Neeraj Singh is the founder and CEO of BigBinary, a Ruby on Rails development agency based out of San Francisco and Pune, India, and is one of Inc. 5000’s fastest-growing companies in America.
BigBinary’s work has ranged from launching startups to scaling technology in fast-growing companies. Having clients across all industries, from EdTech and logistics, to health care and payment processing, companies trust BigBinary because of its work ethic and track record of building high-quality software.
The BigBinary team includes some of the leading Ruby on Rails and React developers in the world. Four of the top one hundred open-source contributors to Ruby on Rails are a part of the BigBinary team and they regularly speak at conferences worldwide.
BigBinary is a strong advocate of open-source culture and its team members have contributed to many leading open-source projects including Ruby on Rails, jQuery, React.js, jQuery, Sinatra, Backbone.js, ActiveMerchant, and many more. In addition to open-source contributions, Neeraj and his team regularly publish industry-acclaimed blogs and podcasts.
Neeraj earned his BE in Mechanical Engineering in India. He received his Master’s in Information Systems from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh.
Neeraj and his team have fully-embraced remote work culture, where all 60+ team members of BigBinary work remotely worldwide.
How did the concept for BigBinary come about?
I worked for various companies where I did not find the work to be fulfilling. The work involved many useless meetings, bad software development experiences, and working on unrealistic deadlines.
So I decided to be a freelancer. While I did not initially set out to build a company, I registered the BigBinary.com domain and the company for legal protection.
How was the first year in business?
The first year of business was pretty underwhelming. I had only one client and I was busy trying to ensure the client was happy with my work. At the tail-end of the first year, I brought on one more client. At that time, my billing rate was extremely low so I had to work for both clients to meet my financial needs. I was putting in crazy hours just to stay afloat.
What was your marketing strategy?
I dislike sending cold emails, so targeted email marketing was out of the question. To build trust with potential clients and to contribute to the Ruby on Rails community, I learned how to make screencasts and started creating videos on how Ruby on Rails actually works under the hood. It was a lot of work, but the videos became popular and ended up helping me find my next set of clients. I then began writing technical blogs, which, in my opinion, together with videos, were a much more effective and high-quality form of marketing.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We started off growing 10-20%, year-over-year.
How do you define success?
Profitability is success for a bootstrapped business. Beyond that, running a good, ethical business and standing up for the right values is success.
What is the key to success?
I’m still figuring this out. What I can say is that having a successful business without the underpinnings of strong ethics is not success to me.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Even unreasonable people are reasonable from their own point of view. Sometimes, it takes more patience and more digging to fully understand another’s point of view. Building empathy for a contradictory point of view is hard, but essential to lead a team.
Also, it is preferable to not have any work with bad clients. A single bad client can ruin the mood for the whole day and is bad for team morale. Now I pay much more attention to the type of clients I want to work with.
One challenge I have as a leader is sandboxing my personal mental state. In any given day, I speak with employees, clients, or potential sales leads, and inevitably, some of the calls do not go very well. While frustrating, the experience should not affect my next meeting or affect the rest of the day. The participants of my next meeting should always be treated with respect, regardless of how bad the last call went. While it has been a challenge to compartmentalize my emotions, it is something I strive to improve every day.
In addition, as an organization leader, I need to be both rigid and flexible at the same time – rigid to core principles and flexible on execution. However, in the real world, lines tend to blur, making decisions difficult sometimes.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“You are what you do repeatedly.” – Jason Fried
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Steve Jobs
What are some of your favorite books?
Rashmi Rathi by Ramdhari Singh Dinkar
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird & Martin J. Sherwin
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
At the end of Q3 2017, while crunching the numbers, I found that the company was running on a loss. Our revenue had not grown, while expenses had increased significantly. I knew some serious changes were needed to bring the company back to profitability, but for an entire week, I struggled to find a solution to the problem. That was a bad week.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My belief that the only thing I control is what I do and how I react to the situation. I can’t always control the circumstances and the outcome. Sometimes, the outcome will be desirable. Sometimes not. But if I always do my best, I will have the satisfaction of having done so.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Be good. Do good. Be a misfit. Stand up for your values. Question everything.
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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