A year as an entrepreneur (and half, trying to)
It was almost a year and half ago - Jan 2009 - when I broke ways with my jackass of an ex-employer. And it has been quite an interesting ride since then. Today, I can safely say that I was able to hire some of the best talent, went on to do sales, manage and deliver killer projects, put in software best practices and generally helped build a 13 people company from scratch.
My first attempt at being an entrepreneur was very cool and I managed to reach out to topshot entrepreneurs - but it never converted. I wanted to build a predictive road traffic system for Indian roads. I wanted to make it possible for a commuter to receive alerts by SMS about potential road-blocks, which can then be avoided by spending that time in a coffee shop or taking an alternative route.
I still cant figure out why it didnt happen - I put together a stellar team, got together some of the top-notch professors from some of the best universities and went to some really great venture capitalists.
That is something I didnt do the second time around.
Sanjay (the CEO) and I got together in May 2009 and set up a boutique consulting shop (clearsenses.com) and started doing business. It was a first for both of us - we had spent most of our lives in product startups and dissing service-based companies. And the journey taught me much more than anything I have ever learnt.
The first few hires are the most critical
That is much harder than it sounds. When we started out, we had a small broken down apartment where we would work out of - it was incredibly hard to get people to join you. Sanjay, finally realized that it was important to put in money and get a bigger, nicer place. It was something I was opposed to - but I can see now, that it made complete sense. It was hard then because we didnt have a lot of money.
But more than that, I learnt how to communicate a vision to those, who did not give birth to it. And that means being honest - brutally so at times. And it also means you need to have that telepathic quality that tells you whether a potential candidate is ever gonna join.. and not waste time on the ones who wont.
You dont need a lot of money to create bleeding edge infrastructure
I find that a lot of startups plunk a crap load of money for Macbooks and all cool things like Airport wireless and all, as they are beginning out. A lot of people did tell me to forget spending time on deciding infrastructure and just go with the standard stuff (or the expensive stuff). I believe it is a big mistake.
I took a lot of help from hardware enthusiast forums (like Erodov) and was able to get hardware which was 1/6 the cost of high-end systems, yet performed so much better than them. Yes we had to assemble this ourselves, but eventually we could farm this out to someone. We also bought generic wireless-N routers, flashed opensource WRT firmware and were able to have QoS features that only really expensive boxes had.
Adhere to best practices
The superstar personality, tends to push mundane things like best-practices, to the background. This includes things like proper comments in revision control commits, testcases, automating a lot of manual work, etc.
Someone once told me ”there is usually no time difference between doing-things-fast and doing-things-right the first time around . They both usually take the same amount of time because you will be fixing your mistakes. The second time around, the right way will trump the fast way”
This is something that I truly believe in, and I have seen too many managers ignore this. Eventually, it will bite you in the ass and you will have no way to deal with it.
Create an amazing culture
I have worked in a couple of places where machoism and profanity in the workplace was commonplace. Yes I admit - there is a certain adrenaline rush to it - but often it is not a sustainable culture. That is something I had to learn from Sanjay. Today, we have created a culture where problems are resolved in a very temperate way and everyone is encouraged to have a voice and an opinion.
Because to have an opinion, you would have needed to understand the issue at hand - you would have needed to go and study about or discuss about it. And that is something that is so much more valuable than simply telling people what they should be doing.
A lot of startups confuse pizza-and-beer-parties as work culture - it is not. Lines of communication, participatory decision making and best practices are what makes work culture.
This is gonna be something I am going to be writing about much more often and hope some karma finds its way back to me.