Ash Rust – CEO and Co-founder of SendHub

If you focus on making customers happy, they talk about you. We still get most of our new customers from word-of-mouth referrals.

Ash Rust is the CEO and co-founder of SendHub, a telecommunications company with an all-in-one phone system that provides SMS, voice, file, and conference call functionality in an easy-to-use mobile app. The platform allows businesses to instantly set up an entire communication system that’s fully scalable — no hardware or contract required.

Ash is a coach at The Alchemist Accelerator and the former director of ranking at Klout. He also founded a web consultancy in the U.K. Before studying computer science at Oxford College, he served as an officer in the British Army.

Where did the idea for SendHub come from?

My co-founder, Garrett, was working for the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and noticed how powerful text messaging was in the programs his team was supporting in the developing world.

Meanwhile, his nephew’s school was struggling to reach parents and students in under-resourced communities. The teachers often used email to communicate, but many families didn’t have computers in their homes. They did have cellphones, however. Talking on the phone one day, we put the two issues together and came up with a simple SMS tool that was initially focused on education.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I get up at 5 a.m. and check to see whether there’s anything urgent. If not, I spend a couple of hours working out, reading, getting ready for the day, and eating breakfast. I do this early so that no matter what happens during the day, I’ve at least eaten something, exercised, and read something worthwhile.

To stay productive, I try to do three things really well:

• Communicate early and often: It’s hard to think clearly under pressure, so I like to talk through decisions in advance.
• Clear my desk: I try to get to inbox zero on a daily basis so I’m able to be responsive and avoid blocking progress if something needs a quick answer.
• Prioritize: Almost every task I do has made it into my task manager and been prioritized. This makes the number of tasks I need to complete feel more manageable, and it makes it easy to focus on what’s important.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ideas at SendHub come from everywhere, especially from customers. We collect them through surveys filled out by team members or customers. This list (ordered by frequency) often gives us a reasonable starting point. From there, we can make assumptions about the time needed to develop the idea, the customer impact, and the revenue potential.

Once we know what’s most valuable to the business, we go back to customers to understand how they want to use this feature — allowing us to create a specification document of the actions a user would expect to take (i.e., user stories). With the specifications agreed upon, we move to implementation and begin launch planning.

The launch process is essentially a cycle of testing, feedback, and fixes until the testing reaches a point where we’re comfortable releasing the project. When possible, we like to steadily roll out a change across the user population because it gives us the flexibility to roll back if the early feedback is negative.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The fact that mobile is moving back to being an open platform is fascinating. We started with installing software on mobile. That’s today. But on desktops, we did the same thing, and eventually, most software moved to the web browser.

Now, we’re starting to see that occur on mobile. Not every business can afford to build and maintain an app, and most customers don’t want to install software for a simple one-time interaction. I see MMS and SMS as key tools in fueling that transition. We all have cellphones, and we can all get texts; there’s no need for an app to deliver the info your customers need.

What’s one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Taking time to focus on my personal life — diet, exercise, and relationships — is huge. You can’t work seven days a week for 12 hours a day and be at your best.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

When I was 15, my first job was to pack garden pumps into boxes all summer. The work was terribly boring, and as a temporary staff member, I was low on the totem pole, meaning I got all the bad jobs. It was a good lesson that taught me what was waiting for me if I didn’t work hard and give myself options.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would do almost everything differently — or maybe I wouldn’t change a thing. Looking back on the numerous errors we’ve made, they were mostly rational decisions based on good information. Many of them were simply bad bets. Overall, I think we’ve built something valuable that solves an important problem, even though I’d always like to be better.

As an entrepreneur, what’s the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Everyone should invest a lot of time in hiring.

What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

If you focus on making customers happy, they talk about you. We still get most of our new customers from word-of-mouth referrals.

What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

In the past, I’ve failed to do my due diligence on candidates, and I’ve also not fired fast enough. We overcame this by putting good hiring processes in place to enforce the critical pieces. For example, every engineer at SendHub has had to pass a coding challenge. We also have a two-week probationary period for new team members, during which they’re trained on our services and receive daily feedback.

What’s one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I would love a better way to do annual performance reviews through daily feedback surveys.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I once lived in Iceland.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Gmail, Dropbox, Asana, and Pocket. I hate Gmail because it’s slow, but I love the others because they provide fast, simple solutions to once-complex problems.

What’s the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’m a big fan of “Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Noah J. Goldstein. It’s structured well, and it helped me make a smooth transition from engineer to manager.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

I love Paul Graham for his clear startup advice. Charlie Munger’s past is a reminder to never give up. And Napoleon’s story always reminds me that even if you’re the best, you still have to take risks, and winning is not guaranteed.


Ash on Twitter: @ashrust
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