Syed Balkhi co-founded OptinMonster in 2013, a tool that helps businesses convert website visitors into email subscribers and customers. Now it’s the leading conversion optimization toolkit used by top brands like NBA, McAfee, TripAdvisor, American Express, etc.
Syed is also the co-founder of MonsterInsights, WPForms, SeedProd, RafflePress, and other small business software. And he’s the creator of WPBeginner, the largest free WordPress resource on the web. With over 10 years of experience, he’s the leading WordPress expert in the industry.
15+ million websites use his software to grow and compete with the big guys. 60+ million people read his blogs every year to grow their website traffic, sales, and conversions.
Syed was born in Karachi, Pakistan. He started his first business when he was 7 years old; selling holiday greeting cards for the Muslim holiday (Eid). Using his mom’s initial funds to start, he tripled her investment within a month.
At age 12, his family immigrated to the United States. Immigrating to the United States brought some of the biggest challenges in his life; learning a new language, making new friends, dealing with racial tensions following 9/11, financial hardships. These difficulties became his motivation to start his online career in 2003 when he was 12 years old.
The early days of his online career were not exciting, as he did a lot of grunt work to help his family make extra money. But, it led to him becoming a 30-year-old award-winning entrepreneur with a strong 8 figure online business.
Where did the idea for OptinMonster come from?
The idea for OptinMonster came about when I was looking for a lead generation and conversion plugin to use on my blog WPBeginner. The plugins that we had used up until that point were buggy, slowed down the site, and were incompatible with other WordPress plugins. So, we built our own plugin and began using it on our site.
Eventually, our readers started asking us what plugin we were using, and when we told them it was custom code, they asked us when it would be released. This led us to launch OptinMonster for WordPress. Later on, we built it as a stand-alone (SaaS) software that worked on all types of websites.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
To make sure my days are productive, I use a system called time blocking. Time blocking is when you plan out each moment of your day in advance and dedicate specific time blocks for certain tasks.
I have a time blocking sheet that lays out what I will be doing every 20 minutes from Monday to Friday. This includes time blocks for meetings, working out, learning, “focus blocks” for working on critical tasks, and so on.
I always end my day by having dinner and spending quality time with my wife and son.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I often bring ideas to life not by starting from scratch, but by taking a good product and making it great. That’s how most of our software was created.
For example, OptinMonster was created because we felt that the solutions on the market already were lacking in various areas. So, we created our own solution and made it better.
You don’t have to start from scratch to bring an idea to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
One trend that excites me is web push notifications. With push notifications, you can send targeted messages straight to a user’s web browser and mobile device to encourage them to return to your site. Push notifications have been around for a while, but they’re getting more popular now.
I first started using push notifications 3 years ago. I quickly realized that the click rate, engagement, and opt-in rate was significantly higher than my email newsletter or any other engagement channel. In fact, push notifications consistently make the top 5 traffic sources for our blog WPBeginner.
We’ve seen such great success with push notifications that I recently acquired PushEngage, a leading push notification software. I’m excited to bring even more powerful solutions to the PushEngage platform and help more publishers and store owners to increase traffic, boost engagement, and generate more sales.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I wake up quite early in the morning, 4 – 4:30 am, which I think helps me be more productive as an entrepreneur. It’s typically much easier to put your head down and get to work when most people are still sleeping. That way, you aren’t interrupted by emails and calls.
I start off the day with a coffee and start tackling the tasks I have listed in my time blocking sheet that I mentioned earlier.
What advice would you give your younger self?
When I first started my online career, I was very focused on providing a service. But I would tell my younger self to focus on offering solutions rather than services. Instead of building and offering everything on my own, I would form strategic alliances that were mutually beneficial. The customer is still able to get everything they want and need, but I wouldn’t have to do it all on my own.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I think it’s best not to take full control when managing a new product and a lot of entrepreneurs disagree with me on this. I’d rather align myself with the best people that I can trust will manage the product. Then, I can spend more of my time growing my business as a whole, and not focusing on managing the product itself.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
One thing that I do over and over and recommend other entrepreneurs do as well is to ask questions! A lot of people are afraid to ask too many questions because they don’t want to look silly or less qualified.
But asking questions is one of the best ways to get better and make big breakthroughs. Plus, it helps the people around you get better too.
One of my mentors said to me: Think of asking questions as a gift to others because it helps transfer knowledge. What you learn today, you’ll likely pass on. When you ask a question in a group setting, you’re giving a gift to others who were afraid to ask, and they’ll always respect you for it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Building a segmented email list is one strategy that has helped me grow my business, and surprisingly a lot of business owners don’t realize how important it is.
Building and nurturing an email list gives your business a targeted list of customers and you have direct communication with these customers. This direct communication can give you valuable feedback about your business, help you learn more about the needs of your audience, drive traffic to your site, generate sales, and more.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve had several failures throughout my career, but I like to look at them as lessons to learn from. One of these failures included creating a fitness website several years ago. It was a complete failure.
But I learned that the reason why it failed was because it wasn’t my passion. I also didn’t hire the right people. So, that taught me to always be passionate about what I’m doing and to find talent that’s passionate and committed to the project as well.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Since I’m in the WordPress industry, a lot of people ask me about starting their own WordPress business. So, one business idea that I can give away is to create niche WordPress themes.
There are so many “all-purpose” WordPress themes on the market, so it will be difficult to stand out. I think there are more opportunities in creating niche themes; think about specific fields such as churches, schools, dentists, etc.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Well, it was more than $100 but I recently bought a treadmill to go under my desk. I’m usually stuck sitting so it’s been a great way to get more consistent movement in my day.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Time Doctor is a tool that I use every day. All of our employees use it as well, but it’s not just a tool to track how much total time you work in a day. It’s a productivity tool that you can use to learn how much time you’re spending on certain tasks so that you can improve your time management and get more done.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
A great book that I recommend is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It starts by teaching you how habits work. Then, after understanding how your habits work, you can learn how to tweak or change them so that you can be more productive and successful in your business and personal life.
What is your favorite quote?
One of my favorite quotes is “When someone tells you it can’t be done, it’s more a reflection of their limitations, not yours!”
Don’t let others decide what you can and can’t do in your business or career. If you believe you can do it, go for it.
- When coming up with a business idea, you don’t need to start from scratch. Take a good product and make it great.
- Always ask questions. It will help you, and the others around you, grow and learn.
- Be passionate about what you’re doing and align yourself with great people.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.