In this second and final installment (part one here) of our interview with WebAble Founder and Chairman Ovick Alam, we go deep into the art and science of growing a B2B business, B2B sales, dealing with the challenges of being a founder, lessons on entrepreneurship and life, life hacks for founders, decision making, management, books, and much more.
This was a much longer interview. So we had to break it down into two parts. This is the second and final part of the interview. You can read part one here.
You are one of the companies that I have been lucky enough to watch closely and your growth has been phenomenal over the years. That too mostly organic. What helped you to grow consistently and what are the lessons in terms of growth you have learned that other founders may apply in their business?
The first is people. Having the right people is more important than having great people. I have learned that the hard way: it is wise to have diligent and hard-working people rather than brilliant people who would not stay long or try their hardest. Employee turnover affects sustainable growth. We have put a lot of effort into managing it.
The second is cash. The only thing that can sustain growth in our business is cash flow. A company should not ever take any project without analyzing its cash flow implications. Being able to manage cash successfully is critical to growth. Your ability to manage cash is equivalent to your ability to survive and then achieve growth. These two things have influenced our growth: talent and cash flow.
B2B sales are different from consumer products, how do your sales and marketing work? Do you go hunt for clients, how does that work?
Our sales process is inbound and relationship-driven. We maintain key relationships with prospective clients and industry stakeholders. We share our work with them and spread word-of-mouth. We publish case studies, research, and insights on our blog. There’s a small community that follows our work and we try to create content for them regularly.
At this point, most of our new business comes through recommendations from existing or past clients. WebAble gets called into most of the major pitches in Dhaka. We get a brief, get to know the client, and see if it is a good fit. If so, we proceed to prepare solutions and proposals. If the client is less than a great fit, we connect them with a suitable company.
People say building a business is like eating glasses. How do you deal with the stress and challenges that come with being an entrepreneur?
Not only entrepreneurship, but life is also stressful when you hit the 30s! I feel that the best mechanism to cope with the stress and challenges of life is building a support system around you with the people you love. My sister, friends, and co-founders are my support system. I consider them the best gift in my life. We travel together, spend time together, and support each other. This circle is my support system. It is not like they can always solve my problems but still, they are always there to listen.
Apart from this, I travel a lot. Traveling helps me a lot to relieve stress. I work with a team of people that are serious and hardworking and I encourage them to travel too. I have started taking my weekends off from 2018. For the past five years, I seldom took weekends off, unless I was traveling. I try not to keep anything work-related on my weekends and spend time alone or with friends.
Life is essentially not what we see on social media. Life is and will always be full of challenges and difficulties. When you are an entrepreneur, you always have to be ready to get heartbroken. I see many young entrepreneurs who fail or encounter momentary roadblocks get depressed easily - but they do not realize that everyone is failing and everyone has their own challenges and shortcomings. Realizing that life is hard for everyone (in ways we can’t comprehend) and that it is not only me who is suffering, offers some relief.
The other effective antidote is having good mentors. Stress and failure would not destroy you if you have wise people around you who would give you good advice. It might be people who have experiences or people who are generally wise whose words help and soothe you. So it is important to have that support system.
What are the five important life and entrepreneurship lessons you have learned from five years of your journey? More than five is good as well.
As an entrepreneur, you probably should always have backup plans but at the same time, when you get into something, you should commit. It’s delicate - having backup plans may limit your commitment and not having backup plans is unwise. So finding a balance is critical. However, one thing I have learned is the value of keeping commitments. If I go into a commitment, I keep it.
You have to trust people by default even though you’d regret it sometimes. There is no alternative to trusting people. Sometimes it goes wrong but in most instances, given you’re careful, people do measure up to expectations when you trust them.
Work hard but not to the extent that it damages your health, spiritual, and emotional sides. Entrepreneurs are workaholics. Sometimes we are caught up with our business so much so that we disregard our personal self and relationships. It is an unsustainable way of living. Finding a balance between your work and your life is important.
You should always be okay with the idea of saying no. There is a lot of people that face a hard time saying no. Not being able to say no is a huge limitation that gets heavy by the day.
When you are trying to build something, you will fail. There will be shortcomings and heartaches. What makes a difference though is how you respond to any failures and difficulties. The trick is to get up every time you fall. We may not be able to always control what happens to us, but we can definitely control how to respond to it.
Don’t pay attention to what others say or think about you. We spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about this. But this should concern us the least. People’s opinions and perceptions are always changing. We have a mission and we need to fulfill our destiny in our own unique way. Focus on what you are doing, how you are doing, and what are the outcomes instead of worrying about what people are saying. They will catch up eventually, and if not, you should consider yourself very unique/rare and that’s valuable.
The final lesson would be, cash is everything in a business. Managing the cash flow is the most important thing I’ve been trying to learn over the years.
What is your management philosophy?
People are emotional and they change. A simple way to deal with people is understanding their realities and empathizing with them. I try to do that. It helps to understand people, what makes them tick, and how to help them grow.
I encourage participatory and decentralized decision-making in WebAble. We have an independent management committee that oversees day-to-day operations. But there are situations where I have to make decisions for everyone. I don’t shy away from it. Knowing my people, understanding situations, and seeing the broader picture helps me decide if I should be autocratic or democratic with my decisions.
Every person is different. Each individual operates differently and is good at different things. Some people want direction from me. So I listen to them, discuss their problems and help them make decisions. Then some people are good at taking initiative and figuring things out on their own. They essentially don’t need my attention all the time. They prefer freedom. I try to be mindful of these differences when it comes to managing people.
What are the things you have found advantageous on your way to building WebAble?
First would be my founding team of Anis, Shadab, and Monoshita. Finding the right partners is the hardest thing in building anything. I consider myself lucky in this regard. My co-founders have made WebAble what it is today by taking ownership of challenges, leading fearlessly in difficult times, and by always learning to adapt.
The second would-be clients who have trusted us with their brands in the early days. They gave us the challenges that made us confident in our abilities.
The third would be the internet. It is a treasure trove of resources for willing minds. There are so many free resources that offer incredible learning opportunities for individuals and businesses. I am grateful for the opportunities the internet has brought to us and the free resources and tools that tremendously boosted WebAble’s growth in our early days.
Despite being a team of young people, your team has always been like the epitome of being precocious. How do you do that?
We try to compensate for our age by training ourselves well and fast. We regularly read reports on industries our clients operate in and we read research papers on sociology, behavioral psychology, etc. We attend conferences, webinars, and workshops. Individuals in our team and our company culture helps tremendously to facilitate this mentality.
We spend a lot of time doing our homework on things that are critical for our customers’ success. When we pitch something to our clients, we experiment with the idea in-house and only then execute it for clients. Preparation has been a big part of what we do. We study things and go deeper into subjects that matter to us and our clients. This is reflected by our team’s great work in performance-driven campaigns and social and behavior change communication.
What are you reading now? Do you have any list of books that you would like to recommend to our readers?
Currently, I’m reading: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. I read everything that’s written well. I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks recently. If you want to me recommend a few books, I‘d say: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, and Man’s Search for Meaning. For business or work, I’d suggest Zero to One, The Snowball, and Marketing Warfare.
Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with us. Any parting thoughts?
One thing I want to say is that being an entrepreneur one has to sacrifice a lot. So if you have an entrepreneur in your family then please do support that person. I have been lucky to have a lot of support from my sister, my friends, my partners, and my mentors. It makes a lot of difference. Often, it makes all the difference. I’m grateful to the closest people in my life. I remind myself of this every day.
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(Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Sadia Tasmia)