Nathan Wrigley: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 24 of the PressForward podcast. I’m Nathan Wrigley, and I’d like to thank you for joining us again. And if this is your first time, I hope that you find it useful. If you want to make listening to this podcast a regular thing, you can subscribe to us on your favorite podcast player.
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We hear from Sujay Power. He’s a WordPress business owner based in India. You might well have heard of some of his company’s products because brainstorm Force are the folks behind the Astra theme and schema Pro, ultimate add-ons for elementor and many more. We have a wide-ranging chat covering subjects such as how he got started with WordPress and how he managed to grow his company and keep his team happy at the same time.
as I say Sujay lives in. And the conversation also covers how businesses in India do things slightly differently from other parts of the world and this for me was really fascinating but let’s start by asking sujay to introduce himself.
Sujay Pawar: [00:04:19] Hi, my name is Sujay. I am a co-founder of brainstorm Force we develop WordPress products Astra is a recently popular products that we developed and launched.
Other product supports include ultimate add-ons for various page Builders convert Pro schema Pro Cart Flows. We are distributed team. Most of our team is in India, but we have few team members who are distributed all across the world. We are about 40 to 50 people company and we have been in the business for about 10 years.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:04:56] I want to know about the journey the suggest a had been on over the past decade or so. I’m sure that many of you have started your own business or perhaps worked in a start-up and there can be many struggles along the way some businesses fail others. Keep grinding it out until they start to become profitable while staff you meet their goals very quickly.
Sujay Pawar: [00:05:21] Well, I started this business when I was in the college. I was in the first year of the college. I just wanted to do a college project for my third year and I was thinking that I would do something different from my friends. So I thought I would make a website and I would maybe. Do some experiments with the SEO rank it in the Google which SEO was a booming industry back then and I was learning about it through Google and other places.
So I thought that would make a great College project. I would rank a website. So that’s how my journey started I learned a bit of web design. We had no web design in our College syllabus or something like that. So I started with Joomla I was trying to hand code when I figured or I found that there are Frameworks or CMS as.
So I stumbled upon Joomla I tried to develop a website I try to rank it. So that’s how I got started. And in the process I learned about flans websites. So all this was fun. I was introduced to freelancing just while I was having fun. I started taking. Small projects like I will make a like you see if I were gigs this state.
So I will make a website for 50 bucks or something like that. And those were really massive massive massive projects which would take like couple of months or so, but I was having a lot of fun. So I knew I never really wanted to get in the business all this was accident. I got serious in the business when I found my co-founder of brainstorm Force who was trying to set up a business and here I would just.
Having fun freelancing he was from a business family. So he knew a bit of business how to hire people how to structure business and stuff like that and I was glancing here. So I got introduced to him. I started going to his office for the free internet because internet was very very expensive impact those days in India started helping him in his business and eventually he hired me as his partner. So that’s how I got started.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:07:15] So obviously this is a podcast which is concerned with the WordPress community. And so I wanted to know from such a how he had found WordPress
Sujay Pawar: [00:07:27] We we’re not a web design company. We were not Joomla experts Joomla but just something that we found and we developed a few websites with Joomla. But our main business was online helping people with they’ll online marketing like SEO and all that stuff a lot of customers who wanted their websites optimized. Most of our customers who had a website we’re already using Wordpress. So that’s how we got introduced to Wordpress. We had to do a lot of changes in their websites.
So we learned what press its code its file structure and everything. So, yeah, that’s how we got introduced to Wordpress.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:08:04] So brainstorm force is now a fairly large business with many employees. If you’re an agency owner, you may have experienced growth like this, but I’d suggest it’s not the norm. Growing to this size takes a mixture of skills and determination. And so I asked Sujay to describe the journey to me.
Sujay Pawar: [00:08:26] I was in her freelancing for a bit of time when I joined this company, so we had a little bit of work flow when we. Got into the real business. I had little bit of preparation. I had some reference so that helped but that wasn’t sufficient at all to grow the business.
So I remember in my first year. I was trying to visit different businesses going door to door and asking if they would like a website if they would like to promote their website. I remember calling a lot of people just here in India locally to hotels to some colleges to some educational institutes trying to get some business.So. I remember those days.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:09:06] So we’re going back more than a decade. I’m based in the UK and I think it’s fair to say that almost all businesses by this point had decided that having a website was something that they needed to have. It was just a case of which platform and in what style perhaps this was the case in India, too.
Sujay Pawar: [00:09:28] Converting those people wasn’t easy at all for us because we had no business experience my co-founder as well as myself we started this. Title of the college it was 2009. And if you remember it was Global recession and there were no jobs at at that time. So instead of going for a jobs we decided that let’s do our own thing.
We will start our own company and will hustle. We’ll figure it out. So we had no sales experience. We had no processors everything would like know as we figured it out. So it was not easy to convert the people. So when we started brainstorming we never wanted to do work for ourselves. I was doing work for myself when I was freelancing.
So the reason we started this company was to structure or business and grow the business. So hiring people and taking more work and setting up processes was always part of the plan. Yeah, I mean even before we had. A lot of work we were into hiring we were interviewing people. We are trying to learn the recruitment.
We are trying to hire our friends who are looking for jobs that was always a part of the plan balancing that like hiring people and getting enough lines was a bit of difficult, but it was a plan and we always knew that we would scale this business.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:10:44] Brainstorm force is known to me at least notice the website building agency. But as a company that creates and sells plugins and themes no doubt you’ve heard of many of their products sujay hasn’t mentioned that part of the business yet. And so I wondered if building plugins was a conscious business decision or perhaps it was more of an accident.
Sujay Pawar: [00:11:07] It was absolutely accident. So we were in SEO business. Google had recently come up with. Back in 2012 Google came up with something called Rich Snippets and schema markup and there were no plugins or Solutions out there which could easily help people to implement the scheme in their websites. We wanted to implement schema and schema markup on our customers website.
We found those solution. So we develop that plug-in. We launched it for free on the WordPress repository. It got really popular. It got mentions from many big Publications many blogs and that gave us a bit of confidence it Q by itself. And since we came from the little bit of marketing background where we could do SEO and all that stuff we were able to grow that as well.
We created pages on our website. We created a lot of guides for people to help them understand how to implement schema markup and all that and I being from like, you know little bit of business perspective. I knew how to kill the plug-in how to help people how to get followers and stuff like that so that helped a bit as well.
It wasn’t just like we launched a plug-in and then it Q by itself. There was a bit of work before it got I mean popular and before we could continue with our WordPress products Journey this first plug-in of ours we gave it away on WordPress repository and it got popular. So we got huge confidence that we can launch a plug-in and we can make it successful.
So the second plug-in that we developed which was a accident. Once again, it wasn’t a plan. We have a very popular plug-in called ultimate add-ons for visual composer. It was a very popular plug-in in those days. It was the only Page Builder and it was popular. So our a lot of our clients were using it but it was very limiting.
It did not have any pictures. So we found that we could extend the plug-in we wrote little bit of code and try to like, you know, send the code to the author of that plug-in saying hey here is the code you can add some more features that we have developed for you. If you would like we would be happy to send you the code.
So that was the story but he was kind enough. He said why don’t you just launched it as a add-on for visual composer instead of just giving it away for me. So that’s our first commercial product came. We launched it on the inverter Market Plus on code Canyon and again since there was already an audience.
A lot of people were already using visual composer. They needed something like that and the author of visual composer promoted. It it got again very popular in the no.2 market Plus in the first week itself. It’s sold more than 150 copies. And then yeah, so that’s how we got into commercial product business.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:13:44] So such I did not intend for this plug-in. So be a commercial success Percy walls. It gave him and his team valuable experience of creating and successfully selling a product. It also allowed them to grow the team and transition it from a Services business into a products business.
Sujay Pawar: [00:14:06] So we already had a very successful agency business. We were developing stuff for our clients like WordPress websites helping the with the marketing and those kind of services. So we already had a staff so we decided me and my partner decided that he will take care of our services business and I will explore the products area so I scale. Bhima bait for support for developing future features in the plug-in and that’s how we slowly slowly transitioned into product business. So now we are about 5% services and 95% products business.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:14:42] With a growing team. There’s an obvious need to hire more staff. I was interested to know if the brainstorm for steam try to hire the best talent from all over the world or if they look closer to home.
Sujay Pawar: [00:14:57] So it depends on the profile for support we are trying to. Cover all time zones. So we are hiring globally for support profiles for developers. We are trying to just hire locally because that’s our culture is most of our development team is in India. So when we hire locally it’s easier to communicate for a designer’s it’s not very. Easy to find good designers in India.
So again, we are trying to hire from other parts of the world. It depends on the skill and department where the person would join hiring is still something we struggle with there is no fixed or there is no like, you know a formula that we apply and we hire people so about this 50 people about 12 to 13 people are with us for more than five years and rest of the people they mean.
Join us some people live in a year some people live in two years some people live in three years for other prospects, but something that we still struggle with with hiding. What I have learned is you just got to give someone a try cannot just by interviewing him. You cannot think that he is the perfect one.
So I remember some of our team members who are really core part of our team. I wasn’t impressed at all with them when I interviewed them, but I gave them a chance and they turned out to be. Much better ones than the other ones which I thought a really great hires who joined us and then they turned up like know something different than I thought.
So you got to give it a try. You got to leave early for mistakes. That is the part with hurry.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:16:24] So though some of the team a distributed all over the world many of them live in India. So I wanted to know more about this what kind of office setup does the company have.
Sujay Pawar: [00:16:37] We have our office in Pune which is in the western part of India moving is not common in India, like in Western World. So most of the people in India like they die where they were born. So for me I give up in a. But he’s nearby area. I came to Pony for my higher studies and I decided to settle my business here. And thankfully when a is the ponies called like Silicon Valley of India, so that was an accident. But thankfully we are in Pune and we got into the IT business and it Talent is very common to find in Pune in my area.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:17:14] Wherever I seem to look online these days. I see people from India creating new and interesting things. It feels like the country is undergoing a real upswing in the amount of people who are employed in Tech. This could simply be my impression. Perhaps Sujay can explain.
Sujay Pawar: [00:17:33] India is thriving especially in the information technology. We are very many Indians are in general very good with mathematics. This is zero was invented by India. So I have heard that I’m not sure if it’s true. But this I have heard that a lot of times so Indians in general are very good with mathematics. You can find really really good programmers in India.
Our education system is pretty solid. In general you’ll find really good developers especially developers in India.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:18:02] Being a global company means that you have to compete on a global stage. If you create something that gathers interest and customers you can be sure that other similar products will come into existence quite soon. So to brainstorm Force concentrate upon their existing products, or are they always on the lookout for the next big thing?
Sujay Pawar: [00:18:24] Global competition is something that really affects all WordPress products when you consider services, like there could be many jobs and there could be many freelancers.
Everyone can stay happy the same case is with the products, like people usually try to go with the best products which are proven which are already used by other. So Global competition is something that most product especially in the WordPress space worried about after global competition GPL comes into the part as well be where we don’t really own the code.
We only own our community and our audience. So Global competition is sometimes stressful, but the only way to keep ahead of it is with keeping ahead of the curve staying Cutting Edge. Building connection with your audience. We try not to develop many different products. So how we structure our company is each product has its own team.
Its own thinking mind its own product lead and I try to Mentor the team lead and the other part of the team each team lead has his own freedom to think creatively how we can improve the product further they get my help to improve the product further in deciding the directions. That’s how we structure it.
We do not launch a new product unless we see how we are going to scale it how we are going to support it. We kind of operate. Like a corporation where there are multiple projects running parallel e and there are team leads and there are proper structures to take care of those projects.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:19:56] Sujay has painted a very positive picture of the growth of his company, but we all know that a business rarely grows without some ups and downs along the way. I wanted to know more about this side of such as experiences. Has it always been plain sailing or have there been times of and anxiety.
Sujay Pawar: [00:20:18] Anxiety is a part of Entrepreneurship. I think most of the entrepreneurs Freelancers get ends is or like uncomfortable with many things. There are many things to take care of especially if you’re a freelancer you got to deal with almost all parts of the businesses starting from design to coding to testing to communicating to accounting and there are many different parts.
So I try to allocate. Responsibilities of our business to different people. So for example, my co-founder is kind of our CFO where he takes care of all Financial things. I have other people who take care of certain things. So we have a CTO we have like other people who are taking off. Get up different responsibilities.
So that’s how I try to divide the stress that was on me to other people and I would recommend the same to other people as well have a co-founder hopefully good teammates who will share your success as well as your burdens.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:21:16] So in many parts of the world people are just beginning to open up about mental health. It’s starting to receive the kind of attention that it deserves. I was curious about whether or not the same was happening in India are people becoming more willing to talk about their own Mental Health.
Sujay Pawar: [00:21:35] It is absolutely difficult. It is absolutely difficult. I mean no one talks about mental health at all in India part of that is because I believe guys are very social country where we are very well connected to other family members.
Will you stay with your family? So it is not very common to find someone who’s struggling with mental health because there is always someone in family and your friends to talk with but there are many chances that you still like, you know struggle with few things that you cannot talk with others.
And since it’s not common that kind of stuff people don’t really talk about it. I still don’t see any change people still don’t talk about it yet. They just go on with it, which is pretty shameful.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:22:18] When I was growing up, it was my desire and the desire of many of my peers to move away from our families to spread my wings if you like. I’m not suggesting that this was the case for all people, but it’s certainly in contrast to what sujay described. It feels like where he lives more people stay with their families and don’t have that same wish to move away.
Sujay Pawar: [00:22:46] Each individual to individuals. I personally love my family. I’m a family person. I have a daughter. So I like to stay with my family. My parents are taking care of my wife and my daughter when I’m traveling for business. I’m whenever I’m in office or something like that. So I personally believe it’s a great arrangement the family and the systems of India the culture. But at the same time my co-founder he stays on his own.
He doesn’t stay with his family. He has grown up pretty much on his own all his life. So there are benefits to that as well. So there is no sudden answer to that it is I just feel that there is a flexibility in Indian culture that you can stay with your. Family and it’s not a very uncommon thing.
Like hey if the person is staying with the family there is something wrong. So that’s not the case in India, which is what I would be thankful for and there are some things which are good with this kind of system and some things are bad. It’s not just a positive thing. So for us we stay in the same home, but we stay in different rooms.
So everyone has their own private area we cook together we eat together, but you still have some freedom to do things on. Your own so if you’re able to balance it and manage it it turns out really good, but I have seen some families who are staying together, but but they are not happy. So it’s again case to case.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:24:05] It seems like there is a growing awareness in the workplace that mental health is a crucial component of a productive and happy Workforce more and more companies are putting procedures in place to deal with situations that might crop up. I want you to know what sujay does at his company to assist people with their Mental Health.
Sujay Pawar: [00:24:27] More than policies and procedures I believe health and especially mental health is kind of emotional. You just got to understand your employees really well develop a bond with them you get you well understand what they are going through what they feel respect their ideas and respect their space.
So we have HR structure. We have HR who takes care of like, you know, all the legal aspects and other procedural aspects, but I personally try to develop a bond with my team members. I try to understand their families their different needs. Sometimes people like, you know travel or come to different cities for work.
So I try to like, you know help them. Anyway as possible. So that’s on the bond level when they start working with us. We like, you know, try to read all the team members as we would like to be treated. That is the like kind of our value at brainstorm. We do not. Stress or we do not pressure. We do not take deadlines too.
Seriously. We believe that quality of life is important than other things that you worry about. So I always give an example to my team members that like what we produce if power goes out nothing is going to matter at all. So what you poured your websites are not even visible when there is no power so.
Your life is more important than your work. So we try to prioritize our life. We try to have a really good time internally at brainstorm we go on tours together. We take trips together. We going hiking together lot of fun weekends. We do a lot of get together where we invite each other’s family for dinners and lunches.
So that’s how we try to develop bonds between our people and so that they stick with us longer as well because if they feel connected to us if they feel they are expected here and accepted here. They stay with us longer. So there is a little bit of selfish interest as well.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:26:14] It sounds like sujay regards his company a bit like it’s a part of his family. Is that the case?
Sujay Pawar: [00:26:24] Yep, we do we do. So we call BSF family base a is acronym like, you know, Silly acronym for brainstorm Force. So we always call it BSF family. We try to like, you know. Remain as a family and treat each team member of us as a family. I think Western world is private.
They. Like to be respected their privacy, whereas that is not a huge case in India people are not very private. They like to connect and privacy is not a huge thing in India. So I think there are a bit of cultural differences which is what it is privacy by privacy. I don’t mean online privacy.
It’s just, you know personal privacy people wouldn’t feel offended if someone comes and like, you know, ask you certain things about your personal life, so, Whereas you have to be from my experience, you have to be a little bit different when you’re interacting in the Western World. There are many things that are different in Western World and India, for example eating we like to eat with hands.
Whereas in Western world. It’s not common at all. I have to be little. Friend when I’m in the Western World, so there is a little bit of thinking in most of the things you do you live in UK, but I had recently hired a car in Germany where you know driving sides are totally opposite in India. We drive from the right side.
But yeah, so so many things are different the way I mean the walking sides the science and eating style and culture. So there are so many differences.
Nathan Wrigley: [00:27:54] So times have been good. The company has grown and is thriving. And underpinning all of that is WordPress. I asked such a if he was feeling positive about the next 10 years working with WordPress.
Sujay Pawar: [00:28:12] WordPress is the only I mean, like I said, I have I have been in a gym like ecosystem. I hope you in a Microsoft ecosystem because we were not a WordPress company in the beginning. I have been in too many different like, you know plus s but what press is the community that is very open very warm.
You can like speak to anyone you can connect to anyone. So for example, if you would like to tweet to Matt mullenweg, he might reply as well which is not the case with other communities. So yeah, I. I absolutely enjoy being in the WordPress Community. I feel proud to be a part of this community and I see my forcible feature in the WordPress community.
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