Romoni is the country's first beauty-tech platform
Armin Khan founded the first beauty-tech platform, Romoni, in Bangladesh with just a simple Facebook page in 2016. Romoni is an on-demand beauty services startup based in Dhaka that offers on-demand salon, makeup, spa, and bridal services. This year, on the occasion of International Women’s day, she sat down with the Dhaka Tribune to discuss female entrepreneurship.
Let's start with an introduction. Could you tell us a little about your background?
I graduated from the Institute of Business Administration, University of Dhaka in 2013, and started my career with Standard Chartered Bank as a Fast Track Graduate. After a 1.5 year stint in SCB, I started working with the Access to Information Program in Prime Minister’s Office as an Innovation Consultant. I later went to work as a key member of the Rural e-commerce project and piloted the launch in Union Digital Centres across the country. After a 2.5 year stint there, I started working full time on Romoni Services Limited, along with two co-founders.
When and how did you decide to found Romoni? What was the motivation behind it?
The biggest inspiration was women like me. The fact that I didn’t have the time to find out the best salons according to what I needed, or didn’t have access to credible beauty advisor or any beauty expert who would come to my home and provide me with decent service and save my time was really what inspired me to solve this problem.
The idea of Romoni actually came to my mind when I was working as a consultant in 2016. My work hours were pretty crazy and I actually missed out on going to a few of my friends’ weddings because, by the time I had reached the salons for getting my hair and makeup done, they were all closed. Also, I always had in mind to do something on my own and start a business. I thought and figured it out -- just like me, many other working women might be facing similar issues. I wanted to bring a solution to this, and help women get the services as per their requirements. So that’s how it started when I started researching this industry more.
What was the initial process like? Did you face any challenges to set up your business?
I left my job in the fall of 2017, took a space and hired the first employee, and started working on the venture full time as a solo founder. To bootstrap my venture, I opened a Facebook page and literally started visiting the clusters where the beauticians lived to have a chance to speak to them. After enrolling five beauticians, some of them who left their jobs and some of them who were already giving home services to their personal clients, I finally started providing services.
Tell us about your vision with Romoni when you began, and how much of that you've been able to achieve so far. What is your vision now, after a successful couple of years of growth and establishment?
We started off with just beauty at-home services, but after a few months, we had our service providers coming to us and asking us to help them with their finances, loans, etc. We realized that we were actually helping a lot of women run their families and a lot of them were dependent on Romoni for their livelihoods. So now we want to expand this foundation we have built to more revenue sources for these women with more opportunities for growing their businesses.
Our vision was to be a one-stop platform for women professionals and micro-entrepreneurs in the beauty industry- a platform that enables them to start, run and grow their businesses. So far, we have been able to provide them with a customer-facing marketplace to start their businesses and a one-stop platform for sourcing all their business supplies. In the future, we want to provide financial and other relevant support to help them grow their businesses.
Do you think there are certain aspects in your line of work where you have an advantage over your male counterparts?
I had left my job to start this venture just 4 years into my career- which is quite early if compared to the journeys of successful startup founders elsewhere. In addition to being inexperienced, I was (and am) a woman, alone, didn’t have any family support, or a rich professional network to back me up. In retrospect, I would never take this kind of a risk now.
So it goes without saying that I was faced with a mountain of obstacles in the first year -- which included convincing people to join me as co-founders and investors. I honestly never thought of myself as a “female”, so I had tried not to be conscious of the shortcomings. But, nevertheless, there were a lot of obstacles that I did have to face.
For instance, most of the angel investors in Bangladesh invest in startups only after they know the founder through their “ bhai, brother” connection. But since I am a female, it was quite hard for me to break into these circles, which made my fundraising very difficult. Also, most people try to go “soft/mellow” on me- and not talk actual business because (probably) they have an impression that women don’t do “real” business because they don’t have to. But given the fact that I have done this completely on my own, with no family name or support to back me up, I really feel this kind of attitude doesn’t value my time or commitment.
I certainly do have an advantage when it comes to getting publicity and mentions in circles. Whenever there is a conversation about “female startup founders in Bangladesh”, probably my name is mentioned more often than it used to be two years from now, because there are so few names, to begin with (which is not good, btw).
In that regard, I certainly think I have an advantage over my male counterparts.
How do you wish to inspire more female leadership/entrepreneurship in the country?
The vision of Romoni was to support female SME entrepreneurship. We have started with the beauty sector and have created over 500 micro-entrepreneurs. I believe taking actual actions with my venture/initiative can be far more powerful in removing barriers for our women entrepreneurs than anything else, so that’s what I want to work on to inspire more women entrepreneurship in the country.