Romoni is an on-demand online beauty services and products platform in Bangladesh that allows customers to search, compare, book and review services offered by the company’s verified network of women micro-entrepreneurs.
With the increasing emergence of inclusive businesses such as Romoni, transformations within the private sector are picking up pace as companies seek to contribute to sustainable and inclusive development. To foster an environment in which such businesses can thrive, ESCAP has partnered with the Government of Colombia to assist policymakers in Asia and the Pacific and Latin America to promote business innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
For Romoni co-founders Tarique Ibne Haider, Abidur Rahman Malik, and Armin Zaman Khan, who come from mobile communication and tech startup backgrounds, their innovative vision for an inclusive business model evolved over time.
“When we started this business in Dhaka in 2018, our initial target was to help customers looking for quality services. But after working with beauticians for three months we realized that their struggle was far greater: they were working in salons for 12 or more hours a day, for very little pay,” explained Romoni co-founder, Tarique Ibn Haider.
The majority of the beauticians came from Bangladesh’s poorer ethnic minority areas and had limited education. Almost none of them had bank accounts. Their lack of training, literacy and financial background meant they were unlikely to secure loans, leave the salons, and start working for themselves. In addition, many of the salons were not providing a high standard of service or products.
In response, Ibn Haider and Khan pivoted Romoni towards an inclusive business model designed to help beauticians connect with customers safely, control their own schedule, earn more money, and gain access to financial services, while providing customers with qualified technicians working with recognized products.
There were challenges. Romoni founders had to travel to the beauticians to convince them to join the platform. “They were afraid to leave their regular jobs and work for themselves. So at first it was quite difficult, but as the beauticians started earning more money, it became easier. Now all our new leads come organically,” Ibn Haider said.
“We have one entrepreneur, Liza, who left her salon job of six years where she was making less than US$150 a month. She is a single mother of two children and it was hard for her to take the risk. But now she earns more than US$1,000 a month with us, and has employed two more people to work with her. I have dozens of similar stories,” said Ibn Haider.
Romoni offers free training and advanced courses with external trainers at low fees, so that the entrepreneurs can widen their service offerings. The business also educates entrepreneurs on financial and digital literacy, giving them more confidence to explore new areas with earning potential, and market and promote their services.
With the support of ESCAP, Romoni has gone a step further and created a second platform that connects the entrepreneurs with financial institutions.
Romoni partners with two banks in Bangladesh, and uses information gathered during the onboarding and sales processes to help beauticians open their accounts. The banks can also access data on the platform to check on the transaction and order data from particular beauticians to assess their credit limits.
“ESCAP’s help was so important on this. They helped us create the correct products and talk to the banks so that we could create a loan process together,” Ibn Haider said.
Romoni is one of 15 innovative fintech start-ups supported by ESCAP’s Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship Project, funded by the Government of Canada, which has directly benefitted over 100,000 women entrepreneurs to date.
So far, through Romoni, 700 women have been able to open bank accounts. Romoni also offers small loans so that the beauticians can purchase smart phones and access mobile banking.
“We have created a sustainable impact company and products, and now want take to it to the next level. We have helped a tiny proportion of entrepreneurs, and there are millions of women in Bangladesh, so we want to work with other agencies and access resources so we can expand to the next level,” said Ibn Haider.