Side Hustle City

Charting the Entrepreneurial Journey: From Side Hustle to Global Startup Success with Sharekh Shaikh

November 27, 2023 Adam Koehler & Sharekh Shaikh Season 4 Episode 59
Side Hustle City
Charting the Entrepreneurial Journey: From Side Hustle to Global Startup Success with Sharekh Shaikh
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Get ready to be inspired by the journey of Sharekh Shaikh, the innovative mind behind CleverX. From his roots in India to his global business travels and the successful launch of his startup, Sharekh's story is not just captivating but also educational. As he shares his experiences working in multiple countries and discusses the unique challenges of conducting primary research, we learn about the significance of understanding cultural nuances and the unmatched value of being multilingual in the global market.

We take a deep dive into the future of work, exploring the rise of side hustles and the immense importance of individual insights in market research. And guess what? There's more in store for you! Get enlightened on the potential of startups in market research and the pivotal role of focus for a startup's success. Don't miss out on the opportunity to learn about finding the right product-market fit and the art of learning from mistakes.

Lastly, the episode unwraps the complexities of the marketplace, elucidating on the "chicken and egg" problem of supply and demand. Sharekh lends his wealth of knowledge about the startup world, discussing the challenges faced by marketplaces and the importance of a clear-cut market focus. Tune in as we explore the intricacies of supply and demand dynamics and how to navigate them successfully. This episode is an absolute must-listen for everyone involved in startups, market research, or anyone fascinated by turning their side hustle into their main hustle. It's time to transform your entrepreneurial journey with the insights from this illuminating conversation!

Next Steps:
As you're inspired to embark on your side hustle journey after listening to this episode, you might wonder where to start or how to make your vision a reality. That's where our trusted partner, Reversed Out Creative comes in.

With a team of experienced professionals and a track record of helping clients achieve their dreams, they are ready to assist you in reaching your goals. To find out more, visit www.reversedout.com. We also recently launched our YouTube Channel, Marketing Pro Trends,  which summarizes all of our blog posts.

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Speaker 2:

Welcome to Side Hustle City and thanks for joining us. Our goal is to help you connect to real people who found success turning their side hustle into a main hustle, and we hope you can too. I'm Adam Kaler. I'm joined by Kyle Stevy, my co-host. Let's get started, all right. Welcome back everybody to the Side Hustle City podcast today, special guest Shreik Shake all the way from LA. How you doing, shreik?

Speaker 3:

I'm doing great, adam, and thank you for having me, but I'm based in the Bay Area, not LA. Oh, bay Area.

Speaker 2:

Sorry. Yeah, we were just talking about it because I went to California and I was in LA, so yeah, that's how I got confused there. But Bay Area even better for a startup guy. So yeah, you had some experience at Gartner, big research organization, and now you're doing your own thing. Actually, I'm guessing, by talking to you before the podcast here, you kind of took your experience and the stuff you learned at Gartner and what Gartner does, and then you said hey, why don't I start my own platform that helps companies like that, and it's called CleverX.

Speaker 3:

That's correct. Yeah, absolutely. Adam Gartner's been an incredible company for me to work with. I learned a lot from them really smart bunch of people and saw a pain area in the market research space and wanted to solve it and went out on my own to build a company and, by God's grace, it's doing incredibly well. So I think in the hindsight it was a great decision, connecting all the dots from the past experience around technology, market research and then creating a technology platform with service market research teams.

Speaker 2:

That's awesome. So tell us about your story. How did you go from actually, what's your background, what's your education, and then how did that lead you to Gartner, and then what made you want to start this after being a Gartner?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that's very interesting because I've lived in four countries all my life. I grew up in India to a middle upper class family. I mean we were doing all right, but my father didn't have $100,000 to give me a seat.

Speaker 2:

Wait, what part of India my buddy is.

Speaker 3:

I grew up yeah, india's massive but I grew up in the West, which is very close to Pune and Bombay. Those are the major cities most of the people might know of.

Speaker 2:

Was it Ahmedabad, ahmedabad is.

Speaker 3:

Gujarat it's a different state Think of the state of Maharashtra as kind of like New York the financial hub, businesses and things of that sort and grew up there, got my education, including my computer science engineering degree, in India, and I was really lucky that I got a job as a first employee for a tech company in Dubai. So they were opening up an office in Dubai and they sent me as a new guy to start the operations from scratch. So that was very exciting, working and building a tech company on its own in the Middle East and the North Africa market. So I stayed with them for a few years, traveled a lot almost 40 countries around the world for work and then decided to do my MBA, which was an MBA-H, I guess. After completing engineering and working for a few years, decided to go to Singapore, lived there for a couple of years, worked for the Microsoft research team and Nokia Siemens research team there while I was doing my master's in business, and then again I decided to come back to Dubai because it was closer to home, so I could spend more time with the family and worked in Dubai and that's where I got into Gartner After working into tech, gartner being the largest or the most leading technology research company. That was a good progression for my career and decided to work for Gartner. Until I joined Gartner, I really didn't know what they did apart from the research reports, but that opened up my horizon to what does really market research looks like overall at a global scale and how fascinating that field is, where online surveys like US alone spends close to $50 billion in just doing online surveys, both B2B and DC, for consumer and businesses, and business research or commercial research is very difficult to conduct, the primary reason being it's very difficult to convince a senior business exec to participate in a survey on LinkedIn. And even though I worked at Gartner, gartner being such a big name, it was difficult for Gartner to conduct those projects and they are a brand name, so I couldn't imagine like how difficult it would have been for smaller research firms where brand name doesn't exist and a stranger has to trust you to participate in the research process. And that was the whole seed or inception for ClevverX. We wanted to build this audience discovery platform where it looks very much like LinkedIn, where you can connect with very senior business professionals and work with them on research projects, where trust and transparency is the foundation part of the platform which doesn't exist on social media platforms like LinkedIn the monetization piece of it, the trust piece of it and it's been doing great. Like you know, we launched the platform in 2020, the first version of it. We've grown almost six to seven times in multimillion dollar revenues. The team has grown, so I think we took the right bet, built something that people cared about. That's been the journey so far, wow.

Speaker 2:

Wow, where did you do in seed when you went to Singapore? Or where did you go to school in Singapore?

Speaker 3:

I went to a school called SPJN, which is in the top 10 S-Pore Financial Times or multiple other sources, so it's a pretty good IBB school in Singapore. I also did some part-time you know programs with NUS, national University of Singapore.

Speaker 2:

Yes.

Speaker 3:

You know, maybe collaboration with them as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's like one of the top ones in Singapore outside of like in seed or like London Business Schools chapter. So, wow, I keep playing around with the idea of going back to get my MBA just because, like you know, everybody else has one. Like maybe I just go get one. But I want to go to London. I actually want to go to maybe London Business School in London or Oxford or something, just you know, because my wife again loves Harry Potter and we talked about this before the thing, and she would love to live in London maybe for like a year or two. While I do that and, yeah, just go. She'd probably end up at the Harry Potter thing, the Hollywood in London, where all the sets and everything are for Harry Potter. Oh, she'd probably be there every at least once a week.

Speaker 3:

London is one really underrated city. I love spending time there. I was there for a month, you know, in different stents. I love London. I think it's an incredible place, apart from, like, the weather, which is a bit gloomy but very much similar to Singapore, so I was kind of used to it. But I think definitely you should plan for it if you're thinking about it.

Speaker 2:

And I noticed when I went to Boots in London. We weren't feeling really well and we went in there and they were just giving away free vitamin D because they got the nationalized health care and they want you to constantly take vitamin D supplements so that you don't get sick, because your bones could get brittle and if it's always overcast I mean you had the opposite problem in India probably, where it's just sunny all the time.

Speaker 3:

Exactly, or Dubai as a matter of fact, oh my.

Speaker 2:

God, I was in Dubai in 2007 and it was hot and I remember walking out of the. We were in old Dubai, right Me and my buddy, OJ, and he's he speaks Malialam and he's from he's from Kerala, yeah, but a lot of the people there who were working spoke that language and so he could communicate very well with them. And we walk out of the hotel and our glasses fogged up as soon as we walked out of the hotel. It was, it was really good air conditioning, but you always had to have a bottle of water. You couldn't just drink the water, it's always you're carrying around this huge. You know it was 50 cents. I remember it was 50 cents in old Dubai and then when you went into regular Dubai, it was like $1.50. So the price tripled.

Speaker 3:

Eight months in Dubai are really bad. Like the four months are pretty good and pleasant, from like November, so this is a really good time to go to Dubai now, november to February, even March sometimes. But the other seven to eight months are really really bad, especially July to September. It's insane.

Speaker 2:

Well, I also didn't realize. But the the, what is that there? The water there, is that the Persian Gulf? Maybe Is that what that?

Speaker 3:

is yeah, the Gulf Sea right.

Speaker 2:

Arabian Sea. Is there Arabian Sea? That's it. Yeah, yeah. So I didn't know there were sharks in there and I'm swimming around like I just jumped in the water and swimming around. It was so salty. It was like the salty it burned my eyes and my in my nose and my ears. It was so bad. And then we went to the museum after that and it showed all the animals that are in the water there and it was like sharks, sharks. And I'm like, oh my God, what was I doing? This is like crazy salty water. If it's like the sharks don't get to the, the salt might get you, but it was pretty wild. It was a different place. It is really. It's a different culture. It's a really different place. I think if you come from America, they think you've got money and they're really nice to you. You don't come from money and you maybe don't look either. Not as nice to you, probably.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it has its own materialistic issues, you know, in that part of the world, unfortunately, but overall people are really nice and respectful and very hospitable, so I had a great time. Like I lived there for almost 10 years, it was a good time for me.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, very strict. I remember that. I remember they were very, very strict. Unless you just wanted to leave a fast car on the side of the road, you could just do that Like it's people just abandon their cars. Yeah, you could do that. When the tax man comes collecting the money for the car or whatever, you just leave it, which is wild, it's just crazy. So anyway, yeah, so you did. You were all over the place, you were in a bunch of different cities. You got to experience different cultures. You got to experience maybe different buying habits and different. You know, being a to start a company like this, a research company one of the big things that people come to these research companies for if it's a product company, especially CPG, like here in Cincinnati we have PNG you know they want to know what the customers are looking for. What is this next thing the customers are looking for in beauty care, in shaving, in whatever, whatever the thing is. And they'll go to a Gartner, they'll go to an EY and they'll say hey look, do some research for us. We need to, we need to. You know we're not going to spend a million dollars on this product to advertise it next year if there's not a demand for it. So you guys got to do that research. But in multiple countries this isn't just. You know, the American market is much different than the European market, and then the English market is much different than the German market, than the Swiss market, than the Italian market. So you know, you've really got to understand these places and I think, because you traveled so much and lived in so many different places and also got your MBA in an Asian, in an East Asian country, that really probably helped you with starting your business.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it absolutely broadens your horizon. You know how the world, how do you see the world and how other people see the world. Like, asian markets are very different to deal with and you're right, like it can even go as granular as a country in Southeast Asia versus like a state in the US as well, right? So buying patterns are different in the East Coast versus West Coast, fundraising patterns are different in the East Coast versus the West Coast. So just traveling and meeting people, doing business with them in different parts of the world, helps you understand. What do people care about? Some people care about more of security and compliance while buying a product. Others would care about, like, being more innovative and some might just care about PR. You know how does it make them look and feel? So it's just about finding out those different things that people individually care about and then trying to work with them to find that value for them in your product and service. So it's very fascinating to give the example of PNG. We had a project from one of the largest food manufacturing companies where they came to Cleverx and they looked for people who were nutritionists in different parts of the world and they conducted research by paying them $500 an hour for writing a two-page document about what are the food trends that you see in your country, which are picking up or which are dying down. And it was done across 18 countries. So 18 nutritionists from 18 different countries who wrote two-page documents, for them $500 each, and they got a lot of value out of it. So they could understand if you create a product, how can this be used or valued or seen by customers in this part of the world or that part of the world, and that's pretty amazing. Right Technology makes that happen today, where you can connect with people from all around the world to get their inputs and insights on things that you wouldn't find on internet.

Speaker 2:

And being multilingual. I mean, you obviously speak two languages, but how many languages do you actually speak?

Speaker 3:

I actually speak four languages. I understand six, so that's been helpful as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, because here in America most people speak one language maybe they speak Spanish, a little bit of Spanish, and, being in California, there's probably a lot more people that speak Spanish, that are fluent in English, but you've got the ability to understand not just different cultures but actually speak to the people in different languages, which is huge for a co-founder of a company that is doing international business, and I think that's that's. You know, these are the things that I think a lot of people, when they're doing startups and when they're doing their side hustles, they don't. They don't look internally at what their skills are that really separate them from other people. And I don't know if you did this intentionally or if this is just because, hey look, you wanted to bounce around the world, you wanted to get to know people, you wanted to learn different languages. Maybe that's just part of your personality, or is that something you did intentionally so that you would, you could strengthen your skills for this eventual company you were going to start?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it's really interesting you ask that question. I mean I thought about that. I don't think I was intentional about it, but when I look in the in the hindsight, you know I'm trying to connect the dots. Like Steve Jobs says, you know you should always connect your dots where you are. And how did you end up there? Those things happen in your life and you kind of like go in that direction, subconsciously or intuitively. Like small example, on the platform as well, we have these guidelines of how to interact with each other, because there will be someone from Germany who wants to talk to someone in Africa. The cultures are so different. You might say a joke that you feel is funny, but that might not be funny to the other person, right? So we've got to like, even in our platform, we have to make sure those guidelines are followed so people don't disrespect each other unintentionally, right? Nobody's trying to be like rude or bad to anyone, but just cultures are different. You know Scandinavian. You know jokes are very different than in the UK. It's very sarcastic. So I think it gives you a good perspective of how you should think about scaling products at a global level, how people perceive each other when they interact with each other, and especially when there's a product where people interact with each other and gets more complicated.

Speaker 2:

Well, I'm just surprised that people in Scandinavia have jokes. They just don't seem like, just don't seem like the happy, like the smiley, jokey people, like they're freezing cold most of the time, so I wouldn't be too happy about that. But yeah, they do. I took an intercultural communications course in college and it's, it's wild, just the differences between Northern and Southern Europe and the ways that people interact, where people in Southern Europe are very much close talkers, like if you're talking to someone in Southern Europe, they're right here, like they're right in your face. They hug a lot more, they touch a lot more. It's the complete opposite in Northern Europe and they said it's the weather, it's got something to do with the weather, and people are just they're bundled up all the time and they're just. The distance between people when they're talking is much further apart. And we kind of have that same culture in America because obviously, you know, the Vikings invaded England, the English came over here and yeah, so we still get that culture carried over. It's interesting.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and it's also very fascinating, right Like just traveling around the world and seeing things, how things are done differently in different parts of the world, is just amazing. If you look at the nuances and try to find those things, it's amazing to see that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, we even like the way you say yes, in India, like the way you bob your head, like in the way we do here, is different and it's like, if you go there, right you?

Speaker 3:

just want cultural difference, right? So if someone on the podcast who works with people back in India, if you say you asked them a question, hey, will you be able to do that, will you be able to do it by the end of this month? And the person says yes, it doesn't mean yes that they're going to do it. It means I'm listening to you and I'm acknowledging you, that you're saying this to me. So you really should ask are you agreeing to what I'm saying or do you think this is possible? And they actually say to you in a sentence then you should be okay with that. Don't assume that the yes meant, like the I, it's going to be done by the end of the month. So those are the small nuances. You know, when people are interacting with each other, the Japanese people is very different. So we had like a couple of Japanese customers in the tech space while I was working for Katna. So for the 30 minutes of the meeting, most of the time for 20, 25 minutes they want to just sit and listen to you with their eyes closed, so you don't know if you're really boring them or they're thinking about what you're saying. So just, cultures are different and it's amazing. That's why, and that's what makes humanity amazing, right Like, especially in times like these.

Speaker 2:

I think everyone's so unique and different in their own ways and we should all be like you know, accepting and understanding each other better, yeah 100% and I think you know, especially when Americans go to other countries, they almost expect it to be America, right, like you go to another country and you think why aren't people doing this? Or where's the waiter? Why isn't the waiter coming over and then tipping people? That don't you know. You know, in Japan if you tip somebody it's offensive, you know, and a lot of places in Europe too. But it's like if they, if you see an American in a restaurant, they're like where's the waiter? And they get upset that the waiter's not coming. Well, in Italy, when you go to a coffee shop, you get something, you sit down. They expect you to be there for two hours. Yeah, they don't think you want to just drink your coffee and be gone in the next 15 minutes and you've got to wave them down to get service in a lot of Asian countries and in some European countries and people just they're not used to it and they think it's bad customer service. That's how they take it. It's like you're in somebody else's country right now.

Speaker 3:

That's why Starbucks, I think initially is struggling in France, right, because Starbucks culture is like go pick up your coffee and get out, right, and in France people want to sit on the sides of the you know pebbles freaks and drink their coffee and have a two hour conversation over a coffee. It's just. It's just different, you know.

Speaker 2:

That sounds great. I want to do that. That's exactly what I want to do, except it's too cold out right now to do it. But one thing that you mentioned you said some of these participants were getting $500 an hour. Now that piqued my interest because it's like hey, sharik, if anybody wants to pay $500 an hour and you know, you know they want to talk to somebody who started a business or an entrepreneur or whatever call me, because I'm ready. And I bet you a lot of people listening to this podcast are probably thinking wait a minute. Is that a side hustle Like can I, can I just be a professional, like research participant and make money on the side?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it's very fascinating. Like I said, you know, $50 billion is spent on research and 80% of that money goes into incentivizing people for their insights. These companies are looking for insights which are not publicly available over Google. It's not like one person's opinion which was written two years back and the world has changed in the last two years, like we've seen that with COVID and you know things that happen on a macro level in the world. Everything changes. So we're looking for insights in that moment from a person, from their individual experience, and I think that is what makes it really valuable, because AI cannot replicate that. Ai cannot replicate the lives Adam has lived or Sharik has lived. It can talk about, it can summarize the data of the entire world on a particular topic, but it cannot live a life and come out of experience and say this is what I felt as Adam or as Sharik. So we have people who are earning over $10,000, $15,000 a year just by being on our platform and participating into research projects. So it's very fascinating to see that trend happen in this whole future of workspace. I would even go further in saying that the next 20 to 50 years, you're going to see people have one full-time job and multiple side customers.

Speaker 2:

Yes.

Speaker 3:

And their full-time job would be for their security reasons. So we've already seen that in some spaces, like in HR, where people are working for like three days full-time as an HR manager, because you don't require five days of work to be full-time on HR in a lot of companies. So they're working for three days full-time as an HR manager. The other two days they do consulting work or they even doing things which are completely different than human resource or people operations work, something that they are passionate about or they enjoy doing, and COVID actually accelerated that trend. So my prediction is like in the next 20 to 30 years, or 50 years maybe, from a long-term view, the world's going to look very different. There are going to be more part-time working people than there'll be full-time employees. I'm 100%.

Speaker 2:

I mean I've done 150 episodes, or something like that, of this podcast and it just seems like every year it just gets even more and more and more and it's accelerating. Covid really did change things and it got these businesses to realize, hey, we don't need all this office space. I mean, look at downtown San Francisco. You got buildings down there that are 60% 80% vacant right now. I mean it's crazy. And the office commercial space like I've got a co-working space here that I built out and it's all filled up, but it's filled up with people who'd never come in. I mean we've got real estate companies that have 10 by 10 offices. They pay me $700 a month, never come in. They just legally have to have a door that locks in a file cabinet and they don't drink my coffee, which is good because it saves me money on curing pods. But it's wild that that is a thing. And even me, like I try some of the side hustles that people come on here and talk about, just so that I can tell people, hey, I've had success with this or I haven't. I literally I bought a brand new car just to put it on tarot and tell these people, hey, here's, here's how much money I made this month. Here's how much money I made, because people need to see you doing it a lot of times before they'll do it themselves. And people are very risk averse and you and I are not, because we're Slytherins, where we jump right into it, right, like we're the first kids in the pool. It's a water cold? Oh yeah, it's cold. I'm already in here, right? But a lot of people are not like that and they. What I've learned is that people they like to follow, they that most people like to follow Most people don't like to lead. They don't like to jump in the pool first, they don't like to be the first person to take that risk, because they can't afford to take the risk. They just can't. They can't go out and just buy a car just to see if it'll work. You know, they just can't do that. So I I'm trying to do things like this Now, with what you do. This is very flexible for somebody. I mean, they don't have to go out and be the next week and start a multi-million dollar startup, but they can participate in what you're doing. Like you said, 80% of all these billions of dollars that get spent on research every year goes to the participants.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah. It's a major chunk of the cost of a particular project. Majority of the money goes to the participants because that's what the inside is right Like. The inside is in people and the money has to flow there.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and now it's not just your company. I mean, there's obviously other companies they could sign up for but is there like a, is there like a website that you know about where people would go, that would direct them to your company and to some other opportunities to be like participants in research?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think Klevrax is that company, right. So we have multiple research companies. Like, if you go on the platform right now and you go on a link which is called as opportunities, you will see at least 70 plus projects on research happening and you can choose the projects that you want to go and sign up for and make money right away. For 15 minutes of your time you can make 60, $75 right away. So we are that aggregator where all these research companies you know come in, they post their projects and people can participate in those research projects. Especially when it comes to business and commercial, we are not a B2C platform, we are more of a business to business platform.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure, but you do need the people. So they will come, especially if we tell them about it and say, hey, look, there's money here If you go and you actually do this stuff and you fit the criteria. I mean, there's certain things these people are looking for. Not not everybody can do this. My wife actually did one. There's a big another CPG brand here. They mostly do lotions and beauty care stuff and they're a Korean company but it used to be base. It started in Cincinnati but oh sorry, it's not Korean, it's Japanese. A Japanese conglomerate essentially bought them out. But my wife owns a spa and they were looking for people that knew about skin care and I mean she probably, she should probably make tens of thousands of dollars or something over the course of, you know, maybe six months or something, just doing surveys, interviewing people for them, because they were looking for an expert to talk to customers. So it was really, really interesting. And now you I'm looking at the site find research work, and then there's a there's a sub tab called research opportunities and when you go in here you see find opportunities. There's a bunch of them down here $50 for 10 minutes, $51 for 15 minutes. I mean this is like you could do this over lunch at your, if you've got a job. I mean, take a 11 o'clock lunch, take an 1130 lunch, do whatever, and do one of these things. 15 minutes, 50 bucks. That pays for your meal. I mean, maybe not in San Francisco, I think once the lunch cost you $75 in San Francisco for a sandwich and maybe something to drink.

Speaker 3:

We're getting there. But I think, yeah, that makes it super powerful because it's an asynchronous way of research, which means that you don't have to coordinate with anyone. If you're the right person to conduct, you know, you, you are a participant for that particular research, you can actually just do it from your kitchen table, you know, while having a conversation with someone, and all you need is 15 minutes to get that job done and the money you can start meeting. So that's the reason we have like so many people, hundreds of people every month who make thousands of dollars just by being on the platform applying to certain research projects that they feel they're good at, and if the researcher feels that they are the right people for it, yeah, they get that work.

Speaker 2:

I love it. Yeah, pretty soon. People aren't going to want to answer phone calls from their friends and family because they're going to be able to look my time's worth. I'm $15 every, $50 every 15 minutes. Buddy, you want to talk to me? That's $200 for an hour. If you're going to sit on the phone with me, I'll give you a little bit of a disc, I'll give you 20% off to talk to me for my time. They're going to be like attorneys. Everybody's going to be like an attorney here pretty soon. They're going to charge for every minute of their time. So this is very interesting, I think. If you, honestly, if you came to Cincinnati and you talked to some of the startup, the VC groups here and we have a group here called Centrifuse and it's kind of like Ground Zero for everything startup Like you, go there and then, whatever stage you're in, whatever it is, they help you find money, they help you find customers, they help you find mentors. They help you with space, which one of my spaces is in their network. But they, you know, they'll connect you wherever you need to get connected to and most of the mentors are all former P&G people. That's like the big thing and it's founded, it's funded by a lot of P&G, because here in Cincinnati like it's not like it in San Francisco, but here you get aqua hired a lot of the startups. They get so big and then P&G will just buy them and then they'll bring the founders in and they'll pay them. You know, 250 grand a year and you know, give them a 10 million bucks for their company or whatever. And and then that's why we don't have any unicorns here, they all get aqua hired. It drives me crazy. But yeah, and what stage are you in now with your company? I mean, you guys Series A, where are you at?

Speaker 3:

No, we are Series A right now. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Okay, and are you raising currently?

Speaker 3:

Not yet. I don't think it's the right time for us. We've been profitable this year as well, which is great, so you're not in a rush to get money from anyone. But if you find the right partner that's going to support us in the coming years to make this like one of the biggest platforms that would solve this problem, then we definitely would talk to them and hopefully the coming months yeah.

Speaker 2:

Well, I also think getting into organizations like us, centrifuge and cities, because every city has their you know their hub right, They've got their startup hub what you do can actually help some of these startups in two different ways. If I'm a startup founder, I've quit my job. I'm trying to raise money. I'm doing my thing. Maybe I do a few of these things just to get by. Maybe I do some research stuff. That way I don't have to pull money out of the company to pay myself because I'm making an extra three grand a month or whatever just going in and doing surveys. Now, it's not necessarily taking a bunch of time away from your stuff, because you could do these at different times. But also, startups need what you've got. Startups need to be on the other end of this, Instead of just being the research participants. They're the ones who are putting the research together to validate that their startup even has a market.

Speaker 3:

So this is very interesting. We don't even focus on startups. Frankly speaking, we've never gone after startups to make them our customers. But we get a lot of founders who come on the platform, chat with their potential buyers of their products or services and schedule calls with them to understand how they're being sold by someone else, who's their competitor or what does the pricing look like. What do they care about as a customer? And here the incentives are aligned. The person who's giving you the insight is making money, but can also advise you and say, hey, your product should have these things, because that's what we care about. This is where the money sits, this is where the budget is in the company, this is how you should price a product or this is the way you should approach companies like me or people like me, and I think that becomes really valuable. So we in a way, help startups accelerate the process of finding product market fit, and I've seen that time and time over again, companies from Israel and from at least from Europe founders using the platform to find product market fit. So they do like them calls with their potential buyers, because everyone outside the US is trying to sell into the US and if you can find like a head, of HR or head of. IT that you want to sell to in that particular vertical, to our platform. They're willing to pay those $300, $500 an hour to get that insight because so valuable that they wouldn't find that information just randomly googling stuff.

Speaker 2:

Well, you know what I would love for startups. I would love a small package, like a flat price package, from somebody like you who would say look, you're trying to put your presentation to deck together. The hardest part for me and a lot of founders is putting together the proper research, like when you're doing your total addressable market stuff and you're doing all that, getting those numbers together. Here's how much we could make over the next three years. I remember people were doing five year projections, which is crazy. Like, just do a three year projection, do a two year projection for God's sake, but you do a little three year projection. Getting those numbers together, getting your how many customers are willing to buy this, what the total market is for this. You can't just do Google searches or go into chat GBT and ask these things. This is something where you really need to get out there. You need to talk to people. You need professionals that have already done this before know where to look in the first place to do this stuff, having a package like that specifically for startups and then going to these startup hubs and saying, look, we've got this package, it's $5,000 and it's going to provide you with this. You've got 10 pages in your pitch deck. Four of those pages are validation stuff right, but most of the time it's like, based on feelings. It's like, oh, I think so because my neighbors wanted to use it. And I did a little research on Google and Google. I read this from this article, this opinion piece, and this is where I came up with this data. No, they don't want to see that. They want to see like a professional marketing firm or a professional research firm put together this stuff, this data. And here's where this came from.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, yeah, no, I totally hear you. I think there's definitely a market for it. I'll definitely consider doing that once we reach a place where we are moving into new verticals. Startup has not started as an industry or a segment of an industry wasn't ever our target market, but we do see that happen time and time again, almost every week. I would say and we've never even positioned ourselves that we work with startups, so they're always looking for this edge. Everyone's looking for that information that's going to help them either fundraise or make an important, informed decision.

Speaker 2:

And see, this is the beauty of having a startup. Guys Like you go into it with the thought that, hey, we're going to sell to this one group. This is who, our market is. Even you. You want to. You're a freaking research company, right. And now you're like, yeah, you know we thought about the startup thing and you know this and that you can always pivot or you can always grow. But what you're saying, cherique, is, look, this is where we're at, this is what we're doing now. We're going to stay focused on this and in the future we could consider that. But you're not going to get your company off track by following the nice new, shiny object or this new idea that I just pitched you, because, because you want to stay on track as a startup, you have to stay on track, and it's very hard for me as an ENTP. That's my, my personality type. I like to bounce around and do different things, as you can tell by this interview, but you know it's hard for me not to follow the nice, shiny object, like how do you avoid that? What was it? Your personality? Do you have? You read a lot of books? Where to come from?

Speaker 3:

I think, definitely a couple of things, which is like having a very contrary view to how things are done by most of the people. I think, if you see history, even the present, and I think that's going to continue in the future contrary is when always, and they win big. That's why it's so the general advice that people get is like kid, this is the trend. Ai is the next new thing. Right now, let's build a startup in AI. That doesn't mean anything really Like. What matters is can you find product market fit? You don't even need your investors. Honestly, you need people who can solve a certain pain using your product or service and if, if you can figure that out, you have one half of the battle. The other half is about scaling it and doing that. But you can only win that battle as a startup because you have such limited resources when you're focused. Yeah. Trying to do multiple things at the same time, in my view, is a bad idea. The same thing applies to different verticals as well. Don't try to go after every single vertical, even though you know there's money there, but you don't have the resources to go and get that, because it will require effort, it will require money, it will require time, and if you spread yourself to, then, as an individual or as a startup, you're most likely going to fail, not because the market goes bad, it's just that you didn't prioritize things correctly. So other founders that I mentor or who talk to me about this stuff, I'm always telling them riches are in the riches, right, like? Always focus on that small segment of market, be the best product in that category and then you move on to the next one. Take any company like Amazon started with books, uber started with San Francisco Bay Area, airbnb started with a specific geography, I think in New York and the Bay Area, one of those. But the point is that you have to be constrained when you start, when you're growing and scaling, then you can look at other markets, right Like, uber does everything today, almost you know. Yeah, airbnb is getting into different markets, different job opportunities and things of that sort. So when you're early stage, I think focus is the most primary thing every founder should consider 100% and I heard some stuff from that MBA course you took.

Speaker 2:

Come out of your mouth A couple things and some things that you know. That's the thing it's like. You know you go through these. If you go to a really good MBA program, you're going to get really good mentors, you're going to get really good teachers. You're going to have other students a lot of times that have started their own things. But you really have to get out there yourself. You have to do it on your own. You have to feel the pain. Sometimes you have to make mistakes, and some people are afraid to make mistakes, but mistakes are how you grow and it's really how that ingrains in your brain. When you do something wrong, if somebody else does it wrong, you may not pay it. Okay, yeah, okay. They say, don't do this. They say don't do five different things at once. Okay, yeah, but I'm a multitasker, I can do that Right. Yeah, you don't really. Until you just don't get anything done because you're you're spreading yourself too thin or you're spreading your resources and your company too thin, then you feel the pain.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and I had that. I made the same mistake right when I started off the company. The first year we like was brutal for us. We were finding customers, but we were not finding that pull that, wow, this is what, what I need. Like, yeah, we can use this, you could be one of the alternatives to our work, but you don't want to be a company that's an alternative. You want to be that company. That is the only option. Your customer has to use you. That's where your differentiating value comes in. That's where you become a valuable resource for your customer. If you're just an alternative out of five, then you're really not that valuable. So finding product market feed also means like you are the alternative, but I'm going to use you every single day or every single week or every single month and keep increasing my spend with you guys. That is what is product market fit and it's a moving target. You know you can find product market fit in one vertical versus you won't find it in the other vertical the exact same way. So my small suggestion is always to like, test out things as quickly as possible and find the place where you can get the pull from those customers. It's easy to sell is what I mean by getting a pull. It's not that difficult, even if you've done like a stupid messed up demo and the customer still wants your product. That is product market fit because, like you, have something going on, it shouldn't be really that hard to sell. And we made that mistake in those early days while we're doing it, trying to be the product for everyone, and I think that's because you think like, oh, the market will be so big, right, why should I leave this low line foods in different industries.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, let's just turn into HubSpot. Like, just be HubSpot. You know like, start building a website platform while you're at it. You know like crazy.

Speaker 3:

Exactly so. I shouldn't do that. I think finding that pull, that industry, that persona of your customer should be the first and the most primary goal for every founder, than anything else, even raising money or doing anything else like thinking about the name of the company for 10 days that's your primary.

Speaker 2:

Just ask ChatGPT, it'll come up with something and just use that. Well, also for research stuff too, like questions and things like that. Now, I like ChatGPT for things like that. I like ChatGPT to brainstorm with me, like that's really good, and then I can, you know, I'll come up with a bunch of. I'll be like, well, chatgpt, what about this? And it'll be like, oh, no, no, no, be like no, chatgpt, you're wrong, like I'm right, yeah, but you know, and I like it for brainstorming ideas, maybe for helping me write like an executive summary for my startup. You know, outlining, outlining my, my, my present presentation that I'm going to do, maybe coming up with some ideas for that. But really, when you start getting into, you know what are people going to buy? Chatgpt has no idea. Chatgpt doesn't know because it's not human and it's, it's synthesizing a human, human behavior. But it's, at the end of the day, you're going to get a lot more insight by listening to people, listening to your customers and you know, tweaking what? Tweaking your own beliefs about the product. Right, because you've got somebody telling you something that you may not have ever thought about, because their experiences are different than your experiences. You've led different lives, you come from different countries. Things are going to come up and that's really the value in what you do and stuff like that doesn't change. And what I like about what you're doing is that you're not reinventing the wheel. Necessarily. You placed your startup in an area that's not going away. Ai is not disrupting what you're doing. It can supplement what you're doing. It can add value to what you're doing. Maybe you add an AI brainstorming component to this at some point, but you're not reinventing the wheel. You're not starting Airbnb. Nobody was renting air mattresses and people's apartments before that. Right, that was an uphill battle to get people to want to rent a room in some creeps apartment. Right, that was like you know, especially when they're living there, that's the weirdest thing to be. I don't know, I can never do it, but my wife is definitely never going to do it. But you are in a place where it's like look, this is a space that already works. People spend money here. There's $80 billion getting spent, or whatever it is, on research. Let me just tweak it a little bit, let me just make it a little better. Let me you know and it's a two-sided marketplace, right, you got to find, you got to find customers. You got to find the companies that want the research and you got to find qualified people to do the research. That's a challenging thing. How do you do that? That's probably the most challenging thing. Like you knew, this would work because of the market space you're in, but how do you get the two-sided marketplace to work?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so marketplaces are one of my favorite businesses. I spend a lot of time understanding them. And does this chicken and egg problem right? In marketplaces, Like, do you bring the supply first or the demand first? And Every marketplace is different. So for some marketplaces, which are managed marketplaces, getting demand first is a good alternative. What I mean by managed marketplace is you're going to facilitate the service for them by using the supply that you bring in. So having the demand first makes more sense. You want the money to come in so you can provide a managed service to that particular customer. But in most of the cases I've seen as supply should be the first thing. It's like walking into an empty store and I don't see a product. I'm never going to come back to that store again. Think of marketplaces exactly like that. If Amazon did not have books in the first place, why would customers even click on amazoncom? And if there's nothing in the inventory, I basically have nothing to buy from you. So finding who you are first as a marketplace is a really important thing. Are you managed or a self-service marketplace? Are you a demand constraint or supply constraint marketplace? Those are the questions founders need to ask. In our case specifically, we had to hustle for the first 500 users, like I remember emailing people, being on calls with them, very senior business professionals who have very low temperament, by the way, because their time is so valuable. Why would they give time to some startup founder who just starting off? There's nothing there, no revenues, no investors, no employees, really. So that was a big hustle for me. So the first 1,000 users I personally onboarded them by convincing them or emails and phone calls sometimes to join the platform and promising them that they will get work once they are there on the platform. So once you have the specific niche or expertise in our case, expertise would be a constraint. In Uber's case or Airbnb's case, it will be a geography you want to see cabs in that neighborhood or you want to find a home in that particular city. So for us, that's expertise. So we picked up a couple of expertise. We onboarded the first 1,000 people. Then we went to the customers and said you know what? It's so difficult for you to find these people on LinkedIn, but we have them here. Why don't you come and engage with them and see how the experience goes? And then it's a balancing act. After that, you keep adding more supply, keep adding more demand and that's how marketplaces grow. But the same way, first thing on Amazon was books, and the second thing was something else, and now it sells everything in the world. So understanding that phenomena is so important while building a marketplace. Sometimes people just add any kind of supply and expect the demand to use it, any kind of demand to use it. I think it should be two defragmented markets who definitely need each other badly to come together.

Speaker 2:

Oh, that's a good insight.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, it has to be two defragmented markets which don't get to connect with each other, and your platform is a unique way to do. It is where the value is.

Speaker 2:

I like that. People that want to make money renting out their apartments and people that don't want to spend a bunch of money on a hotel.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, but those are defragmented markets. They never had a way to find out each other before.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, wow. That's some really good insight, trey. This has been amazing. I love this journey for you, the fact that you were able to become profitable so quickly. I mean, there's companies that are in their series C that are still not profitable.

Speaker 3:

I think we're going to continue with that trend. We always want to be profitable before every fundraise. That's my plan.

Speaker 2:

That's right. That's right. That's amazing, man, and good luck. And you're in San Francisco doing this, which is not the cheapest place to be to build a startup. We had an office there at one point before we sold our company and, yeah, right across from Salesforce's headquarters, so it was not cheap, but that's all right. Our investor was paying for the rent, I think. So that was cool. Yeah, yeah, but anyway, yeah, man, I really appreciate it. Is there anything you want to say to people Like you know the website's cleverxcom, the letter X, c-l-e-v-e-r-xcom? If people want to go and sign up and, by the way, shereeke, you're welcome Just dig through my podcast. There's 150 experts in different fields on my podcast. If you want me to call somebody and say, hey, get on here and check CleverX out, let me know. I mean, these are all like financial experts.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, resident, I really appreciate that. I think you know. Definitely you should sign up and see how the experience is and let me know the good, bad and the ugly. We always welcome feedback so we can improve ourselves every few weeks, but we'd love to have you on the platform as well.

Speaker 2:

Oh, I'm joining, Don't worry, I'm going to report this back to people and say, man, I made you know $200 today, just messing around and answering surveys. This is great, yeah, well, yeah, and people hear this. I mean, this is just an easy way to make money, guys. I mean, it's a side hustle that doesn't really require you to do anything. You don't have to be anywhere, you just be on the phone, be on a Zoom call and that's it and be somebody who they want to talk to. Dude, you got to be that. You can't just be some random person that doesn't do anything. So be somebody yeah add to your skills. Maybe get an MBA in Singapore, you know, bounce around the world, live in Dubai for a little while. Dude, you're living the life. You're living the life, man. Well, I appreciate you coming on. This has been great. Yeah, if you want to tell anybody anything, go ahead and shout out. Shout out whatever you've got, maybe some personal like your LinkedIn or anything.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely yeah. Anyone who needs help if they're building their startups or thinking about a side hustle, happy to chat with you guys. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn, so my name should pop up as a first-run search result. It's S-H-A-R-E-K-H, so if you go to chat, you can collaborate, so I think that should be the first one on the search results. So reach out to me on LinkedIn or, you know, please sign up on the platform. We love more users coming to our platform so that we can reach to those million users that we are anticipating to reach soon enough yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

Or if they're eager to invest in your next round and they can't do it now and they really, really want to invest in a profitable startup, that's just in their series A, here you go. Just get them checks ready. Ha ha, ha ha. All right, Sharik. Well, I appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

Speaker 3:

Thank you so much, Adam. What a pleasure having you being here.

Speaker 2:

Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of Side Hustle City. Well, you've heard from our guests, Now let's hear from you. Join our community on Facebook, Side Hustle City. It's a group where people share ideas, share their inspirational stories and motivate each other to be successful and turn their side hustle into their main hustle. We'll see you there and we'll see you next week on the show. Thank you.

From Side Hustle to Main Hustle
International Business and Cultural Differences
Cultural Differences and Global Perspectives
The Future of Work
Startups and Market Research Potential
Focus in Startup Success
Supply and Demand in Marketplaces