ShimBi Labs- A company born in 2005 with the idea of developing simple, powerful, yet affordable software. At Shimbi Labs, we create beautiful software to solve business problems.
Shimbi Labs turns 15 years on the 12 June 2020. On this occasion of the completion of 15 years in business, I got the opportunity to interview the CEO and Founder of ShimBi Labs, Mr. Siddharth Deshmukh.
In this interview, he gave a deep insight into how he started freelancing after his graduation and then ended up creating this company. From an engineering background, he never imagined starting a business.
The interview was insightful, motivational, and encouraging.
When you started this company, what was your inspiration?
Before I started this company, I used to do freelancing. I used to do some coding to help small businesses in the community. For example, when I was in the junior years of college, I started building accounting software for a small business that was a wholesaler of grains. The focus was more for small companies as they do not have a big budget, and no big company would trust me at such a young age.
The transition came when I got introduced to the Internet. I started experimenting on the Internet and got a chance to build some early-stage websites for some of the builders. When it comes to hosting a website, I realized that I'm hosting it on somebody else's server where I am paying them, and then the customer is paying me. So, I thought why not start a hosting company, where I will be designing a website and hosting it on my server so that I can make a better profit. I also realized that many freelancers and web designing agencies could be my clients to host their websites on my servers. I started my first company called ASK4Host.com, which is still there and launched on 12 June 2000 and has completed 20 years today.
During this time, I started working more and more on internet applications for small businesses and professionals. Later I got an opportunity to go to Japan. Many thanks to my Japanese friends and the people around me. I was introduced to Japanese small and medium-sized companies and started working with them as well. During this time, I built many websites and applications.
At a stage, I realized that I need a more prominent customer for growth, and I needed to establish my own company and hire people, and I can't remain like this. Fortunately, I got a big project at that time, and the customer insisted that I have a private limited company so they can sign a contract with a company and not with an individual. That how I started ShimBi Labs.
On Company Vision
I realized one thing: vision is not writing a few sentences on paper but to look into daily things and find out what exactly you are doing and how it impacts the community and society at large. What is your strengths and weakness and focus on doing better for the community. From the beginning, we were more focused on small businesses and professionals. I also started realizing that working with them means I had to produce the best quality products, and they need to be simple to use, powerful, yet affordable in pricing. This becomes our vision.
We just had to spell it and retell ourselves that -
Shimbi Labs will build very Innovative, simple, powerful, yet affordable products for freelancers and small businesses.
It's been 15 years, every day we are working on our vision of building innovative, simple, powerful, yet affordable products. People might think that our products have fewer features than others, but simple products are more challenging to build. They are more useful for the people, and actually, get their job done. They are better than complicated and multi-feature products which people buy with pride, but they are useless due to lack of intuitiveness.
Shimbi Labs is built to help freelancers and businesses grow faster.
While going through your website, I noticed a small Japanese flag: Is there a partnership with any Japanese company or a tie-up?
We have multiple partners in Japan who work with us. We work in collaboration with them as a team for enterprises. But we are not affiliated with anyone group. We are an independent company, and we have independent customers and joint customers too.
In the coming years, do you see yourself expanding to working with other companies from other countries?
Yes, we have several customers from the EU. We are working with some German, Switzerland and Swedish companies. We also worked with Australian companies.
In these 15 years of building this company, what obstacles did you face? Financially or competition wise?
Like any other business, we also faced many obstacles. Trained as an engineer, the obstacle I faced was zero experience in running a business. I'm also a first-generation businessman. In the last three generations of my family, nobody has done business. So everything was new to me. Everything related to business management needed to learn from zero.
Funding was always an issue. But I had made a conscious decision not to take VC funding. Maybe it is because of my nature. If I receive funding, I am answerable to my financers, and it's not like I don't want any boss above me. But I will not be able to do what I want, what my vision is, and I also won't be able to fail if I want to fail. To succeed, I will have to make many compromises.
Bootstrapping a business is very difficult, but I decided to work that way. If there was no support from family members, especially my wife, it was challenging. Apart from this, competition, failed ideas, misjudgments, and some goof ups. It's a part of life, and you need them; otherwise, you cannot grow.
When you started this company, knowing that there is a lot of competition, nothing is original, how did you advertise your company?
Rightly said, if you look at this decade, very few things are original. Everything has competition. The first thing you need to do is remove the mindset of 'who are my competitors.' Instead, you have to find out that I am entering a market with similar products and services, so 'who are my customers?'
When you enter the market, two things happen, if you enter into a niche market, then there is a problem that you have a smaller market, which tends to shrink. After that, you don't know what to do because the market is already small. If there is a bigger market, then there are already big and small players there. But there is an opportunity: every business, in the end, tries to settle down at one or two bands of customers so there is always something you can focus on.
For example, we have an online invoicing software as one of our product. Thousands of accounting and billing products are available. What we have done is that most products in the market are accounting software.
So, the first thing we did is that we made a conscious decision not to make accounting software but stop at Invoicing as a central function. We only focused on this one feature and ensured it is well designed and simplest to use in the market.
How did we reach that conclusion?
Earlier, when we started, we were a software service company, working on customer projects. We needed a quick and simple invoicing system to generate and send invoices to our clients globally. So rather than buying, we decided to tailor-make for ourselves.
We realized that many freelancers and small companies like us also need something as simple as Shimbi Invoice for there invoicing needs. They don't need accounting software. So, we decided to focus only on these categories of customers.
On Remote Work.
From the beginning, our focus was on anywhere and anytime. Due to pandemic, people are talking about remote work or work from home. Our products were since beginning made for work from anywhere. We help you work remotely from anywhere.
When you started recruiting people for your company, what qualities did you search in people?
There are three main qualities we look for in people who wish to work with us.
First and the most important is that does the person have an attitude to learn something new sincerely. If a person has the quality to learn something new, he can build a skill base. The skill is secondary. Your skills will grow if you have minimum required skills and a dominant attitude of learning new things. You will become a better version of yourself every day.
Secondly, we want people who are self-leaders. We don't have any managers at ShimBi Labs. We don't like managers. We think managers mean that you hired a bunch of people who needs somebody to manage them look over them. What we need is self-managing people. This means when you need help, you ask for it but usually work oneself. You should have an attitude that I don't know; can you help me out; otherwise, I can manage myself. We need people who can work even though they make mistakes.
As we are a technology company minimum set of necessary skills to get the job done is the third quality. If these three qualities are in place, we can work together. Our hiring policies are also straightforward. We give you a project; please do it. If you are successful, we can talk further.
How do your current employees contribute to building your brand? What is your workplace environment like?
We don't hire quickly. We hire painfully slow because we want to figure out if this person is matching to our culture? People who share core values even if they have differences of opinion contribute to a larger goal.
We have become a fully remote company for one year now. But even before that, we allowed people to work from home if they have any problem visiting the office. We never insisted on people to work from the office. All of them are working in a way we want and building a culture. We don't need to watch over anyone. We all believe in transparency. Everybody understands that we fail sometimes, but that's okay. More important is to see that we can recover quickly from it and fix it ourselves.
Which was the first product you launched after building this company?
The first product which we launched was web CMS. A simple reason for that as we get busy on a client project, we stop updating our website, as it was time-consuming to handcraft HTML code. One day I realized that our website was outdated. It talked about things we did earlier.
None of the engineers had the time or appetite to build a website. However, they had an interest in building simple Web CMS to keep our site updated by me anytime, anywhere!
So, we built CMS to keep ShimBi Labs website updated. Later it becomes Shimbi CMS, and now Budo - the simplest website builder as our first product.
There are many people out there, many engineers who are not satisfied with their jobs, who want to start something new but they don't have the courage. What are the few words you would like to tell them to boost them?
It takes a lot of courage to do what you want to do because, unfortunately, Indian society is built like that. So, I cannot blame someone if they do not have the courage because you are taught to do something on your own when you are born. Much care is given while you are young. This itself discourages you from doing something new.
A simple way to start entrepreneurship is that you don't need to start your own company; all you need to do is take ownership of your work and treat it like your own business. There is one secret that I want to share; if you make your boss too dependent on you, he will never fire you because you get his job done. While doing this, you don't become a slave of your boss. You have to think like an entrepreneur; you have to have the courage to make a decision, make a mistake, own the mistake, and fight back.
Owning your action is more important than doing your business. So even if you are a student or freelancer, owning your action is the first step towards entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs own their responsibilities of failures and build a team that brings success to them.
It has been 15 years, and the company has grown immensely. In the next 5 to 10 years, what new heights would you like to achieve?
I don't set monetary goals. My goal is that what is the one thing for which people will use our products.
For example, invoice, website, customer management system, technology will change, but will people stop invoicing, making websites, project management? As long as people do any project, they will need a project management system. Technology will change, the devices on which these products work will change. The product will evolve with it.
For example, the CEO of Amazon was once asked what where he will invest most for the future?
He explained it like this "Take Amazon, for example - 10 years from now people aren't going to say 'I wish Amazon shipping were slower' or 'I wish Amazon had a worse selection,' so we invest heavily in fast shipping and a broad selection."