Interview with Menan Subramani from Unit 203
Menan Subramani is the founder and owner of Unit 203, a Toronto-based product studio.
Starting as a freelance developer, Menan built his agency Unit 203 in 2020, and saw fast growth - with some large clients and 15 employees coming on board in the first 6 months of operation.
I chatted with Menan to learn more about his agency, his story, and to tease out any advice and hints that may be valuable for others to learn.
1. Can you introduce yourself & Unit 203 to the Dev to Agency readers?
Hi, I'm Menan, I'm 24 from Toronto, Ontario. I started and run Unit 203 a dev shop focusing on being a tech team as a service to ecommerce brands.
2. How did Unit 203 start?
Unit 203 started almost by accident.
I always wanted to build B2B apps and SaaS tools - and as I built them and looked at different opportunities I got more and more into the ecommerce / DTC (direct-to-consumer) / Shopify space. I was working on a few apps for Shopify stores, ended up on Twitter and naturally just started to talk with and networked with a lot of ecommerce owners and operators.
After taking on some interesting freelancing projects, I eventually spiralled into starting an entire agency - once I learned how fun and exciting it was to get a seat at some fast growing and large brands.
3. Do you have a niche or an ideal customer type?
Yes, we are focused on the ecommerce and DTC space, from helping the brands themselves with custom sites/software to building products (SaaS apps) for those brands. It's what we understand inside and out, and the problems we are most capable of solving.
4. How did you find your first clients, and what was your strategy to find them?
First clients sort of just came to me through referrals and just shooting the shit with people in the space on things that can be built and problems that exist.
We are now just trying outbound and more deliberate sales strategies but are still in the process of figuring this out.
5. What challenges did you face early on, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge early on (we are still pretty early) was management as a whole. I went from managing just myself to ~15 ppl in a matter of 6 months.
I learnt the hard way that being technically skilled, and entrepreneurial are completely different skill sets from being a good manager. I overcame this by being more self aware of my strengths and weaknesses and hired/delegated to people that complimented and covered my weaknesses.
6. Did you have a clear vision of what your business would be when you first started, and has that changed at all?
When we first started, my goal was to start an agency targeting ecommerce clients with the sole purpose of getting client insights on what problems brands face, and then use the agency profits to fund in-house products.
As we've been operating I've noticed 2 things that have got me to shift my vision slightly.
- Client work for the most part is not that insightful. Although the network and people involved are.
- Agency work and running an agency is much more enjoyable than I first thought.
- You need a lot of focus and convection to launch an in-house product.
Our end goal is still the same, but I've come to realize our in-house products business and agency will be much more siloed than I first thought
7. What challenges do you face today?
Recruiting senior engineers, and figuring out a sales pipeline that we can actually scale agency work with. Also, personally, staying focused on the most important things, and not getting ahead of myself.
8. What do you think sets Unit 203 apart from other agencies?
Our ability to understand ecommerce, the problems in the industry and what brands can do to improve their business.
9. What do you hope your business looks like in 3 years?
Our goal is to be a go-to agency for ecommerce brands that want to build tech teams. I'd like to scale and work with more fast growing ecommerce brands, and start investing more in our in-house products.
10. What are some things you would tell a developer who is thinking of starting a software agency?
I think the market for custom software is really large, growing and hot right now.
- I would tell a developer not to get carried away if they want to start an agency. I would try to find one or two companies that you can do incredibly good work for.
- Pick an industry you're passionate about, it's much easier to network and find deals (for me talking to clients never felt like work because I am so interested and feel like I'm talking to my friends).
- Try to hire sooner than you think, and if you are not a good manager I'd aim to hire a PM before you hit the 3-4 dev mark.
- If I was to go back I'd probably also try to focus on reliable sales and growth much sooner than I did.
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