Podcast Episode 41

Bootstrapping Brilliance and Strategic Scaling

In this insightful conversation, Saquib Kothawala, co-founder of Summarize, shares invaluable insights into the journey of bootstrapping a startup and scaling it strategically. Saquib emphasizes the critical importance of understanding data privacy and governance as foundational steps, followed by focusing on delivering value to customers. He discusses the benefits of bootstrapping, highlighting the freedom it provides in decision-making and the ability to build on one’s own terms. Saquib also offers practical advice on content creation and podcast marketing strategies, showcasing the collaborative potential between podcasting and tech entrepreneurship. With a focus on thoughtful growth and customer satisfaction, Saquib provides a roadmap for aspiring entrepreneurs navigating the dynamic landscape of tech startups. 

Saquib Kothawala, Co-Founder at SummarAIze

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Introduction to the Tech Business Roundtable Podcast

Ryan Davies: Welcome everyone to the Tech Business Roundtable podcast show. This is a podcast show dedicated to shining a spotlight on tech innovators, entrepreneurs, founders, and the compelling narratives behind the movements they’ve established. I’m your host, Ryan Davies, and I’m hosting today’s discussion on Bootstrapping Brilliance and Strategic Scaling with Saquib Kothawala. Saquib, Thanks so much for joining us here today.

Saquib: Hey Ryan. I am great to be here.

Saquib Kothawala’s Journey and Inspiration

Ryan Davies:  Really excited to kind of dive in with you on this because I think it’s a really unique thing for our listeners who are craving more information on this because it’s certainly a unique journey. It’s a very challenging journey that some founders take, and I’m just excited because I know you’re right, kind of immersed in this right now, but for a background for our audience, Saquib runs AI and data engineering services company GuruOps and is the co-founder of SummarAIze and AI product company is a seasoned technology leader Saquib could, possesses extensive experience in leading cross-functional teams to successfully deliver high-quality products within very specified deadlines and budget constraints. Over the past two years, he’s been at the helm of teams constructing data platforms using AWS technologies, is responsible for managing a team of data engineers and scientists, and really is a primary focus on fostering their career growth. I know you. You’re extremely passionate about teaching and mentoring, and that kind of bleeds through into everything that you do as part of your culture and strategy, but let’s start with the beginning. I would love for you to share kind of the inspiration behind starting GuruOps SummarAIze and really venture into the AI and data engineering space.

Saquib: Let’s do it. So maybe we can rewind it back to 2020. So that’s when the pandemic hit, and around that time, I was working for this great company called CWG in Toronto, Ontario. I got a chance there to learn from the great leaders and practitioners and, work with some excellent clients and got a chance to lead projects, learn how to build software, deliver, and scale teams, but as the pandemic hit, I got a bit saturated, a bit tired of doing the same thing over and over and I thought it was time to strike out on my own. So without a plan, really, I just, you know, handed in my two weeks because one of our major projects had wrapped up, and I figured out that I would figure it out. So, this was in April. I handed it in, and I started building products because I have an engineering background. So, I just started building and launching a bunch of products. There was a bootstrapping movement at the time, Peter Levels led by Peter Levels at the time. So I just kind of followed that, built a few different things, and launched them, and that’s when I met my co-founder for SummarAIze. Actually, Jay Desai and we built another product together called Bolo.FM and it was really exciting to build with him and not build a solo. We built it and launched it, but we didn’t really have a way to monetize it, given the way the product was. So we worked on it for a little bit, and then, you know, we kind of stopped working on it, and around that time, I thought, let’s get back into consulting. I had GuruOps, the name registered, and everything. So I’m like, OK, let’s do this, reached out to my network and got a little bit of work coming in. So that started to pay our bills again for my family and me and continue to do that up until the beginning of this year 2023 when ChatGPT came out, and Jay launch SummarAIze using no quote tools for the podcasting space. So what SummarAIze does is just to give you an overview. If you upload your podcast file to it, it will create all of the marketing assets that you need to market it, such as LinkedIn posts, Twitter posts, blog posts, etc. Jay asked me to join him with this enterprise and that was a no-brainer because I’d already worked with them. Really got along. I thought we worked really well together. So we started building. We built it up using AWS and other such tools and have been bootstrapping it since. So we got it up to about $3000 in revenue as well $1500 of which is recurring subscription-based revenue, and yeah, we continue to grow it since.

Benefits of Bootstrapping

Ryan Davies:  That’s just a great kind of insight for our listeners here for the conversation ahead in terms of, again, like you said, bootstrapping, successful scaling, and being able to manage that balance and bootstrapping. You know, like you said, there was a wave of it, but it still is a relatively unique approach. With that in mind, what factors led you to the decision to bootstrap your tech businesses and, you know, how is it really helped from where you did it previously to now to help shape that culture and direction of what you’re doing.

Saquib:  The main driver for bootstrapping is that you just enjoy building more than fundraising in building products, more than building decks and talking to investors prefers talking to customers than talking to investors. There’s no natural synergy for raising funds. The challenging part with bootstrapping tends to be the cash flow, right? You need to be able to sustain yourself while you’re bootstrapping it, and the companies are making enough money that can pay salaries. So that is a really challenging part. And that’s where GuruOps comes in which, you know, we continue to build as well in parallel, and it provides that income. It’s a services business. So, it provides that income and allows us to funnel that into bootstrapping SummarAIze.

Ryan Davies: I think that’s fantastic. You know, when you’re talking about these early entrepreneur journeys and every entrepreneurial journey has major challenges, obviously. I think you touched on it, right? It’s that balance a little bit, that work-life balance if you will, from the financial side, but some of the other initial hurdles you may have faced while bootstrapping and you know how you’ve overcome them, any good early triumph stories that kind of stand out for you. 

Saquib: I mean, the crimes have been just people paying us cash or pulling out their credit cards and then giving us money. The first time that happened was such a rush, and it continues to be up until now. Every time we convert a new customer, that’s a big win. Even though each customer is in millions of dollars, the rush you get from each one of them is huge. Additionally, for SummarAIze, we’ve had people really love the product. We’ve had people create LinkedIn posts for us without us asking, create videos, and share them on social media without us asking and just seeing this out in the wild for the first time. It’s incredible. It’s amazing to see someone like it enough to take the time to not only use it and pay us but also create a video and share it with their audience.

Ryan Davies:  I mean, that’s just one of those things, right? Everyone’s first dollar is so important to just like you said, to see that success come in that way and get those organic, truly organic reviews and organic thank yous and things like that. It just changes in a different way that doesn’t hit the ledger sheets, too, right? From that, being able to build your culture and your just the overall like team dynamic and happiness behind it, and I know you kind of focus on, like you mentioned, that a bit of a customer-centric approach, it would be from this side of things, but with the tech industry being so dynamic and changing and again, you’re in AI and we’re talking about scalability. Do you have any, you know, specific strategies or ways that you make sure that you’re staying ahead of those market trends and being able to meet that customer satisfaction to keep that growth coming?

Saquib: Well, we really focus on the customer. What is the reason the customer uses it as we think about jobs to be done, and how can we save the most time for the customer? How can we make their life as easy as possible, given the work that we help them do? That’s potentially the primary focus in all things, and as we make decisions, we look at them through that lens and prioritize and spend energy, money, and time building things that will really move the needle for the customer.

Rayan Davies :  You mentioned as well about you know, finding the right co-founder with you, building the right team around you. The strength of networking. I know you’re a big believer in that as well and it’s a big part of everything that you do is again mentoring and growing network from that perspective. Talk to our audience a little bit about, you know, assembling that right team and that right network and how critical it is to be able to be successful and maybe some of the qualities that you would look for in a strong network and a strong teammate.

Saquib:   I found my co-founder on the internet, really. So we are really kind of geography. He lives out in Texas. I live in Toronto, but as we started talking initially about, you know because we were both looking for co-founders at the time, we started talking, we just hit it off. It just made sense to kind of work together based on personal chemistry and, we built it up through there. In terms of building the right team, I don’t know if I have a prescription for that or any specific checklist that I look for, but basically, what you first want to verify is that this person works with you well, whether you know, it’s easy to get what you’re saying across to them. They understand without you having to explain too much and worry about if you’re, you know, saying the right things or not. There just has to be a natural fit, and they should understand what you’re saying. So, as we build the team for SummarAIze, we’ve hired a designer who does absolutely fantastic work. He’s based out of India. We are hiring BAs for the same purpose and with the same guidelines. Do they understand very quickly what we’re talking about when we give them anything to do, any projects, or any direction? And then as you bring people in and then you find that they pass this initial test, it’s about helping them grow in their own careers, right? Because everyone is out to grow for themselves as well as anything for the company and for the mission that you have. So you have to figure out and identify what makes your teammates tick how you help them achieve the goals that they have, and how you learn about their goals in the first place. As you do this, people, you know, tend to stick around and, you know, tend to build something of value.  

Rayan Davies:  I like that. You said, like your businesses have a customer-centric approach in order to be successful, and your leadership style has a, you know, coworker or colleague-centric approach to be able to make sure that their success is enabled and that you’re there to support them and really focus on their growth. So, you know, again, you’ve got high retention rates, and you’re really, really focused on what’s going to make them successful because, ultimately, it’s going to make you successful. So I think that’s just a great piece of advice from that side. You know, SummarAIze, I mean, has AI right in the name there, and it focuses on AI products. A lot of our listeners are either in the AI space or, more notably. Also, they are looking to incorporate AI into either their approach or their business, but maybe you can share some insights into your approach when to product development from ideation to market launch and how you can ensure that what you’re doing in the AI that you are using is really again, customer-centric and meant to meet the customer needs. 

Saquib: So integrating AI is a big topic these days. Lots and lots of people’s minds and how do you go about doing it effectively and lots of concerns around with the two. SummarAIze, which we launched, was built from the ground up to work with these AI companies but for a more, you know, an older size that wasn’t built for that or an older organization that doesn’t have that baked in. How do you go about leveraging AI? And there are quite a few problems to be solved. There is the organizational piece and how you get everyone in the organization thinking and talking about AI effectively. Now, how do you get them moving on it effectively? There’s a security piece. It’s like if you share your data with these third parties, what kind of protections you have in place so that you’re not sharing data that is very sensitive or very important to your organization, then go building products, and how do you go about build these products in a way that actually drive the needle or move the needle for your business and you know, help your customers at the end of the day and end up making more money for the business. These are the kind of major concerns you want to be, you want to have in mind as you go about it. A lot of leaders that I talk to these days, I find that what is on their mind is, let’s figure out a way to integrate AI. But, you know, they can have a kind of piecemeal approach to all these other questions that come up, but how do you drive value with it? How do you make it safe and secure, and how do you get your organization working with it effectively? I think if you appear someone out there looking to figure out where to start. What is the first thing you could do to make some progress towards this goal? I would suggest cataloging your data. Think about all the data your organization has that gives you an edge over your competition or over the industry overall, and think about where it live, who owns it, how sensitive it is, and how effectively can you move that data around to make sure that you have it available for AI. That’s kind of the first step. Once you solve this problem and once you have your head wrapped around this, you’re halfway there. The other part, you can hire people to do it, you can hire companies and agencies, but this core thing of how do you, what data do you have? That’s what you need to figure out initially, and the second most important thing is how do you expect this data to provide value to your customers and to your company if you’re gonna unlock these two things, the privacy and governance part, and the organizational part, these can be solved rather easily. We’re talking about bootstrapping and scalability. 

Rayan Davies:  I think that it’s just incredibly important when we’re talking about that as well. You mentioned about in there about growth, adding VAs, adding a designer, adding different team members, and expansion to your footprint and what you’re doing. It’s always incredibly challenging to know how and when right? That’s kind of a big thing from that perspective, and I think bootstrapping, you want to have cost efficiency in mind, you want to make sure that you’re doing, making the right moves because each one has is very impactful. For you, when you’re looking at scalability, are there triggers that you have or how and when to do it, you know, strategies that you’ve deployed that you think are really strong for when to kind of continue to scale up and make that next stage and impact?

Saquib:  I can talk about our experience with SummarAIze. I haven’t gone in and thought of it at a higher level to come up with generalized strategies, but with SummarAIze, this is the journey, right? We built the first version with no good tools and made a couple of sales. I think we have $50 in revenue, and then we decided, ok, there, it seems to be a there there, let’s build it, spent another month or so building it, you know, using React in AWS, and I just built, I’m not a front end person, I’m not a designer, but I just built something that did the job. It didn’t look great and looked pretty ugly, but it did the job, and we made some more sales off of that and then as we kept looking at it, like this looks pretty terrible. Let’s hire a designer. Now we have some money in the bank. Let’s have a designer get the designs created, and we did that. So now then we had designs, then we started implementing those designs over time and we’re still in that process because, you know, we again, it’s for prioritizing. So, for example, our results page, we got it done ASAP, you know, the design design that I built within a couple of weeks. The billing page is languishing. It does its job; it could look prettier, but it’s fine for now. So it’s about, I guess the principle that we think about is how do we move the needle in, in terms of delivering value to the customer. What is the thing that would make a customer’s life easier? This is what we do first, and then other things we do, like the billing page, for example, it requires a lot of love at this point. It has not gotten it since the entire year since we started. So we do need to update but even if it doesn’t, sometimes what happens with this is with our stripe integration, it tends to be not the best. So sometimes it just doesn’t work, and people reach out, they’re like, I’m not able to add minutes. We send them a stripe link, and they pay for it. We add the minutes and it’s good to go, but the results page is, looks great. The chat widget looks great, and that’s where we invested. The money is like, how do we deliver more value to the customer, and how do we make them wanting to keep coming back to us? Even if it doesn’t work for them, we want to set the expectation that if something doesn’t work as well, it will start working better in the future. If you tell us that you want it to work better, it’ll work better even sooner. You will pray. So these are the kind of expectations we want to set with our customers, and you really want them to love us, we really want them to love the product, and this actually goes back into the, one of the advantages of bootstrapping as long as you can sustain yourself, you have an income coming in from elsewhere. You can really take your time to get building a product that customers love because you’re not focused on making money as quickly as possible. So this is kind of the long game that we are hoping to play here, and yeah, I mean, everything so far suggests that this will work.

What’s Next for Saquib Kothawala and SummarAIze

Rayan Davies:  I think that makes a lot of sense and I think, you know, we’re talking about getting the benefits of bootstrapping and the strategy behind it. I’d love for, you know, as we’re kind of closing off here, to get your take on maybe some of the benefits of bootstrapping. Are there reasons? You know, why are you happy you took this route and some of the freedoms or things that it’s been able to provide you?

Saquib:   I mean, the benefit of bootstrapping is that you are really your own boss. You don’t have to answer to anybody else, and you don’t have to give anyone else reports. It’s just me and my co-founder. We coordinate and talk over text messages and make decisions; we move forward, and it’s just us. We don’t have any third party that we are answerable to, and that gives us a lot of freedom, right? We can take risks and make decisions. I have a family that I really enjoy spending time with, and it gives us the opportunity to do that without the added headache of having raised money, of having to make a return for investors, of having to hit certain growth targets, and if you know, are going bust trying to hit them, it just allows you to take a very thoughtful, slow and enjoyable approach to building things. It’s not, you know, overnight, don’t get rich, but if you do, build something of value on your own terms. The most important advantage is that you are the boss, and you build what you want on your own terms.

Ryan Davies:  I think for a lot of entrepreneurs, that’s why they get into it is they want to be their own boss, they want to reap their own rewards, and when you go the other route, right, like you said, you’re indebted to somebody else, you’re on their terms, you exit on their terms. I had a great conversation with someone who said that when you have investors, it becomes like a one-way prenup right where they can exit when they want, but you don’t get to really be in control anymore of what you’re planning on doing, right? So this gives you that ability to say, yeah, I’m in control. As you said, you can enjoy the journey a lot more, and well, of course, there’s always pressure as an entrepreneur, and as you said, you might not have quite the safety net or whatever it is. You might not be able to scale quite as fast. You’re also doing it in a very deliberate way, and I think you’re avoiding a lot of those pitfalls that might happen here if you’ve got, you burn through it because you’re like, oh, we got the money, we could, we could try. So that didn’t work. That’s OK. Let’s try something else, right? This is it. I think there are so many benefits here, and I’m so glad you were able to share them. Finally, you know what’s next for you? What’s next for SummarAIze? Is there anything kind of exciting on the horizon to share with us and for people to be able to get in contact with you to learn more? Maybe they’re interested in doing this, and they need that little bit again. I know you’re big about mentoring and guidance and that would give, you know, for our audience a chance to reach out and have somebody to give them a little bit of that mentorship and guidance that they’re desperate for.

Saquib:  Yeah, so you can reach out to me on LinkedIn at Saquib Kothawala, or you can send us a mail to SummarAIze at saquib@summaraize.com. That’s probably the best way to reach me.

Ryan Davies:  I think that’s perfect. You know, again, for our audience, you’ve probably heard me say it before in our episodes, but I’ll say it again when you have somebody like Saquib who says, you know, reach out to me and get some guidance in this area. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to do, and that’s really again with the Tech Business Roundtable. What we’re aiming to do is help connect people and give them some guidance for their tech entrepreneurship journey. I gotta say thank you, Saquib, for joining us on this episode, for helping provide some of that guidance, and for giving that invitation to our listeners. Thank you so much.

Saquib: Thank you, Ryan. This was a great time.

Ryan Davies: Wonderful. Thank you, and I wanna, you know, again, Saquib has caught the wall. Thanks for this amazing podcast, bootstrapping brilliance, and strategic scaling, and I want to thank our listeners as well. We can’t do what we do without you. So, until we meet again with another amazing TBR episode, I’m your host, Ryan Davies. Thanks, everybody. Take care.

About Our Host and Guest

Director of Marketing – Ekwa.Tech & Ekwa Marketing
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Co-Founder @ SummarAIze
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” The benefit of bootstrapping is that you are really your own boss. You don’t have to answer to anybody else, and you don’t have to give anyone else reports. It’s just me and my co-founder “

– Saquib Kothawala –