OWEN: My guest today is Amit Prasad. He’s the president, MD, and the CEO of QuickFMS. Amit, welcome to the show.
AMIT: High, thanks for having me.
OWEN: That’s great. This show is all about getting entrepreneurs like yourself to come in here and share how you’ve been able to systematize your business so it runs successfully without you. Let’s give the listeners something that will keep them all the way to the end of the show. What specifically are some mind blowing results that you in your company now experience as a result of going through that process of systematizing and automating your business?
AMIT: I would say two main things. One is the ability to do more with less but as people or manpower resources. And the second one is the resources that you have, how do you double the efficiency of those. So these are the two major things that would be key for me.
OWEN: Specifically in your company how does that apply? Give us a specific instance in the company.
AMIT: If you see for instance now with a small team of 55 people we are currently selling our product in 10 countries worldwide. How would we able to do that? The main thing is that the moment you have defined a good system of marketing process you have defined a good system of sales processes, and then your execution methodologies were very clearly defined. We are able to do so much more in so many new geographies with the limited resources in hand.
OWEN: I like that. How would you say your company has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
AMIT: Without systems the biggest impact is always on the customer. So there are things that you can manage internally and everything looks hunky-dory but the customer management comes into picture. This is a major challenge. And if the customer feels that his area of support has been transformed. If he feels that we’re keeping in touch with him on daily, weekly, monthly business periodically with value added inputs that go, then automatically that helps a lot. So the customer is the focus and that’s where it’s been the biggest impact.
OWEN: How will you say your personal life has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
AMIT: You know it’s always saying you should balance your personal and professional life. But what I have learned is that first of all you need to build the professional life. Then only once you have made a mark for yourself you position yourself, then you talk about balancing the personal life in [Unintelligible 00:02:12]. And with that of course comes sacrifices as you implement processes. The beauty of that is that you get more and more time for yourself and that’s to expand on new areas, whether it’s through spend more time with your family. And therefore these processes then help you to invest less time on running routine tasks and focus more on balancing both personal and professional life.
OWEN: I’m happy to ask that question from your own personal standpoint. I like how you’re saying the answer for the listeners, for the benefit, but I’m looking for you personally, how your life has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business.
AMIT: My two companies, if you look at QuickFMS is a new venture that we have launched. And we’re talking about a preschool chain that we run. I wouldn’t have been able to get into this new venture if my entire system with regard to the school management was not [Unintelligible 00:03:13] on autopilot [Unintelligible 00:03:17] and this chain of 30 yard schools and [Unintelligible 00:03:19] are running pretty… Actually because of that that I’m able to [Unintelligible 00:03:23] new business like QuickFMS.
OWEN: Okay, great. For some reason we’re having issues with Skype. Let’s see if you catch with us and we can hear one another. But I did get the idea of what you said. Basically you were saying that you have two other companies and without being able to have systems in place you will not be able to run them. [Crosstalk 00:03:44]
AMIT: Yeah, if without solid systems, without good processes in place I wouldn’t have been able to run multiple businesses in parallel by devoting less time to each one.
OWEN: Since you have systems in place that allow your business to run without you. What will you say has been the longest time you’ve been away from the businesses?
AMIT: Last 3 years I’ve been spending about 2 months in the US and having explored new opportunities at that time, and that’s a real test for me when I see how things are working back in the office and it’s been a great experience only thanks to this.
OWEN: Since we’re focusing today on just one of the businesses so far around the quick FMS one. What exactly does the business do, and I want you to share exactly what you do for your customers in this very business itself.
AMIT: Sure. We are working on a very innovative problem that hasn’t been solved yet. We help companies manage their infrastructure better which improves their efficiency. And because at 4% improvement in managing your resources infrastructure get better, it’s equivalent to the bottom line impact of 25% growth in sales. It’s a very powerful statement. You improve your infrastructure utilization by 4%. It’s as good as increasing your sales by 25%. So what we do is the manner of increasing internal efficiency is that as a process-oriented product it helps teams talk to each other. The internal teams talk to each other in a most streamlined manner than they would otherwise have. So in short QuickFMS is a software project that helps companies improve their processes. Big things about efficiency not only in the support systems but also in every employee in the organization. And that’s a very, very big benefit to any organization.
OWEN: When you say infrastructure just so some of the listener can really clearly understand what does that mean?
AMIT: We’re talking about organizations who have a property, then in those properties you have space lay-outs. So it’s like we have space…
OWEN: Okay, like warehouses and stuff like that?
AMIT: Yes. And those warehouses or those offices then have assets, those assets are assigned to people, so that when you start looking at this whole thing in a synchronized manner. Having the significantly improved manner of running your organization.
OWEN: Yeah, and how many full-time employees you currently have at QuickFMS?
AMIT: We have 72 full-time employees. We also got the subcontractors depending on the projects that we get. The maximum we’ve had at any time was 950 people.
OWEN: is the company profitable and what would you say was last year’s annual revenue?
AMIT: This started a new project so company as a stand-alone is a privately held company. It’s profitable. The project that we’ve taken is already close to a million dollars in revenue. Our goal is that in 2 years we’d like to scale it up by 10x.
OWEN: Take us back to when the company was not systematized and automated like it is now. What was wrong with it at that time?
AMIT: Actually I started my career in 1995. It was a brand new division. It was a large corporate which was starting a new business area and I was given the responsibility for ISO compliance. The learning from those days made me ensure that when we started this new venture. Any venture that we start, the process compliance is very, very important. The learning I have, it was about 7 years ago we had an HR person and they were running the entire organization, and suddenly the person left. Because we did not have a full-time management representative. We realized that the moral of the team, they’re Christian and it all started becoming very, very big cause of concern. And therefore they [Unintelligible 00:07:24] implementation were a big issue. So we realized at that time that yes, we need to make sure whether it’s an HR system, or a finance system, or even when you go into a customer facing system, we need to have certain systems in place. And that’s the point at which we then turn things around about 7 years ago.
OWEN: What would you say was the first step you took then to systematize the business at that point?
AMIT: What we did is we built in redundancy in terms of people who are handling key roles. And then if they were to say, not necessarily hit by a truck but if they are going on short vacation and they’re taking some of the responsibilities, as a small company you tend to think that it can be managed remotely or it can wait until I come back. But what we realized is that we cannot have that luxury. So even as a small organization we then make sure that when a person is out office or is the escalation was handling in their absence, who’s willing to take care, and that was a very big learning because you feel that growing organizations can have some leeway but that wasn’t true.
OWEN: You mentioned during the pre-interview that the first thing you did was put the people’s name in a spreadsheet and which areas was missing, and then decide whether to delegate or hire. Talk about that.
AMIT: What we do is we first try and define the project. So if you look at QuickFMS. We said it is a software that needs to be developed, so of course there’s a technology point. You need to work on the project development, you need to work on the testing, those are the technical parts of it. And then you get into market, you have to have a marketing team, then you put in the sales process. After that how will you do the implementation. So first what we do is we put a usual components of the life cycle from the time we are getting the product ready to the time when the customers are signed up and they have to be taken care of. In each of these steps what I think individual components which are there. And for those components do we have people to be able to handle them. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of taking care of people so you need to have them multi-task. And if they are multi-tasking then is there a back-up available. So by filling in these gaps what happens is that you are able to visualize the entire cycle that you’re going to face over the next 3 months, 6 months, maybe a year, and therefore you are able to fill in the gaps that are necessary. So it’s a very, very important thing. I think a lot of people ignore the fact. They feel that when we go to the next we look at it, but I think it’s very important for us to make sure that everything is set right when planning upfront.
OWEN: So you’re saying at the very beginning the first thing to do is plan for all the different roles being filled up and start filling them one at a time.
AMIT: Absolutely. And you may not fill beginning, but when you are ready to fill them you are very prepared and you know what to expect.
OWEN: Besides that often of thinking about all the different roles you needed to fill and then gradually filling them, what will you say was the second step you took to systematize the business? You said something about getting the team in place and training them.
AMIT: The training process is again, very, very crucial. Because every new person needs to leverage on the existing knowledge base that you have in the organization. And the knowledge base is not so easy to transfer especially when you have attrition and you’re replacing the resource. But the kind of knowledge transfer that happens at that point, what gets missed out is something that you always find difficult to do. So what we do is we define a simple process plan for each individual which is, “Okay, these are your key areas.” And those key areas, for example let’s say if it was to be a marketing person, the person has to check the websites, the beginning of the month and the middle of the month they would send out the newsletters. Towards the end of the month they’ll check the collateral, and there some 10-15 key areas that are given to them. What we do which is a very big step in our organization is that the person has to define how that key area is specifically executed. So we have to see that, okay, when I review the marketing collateral I pick it up from this location. I review these things, I send to this person for a scaled review, and then I bring it back. So maybe it had two line word description. But what happens is that you make sure that when the training process is going on, there are no gaps, there are no avenue adding new people to the team, they know exactly what to expect. That becomes the small description in the key area document, or the key results area document becomes a very important training tool for the incoming people where the is a replacement or a team expansion.
OWEN: So basically the person in the role, part of their job is to document how they do their work, and so that becomes the basis on which as you bring new people you have that training in place based on the prior person’s filling out the information on how they do their role that they can use for the next person being trained. But I’m wondering, that works if you already have that process in place where everybody in their role is documenting their stuff. Before that even became the case where the very first person didn’t have anything, what did you do to have this in place?
AMIT: Then the person who’s bringing in that resource in which case it was me has to sit and define the truth. Because somebody has to visualize it, and that visualizing is very milky. So you cannot bring in the first guy and the give him a blank slate to start with. So even when I stared, I started four different ventures in the last decade. And every time I start a venture I think it takes me a couple of weeks, maybe three weeks to sit and jot down as to what do I want from the first person who comes in. And interestingly that also helps you in deciding what kind of person you want to hire. Because you really need to know what [Unintelligible 00:13:15] when you start interviewing then you start looking at that person, you’re wonder if he’s going to do that. You do some smart test cases, you ask questions in that direction. My point there would be that somebody has to visualize. If it is the promoter, if it is the reporting manager, or it is the boss who’s expanding his team, someone has to visualize it. You cannot start with zero if you want to build a process based of it.
OWEN: Yeah. And so I’m also wondering what are the steps you took to systematize the business. You said back then during the pre-interview that you’re also going for ISO certification. I’m wondering why. And before you even explain why you want to get ISO certification kind of give the listener what ISO even means in the first place so they know.
AMIT: Sure. It’s a quality certification so it’s given by an independent body with sales that you are certified that you train your organizations and operations in a certain process-based manner. The ISO certificate means a lot to smaller organizations because in many cases what happens is people think that there’s no need to implement the template. There’s no need to have a peer review. Or in terms of certain delivery to the client can be done without following without the said process. So the subjectivity at all the individual person’s discretion and using or not using a set process, but can make the difference between success and failure. So what happens is when you go to this organization and say, “I want my organization to be ISO certified.” So they come in, they understand what processes you’re following. They make sure that you’re having some checklists, some templates, some review documents in place, and then those documents are the way you work. So that’s the important process of ISO certification that I feel any company should first get it done. And based on our experience it has helped streamline a lot of things internally and not leave it open to individual subjectivity.
OWEN: So his is a 3rd party company that comes in or an organization that comes in to actually make sure that your company is set up so that it’s systematized and anybody who takes a new role knows exactly how to hit the ground running. So they certify you and that gives your customers confidence that you guys have been certified by this 3rd party company from that standpoint. We might have covered this already but typically what does the ISO want to see in a specific documentation of a specific role? You said something about templates… What are the things typically they want to see just so the listener knows.
AMIT: Again, let’s take a sales function for example. So the ISO organization would first want to see what is your sales process. Do you do a presentation first then after that you send us a brochure to the customer? Do you send them case studies? What exactly is the process that you follow until the time that you get precious order from them. So this is first documented in words and maybe in a 5 page, 10 page document, it describes how exactly I manage my sales cycle. And once you define those processes what happens is that it becomes the measurement metrics as to for example when you’re doing the presentation. How do you do the presentation? Do you send a meeting invite? So if you send a meeting invite what tools will you use? Each of these steps in that 5 page or 10 page document now becomes a checklist. So at this stage what’s the process adherence you should have? When you are sending the brochure do you have a standard template which is used so that different people do not sent different stuff. But if send a commercial proposal, is there a pricelist that you all pick off or is that open to individual subjectivity. So these things then become a set of 5, 7, 10 checkpoints. And those checkpoints are defined as small templates. And in that template somebody has to sign up. So for example if I was to submit a proposal. Let’s say the sales person is taking a pricelist and they’re going ahead and submitting the proposal. The immediate reporting manager or I have to sign it off saying, yes, it is done. So there’s a formal document written. Now what this ensures is that when person X versus sales person Y or sales person Z, they are sending the proposal, you are sending the same uniform picture about your company the same standard documents and templates are being followed. And most importantly you do not have two potential customers talking to each other and saying, “Hey, he quoted 100,000 to me and he quoted 150,000 to you for the same thing. Are these guys serious or what?”
OWEN: I like that. Back then also when you were going through this process you mentioned how you visualized the different parts of the team and then got people into each of the different roles that you visualize. And part of that process was training them. And initially right before you had somebody you had to even think of what the role would be so you could come up with some kind of basic training. And then you also did the ISO certification. But I’m also wondering when you were actually going through this how exactly did you prioritize what steps to take, what was the reasoning behind the sequence of steps?
AMIT: The sequence of steps for?
OWEN: When you were trying to [Unintelligible 00:18:27] the business back then, I was trying to understand what the decision factor that made you decide what steps take regarding trying to systematize the business, the order of the steps.
AMIT: Of course. What happens is the moment you get the process streamlined as per ISO, and the next thing is you want to start focusing on the product. So you have to make sure that the product is helping since our product is helping improve organization efficiency. What we did is we implemented it in our own parent company. And you said that how is that freeing up stuff? Is it helping me manage my day-to-day operations in a more streamlined manner? So testing of the product was the main thing for us. And one simple test was the booking and allocating of conference rooms. So we were able to check that if I have X number of conference rooms and these are the people who are booking them on a day-to-day basis, and they have so much difficulty in getting it. By implementing my software was I able to simplify that. And then is my ISO process helping me ensure that of that efficiencies at the highest level. So in one line if I have to rephrase that I would say the entire process of booking and allocating conference rooms was the first test of a product, and that gave us confidence that yes, we are now ready to go to market.
OWEN: Okay. How exactly did you back then document procedures and processes for your business? What tools did you even use then?
AMIT: Normally the MS Office tools are standard stuff so you are using Microsoft Excel or PowerPoint for the basic documentation that needs to be done. And having said that I think a proper paper trade for whatever you do is also a very, very important thing. For example try and give less verbal instructions and make sure that things are documented over in email. The concerned reporting managers are marked in that. And once you have the conference on it before you go and implement something. So I think it’s more an issue of using the right work processes and having self-discipline by using MS Office tools. That should be more than enough for most companies, even up to a decent sized as a group.
OWEN: And at the time when you were working on systematizing and automating your business what books or even mentors had the most influence on you and why?
AMIT: When I started my career in the late 90’s actually Jack Welch was the hero of the times as far as management stories went. He was doing tons of stuff. He wrote a book. As the chairman and CEO of GE, he used to say break down walls. And for me I was working in a large corporate. I was trading up a new venture that they were funding. And it was very important for me to do the same thing. The big role model for me was Jack Welch. I would say that I respected him a lot because of the changes he was bringing in into a hundred year old organization. And I used to say that if he can do it in that kind of a set-up that people don’t have such fixed mindsets, I need to make sure that when I’m setting up a new venture it’s going to make these people also sensitize. And it was my pleasure that last year when I went to the US I was able to meet him face-to-face in the bay area. I think Jack Welch has been a big example to many managers like me.
OWEN: Can you speak on one specific thing that you learned from him that you actually applied back then?
AMIT: Actually when you read this book you’ll get to implement maybe a dozen things like that. So the one which really stands up in my mind is break down walls. What happens is when you hire a technology team or you hire a sales team, a marketing team, a finance team it is very, very common that people do not talk to each other. People think that their work is independent. And breaking these silos, breaking these walls which are there internally in an organization is actually fairly simple. What happens is each of these report into a different functional head. And as a result of that people think that as long as I’m doing good stuff in my organization my guys used to feel that, okay, I’m doing my marketing job and it’s fine. But unless they realize that is marketing linked with finance, and the money that is being spent is realized by sales you’re not actually going to get immense value there. So when I was part of this large company, it was a billion dollar corporation. They were listed and they were funding my own venture here, I realized that I needed to make the larger departments avail of what we were doing, and that’s something was the one big area where we make sure that there were no silos, we make sure we establish cross linkages, and use Jack Welch’s case studies and examples, we were able to break down a lot of the internal walls.
OWEN: So every department has their own, you said…
AMIT: Key results area.
OWEN: So every department has their own key result area but also making sure that those metrics are available to everybody else so they can see what they’re doing is affecting the company in general. Is that kind of what that means by breaking down walls or am I missing it?
AMIT: Absolutely right. One is making them aware as to what the key areas, or the peer groups, and the departments. And secondly specially it becomes relevant when you’re talking about same marketing, versus finance function, versus sales function. And in these scenarios unless these three guys realize that if I’m spending $100,000 in marketing. And if the finance department is giving me the approval, if there’s a way for the sales guys to see what review it’s bringing in your company is going to benefit a lot. And that’s something that I’m very carefully been following.
OWEN: If we only talk about the way you went about systematizing the business and how you did it and the success you have we’re not giving the full detail of how the story is because there obviously were challenges. What will you say was the biggest challenge you’ve experienced when you initially tried to systematize and how you solved it?
AMIT: I face this every time I started anew. When you go to a domain expert, so let’s talk about the schools that we’ve started. And when we went and spoke to the education expert we are a joint venture partner, they appointed a person, and I went and told her that we need to standardize stuff, we had to put processes in place. But my area is so creative. I cannot restrict my guys by telling them that they have to go by systems or processes. Documentation is not possible. Then I have to explain to them, it’s not just about your area. I have also implemented this in a system which was like [Unintelligible 00:25:01] design and manufacturing. And when we also go and tell people, “Hey, we’re [Unintelligible 00:25:05] guys.” You cannot come and define systems and software processes here and in every one you go to. So I’ve done stuff and [Unintelligible 00:25:14] maintenance, and pre-school education, IT services, and now IT products. And every one of these, the first reaction is “It does not apply to me. I have a process for the work that I do.”
OWEN: So it’s like a mindset issue. How did you tackle it?
AMIT: That’s the biggest thing. What you have to do is you have to tell them, at the end of the day the mindset needs to be changed because irrespective of what work you are doing you did standardization and organization. For example in education, you have to have certain curriculum that is defined. If you say that most of it is created, even then you would define a broad guideline. So what we did is for example in the education space we said, you define a week’s team. So the team of the week can be transport. Now, transport can be air transport, it can be water transport, it can be land transport, and I understand. You’ll define to this level. And then you make it open to the innovative or the creative thinking of the teachers that they can now teach the children about air transport by either making an airplane, or they can decide to show pictures and do that, or they can show a video. That last part I’m okay, because that’s where the creativity should be there, that’s where the good person should be separated from the average person. But at the same time you cannot say that I’ll not be able to define the top level. So the same thing happened even in our products. We told people that you define the top 3 stages. And then if the bottom ones to the openness and the creativity of people. This will ensure that even if there are small mistakes or small variations at the last level, the damage to the overall system is not significant. And that mindset shift is the biggest challenge that any business will face.
OWEN: What I’m getting from that is basically the situations where depending on the type of role you can go in and be very detailed and say step-by-step what they need to do, but some kind of roles where maybe they’re a little bit more creative. You might not be able to do that, but what you might be able to do is create like a framework in which that sets the boundaries of within which they can work and how they actually execute the task is left to them as long they act within that boundary which is the framework.
AMIT: That’s the only way to get success, otherwise you’ll alienate people. And at the end of the day they’ll try to shuck away from following said systems.
OWEN: We’re talking about how you deal with the first, biggest challenge. What was the second biggest challenge that you dealt with initially when you’re trying to systematize the business and how did you solve it?
AMIT: The big issue after you have worked on this hurdle is that you have to now go ahead and implement it to make it a part of their daily work because the process has to be the way you do your work. It is not something… Like I have people who work for 3 months in a project and once it’s over they say, or once they’ve reached a certain stage they say, “Hey, I have to know and now go and do the documentation.” I nearly blew my top so many times. I said, “Excuse me, the documentation is to define the way you’re working on a day-to-day basis. You cannot come back to me a few weeks or months down the line or at the end of the project that execution methodology is now to be implemented. So I feel that you have to be the bad guy, you have to carry a stick, put in place a weekly review mechanism, and make sure that on a day-to-day basis that’s the way work is done. It’s not about coming at the end of your time putting systems in place.
OWEN: Can you share an example of one of the tasks or something. Because what I get from that is because you want to make sure that everybody’s documenting their role you say that you want them to be able to have that as part of their work. So when the work on the project is done that becomes the next task. Can you give a specific story of how you’ve actually done that? That way my listeners can learn from how you’ve done that, so when they hire somebody you can actually implement a situation where both the person who’s doing the work and at the same time documenting how they’re doing the work at the same time.
AMIT: A very glaring example was when we were building the small module of the software for a large client. So this module need to prepare a task for a certain specification that the client has given. So what happens is because it’s not a very big module and the client has given very detailed specifications you tend to think that the job is fairly simple. And people just took the specs document, they started working on it, they start doing the coding. When we do coding, that is a certain document issue process that you follow to connect the code in certain ways. To make sure that when the person who’s doing the testing he’s able to streamline and then do stuff there. In this case what happened is because the person was doing the project when it is very simple, and did not document or [Unintelligible 00:30:03] the code properly. The person doing the testing was a lot of pressure. You know all these things often become late. So at the end of the day the testing was done because of lack of documentation that is not so great, it got delivered, and that impact on the customer was terrible. Because when it is an easy job he expects a much bigger output than when it is a difficult job. So then at that point he came back and said, “I would like somebody to do the testing at my end.” And then he realized that because there was no coding documentation follow there were no coding guidelines followed, he couldn’t do the testing. So this was a very big learning for my case where they realize that even a simple task can get messed up if you would not put a process in place.
OWEN: So just by learning from the past mistake and making sure that moving forward everybody… I guess that kind of makes sense because it’s a simple task that everybody thought it was simple and didn’t you to document how you achieved it, end up being an association where the customer is calling you out on the mistake on something that supposed to be simple, then that just becomes [Unintelligible 00:31:05] from now on. We got it how complex or simple it is. Let’s follow the process of always documenting stuff. I get that. One of the challenge you mentioned during the pre-interview was tracking efficiency. Talk about that.
AMIT: What happens is that people think that they can record at the end of a month or at the end of a fortnight, or at the end of the project you can do reviews. I think a lot of managers, I’ve seen them in my team, sometimes I have been guilty of it too. You tend to delay the appraisal or you tend to delay the feedback process towards certain milestones or towards the end of the project. So what happens is because of this the efficiency if it falls down, you’re not able to rectify it. So there’s a very interesting thing that we did just last month. We have a very large company, one of the top 5 software companies in the world was buying one component of our software. And we have certain quality checks before we deliver it to them. And I observed that the quality parameter per day was coming in the region between 450 to 550. It’s a measurement metric. So the metric was between 450 and 550. So what we did is we took a big white board, there were 8 people in the room and they said that, “All of you just put your names on the vertical section and let’s put the dates. Let’s see what members come out. You’ll be surprised, but in the manner of just 3 to 4 days the efficiency which was going there around 450 to 550 in terms of metrics jump 2,000 plus, almost doubled by just putting that mirror in their place. So what we have felt is you need to be sure that you’re not talking about milestone based efficiency tracking, you have to have simple templates where there is a board or a small piece of paper on which they write before they go out at the end of the day. This brings a huge awareness in the individual. This brings a very healthy competition amongst [Unintelligible 00:33:02]. What we did is after the second, third day, the person who was getting the most got a special chocolate [Unintelligible 00:33:09]. He gets a small price and everybody claps for him in the room. So people then realize that it’s a positive motivation and at the same time it’s a little bit… People feel ashamed that, “If he can do a thousand why is my number 600-700.” My one line point there would be that you have to track efficiency on a daily basis by making it non-intrusive. Not by being too nitpicking or anything. But at the same time put a simple template, put a simple document. Your print sheets, just leave it on their table. At the end of the day they just have to write how many kilometers of roads they have digitized. And these things have helped us so much in terms of improving the efficiency.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Given all the challenges that you explained earlier, why did you even stay committed to the goal of systematizing the business?
AMIT: In my opinion it makes the difference between success and failure. This is not a matter of choice. This is not something that you have the luxury of deciding whether or not you want to do. It’s not about being driven by the customer, it’s not about being driven by the boss. You want to do a good job in whatever work you’re doing either as a boss or as a task execution person delivering to a customer, you have to do it by a set process. So if you don’t want to fail you better implement the process. That’s my take.
OWEN: We’ve been talking about the past. We’re talking about what’s currently happening earlier, and then we started the interview, then we talk about when we want back into the past before the business was completely systematized and you walked us through how you did that. Let’s bring it back to maybe a more current in the story. At what point will you say that you realize that the entire business was systematized and could actually run successfully with you?
AMIT: There was an opportunity where wanted to start off this QuickFMS business. My time was being spent between [Unintelligible 00:35:01] technologies which was into enterprise software, and the Sunshine Preschool. That’s when we sat and gave a hard look at Sunshine Preschool. We said that it’s a good chain. It has 28 different locations which are there. How do we make sure this works fine? What we did is if I am going to get this opportunity, if I want to run this new business then do I have the time for it? How will I find extra time? I’ll be able to find it if this business can run on a standalone basis. What we did is we took the leadership team into confidence, told them that this is a standalone business, it’s somewhat of a lifestyle business, it’s not going to scale up 5x, 10x, just like that. And therefore as the founder I don’t I would like to spend so much of my time as I’m doing right now. Why don’t we start off with a weekly review? I spend 2 hours every week and you see how it runs. So the more I sit in the same office, I’m sitting in the cabin which is like a 27 walk from their desk, but I make sure that I’m not available except once a week. And at that time they were told that, when you come to me at that time please come with the problem as well as the solution. This is a major problem that most employees have. They will have a process problem and they say what should I do? So what we tell them is, and most of the time they know the answer better than you. You have to accept it. As the CEO it’s not that you know the answer better than them. So what we did is we told these guys saying, “I trust you. And any time you have an issue come back with the solution.” Interestingly what we felt is there was almost 99% of the time. It’s actually very rare that you say that their solution is not okay. My summary is at that point of time that I could run that business spending just 2 hours per week, at that time when I realized that these guys were able to manage everything on their own, that’s when it freed up so much of my time that I launch an entirely new product that I’m know selling in 10 countries.
OWEN: Okay. Was this you freeing up time from QuickFMS to going to the school, or from the school to the…
AMIT: From school to going to QuickFMS.
OWEN: Okay, because I just want to make sure I understand the trajectory correctly. Since we’re talking about QuickFMS I’m wondering too, do you feel right now that QuickFMS, the business itself is systematized and can run without you, and what point did you realize that for specifically QuickFMS?
AMIT: QuickFMS isn’t early days has yet, the project has stabilized. It’s been under development for several years now. But in terms of sales processes we’re still learning the systems. What we realized is we needed some help to have expensive experience in this area. I’m a nice auditor myself. But still, when you get into a new area you should always learn from the experts. So when we [Unintelligible 00:38:06] for education we got a joint venture partner from the UK who run schools and industries in 20 countries around the world. When we started off QuickFMS we said that in the product area, in any area we should always start with an assumption that I’m not the expert here. So we went and found a consultant, there’s an organization called Gartner, they’re a technology specialists. We went to Gartner, we told them that we like to learn from you and you like set systems as per what you advice because this product area is new for us and we want the sales process and the technology process to be very well streamlined. To answer your question I would say that it’s very early days as yet. We started this in March, April. We’ve spend 6-7 months on it now, and we’re in the process of setting up the systems and processes. We’re being very modest. We don’t want to be overconfident that we know what it is and we can handle it. So we’re trying to learn from the best in the industry.
OWEN: Regarding the business now, QuickFMS, what will you say are the different parts of the business and think of it like a conveyor belt. On one end is a customer who probably needs the service and on the other end is the same customer and they already have the service itself. They love you guys and they’re spreading the word about you guys. Talk about the different parts of the business and how they all fit together.
AMIT: Your question has a very nice way of looking at the 360 degree aspects of the business. The way you get control on it is you look at the life cycle of the customer, because at the end of the day that’s what you define the process and system that you make. As the business life cycle is being defined who’s the target customer, how are you trying to pitch to them. So this is an orderly identification process. So you design your ideal customer. You’re then going to define where do I find him, which kind of person do I pitch to. And when I pitch to him how am I going to approach them. So the entire lead identification process gets defined that way. Once we have done that the next ones, you have the product ready. I have sourced and I have built it. I have interest from the customers. How do I showcase it to them? So that’s the part of the pre-sales process. So as part of the pre-sales process, now you showcase the product to them, do a product a demo. And at the end of the day if he’s convinced then he signs up and he becomes a customer. Once he’s become a customer what are the benefits he’s looking to derive. And that’s when you define a process for a case study that you write on. The case study is now something where the benefits to the customer are being documented. And therefore you are doing a reality check, “Am I delivering value to him so that he’ll continue using my product. That would be the next part of the conveyor belt. And then finally after that you come to the customer engagement part. Because in today’s world customer acquisition costs are very high. You pitch to dozens of customers, you sign-up single digits of them. So you have to make sure that they’re happy. The engagement process, the review process, and the feedback process. From then periodically it has to be replaced. So then he continues and then you continue to make money from them. These would be the important parts of the conveyor belt of the life cycle of a customer for me.
OWEN: Today, what will you say are the systems that you have in place that enable your employees to know what they need to do? I think you mentioned something about strong internet or stuff like that?
AMIT: Actually, [Unintelligible 00:41:34] if a company can afford an intranet it’s good. But the interesting thing is when we started off with some new ventures, about 11 years ago there was a venture. We just created a common folder system. So people think that, “When I’m big I’ll set-up an intranet.” No, I’ll say do it on day 1. You can make a simple, common folder, share a server, and say that, “This folder we’d save these files. Into that folder we’ll save that file.” You’ll be surprised. I consult to a lot of startup entrepreneurs and I help them in whatever way I can by giving them advice. And I see that even when they are starting off, in many cases they do not understand the importance of having a strong internet, and in the absence of it a strong common sharing system internally. What we do is you can also have some simple process which drive this. For example we say that every first of the month is there an alert saying is your desk clean? If the desk is not clean we give them a small, fun charity thing. “Okay, here’s a dollar that you give to charity.” Alternately we say every 15th of the month we will circle it and play it with all the phone numbers of the people in the organization, and how do you make this a process? If you want to get any further in full you have to go to this common location to take it. What you will do is by just saying that these are the 10 folders, they like to use it. Don’t send attachments over email where control will be a problem. It’s not that everybody will do it. So what you have to do is clear some small trigger like this, create some small tasks like this, and force people to go to that location in a more fun way than otherwise. But indirectly you are inculcating the culture of a process with them without an internet.
OWEN: How do you track the results and verify results that your employees are delivering right now?
AMIT: The direct review team, every organization will have some people directly reporting to you. I have my guys who are directly reporting to me. Often we talk on a daily basis but we have a formal weekly review. One thing is that you may talk to a person every single day of the week. And if you do not have a formal review slot with him or her you are going to miss a lot of stuff which otherwise would come in place. So keeping that in mind we have a day of the week where we explosively review, even if we had been talking the previous day or every day of the week. The second thing is now they have people reporting into them. In many small organizations a skip level meeting would not make sense. It cleared more confusion than otherwise. Why don’t you do a joint meeting at the end of every month where you can recap what you chattered out last month and what you would like to achieve this month. Interestingly when I started this process about 2 years, they would come to the meeting and then they would be searching for answers, so they would be looking towards me for ideas. But now they have a simple mandate. Two days before the meeting they send a small note. They say, “This is what I achieved last month and I’m thinking of achieving this this month.” The recording manager gives feedback, and the moment that feedback is approved, these guys go and do homework, they come to the meeting and they say, “Hey, you know what, in this month…” I’ll you a live example which is easy to understand. There is a person in our customer support team who’s just 6 months in the industry. And she said, “I would like to do some research on how you can engage customers better.” And then she spend that month. This came out of the monthly review meeting, otherwise you won’t have had control on it. And so she came to this meeting and said, “I’m doing my job. I like that, everything is fine. Can I do this additionally?” I said, “Great, please go ahead.” Then over a month she did the review and she came back with the presentation. And she said in the next review, she said, “These are the 5 things which are industry best practices and customer engagement. And we are doing three of these, these two things we should incorporate. And that is a very, very big learning. Because here is this person fresh in the industry but doing the right amount of research and time. And the weekly review that the boss was throwing at some point, and a monthly review has thrown up so many other points. And that’s then [Unintelligible 00:45:47] if there are no extreme improvements after a couple of months, if a [Unintelligible 00:45:51] is fine-tuned, then you have some special projects that you can define. But otherwise, most of the time give them small rewards like a dinner or a movie, and we will come in with a lot of good ideas.
OWEN: That’s good. I’m wondering, now that you have more free time in the business which areas in the business do you focus on now and why?
AMIT: Actually, the process thing and why I love your show, the total program that you do is that the process adherence has helped me launch QuickFMS which otherwise would not have been possible for me at all. So I freed up my time because I wanted to launch QuickFMS. And if you want to do more, it may not be a new project, it could be time to learn golf, it could be time to spend with your kid who’s now writing a very important exam. You have to make sure that you are able to free up your time with good process. Another thing is when you look at it, how are you going to define audacious schools. For example, we have stepped up and we have said that QuickFMS is going to be up against a similar software from IBM, a similar software from Oracle. We want to bring in a simpler and a better delivery model of very simple implementation process and we want to beat them. So if you want to audacious schools you need to have more time available and not be doing the routine things. So as an organization we want to do to these big guys what Salesforce did to SAP 10 years ago. And in order to do that, if you want to give billion dollar companies a run for their money you need to be very well streamlined, you need to have processes in place so that you’re not doing routine, run of the mill activities on a day-to-day basis. But you are spending your time in strategic initiatives. And therefore you are able to have bigger, audacious goals for your company.
OWEN: What’s the next stage of growth for your business? What are you planning to do next and why?
AMIT: Our biggest goal now us to get to 10 million users. We are currently have 1 million users on QuickFMS and we would like to grow tenfold. And as we grow tenfold we would also like to make sure that we are selling in 20 countries around the world, that’s the big thing for us now.
OWEN: Awesome. The person listening to this interview all the way to this point obviously has the interest to transform their business so it runs without them successfully. What will you say is the very next thing that they should do in order to get closer and closer to that goal?
AMIT: I will say four simple steps because we have spoken about so many things that there’s no need to get confused. Number 1, see if the organization structure is completely filled or are there any gaps as per your delivery process. So what you’re trying to achieve is the organization measured up to deliver that. Number 2, what are the areas where people need your support, and what are the areas where they can do it independently. I’ll define that. Once you have done these two tell them that whenever you need me my support please make sure that you come with solutions and not just with problems or [Unintelligible 00:48:48]. Once you’ve given them this empowerment the last one is make yourself available for emergencies but give them a periodic review process. By doing this you make sure that you organization is well set-up, the people are empowered, they know that you will back then even when they make mistakes. And as a result they will deliver much better than they would otherwise.
OWEN: That’s awesome. We’re coming to the end of the interview, I’m wondering, is there a specific question you were wishing I would’ve asked you during the interview that I didn’t ask you. So pose the question and the answer.
AMIT: I will say that how do you train said newcomers. Today, start-ups are coming up by the dozens. Anywhere in the world you see all of the start-ups coming up. There are a lot of people who are coming up with new ideas and they are ready to go. I think there is a very, very big challenge out there. For example when you spoke to me you said that I can give you access to Google Docs so that we are looking at the same thing. I think that is a very, very significant step that you have in your process. And here what happens is every entrepreneur is always talking about doing things in a very unique way is always thinking that his or her idea has not implemented before. So what happens is the templates, the systems, the processes, everything they’re trying to re-learn from scratch. I feel that the question that I would have by answering proactively is that I think start-ups should have a common repository. And if they talk about the business plan there should be a set of templates for it. If they talk about case studies they should be a manual [Unintelligible 00:50:26]. If they talk about the process to be defined internally there should be a set system for it. And everyone should try to learn from a common pool and not necessarily think of recreating which is first time inventing the wheel actually. And that would be a big value added in to help them focus on the main activity which is their product and their customer, not on trying to recreate the process which have already been proven and highlighted by fairly good programs like yours.
OWEN: Thank you very much. What would you say is the best way for the listener to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview?
AMIT: I prefer email the best, email@example.com is the best. And based on that in my office at supper time I do these interviews regularly with people who are interested to know more about what I’ve spoken if somebody has a business idea they want to collaborate with us. If somebody feels that my software can do things for them even without a commercial benefit to us we’ll be happy to try it out. And I welcome anybody who can email to me and I’ll reach out to them proactively.
OWEN: Awesome. I’m speaking to you the listener. If you’ve enjoyed the interview all the way to this point I want you to do us a favor and give us your honest feedback on iTunes. To do that go to sweetprocess.com/iTunes. And if you’re at that stage of your business where you are tired of being the bottleneck but the only one who knows how things get done and you want to get this repetitive task out of your head, document them so your employees know how to get them done correctly then consider signing up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Amit, thanks for doing the interview.
AMIT: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
OWEN: And we’re done.