Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Company Formation - Part III
June 17, 2008

(For an index of all of my Company Formation in Bangladesh blogs, click here: Forming a Company in Bangladesh)

Every day is a learning process. For the past few weeks I have been trying to figure out the investor visa process. I was told different things by different people. One person said that I had to apply for my investor visa from my home country, another said I could do it from Thailand, and a third person told me that I could do it from within Bangladesh. The requirements and time lines also varied depending on who I was talking to.

Today I met with another Director at the Bangladesh Board of Investment and I am choosing to believe what he tells me because he is saying things that I want to hear. I learned that there are two "sides" to the Board of Investment - the "commercial" side and the "industrial" side. I originally went to the director of the "commercial" side because I figured that a resort could not be categorized as "industrial". Apparently I was wrong though. "Commercial" is for people who are doing importing and exporting and who are setting up branches in Bangladesh. Their contact at the BOI is Director Jalul Hai. (The man I met with a few weeks ago.) "Industrial" is mainly for garment manufacturers, but apparently also encompasses the "industry" of tourism. That contact at the BOI is Director Mamood Hossain Alamgir, the man that I met with this afternoon.

I am quite glad to have moved over to the "industrial" side of the proverbial fence because I no longer have the $50,000 cash deposit requirement to apply for my investor visa. The fact that my project is going to be very large is sufficient enough. I also learned that I need to complete the Board of Investment Registration Form before I can do anything else and that in order to complete this form I need to have either purchased my land or have a lease for the land where my company will operate.

Since I no longer have to apply for my investor visa in the U.S. the time pressure is off a bit and I can wait to complete these processes until the land acquisition has gone through. The good news is that I did figure out how to create a bank account (albeit a non-operating bank account) before I get my work permit, etc... This allows my investors to deposit money into my company bank account now (something that I need in order to proceed with the land acquisition.)

I have revised my previous post on the topic - Company Formation Part II - to reflect the new things I learned about the company formation process. Items that are new or revised are marked as such in the blog entry.

Finally, a quick word on setting up corporate bank accounts in Bangladesh... Different people will tell you different things about what is possible in Bangladeshi banking, but it IS possible to set up a (non-operating) Taka company bank account in Bangladesh before you get your trade license and tax ID. (I just did it!) You will need a bit of patience and the following items, however. Each bank might be a little different, but here are the requirements for an HSBC account:
  • Completed account opening form (some parts of this require a stamp of your corporate seal, so be sure you have this first. See my blog entry How to Form a Company in Bangladesh - Part 2 for more information.)
  • Passport size photo for each signatory with signature on backside
  • Copy of passport for each signatory as proof of ID
  • Copy of Certificate of Incorporation
  • List of Directors with address in prescribed form (this should already be in your Articles of Association)
  • Memoradum and Articles of Association certified by the Bangladesh Joint Stock Registrar. (A copy of the certified articles is sufficient.)
  • Board Resolution mentioning permission to open account with your specific bank (in my case HSBC) which mentions who will have signing authority. This memorandum needs to have original signatures (no photocopies) and should be stamped with the corporate seal.
  • Copy of utility bill (gas/electric/telephone) to verify address
  • If any of the directors/ signatories are foreigners then a copy of the Work Permit from BOI (you can open a non-operating bank account without this)
  • Copy of Trade License (you can open a non-operating bank account without this)
  • Copy of Tax Identification Number Certificate (you can open a non-operating bank account without this)
After you submit these items to the bank you can get a non-operating bank account (unless you already have your trade license, TIN, and work permit, then you can get a fully operating account.) A non-operating account means that you can deposit money in the form of a wire transfer from outside, but you can't take money out. You also can't just walk up with cash and deposit it - the money must come from a documented source (like a wire transfer). After you obtain your trade license, TIN, and work permit you can submit those documents and they will make your account an operating account (so you can take money out and make cash deposits).

Also with a non-operating account, only company owners are allowed to deposit money into the account. So if you have a new investor you must first transfer the ownership to them and register the change with the Joint Stock Registrar. Then you have to submit copies of the changed articles of Memorandum and Association to the Bank. After they have accepted the changes then the new investor can deposit money...

I will keep you posted as I find out more about how to form a company in Bangladesh... In the meantime you can check out my previous blogs on the subject:

How to Form a Company in Bangladesh - Part 1
How to Form a Company in Bangladesh - Part 2

Monday, June 16, 2008

Natural Disasters Aren't Just for Bangladesh
June 16, 2008

My home town of Iowa City has undergone severe flooding in the past few days. Just like in the Bangladesh floods last year, many Americans have lost their homes and their belongings. The crops were also severely damaged. Fortunately my family doesn't live in the flood plain, but my heart goes out to the rest of the Iowans who do...

Here is an article on the Iowa floods:

Here are some photos of the damage:

Friday, June 13, 2008

Flickr Photos
June 13, 2008

I recently opened my Flickr photos up to the public. If you are interested you can click here to see all of my travel photos online. My photos are in sets by city and in collections by country.

Photos that I took during visits to the following countries are available online:

Monday, June 09, 2008

Rajshahi - City of Silk and Mangoes
June 9, 2008

I went to Rajshahi this past weekend with my friends Mikey, Belinda, and Majbritt (all of us are in the tourism industry). It is mango season there now and Mikey had to go there for research for his guidebook so the rest of us tagged along to see the mangoes and monuments. Rajshahi is known for its mango orchards, silk weaving, and high concentration of historical mosques.

The first day we went to the mango market. It was quite a sight! There were hundreds of vangaris carrying mangoes into the market where they were sold to vendors who would ship them to Dhaka. Apparently we were as interesting to the people in the market as the market was to us! We had hundreds of people gather around us whenever we stopped anywhere. Mikey and Bel eventually found a building where we could stand on the roof and take pictures without crowds of people closing in on us.

We decided to buy a (large!) basket of mangoes before we left. Mikey volunteered to brave the crowds and get the mangoes while Majbritt, Belle, and I waited in the van. When we opened the doors and windows to get some air, however, we were again mobbed with men who had come to stare at us. So we sat sweating profusely in the van for over a half an hour while Mikey and the Mango Men packed up our fruit.

The same day we also stopped at some of the mosques in the area. Rajshahi has the largest concentration of mosques in Bangladesh. It is certainly the nicest collection of monuments that I have seen since I have been here.

We stayed at the Parjatan Hotel the first night which was a typical, rundown Bangladeshi hotel. The second night we moved to the Chez Razzak guest house which was a little ways out of town, but MUCH nicer. The place was in a quiet residential area and seemed quite new. The rooms were not stylish, but they were very clean and comfortable. It was probably the nicest accommodation that I have stayed in while in Bangladesh.

Before leaving on Saturday we stopped at Puthia. Puthia has several nice old temples including the Govinda and Shiva Temples and a very run down Rajbari. (I fantasized that I would get a lease from the government and restore the rajbari into a heritage hotel. Perhaps a future project!)

Chodo Sona Mosque
On the first day we went to the Chodo Sona Mosque.

Chodo Sona Mosque Carvings
The mosque had some beautiful carvings on the outside.

Takhana Palace
We also went to visit this palace on the first day. It reminded me of Lalbagh (the Red Fort) in Dhaka...

Mango Market
While the temples were interesting, we were all extremely interested to see the Mango Market. The road was so filled with mangoes, people, and vangaris that we had to park our van and walk into the heart of the market. Of course as soon as we stepped out of the car we were surrounded by curious Bangladeshis. Mikey and Belle finally managed to find a way to beat the crowd - they found a three story building and convinced the owner to let them climb to the top to take some photos. I have never seen so many mangoes in my entire life!

Getting the Mangoes to Market
The street was packed with vangaris (like rickshaw trucks) carrying large baskets of mangoes to the market.

Majbritt and Her Admirers

When we were waiting for Mikey to get back with the mangoes we were overrun by curious Bangladeshis! (This is pretty typical behavior in Bangladesh - especially outside of Dhaka!)

Due to time constraints we had to drop the picnic in the mango orchard from our itinerary. We did see numerous mango trees as we traveled around, however. I was surprised by how long the mango stems were!

Tea Stall
Our first day schedule was quite packed and we were all a bit tired from the heat and excessive attention so we stopped at a tea stall for a little break. These tea stalls are everywhere in Bangladesh; even the smallest rural town will have one. It is a place were men go during the day to socialize and escape the heat. (You will never see women there unless they are helping to run the tea stall or are bideshis like us!)

Silk Weaving
Having tasted the mangoes, we wanted to see the silk weaving that the area is known for, so our guide took us to one of the textile mills in the area. Apparently the silk is imported from China and then woven into cloth in Rajshahi. We got to see several of the weaving machines at work.

Shiva Temple
On the second (and final) day we stopped at a temple complex before we went back. The Shiva Temple was one of the main buildings at the site. This is a view of the Shiva Temple from across the pond.

Belle at the Shiva Temple
Belle is a photographer. She and Mikey are writing the new Bradt Guide to Bangladesh. They are also trying to publish a photo coffee table book of some of her images.

Shiva Temple Door
I really liked this door at the Shiva Temple.

Govinda Temple
The Govinda Temple is in the same location as the Shiva Temple. The style is very similar to the Kantanagar Temple near Dinajpur.

Terracotta Detail
The Govina Temple is covered with lovely terracotta tiles. Unfortunately many of the details have been worn away over time.

A doorway at the Govinda Temple.

Our final stop at the temple complex was the rajbari. It is very rundown now, but you can tell that at one time it was quite grand. I even met a VIP inside! One of the ten caretakers of the government of Bangladesh was sight seeing and he invited us to come meet with him. He was very nice and friendly and was excited about my resort project. Only in Bangladesh could I randomly run into one of the top leaders of the country and have him invite me to come chat with him!

Rickshaw Art
The designs of the rickshaws vary a bit by the region of Bangladesh that you visit. The Rajshahi rickshaws had some very beautiful artwork on them.

Majbritt and the Mangoes
We purchased a large basket (30 kgs!) of mangoes in the Mango Market for the four of us to share. Back at my house in Dhaka Majbritt is jealously guarding them!

Sharing the Mangoes
Belle convinced Majbritt to share the mangoes and they got to work dividing them into piles. I make myself useful by teasing them and taking photos. In the end, we each got 32 mangoes! I ended up sharing mine with Hamida and my neighbors...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ladies Who Launch Travel Article
June 2, 2008

I just realized that I forgot to include a link on my blog to the Ladies Who Launch (LWL) travel article that I was featured in. Ladies Who Launch is a great organization that provides a powerful support network for female entrepreneurs. It was actually in my LWL Incubator in New York that I first came up with the idea to build sustainable boutique hotels. I began the incubator with two different ideas - to create a luxury hotel club and to build wind farms - and my fellow Incubator members helped me combine those two ideas into my current business: developing sustainable boutique hotels.

Ladies Who Launch has an online magazine. This month their focus is on travel and I was profiled in one of their articles: "The Trip that Inspired Me To..." (You can click the title to read it.)

Michele, the author actually asked me a lot of questions, but, of course, everything gets shortened in an article. If you want to read all my full response to her query, it is below:

1. When did you visit Belize and San Pedro, and how long was your stay?
I went to Belize in January of 2006. I stayed for two weeks.

2. Did you go alone or with a friend/family member?
I went by myself. (I normally travel by myself.)

3. What motivated you take this particular vacation at the time you did?
I just really enjoy traveling and had some vacation time saved up. I went to London, Austria, and the Czech Republic for Christmas 2005. I went to Morocco in May 2006... I decided to go to Belize because I saw an advertisement for a resort there in an e-mail newsletter that I received. I realized that I didn't really know that much about Belize, so I started researching it and discovered that it had a lot of interesting things: rainforests, beaches, great diving, caves, Mayan ruins… So I decided to go! I didn't stay at the resort in the advertisement, but it was a great inspiration anyway. My favorite part of the vacation was waterfall spelunking!

4. At the time, what job were you doing? (I'm guessing it was something
corporate!) How long had you been at this job, and doing this kind of work?

I had just been promoted to the Chief Information Officer of CharterMac, a real estate finance company. Prior to my promotion, I ran the Fund Management Group there where I managed over $7 billion of private equity invested into more than 100 real estate funds. I started working at CharterMac after grad school in 2004.

5. What about the Caves Branch eco resort made you think that you could do it better?
Caves Branch didn't really have any problems that I thought I could improve. Instead I was inspired by the place and the experience that I had there. The owner lived at the resort and he told me how he had left corporate America years before and came to Belize to develop his resort. It was a small place that he personally ran.

At night after all of the guests came back from the day's activities (which ranged from visiting Mayan ruins to horseback riding to waterfall spelunking) we gathered in the main reception hall/ restaurant area around long, communal tables and swapped stories with the other guests about the day's adventures. Each night the guides would come to the tables and ask if we would like to sign up for activities for the next day. I really liked the community atmosphere the resort fostered. I am still good friends with some of the people that I met on that trip.

After speaking with the owner, Ian Anderson, I realized that I had all of the skills that I needed to create my own resort. Caves Branch was focused primarily on adventure tourism. I am more interested in creating a culturally authentic experience. I have always been interested in seeing the "real" culture of an area that I travel to. One thing that really struck me during my Belize trip was how isolated the tourists were from the locals. They were cloistered in private, all-inclusive resorts where there was no real opportunity to see or interact with the native residents.

I really want to create a place where visitors can see how local people really live (not an artificial historical reproduction) and have the opportunity to interact with them. This desire was strengthened during my Fulbright Fellowship in Bangladesh. The Fulbright Fellowship is a wonderful cultural exchange program which facilitates interaction and cross-cultural understanding between Americans and people from other countries. It was amazing to me how many misperceptions people have about each other (from both Bangladesh and the United States). Some misperceptions were small, like the idea that Pizza Hut is high quality American cuisine; others were large and disturbing, like the belief that Americans hate Bangladeshis and Muslims. Americans also have a lot of misperceptions about Bangladeshis; because of the negative reports in the media many people believe that Bangladeshis are corrupt and immoral, but in fact they are the most warm, friendly, generous, hospitable people that I have met in my global wanderings.

In order to facilitate cross-cultural communication at my resort, guests will be able to participate in excursions to local villages where they can speak (via the guide as a translator) with the local people. I am also marketing the resort to Bangladeshis (and including some lower priced rooms) so I hope that the guests themselves will be both Bangladeshi and bideshi (foreigner).

6. Had you ever entertained the idea of owning/operating your own resort before, or was that the first time it ever dawned on you?

There were two "events" that led me to the idea to create my own resort. One was the trip to Belize, the other was a lecture that I attended at NYU on luxury residential clubs. I don't actually remember which event came first anymore. At the lecture I met a man who created a company (Tanner and Haley) that built luxury vacation homes all over the world that he rented to very high net worth individuals. Again the small scale of each project (you could start with one house) and the accessibility of the speaker (I had the opportunity to speak with him after the presentation) inspired me and gave me confidence that this was also something that I could do.

7. You mention motorcycling in San Pedro and how you had an "Aha!" moment while doing it. Was it crystal clear at the time, or was it something that became clearer in your mind when you returned to the States? (And where were you living at the time?)
I actually had my "motorcycle moment" on the beach in San Pedro before I went to visit Caves Branch. I drove a motor scooter (for the first time in my life!) down the beach and I just had this incredible feeling of freedom and limitless possibility. I had feelings like this when I was a child, but hadn't experienced that sense of pure joy in a very long time. I got a glimpse of a life that I could have – one where I didn't have to put on a suit and go into an office every day, a life where I could decide my own schedule and have the freedom to decide for myself how I could best make a difference in the world.

The idea for the resort didn't solidify later, but the seed of change was planted in my mind that day on the beach. Eight months later I quit my corporate job in New York, donated everything that I owned to charity, and moved to Bangladesh. Today, I drive my own motor scooter down the streets of Dhaka and get to experience that feeling of freedom and joy every day.

8. Tell me about the Bangladesh property! How did you find it (or are you building the resort from scratch?), and why Bangladesh?
While I had the idea to build a resort before I left for Bangladesh, the project was put on the back burner for a year while I worked on my Fulbright Fellowship. Near the end of my Fulbright, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. I considered going back to Corporate America and taking a job at a hospitality company in Europe, but ultimately decided that I would be happiest if I started my own company.

I never thought that I would build my first resort in Bangladesh, but then a series of coincidences led me to consider doing a resort here. While researching low-income housing (for my Fulbright), I met Anna Heringer, a German architect who is pioneering a new mud and bamboo construction technique in Rudrapur, Bangladesh. I saw the school that she built and fell in love with the design and the material. I joked with Anna that I wanted her to build me a little mud country house where I could go on weekends to escape the city. I started telling my friends about Anna's work and my little country house idea and all of them replied in the same way, "You have to invite me!"

Most of the expats in Bangladesh live in Dhaka which is a large, dirty, crowded city. Because there are few international standard hotels in the country and figuring out how to get out of the city is a bit of a challenge, most people rarely go to the Bangladeshi countryside (which is breathtakingly beautiful!) This got me thinking that there may actually be a market for an upscale mud and bamboo resort within the expat community here. I followed my idea up with a survey of expats and Bangladeshis and discovered that there was a strong demand for this type of product by both foreigners and natives.

From there I decided on the most strategic location and set out to look for land. Now Panigram Resort is under development!

9. I'm sure you took a lot of baby steps in the three years between your Belize vacation and your move to Bangladesh (if indeed you're now living there). Is it possible to retrace these steps so that Ladies Who Launch readers can get a better sense of how to ACT on the inspirations that come to them while traveling? If possible, let me know five concrete steps that got you where you are now.
Excellent question! I actually have six steps that I recommend:

  • Build a financial safety net. I was able to put some money into savings before I left New York. Starting a business takes time and this money is now covering my living expenses and my initial business start-up costs.
  • Write down your ideas and observations. I always carry a little notebook along with me. Whenever I stay in a hotel I make notes of things that I like and don't like about the property. I take down prices, locations, restaurants in the area, etc. I even draw maps of the places that I visit. This lets me organize my thoughts and formulate my plans.
  • Write down your goal and project tasks. Whenever I begin a new project I always write down what the ultimate goal is. I visualize what I want the final project to look like and keeping that image in my head, I write down a list of all of the characteristics that I want in the final product. Then I start breaking that goal down into smaller tasks. For example, if the goal is "build a resort" then I start writing down the large tasks that I need to accomplish - i.e. "buy land", "design resort", "get financing", etc. - to achieve the goal. I organize the tasks into chronological order and then take the first large task and try to break it down into smaller pieces. For example for "buy land" I would write: "find good location", "do title search", etc. I don't always know all of the tasks up front, but I write down as many as I can. Then I focus on the first task until it is completed enough to move on to the next task.
  • Take action! This is definitely the most important step! Your idea is useless unless you take steps to bring it to fruition. Every day I make a list of at least three actions that I need to take to complete my tasks. Some days I complete all of them, other days I don't get anything done, but every day I begin with the intention to ACT! Even doing something small like spending a half hour on the internet researching your project keeps the idea and the passion alive in your head and in your heart.
  • If you get stuck, breathe. Sometimes I get backed into a corner and am not sure where to go next. When this happens I have found that stepping back and breathing really helps. I mean this literally! I sit in a quiet corner and meditate or do yoga. I give myself permission to release the problem from my head and try to spend an hour thinking only about my breathing. It is amazing what ideas will come to me when I just relax my mind! I have also found that often if I ask myself a question before I go to bed, I will often have the answer when I wake up in the morning.
  • Trust yourself, listen to your body, and have faith. If you feel uncomfortable about something it is probably a sign that you are not on the right path. Also be on the lookout for coincidences. I have noticed that when I am really focusing on an idea, strange things will start popping out of the background. Every time that I have followed up on one of these coincidences it has led to something good! If something doesn't work out the way that you want (I have had many disappointments!) trust that something better is on the way. Not only will you feel much better, but in my experience so far something better has always does come!

100 Chickens and a Bicycle
June 2, 2008

I thought I had never seen anything crazier than 100 live ducks tied to the back of a motorcycle in Cambodia - that is until I saw 100 live chickens tied to a bicycle in Bangladesh!

I was in Dhanmondi on my motorcycle when I saw this guy on the road. I didn't have my camera with me, but my fancy new phone can take low resolution pictures, so I immediately pulled over and dug it out of my bag. I chased the chicken man down the road until I caught up with him at a local Chinese restaurant. (At least I now know the chicken is really fresh there!)

Me Chasing the Chicken Man
I temporarily lost him while I pulled out my phone, but fortunately he did not turn off the main road.

At the Restaurant
I chased him to Xindian, a local Chinese restaurant on Road 16/A in Dhanmondi. The men at the restaurant all came outside to watch the crazy foreigner take pictures of their chicken guy. The chickens are still alive, but have apparently succumbed to their fate, as they were hanging their calmly...