Photo from Bootstrappers
Ever wondered what your spirit animal is? For Mukul Chaware and Tarang Agarwal, two indie developers turned startup founders, the answer is simple: the panda. Their work (and life) philosophy emphasizes enjoying life, having freedom, and taking it easy. With calm strength and determination similar to the panda, they have carved out a balanced path to success.
In the past 10 months, this pair and their company SidePanda have built two Shopify apps that generate $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue. The first app, Appointo, is an appointment booking software that helps businesses save time, accelerate appointment sales, and improve service quality. So far, the app has been used to make over 20,000 bookings.
Their second app, Depo, is a payment management tool that manages security deposits, pre-orders, and partial or split payments. The app has already processed $4 million in transactions.
A Startup Doesn’t Always Start With an Idea
The best business ideas seldom appear in an entrepreneur’s head like magic. Sometimes, it’s about finding the right framework first and then coming up with an idea that fits in that environment. Mukul says, “We love building products. We knew we wanted to build something that helped people, but we weren’t sure what.”
They did, however, set some ground rules. First, whatever product they were going to build had to be attainable by bootstrapping. Second, they didn’t want to quit their day jobs until they were making enough money to be profitable. And finally, because they didn’t have an online presence themselves (or the funding to build one), they wanted to leverage an existing audience for distribution.
The two developers sought marketplaces with a built-in audience. They started with apps on Slack and Github but moved on when those didn’t work out. Mukul and Tarang didn’t yet have the experience in product development, distribution, and monetization needed to stand out in a crowded app market. “We went through trial and error with various apps and iterations and then discovered that Shopify might be the place where we could earn our first dollar,” says Tarang.
Once they honed in on Shopify as the new direction, they dove into research to figure out where the gaps in the market were and which needs were not being met for Shopify customers. In the midst of the pandemic, Mukul and Tarang discovered that merchants were looking for online appointment tools that could be used on their site.
The duo started working on their first Shopify app in October 2020. Two months later, the community inspired their second one. After working within the Shopify platform, they were able to understand the pain points that merchants were experiencing. Tarang says, “Even with the number of apps on Shopify, more than 6,000 right now, there are still countless problems that don’t have a solution.”
Their go-to-market strategy included charging customers from Day One, instead of first growing the user base with a free solution. This allowed the founders to build a sustainable business in a short amount of time. In March of 2021, they hit their goal of earning enough money to sustain monthly expenses, so they quit their jobs to work full-time on SidePanda. Since then, they have been improving their two apps and brainstorming about what their next product might be.
The Philosophy of the Panda
Back to spirit animals: How does the panda translate to SidePanda? Tarang says, “We know that pandas can be lazy, obviously, but it’s because they are enjoying life. Being in the coding industry for six years, we know that overworking is cherished. The hustle is idolized. We did not want to build another startup where people have to work 12, 14, or 16 hours a day.”
The panda as a spirit animal highlights the importance of calm energy, personal boundaries, and being grounded – and the key to all of the above is getting things into balance. SidePanda’s vision as it grows is to stay true to this approach. “There are no weekends or Mondays for us. We view every day as the same and depending on how we feel, we work anywhere from three to ten hours. We get the work done. And whenever we want to take time off, we do. We want to enjoy both personal and professional life equally and not work ourselves into the ground.”
Now that Mukul and Tarang have reached financial freedom, the next step is to raise the stakes. Their goal is to spread SidePanda’s work ideology to as many people as possible while building valuable products along the way. “We want everyone who works at SidePanda to have work-life balance and enjoy life to the fullest,” says Mukul.
The challenge now lies in going from a product (or products, in this case) to a company. Shifting this mindset involves a focus on the vision, culture, and values of the business, along with an escalation in marketing and branding to position SidePanda as more than the sum of its apps.
In a matter of months, Mukul and Tarang have built a successful app business – and for these two founders, it has been nothing short of life-changing. Tarang advises other entrepreneurs to take that leap too: “We were comfortable at our jobs, the pay was good, and we were fine working on SidePanda as a side project. But if we hadn’t quit our jobs and gone all-in, we probably wouldn’t be making $10,000 MRR right now. Our growth would have been a lot slower and we wouldn’t have realized our full potential.”