After working on a tech-related internship, Suvansh and his two friends decided to start testing different business ideas. The first ones failed, but then they launched Flexiple, a freelancing platform that connects startups with developers. This has been grown through cold outreach and side-project marketing up to $80,000/month.
Hi Suvansh! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
I am a third-generation entrepreneur. I was born at a time when my grandfather and father had just closed down their clothes manufacturing business and had plans to start a hardware trading business. For the first 22 years of my life, I saw my father and grandfather build a sustainable business in a crowded market by vertically expanding and becoming a hardware manufacturing and trading business. During this time, I was rather unwittingly exposed to life as an entrepreneur as my father never wanted me to follow his path. Yet I learned a lot about negotiations with clients, resolution of co-founder conflicts, and the importance of having an open mind while overhearing his conversations and to a lesser extent having discussions with him.
Seven years later, I am now a tech entrepreneur and am building a tech talent network called Flexiple to enable scaling startups to hire & work with the top-1% remote freelance developers and designers. We make it easy for tech startups to hire & work with quality tech talent who are on-boarded over the course of a multi-stage screening process. Over the past couple of years, Flexiple has evolved and we now have 75+ clients and 200+ independent professionals onboard.
As the only non-tech co-founder (I have a strong inclination towards user experience design), I own sales and customer relations at Flexiple.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Prior to joining India’s top-ranked B-school - IIM Ahmedabad where I met my partners and Flexiple’s co-founders - Karthik and Hrishikesh, I had been working for 3 years at HUGE corporations which had thousands of employees across the globe, leading me to have a clearly defined role. However, I was never satisfied with my pace of learning during these three years. While at my first job, I found that the focus was more on just sticking to what has been done since the birth of the company, which led me to look for a switch. At my second job, I figured that learning only hard skills such as data analytics is not as fulfilling as I thought it would be.
In this search of learning opportunities, I explored the option of working with Karthik and Hrishikesh for a period of three months. The intention was to learn more about technology and entrepreneurship than what textbooks could teach me. Now, we have been working together on Flexiple for three and a half years now.
During this period, Flexiple has undergone multiple iterations. We started out as an automated platform built for scale which was ultimately not used by anyone. We tried out a pure-play service model and within a couple of weeks landed our first client, which ultimately resulted in us scrapping the platform completely. During this time, we decided to double down our focus on startups who were looking to hire remote full-time freelance talent. Having learned the importance of creating value before looking for a sale, we launched remote.tools which aims to be the platform where remote workers interact with each other.
How did you build Flexiple?
We started working on Flexiple on a part-time basis during our second year of MBA. Given we already had a flavor of the type of freelancers startups are on the lookout for, we decided to keep our focus during this 9 month period onboarding ~50 freelancers while using our automated testing and screening platform. We ran multiple tests on what kind of platform we should build and came to the conclusion that an asynchronous platform giving freelancers the freedom to complete the onboarding at their own pace was the best way to proceed. The product development and design were helmed by the three of us with 2 freelance developers and a designer completing the team.
However, our lack of prior product development left us spending 2x the amount we had budgeted for and with a platform which the freelancers were unwilling to use due to the sheer time investment required. This derailed our plans to hit the market hard when we started working full-time from April’17.
Learning quickly from our mistakes, we focused our efforts on having active client requirements so that we could incentivize the freelancers to take the screening process designed by us. Within a couple of weeks, we identified a couple of prospects and began engagements with them. However, due to a paucity of time, we had to give up the asynchronous testing methodology and conducted freelancer screening manually.
This model has been working well for us ever since and in the past 2 years, we have identified that the problem we are solving cannot be solved using completely automated customer-facing processes. We identified that we need to build robust internal processes that will enable us to grow Flexiple in a reliable and sustainable manner. Only then can we ensure that our clients and freelancers do not face the usual challenges associated with freelancer hiring.
To streamline our internal processes, we are using a host of third-party automation tools and have built a couple of tools of our own as well. One such tool is the Resume App with which we showcase our network to prospective buyers in a concise yet exhaustive manner. All our internal applications have been built while leveraging our freelancer network which is managed fully remotely.
With a robust business model with positive unit economics since day one, we have remained self-funded and have grown to make $80k per month in revenues all done at a shoestring monthly budget of $4,500.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
To start with, we focused almost exhaustively on cold outreach to both our freelancers and clients. A couple of channels such as LinkedIn, AngelList, worked well for us. However, due to the inherent limit attached to cold outreach, we started focusing on inbounds too while continually optimizing our cold outreach processes.
For inbounds, generating content related to freelancing, remote working worked well for us. During this 6 month process, we identified that the one common characteristic between most of our clients and freelancers was their inclination towards working remotely. Also, 80% of the 150+ conversations we had with this target audience suggested that choosing which tool to use for a particular use-case was their biggest challenge.
Managing a remote team ourselves, held us in good stead here as we built a curated repository of 100+ remote tools across 24 categories so as to make this discovery process easier. We decided to launch on Product Hunt and were pleasantly surprised to be voted as the #2 Product of the Day.
The best stat was that we landed 4 new clients via remote.tools and made 10 times the money we had invested in the product! Also, on a side note, we were able to launch the product on time and within budget :) The success of this experience showed how marketing should be more about creating value for your users rather than about your own product.
Apart from such out of the box marketing initiatives, cold outreach has been reaping rich dividends for us. For the past 6 months, the split of leads from our sales and marketing efforts has been 50:50.
What are your goals for the future?
In the month of July, we launched Remote Tools V2.0 which gave remote-first product makers the freedom to share their products with the remote working community. Within a month of the launch, 100+ remote-first products (we still curate each and every product) have been made live on the platform leading to a total of 250 products for remote workers to choose from for different use-cases.
In the next 6 months, we aim to make remote tools a hub for all conversations related to remote working and have taken the first step by launching The Remote Working Show. Where top leaders of remote working startups share their experience of building teams successfully, along with more useful content that would provide value to the remote working audience and encourage discussions.
With Remote Tools taking a life of its own, we also intend to publish content on Flexiple’s blogging platform to improve upon our search engine rankings for keywords related to our space.
We predict that this focus on creating value for all buyer personas should help us double our revenues by March 2020. However, we also intend to start paying the co-founders market-parity salaries valuing the impact they have had on the business and to future-secure Flexiple and Remote Tools.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
The biggest challenge we faced was to build trust in an unorganized market. The efforts to organize have been haphazard, where complex skills are treated as a commodity that can be measured by usual marketplace dynamics such as ratings and reviews. The result is the core interests of all parties involved are compromised.
When a company wants to hire a freelance developer or a designer for a particular job, they have to deal with a lot of noise, leading them to engage with sub-par/ not the best talent without having proper structures in place - thereby leading to a not-so-good experience. Increased competition and transparent pricing have not been able to solve this problem for these companies.
Our consistent and unwavering focus on quality has helped us differentiate ourselves and build a reputation as a preferred talent partner in the market.
We realized very early on that our community members are our core product, who have helped us garner a positive response. We continue to recognize this and have been working diligently to refine our screening process on a continuous basis.
Today we are a community of 200+ such members with freelancers from 5 countries with diverse backgrounds and skill sets. They range from hardcore backend developers and the most complete full-stack ninjas to expert UX’ers andamazing illustrators who have worked at top tech-centric companies such as Ola, Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe and Goldman Sachs.
Through such a high bar of quality, we are able to work with the best companies in the tech space and help solve their varied talent challenges through our community.
On a personal front, wearing different hats and juggling multiple responsibilities has been a challenge I have been able to live up to. Over the past 6 months, apart from managing and delivering on my personal targets of meeting our revenue targets, I have been managing Flexiple’s finances, handling the hiring and onboarding process which saw us grow from a 4-member to a 9-member team within 6 months, and giving inputs whenever necessary on UX design.
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
The biggest disadvantage in the first year was that none of the three of us were especially good at tangible skills needed to grow and build Flexiple. While Hrishikesh is a core techie and had worked at Adobe and Amazon as a Software Engineer, it had been 2 years since he had last coded.
Though, with our motivations aligning and immense efforts, all three of us are hands-on and to certain extent experts in a field, much-needed to grow Flexiple.
I have spent the last year or so, learning the nuances of sales and implementing them across both freelancer and client onboarding. At the same time, Hrishikesh has honed his product management capabilities while also getting back to being hands on with coding. And Karthik has taken to content marketing seamlessly and is our go-to-guy for everything relating to marketing.
We still have a lot to learn as we need to improve upon our client conversion rates, our ability to meet product deadlines, and content distribution.
However, the learnings we derived from the mistakes we made in the first year have us in good stead to ensure we do not repeat such costly mistakes and don’t let our goals blind us from understanding those of our customers.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
The biggest mistake we made when we started out was to cloud our path forward with our own vision of the future rather than the needs of our customers. This mistake led us to build a platform no one wanted and set us back by 6 months and $8,000, which came directly from our savings.
Also, I tend to internalise mistakes and don’t let them go. This is a practice I have found to be immensely detrimental in both my personal and professional lives.
Thus, I would suggest my former self in 2016 to enjoy the ride while worrying less about the mistakes and their repercussions and to trust my gut.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
I am an avid reader and intend to draw learnings from everything I read. Though, for all things related to entrepreneurship, I read threads on Indiehackers and have recently started engaging with them. For my core competency i.e. sales, my go to places have been the SalesHacker blogs and podcasts with Outreach’s blogs also featuring high up on the list.
Apart from that, I surround myself with a group of friends who are honest and forthright with me as entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey even though you have co-founders to accompany you on the ride.
Where can we go to learn more?
I am available for a chat over Twitter, LinkedIn, and email. And would love to share notes on self-funding a B2B startup while running a lean remote team.