Bonton Connect CEO Samiha Tahsin Removing the Barriers of internet Connectivity
onton Connect Is Bangladesh’s first internet sharing platform. Bonton Connect is a team that focuses on ensuring internet connection to the people of root level and removing all the barriers of internet connectivity. Samiha Tahsin,CEO of Bonton Connect, is going to tell about her journey today with us.
Removing the Barriers of Internet Connectivity
Life is a question, and how we live it is the answer. If you consider life as a book, then every day might be counted as a page, and the page consists of different stories and different experiences. Life is full of different opportunities, and different mysteries so is mine.
Love it or hate it, I personally love Dhaka. In fact, I was born and brought up right here in a humble middle-class family, so maybe that plays a large role in my obsession with this city. My childhood, without a doubt, was very fulfilling, and I relished every moment of it.
My mother was the one who taught me my ABCs, but my father has a bit of a different story. He is a businessman, and I think he is the definition of grit and dedication because, to this day, I have never seen him take days off nor go on a vacation. I’ve learned many things from him, but his most valuable teaching is definitely his dedication to his work, and I strive to live up to it every day.
I was the first among all my cousins and siblings to be enrolled in an English medium school. My parents surely got quite the awkward looks and subtle backhanded compliments for it, but it’s only recently that I recognize and truly appreciate the privilege that is, and for that, I am thankful and humbled.
I completed both my A-Levels and O Levels from Dhanmondi Tutorial. The school years pretty much consisted of a tight schedule of playtime and extra-curricular activities ranging from sports, dancing, and painting to even classical music. I didn’t know I was searching for my true calling, but I was interested in anything and everything.
I could literally go on for hours about my childhood, but there is one memory in particular that makes me emotional every time—a memory with my grandfather. When I used to finish a drawing or painting something, I showed my grandfather.
My grandfather was my first fan and most serious critic. I didn’t understand everything back then, but I do miss that; now that he passed away. I think that is one memory I will never forget because he used to admire my work and also push me to be better at the same time.
Bonton Connect: Journey Into Entrepreneurship
Eventually, the feedback loop of criticism and encouragement with my grandfather had an effect. I was fascinated by art, to begin with, but I ended up doing more and more, often at the cost of the other extracurricular activities, until it became my primary form of creative expression. You could say I fell in love with painting.
That love for painting bled into my siblings’ personalities, too, until eventually, my sister and I opened an art page. It was called Painted Thoughts. We gained a bit of popularity and sold many paintings through that page.
Up until this point, it probably seems like my calling was the art of painting but bear with me. It was soon apparent that just my sister and I can never keep up with the demand, but at the same time, she and I were suffering from imposter syndrome, knowing full well that there are so many insanely talented artists, often much better than us.
They happen to be obscured by the lack of a popular art page with their name on it. So we turned Painted Thoughts into an art platform where other artists contributed to the page to sell their own art. This was the true calling, the realization that I could help many more artists gain popularity and sell their art while we reap the benefits of happy customers.
To put it more generally, I realized that just through setting up an enterprise, I could help everyone involved to achieve more than they ever could alone.
Even after all this, a part of me never truly let go of that curious side of me, which makes me explore every avenue of creative expression. In 2017, I found myself being a newbie at something completely new and out of my comfort zone; computer programming.
I hope it’s no surprise that one of my first teachers who helped me along the journey into computer science was none other than my co-founder, Omran. The current CTO of our startup Bonton Connect. Bonton, although our most serious venture wasn’t our first.
In fact, before founding Bonton, we had a brief stint as teachers who taught Computer Science to high school students before committing full-time to our dream of saving the world with a tech startup.
Start of Bonton Connect
They say that every problem is just an opportunity but wearing an ugly disguise. There we were, circa June of 2019, sitting at a cafe near our university with friends but without a single megabyte of mobile data. My buddies and I were trying to get work done, and as such, we picked the place where we knew they had WiFi.
Imagine the horror when we found that our mobile data was patchy indoors, and the restaurant WiFi was strained from all the other patrons crowding the tables.
We knew the air around us was buzzing with WiFi signals on all channels and frequencies from offices and homes around us. We could, after all, see it on our phones and laptops, but that little lock icon beside every WiFi name implying those were password protected was absolutely soul-crushing. Of course, we had the password to none of them. Even if we were willing to pay for it, we could do nothing about it.
Guess it took two to spot the opportunity. Omran (currently co-founder, Bonton Connect) casually mentioned how dropping connections was a real problem in his neighborhood. We had nothing to do but sip our coffee, so he further elaborated how he and his neighbors have the very aptly named “Open WiFi Intersharing Treaty” in place.
That is Omran’s fancy way of saying he and his share their WiFi password with each other to ensure no one connection drop will stop his tightly knit network of neighbors from getting work done.
Eureka! Within seconds of him finishing his sentence, he and I were asking why count solely on the sweet words of a charismatic neighbor to convince everyone to do this? In fact, why count on the goodness of neighbors to facilitate such a beautiful system to begin with?
I mean, we have a complex system of barter in place for just such an occasion; we call it currency. What if we monetized what Omran had in his neighborhood and took it all over the city? Everyone in my beautiful city could benefit from the affordable internet that is buzzing all around us if they paid the owner of a WiFi network through a platform.
We did just that, Omran and I built a platform and put it into an app where people can pay to use someone else’s WiFi, and people can share their own WiFi and earn back a few their monthly internet bills every time someone else uses their WiFi.
Honestly, I’ve read so many stories of so many startups that I’m starting to lose my initial naive assumption that entrepreneurship can’t be that hard. It totally can, especially when you are trying to introduce to the world an old concept in a new arrangement.
It often becomes a concept of its own to some extent. Nothing about the sales or marketing or tech seems easy to us. We nonetheless cope, and I think we are doing okay.
If I had to discuss the most formidable challenge while working on Bonton, it is still the delicate art of educating people about our service. Initially, we could barely make people grasp what or why, but thankfully we now adopted the very cliché Uber-for-X model of the elevator pitch.
So here goes, “Bonton is a wifi sharing platform where people share their wifi with strangers to earn money or use someone else’s WiFi to get online; kind of like the Uber for the Internet.”
Nowadays, the same problem has morphed into more complex forms, such as explaining how our service enables sharing or how our service ensures security.
A lot of people, often confidently, will mention how we, as a country, do not care at all about our privacy or data security. Sadly we soon realized that it was a lie. Quantitatively speaking from interviews and experience, the first question of very literally 93% of the people who grasped the concept was, “Is this secure?” or “What if I get hacked if I let in strangers on my network?”.
This is often when my co-founder Omran goes into a rant about this is a pre-2008 myth perpetuated by insecure wifi configurations, but I tend to mostly assure people that it’s nothing to worry about in more human-friendly terminology.
The team and I are, of course, actively working on the way to systematically communicate this trust through our messaging and branding, as well as actually looking for holes in our system and approach. It would be a PR nightmare if such a vulnerability were found.
The question of unethical behaviors from guest users or actions against the state on a third party’s network also comes up often. That’s the beauty (or innovation, if you will) of Bonton. We actually found a way to take any off the shelf home router and automate to operate as an enterprise on-premise WiFi deployment.
This is so that we are aware at all times which user is on which network at what time to ensure we can legally provide a solid alibi for individuals contributing to our network in such a case. Quite like how a proper ISP does it.
Brief: A Lesson Learned
Our idea and concept now have almost zero resemblance to our idea when we conceived of it. It is light years ahead, more refined, and much more thought out than what we had. I’d love to say we’re smart and we figured these all out on our own, but that would be a blatant lie. It is more mature now because we spoke to people.
Many people are quick to suggest that we should keep our ideas to ourselves and work in silence, but that’s also a surefire way to have bad ideas and, at best-underdeveloped, ideas. We spoke to anyone and everyone who would listen about our cool idea and had our hearts crushed and dreams broken by criticism and suggestions from people who often are smarter than us.
The good news is, it rarely deterred us, but it did push us to grow our idea into something that is truly worth pursuing.
Currently, we are indistinguishable from a traditional hot-spot business where you can use the internet at a much affordable rate. This is because initially, we want to get users onboarded onto the platform through using and then try to convert them into contributors of the network.
Of course, our next target is to cover the entirety of Dhaka city with our coverage provided by all the users who share their internet for the good of all. For that, we are looking to raise another round of funding some time next year after we find a better market fit.
The end goal is and always has been to remove all barriers to internet connectivity with no exceptions, and as such, we are already planning to break out of urban areas and into the rural landscape where the internet puzzle is harder to solve and desperately in need of solving.
Hopefully, one day soon, we break out of our current political boundaries and maybe even the continent. I have a lot to learn as a newcomer into the world of entrepreneurship before Bonton reaches that point, though, but until then, just like my father did, I’m ready to work day in and day out tirelessly until I get everyone here on Earth properly online.
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