Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is BusinessMakers USA, brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Coming to you this evening in front of an audience of innovators and business leaders in Ft. Lauderdale; let’s hear it for Ft. Lauderdale man. And I’m very pleased to have as my guest Zia Bhutta, CO-founder of Synechron, Founder of TapToBook and Founder of Accelirate. Zia welcome to the show.
Zia: Thank you very much, nice to be here.
Russ: You bet. Let’s start with Synechron. I know you’re involved a lot more in your new companies but tell us about Synechron.
Zia: Sure, so Synechron today is a global IT Services firm, it’s about 8000 employees, about $500 million or half a billion in revenue, operates in about 13 different countries so it’s a big global operation.
Russ: What impressed me too when I was doing my research is that you guys built it – you’re a Co-founder with two other people – you built it without ever raising any investing funds or funding for the company correct?
Zia: Correct, yes.
Russ: So we call that a bootstrap where I come from.
Zia: Full bootstrap, yes.
Russ: Okay. Tell us how that happened.
Zia: The story goes back to 2001. I was a developer and my friend, who is the current CEO of Synechron, he was also a developer and we were working at a company called Dun & Bradstreet in New Jersey. We were exposed to IT consulting and offshore outsourcing in those days. We were in our 20s, both of us were – I don’t come from a business background and neither did he but we both had a lot of energy. So one day in 2001 – I’m an immigrant to the United States. I came to the U.S. as a student in 1988 and after going through the F1 student visa and H-1B visa – a work visa – and all that kind of stuff I finally got my green card in April of 2001 and in June of 2001 I quit my job.
The thing is when you have an H-1B visa you have to make sure that you have to be on that job. So as soon as I got my green card that was sort of my freedom and the first thing we did was we started this company. I had a little townhouse in New Jersey, I took a $10,000.00 loan on my townhouse. It was just myself and Faisel who is the current CEO and then we had another gentleman who was Faisel’s friend in India, we recruited him as well as a third partner. He started a small little room with 5 people – 5 developers – and we just started to sell.
We went to our old bosses that we used to work for, that’s where we got our initial revenue streams and there was a guy that we knew in another technology company in New Jersey called Fusion Technologies. He gave us a little room and we used to sit in that room and code all day and all night. Basically what I used to say even in the beginning of the company was we just execute and we just deliver and really that’s what we do. And then we sell and we deliver and we execute and that’s really what we do.
Russ: Okay. Back then did you ever envision that it was probably going to be like this?
Zia: We had no idea that this thing was going to become so big. Just in the first year 2001 we were able to do $300,000 of revenue in the year; it was okay.
Russ: That’s pretty impressive for a first year.
Zia: Yeah, not bad for the first year. It was a good market. It was just the right opportunity, also we were at the right place at the right time and we did the right level of execution. Our second year revenues were $2 million and then $4 million and then literally it just went like a straight line up. By 2011 we were already at around $200 million in revenues. Things were starting to slow down a little bit and then we started to add what we call inorganic growth, which means we started to acquire companies. In 2012 and 2011 most of our business was U.S based; 90% of our revenue was U.S. based – almost 95% actually.
So one of the things that we had learned in 2008 we wanted to diversify our revenue base and we wanted to build a business in Europe as well. And from my trips to Amsterdam, London, Paris I knew that in Europe you can’t just build a business just by being an American company and just go back and forth, you have to buy. So we went on an acquisition spree and over a period of 5 years we bought seven companies and integrated them into Synechron, so Synechron is truly a global company with almost 2000 people in the U.S., another 1500 in Europe and 5000 in India.
Russ: Okay. You talk about this growth, particularly that part where you said it really started kind of matter-of-factly, you know there’s a lot of companies that just really can never get there, but there’s even quite a few that get there and fall apart; growth can be difficult. You guys didn’t have any problem with it?
Zia: I think a lot of it boils down to the culture. We had a culture of execution, we never lost that culture. For us it was never about – we didn’t brag; we weren’t doing PR and things of that nature. Eventually we had to do it but we were just busy executing. And we were executing well, we were in the right market; it was a hyper growth market. I mean that industry – and that again is one of my philosophies in business, this was a market where there were tail winds in that industry. So that helped a lot but we were just executing and our culture was always about execution, is was not about talk. We have to make tough decisions as we were growing because what happens is as the business grows you have management layers that become complacent. We just never tolerated complacency for ourselves or any of the management layers and we just had to do what we had to do to replace those layers and just keep that culture of execution.
Russ: You were in the financial technology space – the FinTech space – so share with our audience some of the customers that you guys ultimately did business with.
Zia: The customer base for Synechron is the who’s who of banking and insurance; Wells Fargo, Bank of America, HSBC, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank. Pretty much…
Zia: JP Morgan Chase; pretty much our tagline was that we had 8 of the 10 world’s largest banks as our customers.
Russ: That’s pretty serious technology too with theft and cyber security and all of those issues. Did that ever concern you guys? Did you lose sleep over what you were building?
Zia: No because you see we developed – one of the core competencies that we developed with Synechron was in front office trading technology and that was not a very easy skill to have, it’s just that that’s the background we had. So a lot of what Synecrhon does today is we build trading systems and trading systems, you’re at the cutting edge of technology when you’re building front office trading systems – not the back office, the front office. These are the trading systems that are being used for Forex trading or equities trading or derivatives trading, so those are pretty complicated systems. And once you have that capability – I mean Bloomberg was my client, Goldman Sachs was my client – the word spreads, and whenever any bank would want to build any sort of a trading system and they wanted to accelerate that process they would call us. So we built that reputation.
Russ: Tell us about TapToBook.
Zia: So TapToBook is – I have to go a little bit back. So my wife is a physician – a family practice physician. She didn’t like doing family practice, it was kind of boring to her and I knew that she liked aesthetics and stuff so one day I just bought her a med spa. She didn’t appreciate it and she didn’t go there so I had to actually go and run the med spa for 3 weeks after buying it. But then eventually she did go and she eventually liked it. But any which way, 2 years later one day she came back home and said that she had an appointment at 9:00 and the next one at 3:00pm, and there were some appointments in between that got cancelled, but she had to stay at the place and wait.
So it was like all of us had heard of Uber so it was like wow, this is a business problem that a lot of small businesses have. And this was completely different from my background, it was just something that I thought that we could solve. So I called up my cousin who is a Merrill Lynch banker and he wanted to be an entrepreneur as well and he left his high-paying job and moved down here to start working on TapToBook with me. So it’s really a pretty sophisticated AI driven multi-channel marketing system. Whenever a small business has open time slots they can just shoot out messages through the system and it goes to different channels – email, text, Google, Facebook – and the consumers can just click on a link and buy the service. So we think we finally after two and a half years have a product market fit and we think that it’s a business that can scale because we never wanted to do it for a small thing. I wanted something to do which would have scale and you have to engineer a business for scale, so we think we’re in the right place now.
Russ: Okay, and it’s actually and SAAS business right?
Zia: Correct, it’s software services.
Russ: And the motivation for people to buy too is that you discount it kind of like Hotel Tonight.
Zia: That’s correct, it’s like Hotel Tonight. The businesses generally speaking these days what they do it they send out email blasts through MailChimp or Constant Contact or they have a Groupon, right? For those of you who are familiar with Groupon, Groupon has a very difficult model because they take 50% of the sale and then you have to discount 50%, so for every $100 product or service you actually end up keeping $25 in your pocket as a small business. We thought there was a better way that the business can themselves message with these discounts and keep most of the money in their pockets.
Russ: And so you’re operational and actually bringing in revenue?
Zia: We have early revenue, yes.
Russ: Okay, real cool. But we’re not through yet because also tell us about Accelirate.
Zia: So a few weeks after I retired from Synechron I had this idea. I saw this whole automation and AI trend that was happening in the market and there is this new breed of software which actually does – it’s called robotic process automation – it’s an AI driven software thing that basically does a lot of operational things that people do in business and automates a lot of things in business. And that’s where the idea came and we formed Accelirate in January of 2011. We’re in March of 2018, we’re about 45 employees, I think by the end of this year it should be like a 100 employee business. It’s pretty exciting and we’re getting a lot of clients, just building the talent is a little bit of a challenge.
Russ: Zia I really appreciate you sharing this with us. Your success is incredible and I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.
Zia: Thank you so much.
Russ: Let’s hear it for Zia Bhutta. And that wraps our interview with Zia and this is BusinessMakers USA.
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