like a perfect product. It’s a work always in progress and takes time to develop. You should have read the case study of once internet pioneer Yahoo.
You need to have someone as the leader on top who is visionary, knows what he/she does, has a profound understanding of the market, a risk taker with contingency plans. Having that said I didn’t mean that it has to be someone who has years of experience. A person who has only a few year of experience in the right platform can add a lot more value to your concern than someone who might have 20+ years of marketing/ business experience in a different area.
Ekhanei perhaps didn’t learn from their past mistakes or failures. Even being one of the first online business in Bangladesh they miserably fail to rectify their mistakes even when had enough time and resources. When others have started to evolve, they shifted their focus from rectifying mistakes to replacing people. Replacing teams or team members don’t solve the problem, it’s the team who do. Often we forget, making mistakes are inevitable, so we need to learn to work on finding cause & solve that; make sure not to make repeated mistakes, rather than who did and then replace that person. This breaks the team spirit to the extremist level.
An incredibly common problem that causes startups to fail is lack of passionate and committed teams who would own the vision of the company. In case of Ekhanei as I know they have many smart people within the teams. But there have been so much changes over the past few years. They could have easily lost focus, it takes time to build a good team and if you continuously have people coming in & going out; that would never help to build a passionate team.
It is imperative to keep doing research, market analysis and collect customer feedback. Nothing should be taken for granted, users won’t stick to you forever just because the functionalities of your product work. You need to give users something every now & them that actually improves the user experience.
Good bye Ekhanei. Rest in peace!