Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, I am Shyamal Parikh and I am the founder of SmartTask. SmartTask is a project management tool that aims to make people 3x more productive by helping them prioritize their tasks, distributing work amongst team members, and tracking sales using CRM.
We currently are at $4K MRR and received $300K in seed funding this year in April.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I pursued my Bachelors in Engineering (B.Tech) from UVPCE, Gujarat. 2013 was a very special year for me as my college participated in Robocon for the first time, and I got the opportunity to represent my college as a lead programmer. For those who don’t know about Robocon, it stands for Robotic Contest where budding engineers program machines to perform a certain task. Despite being the debutant team, we scored the 1st position in our state. In addition to the achievement, I also found my mentor at the event and I interned under his tutelage for a year.
You need to document everything that you learn (especially from your mistakes) so that you can share it with your team members.
Time flies and in 2014-15, I decided to pursue MS in Embedded Systems, a field which I was really passionate about. Coming from a Mechatronics background, getting into the top 30 colleges was going to be difficult and it proved so in the first year. I still felt I was good enough and decided to apply again.
As I had a 1-year break, I decided to productively use it by working at my father’s business. As I worked with him, I realized that his way of working was very unorganized in the sense that he had to rely on different tools for tracking his sales, checking tasks, and service requests. This pain point motivated me to create SmartTask, where businesses could manage all their tasks and sales from a single app and become more productive.
When I researched the viability of my idea, I realized that the majority of the Indian businesses were operating in an unorganized manner and my product could be of use to them. After personally visiting 100s of businesses in a span of 2-3 months and spending a lot of time talking to business owners in the target segments; I had the idea, time, and the reason to create it. As I had experience in the field of programming (B.Tech) and of the ability to solve problems (sharpened through Robocon), I knew that I could create the product. This would not have been possible if I had secured admission to a good college abroad.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I researched about the existing players in the market like Asana. They already had a huge team and exorbitant funding. To manufacture a SaaS product, usually, there is a dedicated team of backend and frontend developers. But as SmartTask was bootstrapped, I could not afford a team and that is why I had to build everything on my own.
During the break year, I dedicated myself to learning programming and implementing the lessons in building SmartTask. I used Angular and C# to build SmartTask. As my break year was about to finish and the GRE retest was approaching, I had two options - either to abandon SmartTask and leave to study abroad, or stay here. SmartTask was like a brainchild to me, as I built the entire thing from scratch. Although it did not fetch me any revenue, I still had faith in its potential and took the risk by abandoning my plans to study abroad.
Many of my colleagues warned me about the consequences of staying here and risking my career potential. For a moment, even I got into self-doubt, but I was fortunate enough to have supportive parents who offered me emotional support and had faith in my capability. My mentor at Robocon also supported me in my journey.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In 2016, SmartTask was ready to be launched, but I was clueless about the process of finding clients.
As I was academically from a technical background, I was not well versed in Sales and Marketing. But I did not let that dampen my spirit. I told myself “If I could build an entire software on my own, I could definitely learn Sales and Marketing as well.
As my father was experienced in the field of business, I learned business acumen from him. I leveraged the internet to learn as well. I personally find Twitter very insightful, as the veterans keep on sharing their knowledge in the form of threads and actionable tweets.
Once I had gathered enough knowledge about creating a business plan and strategy, I started approaching clients. My primary targets were business owners with whom I already had good relations, as I had better odds in convincing them. I cold-called a lot of local businesses, but most of them rejected my offer, but I did not lose hope and kept on trying. Eventually, I started getting traction by changing the approach to understanding their pain points instead of pushing across the product.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
While I was cold calling potential clients, I realized that most of them rejected my offer as they did not find it worthy to pay for a project management software. As in India, people are conscious, so I had to reposition my pricing strategy.
I positioned the pricing in such a way that the monthly cost of the product seems equivalent to the price which businesses pay for the refreshments of their employees (usually Tea). This positioning helped me to convince people better
As our client base grew, SmartTask evolved from a Local Network (LAN) to Cloud Based Solution. We even have a dedicated mobile application now. Our major clients were from India and to get a share of foreign clients, we launched a sale on Appsumo offering a lifetime deal on our premium trial. That helped us a lot with getting funding and also helped us with the product discovery. I received plenty of emails from customers saying that the Appsumo deal was a no-brainer for them and how the application helped them manage their work.
A lifetime deal is paying only one lifetime for SmartTask. Instead of subscription payments. The downside is that for a SaaS business MRR is the lifeline as one needs to support and upgrade existing tools every week to meet the demand of the customers. In short, you are compromising on the revenue for growth in a very short amount of time. It's a trade-off that may be beneficial for pre-MVP start-ups.
Earlier the primary source of prospects was Cold Calling. Now, most of our leads are through Google Ads (70% of our customers are through Google Ads; the rest of the traffic is from FB group, outbound efforts). We also offer a free demo of our product, which can be availed by visiting our website. When someone books a free demo, we arrange an online meeting where we understand the requirements of the customers and demonstrate how SmartTask can help them in achieving those aspects. That also helps us in connecting with potential clients.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Things are going well for SmartTask. In fact, we secured our first-ever round of angel investing this year. The funding helped me hire ambitious people in the team. So far, I was the only person managing the development, sales, and growth. With the support of my team, I could fasten the growth of SmartTask and allocate my time to tasks that need my immediate attention.
With the creation of a dedicated Sales team, we can offer 24/7 support. I am also working towards building a strong Marketing team to boost the reach of SmartTask and finding new customers to target.
Presently we have 40,000+ active users and cater to prominent brands such as Amul, Adecco, Ecolab, ABB, and more. The future looks bright for us.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Your team members need to have two things: High Ambition + Curiosity to Learn. As technology advances, you need people who can adapt to the changes and help you sail through the challenges. At the time of hiring, I also prefer asking some questions to gauge the IQ of the employee. My general understanding is that high IQ employees need less supervision as they can find solutions on their own.
I built SmartTask entirely on my own as I could not afford to hire a professional team of developers. But that decision proved valuable to me as it compelled me to understand the customers on a deeper level and improve my positioning accordingly.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Microsoft Azure to host our application. For payment management, we use Stripe. For documentation purposes, we use Gitbook, and for project management, task management well as team collaboration we use - SmartTask.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Today, Twitter is my primary go-to platform to gain knowledge from experts. I like the way Twitter summarizes knowledge in threads compared to reading 200 pages of a book. I follow people like Naval Ravikanth, Julian Shapiro, Hiten Patel, etc.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you are starting a business, you must be aware of ALL the aspects of your business. In my case, I wrote the entire code for the software on my own. Now that I have a team of developers, I can evaluate their performance as I am well versed with it.
You need to document everything that you learn (especially from your mistakes) so that you can share it with your team members. Although my forte lies in programming, I still attend the calls conducted by our sales team, to find the scope of improvement and help my teammates get better at it.
I strongly recommend creating a resource file and sharing it with your team members, so that they can improve their skills. For the programming department, you can have a separate resource file, you can do the same for Marketing and other silos. Keep on updating the resources as you come across new resources, even allow your team members to share resources to foster healthy learning.
Beware, before launching a product you need to ensure that the product is actually demanded by the market. Else it would be a hard time for you to manage sales. In my case, I could evidently see the frustration of my father in his business as he had to rely on multiple apps to manage the projects and while researching I found that many Indian businesses feel the same issue. That’s how I knew that there is a demand for my product in the market.
Finally, do not lose hope when things do not go as you planned. Have faith in yourself and whenever you feel stuck, remind yourself of the reason why you started in the first place. All the best for your journey, and feel free to reach out to me if I could be of any help.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently actively hiring Content Marketers, Fullstack Developers. You can find more details here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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