Ashik Ahmed – CEO of Deputy

Perfection is something you will never achieve so don’t build in an attempt to make it perfect. You just need to start somewhere.

Ashik Ahmed is the co-founder, CTO and CEO of the people management solution Deputy. He graduated from the University of Melbourne with a BCS in Computer Science and has over ten years experience in software application architecture roles in various industries ranging from aviation, online merchant services, and SaaS.

Where did the idea for Deputy come from?

The idea for Deputy stemmed out of internal invention. My co-founder Steve Shelley built a business in aviation, which included an overly complicated workforce. He went through a lot of headache, hassle, and suffering. Deputy was born in response to solving the inefficiencies he faced. In the end, Steve was able to retire while his business continued to grow without all of his blood, sweat, and tears. This reality is what we want for every entrepreneur and business owner.

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

I live in Sydney and often have early morning meetings with Deputy’s U.S. team in Atlanta so my day typically starts around 5:30 a.m. At 7 a.m. I do family breakfast and spend time with my wife and son before getting him ready for daycare. By 9 a.m, I’m in product meetings with R&D, dev, and design teams and there’s always customer commitments. By noon, I get to my emails (I usually receive over 150 emails a day). Then I try and squeeze in an afternoon game of table tennis before I head out around 6 p.m to pick up my wife and son. After dinner, I try and respond to emails and attend to other work items before going to bed by 11 p.m.

How do you bring ideas to life?

One of the things I do every night is to find time to go through Deputy’s support tickets and customer chats. I read hundreds of conversations to find out what our customers want and need. This practice helps with ideas since Deputy is very customer focused. Our whole value proposition is that we are second in charge to a business owner—the idea that we are the customer’s “deputy.”

What’s one trend that excites you?

Machine learning. It is the biggest thing that will happen in workforce planning this year. I’m excited about the innovation involved in the world of AI, how it automates tasks that used to bog down business owners in the back office. Our goal is to bring this type of innovation to smaller businesses to make a real difference.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive?

I try to keep all communication as short as possible. I avoid meetings, if possible, as they can be a huge waste of time. If we do have meetings, we walk in with a clear objective. It’s about being respectful of other people’s time.

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

My first job was as an hourly paid shift worker at Hungry Jacks in 1997. I earned $5.22 an hour and tips were not accepted. I don’t think it was the worst job, but I believe that it could have been better, which is something that inspires me even today.

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

In the first two years, we were very careful about releasing our product, and we waited too long. We should have taken more risks earlier and gone to the customer straight away for feedback. Even if they hated our product and laughed at it, we would have had access to valuable feedback. I believe that if you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, then you’ve waited too long.

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

Help others. When I put my CEO hat on, I think about how I can make the people at Deputy more successful. When I put my CTO hat on, I think about how I can make our customers’ lives better.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Find good partners and build your business in their slipstream rather than spending your own money. In the beginning, we grew our business without a sales and marketing team. Instead, we focused on building a compelling integration with Xero and Gusto. It worked so well that it made the experience of using Xero and Gusto better for their own customers as well.

What is one failure you had and how did you overcome it?

We waited too long to launch our first version. Ever since then we’ve been much agiler. Now we release early and get customer feedback. Perfection is something you will never achieve so don’t build in an attempt to make it perfect. You just need to start somewhere.

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

I think there is huge potential to tap into VR headsets in the hotel and trip planning industry. When I book a holiday, it’s quite a bit of trouble choosing the right hotel from static pictures. Normally I use booking or Trivago with supplemental support from TripAdvisor. Instead of guessing what accommodations will be like from photographs, I’d like to put on a VR headset and experience what the room feels like at a range of different times of the day. Additional what the amenities, pool, shower, lobby, actually feel like.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why? 

The flowers I bought for my wife on her birthday.

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

There are about 60 different things I touch on a daily basis. I use Facebook and Twitter in the morning. Google Analytics, GitHub, and Salesforce during the day. Then in the evening, I use Intercom to go through the chats and tickets of the day before checking LinkedIn.

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

The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. This book is great at showing you the difference between good and great. It also talks about the challenges and how to survive in the world of technology. I feel like I’m living it every single day.

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

Steve Jobs and Lars Dalgaard are two that are top of mind.

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Lessons Learned

(Blurbs and ideas summarized and sometimes just cut and pasted by the IdeaMensch crew.)

  • Go through all support tickets on a nightly basis. This helps you stay truly in touch with your customers.
  • Keep all communications as short as possible. Avoid meetings if possible. If you do have meetings, establish a clear objective.
  • Take risks earlier and go to your customers sooner for feedback. If you are not embarrassed by your first product release, then you have waited too long.
  • Find good partners and build your business in their slipstream rather than spending your own money. Look for opportunities to build compelling integrations.
  • Read “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz.