Alex Klein is a serial entrepreneur and globe trotter who’s founded multiple companies in several countries. From tiny lifestyle bootstrapped businesses to Silicon Valley funded startups and multi-million Dollar alternative energy projects. Currently, he is the co-founder at Ubindi — “Simple software for teachers”.
Where did the idea for Ubindi come from?
I was co-founder in a previous company, YogaTrail. That’s the largest yoga portal on the internet, and it became very bloated, trying to serve everyone in the yoga world (students, teachers, studios, teacher training programs, retreats, yoga brands) in all possible ways. As a result of trying to do everything for everyone, it did nothing spectacularly well. We also saw that most independent teachers out there struggle with the admin and business side of their teaching business, that there weren’t any good tools for them (most products are much too complicated and expensive). So we decided to build something new: simple software for independent teachers. And not just yoga teachers, Ubindi works for any kind of “Teacherpreneur”. Immediately upon launching, we saw we were on to something great, Ubindi is now enthusiastically being used by thousands of teachers in dozens of countries.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
We work from home (my co-founder is also my wife), so it’s very relaxed. Wake up and make coffee, wake up the others (we have two dogs) and talk about life and the day coming at us. Then answer the customer support requests and check some of the company vitals (KPIs). Then I’m ready to get started being productive, usually around 8:00am.
My wife and I work in the same living room but throughout much of the day we put on headphones, listen to music and focus on whatever task or project we’re working on. For me, the key to being productive is to work on the important or difficult thing first thing in the morning or as early as possible, while ignoring everything else (cutting out distractions such as emails coming in, news headlines, social media, etc).
After getting the “important thing for the day” done, we plan out what the next important things might be for the following day, then get into not so important chores or tasks at a leisurely pace. By 4pm we’re mentally exhausted, so we pretty much stop working. Every afternoon or early evening we go on walks (minimum 90 minutes) in nature with the dogs where any work related discussion or topic of conversation is not allowed. This works wonders to clear the head and keep from burnout or high anxiety levels, even if there are fires to put out of stressful things happening with the company.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When there’s a feature we might add to our platform, or a new marketing strategy to get into, or any new kind of idea to pursue: first thing is to decide if it’s a good idea or not – even if it may be fun to pursue, I try to gauge the potential of the idea, the work that would be required to bring it to life, the “return on investment”. If it’s not a GREAT idea according to these considerations, I will forget it BEFORE investing a lot of time or money into it. Over the years, I have become very good at saying “no”, to others who come to me with ideas but also to myself when an idea pops up in my own mind. Being able to say “no” is one of the most important and useful powers an entrepreneur can have – it enables focus and making good progress on the important stuff, while avoiding “run after shiny new objects” syndrome.
But once I’ve decided that an idea is worth pursuing and bringing to life, I first make a plan (basically a to-do list) and lay out the tasks to be done in smaller and smaller increments. Then it’s just going down the list, executing one step at a time.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Crypto currencies. I’m seeing very dark days ahead as regards the economy, inflation, taxation, surveillance and censorship, government-run digital currencies,… and I believe that crypto currencies could be the way for people to remain free (by making them independent of banks, allowing them to be entrepreneurial, enabling them to store & preserve wealth, etc.). We have plans for Ubindi to facilitate crypto payments between students and teachers as soon as we see mass-adoption by the ordinary, non-tech savvy person.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Waking up early and using my morning energy to work on the important things before anything else. Everyone is different, but for me it’s the case that I wake up feeling sharp, refreshed, energetic. And as the day goes on, I become more sluggish, tired, and less productive. So I’ve learned to do the important and demanding things during the time where I’m very productive. Someone else might have different times during the day when they are more “in the zone” – I think it’s a good idea to work during those times, and not others. Working when you’re not “in the zone” usually means just wasting time and not getting things done.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Think about starting your own business, and think about capitalism not as an evil system that’s designed to just keep the little guy down, but as a brilliant meritocracy which offers you the very best path to freedom. “Freedom” being defined as being able to do what you want, when you want. I was already 40 years old before I started my first business, and for me that was a complete game changer as regards my outlook on life. I do wish I had become an entrepreneur much sooner!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
One of the most effective ways to get someone to achieve something great is to make it difficult for them.
It’s a paradox… but in my own life the nay-sayers and obstacles served only to harden my determination, to become inspired to prove them wrong or to overcome the obstacles.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Say “no” to things that aren’t seriously GREAT propositions or precisely in line with what your current plans or goals are.
Just because one user says “please build this feature” – don’t do it, unless you’re sure that most of your other users or customers are also needing that feature. When a potential partner approaches with an idea that would change your direction or lead to a slowdown of your progress on your current trajectory, just say “no”.
There are only so many things we can do in the small amount of time we have (in a day, during the week, or in our life). It’s important to stay focussed only on the most important things and say “no” to everything else. I actually find myself saying “no” to people and things several times a day.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The overall strategy that we pursue is to “provide value to our customers”, above all. This means to always think about everything from their perspective. Imagining we are them when we design features for our application, asking ourselves “what’s in it for them” when we write blog articles or create any other content, and always responding to support requests immediately. Helping users in any and all ways possible, even if it means that sometimes we recommend they go to a competitor.
This strategy pays off in many, many ways (builds trust, makes people stick with our product even if there are better ones, makes them recommend Ubindi to others, and generally lets us have great conversations where we can discover what customers really want or need).
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One big failure I experienced was when our lead developer had made himself “indispensable”, not communicating with others on the team and creating things and writing code that only he could understand and/or fix or modify. And then this person quit, from one day to the next. At the time it seemed like a “game over” devastating kind of a problem… but we quickly found other people to replace him, and they were a pleasure to work with. Lesson learned: never let an employee become “indispensable”.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Coming from the world of software, one business idea I’ve been thinking about (but won’t do because I’m good at saying “no” to distractions) is a “find my dog” web application for dog owners to register their pets, with pictures. The users could be alerted when a dog goes missing in their neighborhood to keep an eye out for the dog who got lost. Could be free for everyone, but the platform could charge money for people who want to spend money on ads (on Facebook and other places) to serve “lost dog” posters to anybody living near the lost dog location. Just an idea… to succeed, it would require a critical mass in one city or area and then expand from there.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I joined a “Mastermind” group with MicroConf (a networking community for SaaS entrepreneurs), it cost over $100 to do so. But it’s been well worth the investment, having a group of 4 other entrepreneurs to talk to once a week, share tips and ideas, get advice, be accountable a bit… and just having a place to connect with people who are grappling with similar things as entrepreneurs is really great.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Our company uses ClickUp for project planning, and it’s very powerful and intuitive… so I use it for personal note taking and “project management” just for myself, too. ClickUp is free unless you want special features and unlimited storage.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Nothing to do with entrepreneurship, but 1984 is a must. Seems to be a blueprint for certain powerful actors and governments nowadays.
What is your favorite quote?
“This too shall pass” – originally found in the Bible but actually Abraham Lincoln’s favorite saying, one he once said was applicable in any and every situation one could encounter. I like this quote because it applies not only to problems and bad times (where it has a calming and hopeful effect when thinking about it), but also to good times where it can be important to realize that whatever great thing is going on, it’s temporary and most probably not the end-all be-all solution to everything. Helps me keep perspective.
- The best time to work is different for everyone, but it’s usually at a particular time of day. Use that time to tackle the most important things on your schedule.
- Learn to say “no” – say “no” to any- and everything that is not in line with your intended trajectory. It’s the only way to keep focussed.
- “This too shall pass”: no matter how terrible or how great a situation seems to be, it’s good to keep perspective and keep in mind that everything is temporary.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.