Interview of Aladin El Hedri, CEO of Xtraball

As a first interview, and as the CEO of Xtraball, the company behind GuysInTech, I take the plunge and I start this entrepreneur interview series!

Please introduce yourself

I’m Aladin El Hedri, CEO of Xtraball and administrator/writer at GuysInTech. I’m 40 and an entrepreneur since 8 years.

What is your business activity?

We have developed a CMS for creating mobile applications which is called Siberian CMS. It can be seen as a WordPress for mobile applications.

Is it your first company? Otherwise, when did you start the first one?

No it’s not my first company, I created my first one 8 years ago in 2009.

What was the main business of your first company?

The main business was to create a kind of automated business around websites and affiliation. I created a couple of websites in some niches and these websites were bringing visitors and sales to online shops. We were paid upon the sales the websites brought.

What are the main challenges you’ve encountered when starting your entrepreneur life?

When I started my company I had a background of several years as a marketing manager of an online shop. Thanks to this background in a company that was doing business on the Internet, I had a good understanding about websites, creating mockups and exchanging with developers. But this were only basics, and I had to learn all by myself when I launched my company. In addition, before my websites started to bring some business, I used to work as a digital agency for local businesses. I was creating websites, mockups, etc.

The main challenge was that I hadn’t created any website by myself so far. I trained a lot, made mistakes and it took me a lot of time before being completely independent. Even giving a price to a client was a challenge since you don’t know exactly how much time you would need to achieve your client’s needs. But I considered it was part of my training.

What was your method to gain the missing knowledge needed to run your business?

The rough way! I had heard about CMS, especially Joomla, so I downloaded Joomla (version was 1.x at this moment) and started with it. I never even had used a web hosting. I started with a basic web hosting, installed Joomla and tried to understand how to use it and how to make it match my needs. Every time I needed to know how to do something I was searching on Google. I’ve also tried to get inspiration from other websites. That’s how I learned to use things like CSS: step by step and by experimenting. It’s very fulfilling when you start to understand things, become more and more independent and, above all, be able to do things by yourself. I’ve learned a lot by taking risks and accepting jobs I didn’t know whether I would be able to complete them or not.

What are the main challenges you’re currently facing?

From creating websites in 2009, I ended up building a software less than two years later. Obviously I didn’t develop it by myself since I had no knowledge in coding but I’ve developed skills in various domains that helped me a lot: being able to make strong specifications for developers, understand web applications logic, create mockups, etc. These skills allowed me to think and specify the software so that I could work with developers to make it done. However, now the challenges are very different. Building a software, it’s going way deeper in technical knowledge and, as the CEO, I’ve also to be up to date about current and upcoming techniques, options, programming solutions, etc, to understand them to be able to discuss choices with the different persons of a team who are not aware about all the different challenges. For example, a developer may tell you this solution is better than that one from a programming, maintenance, technical point of view, and, on your side, you have to be able to understand this solution from this technical point of view but also in term of how this solution is the right one to achieve the company goals, and to be able to explain that also!

How do you face them?

I read a lot. When I see that something can be useful and I don’t understand its in and out fully I read more about it until I completely understand.

What’s for you the best way to gain new clients?

I’m going to talk about my previous company since it is more useful here I think. To gain new clients when you build digital solutions, the first thing is the network. Clients bring new ones. You can meet potential clients everywhere, even at a party. Another good thing when I started was to work for other agencies, mostly specialized in printed communication, as a subcontractor. Most of the time my company name was hidden to the final clients, but sometimes I used to work for the client directly.

What is/are the best piece(s) of advice you can give to other entrepreneurs?

Be curious, learn and don’t think it’s impossible. And, last but not least, hire the best ones. A top level collaborator can make your company grow 10 times faster than an average collaborator you will pay half.

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