Ishaan Shakunt is the founder of SpearGrowth, a B2B SaaS Marketing agency that helps high-growth companies with Ads and SEO. The company interestingly is a 9-member team, but under Ishaan’s leadership and guidance, it has successfully helped over 20 Seed to Series C funded startups in the IT space generate revenue pipelines worth well over 150M USD. Today,already a year old and powered by a completely remote workforce. Ishaan is an alumnus of KIIT Bhubaneshwar, India, and an actively followed member of LinkedIn and PEAK communities.
Where did the idea for SpearGrowth come from?
Every year, I decide on a vision for myself, and then I create a set of goals (aligned to that vision) that I keep working towards and achieving as I go along. That vision is essentially a life goal depending on the stage of personal and professional growth that I’m at at the start of the year.
With that background, let me take you to 2021. I’d left my job at this huge company where I was working as an SEO specialist + Marketing & CRO Analyst. And quite contrary to my usual way of doing things, when I left, I didn’t have a plan. My vision for the year was clear though – “freedom.”
Freedom: The ability to take a decision and follow through with it.
Now, to stay in line with the vision, I was doing independent consulting, and doing it pretty well (read making awesome money). I was good at consulting and finding clients, and it was extremely freeing.
I’ve also been aggressively working towards becoming a better marketer. I’d already spent a couple of years learning every single digital marketing channel I could lay my hands on. Why? I believed that’s how you became a great marketer.
Then, I realised, great marketers have a deep understanding of marketing strategy. So, that’s what I did. I started digging into resources while also speaking with a lot of mentors and CMOs from different companies to gain insights.
Even as I got better at strategy, something bothered me. The way CMOs said things and the things they said were extremely simple, and yet, they could come up with ideas a lot faster than me It’s not that I couldn’t come up with those ideas, I most definitely could, but I’d probably take a little more time.
Another interesting thing is that not all CMOs I spoke to were as impressive. There were only a handful. One among them was James Gilbert, someone I’ve always looked up to as a marketer. I consider myself extremely lucky that James agreed to get on a 30-min call with me at that time, and by the end of the call, I had a completely new career direction mapped out in front of me.
I distinctly remember that one of the key things he said was, “to understand marketing, you need to understand business.” Another one of his statements that has stuck with me was that, “a CMO is just a business person who happens to specialize in marketing.”
That conversation happened in mid March 2021, and by the 1st of April 2021, I had launched SpearGrowth. I wanted to understand business. I wanted to build a team. I wanted to work in every single department of a company. One year later, today, I can confidently say that building SpearGrowth has been an amazing decision. I’m learning every single day, and now I’m a much better marketer than I was earlier.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I like staying organized. Knowing what my day will exactly look like. To ensure that that happens, I make extensive use of scheduling and calendar tools. I block time for work as well as personal commitments religiously. It helps me stay on track with the to-do’s I set out to complete everyday.
Usually, my work day includes around 6 hours of meeting (roughly), alternating with email and message checking, and collaborating with the team as and when necessary. I try to fit in short breaks where possible to ensure I stay productive along with a little time (if possible) reserved towards my fitness.
Having said that, there are only a handful of days that proceed exactly as planned. Something important just keeps coming up unexpectedly. And working more, or even working efficiently, can only help you to a certain extent. As such, amidst chaos, there’s a certain framework that I follow to ensure that I focus on the things that I actually need to attend to immediately.
I follow a simple framework to maintain productivity:
Look at all tasks that are lined up and identify the ones that can be eliminated. What are the things that I really don’t have to do or shouldn’t be doing (you’d be surprised at how many tasks end up in this category).
Next, I try to figure out if there’s anything from the important stuff that can simply be automated. Can I just buy a tool or software and solve it? Or maybe hire someone to develop an application that can automate it? Automation has actually become very easy with the entire SaaS revolution that we’re a part of.
If I can’t eliminate or automate it, I try outsourcing it to a freelancer who is usually a virtual assistant. But I can only outsource work that’s not business critical. For example, there’s a lot of stuff that only I can and should do in the company. Like networking with people, getting on calls, etc. But other repetitive manual tasks can be done by someone else who I can pay hourly.
Getting to this point means there’s still something left that I haven’t been able to eliminate, automate, or outsource. And there’s probably a lot that’s still left. Then, I start exploring options to hire someone who can do those tasks better than I’m doing them at the moment. This also helps me and the company level up. At this point I also keep thinking if there’s someone in my team I can train to do the task or can someone already take it up.
If none of the above can happen, only then do I actually sit down and start doing the work myself.
Essentially, my productivity system is more about prioritization than anything else.
How do you bring ideas to life?
If it’s something completely new, before having a plan I start executing on it. I speak with people in the industry, start the process of building that idea up. Once I have enough information, I sit down and create a plan.
Once the plan is ready, I put my head down and start executing on it. From time to time, I keep checking if it’s still relevant.
If it isn’t relevant any more, I try to re-strategize before continuing the execution. This helps eliminate any unsurity during execution.
What’s one trend that excites you?
It’s actually something really simple, and the most beautiful thing is that it applies to business as well as real life. It is “being kind.” Everyone has their own way of being kind in personal life, but it is highly appreciated in business too. It’s actually a proven strategy now.
Then there are “Partnerships.” Create the right partnerships with the right companies and people and you’ll scale immensely.
Thirdly, I’m hooked onto the concept of delivering better UX, especially in B2B SaaS since there is such an immense lack of it currently. The expectation of great UX in B2B SaaS is growing every day, which means people need to start doing it more.
And finally, I love the way India is going global. We are successfully creating this mental image all across the world that India is a place where high quality work comes from. I absolutely love that!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Like I said, I like staying organized. Blocking time in my calendar for literally every activity I plan to do in a day is my thing. In addition to internal and client catch ups, I reserve calendar slots to brainstorm, research, and retrospect. I even reserve slots for dinner and exercise (and get subtly trolled by the team for being the guy who needs you to block time in his calendar if you want to talk to him)!
But jokes apart, knowing today what tomorrow is going to look like is something I prefer doing to ensure I don’t miss out on my weekly, monthly and yearly goals. I’ve experienced that this is the most effective strategy to stay productive and motivated, every single day. It also serves as a great framework for prioritization.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stay curious. There’s no way you can know and do everything you want to at the time you want to. But don’t ever stop imagining that you can. Don’t stop exploring or trying out new things. I genuinely believe that making mistakes is the only way we learn. So never shy away from making your fair share of mistakes.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
“The 4 burners theory.” Not a lot of people are convinced that it works, but it actually does. I say that from experience.
Let me walk you through what the theory is.
Imagine that your life is equivalent to a stove with four burners, each burner symbolizing a major aspect of your life.
The first burner = family.
The second burner = friends.
The third burner = health.
The fourth burner = work.
The 4 burners theory says that “in order to be successful, you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.”
Almost everyone I know wishes they could be really successful while retaining all burners. Some are tempted to combine family and friends as one burner. Others want to combine work and health by getting equipment that would make their work a little less immobile (like standing desks).
But they all miss a key bitter truth of life, and it is that life is full of tradeoffs. If you wish to excel with respect to any 2 burners, you will need to dial down your attention on the other two. Yes, you may be able to divide your time between the 4, but then you’ll have to suffice with not reaching your full potential with respect to either of them.
The only solution is to outsource, embrace constraints, and divide your life into seasons wherein each season focuses on a particular burner. That’s the only way to achieve optimal work-life balance.
And with that, I’ll say again that the 4 burners theory is real. It works. You just need to adapt it for your life. Maybe the burners represent different spects of your life for you.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Network. Connecting with the right people and exchanging value is the key to establishing and scaling ANY setup. You can’t run a one-man show forever. You need to collaborate, share, and create the right partnerships.
In fact, at SpearGrowth, we’ve been able to create an amazing partnership program, wherein we’ve teamed up with some of the best service providers and agencies in the world and engaged in an exchange of referrals. Though the initiative is still in its initial stages, it has already started showing results. We’ve been able to refer some great clients to our partners and vice versa.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Like I said, I swear by the power of networking and partnerships. In the macro-economic situation the world is currently facing, and amidst unprecedented market conditions that can go sideways quickly, if there’s one thing that can help businesses stay afloat, it’s partnerships. Strategic partners work like your business’ extended limbs. Once you’ve established and nourished them the right way, they continue to deliver value despite global situations. The same goes for networking.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I started SpearGrowth, I wanted to build a business but I also wanted to maintain my freedom. Today I realize that that was a little unfounded. Even unrealistic.
What I tried to do was create a very small team of people, each of whom would wear multiple hats. Of course, that essentially meant that everyone in the team was exceptionally talented.
On paper it sounded like the best idea ever. We would have a small team, which meant we would have low overheads. Everyone would be amazing and we wouldn’t have to worry about all the admin work that usually comes with running a large company. It would also mean that at the end of the day we would make a huge load of money.
Now, the problem with such a setup arises when a team member is sick or has to take a leave or maybe even leave the company. What happens in situations like this is that because there are only a few people managing everything, everyone is doing multiple things. Which essentially means none of the team members is replaceable or can take on the work of other people.
I didn’t realize this until one of our core team members actually left the company due to a personal emergency. And, the company broke. It went through a pretty rough patch.
As a learning from that, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again, we’ve rebuilt the entire company from scratch. Reimagined the structure brick by brick.
Today, even though we still have a huge focus on getting individuals that are really, really valuable (which can either be a part of great hiring or having an extreme focus on training, growth and mentorship), we’ve not complicated the roles as much as we did before. This means that if someone wants to take a break, they actually can. Or if someone wants to change carriers, the company won’t fold.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There are a lot of micro products you could connect just by connecting multiple APIs, and that doesn’t take a lot of time.
For example, you could just merge a CRM with a data enrichment software to achieve one specific purpose – whenever someone changes their job, it would update their new position in the CRM. This setup would then help you filter out junk data from your CRM, while also allowing you to run campaigns to people who already trust you, even those who are in a new company, and maybe even onboard those people onto your platform again. Similarly, there are a lot of things you can think of with just connecting APIs.
You could also think of using Google Sheets as the platform to send data to or analyze data using. Very easy to create something very valuable that a lot of people will want.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
There are 4 things that I can immediately think of:
1. A great webcam: I’m on video calls 6 hours a day. So having a good webcam just makes a lot of sense for me.
2. A Uke: Since I spend a lot of time staring at screens, I use the ukulele as something that I can look at in between work sessions.
3. An awesome mic: Same as the webcam, but it’s also something that you can see on the camera. I’ve actually received a lot of compliments on having a great setup because of having a killer mic.
4. Hard-cases for all of our tech: I’ve been traveling a lot this year, and since I take a lot of the tech I have along with me, buying hard-cases for all the different things just helps me protect all of it and prevent things from breaking.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
AppBlock: I get distracted pretty easily and end up opening random apps which I can access all the time. So when it’s work time, I just block the apps using AppBlock software. Also, when it’s late at night, it’s easy to not sleep just because I’m on some apps. With this software I can just block the apps off from my mobile and grab shut eye.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Anything you want” by Derek Sivers. It’s a super hooking account of how Sivers started, built, and sold off “CD Baby.”
You can wrap up the book in a couple of hours. It’s that engaging and amazing. And once you’ve read the book, I’d recommend you to definitely go and watch some of his interviews. He’s a man who’s truly happy in life and he truly is doing whatever he wants. Just his way of life is something I think everyone should learn from.
What is your favorite quote?
“Live before you die”
- Never stop wanting to grow and become better. Even if you think you’re at the peak of your career, keep trying to look for growth opportunities.
- Plan ahead and try your absolute best to stick to your plan. Use the right tools when you have to in order to do that.
- Eliminate -> Automate -> Outsource -> Hire -> Do
- Stay curious. Don’t stop exploring or trying out new things.
- Connect with the right people and establish the right partnerships.
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.