You don’t often hear a couple of guys from Bangladesh going all the way to Silicon Valley and not only making a name for themselves, but doing it in 100 countries all over the world. In a recent chat with Fahim Masoud Aziz and Sakib Hassan aka Sauro, the brains behind Backpack, we discovered what drove them to such heights of success.
Backpack provides a hassle-free, secure and cost-effective online overseas shopping experience and the way it works is delightfully simple. Let’s say you want to buy a camera and you know it’s unavailable in Bangladesh. You log on to backpackbang.com, find your camera, register, order, and make payments via credit card, paypal or Bkash. On the other end, a Backpack registered traveler is about to make a trip to Bangladesh with some idle luggage space, so she purchases the camera for you, lands in your country and delivers it to you by notifying you to pick it up from a designated spot. What’s in it for the traveler you ask? She just made $300 for her troubles.
If you wish to become a traveler, simply enter traveler information, receive and carry products, and deliver them and earn money. If you are concerned over security issues, Backpack ensures safety on three levels. Firstly all the product requests and communications happen through Backpack and their system closely monitors the behaviour of users. Secondly, the items that travelers carry are digitally screened through their system and finally, there isn’t any cash involved. On top of these three levels of safety measures, they also have a $10,000 traveler guarantee to keep travelers protected.
Initially, Fahim and Sauro wanted to build something clever and fast. After brainstorming through a few ideas, Backpack felt like the perfect fit, primarily because it solved a major problem they had both faced in the past – little or no access to products they need from beyond the border. Furthermore, having lived in the US for three years, they also saw the potential of utilising travelers in the way Backpack does now.
The final plunge, however, came from the users. It was early in February 2014 that they had built the site in a week and made it live in virtually no time. Simply forwarding the link of the site to a couple of friends and asking for feedback ushered in tens of thousands of people from over 80 countries. They received many feature requests and started working on them and the current Backpack started taking shape from a simple 5-6 page web-app.
Managing both travelers and shoppers may seem like a near impossible task, but these two entrepreneurs make sure the connection flows fluidly. They solve logistics problems with statistical inference models, machine learning systems and relevant algorithms. “We tell the traveler how much luggage space the product would occupy and even go as far as to show them a 3d model of their luggage with the product inside it.”
From the get go, with Fahim and Sauro it was all about vision and lightning speed execution. “On the road to success, you are bound to make mistakes,” says Fahim “We simply decided to drill through all our mistakes as quickly as possible and put them behind us.” As it turns out they don’t hold much faith on theories. “With us, you’re either passionately neck deep in the real time facts and feedbacks, or you’re not here at all.”
Backpack’s philosophy is deeply rooted in delighting users. They use a system called Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure how happy their users are on a scale of 1 to 10 and where they can improve. “I’m extremely happy to say that all transactions received a perfect 10 score in the month of March,” said Fahim with a smile.
Currently they are focusing on getting the products in the hands of shoppers within seven days. When one orders something from eBay in the US, it often takes more than two weeks whereas through Backpack, shoppers can get something from halfway around the world in half the time - the experience is magical. On the other hand, they have already implemented their $300/trip programme - every traveler that goes through Backpack makes $300 if approved.
“There is a pleasure in doing something with a keen attention to detail; we never wanted to build a run-of-the-mill company, we have always hoped to create a work of art. With the fruition of our dreams, Backpack will improve people’s lives on a more fundamental level, the way lives changed with the introduction of google, electricity or the wheel. Eventually, our vision is to create a community of shoppers with unlimited access to any product from any country; borders will become an obsolete concept as far as they are concerned.”