Sramana Mitra: Did you fire the CEO that you brought on?
Ashik Ahmed: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: How did that go?
Ashik Ahmed: Not pretty. I doubted myself whether I would be capable of being the CEO of this company. I didn’t even know what the job description of a CEO looked like back then. My lesson out of that is, although I had to fire him, I had failed in hiring the right person. If I want something, I have to go get it. I can’t rely on somebody else to make that happen for me.
I took control. I started doing sales, marketing, customer support, and code during weekends. I was working seven days in a week. Then we started getting the business together. We had some good people in the company who poured their heart and soul into the product to get to where we are today.
Sramana Mitra: Before all this turmoil happened, you had 150 customers in hospitality who required high-touch selling and customization. From a product strategy point of view, how did you evolve?
Ashik Ahmed: When it comes to product, I believe in the concept called ‘affordance’. If the product is very well-designed but doesn’t necessarily have a specific purpose but has enough purpose so that it can be used in any way, then there is no need for it to be industry specific. The challenge was, as we were doing so many different things for the hospitality industry, some elements of it apply to other businesses as well.
We don’t have to go with just hospitality. We don’t have to go with specific forms that that the industry requires. If we can turn that into a framework, then our customers will take our product and adapt to very specific verticals. The software company I really admire is Salesforce. It’s a CRM product but it’s used by various SaaS companies.
Sramana Mitra: It can be used by different verticals but it is a CRM product. It is a very specific functional product. It sounds like, in your case, it was a very specific functional product from an HR point of view.
Ashik Ahmed: That’s right. We are targeting the shift workers and hourly paid market. That’s 60% of the working population. Every workplace you go into, they have a different set of business rules they’re following. Our challenge was to make it so agnostic that we can make it applicable to everyone.
Sramana Mitra: Yes, but it still was a workforce management product. At least, you knew who the buyer was. You knew that these were the HR people who were buying. It can require certain amounts of workflow customization but the basics were workflow management.
Ashik Ahmed: Absolutely. Let me give you an example. In the industry of hospitality, they employ a lot of international students. They have a visa restriction of working 20 hours per week. We went and sold our software to someone else who have different rules like you can’t have more than two 12-hour shift in a 14-day period. In the early days, these things used to be limited to how the configuration was done in the software.
What we tried to do is ask, “How do we turn that into a framework where our customer can go and put any kind of rules in there?” Turning that into an open product actually has allowed us to achieve a lot more than having industry-specific products that you could pick up and plug and play. We removed those industry-specific things and turned them into recipes. That has allowed us, from a product strategy perspective, to be applicable to any industry across the globe.