NVP & PeepalSys bring together a panel of start-ups on building silicon valley culture in India

Nexus Venture Partners (NVP) is an early and growth stage VC fund looking at Indian start-ups going after global market esp. US as well as US companies looking to enter India. PeepalSys follows Y-Combinator model into talent recruitment space. So, when both of these put together an extremely relevant topic of bringing Silicon Valley culture into Indian companies with a panel of extremely successful technology leaders from NVP portfolio companies, it attracted a packed house in Sumant Mangalkar auditorium, MCCIA, ICC Towers, Pune.

Introduction

NVP managing director Jishnu Bhattacharjee (Linkedin profile, @b_jishnu) introduced the topic to us. He clarified that we should bring good habits of Silicon Valley culture into Indian companies and also supplement it with our own elements. Silicon Valley has proven to be a successful model for innovation with a culture fostering flexible hours, meritocracy, and rewards using stock option. NVP had made its first investment in a Pune company back in 2000 in Sigma, which worked out of Pune IT Park, Aundh. More recently, they have invested in Druva, started by ex-Veritas (later acquired by Symantec), which provides backup solutions. He introduced the panelists to us, which I will sprinkle as I describe each talk. It was followed by a presentation from all 5 panelists of 3-minutes each, before Q&A panel discussion started between Jishnu, audience on one side and the panelists on the other side.

Presentation

Abinash Tripathy from HelpShift recruits SpecialOps guy

FoosballAtHelpshiftHelpshift makes it easy to create that exceptional customer support experience in native mobile apps, transforming customers into the most passionate sales team. Abinash Tripathy (@abinashtripathy)is the founder and CEO. He led another company called Infinity Beta, a thinktank of startup ideas like Paisa.Com. He recalled that they began talking about company culture even before they began working on product, wow! He illustrated the culture of city with a picture of Pune landmarks, festival, food etc. Culture is value system of a group of individuals, in this case startup employees. He contrasted an army vs special operations team. Whereas an army has the following characteristics: a large number of individuals, hierarchy, obedience, defined roles, and uses mandated tools; the special ops team has high-potential soldiers, only a handful of them, who would use innovative tools, will generally possess high IQ and make their own decisions towards a mission. Building such a culture starts with recruiting high-potential employees. Helpshift values attitude rather than skills. They have inverted the traditional recruitment model by making it inbound. So, instead of HR or external recruitment team reaching out to many engineers, the company pages and its work act as a magnet for the kind of talent, they want. It actually scares engineers with faint heart. This way instead of spending 2 valuable days just filtering out numerous resumes, Abinash and BG are able to focus on high probable. Paisa.com did not have a careers page. Instead it was extremely well architect-ed, so an inquisitive and interested soul would examine it and find it in some HTML tag an email for this purpose. And, that would be just start of a 3-months long recruitment cycle. Everyone was surprised including the host Jishnu, when he mentioned that. He then went on to describe kinds of questions and tasks in the interview process. They look for people, who can learn new skills, they have never used before, quickly come up to speed and accomplish a fairly non-trivial task with it. Prior experience (existing skills) don’t matter to them. One such example is: Using Arduino to build a Build Process Signal, innovative, very, very innovative. So, the candidate learns its device driver and integrates continuous integration system like Jenkins with it. Please read this comment made by AB in his blog AB’s (the blog is now private) answer on Quora for “How did Helpshift hire talented developers” for unadulterated version.

If one were to walk into Helpshift’s office, it’d look like a playground with foosball, video-games, mini-gym within the office. Some objects, which all of them possessed included:

  1. Amazon Kindle: All Helpshifters are avid readers. In this digital age, when many professionals I know have moved on just snacking on Twitter, blogs for keeping up with new trends, learning new professional and life skills, it is refreshing to know that company encourages such habits among employees.
  2. Emacs: With a plethora IDEs and WYSIWG editors, plain text editors like VI( M) and emacs rule geeks like Helpshifters. I remember meeting a Symbiosis Design student working at InfinityBeta bemoaning this fact Winking smile, that he wasn’t allowed Dreamweaver or something, rather had to use emacs!
  3. Clojure: Geeks at Helpshift love functional language running atop JVM.
  4. Raspberry Pi: DIY kit for making your own computer.
  5. Bitcoin: World’s alternative currency
  6. Special interest outside of work: Be it Maths, Guitar, robotics or Mahabharata, you have got to be of high calibre in one of your hobbies, that you pursue outside of work.
  7. Continuous learning and technology eco-system involvement: [Self observation] You’d find Helpshifters at Coursera, local Emacs group etc.

Their role models included Steve jobs, Richard Stallman and 7 more, which audience could barely identify. You will find such quotes like: Real artists ship.

A software engineer at Helpshift is expected to be self-didactic, whose definition none from audience was able to specify. In jest, I say that AB inverted panel discussion by making audiences answer, while he put forth questions! I’d say the audience including me were lousy by his high standards. Coming back to the culture, at Helpshift, the software developers also act as customer support in addition to product development. This way they are aware how their code performs in the field. Recruiting and appreciating employees is quite important in such cases. Otherwise, as noted in The Five Languages of Appreciation:

  1. Lack of praise and recognition leads to low job satisfaction
  2. Lower job satisfaction leads to higher turnover
  3. Higher turnover has a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

Jonah from Indix builds a team of ants for heavy data lifting

03Jonah Stephen Jeremiah (Linkedin profile) said the mission of Indix is to store a vast amount of data and make sense of it, derive interesting inferences from it. They have over billion product prices database and a market intelligence system on top of it. They are 35-member team and have an office ready to accommodate 35 more. In parallel with the metaphor of special ops, Indix has ants, who do heavy lifting well beyond their capacities. Indix fosters transparency right from office setup having no opaque walls for managers, even meeting rooms. He did not describe his recruitment funnel from start, but somebody in advance stage spends a full day in the office before (s) he joins.

Gaurav from ScaleArc impresses candidates by its work

Gaurav took the talks further, but the panel started digressing from Silicon Valley culture to company work and their recruitment efforts (We, audience also helped this change of course, but the discussions were stimulating nonetheless, so no big regret from my side). He started by describing how external circumstances like family and society view startups in India. He described how his dad consoled him on his startup job with words: You will get a a job in big company soon! Many marriageable aged boys and girls would take up an MNC jobs to boost their attractiveness to in-laws and potential partners. <Self observation> Many fresh graduates themselves seem to take a startup job as last resort after having been rejected by MNC, as a stepping stone to MNC. They screw up the startup and don’t give their 100% to their current employer. Instead prepare for interviews or MBA’s. On the other side, many MNC engineers will tell startups that they need higher salaries, because they are compromising on the brand of their company by coming to your startup </Self Observation>. The way ScaleArc would approach recruitment would be making founder accessible to the potential candidate, describing the great work they are doing, which the candidate should be able to fathom being technically adept herself/himself. Then, they would talk about the kind of clients using it already – likes of Flipkart, Microsoft, Kixeye (Zynga’s competitor), which would put any arguments to rest.

Ankit Pruthi from Unicommerce looks for ethical hacker

Unicommerce looks for ethical hackers, who is an equivalent of 100 programmers. With a team of 4 developers, they are managing a large scale SAAS order fulfillment system, being used by 1000 concurrent users, for 40 warehouses to ship 50K products everyday across India (Snapdeal, Jabong), SouthEast Asia (Lazada), even Pakistan and Canada. Ankit, the youngest panellist at 26 years of age talked about the custom scripting language they have created to help customers come up to speed quickly on their product.

Atul Phadnis of WhatsOn India builds a cross-functional team without silos

WhatsOn was ably presented by Atul Phadnis as a company, who are further along in their startup journey than rest of panelists. That POV (point of view) gave a glimpse of what you’d do, when you go beyond 30-70’s in employee strength. He was visibly proud of having hired best talents from large companies, two in recent past from Airtel and another one, I don’t remember. He spoke of the high energy atmosphere within the company, which was observed by potential recruits to be a reason for the same. I really liked the fact that he democratically chose an office inside or very near mall in Worli, which many companies are shy of doing lest their employees get distracted. He spoke of a road-show in bay area, where WhatsOn showcased their technical prowess to equally competent silicon Valley crowd and got nod for good work. He also talked about expanding his company to South East (Indonesia) and Middle East (Jordan) Asia and integrating them into WhatsOn culture, very mature POV coming from him.

Q & A

It became more interactive towards latter half by design. I’d leave that for a new blog post in future.

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About prasoonk

Prasoon Kumar grew up in the Bokaro Steel City of south Bihar, now Jharkhand. He studied Computer Science and Engineering in IIT Kanpur. For job he moved to the land of opportunity United States. He was there in the bay area through the internet revolution of mid to late nineties. He spent time admiring the beautiful coastline of California among other things. He moved east coast to the New York after the turn of the millennium working in a brokerage startup. Afterwards, he is back to India for the past few years. He has been working in the internet startup, enjoying the city life. He has a beautiful wife, a young 5 years old daughter and 11 years old son.

Posted on April 12, 2013, in Bay Area, Business Intelligence, Database, eCommerce, HTML5, mobile, Pune, Technology, USA, Web, web 2.0 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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