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Why This Agency Pivoted From a Service Company to a Product Company

Host Jon Penland, 

One common problem all service-based agencies have is learning how to navigate around a boom and bust cycle without any substantial loss. Tune in to learn how Tehsin Bhayani rose to the challenge with Serind Labs, and how an unexpected twist of fate with AirMason changed his path.

Duration

43 minutes

Guest

Host

Episode Summary

”Follow your dreams and do what you love” is easier said than done. However, many have chosen to take this path. There will be bumps on the road — some more challenging than others — but you can reach the desired destination if you have a clear goal. 

And while you can rely on your knowledge and experience, don’t overlook the importance of luck. However, you must recognize it first to be able to make the most out of it.

In this episode of the Reverse Engineered podcast, our host Jon Penland chats with Tehsin Bhayani, the Founder and CEO of Serind Labs and AirMason. Besides sharing what it takes to be a successful business owner, Tehsin shares some of his mistakes and lessons learned. He also shares the stories of his two companies, how and why he promoted remote work even before COVID, and how reading ”Who” can help you hire successfully.

Key Insights:

  • We promoted remote work before it became a norm. After getting his first taste of entrepreneurship and working with other companies, Tehsin decided to start a business that would allow employees to work from wherever they wanted. This was in a pre-COVID era when hybrid work and distributed teams were not so standard. This mindset made Tehsin a pioneer of a business approach that is widely adopted today. ”One of the structures that we put into place was async communication. So making it okay to not have to reply to everything right away made it okay for us to work from different time zones. […] We had a document where we would let everyone write down: this is the best way to work with me.”
  • AirMason is an ideal tool for larger companies. As the HR space grows and more solutions appear constantly, companies have no trouble finding software that best fits their needs. Although AirMason was a startup and first partnered with other startups looking for an integrated HR tool, they realized their product is more suitable for larger companies with distributed teams operating in locations with different employment regulations. These companies, unlike smaller businesses, could not handle compliance and payroll in a single document. ”You can’t possibly use Google Docs or Word Docs or Notion. People would laugh if they tried to use Notion to do that at a larger company. So they’re like, ‘Well, we need something like AirMason, and we got good at a very small niche that everyone else in HR was ignoring.”
  • A business owner should not be involved in every aspect of the business. The common mistake business owners make, especially those running startups, is trying to be everywhere. Aside from being overwhelming for an owner, it makes things harder for the rest of the team. It’s understandable why a startup owner behaves like that. However, as the business grows, you need to allow some autonomy to your team members. Let them work at their pace, using proven methods. Finally, consider hiring experts who probably know more than you regarding a particular sphere, and look at how your business thrives thanks to their expertise. ”What I found is that because I was trying to hire people that were always smarter than me, the process was almost always better than what I could have come up with myself.”

Today’s Guest: Tehsin Bhayani, Founder and CEO of Serind Labs and AirMason

Prior to building Serind Labs and buying and then growing AirMason, Tehsin worked for three different companies as a developer. After ten years of working for others, he decided to become an entrepreneur again. Today, he runs two successful businesses, and as he says, ”The sky’s the limit.”

Episode Highlights

Serind Labs’ Origin Story

”I realized I did want to start a company again, not for the riches, but to create an environment where engineers would be respected. Believe it or not, ten years ago, engineers did not get the respect they get right now. 

So I wanted to create a place where engineers were respected, something that wasn’t sales-driven only. I hated this idea that any time you wanted to take a vacation, you had to ask permission from an overlord.

I wanted to create a place where anyone could work remotely from anywhere in the world. Again, this is pre-COVID and before this was normalized. A few of the values were developing in my head over the course of those last ten years.

I was like, ‘You know what? I know how to do an agency. I want to build these values and first principles in place.’ So that’s how Serind was born.”

An Unplanned Success With AirMason

”I was working in this coworking space, and my buddy Dawson created this product, but then he launched something else. He was like, ‘Hey, do you want to buy this project off me? It doesn’t have too many customers — one or two customers. It’s fairly new.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. How much do you want for it?’ 

[…]  I bought the software, and then because it was HR, our CTO was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to work on this HR thing.’ […] We forgot about it. Things got busy on the Serind side; nobody was working on it for a year. And then, I got a call on my cell phone because the phone number was listed on the AirMason website. I got a call from this lady, and I think she was in Texas or somewhere in the south. She was complaining, ‘I can’t use it.’

But then she went on to say that it’s become an integral part of our organization. And I’m like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? What product are you calling about?’ And then it hit me a few minutes later; we had a checkout. We left it on, and there were people using it. […] I was like, ‘I think we have something.’ That’s what led us into AirMason.” 

Why Is AirMason More Suitable for Larger Companies?

”So originally, we were like, ‘We are AirMason. We’re a startup. We sell to other startups.’ That makes sense. Startups would buy it; smaller companies would buy it. 

A few months later, they’d be like, ‘I can do this on Notion. I can do this on Confluence. We get that you’ve made it nice and interactive, but this can be a Google Doc. We don’t want to pay for this as a subscription every single year.’ And that makes sense. If you’re a small business, it’s not a painkiller; it’s a vitamin at best. 

Even though there are use cases for it, there are cheaper alternatives. There are other softwares that people are using that beat AirMason because people know how to use them. 

The reason it’s a painkiller for larger companies is that if you have 300-400 people and you are in different locations — California has a different policy, and New York has a different policy. You’ve got managers in different places. You want them to create different handbooks with shared documents between the handbooks. You want to be able to automatically sync it so that when a new employee joins, they automatically get their handbook. We want all of that tracked into their HRIS software.”

As a Business Owner, You Shouldn’t Be a Bottleneck in Every Process

”With any of the other products, I’m like, ‘I know what to do, guys. I’ve done this, I’ve done Serind for a long time. I know businesses. Let me create a process and show you how to do this.’ And I would get involved. And then I would become the bottleneck, as most agency owners do. […]

So the one thing I did differently with AirMason, [I’d] hire someone else, at least one person who is going to be fully responsible for it, and then manage not by creating processes and playbooks and showing how I’ve done it so that they can do the same thing but rather managed by coaching. So having before and after sessions creates the space for them to make mistakes and let them know the world is not going to end.

Transcript

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