TheCconnects: Can you tell our readers a little about your professional journey & how did you come to your current role/position?
Sunir Shah: When I was 18, I started my career as a software developer working for a Microsoft Value Added Reseller and Systems Integrator. This was in 1997. We solved problems like any other contractor. We put together quotes for systems including the computer hardware, the networking cables, the Windows licenses, the SDKs plus our labor to build the system. Attached to the contract was a three-year maintenance contract.
The President of the company explained to me that she wasn’t selling my labor. What she was really selling was that 3-year maintenance contract, because it was a reason to talk to the customer every month to find another project to work on.
Later on, I started the marketing team at FreshBooks in 2007 where we sold invoicing and expense tracking for thousands of service companies like marketing agencies and IT consultants while I was there. I learned pretty quickly that service companies who worked with licensed software had more revenue and longer-term clients, and those agencies who worked with subscription software had less service revenue and shorter-term clients.
I came to realize why this was when I was consulting myself. Subscriptions are so risky to buy and expense for contractors because the recurring billing is a financial liability the contractor has to take on plus the ongoing expense tracking and bookkeeping overhead. Most digital contractors make clients buy their own software.
The problem was that clients hate it. One of my clients fired me saying bluntly, “My plumber isn’t making me buy my own pipes and pumps!” after I made him buy his own subscription software.
True. I have seen the problem from all sides. As a client, as a consultant, and as a subscription software company. That’s why I had to build AppBind.
TheCconnects: Who has influenced you the most in life and why?
Sunir Shah: Ward Cunningham, the inventor of wikis, taught me a lot about focusing on the simple essence of things and communicating simply and elegantly. Working on the wiki community and movement was the most impactful thing I have ever done.
Mike McDerment, the founder of FreshBooks, taught me a lot about marketing and business. Working at FreshBooks was a career highlight.
TheCconnects: What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your life & how did you overcome them?
Sunir Shah: Entrepreneurship is in my blood. My grandfather went bankrupt running a factory, and this scarred my father. He took the safe path and became a civil servant, but also always himself harbored the desire to own a business. He tried more than once with less than stellar results, and this scared me too.
I never really wanted to start a company. In fact, when I had my first kid, I wanted to find the safest path forward, hearing echoes of my dad’s voice in my ear. I left FreshBooks and took a job because the title seemed like an upgrade and the pay was much better, but ultimately it was for the wrong reasons. It didn’t really make me safer because I didn’t really enjoy it. You only really are safe in your job when you’re happily producing results. I believe I took out my mid life crisis on that company!
Finally, with my third kid on the way, I reflected that I was down the wrong path. Fortunately, my cofounder Joe, who is a serial entrepreneur egged me on to solve this problem I have been thinking about for ages, which turned into AppBind.
What helped was I realized that if you’re in tech, you’re basically a made man or woman. It’s hard to fail in the industry. We will all retire fine. It’s better to do what you care about than chase dollars. In fact, never in my career has the best paying job ever been the right choice. Every time I choose money over what interests me, it’s a mistake.
TheCconnects: What lessons you have learned from your professional career?
Sunir Shah: So many people are really anxious about their jobs–but they try to hide their feelings. Surprise, those feelings are impossible to suppress. They just come out in negative ways with people around like, like making your subordinates as anxious as yourself or blaming colleagues or picking fights, or not communicating.
As crazy as this may sound to so many leaders, I find it’s better to be upfront with my colleagues and staff about what risks or fears I have. Usually, they are justified in some way, even if they are emotional reasoning. I am really on my team to work together to overcome them. And in return, I let them express their fears so I can work together to overcome them as well.
Ultimately, it builds a stronger team and therefore a stronger business when negative thoughts are freely expressed as requests for help rather than attacks.
The most common reason people hide their fears is because of Imposter Syndrome, but I have what I call the Imposter’s Prayer that may help you:
I don’t know what I’m doing
But I’m not stupid
I will figure it out
TheCconnects: What do you see as the biggest challenge for brands in the digital space?
Sunir Shah: There are way too many channels to spread your message efficiently. You need some component of word of mouth excitement to grow.
And when you rely on word of mouth to arbitrate your message, you have to be mindful that social media is often angry and negative. Just try to advertise on Reddit without getting an earful!
You have to be willing to be out there and wild with your messaging to get people to talk about you, but it’s very risky when you don’t control how your message will be received.
TheCconnects: How your product/solution can help to resolve the pain points of your customers?
Sunir Shah: AppBind created the first virtual credit card for consultants and contractors that is funded by your clients, but lets you purchase items on their behalf.
As a subscription manager, we let digital consultants set up software and ads for their clients without getting stuck in the middle of the billing. This gives consultants back control of their own time because they don’t have to wait for clients. And it frees cash flow and creates revenue opportunities by billing the client automatically for entire systems of software.
TheCconnects: Do you have any advice for those who want to become chief executive officer?
Sunir Shah: Talk to customers every day. When I was a consultant just before I started AppBind, all my clients were CEOs who had lost daily contact with customers. You can only work on what you can focus on. When you focus on the people inside your company, and your own bank account, you don’t know what’s happening outside in the market. And where else does new revenue come from but from outside your company?
Listen on the go!