Posts Tagged ‘startup’

How I hired in India

Saturday, 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!

Always Be Caring. The other ABC.

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Always Be Closing is a popular term in startup and business to keep a CEO/entrepreneur’s laser-sharp on two things viz. 1) relentless focus on sales and 2) fund-raising. It’s the top advice mentors give to startups.

However, there is another ABC, Always Be Caring, where it drives a CEO/entrepreneur to continuously reflect on what others may think about the product or company. Caring about the feeling of others, caring about what customers think about the product, caring whether people are getting value from the deliverables.

Here’s some of the things to care about:

  • What are your customers telling you. Are you listening what they are not telling you? If you care about the customers, you may be able to listen what they are not telling you
  • What is your team not telling you. Team members will seldom tell you what’s wrong, unless they feel that you care about them and their feedback
  • The smooth edges of your website. Website is your store-front. Doesn’t matter whether you are consumer or enterprise business. A smooth design tells people that you care about the visitors, whereas a sloppy conveys many things otherwise.
  • Design, usability of your product. Ditto.
  • What’s in the refrigerator / pantry. This is also depends on where you are and how much money you have and cultural sensitivities.
  • Quality of the product. Slightly different from design, usability. A usable product may be delivering zilch value or may have incomplete features. However, a product with every feature working and delivering utmost value conveys positiveness and that you care about your customer’s time and attention.

Closing is good. However, if you care then you can start and also go back for more. If you care, people will buy, instead of you selling to them.

Recent musings on hiring and an imperfect job market

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Hiring in India is not easy. Generically, it’s not easy anywhere. In perfect markets the demand side and supply side are mature and there is no hidden element. In India, just like the Bombay Stock Exchange, the buyers and sellers are in dark, few people know the right price until they get into a transaction. There are great candidates who almost never know great companies who could be a match.

I have been actively hiring people for my new gig at Bitzer Mobile. We are trying to rope smart engineers to join our Bangalore office with expertise in C/C++, Java, PHP, Android, iOS with varied years of experience. Here are some observations as experienced in the last 30 days.

  1. Imperfect job boards. I wrote about this last year. Job boards are broken, monopolistic and owned by recruiters and mass e-mailers. They are good for bean counting your overall candidate flow with most of them a wrong match.
  2. No separate board for freelancers and short-term opportunities. Unlike US-based Dice, there are none in India in the forefront. This is partly because of our Indian mindset of job security. However, Hasgeek’s job board has an opportunity.
  3. Compensation disparity. The compensation range swings ultra-wide. For a PHP developer with 3 years experience it could range from INR 3L – 9L
  4. Recruiters hold the fort. A good number of candidates swirl around recruiters. The main reason is the failure of the boards to land them a gig directly.
  5. Expected compensation is also mind-boggling. Candidates look for anywhere between 35% – 80% jump from their current compensation.
  6. Immature technology. The matching of requirements and resume is pure art. Even after 20 years there are few tools which integrate well with boards, do application tracking, give a relevance score of matching, etc. There are some high-end tools but they are prohibitively priced. I use recruiterbox for applicant tracking and I love it. But it does not integrate with LinkedIn, google calendar, skype, etc.
  7. Filtering candidates. I have been using interviewstreet for giving MCQ and programming questions to candidates. A few “good” candidates have indicated that they are not interested in taking the online tests. Knowing that resumes are always “dressed up”, it’s impossible to call and do a 45-minute verbal test and hear the answers. I would love to pay someone to administer these tests by calling the candidates and asking multiple choice and general non-programming questions to do a filter. Latent applicants would never take the test.
  8. Almost all entrepreneurs are good candidates. This is a dichotomy in my mind. Thanks to my previous life as an investor with The Morpheus and a developed empathy for entrepreneurs. Realized this recently when I called up 2 such candidates immediately after seeing their application and their LinkedIn profile. I bypassed the usual process of screen-resumes / online-test / phone-call / face-to-face. Entrepreneurs are good problem solvers, but they may not be a good fit. This is highly debatable and my recent sample set is only 2.
  9. Logistics. It’s impossible to get a candidate for a face-to-face during the weekday. Multiple candidates have cited varied reasons ranging from ‘far-away’ to ‘can’t get-away-from-my-desk-as-my-TL-is-watching’.
  10. There is no craigslist-like board for startups. Nor there are any mailing lists, nor there are any startup hiring mixers. I would suggest that Open Coffee Club/Headstart should kick-start a joint mailing list for startups to post jobs. Reminds me how successful KIT-list was during the post-dot-com era.

And yeah, we’re hiring.

The picture is of a candidate from a lathi-charge scene at an event for police hiring for multiple openings. The jobs are almost never advertised and given to cronies. Depicts the irony of India’s roaring growth and the depth of imperfection in India’s job market.

5 dot balls and a 6? Or 6 balls peppered with dots, singles, doubles

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

The moment I made up my mind to come out from the “other side”; the next-second got busy into what’s the next thing. Several ideas, and several discussions with friends, ex-colleagues and advisors. A lot of times, things went into, “Let’s do something big, yaar”.  The “big-ness” got defined by the size of consumers who could potentially use the product, as in “Let’s do something big on facebook (as a platform)” or “Let’s do the next big thing in mobile” instead of the size of the impact the solution could have on the customers.

In an effort to rationalize, tweeted the title of this post and bang came some great replies:

@brij said:

@1ndus you are on the crease. playing. that’s usually enough. Take a proper stance and cover your assets with a nice AD guard!

Another one by @zenx:

@1ndus Test match hai dude. Think sessions, not overs, even as you capitalize on the loose deliveries!

Finally, @riteshagar suggested:

@1ndus Simple think. Do as @sachin_rt does. Care only for the next ball; not for overs, innings or sessions !

There is a shift happening, although the day dreams of creating an 800-pound gorilla still persist, but the execution has become very pragmatic. This recent Techcrunch post by @petersims further nails it:

Don’t Bet Big. Little Bets Are The Ones That Turn Into Billion-Dollar Ideas

RIP, Sixer in every over. Welcome, six runs on six well-played balls.

Are you seeing a trend? You gotta prove the hypothesis

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

The Pinta and NinaThe journey of a startup is like a hypothesis to be proven. Chains of big, small, nested, one layer giving birth to the other experiments to be run to prove it. Unless you prove it, everything remains an idea, the seed of which remains in your head. To allow the seed to germinate and the shoots to pop-out, you have to convert the idea into something tangible.

In a high-technology startup, an entrepreneur looks at a series of trends or observable phenomena, as scientists calls it. The trends give you a certain set of assumptions. Based on the assumptions you run multiple controlled experiments.

Something similar happened to me in just around summer last year. I developed this belief, “If there are 300m youngsters on facebook, then they would look for jobs within the boundaries of facebook.” A hypothesis was born.

How do I prove it? Not easy, without having a full blown product with a good user-interface. A step in proving the hypothesis is figuring out the variables in the controlled experiment, that first variable for me was validation from a small group. Facebook Dev Garage, Bangalore chapter happened in October and I presented at the event (Thx, Vijay). A scrappy prototype cooked with 2-3 days of effort over Facebook API and Amazon S3 was well received in a crowd of 140+.

Then things took back seat and the hypothesis was semi-forgotten; The Morpheus Batch 5, broken laptop, sickness, family chores, visitation from extended family, yada-yada. Then the year-end downtime happened, I wrote a blog post and restarted the experiment and whipped the code out from woodwork. After several weeks of intermittent coding, last week, I quietly released the consumer facing version to check the reception of the antenna. Then I got a resume. One experiment was over.

Tonight, I incrementally rolled out an alpha version and started another experiment. It is still very brittle, has a simple user-interface, but is set out to run that experiment to prove the larger hypothesis.

The Pinta & The Nina were the two ships (out of three) used by Christopher Columbus in it’s first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. The replicas are shown in the pic above. Picture courtesy Christopher Columbus foundation.

How to become a millionaire in 3 years?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Axis: Bold as Love cover Jimi_HendrixI was reading an interesting thread on Hacker News where the poster wanted to find out how he can become a millionaire in 3 years. One of the commenter has replied beautifully sharing his pearls of wisdom. Blatantly copying / pasting the bullets I liked (ignore this and go straight to the source, otherwise), here’s what the commenter said you need to have / look for to become a “success” and not necessarily a millionaire:

  • Market opportunity – a million dollars isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly is a lot if the market opportunity is not large enough. Even if you put Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as founders in a new venture with a total market size of 10 million, there is no way they could become too wealthy without completely changing the business
  • Inequality of information – find a place where you know something that many undervalue. Having this inequality of information can give you, your first piece of leverage
  • Leverage skills you know– You can go into new fields such as say Finance, but make sure you’re leveraging something you already know such as technology and/or product.
  • Look in obscure places– We’re often fascinated with the shiny things in the internet industry. Many overlook the obscure and unsexy. Don’t make that mistake. If your goal has primarily monetary motivations, look at the unsexy.
  • Surround yourself with smart people– smart people whom are successful usually got there by doing the same and have an innate desire to help those do the same.
  • Charge for something– Building a consumer property dependent upon advertising has easily made many millionaires, but it isn’t the surest path. Build something that you can charge for.
  • Go with your gut and do not care about fameballing– Go with what your gut says, regardless of how it might look to the rest of the world.
  • Be an unrelenting machine– Brick walls are there to show you how bad you want something. Commit to your goals and do not waver from them a one bit regardless of what else is there. I took this approach to losing weight and fitness. I have not missed a single 5k run in over a year. It did not matter if I had not slept for two days, traveling across the country, or whatever else. If your goals is to become a millionaire, you need to be an unrelenting machine that does not let emotions make you give up / stop. You either get it done with 100% commitment or you don’t. Be a machine.
  • If it’s a “trend”, it’s too late
  • Be a master of information– Many think it might be wasteful that I spent so much time on newsyc or read so many tech information sites. It’s not, it’s what gives me an edge. I feel engulfed.
  • Get out and be social– Even if you’re an introvert, being around people will give you energy.

When I first saw the cover (probably in my 8th grade) of Jimi Hendrix’s album ‘Axis: Bold as love’, I was like WTF, how can he do it to the deities? Hendrix is depicted as two Vedic deities, with the multiple hands of Durga and as avatars of Vishnu.

As a startup entrepreneur one has to embody multiple incarnations in one single lifeycle and that pic above is very relevant. What the commenter mentioned above is a lot of things to be done in a short span, but yeah, not every startup gets there, unless you have multiple hands and heads.

Information Technology Security for SMB: The big opportunity for startups in India

Monday, April 5th, 2010

This post resulted while researching the size and opportunity for the IT security market in India.

Only in last few years, Indian Small & Medium Business (SMB or MSME), have started doing a few of the following:

  • Going online & and maybe having a website
  • Accepting card-based transactions
  • Implementing a cross-office/cross-vendor supply chain or some other rudimentary automation for sales/marketing or customer service
  • Using collaboration tools for inter-company, intra-office communication & data sharing

These are the businesses who have been using a desktop/PC for the last so many years and may have been using 1 or many windows-based applications for accounting, billing, point-of-sale automation, connecting to branch-office over private network, etc.

There is a impending run up in the growth numbers of the SMB sector in India. In the concluded budget speech, the Finance Minister doled out sops Share of MSME in India's GDPfor the fledgling sector including the government’s plan to purchase Rs. 1,60,000 crore worth goods from SMBs in 2010-11, which is 400% up from the last year’s paltry Rs. 40,000 crore. Comparing this to the developed nations the number is less than 10% of all the purchases and the balance lies in the favor of large enterprises. Due to the growth in this sector, the SMBs share in the India’s GDP is pegged at 10% in the closed financial year.

Based on research estimates, the overall IT spend is being pegged at USD $4.5 billion of which IT security spend would be at $450 million (Rs. 1900 crore); 10% of the overall IT budget.  The Indian IT security spend was around Rs. 210 crore in 2006-07 and would surge to a healthy Rs. 1900 crore as stated above. The gut feel is that the spend would be higher than 10% of the overall IT budget due to investments in fundamental infrastructure, consulting, software etc.  for the first time.

From a textile unit in Tirupur, to a manufacturer of automotive accessory in Jamshedpur, to a mini-steel plant in Jharkhand clocking Rs. 5 crore in annual sales; in five years from now, there’ll be easily 20 million businesses that will be using IT as part of their every day life. This all seems to come together.

Sensing the opportunity – IBM, Microsoft, Sun and even desi stalwarts like TCS, Wipro have started focusing on the young but growing segment. IBM predicts that 30% of it’s revenue would be from Indian SMB segment in the next 5 years.

I think the opportunities to innovate & produce products which can be efficiently priced is huge & can be summarized as:

  1. Preventive — customer’s data leakage/theft,  end-point protection of desktop/servers, backup of data on desktop/servers, anti-fraud by customers/employees, etc.
  2. Curative — threat removal, recovery/restoration, essentially tools used when preventive measures have not been taken or failed
  3. Consultative — audit of practices, compliance to regulatory framework related to privacy/card-transactions, risk assessment

It can be argued that a lot of work has been done and the market is mature with products from established companies. However, these products are not suited for small business who is just starting out with it’s IT presence. Apart from the pricing which is ill-suited, the overall total cost of ownership is very high, considering that the businesses aren’t IT savvy. More than that, a lot of them have a feature load due to maturity of their life-cycles.

There are only a handful of startups in Indian segment who are working on products related to IT security, and this is a green field as I see.

How much money do you need to get started?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

… You want to raise just enough money to solve a small problem for even a smaller set of customers to start with.

A lot of ventures start with a dream, a vision; to solve a problem in a specific Ruby Throated Hummingbirdway. The dream could be a INR 100 crore product or something as complex as an ERP on the web to a even more complicated, a Hospital Information Systems (.. search engines? they are easier to build these days).

The vision cannot be achieved in 6 months or even 2 years — Takes 5-7 years on an average to build an INR 100 crore company. So you want to start now, and want to start small, chiseling your idea, refining as you go, adding feathers in your cap and changing gears and accelerating as you move.

First, zero in on a handful of customers and a specific problem the customer may have. Do not worry if others mock you for building a feature & not a product. You know your destiny. You know where you want to reach. Validate what you have built. Give the customer something useful so that he can pay for what you have built. Iterate on your product.

There are a lot of examples where the companies started small and began by solving just one small problem and then morphed into gorillas; from companies selling PCs — to cloth merchants now with fully backward integrated perto-products chain.

A large amount of money spoils you, ties you up with your own experiments and forces you to deliver a product which does not have any takers outside your laboratory — You are forced to linger with the experiment because now you have a large amount of an external investor’s money and do not have guts to tell him that it is not working out. There are numerous examples. There are only a few brave entrepreneurs who took $5m only to tell the board in less than a month about change in the business model.

When you are starting out, you are building something and proving your hypothesis. The moment someone starts paying for what you are building, a part of the hypothesis gets proved. You continue to iterate.

Think 6 months, 3 people’s expenses.

Think 6 months, 2 people’s expenses.

Think the amount of first tranche you need to deliver to your first customer.

Think about knowing the sales process yourself before hiring a sales expert.

Think doing zero dollar marketing before doing SEM campaigns.

Think writing the code yourself before hiring a developer.

… start thinking about raising big money after your customer trusts you with his money.

(The thumbnail is of a Ruby-throated hummingbird. These are solitary. Have one of the highest metabolism, and as part of their migration, they fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of at least 500 miles. Pic courtesy)

Poet Kabir on mentorship

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I was reading some Hindi literature over the weekend. Found this doha (a kind of verse) from the great Indian poet Kabir on mentorship.

Kabirdas-ji says:

तारा मंडल वैसि करि, चंद बड़ाई खाई |

उदए भया जब सूर का, स्यूं तारां छिपि जाई ||

Shall update with the translation sometime later. Why don’t you attempt translating this in the comment section?

Laptop to Loadbalancer: Is your LAMP hardware infrastructure growing like this?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
Lamp Growth Plan

Lamp Growth Plan

The visual image conveys the thoughts. The data legends represent a hypothetical configuration using Webservers, Database Master and/or slave or DRBD, Memcached nodes, etc. The size of the circle represents the relative amount of money spent on monthly hardware lease.

How did your web presence grow?

Disclaimer: The above does not include security, disaster recovery, backup and other attachments which are a must.