The Startise Story: Defying the Odds to Build a Global Tech Powerhouse from Bangladesh

June 11, 2024

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Silicon Valley, London, Tallinn, or Bengaluru—these are the prominent tech hubs that have predictably produced global technology giants over the decades. Leveraging an established startup ecosystem, access to capital, and a deep talent pool, entrepreneurs from these regions have relatively smoother pathways to tech dominance.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, lacks those traditional advantages. A nascent tech ecosystem, perceived risks around an emerging market, and limited exposure have made it an unlikely launchpad for building a globally successful tech enterprise. Overcoming these challenges to put Bangladesh on the world’s tech map has been an uphill battle.

Yet a new force is rising from this South Asian nation—a small but growing batch of tech companies looking to make a mark on the global stage. One of these rising companies is the fast-growing tech conglomerate Startise which is scripting an inspirational story. 

Started as a small WordPress plugin team, Startise Group has rapidly transformed into a global giant, serving over 6 million customers across 5 distinct technology companies. The remarkable journey from humble beginnings in Dhaka has defied conventional wisdom. Along the way, Startise has overcome misperceptions and developed a radical new approach to product development and organizational culture. 

As Afshana Rahman, CMO of Startise, recounts, “When Essential Addons reached one million users, that was the very first plugin from Asia that crossed the one million user mark.” A milestone that not only represented Startise’s success but a breakthrough for tech products from the region.  

While Startise’s journey has been marked by remarkable success, the company has also faced its fair share of challenges, particularly. Operating from outside the traditional tech hubs, the Startise team has had to navigate complex terrain, from navigating cultural differences to attracting top talent.

To tackle these challenges, the company has consistently invested in talent development, culture building, and proactively engaging with the ecosystem it operates in that rivals the best in the industry.

Now with an ambition of “expanding product portfolio, leaning towards enterprise solutions and helping more people build better businesses”, Startise eyes to unlocking new possibilities. 

In this comprehensive analysis, we’ll delve into the fascinating journey of Startise, exploring its origins, evolution, the innovative products that have propelled its growth, its unique operational model, cultural dynamism, and the ambitious plans that could cement its place as a true software behemoth, all while operating from outside the traditional tech hubs.

The Origin: A Humble Beginning

To understand the rise of Startise, we must first trace its roots back to WPDeveloper, the company that laid the foundation for this ambitious endeavor.

WPDeveloper started as a small team focused on building WordPress themes and plugins. Little did they know that this humble beginning would eventually evolve into a tech conglomerate serving over 6 million global customers. M Asif Rahman, Founder and Chairman of Startise Group recounts, “WPDeveloper started as a plugin company back in 2011—2012.”

However, a commitment to solving real problems and delivering an exceptional user experience laid the foundation for the future success of the company. As Ms. Afshana, previously mentioned CMO of Startise, reminisces: “In those days, WPDeveloper was focused mostly on WordPress Plugins. The team was within A. R. Communications and was not organized as it is now.”

Although it was not officially articulated in those days, WPDeveloper was born out of a passion for WordPress and a desire to simplify the process of building websites. It started small, but its quality obsession quickly set it apart in the WordPress ecosystem.

The first few years saw a steady growth path. The turning point came in 2018 and what followed was a remarkable growth trajectory fueled by a relentless focus on user needs and a drive to build products that they would love to use.

Over the years, WPDeveloper’s portfolio of plugins grew exponentially, attracting a loyal user base that spanned 180 countries. With a customer-centric approach and a relentless drive to push the boundaries of what was possible with WordPress, the company established itself as a leader in its world. 

Startise Brands

The flagship product Essential Addons gained incredible traction, becoming one of the top 30 plugins in the WordPress ecosystem with over 2 million users.

As the company’s success grew, so did its ambitions. The leadership team at WPDeveloper soon started to see opportunities to create products that catered to a broader audience, within and beyond the WordPress community. The realization led to the birth of new products like NotificationX, and BetterDocs, and forays into SaaS and Shopify ecosystems.

This growth, however, has been more of an emergent phenomenon, meaning as Ms. Afshana pointed out, many of the WPDeveloper products came into existence because the company needed solutions for its internal challenges. Consequently, when the company expanded beyond the WordPress ecosystem, the move brought in new challenges along with new opportunities. The expansion suddenly created a new organizational dynamic, causing new communication and organizing challenges.

Naturally, with a diverse range of products spanning multiple platforms and industries, the need for a unifying structure to organize all these different products and solutions became evident.

Facing new opportunities and challenges, the company spent months deliberating such a separate organizational structure where it could meaningfully host all these different ventures under the structure of a group of companies and expand its operational leverage. “We spent quite a bit of time thinking whether we should bring everything under a parent organization, group or something,” explains Ms. Afshana.

After months of deliberation, the WPDeveloper team finally announced its reorganization and the formation of the parent company, Startise, in February 2024.

The decision was driven by the realization that the company had outgrown its WordPress identity and was poised to expand into new territories.

While Startise’s playbook revolves around meticulous execution, unwavering commitment to quality, and a deep understanding of user needs, you can’t consistently build winning products and deliver excellent service without deep organizational strength.

The Startise Ecosystem: Meet The Tech Conglomerate

At the time of the announcement of the reorganization, Mr. Asif, previously mentioned founder of the company, shared his vision for the company: “Startise represents our commitment to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of software development. We’ve built a strong foundation with WPDeveloper, but we knew that to truly make a global impact, we needed to broaden our horizons and tap into new markets.”

With Startise as the parent company, WPDeveloper would now operate alongside four other distinct businesses, each catering to a unique market segment and offering innovative tech solutions that promise to reshape their respective industries. 

At WPDeveloper, the team was dedicated to WordPress. It was all about WordPress plugins. WPDeveloper will continue to focus on WordPress products and businesses. However, the rest of the company can now focus on expanding across verticals and industries, be it tech or something else. The move takes the company to a new height from its sole WordPress company identity. 

Today, Startise has a diverse portfolio of companies, each contributing to the overarching goal of delivering cutting-edge software solutions to users globally. The prominent companies within the Startise ecosystem include: 

WPDeveloper: The company that started it all, WPDeveloper continues to excel in the WordPress ecosystem, offering over 30 plugins and facilitating millions of users in effortlessly building websites, often without the need for coding.

Templately: With a vast library of 5,000+ website templates, cloud collaboration features, and over 300,000 users, Templately makes designing powerful websites and collaboration on the cloud possible for WordPress users. An AI-powered SaaS platform that empowers over 15,000 companies globally to streamline their recruitment processes and access top talent from around the world.

xCloud: Aiming to revolutionize WordPress hosting, xCloud offers advanced solutions that redefine reliability and performance, ensuring that businesses and individuals can seamlessly leverage the power of WordPress without compromising on speed or security.

Storeware: With a focus on the rapidly growing e-commerce sector, Storeware specializes in amplifying Shopify stores with unique Shopify apps, contributing to growth and innovation in the online retail space.

WordPress products Under WPDeveloper

Each of these companies plays a unique role in the Startise ecosystem. By leveraging synergies and sharing expertise across the portfolio, Startise delivers unparalleled value to its customers, regardless of their industry or location. As the company puts it: “With our diverse portfolio of brands, Startise helps startups, businesses and individuals to thrive in the digital world and beyond.”

A team of 120 people, the organizational model of Startise is geared towards providing focused, right-sized teams for each product/venture while maintaining centralized leadership and flexible resourcing to meet the unique needs of its diverse portfolio of offerings. Admin/HR teams are centralized whereas product teams are decentralized with dedicated roles like CTOs, project managers, etc. Team structures and hierarchies are adapted to align with evolving product needs while the founding team gets involved across all verticals providing overarching leadership and vision. For instance, small products are run by a team of 3-5 people, whereas a product like Essential Addons has a team of around 20 members. The whole calculus depends on the scale and requirements of each product.

Today, over 6 million people use Startise’s products. A majority of its users are from the US and Europe because of the concentration of WordPress users in these markets. It pays dedicated attention to markets with growth potential. For instance, its products are available in Spanish, German, French, and Italian languages because people in these markets prefer their native language over English.

For Startise, being a conglomerate comes with a ton of advantages. It improves the efficiency of resource use, enables cross-pollination of ideas, diversifies risks, allows cross-selling across products, and accelerates opportunities to learn.

Building businesses is all about tacit knowledge and learning. When you have multiple products across verticals and industries, your opportunities to learn are greater and diverse, allowing you to build an enduring competitive edge. For Startise, this has proven to be a huge advantage allowing it to consistently improve its products while finding new opportunities.

Operation: How to Make Magic Happen

Building a global tech giant from Bangladesh is no small feat. While Startise’s playbook revolves around meticulous execution, unwavering commitment to quality, and a deep understanding of user needs, you can’t build winning products and deliver consistently excellent service without deep organizational strength. 

Over the years, Startise has invested heavily in building that organizational muscle. In this section, we take a look into Startise’s unique approach to building organization. 

A model for growing people and scaling the organization: The first ingredient of building an enduring organization is finding the right people. As Jim Collins pointed out in his management Classic Good to Great, you have to start with boarding the right people on the bus and letting the wrong people go. But finding the right people is not an easy job. It was not easy for Startise either. 

Once Startise started to grow, hiring the right candidates was the first formidable challenge it faced. It couldn’t simply find the right people. The solution: the company created its recipe for growing people by training them internally and then promoting them to leadership roles. 

Here is an example. In 2019, WPDeveloper started building a new product called Essential Blocks for Gutenberg. It hired a React developer for the purpose. However, one developer was not enough, it needed more developers for such a major product. Unfortunately, finding React developers was a tall order in those days. After much thought, the company decided it would create React developers from within the organization. It designed a React course taught by its only React developer for others in the company who are willing to learn React. The three-month course helped the company address its React developers’ requirements. 

Over the years, Startise has done the same for marketing, project management, and many other roles. 

The company hires freshers and/or people with one or two years of experience, trains them, and gradually elevates them to senior positions. Today, a majority of its senior people come from within the company.  

This approach has helped Startise scale the organization while maintaining cultural consistency. Earlier, the founder M Asif Rahman, and CEO Nazmul Hasan Rupok handled final product releases, but now team leads and CTOs for different products oversee them. This has been possible because the company made a strategic decision to develop talent in-house, which has helped the company to create talent consistently without worrying about culture fit. 

Building common platforms for ideas: As organizations grow, collaboration becomes increasingly challenging. Silo becomes the norm. Intra-department or portfolio collaboration still happens but the inter-department, in the case of Startise, inter-product, and companies, collaboration declines.

It is usually a colossal loss for any company because you are missing out on collective intelligence and insights.

A Snapshot of a Team Training Session at Startise

To address this challenge, Startise runs a company-wide annual growth hackathon attended by everyone in the company. The growth meeting could be week-long for each product. People from across the companies within the Startise universe attend and share inputs and ideas. Each team defines their plans for the rest of the year during the hackathon. The approach enables company-wide collaboration, creating opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and insights and expanding opportunities to learn. 

Ownership and responsibility: Startise is a high-ownership organization where people own the organization. The company prides itself on the fact that it has been blessed with team members who own their products. Ms. Afshana offers the example of Startise’s Head of Engineering Mr. Mukul: “The initial infrastructure we had was not suitable to handle the level of customers we were attracting. It was an extremely challenging time to handle the checkout process for our thousands of customers every day and the way our Head of Engineering Mukul managed everything was incredible. There was no time that you couldn’t reach Mukul. Any time we sent him a message, he was available and ready to help, no matter the timing. Unless you own your work and company, you wouldn’t do it.” 

This was just a small example of an extraordinary sense of responsibility and ownership that is common across teams at Startise. Ms. Afshana suggests that the reason they have grown and been able to scale is because of these dedicated team members.

Deliberate scaling: One of the major challenges of scaling a product as well as an organization is that you have to make sure that things don’t break. To address this challenge, Startise has built an organizational approach where it prioritizes quality, stability, and long-term sustainability through a patient, meticulous approach over rapid, haphazard scaling.

When the Startise team releases new features and technologies, they make sure that the existing product is stable. Multi-layer tests and smaller releases are conducted before releasing a new feature. 

Ms. Afshana pointed out that a common mistake people make with scaling is that they sometimes try to scale too fast, leading to predictable challenges. “When you try to scale too fast, you inevitably compromise in certain areas but we never compromise user experience” explains Ms. Afshana.  

Startise avoids haste and is extremely meticulous and deliberate about releasing products. 

It has always been cognizant of the impact of its work. Recognizing the impact of its work, the company has built an internal, dedicated QA team, an uncommon practice for a company like Startise. 

“When we were growing, we knew if our products didn’t work, it meant a lot of websites would break,” says Ms. Afshana. “Now that we have grown significantly, we are even more aware of the impact of our work. If a product has 2 million users and a faulty release of that product affects just 0.1% of the users, it will break 2000 websites for example. So we have learned to be more careful and tested thoroughly before every release.”

Long-term thinking: The final leg of Startise’s operational strength is a commitment to long-term thinking. Ms. Afshana points out that patience and the ability to think long-term are critical when you are building a global organization. Startise has used the mindset to understand its work, evaluate opportunities, and scale deliberately.  

The Startise Way: Culture as an Everlasting Competitive Advantage

A key driver of Startise’s meteoric growth has been its contrarian approach to building both products and the organization. We just took a look into the organizational dynamics of how Startise operates. While culture is hardly separate from the operational dynamics of a company, Startise has built a culture over the years that affects every area of its operation, from product development to customer service to people, that deserves additional attention. 

For instance, Startise is a user-first company where product development starts with “thinking from the perspective of the users.” 

Similarly, it is a high-care culture where every small detail matters. “We never release something just because we have made it or created it,” explains Ms. Afshana. 

Equally pivotal has been how the company treats its people. This starts with its unique compensation model. “At WPDeveloper, we have some nine well-defined positions, each with a predetermined salary aligned with the current market,” reveals Mr. Asif. However, what truly sets the company apart is how it shares the profits with every employee of the company. “If we make a certain amount of profit, we share a certain percentage of that with our team,” says Asif. To Startise’s leadership team, sharing wealth with the team is a core part of how they view entrepreneurship. 

CMO Afshana Diya Speaking at WordCamp Europe 2023

This philosophy has paid off immensely. “Over the last 4 years, we have not lost anybody. High employee turnover is a common trend in tech…WPDeveloper and A. R. Communications, we have a superb retention rate,” adds Asif. Additionally, the company has also built a unique management style with little to no hierarchy, “WPDeveloper functions as a flat organization,” explains Asif.

In the rest of this segment, we take a look into some of the core components of Startise culture.

A unique approach to product development: Startise has a user-centric product development approach that is executed through building from the users’ perspective, focusing on intuitive UX/UI, and continuously improving based on user feedback. “We build products from a user perspective,” says Ms. Afshana. “We build in a way where we would ask for the same features if we were the users.” The company deeply studies “what features people want, and pays a ton of attention to interface design so that it is easy to use.” After releasing a product, it continually seeks feedback from users.

This focus on users leads to intuitive, easy-to-use drag-and-drop interfaces that non-technical users can use without going through a steep learning curve. “Our products, apart from solving a real problem, are built in a way so that people who are non-technical can use them with our intuitive interface,” illustrates Ms. Afshana.

However, the most important aspect of Startise’s product development process is not its extreme user-first obsession, the most important aspect is that, in most instances, Startise builds products to solve its own problems. “We don’t have a tool that we don’t use ourselves,” says Ms. Afshana. “We never wanted to build something just to sell to others. We feel that if you are not an actual user of a product and only make it to sell to others, you can never understand the feelings of the user and without understanding, you cannot build the product in a way that users want.”

This mindset offers a durable competitive advantage to Startise. Because someone building a product with that experience of facing a problem will always have a better depth of the problem and build a better product.

Startise’s wildly popular products like BetterDocs are born out of this approach of solving its own needs as users when existing solutions fall short. “To solve our own problems of documentation we used almost all kinds of available products across the WordPress ecosystem but I could not find solutions for my requirements,” says Ms. Afshana. “That’s why BetterDocs came into being, we wanted a better documentation tool for ourselves.”

The company then takes an iterative approach, starting small by listing out key needs, building an initial solution, using it themselves, and then adding more features based on that real experience. “Initially, I jotted down probably just 10 things that I needed to see in a good documentation page. We then made a solution based on that and started using it. After using it for a while, we felt we needed some more features, so we built those additional features,” Ms. Afshana illustrates, sharing her experience of developing the first version of BetterDocs.

At the same time, the company also conducts extensive market research into existing products, common features, and user pain points/complaints to identify underserved needs.

By leveraging “solving your own problem” coupled with meaningful research, Startise has been able to build an excellent framework to churn out winning products consistently.

A unique approach to developing people and scaling culture: How an organization operates is a function of culture. You might have excellent frameworks, philosophies, and values but none of it would work unless you put them into practice.

You want to act customer-first as a company but if only the leadership thinks that way, it would not work. The whole organization has to buy into that philosophy of thinking. Putting things into action is the essence of culture. Culture is what we do when nobody is watching.

Startise, in that sense, has a unique approach to training people and expanding culture where every new hire goes through three months of hands-on training, learning about the entire organization from teams across the company. It is ground-level learning where a new hire learns from the people who are working on things, instead of formal training.

You can call the entire affair a one-on-one knowledge transfer.

The process helps a new hire develop a comprehensive understanding of the entire company and internalize the philosophy and values of the organization. He no longer operates from the silo of a particular product or team, he can think from the organization’s perspective— this is what the organization is, which is a powerful education. “This is one of the processes we have tried to develop over the years and it works,” explains Ms. Afshana.

It also sends cultural messages and transfers cultural values more successfully. “In this way, every new team member gets a closer look into our core company philosophy, how we think, how we develop products and solutions, etc,” notes Ms. Afshana.”

At the end of the day, the training produces two outcomes: it helps the new hire understand the organization’s thought process, values, and culture, and second, it encourages company-wide collaboration.

In large companies like Startise, inter-product/department/team collaborations are hard. The unique training process addresses this challenge, making organization-wide collaboration easier. Similarly, this is also a great way to scale the culture.

Action as a strategy to overcome perception challenge: In the early days, overcoming the perception challenges associated with being a South Asian company serving global customers has been a significant hurdle for Startise.

A common perception from many global customers was that a South Asian company couldn’t provide services at the standard of a US or European company. The other challenge was around design and branding. Even where both products come with similar features, products from this part of the world often lag in design and branding and, consequently, appear cheap.

How did Startise overcome these challenges? Unwavering focus on design, branding, and customer service. “With our extreme focus on exceptional design, intuitive interfaces, and round-the-clock support, we have tried to overcome these challenges of marketing from Bangladesh and I think it has worked very well,” remarks Ms. Afshana. On the customer service and updates, Startise has made it a point to ensure regular product updates and 24/7 support. Through these efforts, the company has been able to build a differentiated market position over the years.

Today, existing Startise customers actively recommend its products to others, countering the perception of being just another South Asian company. The company’s premium design, reliable support, and evolving products seem to have effectively countered the negative regional perceptions, establishing it as a credible global brand.

Empowering users: Startise has successfully positioned itself as an enabler for online business growth through an ecosystem of user-friendly, growth-focused tools made accessible via the freemium model. All Startise tools are designed in a manner so that users can start and grow whatever they are trying to build.

When Startise started working on the reorganization, the company focused mainly on two things: 1. Building highly intuitive and user-friendly products accessible to even non-technical users. 2. Making its tools accessible and valuable for small businesses, bloggers, and anyone trying to grow their online venture. This is exemplified by the freemium model adopted across all Startise products.

“All our products come with a free version that includes almost all basic features, which you can access forever, and you only pay for additional advanced features,” notes Ms. Afshana. The philosophy behind this was to make all Startise products accessible to everyone. “The reasoning behind this philosophy is that when people use our products and we are trying to assure quality there, people usually convert automatically when they experience quality service,” she adds.

Startise products are designed to cater to the entire lifecycle needs of their users. “All our tools are designed in a manner so that our users can start and grow whatever they are trying to build,” says Ms. Afshana. The way we put it at Startise is that we are helping 6 million people to start, grow their business, and get success.”

Community and service: Finally, Startise has successfully used an ethos of community contribution and service as a meaningful competitive advantage. The Startise founding team has been involved with the WordPress Community in Dhaka and beyond for a long time. The founder, M Asif Rahman, started the WordPress community in Dhaka along with others. The Startise leadership team has been some of the most active contributors to the WordPress ecosystem for many years now. The company encourages its members to dedicate 20% of their working hours to the WordPress open-source community.

“Right now, 50 plus team members of our company are contributors of WordPress who are connected with the other core contributors. WPDeveloper was the third highest contributor to the WordPress community globally out of several thousand companies last year. Bangladesh was first in terms of contribution,” Ms. Afshana highlighted.

Active contribution to WordPress open source has helped it to understand the ecosystem better. Moreover, open-source contributions have helped build trusted brands in the WP ecosystem, leading to new growth opportunities for the company.

With a comprehensive approach to culture and tying that with an enduring company philosophy and a strategic direction, Startise has not only set itself on a path of lasting success but has also built enduring competitive moats around its businesses. In a technology world that is in constant flux, no competitive advantage is good enough. Your competitors can go ahead of you in innovation and brand building in any moment. Strategic initiatives and product ideas are easily replicated. What is hard to replicate is when a company puts culture at the heart of its strategy. With a unique approach to organization building and scaling culture, Startise has done an excellent job of putting culture at the center of its strategy.

The Opportunity

While Bangladesh’s tech ecosystem is still nascent, Startise’s success demonstrates the immense potential for building global product companies in the country. Location is no longer a limitation in the tech world. With the right talent, vision, and execution, anyone can build world-class products and services from anywhere.

Today, Startise is used by all kinds of organizations from Fortune 500 companies to leading universities in the world. One particular success story Ms. Afshana mentions is that Stanford University made its documentation using BetterDocs. “There are things like these that motivate us to keep going and improve and do even more. We have customers who made 580 websites for their clients (using our tools). It gives meaning to our work,” a proud Ms. Afshana shares.

While Startise’s roots may be firmly planted in Dhaka, the company’s ambitions extend far beyond the borders of Bangladesh. With a diverse portfolio of innovative products, a talented and globally-minded workforce, and a leadership team that is committed to pushing boundaries, Startise is well-positioned to pursue its next round of growth.

“We are just scratching the surface of what’s possible in the world of software development,” says Mr. Asif. “At Startise, we are constantly exploring new technologies, new markets, and new opportunities to revolutionize the way businesses and individuals interact with technology.”

Looking ahead, Startise has ambitious plans. With plans to integrate AI across all its products and venture beyond the realms of tech, the company is poised to redefine what it means to be a tech giant born outside of major tech hubs.

Asif adds that some of their products are just getting in shape. “The next phase of growth will be going more international, expanding product portfolio, and leaning towards enterprise solutions,” he says. “We believe we have the potential to grow much much bigger.”

The Startise playbook is a testament to the power of perseverance, user-centricity, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. It offers a blueprint for aspiring entrepreneurs worldwide, proving that with the right mindset and execution, global tech dominance can be achieved from the most unlikely of places. As the company charts ever-ambitious new paths, we will be closely following its trajectory.



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