We talked to Shahid Maqbool, founder of MangoB2B, about connecting buyers and sellers, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shahid Maqbool: We have been well, fortunately, thank you for asking. However, like many of us, the pandemic has forced us to adapt to doing things differently. For example, adjusting to homeschooling has been an interesting learning experience for the whole family, not just the children!
Tell us about the events that led to you founding MangoB2B.
Shahid Maqbool: My background is tech-based, and I worked in the city as an IT consultant for a long time. And during this time, I also got involved in various international trading projects. The two may initially sound unrelated, but my introduction to the idea for my company was through creating a simple website to help an associate sell their stock.
As a result of my forays into international trade, I travelled to quite a few countries and talked to business people around the world, especially small manufacturers. I noticed that there are a lot of talented manufacturers out there that struggle to get their goods into the global marketplace directly, having to rely on middlemen who can cause more problems than they solve for both the buyer and supplier. On the other hand, there are unreliable characters who are able to create fantastic shop window displays, attractive websites, and impressive profiles, but it’s all a front for either non-existent or poor quality products.
Through these experiences, a few different ideas came together, and I realised the one important element in all of it is trust. Buyers don’t want to risk their money on an unknown supplier. An unproven supplier creates worries that range from whether the company actually exists, whether they can produce the quantities of the products in the required time and whether the products will meet their quality standards. At the other end of the transaction, the smaller manufacturers may supply what to them is a large order, but if the payment is delayed or doesn’t happen at all, that commitment can put them out of business. So there are risks for both suppliers and buyers.
This got me thinking about how buyers could find reliable new suppliers without having to travel the world to physically check their reliability and capacity. I wondered how manufacturers, particularly in countries like China and India, could reach the global market directly and safely. If there was a way to connect the two ends of the import-export relationship with each other in such a way that both sides could be confident they were dealing with a reliable and trusted organization, that would be beneficial to both parties. And so the seed was planted.
Mango B2B began life as a simple directory site, but one where the companies had to be verified beforehand. We had a vision of being able to ensure that any contract that was placed would be honored for all involved parties, giving clients peace of mind and thus building a global marketplace where trust was a central value. But trust can’t be bought; It has to be earned. So we made sure companies can’t pay us to sidestep the verification process as this would undermine our vision.
Back then, we built it as a part-time project, working evenings and weekends, but now it has evolved into a full-time obsession for us! And people started signing up. It started with a few, and then a few hundred, and then grew to thousands!
Since then, the idea has taken root, grown, and blossomed into our current offering. Now we don’t just allow vendors to list their products and buyers to search for them. We also provide tools for negotiating and agreeing to contract terms and with an Escrow facility to safeguard funds. In other words, we’ve progressed from a business directory to an E-commerce Platform.
We offer a unique aspect to the negotiation in that it can be carried out by text, voice, or video. In all cases, it is recorded, meaning that if you need to go back and check the details of a conversation, you can. And of course, if a dispute ever did arise, it serves as a great resource for reaching a swift settlement. Every new development we add to the website is driven by our vision of facilitating international trade in an atmosphere of trust.
How does MangoB2B innovate?
Shahid Maqbool: We’re constantly learning, and we look at what works and what doesn’t. For example, the original version ran into some performance issues, so we re-engineered for the new version. Now everything is using a cloud-based API-driven Microservices Architecture that is able to scale with the demand with high reliability.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is to launch faster and iterate quicker. If you wait until the product is perfect, you’ll never launch because there’s always something more you could do or something that changes with the technology. As long as it’s working, then launch it and keep improving in line with customer requirements.
I’ve also discovered that the customer doesn’t always use the new features that you thought were a great idea. It’s just not what they want. If you update regularly, you can adapt by removing it and putting your energy into something they do want, rather than maintaining an unused widget.
So, we listen to our customers. We have data about how they use the site, and we’re constantly thinking about how we can improve their experience. What can we do to make things easier or add more functionality? That’s how the contract terms negotiation idea came about. Communicating by email or other text-based system is good, but people like to know whom they’re doing business with, so communicating via audio, or better still video, helps them to build trust and develop relationships. And then, the idea came to allow for all of that to be recorded and stored for our clients. We’ve also added a transcription service to the audio/video files now. Of course, people already have access to a wide range of communication tools, whether that’s email, or an instant message service like WhatsApp or WeChat, and video conferencing tools, but then it gets confusing to keep track of a conversation that has taken place across two or three different mediums. With MangoB2B, everything, whether it’s text, voice, or video, is unified all in one place. It makes it much easier for clients to keep track of things.
To make things even simpler and more transparent, we’ve developed a streamlined quotation and offer a workflow that allows suppliers to create one-time or recurrent offers that include: product prices, discount options, and shipping and payment terms, which buyers can then accept, reject or counter. Once an offer has been accepted, buyers can make purchases directly on the platform based on the terms specified in the offer without needing to have additional conversations with sellers for each order. It’s all about building relationships of trust and making it easy for buyers and suppliers to do that.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Shahid Maqbool: In a strange way, the pandemic has been good for us. Restrictions on international travel have meant that B2B buyers and procurement managers have been looking for other ways to find and connect to new, reliable, and trusted suppliers. So they know they are buying from a legitimate business that produces the quality they are looking for and has the capacity to handle their demand.
For example, inquiries through the platform for steel have risen. In the last twelve months, there has been over $230 million worth of inquiries from forty different countries, just for that one commodity.
Also, in the early stages of the pandemic, every government in the world and many other organizations were trying to source PPE. Unfortunately, in some instances, mistakes were made in the placement of orders that resulted in sub-standard products being delivered or failure to deliver. Buyers came to our site to find suppliers who were vetted, who had a proven history in the industry, and who manufactured to the required standard (e.g., CE mark). We handled over $1.5 billion worth of inquiries in just a few months. The platform proved its purpose remarkably in these instances.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what were the lessons learned?
Shahid Maqbool: Anyone who runs a business has to make difficult choices at times. No business has limitless resources, and start-ups are often working on tight budgets, with a keen eye always on the cash flow. So, you can’t always have everything you want, whether that’s larger stock, bigger offices, more marketing, etc.
And you have to have difficult conversations at times. That might be about having to let someone go or about their performance, and putting it off isn’t going to help. You have to bite the bullet and get it done, or the business will suffer. The important thing I’ve learned is to think about the person as they’re going to find it as hard as you are, if not more so, and that consideration can allow you to deal with difficult situations with appropriate sensitivity and care.
I’ve also learned not to be afraid to fail. If you try something, and it doesn’t work, try something else, but if you never try, you never progress!
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Shahid Maqbool: We’re an international team, so we have always worked remotely. We’ve always used tools such as Slack and Asana to manage the workload, and we have weekly virtual team meetings. In that regard, the pandemic hasn’t changed anything about how we work.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shahid Maqbool: We don’t really have direct competitors. The organizations that come closest are Alibaba, Global Sources, EC21, Indiamart, or Ariba, but their offering isn’t the same as ours. They either focus on specific geographic regions or particular types of companies. For the most part, they are directory-based, whereas one thing that differentiates us is that we offer full E-commerce functionality and only Global Sources insist on strict vetting, which is one of the cornerstones of our platform.
So we’re staying ahead by deeply considering the problems and fixing the root issues affecting importing and exporting. At MangoB2B, we solve real problems affecting international buyers and sellers. When we fix it, we’re not just fixing it for one customer, and we’re fixing it for everyone. There are over ten million factories in the world, and that’s a huge opportunity to empower SMEs to export their products and for buyers to source goods globally without risk.
We offer a superior user experience, and our approach to design is not just focused on how the website looks. Design is how it works. We are simplifying what can be a protracted process in International Trade and mitigating risk. We have created e-procurement B2B commerce tools that enable buyers to find top-quality suppliers worldwide.
We’re global, we vet everyone, and we offer seamless tools such as Escrow and Audio/Video chat to allow that all-important trust to flourish between buyers and sellers on our site. We’ve invested in our infrastructure, and we’re building the best user interface we can, keeping it clean and easy to use with everything in one place.
Your final thoughts?
Shahid Maqbool: Don’t be afraid to take risks. We only see the tip of the iceberg in terms of technology applications. There’s still a lot that can be done to push things further with innovative combinations of tools. For hungry entrepreneurs, there’s plenty of the tech-game left to be played.
If you think something is broken, don’t just think about it. Do something! Because you can, and change only happens when someone makes it happen!