Sinoun Chea is super-talented. The first generation Cambodian-American is making waves with her web design and digital marketing company ShiftWeb Solutions.
Chea, a self-taught web developer, launched her startup in 2011 and ever since then it’s built an impeccable reputation for professionalism along with a steady stream of loyal clients. In fact, ShiftWeb Solutions has recently been named one of the top 20 SEO companies in Atlanta.
Headquartered in Atlanta’s trendy Midtown district, the company was built on the foundation that small business matters. With this in mind, Chea and her team of independent contractors have developed a passion for working with small firms to improve their SEO and web presence.
A self-described “techie”, Chea is a perfectionist. She also combines a rare creative talent and technical acumen with a passion for providing a quality service for customers.
Still, Chea has experienced challenges. “The most common thing I have experienced being a woman in tech is what I think most other women experience as well – feelings of alienation,” she says. “How often do professionals fail to acknowledge a woman’s contribution in a meeting, even if she has more experience than everyone in the room?
That being said, raw talent will always shine through. ShiftWeb Solutions is going from strength to strength and Chea has big plans for her tech startup.
With ShiftWeb Solutions coming up to its six year anniversary, earlier this week we caught up with Chea to find out what’s it like running a successful web development company.
Describe your company in one paragraph?
As an Atlanta internet marketing company, ShiftWeb focuses on modern mobile-friendly web design with search engines in mind. We are passionate about helping small businesses succeed online!
When did you launch ShiftWeb Solutions?
What inspired you to launch your own web design company?
It all started with my need to be my own boss! I am an entrepreneur at heart, but now I’m starting to realize I’m a serial entrepreneur. I don’t want to just end with my web design company. I have too many interests and enjoy life way too much to do just one thing. I started a web design company because I have always been tech-savvy, detail-oriented, and creative. It is natural that I became a web designer because it is right up my alley. Before I started my business, I dabbled in web design for years helping small businesses on the side, but in 2011, I decided to take the huge leap and go out on my own because I couldn’t stand not being my own boss. I started as a web design company, but I am slowly shifting focus over to internet marketing because I have a passion for helping small businesses succeed.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
For most of my adult life, before I started my business, I was an administrative assistant and marketing manager for real estate companies.
Where or how did you learn to code?
What are you currently working on?
I am always working on various new projects. In addition to working with all types of small businesses, I am also always creating websites for myself and for my company.
What projects have you worked on?
I’ve worked on many projects. I’ve built many websites for all types of small businesses as well as done SEO for a variety of different companies.
What happens during a typical day? On a typical day, I am mostly overseeing the work done by my team. I interact with small businesses who are looking for my services and build relationships to gain their business.
What are the highlights of your job?
Helping small businesses is the highlight of my day. I love helping businesses look sexier on the web. I love helping them grow and succeed!
What’s been the most challenging as an entrepreneur?
The most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur is also the most fun thing, which is taking the leap. Some people are afraid to take chances, but you just have to do it! Investing in your business is investing in yourself, whether it is time, money, or energy. Since it is investing in yourself, all the resources you put into it is worth it. Failure is not a bad thing. You have to pick yourself up and keep going without letting it put you down or discourage you. You have to learn from your mistakes and failures. As an entrepreneur, you have to take leaps in order to grow.
How do you keep up with the latest tech news and software developments?
I follow a lot of top blogs such as moz.com, copyblogger.com, searchengineland.com, and elegantthemes.com/blog.
There’s a big discussion about the lack of diversity in the tech industry and the need for more women/minorities to learn programming skills. What are your thoughts?
I think that this is slowly changing and I love seeing more and more diversity in the tech industry. I don’t think minorities should be discouraged because there are people out there who will support you and encourage you. Find these people, surround yourself with these types of people, and do what you want to do without reservations. Who cares what people say. Just do it if you want to do it.
Have you encountered any challenges being a minority woman in tech?
The most common thing I have experienced being a woman in tech is what I think most other women experience as well – feelings of alienation. How often do professionals fail to acknowledge a woman’s contribution in a meeting, even if she has more experience than everyone in the room? Recently, I’ve experienced a potential client who couldn’t look at me in the eyes or speak to me directly, but instead directed their questions to a male colleague, even though I was obviously the one most qualified to answer. On top of that, I was regularly interrupted when I spoke. It is unfortunate that these types of things happen, but I don’t let it discourage me. I feel like being a woman of color lets me stand out. Having my own business allows me to be myself, rather than “try to fit in”. With this confidence, I’m able to shape my own experiences for the better.
Where the greatest challenge has come from has been from my family. I am first generation Cambodian and my mother was particularly afraid for me when I took the leap as an entrepreneur. She didn’t believe that being an entrepreneur was “smart” or a “safe” thing to do which contradicts what most know and think of Asian immigrants as many typically come and start some sort of business working long hours to provide for their families. It was my father’s actions that influenced me as he started a business when I was about 10 but met an early death when I was 14. Now that I think seriously about it, I was deeply inspired by his actions and since I saw it was possible and that he was successful, it gave me the confidence to take the leap myself. I wish he could see what I was doing now!
I think the older generation has a lot of fear around being an entrepreneur because they are from a developing country and immigrated to the US for a better life and that meant finding a job and working for someone else in their minds to escape the endemic poverty in their home country of Cambodia. Furthermore, I am a woman and the stereotype of “women are not as competent” is well entrenched–possibly deeper so–in many societies around the world and as a result I have experienced more from within my own culture than I have from US society. It’s not that they are bad or weak people–again, it’s the confidence level and perspective; it is their mindset that differs. They are proud and strong survivors who exhibited perseverance and strong will, but as with surviving anything–they come with the scars of struggle and often fear. People that are first-generation like me have first world problems that are deeply rooted with third world problems.
What are your short term and long term professional goals?
My short term goal is to build multiple websites/projects with a steady revenue. My long-term professional goals are to have many sources of steady revenue built so I can mostly spend time doing what I really love, like travel, create art, and be a philanthropist. I want to invest in or build organizations that help the world be a more beautiful place.
If you could have dinner with any entrepreneur who would it be and why? I would have to say Elon Musk. He is a serial entrepreneur who is not only successful, but he also works on what he is passionate about, like SpaceX and Tesla. I’m a big lover of physics and cosmology and one day, I’d love to be able to start some sort of space project!
What advice would you give to someone who is considering launching a start-up? I’d say that if you have an idea that you think is great and you have a great passion for it, go for it! Don’t let failure discourage you. What is success without failures? Learn from your mistakes and see your mistakes as a lesson, not a burden. Make sure that what you are launching is something that you are passionate about. If you are not passionate about it, why would you expect others to be?