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.

The Introverted self and how to harness it

October 25th, 2012

The motivation to write this post came out few days ago when I was chit-chatting with Bitzermobile’s India team at a CCD in Marathahalli. Thought it’d be great idea to share it further.

Bad_hair_day_meI’m an introvert. A classic one. Ready to lose the debate rather than speak. I hate talking to people. I hate breaking the ice. I also think, if I talk to them, they’ll assume that I have an agenda. I also think, if I talk to them, I won’t have any topic of interest and would be a reject.

However, in the last 5-6 years, I’ve learnt to cover up my introverted-ness with a false facade of extroversion. The realization came to me after many years of feedback from some of the amazing bosses and mentors, I’ve had in life.

As an introvert, you can survive and do really well in businesses where you either do not deal with people or have an army of people who deal it for you. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, having a facade of extroversion is key to survival. You can’t keep quiet when pitching to customers, you can’t twiddle your thumb when you are asked to present to a room full of partners in a VC meeting and more importantly you can’t let your people down in your startup by keeping quiet. Instead, you stand, raise your hand and speak-up on every opportunity.

Here are some of the weird qualities of an introvert (from my personal experience):

  • Don’t like to talk, if don’t have a point
  • Don’t interact with people, if there ain’t a reason. Random guy in front would never be greeted
  • Don’t “hang-out” in public
  • Lonely is good. Leave me to my thoughts
  • Share thoughts once and assume that people got it
  • No ice-breakers, no small talk

Though, I have been fixing my introverted self for many years by doing things which my psyche did not allow, I still get called out in meetings with comments like, “Why are you so quiet? Do you have anything else to say?” (Whereas, I thought that I already spoke volumes!)

Some of the things I did to “fix” the introversion:

  • The first thing is to realize the psychological condition and accept that it’s perfectly normal. 50% of the world is introvert! Some of the best CEOs are. The current POTUS is one.
  • Practice a measured set of small talk with small groups and previously unknown people. There are many opportunities. Attempt massive amounts of networking. Use the 3-second / 6-second techniques.
  • Get public speaking engagements. Now, this is a normal quality of introverts that if people talk to them then they get going. How do you get more and more people talking to you in first place? Get speaking engagements. For the last 3 years in Bangalore, I was a foolish and a hungry speaker. Given an opportunity, I would walk into an auditorium or a classroom even when there were less than a handful people. Though, the larger motive was to share and show what we were doing at Morpheus, but the big hidden agenda was to fix the condition and get talking to more people.
  • Practice confrontation. This is very very important. I was shit scared of confronting people even when wrong was being committed. I use to convince myself that it was okay to let-it-go. Pick small debates and lose it. Keep losing small debates here and there. It’s ok. Your psyche will soon not send that signal to your heart to pump blood feverishly. I still avoid confrontation, but when I do, I no longer shake / shiver (but my voice does get modulated!)
  • Reach early at meetings, discussions, meetups. This is a very cool trick which helped a lot. Early means few people around and by the time it gets to mass, you already know a few faces and most importantly the surroundings.
  • The most important one is to not convert. Introversion is a prize, don’t throw it away.

I think introversion is a good psyche to have, it makes you think, it makes you give others an opportunity, it makes you creative and reflective of your actions, however, the quality has to be harnessed to become successful. If you still don’t believe into the power of You as an introvert, then this TED talk by Susan Cain is a must watch.

I should have written this post 25 years ago and sent it to girls who wanted a date and thought I should make the move. Alas, I was an introvert.

Play button: One of the tricks to keep up with 183 down days in a startup year

October 13th, 2012

The moment I step out of home, I’m cheerful, espousing enthusiasm and all those positive things. However, it wasn’t like that 30 minutes ago.

Usually, the day breaks pretty normal with cosmic energy being diffused from nature to the body. And then, within an hour of catching up on e-mail, skype and reflecting on the past days events around people, product and customers, it starts getting mellow. Inching, as the breakfast comes to the table, the mood has already nose-dived. It happens a good 50% of the days in a year! The dark side of running a startup, we don’t talk publicly–uncelebrated and gory.

Then the play button brings the mojo back!

I fire up one of the 50-60 action movies on the media player while eating breakfast. Bodhi, Bond, Beatrix / Bride, Bruce, Bourne, etc. maiming, killing, chasing, speed-racing and drawing blood in full 5.1 pumps up the testosterone and kicks the day to a cheerful start.

Here are some of the movies in no particular order. Most of them never get watched completely. They are left at a mark and get picked up again in future on some random day.

  1. Bourne Trilogy
  2. T1 & T2
  3. Star Wars (Some scenes are amazing in 5.1)
  4. Matrix (and Reloaded, Reloaded’s car chase is amazing!)
  5. Fight Club (I still watch it, comparably less action, though)
  6. Die Hard (All four of them)
  7. Lethal Weapon (1, 2 and 3)
  8. MI (1 & 2)
  9. Danny Craig as James Bond (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace)
  10. Taken
  11. 300
  12. Arnold (Commando, True Lies)
  13. Kill Bill (yeah Beatrix baby!)
  14. John Rambo (They are all good)
  15. Iron Man
  16. Under Siege
  17. Bruce Lee (Dragon, Game of Death)
  18. Indiana Jones (original Trilogy)
  19. The Mummy (1 & 2) — Thrillers based on archaeology / ancient era are fab!
  20. Con Air
  21. Ronin
  22. … and more!

Agent Smith in Matrix Reloaded:

FUCK, JUST SHOOT THAT FUCKER AND DRIVE HOT POCKETS DOWN THE ROAD, DAMNIT, IT’S PARTY TIME

Enjoy a clip from the car chase from Matrix Reloaded (I remember the days when it was being shot 30 miles from where I lived).

The Art of Networking: The first 3 seconds when entering a room

September 17th, 2012

Prologue: This post may not connect to folks who are born networkers, aka extroverts. Meet an introvert, who talks less, then you’d know how difficult it is to break the ice, forget exchanging cards.

I remember the days when I was a sissy in networking, utter failure. I would come back from events, meetings, gatherings with not much accomplished, maybe meeting an equally gullible 1-2 people.

Then someone (Don’t remember who or maybe I read in a book) educated me about the 3-second rule when entering a gathering. The 3-second rule is simple:

Connect with someone in the first 3-seconds of entering a gathering or a crowd or a room.

Why the first 3-seconds are important?

It’s psychological. The more you delay making the first contact, the harder it becomes. The moment you overcome the first contact, more of them would follow easily.

This rule has done wonders for me in networking even during the days when I was just thinking of starting up and tried penetrating into a room full of “been-there-done-it” folks.

Pro Version: I use a slightly advanced version of this 3-second rule now-a-days. I call it a ridiculously named, “Deep-6-second” rule. Instead, of 3 seconds, I give 6-seconds and try to move as deep into the crowd as possible and make the contact as soon as the time expires. Why? Most people whom I wanna connect to are not near the door, but they are nearer to the center of the room.

Networking and connecting with people is important and it’s an art you keep honing.

Why Enterprise Mobility is important for an entrepreneur?

September 16th, 2012

This is an extract from the keynote I gave at TieSmashup 2.0 last Saturday on 8th Sept, 2012  at IIT Mumbai. The goal was to highlight the importance of business apps and why there is an opportunity. The excerpt has been modified to remove the ramblings. The keynote followed a panel discussion with Narayan of Dexetra and Deepak Ravindran of Innoz. The learnings from the panel would be in a future post.

Tie Smashup Information Technology has bestowed us a 10-year pro-creation cycle. Every 10 years comes an opportunity to innovate and recreate things from scratch. We learn from the wisdom of the previous cycle and attempt to make things 10x better than the previous one. Each cycle gives an immense opportunity of wealth creation and to make the world a happier place to live by making us more connected. How do you as an entrepreneur in the audience benefit from this?

Before lunch time, I heard entrepreneurs talk about website, web-presence, social media, etc. To you as an entrepreneur, anything web related is a thing of past. There are too many people solving problems around the web. The freshness is no longer there. You should be looking three years ahead of everybody. Internet is for the connectivity backbone and the web as yet any other channel. Instead, you should be doing things on mobile. When I say mobile, I don’t mean, yet another app for social, local, news.

Going back to the 10 year pro-creation cycle of IT, this started with:

  • 1980s – Gave us mainframe.
  • 1990s – Gave us Personal computers.
  • 2000s – Gave us Internet.
  • 2010s – Now, the Mobile boom beckons.

Each cycle gives us opportunities which were 10x beyond what it was earlier. For example, the number of consumers for mainframes were not more than a million, followed by 100 million units for PCs, followed by 1 billion internet users. Guess what–10 billion mobile phones would be shipped by 2016. The current IT spend combined across hardware, software, mobile, PC, whatever, is around $1.6 trillion worldwide out of which 18% is for mobile.

I think Mobile is huge, much bigger than what Web was. As an entrepreneur, I believe that mobility is going to fundamentally change how people connect with machines and humans. In a small way it is already happening at home. A progressive doctor in a clinic at Bangalore, uses an app on his smartphone for appointments of a day before his day begins and carries an iPad to keep himself in the loop of patients and peers.

Why Enterprise apps or apps for businesses? You as an entrepreneur should be building things where money is made in every transaction and provides utility to the masses. There are close to one million apps on the appstore. However, 50% of them do not have any ratings nor any significant downloads. Why? Because, 100s of similar apps already exist. Instead of focusing on the usual mix of photo sharing, news aggregation, location, social, games, etc. I feel that you should be building apps for businesses. This is a large opportunity and few are paying attention.

That’s the path I chose at Bitzer. We at Bitzer are building some necessary infrastructure which businesses of tomorrow would need. We are building a secure remote access product which enables an enterprise to become mobile. It’s like VPN but much more done for mobile from the ground-up. Right from accessing the business applications in the intranet, files & folders, intranet websites, e-mail and more. I feel that connectivity is the missing piece in employee productivity. What we are attempting is akin to creating some of the well known Internet infrastructure companies during the internet boom of late-90s/early-2000s, which created the back-bone of the internet, gave the necessary tools to large companies to run their business.

To give you some example of how businesses are rapidly moving onto mobile, esp. adopting tablets, one of the largest domestic carriers in US called Alaska Airlines, removed 11kgs of flight manuals from it’s planes and swapped it with a 700 gram iPad with apps on it. Soon other airlines followed. Thanks to the introduction of iPad now the uber-important flight plan is being sent digitally. Another example is–how mobile apps are changing agriculture in America. There are apps which help increase the produce and predict the harvest time, pest infestation, etc. by analyzing the pictures of the farm. A few other apps exist for farming. There is a separate industry being born for connecting the mobile to the real-world in terms of accessories for such businesses.

Another big area for business apps is healthcare. There are apps which check your pulse followed by helping you communicate with a doctor remotely. The day is not far when your diagnosis will start before you reach the doctor’s clinic. In future, a specialized app will be capable of analyzing your ailments based on pulse, temperature and heartbeat. The apps fundamentally change how people would communicate with each other.

Don’t look at building apps which make our lives incrementally better, rather take on things which are orthogonal to the current trend. I urge you to build apps for business, which look unsexy but these are much bigger opportunities.

Updated Sep 17. Edited and many fixes.