Rayana Hossain, founder and managing director of Isho, talks to Dhaka Tribune's Zisan Bin Liaquat about Isho's runaway success amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and how she broke barriers as a woman in a patriarchal society, despite being a third generation entrepreneur
Right after graduating from Harvard, you came back to Bangladesh and started a series of successful businesses, from Isho, Izakaya to Klubhaus, what made you come back?
I never intended on staying abroad. I studied architecture and design because I wanted to come back and make a difference in the design field.
Bangladesh is on the cusp of change, particularly in business and development and to not come back and work in this climate in Bangladesh when the country is making great strides, would be a miss for any Bangladeshi.
Being part of a legacy company Dekko ISHO, you must have had to work twice as hard and break a lot of barriers to be taken seriously especially in a patriarchal society, tell us about that experience.
Our company actually started officially in 1953 by my grandfather with the launch of Roxy Paints, one of the oldest consumer brands in the country.
My father decided to not be a part of it and continue with Dekko in the ’80s and I think I’m following the same route with my own ventures.
However, whenever I have to deal with older members within the parent organization it is almost always a struggle.
It is part of being an old conglomerate, there is always going to be a resistance to change.
Having said that, I was lucky enough to get the support I have received from my father and was able to move forward and create my own team.
Did people doubt you because of your age and gender? Do they still do?
More so than gender, age was a huge barrier and still is.
Most people in this country still believe that the only experience is the key to success and that often gets in the way of innovation, new ideas, or even an alternate way of doing something.
For young people the struggle to introduce something new starts within your company first and then outside!
Isho is a runaway success, when did you realize this was a market no one was catering to?
I had realized this before I came back to Bangladesh for good, as my friends had already started to return back home.
There was a disconnect in what was available in the market and what people required for a modern lifestyle; a market gap, and an audience that nobody was catering to.
Over 40% of Bangladesh is between the ages of 18-45 and nobody was tapping into the changing lifestyles and evolving tastes of this segment.
What is Isho’s competitive advantage?
Being vertically integrated with our own design team and our own manufacturing unit allows us to be flexible and responsive to people’s needs and wants, one of the major things that catapulted sales during the lockdown.
What are the barriers to business in Bangladesh that you wish are addressed sooner?
There is a certain level of bureaucracy that companies face and processes that people have to go through to even have a business in this country, let alone succeed.
Along with that, one of the issues that I personally feel needs to be addressed is the fear of change and adopting something new which hinders progress, in my opinion, on a lot of fronts.
How do you find the ease of doing business in Bangladesh?
Doing business in Bangladesh definitely has its ups and downs, however, one cannot deny the fact that a well-established backing always helps.
With backing, if there is a novelty in the idea and there is hard work behind it, Bangladesh is a really good market to be in for business, particularly with the current state of affairs and climate.
How did the pandemic affect your growth target for Isho, Izakaya and Klubhaus?
In the last two years, the pandemic saw a 450% growth rate for Isho which was definitely a milestone for us.
I think due to the fact that we already had an e-commerce platform and delivery system in place, the pandemic helped us move forward as one of the only brands that could cater to people who now needed to work from home and be at home at all times.
In terms of Izakaya, because of the number of queries coming in, we not only had to partner with food delivery companies but also open up our own delivery platform due to the area restrictions that delivery companies have in place.
Now that things have completely opened up, we are now experiencing sales that are greater than pre-pandemic times, as a larger newer audience has been able to access the food during the lockdown.
As for Klubhaus, it has been slow but steady, though I am not directly involved with the brand anymore, the team is being data-centric and responsive to what customers need in the market.
What are you most proud of achieving?
I think the day the numbers came in that we were no.1 in the furniture category in terms of sales, online, showed that we were doing something right.
A lot of young women look to you as an aspirational figure, what advice would you give them for starting their own business?
I would like to say that never stop believing in what you want to achieve despite what anybody tells you. Keep your head down, and let your work do the talking.
What are your plans for Isho and Izakaya for the future?
With Isho, the plans are ambitious, we are eyeing global expansion as a brand in the next few years.
For Izakaya, we are looking at local expansions as we have been receiving many offers to turn the company into a brand for the franchise, something that we are still speculating.