Industry: Custom software and app development
Location: Lakewood, New Jersey
BACKGROUND: “We are here to help people. The business aspect is secondary.”
This is the underlying strategy that Ephraim Arnstein, founder of Bitbean, a rising leader in software engineering, has always applied in running his business. Besides developing custom software for some of the biggest corporations in the US, Ephraim has devoted himself to helping chesed causes do their work more efficiently as well.
Help people he does. The development teams at Bitbean leveraged their wide range of analytic talents to build powerful, custom enterprise software solutions to automate business processes directly, which has resulted in optimized workflows and higher profits. Bitbean has created custom software, websites and mobile apps for a myriad of businesses, including Card Cash, Wal-Mart, United Airlines, Eastern Union, Agudath Israel of America, Riverside Abstract and Dealmed.
Located in the heart of Lakewood, Bitbean’s team of designers and programmers are from the local area.
I was born in Eretz Yisrael in 1982. At the time, my father was learning in the Mir, and my mother worked in the Mir office. When I was three months old, my parents moved back to Brooklyn and settled in Flatbush, where I attended Mirrer Yeshivah elementary school until fifth grade.
“In 1991, when I was about nine years old, my father started working for IBM, which prompted my parents to move to Monsey for an easier commute. In Monsey, I attended Bais Mikra elementary, Ohel Torah high school, and then Ohr HaMeir in Peekskill, New York, for beis midrash. After Peekskill, I went to Eretz Yisrael to learn in the Mir, where Rav Nesanel Kolody was my rebbe. Back in the US, I attended a “small” yeshivah in New Jersey called BMG. You may have heard of it…
“I loved learning and felt drawn to works that focus on avodas Hashem, on bringing oneself closer to Hashem, such as mussar sefarim and intellectual hashkafah works. I had this constant drive to answer the question ‘What does Hashem want of me?’
“After a conversation with the mashgiach, Rav Yehudah Jacobs, he suggested I get into kiruv rechokim. His advice was the catalyst for where I am today.
“I called Agudath Yisrael, and they suggested I contact Oorah, an organization that runs programs promoting kiruv and providing family support. I got in touch with Rabbi Tzvi Yoffe of Oorah. The year was 2007. I was 25 years old.
“I was introduced to Rabbi Mordechai Beer, the senior coordinator for the TorahMates learning program, which pairs partners for Torah study. At the time, he was using a simple CRM system (Custom Relationship Management, which enables you to analyze and manage interactions with your customers) called Act, and he needed help to better organize all the information and follow up with the participants.
“I taught myself how to use the system and greatly improved the visibility of all of Oorah’s kiruv efforts. Soon I became the go-to guy who understood the myriad moving parts at Oorah.
“My success at Oorah inspired me to use my skills to bring change to some of the other big issues of the day, specifically the widespread apathy toward the beauty of Torah, and the shidduch crisis.
“I decided to build a platform where people can talk about mitzvos and reflect on them. I opened a nonprofit and embarked on building such a platform. This started my entry into the world of building websites. I programmed the brains out of WordPress and taught myself a lot about PHP in the process. With my prior database expertise, I was figuring out how to leverage technology to make my dreams happen.
“One day my sister called me for help. She had been hired by Ira Zlotowitz, the CEO of Eastern Union, a real estate brokerage firm, to organize an exchange where frum Yidden volunteer their time or services. He called it Klal Govoha, in tribute to his very successful Masmid Govoha program. Ira was interested in talking to me because of my success with organizing Oorah’s TorahMates program. I offered to make a website for $100.
“Creating the vision Ira wanted was a huge challenge. I couldn’t do it alone; I was collapsing from the stress of all the work. I remember thinking I had two choices—either be perpetually busy or hire others to help. I chose the latter.
“I found programmers in Pakistan who helped me create Ira’s programs, as well as the Torah platform I wanted to build. It was funny to see a team of Pakistanis discussing Torah concepts.
“Now that I had the responsibility of paying employee salaries, I needed to generate more business. I began doing presentations to convince potential clients to hire my burgeoning company to create custom software programs for them. I had a convincing pitch: hire me and you will be successful. To this day, anybody my company services that allows us to invest our full energies into their project has seen success.
“The more clients I acquired the more employees I needed. The more employees I hired, the more clients and projects I needed in order to earn the money for the growing payroll. There was no way out. I kept telling my staff one thing: I am not your boss, Hashem is. To this day, I find it hard to see myself as a boss. Hashem is the boss. I just work here.
“Meanwhile, I still had a dream of making an impact on the shidduch crisis. All around me I saw singles struggling to find their bashert, and I wanted to help in my own little way. I thought I might be able to build a system to bring many shadchanim and singles together. With my team, I created a system that supports the already successful shidduch organizations and helps them do their work in a more organized fashion. But I was too busy running my business to promote it.
“Slowly and steadily my company kept growing. I started hiring frum local developers. Eventually our office graduated from a Lakewood basement to an office building. Another step in the right direction.
“One day in 2014 I got a call from Ira Zlotowitz. He told me I must meet Raphael Lasry. Raphael was working on a shidduch program and needed some help. He knew I had launched a software product for shadchanim but hadn’t done much with it. Maybe the two of us could help each other.
“I recognized in Raphael a similar energy to mine and offered him a job on the spot. ‘Please come work for us,’ I said. ‘Help us become the best company we can be, and I’ll support this wonderful project and make it the best it can be.’
“It was the smartest business move I ever made. Raphael brought the company to a different level. He envisioned a company that would became a leader in the industry. His first recommendation was to cut the cord with offshore resources. He argued that you can’t build a strong culture of creativity and excellence in programming with an offshore team. My senior developers were on his side. Eventually Raphael convinced me too.
“Today we are a completely different company from when we started, in a class with some of the most innovative companies in the world. It’s funny how I went from the strongest defender of offshore outsourcing to fully comprehending my thesis was flawed. Mind you, I had an awesome offshore team. But nothing compares to the energy and productivity of our in-office teams.
“In addition to eliminating offshore outsourcing, Raphael created organized processes for every part of the company. Eventually I promoted him to COO, and I trust him to run the company. I just work here. (Laughs.)
“As for my dream of helping singles find their bashert, the company is very proud to have built ZivugTech.org, which is making waves in the shidduch world. ZivugTech is a software program that helps shadchanim manage their shidduch databases and résumés to find that perfect match. Since its launch 11 months ago, it has helped hundreds of shadchanim match thousands of singles.
“ZivugTech version 2 will be out soon, and it will be a game changer in the world of shidduchim. It will bring a level of privacy to shidduchim not yet seen, yet allow for every individual in klal Yisrael to get involved in an organized way.
“Baruch Hashem, over the last few years we have grown exponentially. All our employees are local bnei Torah and Bais Yaakov graduates. We are proud to have a Torahdik atmosphere in a serious company. Our employees are smart, energetic and dedicated to what they do. They are top-notch programmers who rival and surpass the performance of others in this field. Of course, I’m biased, but our customers agree. I look at our business as one big kiddush Hashem, and that’s more important to me than any financial success.”
Why do you think you were able to grow your company the way you did?
I think we tapped into a niche: software that caters to the Jewish business world and helps the businesses grow efficiently. In truth, there is a great need for our kind of software in the non-Jewish world as well, and recently we have acquired many non-Jewish clients. But there is something to be said for understanding the way a Jewish business needs to be run, and we, with Hashem’s help, were able to help fill that need.
How do your clients know about you?
In the beginning I worked hard at building relationships with business leaders. I also hired my brother Tzvi Moshe, and he focused on marketing the company through websites and eCommerce, which helped us earn name recognition in Lakewood and beyond. With each project our base grew wider. Through our client Card Cash, we got to work with Walmart, CVS and United Airlines. We’ve also worked with Agudah and Eastern Union. Our work with those companies, as well as networking, led to more customers.
How much is the typical cost to build custom software?
In general, a comprehensive software package usually starts at $100,000, though we do smaller projects occasionally. Initially we focused on building websites, but today we focus mainly on designing large software projects. We assign a team of 3–5 people to every new project, and they work solely on it for an average of four months at a time.
If you’re currently working at full capacity, how can you take on new clients without a mad scramble to find new programmers?
Great question. Not everyone in the company is working on projects all the time. We’re constantly training our programmers to gain new skills and learn more advanced techniques. Additionally, we’re working on several proprietary pieces of software that we hope to sell in the near future.
So if a new software project comes in, we’ll allocate people who are training or working on our internal projects. However, there are times when we do have to hold off on starting a new project until a team becomes available.
What is the general reason a company will hire you to build custom software?
Every business—and every individual for that matter—could use more automation and optimization to help it operate more efficiently and effectively. Humans take time to complete tasks, they are prone to error and only work eight hours a day. Software is instant, practically error-free and works 24 hours a day. We analyze your business’s current processes and show you where software can automate and eliminate manual labor completely.
Almost every business uses some kind of software to operate. A store has a POS system, but are all their inventory, orders, deliveries and sales centralized into one organized system? If you have a brick-and-mortar store that you want to put online and have seamless interaction between the two, you’ll need special software. For many companies, we create custom apps where everyone can interact and share progress, files, etc., under one platform.
For example, for Eastern Union we developed software that helps their salespeople know which leads to follow up on. The software decides who will work on which leads. We also created a custom app to help brokers capture their client information to assist in the loan process.
Your company is a member of the Inc. 500 index (a list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the US). The application process is extensive. Was it worth it?
Yes, it was. It gives us legitimacy. It shows we are not just a mom-and-pop company, because Inc. 500 verifies significant financial information.
You have a very unique company structure with all frum bnei Torah, both men and women, working for you. Tell me about your company culture.
We have an open office structure, and everyone collaborates with each other. We have teams assigned to each project, but everyone will often bounce ideas off other teams. Our office space is very roomy and colorful, and whiteboards cover the walls so people can brainstorm ideas and solutions. Often you will see several guys fighting it out with each other on strategy. It feels almost like a beis midrash atmosphere—friendly and competitive at the same time.
We’re also structured as a flat organization, meaning there is no hierarchy. I’m just one of the guys, and everyone feels equally accomplished by the success of the company.
Is the open office structure to prevent outside distractions?
No, not at all. Of course people are less likely to slack off in an open environment, but the main purpose is collaboration. If someone needs private space, we have private spaces in the building, but in the day-to-day setting, an open office is a constant reminder to question yourself, “How can I do this better?” and you have your friend to help you accomplish it.
How do you deal with stress?
I work hard on my emunah and bitachon in Hashem. There is nothing else. When something is hard or not working out, I see it as Hashem directing us in a certain way, and whatever happens is what He wants.
What is the best business advice you can offer?
I mix business with avodas Hashem so it’s hard for me to focus on strictly business advice—I don’t consider myself a businessman. I would say that the key is to try to see everything in a positive light. View a difficult period more as a challenge than a difficulty. Try to see it as something that can help you break-through toward better times.
How do you handle firing?
There is no way to sugarcoat it—firing people is a hard thing to do. When I have to do it, I always explain my reasoning. I explain to the person that either the timing or his skills is not a right fit for the company. People leave with their honor intact, and I keep up with them afterward.
My business does not belong to me; it was given to me to watch over by Hashem. Therefore, I must think about what is best for the business and not myself on a personal level. In a way, if a person isn’t providing the business what it needs, it’s selfish to keep him on. I feel I have a responsibility to live up to Hashem’s kindness in granting me the ability to run this business.
How do you bring Hashem into your business?
I actually view a business and a business setting as tools to integrate Torah into our lives. Through following a Torah hashkafah in our business dealings and in our interactions with other people, one can be doing ratzon Hashem all day. In my business, our people truly want to help the businesses they are creating software for. Of course, we’re happy we’re making money, but the goal is truly to help others. Our goal here at Bitbean.com is to model a successful business with Torah values, and every day we work toward improving on that goal.
Why did you change your company name from 1on1 Development to Bitbean?
1on1 Development is more of an old-fashioned, traditional name and it worked for a while. We were in conversations with several nationally recognized corporations, and Bitbean is a more appealing, trendy name with an ambiguous meaning. Google didn’t mean anything a few years ago either. (Laughs.)
Without hiring your company, what can a business do to improve its workflow?
In many businesses, things get done because they get done, but without really knowing how or why. Visualize your business’ daily activities by creating a workflow diagram. This will allow you to think about what you do, how you do it and why. You will quickly see many ways to improve your business.
What is your next project?
Only Hashem knows. Perhaps it might be for some corporation, but in truth I’d rather get involved in helping some cause. Over the next few months we have undertaken to build any software that is intended for chesed projects at a deeply discounted rate. If anyone knows of a cause, feel free to reach out.
Reprinted from the Ami Magazine