FLORIDA: A Pakistani online entrepreneur, Syed Balkhi, has bootstrapped a portfolio of virtual tools in the US to help small businesses level the playing field against industry behemoths, achieving 8-figure success in the process.
The tools are a part of the WordPress ecosystem, which powers over 82 million websites in an economy worth $596.7 billion.
Syed Balkhi, 30, is the CEO of AwesomeMotive, the company behind popular plugins like the WPBeginner, OptinMonster, MonsterInsights, WPForms, and others.
Globally, over 17 million sites harness these tools, earning the Pakistani entrepreneur multiple eight figures annually.
For his achievements in the online sphere, the United Nations recognized him as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 30.
Originally from Karachi, Balkhi discovered his passion for entrepreneurship early on.
“I have always been extremely competitive and hard-working. I started my first business when I was seven years old, selling holiday greeting cards for Eid and Pakistan’s Independence Day celebration. Later, I started a small snack shop for my neighbourhood. Both ventures were extremely profitable,” Syed Balkhi told Geo.tv.
Balkhi launched his career as an online entrepreneur a few years later – out of necessity. When he was 12, his family emigrated to the United States, and soon faced economic hardship.
“My dad was working three minimum wage jobs, 16 hours a day. I started working on the internet so that I could have some extra cash, and wouldn’t have to ask my parents for money. I felt it was my responsibility to help out my family,” Balkhi said.
Using school library computers, Balkhi started managing forums for hosting companies, handling posts, directory submissions, and data entry.
On the side, he taught himself about web hosting, firewalls, and proxy networks. Soon, he began hand-coding PHP websites for clients.
Then, in 2009, Balkhi’s big break came with the rise of WordPress. Characteristically, his greatest success resulted from a basic tenet of his business philosophy: “Do right by people.”
“I had managed to land some bigger consulting projects. I was earning good money – more than many adults,” he explains. “So I wanted to get rid of some of my smaller consulting clients. But I also didn’t want to abandon them – because back in the day when I needed money, they were there for me,” Balkhi said.
Within months, WPBeginner took off. Today, it is the single largest free WordPress knowledge hub on the internet, with over two million monthly visitors.
More importantly, WPBeginner is also the source of inspiration for Balkhi’s most successful business ventures.
“I fundamentally believe that the best way to business success is to focus on filling success gaps. There’s a gap that’s holding my customers back from reaching success – and if I can fill that gap, they’ll stay with me for a long time,” Balkhi explains.
WPBeginner helped him identify these success gaps. “I listen to what our customers are saying. I do annual surveys, and one of the questions is: If you could ask us to build one product, what would it be?”
The contact form plugin WPForms, for example, grew directly from this annual survey. Over 4 million WordPress websites use it today, and it’s the fastest-growing form builder on the planet. User feedback drove its meteoric rise – people explaining exactly what they missed in other solutions.
Another cornerstone of Balkhi’s success, he believes, is that all his businesses are fully bootstrapped.
Commenting on his business strategy, Balkhi said: “I consciously decided against going public with my businesses or finding investors to grow them. Because, essentially, you’re raising debt. When you brag about the amount of money you raise, it’s like bragging about how big your mortgage is. If you’re building something with debt as the foundation, it takes away the options you have, the freedom you have. Only one thing has to go wrong for it to fall like dominoes. Avoiding debt is also a result of my Pakistani upbringing. Here, debt is considered bad culturally.”
Instead, Balkhi reinvests into his own ventures. It’s how he could buy MonsterInsights, the largest Google Analytics plugin on WordPress, in 2016. On the same basis, he’s been making a string of acquisitions and investments throughout 2020 and 2021. With them, he seeks to harness the e-commerce transition, as more businesses come online than ever before.
Ultimately, Balkhi wants to level the playing field for small businesses. In the online sphere, many of them struggle to compete with established industry giants. Worse, they cannot afford the solutions that could help them gain visibility, as those cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“I realized that the advantage big corporations have is that they have access to better tools, better teams, and better training,” he says. “I call those the 3 Ts of success.”
“And here AwesomeMotive comes in. My mission in levelling the playing field is to provide better training – which we do through WPBeginner. And it’s free! We provide better tools, which we do through our portfolio of businesses, which offer enterprise-grade solutions for a fraction of the usual price.”
Balkhi’s business philosophy has served him well – and earned him an annual income that tallies in at multiple eight-figures.
“We have the best technology at the most affordable prices. That’s why we have great retention, and a very loyal user base, and why we’re growing at the rate that we are. There is no secret sauce. We just do the simple things really well. And we keep doing them over a long time. You keep doing something for twelve, sixteen years – then all of a sudden it looks like an overnight success,” he said.