Always put people first, and your business second if you have to make a decision between the two.
Zaheer Dodhia is a serial entrepreneur who has successfully led several startups from ground zero to growth since 1997. He’s always been one to believe in the pursuit of growth and cut through the clutter with unique business ideas. After the launch of his first venture during his MBA program, he’s had many more successes in building online companies.
His business niche has always been in graphic design, search engine optimization (SEO), and DIY business solutions but that doesn’t mean he’s not open to ideas. Currently, he heads a DIY logo maker company called LogoDesign.net which allows users to create logos on the go.
He’s a first generation Asian entrepreneur who’s proud of his Pakistani heritage and loves Urdu classical ghazals. He lives with his wife, Hala Dodhia and two boys, Danial and Aidan in New Jersey, U.S.A.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
Graphic design is not a new business niche for me but this time round I wanted to do something different.
While searching the internet, I realized most competitors who provided logo makers were focused on offering simple icons and a few fonts slapped together for users to create a logo. I, on the other hand, wanted to create a software that offers users the opportunity to experience the design process rather than just another logo maker.
Of course the challenge was to create a tool simple enough for lay users to enjoy using, and complex enough for professionals to find it worth a look. That’s how the idea for LogoDesign.net struck me.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts with one-hour jog around the park near my house. That’s the time I brainstorm, collect my thoughts and plan out what needs to be done. These are usually big chunks of work like a brand I need to get developed, a section of a website to be revamped or certain type of marketing strategy the company needs to pursue.
Then when I arrive at the office, it’s time for fielding the calls – lots of calls. I like to touch base with all my team members who are the heads of the different business units and departments. Instead of answering emails all day long I like to take updates and answer their email queries on the phone. This helps cut down emailing time, and also any misunderstanding.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas are a dime a dozen, very clichéd but it’s true. The only idea that is worth mentioning are those that are executable. I have sort of a mental checklist which I often use when I get an idea or someone suggests one.
• Does this idea already exist online?
• How many competitors are there?
• Who are the competitors?
• What sort of traction will I get if I launch it?
• How much resources will I have to dedicate for launching it?
• What’s the return and how long will it take to start getting it?
Once all the checks are in place with facts and figures, then I decide to pursue it or not. I share it with team members to get a feel of its success or failure ratio. If all are on board then I give a deadline for completion and send it to my teams to work on it.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Growth of internet users and buyers are increasing, which means there will be more businesses going online requiring logos to represent their brands.
But best of all we are more excited about the growth in mobile commerce. This means there will be more ecommerce apps launched to serve mobile users. The business of logo design has never been better.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Talk my way through to find the solution.
In my line, I have to work with lot of technical people for designing and developing websites for different brands. Sometimes issues are not that difficult to resolve yet they take a lot of time to get what I want. The only way is to talk to them, understand their jargons, processes, then make the executive decision and guide them to what I want done.
The reason I do this is because instead of waiting for the team to figure out on their own with trials and errors, and emailing back and forth, I find it more productive to go straight to the point by talking to them straight off.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Never put all your eggs in one basket. This expression has never rung so true until I made a couple of investment mistakes by dedicating all my resources into single projects, and lost. It’s a heartening time in a businessman’s life when you see all your money go down the drain. I wouldn’t make that mistake again, and I would definitely advise younger entrepreneurs like my young self, to never put everything into one project. Spread your risks so you have less to lose if a project fails.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Logo design software will die soon. I don’t agree with this.
There is sort of a war between those who promote logo software like us, and those who vouch for custom logo design. While I believe that custom design will always take precedence for well established companies that look for trademark and copyrights, there are tons of online/offline companies, bloggers, webmasters and startups who are looking for a brand identity without the hefty price tag. Logo makers will never die because they serve this category of the crowd, who are startups and just testing the waters out. Until they get stability and can afford custom designs, logo makers are their best bet.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Relationships first. Always put people first, and your business second if you have to make a decision between the two. For example if I have to make the choice of doing a favor for a team member by lending a sum of money, and saving a couple hundred dollars, I’d choose the former. The gratitude, loyalty and trust that forges with this kind of behavior will help lead your business through thick and thin without you having to invest anything in it. I would recommend every entrepreneur to try it out, and you’ll be surprised by the results.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
SEO is the key to successful online business, and I never go without having one for my sites. It’s sort of a protocol for me that whenever I launch a business online, I have to first create an SEO strategy including on-page, off-page, links, and social media awareness.
So, it starts with keywords I want to target, the commercial value of it, and how to incorporate into the content. Then the content gets written while the design and development phase go into action. When the site is live, all these are reviewed and checked.
We then start our digital marketing process by creating awareness of our brand as well as launch high quality content to help earn backlinks for the site.
This process is ongoing so we keep reviewing it until we get to the metrics right, which I tell you is never ending.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
For any online business to be successful it’s all about the search engine whether you are doing paid marketing or organic. Two of my biggest brands got hit as a result of the Google Panda/Penguin updates in 2011-12 which practically wiped us out although we were not alone in this. I didn’t know what to do because it was the first time that happened and no one had a clue how to fix it. Since those sites were the bread and butter of the company, I had to decide to swim or sink.
Like any good entrepreneur worth his salt, I chose to swim.
Even though I consider myself an SEO expert but for this I had to resort to external resources for help. After extensive work, finally our brands were pulled out of the Google penalty and from then on we changed our SEO strategy for good.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Become a YouTuber, in the lingo of my kids.
I see great potential in this business idea as YouTube channel owners are the super stars of the online world today. Just log online from anywhere – Google, app, Facebook etc. – you’ll see someone or the other sharing a YouTube video. And the surprising thing is, those videos are not even created by professionals.
You just have to talk about what you love most and know how to handle a camera. Set your channel up with regular video uploads, and try get as many subscribers as you can to increase viewership. Subscribe to YouTube pay program, and you have a solid business launched within days.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Recently, I spent around $100 for a ticket for a local business community meet up. Got to know how these small businesses are unaware of the online world. I was happy to help them understand what opportunities they’d get by being online. It felt good having to talk to so many business owners and solving their problems.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Asana is my go-to tool for project management. When you’re managing multiple teams and most of them overseas then it makes sense to have a centralized system to keep a check and balance of delegated tasks, status of project and deliverables. I use Asana to coordinate with my web, sales, and marketing teams in particular to avoid back and forth emails.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Recently I got this book as a gift from a friend and was blown away by it. Not only you get to learn what big data is about but also what it is capable of, including the dark side of it. I would definitely recommend business owners to give a read to “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think” by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier.
What is your favorite quote?
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
There is so much more than just selling to a customer. Create an experience, build relationship and learn from your unhappy customers. They will help you build your business empire.
• Organize your day by getting your mind organized first thing in the morning.
• Nothing wrong with old fashion phone call to get things done.
• Always have a strategy in place before executing an idea. Test it out among team members first if you have to.
• Relationships with people matter more than business deals.
• The online world has so much potential yet at the same time many pitfalls. Just tread carefully.