Meet Monshur Ali, Founder of WeAgile, a digital creative studio with a track record of supporting clients with their design, development, and marketing needs. WeAgile specializes in translating people’s needs into digital strategies, products, and multi-disciplined teams of seasoned professionals. They deploy theircreative experts to de-risk and solve challenges for start-ups, SME’s and corporate clients.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Monshur Ali: I founded WeAgile in 2019 with my business partner after being frustrated (for too long) with the way many digital agencies worked – not fairly remunerating the actual ‘doers’ (creatives – designers, developers, marketers, etc.), overcharging clients and not using their skills in digital for the greater good, we decided it was time to change it and
WeAgile was birthed – a remote-first creative studio where we take care of every creative we work with, build true partnerships with our amazing clients, and focus on our social responsibility as much as we focus on business. The model is to move away from selling time and day rates and focus on the value-add to our clients (by offering tailored solutions), creatives (by sharing the profits), and wider society (through our CSR campaigns). I believe all businesses should focus on giving back to society and not just profits – that’s what WeAgile is about.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Monshur Ali: I’m a natural goal-setter and I love challenges. What I realized while I was working for somebody else (basically, all my life up till we started WeAgile), and building somebody else’s dream and vision, is that I had stopped setting goals and was just ‘stuck’ in ‘their’ vision, ‘their’ reality, instead of building my own reality and building my own vision and goals. I had been working without any holidays for more than 3 years, was mentally burnt out and not happy with where I was and with how much ‘routine’ there was in my work-life. And it was not all just about me. I have a son, and I knew he was watching me and seeing my life, my burn-out, my unfulfillment.
I knew I was setting an example, and it made me think – would he want to grow up and live his adult life the way I was living it at that point? And I can guarantee you, the answer was – heck no! So I had to do something. I had to change, I had to step up and do something with my life. I decided to build a legacy for my son.
And with legacy I mean, not just a company that he might want to work at or lead one day, but because WeAgile has always been remote-first, since day one, he has had the chance to watch me working from home, working with the clients, with the team, me learning to manage my own time and set priorities, working through challenges, being transparent and honest, celebrating the wins and learning from losses – I’ve been able to lead by example, talking with him about business, integrity, people, and life more than I ever had before. And I do feel that this is the kind of knowledge and wisdom that he will benefit from hopefully for the rest of his life. So I’d say my son is my greatest motivator.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?
Monshur Ali: When we started WeAgile, it was just me and my business partner, and some freelancers – designers, developers, SEO specialists, etc., however, we didn’t have anyone who would do admin or finance, so I “tried “doing that myself. Unfortunately, it was at this point my lack of finance experience showed through.
I put non-existent VAT rates on some clients’ invoices, and sometimes overcharged or undercharged clients. So, yes, I did realize pretty quickly that I cannot do finance at all and we needed to hire someone for that. Although every sensible business person knows that you cannot do everything (as you are not a specialist in all areas), I think most of us still try doing it (at least at the very beginning).
I guess it was a great reminder of the famous quote: “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” Ever since then, I’ve been looking to hire and work with people who know much more than I do, as that is the only way both I and the company can grow.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Monshur Ali: Resilience is continuing your journey despite any doubts or failures. Resilience is moving forward and pushing through barriers even when you don’t feel motivated to do so. I think this word (or concept of resilience) has become especially topical since the pandemic started, however, it has always been a very important part of being an entrepreneur (not only during the pandemic but also before it even started and long after it’s over).
Although being resilient is definitely a characteristic that each entrepreneur must have, I think the pandemic was almost like a sieve that ruthlessly forced you to look at yourself in the mirror and see whether you are resilient or not. And some of us – business people – had enough resilience not to give up, but still the storms of uncertainty, fear, panic, economic instability pushed a lot of people and businesses on their knees. So resilience is of the utmost importance, but it is definitely not the only thing that will make or break your business.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Monshur Ali: WeAgile is a digital creative studio based in Shoreditch. We know that there are a ton of digital agencies out there, however, our model has been different from the very beginning. How are we different? First of all, our motto – “Digital Used for Good” sums up our purpose and values which we really lived out during the pandemic with our CSR activities (to name just a few – pro-bono website builds for charities, free online tutoring platform for primary school kids, financial support for job seekers, etc.) which we continue to do today. Secondly, we’ve always been a remote-first business – our teams have always had the chance of working from wherever they wanted – as long as they are happy – we’re happy. Thirdly, we build tailored teams for every single client based on their industry and needs, so they get to enjoy the best possible end result created by the best professionals.
When clients are looking for solutions, they are also looking to find the right people that have the right experience as well as the creative juices to take their idea and expand it. That’s where WeAgile comes in. We create tailored teams for each of our client’s individual challenges ensuring we have the right people and skillsets for the job. Too long have clients relied on an agency’s in-house experience over creatives that have gone freelance and fit the bill better. We also ensure that the creatives are fairly remunerated whilst expanding their portfolio. Furthermore, we make sure we give back to the society by continuously working on our CSR campaigns, to make sure that Digital is Used for Good – always.
I think it is very true that you can see what’s in a person’s (or business’s for that matter) heart in times of crisis. So I’d like to tell you about some actions we took in response to the pandemic.
When schools closed across the UK last year, WeAgile launched free weekly online group tutoring sessions – WeLearn – so kids could continue to learn while away from the classroom. It was very heartening to find out that these sessions both gave parents a breather in the middle of the day, and taught children some very practical skills – not only maths but also how to use video conferencing platforms like Zoom.
Last year charities in the UK were in the kind of hardship they’ve never experienced before. The importance of charities’ digital presence to enhance the visibility and reach both the donors and people who need help was immediately acknowledged by the WeAgile team. WeAgile took a ‘hands-on’ approach and chose 3 charities whose websites were redesigned and developed pro-bono by WeAgile. This year we’ve chosen 3 more charities and will be finishing their brand new websites before the end of the year.
As we wanted to help more charities, we delivered a free online marketing workshop to over 40 London-based charities to specifically address their growing need of being able to manage their social media in-house, and afterward shared the recording with other charities (over 130 charities have watched the webinar so far).
We knew a lot of people would be looking for jobs due to the mass unemployment caused by COVID-19, so we created an initiative to reimburse travel costs when attending interviews.
We also decided to support one of our hospitality clients with pro-bono work as they have been providing millions of meals to the poorest children in the UK over the last couple of years and still kept doing that despite their restaurant closures during the lockdown, so we wanted to show our appreciation to them for doing this amazing charity work and supported their business in a way we could – by taking their restaurants (meal kits) online.
When I look back at the last year and everything we have planned for this year, I really do believe we Used Digital for Good and will keep doing that.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Monshur Ali: Robust work ethic. It’s something my dad taught me very early on in my life, and I will be forever grateful for that. Finishing tasks in a timely and efficient manner are important, and if you cannot do it or don’t know how to do it – Integrity. I always try to under-promise and over-deliver and not the other way around – as it causes a lot of frustration for everyone. I think it’s part of being professional – and I don’t mean you have to wear a suit to work every day, but it’s more about your attitude, values, integrity.
Flexibility/Adaptability. WeAgile – it’s in the name. There are very few things in the business that remain constant – usually your mission and vision, but even they can evolve over time, everything else is fluid – cash flow, clients, projects, etc. So if you don’t like change and you rather prefer routines – starting a business might be more difficult for you, as every day is totally different – especially when you’re in a start-up phase.
Risk-taker. Most of the entrepreneurs I know are quite comfortable with taking risks. Starting a business is a huge risk. We all know the scary statistics – roughly 70% of startups fail somewhere between years 2 and 5. That is a very high failure ratio, however, we still do it. Risk-taking is in our blood, I have not seen many risk-averse people owning businesses (especially not nowadays).
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Monshur Ali: With social media being used pretty much by everyone nowadays, it’s is more important than ever to be aware of your personal brand. For example, if you’re looking for a job, it is wise to check out the company’s owners social media profiles, or your interviewer’s profiles – you will know more about them straight away – their values, their interests, their goals, what they do in their free time and usually also about the work environment. Obviously, it works both ways – it is almost standard practice to check out people you’re interviewing for a job role on social media too.
Sometimes the company’s brand might seem a bit ‘non-human’, so obviously, if you want to learn more about the company – learn about the people who lead it – that’s why your own personal brand as a leader is so important, as people will judge your company, maybe even your team and the results you can deliver, based on your personal brand and how you present yourself.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Monshur Ali: Without going into too much detail into management theories, I will always prefer any style that allows open communication in all directions – up, down, inter-departmental, etc. Our company is pretty democratic, I am using the word ‘pretty’ because it’s how it is most of the time. Nothing works for 100% of situations. There have been situations where I have been more autocratic in making certain decisions, but it’s mainly because I wanted to be solely responsible for the outcome (in case it was really bad).
Each company has its own ‘vibe’, culture, environment, needs, so I totally understand why some companies are more ‘under control’ than others. I can definitely say that I love an environment where everyone can voice their opinions, suggestions, and ideas.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Monshur Ali: Steve Jobs’s quote comes to mind: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” Because of social media sometimes it might feel like every entrepreneur is a millionaire, that being an entrepreneur is always a joy-ride and you just get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. What most people don’t see is the hours of hard work, stress, uncertainty, doubt, sleepless nights, the huge weight of responsibility that lies on (almost) every entrepreneur’s shoulders. I do not want to scare anyone away from becoming an entrepreneur, but I think that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Many people love the idea of being an entrepreneur, but once they’ve got the real taste of it, they go back to being an employee for someone else. And that is totally normal, the world needs great employees as much as they need entrepreneurs – one without the other would simply not exist.
I would advise the younger readers to start with something small, try selling something they can make with their own hands (or minds), analyse how you feel about promoting your product/service, what’s the level of your motivation, work on your profit & loss statement – work on pricing your product, covering your expenses, are you making any profit, do you need to hire someone to help you (your younger sibling maybe), I’m not saying it applies 100% of the time, but if you’re not ready to start small and go through ‘the simple stuff’, then most probably you just might be excited about the ‘idea’ of being an entrepreneur, based on the ‘portraits’ that social media have sold you what being an entrepreneur means.
I guess the question I would suggest the younger readers ask themselves – is “Do I really want to become an entrepreneur or have I (potentially) been sold a pipedream of what being an entrepreneur means?” Some people are motivated by money, some by helping others, some by fun, and some by facts and figures – no matter what motivates you, you can find satisfaction in what you do – no matter if you’re an employee or an entrepreneur.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Monshur Ali: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs
Nothing falls from the sky. You have to work hard (and smart) to be successful. And it means – it is not always easy. But if you know why you’re doing it, it gives you more resilience. It is easy to look at other people’s achievements and think – I am not there yet, will I ever be ‘there’, it does look easy for them. But we have to remember that we never see the full picture. We really do see only the tip of the iceberg. No matter how much entrepreneurs share online about their successes and failures, we’ve never walked in their shoes. So in times of struggle or difficulties, I remind myself – I am not the only one going through this, and I talk to other business owners, we have heart-to-heart conversations and then you get this fresh energy, and move on. I think this quote is a great reminder that owning and running a business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Monshur Ali for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Monshur Ali or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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