Dave: Hey everyone, Dave here with the Philly Tech Connect podcast. Today I’m speaking with Abby. Abby is a bioengineer by education, a consultant and PM by career, and a digital marketing software founder by passion. Also, a semi-pro table tennis player. He’s building a DIY platform for SEO that allows small businesses to do SEO in-house without outsourcing it. And we’re going to be talking today about taking the leap, about becoming a founder, about the various accelerators he’s gone through, and his insight about SEO and everything else we can kind of think of. Abby, how you doing, man?

Abishek: I’m good, Dave. It’s good seeing you.

Dave: Yeah, I love it. We met kind of a couple of weeks ago. You joined the community. I saw you guys were doing an SEO tool. I’m in that space, so it’s something I definitely wanted to take part in and chat with you and your business partner, learn more about what you were up to. You got a cool story. I don’t want to ruin it. Tell us a little bit about your background developing this tool. Where did it kind of come from?

Abishek: Yeah, sounds good. So, my background is actually in pharmaceutical strategy consulting. And while I was doing consulting, my uncle in India, who owns a small travel tourism agency, reached out to me. He asked, you know, with between 900 to 1200 agencies just in the area of India that he’s in, it’s a highly concentrated market. So he asked me, you know, is there some way to stand out? And during this time, I was also looking into pharmaceutical SEO. And that’s when I got the idea, you know, maybe we, me and my current co-founder, Melvin, maybe we can start an agency and help out small to medium-sized businesses. And as we created this agency, we realized that there’s a lot of the process involved in SEO that can be automated. And so that’s where the initial idea for this platform came about. You know, we call it Mina Insights. And it really started with a very basic script. And Melvin sent it to me while I was in India, and he was like, “Look, I can identify the SEO issues on a site.” And it was just a very basic script, but that was kind of the seed, you know, that started everything.

Dave: I love that. You know, it’s like you have a problem, you know, or you know someone who has a problem, you look for a solution. There’s various ways to solve problems, as high-end kind of service-based solutions like an agency, then there’s software that can be a little bit more cost-efficient for a small business, which it sounds like is kind of the style that your uncle runs. You introduced it to your uncle. I’m kind of curious, I don’t know if I ever asked you, but you know, what were his impressions here? I mean, it doesn’t sound like SEO is sort of his expertise, you know, just by nature of the business. So was there some explaining that needed to be done? Were you kind of doing the work for him? Like, what actually happened with that conversation?

Abishek: Yeah, so I think, you know, SEO, it can be complicated, but we try to make it as simple as possible. I’m sure you know, since you’re in the space as well. And so I just explained it to him. You know, if you want to look for a restaurant in the area, what do you do? And he was like, “Well, I search for it in Google.” And then I asked him, “Well, how do you make your decision?” Well, I choose the top option, you know, one of the first three options, and if it has, you know, decent reviews. And so that’s what I explained to him, is that those top results don’t happen by accident, you know? It’s not a coincidence. It’s usually a business has realized that they can get traction and customers from being in those search results. And, you know, so that’s kind of a simple way to explain what SEO does. And the platform, you know, it was very easy for him to use and easy for him to follow. But one of the things we’re working on now is actually automating a lot of it. Right now, it still requires some sort of user intervention, you know, where they have to follow the steps that our platform shows them. And for a business owner, we’re realizing that even that 30 to 40 minutes a day could be time-consuming. So right now, we’re looking to automate that entire process. So it was user-friendly, but it’s just the time aspect that we’re actually looking to add another layer of automation to.

Dave: Yeah, and that’s a thing that I’ve encountered years doing software as well, especially building tools for like the small business market, is it’s hard to just get like the 100% of the value from a tool without the user being able to input some information, make some choices, some decisions, you know, log on every once in a while. And even that is just more than really people often have appetite for. They feel like they’re already paying the subscription. It’s like, well, then what do I need to do all this other stuff? So incorporating that automation, maybe some AI, I’m not sure if that’s kind of where you’re going, but perhaps can bridge that gap. You know, obviously, your intention in starting to build this out, develop it further, is not just to solve your uncle’s problem. You probably have a broader market in mind, and you’re looking to kind of get in touch with them as well as just learn about being found it for the first time. I’m aware that you’ve joined a couple of different accelerators. Tell us a little bit about the decision-making behind that, like deciding to go that route, what your experience was like trying to find them, apply to them, get in them, go through them all, everything.

Abishek: Yeah, totally. So, like I said, all of this just started with an idea. It’s a script, and then Melvin and I didn’t really have experience being founders. We worked in corporate, we’re pretty young, you know, we were just in college not too long ago. So it’s following this very regimented, people kind of tell you what to do, and you do it, and being an entrepreneur is completely different. You take everything into your own hands. And so Melvin and I knew we needed help. You know, we’ve never done this entrepreneurial journey, and I’m sure, Dave, even when you first started, you probably experienced some of the same things we’re going through now, which is, you know, how do you take control and do your own thing and set your own schedules and how do you know what to do next? And so that’s when we realized that an accelerator could be a good solution for us because these are founders who usually have successfully exited before and would give us advice, very regimented, step-by-step instructions, like this is how you launch, this is how you get traction, etc. And so the first accelerator we applied to is called Build Space. It’s YC-backed accelerator, and it’s kind of the way they envision it as a school for entrepreneurs. So every week, we have courses, and it really encourages you to build in public. So we had activities that we would have to do every week. So week one maybe get some traction on social media, and then they give us a template we’d have to fill out and then post it to our LinkedIn. And this was really useful for us because it helped us validate our idea. So we actually got feedback from other members of our cohort saying, you know, this is a product I would use every single day. You know, they’re also fellow startup founders. And so we realized we’re building something that actually does add value. We got a lot of traction on LinkedIn, you know, things that encouraged us to keep going. And so that was the first accelerator we took part in. And then we realized we needed a little bit more help. We needed to go kind of deeper on the software side. And so that’s when we applied for our second accelerator, which is TAC Ignite. And TAC Ignite is a very new accelerator. It’s their first year in existence. And so we were part of their inaugural cohort. So three startups from all over the country were selected, and we were lucky to be one of the three. And they really helped us on the software side. So they built out a whole reference architecture that they merged our software to, so making things like payments easier, making things like bug fixes a lot easier for us. So having that kind of technical expertise was really helpful as well. So that was the second accelerator that we did. And then we decided, okay, we need more help on being an entrepreneur, doing things like, you know, how do you handle your social media? How do you handle just launching in general or ads? Or the biggest thing for us is how do you handle investment? You know, we’re not used to that. We don’t really understand equity and, you know, what’s the difference between an angel investor and a VC? What are the advantages and disadvantages? We needed help navigating that. And so that’s why we applied to the Founders Institute. And, you know, you’re a mentor in that as well. So, you know, we were very excited to connect with you and really excited for this to kick off. It begins tomorrow. So, you know, we’re really excited to go through that very regimented, step-by-step explanation on this is the first thing you need to do. Here’s the second thing. Here are activities you need to complete. So, you know, we’re really excited for that.

Dave: Yeah, I’m pumped as well. It’s my first time mentoring a cohort. So it’s honestly my first time even being associated with an accelerator. And so I’m also kind of in some ways feeling maybe what you’re feeling, which is a little bit of the anticipation of what’s going to happen. But what’s really cool, I think, with your story and the way you describe the different accelerators is, you know, when I was thinking about accelerators years ago with my first software pro, I immediately go to something like a Y Combinator or Techstars or something like that. And it’s like, okay, like, hey, you know, get a big investment, change the world, take over world domination, all that type of stuff, which is cool and that’s good. And there’s certainly like a lot of that’s great if that’s your path and that’s kind of where you’re at. But there are so many other different accelerators in the country, around the world that have different terms, that offer different things. Some of them are more about the education. And you mentioned that it wasn’t just about necessarily the product and market research and pricing and strategies related to growth, but also just about how to be a founder, how to like structure your day, like how to balance maybe if you’re working a job at the same time, and things like that are also equally as critical if not more because a lot of times, you know, people who are building a business are also learning to be a founder for the first time. So I think it’s just a message out to everybody that if you thought that maybe it wasn’t for you, you know, just think again because there’s a lot of different varieties of what we think of when we talk about accelerator. Would you agree?

Abishek: I would completely agree. I think, you know, even for us, when we first started out, we of course heard the YC and the Techstars and so for us, we knew that we were maybe not at that stage yet where we would be able to get into one of those accelerators. We’re still, you know, building the prototype and typically for those accelerators, they are looking for some sort of traction, like have you launched to customers, have you started making some sales. And so we really kind of dug deep on accelerators because we wanted it to be a learning experience for us to teach us how to be an entrepreneur and grow first instead of requiring traction first. And so that’s when, you know, when we were doing our deep dive, we used platforms like F6S. And so we were just looking for, you know, we’d add a filter, accelerators in the US, and we knew we wanted to prioritize education first. We didn’t know if we wanted to take on some sort of funding in exchange for equity yet. So we just wanted to learn first. So that was kind of the reason for applying for, you know, these specific accelerators because there’s no kind of major equity exchange. You know, with a YC, I believe it’s like $100,000 or $120,000 for 7% equity, you know, which sounds great, but then if your company ends up doing really well, you’ve lost 7% equity.

Dave: Yeah, on the topic of becoming a founder, in the education and sort of you’ve been experienced it now for enough time to start to get a little bit of the vibes. What has surprised you? What types of challenges have you encountered? What things have been good, what’s been bad, what’s been ugly?

Abishek: Yeah, so a lot of challenges, you know, especially for us taking the decision not to bring on any sort of early investment, so completely bootstrapping has been a challenge. The way we’ve managed it is really interesting. I have a different uncle in India who’s a very successful businessman, and what he told me and my co-founder Melvin is, you know, “I work on a lot of projects. If you freelance for me and help me out with the tech side and maybe build some decks for me, I’ll cover your housing, I’ll cover your food, I’ll cover your insurance, you know, kind of the basic necessities.” So it’s not, you know, some exorbitant salary or something like that. And I was working in consulting where I had the job stability, a good income, but it gave us—it kind of de-risked the situation—so it gave us this timeline of okay, we can work on a startup. So Melvin and I moved in together, we live in the same apartment, which is really nice, you know, we wake up and we start the day together, and we sit down and work together. I think being in that same space is really nice. So you know, we took that unique approach, but what that means is we don’t have a lot of extra funding, any sort of disposable income that we could spend on contractors or software engineers, we have to do everything ourselves. And I think the good thing about that is it’s made us really resourceful. You know, we’re not what you see with a lot of VC-backed startups, is they kind of spend money because they have it. And for us, because we don’t have money, we have to improvise, you know, and so we have things like free UX/UI interns who have been helping us kind of redesign our platform and our webpage. I’ve been speaking to someone who does counseling for high school students who want to get into college, and they need work experience. So we’re bringing them on as interns, free work, to manage things like social media and things like that. So that will be coming up in the next few weeks. So we’ve had to be resourceful, and I think that’s a skill that’s going to take us pretty far. We’re not just going to needlessly turn to funding if we don’t need it. We’ll try to bootstrap as long as we can. You know, other good things are the ability to set your own schedule, set your own meetings, and all the work that you do, all the hard effort that you put in, is to grow your own company. You’re not working hard to make someone else money. And that was the biggest thing I think I kind of had some dissonance with in consulting is the harder I would work, it wouldn’t really pay off for me. There’s no overtime. So it would make someone else money, and so I think the motivation is a lot higher being your own startup founder. Some disadvantages, I would say, one is the financial security. You know, being an entrepreneur is not an easy task, and especially as you know, I’m getting married this year, so it’s raised a lot of questions for me, you know, is this sustainable, can I continue this? But thankfully, you know, my fiance and her dad are both in the startup space as well, so they’re very encouraging of that, which has been nice. You know, it’s just uncertainty, I would say, is probably the biggest disadvantage. You don’t have a steady income coming in; right now, we have zero revenue. So you know, you have things like runway and how long can you keep building full-time before you have to go get a job, and you know, those are kind of the disadvantages right now.

Dave: Yeah, learning to live with uncertainty is one of the big sort of things that I’ve taken away over the course of like 15 years of doing things like this. Resourcefulness, though, will definitely come in handy in just general too, not just in like the business, but yeah, you know, the less you have to work with, the more you have to kind of be savvy about how to make things happen, and that’s really cool that you understood that you had this other person within your network who you could do this kind of exchange of services for to get yourself what you need. De-risk, like you said, I think that’s a great way of kind of putting it because that’s really what so much I think of entrepreneurship is, is kind of taking, taking risk while de-risking the downside. It’s not just about like putting it all on black on a roulette table and just kind of hoping it works out; it’s about like trying to kind of give yourself the best chance of an outcome but understand that you can never really guarantee it. So yeah, really good words of wisdom there. Abby, for people that want to get in touch with you, they want to learn more about the product that you’re working on, how should they do so?

Abishek: Yes, so I would say probably the best way is to reach out on LinkedIn. So my name on LinkedIn is Abishek Stanley, ABI-S-H-E-K, last name Stanley, S-T-A-N-L-E-Y. You know, we’re always looking for people who are really passionate about what we’re doing. We’re looking for mentors and advisors, and you know, I think we’ve kind of gotten to the point where we may even start looking at investors, but we wanted to make sure that investors are actually people who are within the SEO space or within the digital marketing space. We didn’t want someone to just throw money at us. We’ve had offers from angel investors who reached out saying, “Hey, you guys are building something cool. We’d like to invest,” but we actually ended up turning them down because they had no experience in the space. You know, they were just in the restaurant industry or something. So yeah, you know, if someone is in that space, we’d love to chat. And even if they just have questions about being a first-time entrepreneur, you know, we don’t really have the years of experience, but we understand some of the difficulties and the advantages, and we’d love to speak to anyone about it.

Dave: Awesome, yeah, man. Thanks for being on the show, letting us know about your experiences and being a member of the community.

Obby: Yeah, you know, I think the way we actually first heard about the tech entrepreneurs group was because of the accelerator we got into. So, Tac Ignite, Denil is the COO of TAC, and he lives in Philly, and so he was actually an active part of that group and encouraged us to join the Slack channel and kind of get in touch and to even, he mentioned how helpful that community was, that everyone is trying to look out for each other, and that’s something that’s really valuable in the space. You know, if I didn’t have this uncle who was willing to be a mentor and kind of support us financially and things like that, you know, we probably wouldn’t have taken this venture. And so in the same way, having that support network is amazing. You know, it’s nice seeing fellow people go through the struggle. These are people who understand the same challenges you do; they have the advice, a lot of people have so much experience, and so it’s been great connecting in the group, and obviously, you know, Dave, even just meeting you, it’s been super helpful for us to bounce ideas off of and, you know, we probably wouldn’t have had that experience if we didn’t join the group,

Dave: For sure. No, it’s been a really great community, and it’s really impressed me as well, just kind of how we’ve been able to keep it about the value and about helping people out, and there’s really not like spam or anything like that. So, anyway, we’ll keep growing together, but thank you again for being on the show.

Obby: Of course, Dave. Yeah, thanks for having me.