Building A $4M/Year Company For SMEs: A Slow And Sustainable Growth Approach

Published: May 26th, 2023
Haroon Juma
Founder, SimplySolved
from Dubai - United Arab Emirates
started May 2017
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I am Haroon Juma, founder and managing director of SimplySolved. I run a company based in Dubai specializing in supporting SMEs in the Gulf across and wide range of services designed to improve their back-office operations in accounting, tax, audit, HR, and IT.

We also provide support to businesses seeking ISO certifications. We are a complete one-stop partner for businesses to manage a range of operational and reporting processes. To help ensure they have confidence in our capabilities we are certified for ISO 9001 Quality, and 27001 Information Security, and are a registered UAE Federal Tax Agency.

Many companies rely on us to ensure they run their business effectively and efficiently with a large number that fully outsource their back office finance, tax, and HR operations.

We’ve grown every year and we now manage over 300 companies and are still growing while maintaining a 4.9 Google ranking. I think we can safely say that our service is well appreciated by our clients who have been with us since we started 6 years ago!

Our revenue has grown at an annual rate of 40% from a standing start to where we are now $4M per annum across our various services lines and team of 30.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I had a long 20 years+ career in consulting, advisory, IT, and outsourcing in senior roles in multi-national companies working across many geographies. That was a great experience but I always felt I had the desire to work for myself and use my skills.

My career provided me with a deep understanding of how to design a good service product and operational know-how to deliver efficiently without compromising quality at a competitive market price. My only issue was what would be the catalyst and trigger to take the plunge into running my venture.

In 2017 taxes came to the GCC and having lived here for many years, I recognized this would be a big change for many companies and they would struggle to prepare and manage their operations. They would struggle with people, processes, and systems to better manage their legal obligations and this could lead to serious problems.

This was the moment I thought “What if I could provide a product that businesses could buy to solve this?” Many businesses didn’t have the expertise in systems, technical/legal understanding, and of course limited budgets.

If I could offer a simple all-encompassing service with the platform, this could Simply Solve their problems! This was my moment to try my own business.

So I left my comfortable corporate life and uncertain about the prospects but confident in the idea, started the company. I knew there would be demand, my research and experience of the market clearly showed potential. Competitive would be tough, but what I offered was more value to clients and would make a bigger difference to them.

I just had to package the product, build the organization, train the team, create the culture, get to market fast, and come up with the right marketing plan. Easy!

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

Simple in theory is hard in practice. Once I had incorporated the company and registered by trademarks, I rolled my sleeves up to build our first service centered on a tax and accounting outsourcing solution. Our start-up capital was quite limited at $50,000 and I preferred not to dilute the shareholding or incur investor relations overheads from any fundraising or additional investors.

The goal was to move fast and efficiently with minimal decision-making and reporting overheads.

Focus and honesty in challenging your ideas are very important factors to evolve your business. In the early days, you have to remain adaptable.

I would urge any entrepreneur to be honest with yourself. If it is not working in generating sales, take a look and listen to the market.

A good software platform is an easier decision, I needed something that would deal with legal compliance and provided a rich user experience with functionality that could support many types of requirements. There were many choices and so I used different ones dependent on the client’s requirements.

The fundamental requirements were to offer a cloud-native platform, certified for compliance, automation/integration tools to coexist with existing systems, flexible reporting, and easy to navigate user interface.

What was more challenging was setting up the operations, staffing, training, and client operations manuals and embedding a culture of performance and fun. Talent acquisition was a key issue. I needed an initial crew that was technically sound in the finance and tax domain coupled with soft factors such as communications, resiliency, adaptability, and creativity.

This was a tough list and it became apparent staffing would not provide a result to all these requirements. However, I decided that attitude and willingness to learn and adapt were most critical. These criteria formed the “deal breaker” and slowly the initial team was hired through search and online postings.

I worked hard with the team to learn, adapt and refine every week to develop the best client experience with minimal risks and the highest reporting capabilities. This working method was like kaizen, iterative, and open to client feedback.

Our first clients were very helpful in challenging us, they were the most disorganized and chaotic internally and that was a real blessing. If we could succeed there, others would be easy.

We challenged everything if we had issues and it led us to our first product Smarter Finance & Tax. The product was a slow success while marketing improved and the client could understand why this was better than old fashion methods and then it took off.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Launching the business with the right image was crucial. I wanted a brand that was catchy and emphasized what we were trying to do. Hence SimplySolved came instantly to mind, we wanted to solve business problems simply with a well-designed offer that didn’t compromise on quality and would live with them for many years.

We looked at price benchmarking and peer analysis as a guide to determine market pricing. Costs were determined subject to direct costs and indirect overheads which helped to assess target margins, volumes, and also pricing scale.

The name was catchy and intrigued clients to contact us, this also needed a well-defined online, SEO, and social media presence, a simple pricing model without hidden extras, and a well-trained set of sales consultants that could understand client needs and propose the right solution.

We also crafted lots of thought leadership material and marketing material emphasizing our expertise and know-how in simple-to-understand language for SMEs. This was done in-house in terms of content supported by an agency on graphics and online channel management. Naturally, LinkedIn and Google were the best for B2B, however, any directory listings and Facebook were used to promote a wider awareness.

We spent money on this and it helped to stand out and build very good client conversations and relationships.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We have continued to grow with the same passion, dedication to client service and relationships. We listen to clients and that’s taken us to grow our portfolio and build more services and solutions to the point we have 4 lines of businesses with many products and services.

In parallel to ensuring our quality and expertise are reinforced, we attained our ISO and Tax Agency credentials to set a bar to the company's standards. Our clients now turn to us for more than our initial services and rely on us to operate many aspects of their business including banking operations, legal/regulatory compliance, and HR operations.

All our services are centered on the same principles we designed into our first product: best-in-class platforms, legally compliant, efficiency, reliability, quality-driven services, trained personnel, and value.

Our clients are our best salespeople, they refer many new clients and that is a rewarding metric to measure our efforts. We are conscious of promising what we can deliver, so from time to time we need to say we can’t help and thus build more trust in our brand. Our prospective clients appreciate that and come back knowing we live up to our commitments.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Our business is profitable, positive cash generative, and growing. We offer a great working environment, reward well, retain our people, and try very hard to maintain a culture of client-first with teamwork, collaboration, and innovation.

We are growing at 40% per annum with high client retention rates and increasing revenue per client. We will continue to invest in digitizing our company delivery models which have resulted in our service app.

Take action to grow sales and let partnerships develop at their own pace.

I expect we will grow more in other markets and build more partnerships to accelerate our growth. We will grow our offshore centers and offer more value and compete in more markets with more solutions. The blueprint is there and our challenge is to maintain the same culture by onboarding the right personnel to grow with us.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

There are many lessons learned, however, my biggest learnings are to build resilience, strong company culture of teamwork, enjoy what you do, and focus on what will deliver the best outcome.

Many things can distract and are time-consuming, it should be your mantra to ask “Does that add value and will it delay our plan”. Focus and honesty in challenging your ideas are very important factors to evolve your business. In the early days, you have to remain adaptable.

Also, partnerships are useful, however, your destiny should always be in your own hands at the start. Take action to grow sales and let partnerships develop at their own pace. They will add value in time and they can be very helpful to reach clients and markets.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We operate our CRM and service delivery app that controls and reports on our business KPIs. I need transparency to ensure we continue to meet our targets and delivery goals.

Data is valuable and reporting provides the factual basis to make the right decisions. We have invested in systems and having learned some key lessons, we had the opportunity to set the right performance management model early.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I tend to switch off to great fiction, however, I am an avid Economist reader and find inspiration in biographies of great historical figures.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I would urge any entrepreneur to be honest with yourself. If it is not working in generating sales, take a look and listen to the market. It may a great idea but too soon or the wrong idea. Adapt and learn. It’s better to try and fail cheaply than try and fail.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for talent in Delivery and sales. We reward with a great culture and benefits for leaders that drive us forward.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!