Sohin Shah – Founder of Valuation App/Co-founder of iFunding

I have my wall painted with dry-erase paint; this is where I write down my thoughts, ideas, and lessons learned. Seeing this every day when I wake up and go to sleep keeps me in sync with my vision and the lessons I’ve learned; it helps me stay passionate.

Sohin Shah is an entrepreneur and one of the early adopters of crowdfunding. He successfully crowdfunded Valuation App with 57 backers in 2012 and went on to start iFunding, which is now one of the leading real estate crowdfunding platforms in the world. He is extremely passionate about entrepreneurship and loves discussing new ideas.

Where did the ideas for Valuation App and iFunding come from?

When I was working as an investment banker, I asked my managing director why there weren’t any apps for performing company valuations. We use apps for everything from stock research to trading, but there was no app to rely upon for financial modeling. His response was that he would never use a 99-cent app to crunch numbers for a deal worth millions; he’d rather build an Excel model. That served as inspiration to take up the challenge and make the world realize a product that it hadn’t dared to envision previously.

However, as someone who had never built an app, my challenge was twofold: First, how could I get the money to build this app? Second, how could I make sure that my app was noticed amongst the millions of apps in the App Store? The most logical way seemed to be making sure that people had a vested interest in seeing me succeed. So I crowdfunded my app by asking friends, family, and strangers for $11 in return for equity in my app.

It worked. I ended up raising just under $4,000 from 57 backers. The app was moderately recognized, but my efforts for being so innovative in financing the app were applauded — back in 2012, crowdfunding was novel.

That’s how I met my current business partner. We brainstormed and leveraged our respective skill sets of crowdfunding expertise and real estate expertise to start iFunding. Today, it’s the most successful real estate crowdfunding platform in the world.

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

I wake up at 4 a.m. every day and work with my programmers in India for the first two to three hours. I then meditate for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes by using some very helpful breathing techniques. I get ready after that and have my masala chai while Skyping my family in India to make sure I’m always connected to them.

After that, I read The Wall Street Journal to keep up with news and send emails to my team on what our day looks like and what our priorities are. I leave for the office and try to read a book during the train ride. Once I arrive at the office, I work until evening. I come home and watch TV shows or note my day’s experiences, realizations, and thoughts in a rough blog, which can eventually turn into a blog post after days of record-keeping.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Once I get an idea, I’m quick to sketch it out. Ideas have a very limited shelf life. What I mean by that is if you let ideas stay in a PowerPoint or Word document, they will suffocate or probably never see the light of day. Also, you won’t really be motivated to pursue them until you give them some form of life. That’s why I strongly believe that ideas need to make it to the real world ASAP.

It’s crucial to build a prototype as soon as you can. The beauty of this is that once you have a prototype, you’re less inclined to take the easy way out or entertain excuses for why this wouldn’t be a good opportunity, why you cannot do it, etc. You’ll see the prototype as a constant reminder of potential, and you will push yourself toward making it happen.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

It’s exciting to see that a lot more individuals are ditching corporate jobs to pursue their dreams. Recently, I met with Shiv Puri, co-owner of Bombay Sandwich Co., who quit his job on Wall Street to pursue his lifelong passion for the hospitality industry. Knowing that more and more individuals are taking the leap and giving up well-paying but menial jobs is really exciting.

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

One thing that makes me more productive is the concept of integration by parts/work breakdown structure. Many tasks can seem overwhelming, so I always make sure to first identify the due date. Then, I break the task into meaningful subtasks and pace the execution on a regular basis to make sure I have enough breaks in between to avoid getting overwhelmed. This helps a lot with boring, difficult, or burdensome tasks. The end result is that I end up being a lot more productive than my peers.

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

I haven’t really worked in the real world. I’ve never been the type who can work under someone. I have been very clear that I want the freedom to execute my ideas, learn from them, and reiterate.

However, in my limited work experience as an investment banking analyst, I learned that the world is irrational. Don’t beat yourself up if the outcome isn’t what you envisioned. Often, we work hard and do everything by the book, but others cannot appreciate our effort. This may be because they have had a bad day or are under pressure. Alternatively, you may be underprepared but receive very favorable reviews from your senior on a job. This may be because he’s having a good day.

Learn to let go and stay focused. Many events are out of your control. Don’t beat yourself up or obsess about it. Accept it, and focus on doing your job right.

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

I would document everything. It’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur.

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

I have my wall painted with dry-erase paint; this is where I write down my thoughts, ideas, and lessons learned. Seeing this every day when I wake up and go to sleep keeps me in sync with my vision and the lessons I’ve learned; it helps me stay passionate.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Hard work and transparency. Startups are disrupting established players by offering more transparency to their consumers in every industry. We have adopted this ethic at iFunding and strive for extreme transparency in every aspect of our business. Counter to popular belief that increased transparency may raise more questions, we’ve learned that people respect your work ethic and let you move forward with plans.

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

Shortly after receiving a lot of traction on Valuation App and iFunding, I started a third website called I still believe that the concept is quite novel, yet my biggest mistake was that I was stretched for time and couldn’t do justice to all the ideas I was working on.

I decided to stop focusing on Crowdformers, admitted to myself that Valuation App was a passionate hobby — nothing more — and focused 100 percent on iFunding. I have had many more ideas, but I’ve learned not to pursue them all and stay true to one. Hopefully, someday I’ll be wealthy enough to invest in passionate entrepreneurs who could work on the ideas I would like to see executed.

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

Today, we come across a number of apps that help us keep track of our tasks/to-do lists. These apps are very well received, yet they focus on what needs to be done. How about cherishing what has been done or achieved? How often do we sit down and focus on the good events, moments, and memories from a day? Probably very rarely.

My envisioned app allows individuals to make deposits into a hypothetical bank, which is your Happy Bank. You make deposits about whatever has made you happy during the day, and you can tag individuals who were associated with these deposits.

The home screen displays all my deposits, from most recent to least recent. The second screen shows how a deposit is made. It has the ability to mention individuals who were part of the deposit or memory and tag them via their Facebook or Twitter accounts. If I click on the name of one of the associated individuals from screen two, it will show me all the deposits made by that individual (i.e., all my deposited memories with that person).

Envision having data spanning days, then having charts that show the numbers of deposits made by an individual to your Happy Bank on a weekly or monthly basis. It will make you realize who truly makes you happy and empower you to cherish those individuals.

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

One of the challenges I have been facing is controlling my passion for a number of things that I believe in. Being passionate is good, but being extremely passionate can often make you come across as annoying. I joined The Art of Living course in New York City on a friend’s recommendation, a five-day workshop focused on spirituality, yoga, and meditation. It’s helped me focus my enthusiasm.

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

Skype: It has helped me overcome geographical barriers with my team in Moldova and Bombay and facilitates easy real-time communication daily.
Producteev: My entire team uses this tool to collaborate, schedule, and prioritize tasks.
Salesforce: We use this to log and track new customers and leads. I love how it helps you identify bottlenecks in operational processes once you use it regularly.
Zopim: We use this to chat with site visitors. I love that it provides analytics on every visitor.
MailChimp: We use this to send automated communication and newsletters to our clients.

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

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson — this book teaches you everything you need to learn about life, management, and leadership.

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

Alicia Syrett inspires me. I also love reading Startup Quote when I need inspiration.


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Sohin Shah on Twitter: @sohinshah1
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