We turned 9 last week.
This is the longest job that I’ve held and the memories of my corporate life prior to this appear blurry. There are days when it feels like I’ve always been doing this. But on other days, I feel as if I’m just starting out.
When someone asks me to share how does it feel to run a business for 9 years, I go blank. Honestly, it still feels that I’ve to prove myself every day that I’m capable of the opportunity destiny gave me. You see, I’m not one of those visionary entrepreneurs who start out with the crystal clarity of what they want from their ventures – world domination, unicorn status, or extradition charges.
I’m an accidental solopreneur who merely wanted to build design-led products with some cool people while having fun. I had no aspirations to change the world with it. I was merely trying to develop products for startups the right way. I had, both, succeeded and failed, and had learned some valuable lessons along the way. Primarily, what not to do.
I was completely enamored by IDEO’s and Apple’s design philosophy, Google’s work culture, and Thoughtworks’ approach of doing agile development. I wanted to mix all of that and build a small scale version of it in India.
I wanted to build a company run by designers and engineers, not by business people. I may not have had the entire journey mapped out, but I had intent. And what makes me happy is how we, together, have continued to build the company with intention.
I had 3 core philosophies of our little venture when we started out, and have held on to them even when we are close to 200 people. I would have shared these philosophies a gazillion times internally in company updates, bootcamps, and leadership talks and here I am, sharing it with you now –
“Get the right people on the bus” – Jim Collins, Good to Great.
I couldn’t agree more with Jim. Companies go on spending so much time, energy and money on creating luxurious office space, offering free Beer Fridays, and what not to keep employees engaged. Not that these aren’t important but more than that great people need great colleagues, challenging work, and a manager who cares about providing them with the right growth opportunities.
I believed and still do that if you take care of people, hopefully, they would be happy and hopefully when they are happy, they would execute well. And, no surprises here, great execution sets in motion the flywheel of building a company that lasts.
So rather than the classical profit first, people second, we did people first, product second, and profit second.
I’ve written about this earlier as well about how I’ve never taken a profitability goal. Ever.
Not that we are financially dumb and didn’t know that one can’t really run a company without profits. But, running a business by keeping an eye on the profit scorecard wasn’t my objective.
I feel that keeping profits as one of the leading indicators promotes short term thinking and forces compromises on the commitment to customers or hiring great talent. And one really can’t make enduring companies with short term thinking.
And you know what – debunking the practical advice centered around profits, with our focus on products and people, we have been profitable since our first year. Of course, timing and luck have got a whole lot to do with it. But, also to do with the intent of hiring the right people who would want to build high-quality software.
Starting out, I made the decision that we wouldn’t chase growth for merely the sake of growing. Like how generally it is in the business world – a company is always in the pursuit of growth i.e. getting bigger. If you aren’t making your business bigger then you are slowly dying. Right? Hell, no.
I believe that growth for a service company, at an unprecedented rate, brings dilution in the quality of service. Great quality of service begins with bringing great people on board. To hire great people, one needs to spend considerable time and energy in finding and interviewing the right people. Our average has been to interview at least 50 people to find that one right person for us.
Think about this, if your focus was on hiring more people just for the sake of growth, then engineers would be busy interviewing future team members for a decent part of their day. If this kept them busy, then what would be impacted? Either the quality of service to the clients or the quality of people being hired just to tick off those numbers. There is no chance that they would be able to invest in churning out great code when part of their day goes in taking interviews.
Bottom line – if you are constantly running on the hamster wheel of hiring people to service new customer relationships, you will sacrifice the quality of the existing ones. And when the quality suffers, there is a big probability that it would affect your existing relationships. And, that is the worst thing you can do to your company.
If one has to grow an enduring business organically then the happiness of the existing customers should be one of the most sought after metric. Period.
Even with this intention, you would still fuck-up. Imagine what would happen if you were throwing caution to the wind and growing it at breakneck speed without looking at your customer satisfaction scores?
Invert the pyramid
One thing I learned a long time ago is that if you hire the right people who know best how to do their job, then you should let them run the organization and free them from the shackles of the organization’s hierarchy. That’s why I decided that we would bring people on the forefront of decision-making – after all, it’s they who are on-the-ground, closest to the customer’s expectations and can drive things to completion.
With this in mind, we created a company with an inverted pyramid like this –
Even today, we run a culturally lean organization where the leadership of the company sets the strategy and then becomes subservient to people’s need. It doesn’t mean that the leadership team sits idle and alleviates their own job responsibilities. Rather, the leadership team acts more like a military general who builds the strategy and then stands outside the war zone to gauge the effectiveness of it. And we make sure that each general has themselves fought in battles to know the ground realities so that they can guide their people through genuine experience.
I wouldn’t deny that we have done all this without making any mistakes. Rather, we have tried to own every single mistake and do something about it. Sometimes, even repeat them. 🙂
These 3 core philosophies worked for me (and are still working) because I had the undying support of my teammates who have been with me throughout these 9 years. Well, not all of them. But, most of them. And I credit this growth to them, their hard work and their relentless passion towards their work.