A better way to do 1-on-1 meetings with your team

December 27th, 2016

It’s been almost 4 months at SirionLabs. I started as a Chief Marketing Officer, to drive a data-driven marketing culture. Within a month, I started working on activities which were ancillary to what a marketer is supposed to do—soon my R&R got expanded (more on this, in future).

My immediate challenge was how do I get acquainted myself to a large cross-functional team. I don’t like sending e-mails to a large distribution saying, “Meet your new boss”. Being on the other side of the table, I always hated those e-mails coming from someone who was many hops away.

A better idea was I thought, why not simply organize 1-on-1 meetings.

The big question was how do I get them excited to talk, get them engaged with me, still have a formal communication, but break-the-ice right away.

In the past, I had mixed success with 1-on-1s with large teams–they were a hit or miss. When my former bosses did 1-on-1s with me I always thought, “Is he even listening to me?”, “Does he even know what I’m working on?”.

I did not want my extended team think about me the same way. Plus, I wanted to deep dive into their inner-workings, what they do, what excites them, what demotivates them, etc. etc. The theory was that if the discussion started within the context of their day-to-day work, the answers would be easily found. I hypothesized.

A better way to do 1-on-1 is to start with a demo, get the team member present what they are working on, present an idea, and then do the formal 1-on-1.

Here’s a screen grab of the agenda of many such 1-on-1s I did last week, this week and many more to go the next week.

1-on-1-screengrab

I’m going to continue to use this format in future. I found it engaging and made both the parties to open up quickly and start at a common ground.

PS> It’s a different topic altogether that the 1-on-1s are not an easy feat by itself when you have dozens of people who are 13 and half timezones away!

The down day hack–Reminiscing your last day e-mail from an earlier job

October 13th, 2016

The startup experience is a collection of up and down moments–whether you are a founder or not. The moment you commit yourself to a cause, it’s no longer a compartment of your brain which can be turned off. A few days ago, I had a down day which lasted 24-ish hours, but luckily I chanced upon something which brought me back from gloom.

While looking for a random message, I found an e-mail which I sent while leaving Oracle, earlier this year in March. Reading that thread and re-collecting the love people gave after I sent that note warmed my heart. Thanks to the lovely messages, I was back to drinking virgin Pina Colada!

I never thought I’d ever publish this e-mail outside, but here it is, slightly redacted.

oracle_last_day_email

Messaging Apps And Revenge Of The Computer Science Nerd

February 7th, 2016

Guest post on TechCrunch.

The Portability Angle Of Tech Immigration

February 1st, 2015

Wrote something after a looong time. Guest post on immigration, in TechCrunch.

Bootstrapping versus raising venture money

November 5th, 2013

Wrote a guest post on NextBigWhat opining that bootstrapping is just a foundation stone for building a large business.

How I hired in India

September 28th, 2013

Bangalore Team watching cricket teams sparIn 2010, Bitzer Mobile’s Bangalore R&D centre came to life in a living room in Marathahalli. Ravi (first team member in India) and I wrote much of the first version of Bitzer’s governance console on our respective couches and coffee-tables at Cha Bar in Leela Palace, before we moved into our own office.

In a year, we got a team of kick-ass engineers in place. They built critical parts of the product. However, the first few hires were not easy and was rife with people who kicked tires without joining us. Apart from engineers, QA, office boy, accountant, office manager positions, I also on-boarded an amazing head of engineering which took 12 months!

In 18 months, reviewed close to 2,000 resumes, conducted roughly 400 phone calls and code-jam sessions, followed by approximately 50 on-site interviews, leading to the 15 people we have in Bangalore. I am lucky to work with them.

Here is some gyaan about hiring your first 15 key team members in India:

Always be hiring

Hiring is the other full-time job of a founder, apart from writing code, doing sales and marketing or speaking at events. Most startups start the hiring process, do a few critical hires and then get bureaucratic. I have seen startup founders who start it well and then delegate it to their direct reports or to “managers”. There is a single rule for always-on hiring process–The founders and the first five hires should hire the next 500 and be part of every freaking hiring decision making process.

Use the tools

We started using Recruiterbox from the get-go. I can brag that we were one of the early adopters of this application. We got close to 3,000 resumes in 18 months. Every resume reviewed, annotated and passed around within the application itself.  In the first 12 months, every candidate who submitted a resume and was not a fit got a response. However, we stopped the response due to increased spam and sheer volume, but made a point to respond to anybody with whom we had a call.

Most hiring managers fail at the tools. They continue to rely on e-mail for managing the resume queue. Moreover, there is no context if the resume moves around and gets passed as a solitary reaper. The interviewer has to start all over again! Wastes time and energy.

Go deep beyond the interview

Go beyond the technical “chops”. Discover the person you are hiring — pose him left-handed questions, personally take the candidate out for lunch/dinner, let your team take him out for lunch/dinner, have casual conversations, spend time with the candidate away from office. Get as much facetime as possible before pulling the trigger.

You are a startup, find a right match

Just like there are rules of marriage (some archaic), there are rules for early startup hires. It’s difficult if not impossible to get an engineer from top R&D organizations in India to come and join your founding team.  We were lucky to have applicants from these companies but a match could not be made. These were some amazing engineers, and to my surprise they were ready to take a massive pay cut. However, based on my gut feeling, as an early stage startup, we were not ready for them.

Don’t boss the interview feedback

We lost couple of solid candidates, which the team felt otherwise, whereas I wanted them on-board. The rule was simple, if there is one negative and the argument cannot be one in favour of candidate, then it’s a NO. In one situation, I rescinded a verbal offer, because we jumped the gun as the fifth interviewer went out for a walk and we did not take his feedback into consideration before making a verbal offer. The candidate was shocked that we changed our mind in less than 60 minutes. It was a tough conversation. This one simple thing gave me a solid trust with the team. I lost a few good candidates (well, I still think they were good!) but that built a foundation for the hiring process.

Hiring senior talent–Not everybody can build Adam’s bridge

Head of engineering is one of the toughest position I filled. I had an odd criteria in mind viz. 10 years of experience, hands-on, startup-guy, big company guy, product experience. Combine this that we are an unsexy reasonably funded startup, and that too in India, this made the job of finding the right person even tough. An engineering manager who is responsible for people’s career has to be humble, full of empathy and a kick-ass developer himself. Three things had to be ensured around his happiness and outlook (a) Not a boss (b) Keeps his family happy (c) Still hungry. It took me close to 12 months to fill this position. The CEO still chides me whether I was really hiring for this position or my progress reports were “cooked-up”. A wrong engineering manager is like arsenic, there are no visible bruises, but gnaws the company from inside, slowly. The engineering leader could make or break your company without anybody knowing about it. Compared to a developer, there are no straight-forward objective tests for a engineering manager.

There is one new rule I followed–Evaluated if the person continues to amaze after the third meeting (maybe a dinner at candidate’s home), fifth meeting (maybe a lunch with my family). Candidates who moved beyond my filter were then interviewed by pretty much everybody whom he is going to work with. Took time–But, I think, I got the best guy on board.

Count the intent (or rather lack of it)

In one situation, with the offer, I had to send our incorporation certificate, proving that we are a real company! In another, a candidate wanted to talk to the CEO, before doing a technical round. None of them joined. Whereas, motivated candidates would pick-up the phone, follow-up, show up on time. The biggest data point I have–from interview to offer, if the candidate has been punctual in taking calls, coming for onsite interviews, turning back the assignments, etc., it’s likely that he would accept the offer. Whereas, candidates who continue to move things around are just plain kicking the tires with you!

There are a lot of tactical things which cannot be disclosed publicly on this blog–without context it would misleading. However, there is only one goal–hire the people who like working with each other and can solve any problem given the right motivation and tools.

Happy hiring!

9 reasons why VPN is not the right tool for remote access from Mobile

September 25th, 2013

Wrote a quick (but long!) post at Bitzer Mobile’s blog on VPN and why it ain’t not the right tool for remote access from mobile device and tablet. Read it here.

Old is the new media

August 6th, 2013

Digital NewsstandI stopped reading feeds and switched (back) to magazines and a few daily newspapers. Been slowly adding magazines over the last 12 months, resubscribing many of them, which I stopped reading in the last ten years.

Today, I got the first print copy of Businessweek (for some reason they still send a print version, when I don’t need one!) which I subscribed few weeks ago. I used to buy Businessweek (and Fortune) in bulk from the streets of Kolkata from vendors who sell / recycle old issues at a fraction of the cover price.

Then content moved to Internet. Content everywhere, but few really look authoritative.

Coincidentally, saw the news today that Jeff Bezos is buying Washington Post.

Old is the new media.

Here’s why this is happening:

  1. Content overload. Clearly, it’s hard to track down every breaking news from every site 24×7. The main issue with content overload is authority. Linkage does not mean authority. Most of the time, the authority of cited article has nothing to do with content, it’s mere point-in-time authority. It takes time and money to produce content which is worthy of attention. Old media still has resources.
  2. Old media has distribution (and brand). People still go to a Fortune, Businessweek, Time, National Geographic. If we take out the technology blogs and technology readers, old media carries the distribution. They lost quite a lot of traffic in the early days of Internet but most of them have caught up.
  3. Journalism is (still) an art. Internet made journalism a science — you could create content and make it fancy. But at the core of any content is a story. Story-telling is an art. Embellishment is a science, which Old media has caught up in the last decade.
  4. Tablet is the new print. The web levels the playing field between the big and small. Old media really struggled to break it even from an average Joe blogger churning out content in real-time. iPad upends the game. Digital magazines and newspapers bring out the brand again.

What would be killed in next five years is print, not the publishing house. I’m long on old media.

SIM flaw makes a case for a Secure Mobile Container

August 2nd, 2013

Posted some commentary on Bitzer Mobile blog why this moving target of security makes a case for Secure Mobile Container.

Vulnerability in a mobile phone could be beyond just the algorithm, it could be architectural. For example, in the vulnerability researched by Karsten, it is not just the algorithm but the way the phone rejected an unencrypted message by sending an error code along with the card’s 56-bit private key. The private key is decrypted which is then used to create a malicious but “valid” binary SMS message. The attacker modifies the stored data and potentially accesses other areas of the phone which may contain sensitive user data and applications.

Let’s talk about Shadow IT

January 26th, 2013

I just posted some thoughts on Shadow IT on BitzerMobile blog.

Ten years ago, running a shadow IT organization required a certain level of tech wisdom to deal with webservers, databases, programming languages and such. Now all you need is a credit-card to sign up with an online service doing one of many file-syncs, contact/lead management, content workflow, etc.

Read more.