Sramana Mitra: This is an Entrepreneur Journeys story. I’m going to help you tell that story as a journey. You started with this concept back in 2008 with your co-founder. What was the first thing that you did?
Ashik Ahmed: Coming up with the name. To be honest, I resigned from Aero-Care in February 2007 because I believed I’d achieved what I wanted to achieve. I actually wanted to go and work for Apple or Google where I could get some industry experience. But Steve came up with the idea of taking it to the world.
I remember shaking hands and agreeing to do this. After I came back from a three-month holiday, we were pondering for a couple of months on what should be the name of the company. One morning, I thought, “What is this software to Steve?” It’s the second-in-charge. I came up with the name Deputy. Now that we have the name, we incorporated everything and got our first three of four employees. That’s how we got started in November of 2008.
Sramana Mitra: You were self-financing the company at that time?
Ashik Ahmed: Absolutely. It’s bootstrapped. Steve financed the first year and a half till we started getting some revenue. I was working out of my savings and around that time, I got married. That made things even more complicated for me.
We targeted the restaurant and hospitality industry. It’s one of the industries that’s open till 3 AM and where there’s a lot of casual workers. This is where the problem is heavily felt in terms of managing employees and shift workers. We found our first customer and made a significant difference in their lives.
Sramana Mitra: How did you find the first customers?
Ashik Ahmed: Friend of a friend heard about it and wanted to see what it is. We didn’t have any online signup or any marketing in there. We wanted to, at least, get one customer very early on to see how the software works. It worked really well. It was a blessing and a curse at the same time.
What happened was that the customer ended up dictating our roadmap to some degree. It became so hospitality-specific that we couldn’t necessarily expand the software to other areas. We had to pivot at the end of year four, and even redid many of the elements so that it’s applicable for any business everywhere. Then we went to having online signups and a self-service model.
It worked so well for our first customer that every time we went to other customers, we would win the deal. It’s got a 100% conversion rate, but it would require someone to present the software. In such a scenario, the cost of sales would be very, very high. So we decided to make it as simple as possible so that people can just get value from it without having to read the manual or ask any questions. Once we were in that mindset, that was the most pivotal shift. As a company, we have been around for eight years, but I always like to reset the first four years.
Sramana Mitra: The first four years, you were selling to a few customers and hospitality. Is that how the journey evolved?
Ashik Ahmed: The first year and a half, we were just building. After that, we started selling and learning from the customers. There was no self-service model at all.