Spotlight on Women in Business showcases the achievements of women entrepreneurs around the world. This month, The Wisteria Group interviewed software entrepreneur Luna Shamsuddoha (LS), Founder and Chairman of Dohatec New Media, a world-class IT company based in Bangladesh. Luna has been featured on global forums on technology, e-Governance and women’s economic participation and empowerment, and we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to speak with her about her work and her life.
1. Luna, tell us a bit about Dohatec New Media, the business you founded.
Dohatec, which I founded in 1992, is a Bangladesh-based software company that provides software solutions, design, and development to an international clientele. Our engineers and project managers develop, deploy, and service our software applications for customers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. We work in a variety of sectors including education, healthcare, government, life sciences, retail, and sports and leisure.
2. What inspired you to start your own company?
I was inspired by technology and the promise it held. In the mid-eighties, I formed my first company which offered computer-based services to international customers. I thought this was a good niche. However, with the universal availability of PCs and laptops the need for this service diminished and so, in 1992, I changed the course of my business and established a full-fledged software development company, Dohatec.
3. I have heard it said that starting a company is not so difficult, but sustaining and growing a company is really hard. Was this true for you?
Entrepreneurship is a choice you make and risk is your companion, so is faith. Being an entrepreneur involves huge risks, constant planning, perpetual learning, managing, marketing, and weathering political and global shocks. Both the hardship and the rewards are part of the undertaking. It is difficult for others who are not in this exciting, tough and risky profession to understand.
Dohatec was started as a very small company. We had only two engineers, almost no manpower, and we didn’t even have computer science engineers. My CEO was a veteran software developer who is still with me. I was always looking for opportunities. We tied up with a company in the U.S. to be our sales point of contact and to help us with technology aspects. Then, with technology moving ahead, it was apparent that management of information would radically change. I saw an opening in the field of publishing books on CD-ROMs. If it could be done in Bangladesh, there was great growth opportunity.
You have to be determined. At one point, I was short of software engineers and domain experts but I did not have the luxury of failing. The absence of infrastructure and connectivity was very hard. For years I had one analog phone and we had to support large US customers with that! I have faced every challenge but ceded to none. Today, we have nearly 200 Computer Science Engineers and the facilities to scale up.
4. There is a lot of interest these days in encouraging young women to enter the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. How did you become involved in the Information Technology (IT) field? Were you interested in math and the sciences at a young age? Or was it your first job that brought you into the IT world?
I was always interested in math and science. In high school I studied pre-engineering with the idea of becoming an architect. But to tell the truth, I failed to convince my girl friends to go to the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology so instead I decided to join them and study international relations!
After my Masters in International Relations, I decided not to join the Bangladesh Foreign Service because by then I had married and I wanted to have a home in Bangladesh. At first, I taught English at the British Council and also worked for a while with Australian Radio and Television. But I was always interested in the sciences. So when I started my own company, I merged my two interests – science and international relations – and formed a company that introduced computer-based services to the international market.
5. What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs, especially women, in the IT sector?
My advice to aspiring women leaders is to always engage with your community. That is where you will find your co-workers, risk-takers, and leaders. Together you will be able to address changes successfully. Also, don’t ever think there is a glass ceiling – they have all been shattered or will be. Be inclusive and be determined. And learn, learn, learn.
Information Technology has no gender. We have to look at what the sector requires and education has to be comprehensive to meet this. Both girls and boys in Bangladesh have the same disadvantage, i.e., inadequate teaching faculty, course materials, and computers.
Women and girls must take up science and math and the world will need you. Learn some business and you will know how to plan a business and find the resources you can access. Look at the light and not into the tunnel.
6. How has running a company based in Bangladesh affected your work and your priorities?
Bangladesh is an old civilization but a new country. The Bangladeshi culture and its people are supportive of women in the economic arena. Gender balance finds special mention in the Bangladesh constitution and it is an essential part of our economic and social policy.
Our Prime Minister visualized Digital Bangladesh. It is a magnificent opportunity for us. Innovation and energy is finding expression and taking us forward. Women are playing a significant role in bridging the digital divide and I would like to bring more women into the tech space. I and a few tech friends founded Bangladesh Women in Technology to encourage women to pursue careers in technology.
My ultimate goal is to help more working women succeed. In my professional and civic life, I am obsessed with two things: the way women work and helping them succeed. I am a businesswoman who is an observer, researcher, executive business coach, and mentor for women working in the ICT sector in Bangladesh. I believe women are the future change makers.