From London, United Kingdom and Director at Pristine Digital, Shais is a young agency owner, an active contributor to the community, and also was a competitor in the 2022 Speed Build Challenge.
About this episode
In this episode, we'll hear about when and why to grow from a freelancer to an agency by focusing on your skill strengths and quality of work.
Matthew Munger: Hey Shais, thanks for joining me today.
Shais Ahmed: Thank you very much, Matthew. I'm excited to be here for sure.
Matthew Munger: Can you start off by telling us just a short bit about yourself?
Shais Ahmed: My name is Shais. I'm a Webflow developer who owns an agency called Pristine Digital, and we're based out of London, UK as you can tell from the accent. And yeah, that's just a quick introduction myself, I'm 20 years old currently.
Matthew Munger: You said you're located in London. What is it that you like about living there?
Shais Ahmed: I mean, right now London is quite expensive. That's one thing I don't like. But one thing that I do like is I've got a lot of family. I've got a lot of friends here, you know. I grew up in London. You tend to like what you've grown up in and yeah, I really enjoy London because of the diversity.
There's a lot of different people you can meet, so it's really cool. You experience a lot of culture. I love the food over here as well. It's quite a big city with quite a lot of busy people and you get to meet.
Matthew Munger: When you go out for food, what, is there a specific place or type of food that you like to go to?
Shais Ahmed: There's this specific cuisine called PFC, which stands for Perfect Fried Chicken, it's very Londony in a way. It's like you get wings, flat fried chicken wings, and then chips on the side— oh, fries with that.
We just used to, after school, just go pop up to the PFC shop and get, like three, four wings. Yeah, it's just a very iconic kind of cuisine that we have in London. But apart from that, there is a bunch of other different stuff. I really love Indian food.
Me being Pakistani myself, I love Indian food and whatnot. The one thing that stands out is definitely PFC, that is the iconic cuisine in London, or more specifically East London. Everyone that you meet in East London loves that cuisine for sure.
Matthew Munger: Anything else that you really enjoy about living in London? Things that you like to do around?
Shais Ahmed: I like to stay at home a lot. I'm not gonna lie. I'm not really a partier, I don't really party. I don't really do anything too crazy. I just like to have my close circle of friends. Just go out on small little adventures here and there, nothing too crazy. Sometimes I like go-karting or bowling for example, or just hanging around in a restaurant with my friends. Not very exciting.
I did meet up with a couple Webflowers before. For the people watching, Ver Marlin is another Webflower from London and we met up quite a few times. I went to his office in West London, and yeah, we just chill, do Webflow, and the other time we actually had a Webflow event, it's called Flow London. We met with a bunch of different Webflowers all over London. Just to name a few: Jack Redley, Joseph Berry was there, there were a bunch of different people. And we just met up at a pizza place. We were just hanging out and chatting while we were walking around. It was really, really fun.
Matthew Munger: That sounds like a good time. I'm ready to come to one of those meetups for sure.
Matthew Munger: What does your workspace look like? If we were to look at your workspace, what would we see?
Shais Ahmed: Okay, so my desk setup. I just got this big 27 inch monitor. I've got this lamp that's shining on my face right now. It's a lamp, but it's unique in a way because it has wireless charging on it.
So I'll just slap my phone down on it and it charges wirelessly. I also got this massive desk map, I've got a wireless keyboard, a mouse. I got my MacBook to the left of me, and also just a small lamp or light as well, just to brighten my face whenever I'm recording or if I'm on calls.
Right now I've got a deck of cards, my keys, and I think a bottle of gum. Yeah, pretty simple, plain. Nothing too fancy. I know a couple people have this crazy setup with a bunch of different stuff. But yeah, mine's quite simple.
Matthew Munger: Yeah, but it's unique to you. So the playing cards are interesting. Do you play cards during your breaks, or are you an aspiring magician? What's going on there?
Shais Ahmed: Whenever I’d see a person doing some cool tricks with cards in their hands, like shuffling and all of that stuff, it really intrigued me.
I was like, “That's so cool man. I want to do that.” So whenever I'm thinking or whatever, I'll just grab that deck of cards, do a couple shuffles, play around with it, and yeah. Now I know a couple tricks I'm really good at. One of them is called the raining shuffle, which I really like doing. But it's mostly just there to learn shuffling tricks, I don't really play card games at all.
Matthew Munger: Kind of like it's a fidget toy there for your desk. Something you can play with.
Shais Ahmed: That's exactly what it is.
Matthew Munger: Do you have a window there?
Shais Ahmed: Yes, I do. I can just see my garden and my home gym and all the neighbors and whatnot. So yeah, I do have a window.
Matthew Munger: Do you listen to any music while you work?
Shais Ahmed: I don't listen to music with lyrics. When I wanna do really focused work, I have no music, or I just have something called Binaural Beats, which is some frequency type music. It's quite weird. Apparently there's research that it helps you think and focus, and lyrics can be distracting. So if I was listening to any music, it would be Binaural Beats for sure.
Matthew Munger: I haven't heard of that one. I've tried other ones called Brain FM or Endel, which are very similar.
Shais Ahmed: Yeah, I actually have both of those, Brain FM and Endel. I think I bought something from somewhere— I think it was my mattress, I'm not really too sure— and it came with a card where you get 6 months of Endel for free. And I was like, “You know what?”
Matthew Munger: For the sleep sounds to go with the mattress.
Shais Ahmed: Exactly. Like there was one point in my life where I couldn't go to sleep without listening to the Endel sleep sounds. So I really did enjoy Endel. I kind of forgot about it, but you reminded me.
Gym, chess, and football
Matthew Munger: Do you have any hobbies or interests, things that you like to do when you're not working?
Shais Ahmed: I really love playing chess, so I have this really cool chess board, a proper wooden hardcore chess board, that I play with my brothers all the time. So I've got three brothers, one older and two younger. And we love playing chess.
And my youngest brother, he's 14 right now, and he always beats me. I made him a goal this year to beat him in at least one chess game. Yeah, I really love playing chess. Also, I like playing football, which is soccer. We like to call it football here in the UK.
You can purchase a pitch for like an hour. And that's a very common thing for people my age. We just buy a pitch. We all chip in maybe five or 10 pounds each person, and we play an hour game of football. But yeah, that's what I like to do. I got a gym in my garden, so I’ve got a little shed and I’ve got a bunch of gym equipment there, so I like hitting the gym. That's pretty much it to be honest. Gym, chess, and football.
Matthew Munger: Do those play a factor in your creativity and your thinking processes?
Shais Ahmed: I definitely think it does. And I definitely think having a strong, fit body and just being healthy in general will allow you to have a healthy mind, and it will allow you to be more creative, be more productive, and will give you a lot of clarity.
It will limit brain fog, which I used to suffer from quite a lot. I definitely think if— you also need an outlet, yeah. So when you work too much, and I’ve experienced this, if you just work too much without any kind of physical activity, we just sit down at our desks pretty much all day doing whatever we need to do and we barely get up. So yeah, I've seen it definitely help my creativity purely because I can think a lot more clearer.
Matthew Munger: There's a strong connection between your physical health and and your mental health
Shais Ahmed: A hundred percent.
Matthew Munger: You described yourself as a director, but also as a Webflow developer. So tell us about your roles and what you do.
Shais Ahmed: Yeah, the reason I said director and Webflow developer is I'm actually also a designer at the same time. I have a bunch of different roles. But in the beginning, I was more of a solopreneur and I used to do everything. So I was a designer, a developer, a project manager. I was pretty much everything. As time went on and I hired a bunch of people to fulfill different roles, I became more of a director where I just make the main business decisions, I help in project management, and I just purely try to grow the business as much as possible through hiring, making better processes, and thinking about different marketing strategies and whatnot.
I love Webflow, so I always like to have at least one project that I have for myself, purely because I really like Webflow and I don't really think of it as work. I just think of it as fun.
Freelancer to agency
Matthew Munger: Going from freelancer or entrepreneur to owning an agency, was that a goal that you had or is that just something that kind of just naturally happened?
Shais Ahmed: I've always had the goal of having an agency. I understood from early that as a freelancer, however fulfilling it is, there is a ceiling. And that the ceiling is confined by your time, right? You only have 24 hours a day as a freelancer. I always wanted to have an agency purely because I don't want there to be any kind of ceiling. You get to a point where you're getting quite a few projects and you kind of get forced to either hand over those projects to other people that you trust, or hire out and subcontract your projects. I literally could not handle all of them at the same time. So I kind of had to hire developers to do those projects for me.
Matthew Munger: As an individual freelancer, you have a limited capacity. If you want to grow, you can't really grow the amount of time that's in your day. So you grow by expanding a team or a group of fellow freelancers around you to come together, or you have to pass on those opportunities. Yeah, so that's kind of a decision point that people come across.
Matthew Munger: What excites, motivates you, or is a driving factor that keeps you doing what you’re doing?
Shais Ahmed: What excites and motivates me, is the community for sure. I love creating content and I think what motivates me is just helping other people.
As altruistic as that sounds, it genuinely is a reason that motivates me and excites me, purely because I was in the position of other people in the beginning of my career as well where I didn't really know what to do. I had to try everything under the sun to make things work, and I, right now, want to be the person that I wish I found when I was first starting out, if that makes sense.
In the beginning, right, what used to motivate me was, if I'm being straight up on this, was the money, right? But I've come to a point now where that does not motivate me. What does motivate me is the status of the company that I'm doing the project for. So the more clout you can say the company has, that motivates me. So motivation and whatever excited me definitely changed over time.
Matthew Munger: That's interesting and a very good point that what motivates you as a freelancer or just getting started is very different than now being responsible for an agency and being responsible to your employees. And also to the image of the agency and the projects you take on and the clients you work with, every choice that you make to uphold that kind of brand image while also supporting a team and keeping things moving forward.
Matthew Munger: Any advice or tips that you could give there as far as other agency owners who are really needing to focus in on, “How do I find the clients that are the best fit for my agency?”
Shais Ahmed: Number one, I think the main thing to solve that problem is to have self-awareness of what you are good at. But at the same time helps to have self-awareness of what you're not good at. And in that way, you can kind of target the projects that best fit you. For example, myself, I was not really good at the whole super hard coding projects, right? The other day I had a project come in that required SQL and a bunch of stuff, right? That wasn't really for me.
But what I am really good at is websites that are highly interactive, or websites that need migration from WordPress to Webflow, projects that require a lot of SEO. So I understood that, “Okay, this is what I'm good at, and these are the projects I'm going to target.” So again, it's just a matter of finding out okay, this is what you are good at and this is what you're not, and just focus on the projects that you're good at.
Matthew Munger: How do you know when to hire someone that fits those strengths that you currently have, compared to when you hire to expand the capabilities of your team?
Shais Ahmed: That's a good question. I think for the first point that you mentioned of hiring people that are in line with your strengths. Definitely the point where you should do that is when your capacity runs out. If you have too many projects that you cannot physically take on, although they are projects that are in line with you and you know you can do them, you literally do not have the capacity to do them. That is when you should hire people that are in line with your strengths.
The time where you should hire people that are in line with the weaknesses, you can say, so you can expand your skill set, there's a couple different reasons. It could be that you want to expand your niche. It could be out of necessity. For example, if you know you're not good at design, but some projects require design, right? Then it's kind of a necessity to hire people to expand your strengths in that sense.
So a bunch of different reasons that you can choose to hire people to expand your skill set.
Matthew Munger: What is a resource that you think more people in the Webflow community should know?
Shais Ahmed: There's a bunch of different resources that I absolutely love. I think the one that really did help me, like genuinely helped me, was joining Timothy Rick's Patreon, where he gives exclusive tutorials and exclusive resources. And he has this one thing that is like a Notion document that has a bunch of different pages, and it just has the most common types of solutions.
That Notion document is not the only thing that you get. You get a whole community on Discord. You get a bunch of different tutorials that nobody else can access. And yeah, you have access to Timothy himself, so if you have a question, he can answer it for you.
And there's another one, it is by Vimalan in which he runs Talk Flow with me. He has a super cool solution called Formally, and something else that he released called Formally Logic. And that is a super cool solution for using multi-step forms and it's so super powerful, and it's relatively cheap and I absolutely love that resource for sure.
So yeah, those are the two resources that kind of stand out to me.
Matthew Munger: I highly recommend both of those. And Timothy was also a previous guest on this show. So you want to hear Timothy go check out that episode.
Shais Ahmed: But there's one more resource, if you don't mind me mentioning.
Matthew Munger: Yeah, let’s do it.
Shais Ahmed: It’s literally just something that I used to use internally, I just made a decision on a whim to just release it publicly and see what happens. And it's basically kind of a whimsical flow chart. It shows you the five steps to get Webflow clients. Whenever I learned something new about the whole sales process, I’d just add a comment onto it, different things that worked out for me and what didn't. And that resource, based on the community's response, apparently is really good. So if you wanna check that out, make sure to do that as well.
Matthew Munger: Who is someone within the Webflow community that inspires you?
Shais Ahmed: The one person that immediately came into my mind is someone called Jack Redley. The thing that inspires me about him: he goes above and beyond, and he's organized a bunch of different events. Not only is he a great designer, but he inspires me in doing stuff with the community.
Another person that inspires me is Joseph Berry as well. I've met him in person. Love the guy to bits. His design and his level of detail in his Webflow work, I don't think there's anyone that comes close to it. His interactions— it’s just out of this world, so he's definitely that guy that you go to for inspiration in regards to Webflow.
Matthew Munger: What is some advice that you would like to share with others in the community?
Shais Ahmed: There's this one piece of advice that I'll always say, and I'm going to be that annoying person and say it again: Just focus on doing great work, and literally everything else would fall into place. I can tell you from experience, right, when I was starting out my career, I was focused on the wrong things. However much I made a month and how many clients I was getting and whatnot. But then as soon as I switched my mindset to focus on, “Okay, let me just do the best work I possibly can and over-deliver on every single project that I get, that will make me grow.” And it did.
The times that I was doing that, I grew tremendously. The times where I was not, I plateaued. Another thing as well is to be active in the community. For those that don't know, I'm a student, I'm only 20 years old. I did not have any experience in Webflow or anything tech related in my past, I never had a job. Initially I was very scared to put it out there cause nobody really has my kind of story. So I was like, “I don't know how people will react to it.”
But when I did, I did not regret it one bit. So whatever story you think you have, whether you think it's weird, whether you think no one can relate, put it out there. Trust me, if you're unique, you'll win in the community. But yeah, create content for the community that you think will help them.
Matthew Munger: Focus on quality work and get involved in the community, there's a place for you.
Matthew Munger: If anybody who's listened to this podcast wants to reach out, how can they connect with you?
Shais Ahmed: Yeah, so they can connect with me on Twitter. So my Twitter handle is Shais is s h a i s official, that's on Twitter. I also have a LinkedIn, just search my full name, Shais Ahmed. S h a i s a h m a d. And I also have a YouTube channel with a good friend of mine, Vimalan, who I mentioned a couple times throughout this show.
We have a podcast on YouTube called Talk Flow. We interview a bunch of different guests and talk about Webflow-specific topics like how to grow and a bunch of different other stuff. But yeah, that's how you can reach out to me.
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