Rural Kansas in the United States invokes the images of a certain last son of a dying planet who came to a strange land, fell in love with it and stayed there and helped his adoptive home prosper.
Ellis Miller is no alien, but his story mirrors that of Superman's. A native of rural Kansas, he came to Bangladesh, liked it, started his own business and for more than 15 years now this place has been his home.
Ellis Miller is the co-founder and Managing Director of CodeCrafters International, a Dhaka-based international technology development company.
Miller, a third generation businessman, was born and raised in Kansas. His grandfather owned a large wheat business in Kansas. Being involved in his father's business at a young age made him interested in business in general. He started coding at a pretty young age and got his first job in an apprenticeship role in software development in 1995.
In the same year, he joined Investortools and continued in the company up till 2005. While working there, he often dreamed of starting his own business overseas. His love for travelling was one of the primary reasons behind this wish.
Miller was just back from a vacation with his family in India. He was looking for a place to start an IT business. He was going back and forth with the idea of starting a business in the former Soviet Republics. However, language barrier was an issue.
At one point, he got to know about Bangladesh through some acquaintances. Ellis, along with his family, first visited Bangladesh in 2005 and spent a few weeks here.
And he liked what he saw. Here he saw talent, opportunity, people who could speak in English fairly well and the fibre optic cable was going to come to Bangladesh the following year. So they found it feasible. All things considered, he moved to Bangladesh in 2006.
The obvious question then arises why not India. Ellis did not want to venture there as he felt the Indian market was mature enough as it is. The existing big players were already at play and it would have been more difficult to enter the market.
CodeCrafters International was officially founded in 2007 by Ellis and Lynita Miller, with the goal of providing customised software solutions to companies all over the globe.
CodeCrafters' goal is to deliver custom software solutions to businesses to help streamline their business and help them do what they are doing more easily and more consistently.
CodeCrafters consists of a team of 20 and typically hire two developers per year. On the business side, they have two parts. Two teams work on the software platform, while the third team develops customised business solutions. The company maintains a development team in Dhaka with a US-based sales and support team.
Currently, they have 19 active clients and around 250 users. The number is growing as they have started marketing and moving into advertising. They also depend on good word of mouth.
Miller believes in small businesses and really enjoys building customised business solutions for them. They built a software package for a client and got the feedback that the accounting process that used to take them all day long, can now be done in a couple of hours.
So what were the roadblocks he faced back in the earlier days?
"Infrastructure," Miller replied. "I remember there used to be frequent outages. We had to scurry from an IPS to a generator. At one point, we switched from desktops to laptops to tackle this."
There is a new problem now: brain drain. And for a firm that primarily hires BUET and IUT graduates, this was bound to be doubly problematic. How do they deal with it?
Miller recognised the ground reality but maintained that it was not something to be afraid of.
"One of our goals is to provide a long term career path for the developers we hire. We focus on developing employees, so we want to give them opportunities to grow within the company instead of forcing them to jump from company to company, to grow."
So where does Miller see CodeCrafters in a decade or so? Well, it turns out he is indeed a man of tomorrow.
"We really are a long term company. I am less concerned about how fast we are going than how healthy we are going along the way. I have been on the same project for 25 years.
In the next ten years, he wants CodeCrafters to have grown in revenue and people. Just this year, the company started a professional development programme. Employees are provided with customised online courses; even sometimes, scholarships for masters are also provided.
One of the recent reads that left a mark on him is The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. According to him, "My biggest takeaway from that book is not to focus on competition. Rather, I look at who we are and where we are going. One of the things Simon really emphasises in the books is that the goal is survival. Obviously, we have to take risks, but often people will sacrifice long-term health to get short-term gains or what looks like very big gains. I am willing to take a slower path that in the long term is healthier and more resilient."
For budding entrepreneurs, he had this to say, "Any healthy business is about meeting other people's needs. So if you are not meeting other people's needs or that is not your focus, you will not be successful in the long term. This is far more about serving others than what we get for ourselves."
He also added, "Start slow and build. Consider starting part-time and having something else that feeds your family. Choose the right people. That is probably more important than anything else. You will need a combination of skill, commitment and character."
What's his personal mantra when it comes to business, life and everything in and between?
"Three words: serve, invest and teach," said Miller.
He believes his purpose here is to serve. To serve his employees well by building them up, give them a workplace that gives them energy. Also serving his clients by giving them more value than what they pay for.
The second word that was part of his mantra is, invest. With investment, "it is just recognising the fact that often short term pain can bring long term results," he said.
According to him, any time someone swaps those around, they end up with short term pleasure and long term regret because they have got it backwards.
"So much of life is about the long term perspective," he added.
The third word is a personal one to him; it is "teach." Because he loves teaching and it is something that sparks joy in him.