First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Wajid Mirza: We’ve been resilient. And since you asked about family, I’d also say that COVID-19 and its imposed lockdown has forced us to do a quick ‘reboot’ in terms of reviewing what really matters to us as individuals and as a support system for each other. So plenty of revised choices about what we consume, how we spend time etc.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Arthur Lawrence.
Wajid Mirza: I’m a management consultant and serial entrepreneur. In fact, I started my career as an entrepreneur. Fresh out of college, a friend and I established Storage Devices International (SDI). This startup manufactured external storage devices for IBM, Panasonic, and Sony, amongst others, under an OEM contract. I led manufacturing and marketing operations for SDI, and within a year, our distributor network covered 27 countries and had some of the biggest global brands in its client portfolio. Soon after, our work attracted the interest of IBM, who acquired the technology.
Arthur Lawrence was established between 2003 and 2004–around the time I was working as Director Finance Transformation & Business Application Practices at The Hackett Group. Earlier I’d been a Manager at Accenture.
Back then, staffing and talent acquisition was seen as the same thing. So, to be honest, as a career management consultant, my expectations from the technology talent industry weren’t too high.
When I co-founded Arthur Lawrence, I was determined to do something different, and something which offered the competitiveness and prestige of my earlier employers. Of one thing I was certain: Arthur Lawrence would never commodify human capital.
That’s why Arthur Lawrence steered clear of ‘placement and staffing’ from Day I. Instead, we focused on delivering the talent premium.
What this means is that while we do fulfill our clients’ talent needs, we have a process that is far more detailed and rigorous than the average ‘call and screen’ loop of staffing companies. And being in the tech space, we are, of course, extremely tech-driven in all our processes, too, applying analytics and ML in our talent management process. Because we expect so much of our people, Arthur Lawrence has been likened to the ‘Navy Seals’ of the tech talent industry.
(Fun fact: Statistically, it’s easier to get into Harvard than Arthur Lawrence).
How does Arthur Lawrence innovate?
Wajid Mirza: We’ve swiftly replicated Arthur Lawrence’s ‘DNA’ of “improving lives by creating exceptional value” by focusing on a few fundamentals:
1. Technology products that intersect between technology, transformational value, and business enablement
2. Stringent quality checks
3. A hybrid product-service delivery model
4. Focus on innovation and experimentation, which keeps our 17-year-old company young, and creates room for many new ideas to become businesses themselves
With these fundamentals in mind, we’ve introduced solutions in:
· Technology talent management (www.xperti.io)
· Finance and accounting (www.monily.com)
Our approach has been well-received. In 2019, we won the Entrepreneur 360 Award. We’ve regularly been a recipient of Inc 5000, HBJ, and other awards in the past too.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Wajid Mirza: The pandemic did have an impact. Demand receded. Faced with so much uncertainty, clients were reluctant to renew contracts, and upselling was out of the question. We had to rethink many of the aggressive GTM strategies we were considering pre-COVID.
We’re happy to report that for us, specifically, for Monily, the pandemic proved to be an opportunity for a resurgence. We discovered that clients—small and medium-sized businesses especially benefitted substantially from having a finance and accounting solution that took care of their day-to-day. F&A needs at a fraction of what an onsite team would cost them: that, plus value-addition through digitization of the conventional bookkeeping process.
It’s a product designed to help startups focus better on their main line of business.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Wajid Mirza: Yes. Shrunken demand affected business—in the sense that we had to restructure our portfolio and resize the offering. On the operations side, our team coped with coordination and communication challenges as many team members were forced to work from home.
Balancing business development with financial soundness was our biggest challenge: The leadership team and middle management underwent salary cuts to ensure zero layoffs and minimum business disruption.
Lessons learnt: The importance of maintaining an agile business structure. Product/service redesign also helped us respond to an uncertain market with speed and confidence. In my experience, having the ability to reroute your product direction is key to conserving your client base, especially in tough times.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Arthur Lawrence in the future?
Wajid Mirza: I rely on family to deal with stress and anxiety. To say they’re my support system would be an understatement!
Arthur Lawrence has maintained its focus on technology-driven solutions. For the moment, we aim for products like Xperti.io, Monily, and Health Grades Analytics to take the front seat. They’re much younger startups and respond directly to society’s most pressing needs in human capital, financial solutions, and healthcare. Monily, in particular, has been designed as a ‘plug-and-play’ solution for small businesses with urgent F&A needs.
About me, well. I consider myself a social entrepreneur and would like to be much more active in that area in the coming years.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Wajid Mirza: Arthur Lawrence is a branded house, so it doesn’t have any direct competitors. If I were to name competitors for its products (like Monily), I’d say it’d be inDinero.
How do we plan to stay in the game? With the same approach that’s kept us ahead so far: Emphasize quality, keep experimenting for the best fit between technology and human interaction, and of course, keep investing in your people.
Your final thoughts?
Wajid Mirza: Most people have approached #TheNewNormal with apprehension. But I personally see this as an opportunity. The fact that we won’t go back to our ‘old’ business ways can mean that the operating environment—especially for startups and other young enterprises will be clearer and more competitive than ever before. It’s something to plan for, and something to look forward to.