Start That Up

Startups. And more.

Be Kind to Your Employees, but Don’t Always Be Nice

by Harvard Business Review

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

At 39, I was the CEO of a company with a few hundred employees. Depending on the day and the employee you asked, I’d rate anywhere from a zero to a seven on the unkindness scale (10 being a tyrant). I’d guess that I normally hovered around 4.5. I doubt anyone would have rated me a 10—that takes a particular kind of malevolence. I wasn’t taken to raging, other than on one occasion when the lives of the participants in our Montana AIDS Vaccine Ride (a 1,500-person, seven-day bike ride across the Rockies to fight the disease) were in jeopardy during a horrific mountain wind storm that literally blew our temporary city apart. But day to day, I was fairly consistently stern and serious.

Stories of the raging, maniacal CEO are the stuff of legend, from American Apparel’s CEO, Dov Charney, who was accused of choking an employee with both…

View original 754 more words

Who is your biggest supporter in life?

by Gokul Nath Sridhar

First time my own answer made me well up with tears.

Thank you, Pa. :)

Answer by Gokul Nath Sridhar:

A character that might sound cliched and over-stated as an answer to this question. My father, Mr. Sridhar Paramasivam.

Year: 2005.

As an average kid in school, I had never hoped to become someone worthy of mention by others, in any walk of life. In my ninth grade, my academic performance reached an all time low. And unfortunately, I lived in a town that was super-judgemental of people based on their academic strengths. Given my abysmally low strengths in this area, I was branded useless by peers and their families.

I had almost given up on myself. My father had not.

He set about drafting a plan to instil a sense of direction in my life, improve my morale and self-confidence, and help me attain things; things that may seem ordinary to many, but beyond possible given my state back then. To give you a perspective, passing tenth standard board examinations seemed an uphill task for me.

As someone who valued formal education a lot, his first goal was to improve my academic position. Yes, that is the aim of any Indian parent; chiding a poor kid for scoring 99.25 when the neighbor's kid scored 100.

But no, that is not the approach he took. In fact, he never compared me with anyone. This would later become very important in my ability and outlook to assess others' performances. If I were to comment on one aspect of his support that I loved a lot, it is that. He used to carry a diary that charted my progress in academics. He spent countless hours taking time off from work, social life, etc. to sit with me, chalk out plans for the future, showing me that I was improving by the day and that I was destined for much, much greater things.

I merely used to chuckle at that.

He spent countless amounts of money buying books and other resources that helped me improve, going beyond anyone else ever would to make sure I was happy and cheerful while keeping a hawk's eye on my growth.

Year: 2007.
Situation: Tenth board examination results. Conversation between my dad, mom and me.

Mom: "Gokul, will you pass?"
Me: "Yeah ma, passing shouldn't be an issue. In fact, I have done quite well, I suppose. Should be getting around 400 (on 500)."
Dad: "What are you two talking about? My estimate is that Gokul would be getting somewhere around 470-475."
Me: "LOL."

About an hour later, results were announced.

Me <sheepishly> to dad: "Pa, I got 474."
Him: <no-words> A silent tear of pride or two.

Year 2010:

Continuing the streak of good academic performance, I managed to get into one of India's premier engineering schools, BITS, Pilani and opted to join the Hyderabad campus. Once I entered college, I realized that becoming a corporate slave was not something I really looked forward to. So, I set about honing myself to become an entrepreneur. At the cost of my academic growth.

As someone who gave utmost importance to education and had envisioned the typical high-reward, low-risk life for me that most Indians opt for — a degree from a prestigious T-School, followed by an MBA from a top-notch B-School, and a 7-digit salary at some conglomerate, my father was quite stunned by the turn of events.

Yet, he stepped out of his comfort zone to support me in my entrepreneurial pursuits.

He realized I wasn't going to budge from this career path, despite a couple of not-so-successful attempts at starting up. He told me that he didn't quite understand what went into building a company, that he was a layman, but he knew that I would become someone worthy of note, and that he would help me achieve it by supporting me in any manner he can.

Believe me, I'm yet to meet someone from this country who says — "My child is going throw away a comfortable path to a good life and embark upon something so risky that he has nothing to fall back on. And, I'm cool with it."

Year: 2012.

He did exactly that. When we started Inu (as Likewyss was called back in 2012), he paid tens of thousands of rupees for server costs, travel expenses to conferences, etc. in addition to pumping in tuition fees for a college degree I wasn't even serious one bit about.

Because he believed, not in my ideas or business models or anything else, but, in me. He believed that I could and would do it. Powered by that belief, he shunned conventional schools of thought, mentally blocked anyone's advice that told him to ask me to quit fooling around, and helped me become what I am today.

An article titled "Chennai under 40: Winners Circle" in the Indian Express named me one of the young hotshots of Chennai, in October 2013. Although not of the most circulated pieces about me in the press, I find that befit of a dedication to my father. Thank you, Pa. :)

PS: Apologies for the poor image quality. :(

View Answer on Quora

One year. And breathing.

by Gokul Nath Sridhar

The following post was originally composed on 24th, June, 2013 and was shared as a Facebook note.

It was right before lunch, on this day, one year ago, that we launched, what in lean startup terms, is called a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP, of Inu. A minimum viable product is exactly what it sounds like — a patient on life support, a bare skeleton with no flesh, a baby right out of a mother’s womb — unclean, dirty, shabby and highly unstable. I don’t know what it was to everyone else; my parents, cofounders, early employees, everyone — but to me, it was the most precious thing on the planet.

An idea, a seed that I had been mulling over for about fifteen months suddenly sprang to life, yes thank you Apache and Filezilla. Our programming knowledge was, and still is, quite limited; so our barebones application ran on a low level PHP framework called Codeigniter, which I later found is impossible to scale with. Also, we had no idea of the amazing frameworks for front-end like Bootstrap, Backbone.js, etc. We didn’t know what md5 hashing was. We didn’t know you had to ‘salt’ your passwords before you put them in the database. In short, we knew shit. Yet, we incorporated some basic functionality into the platform and powered on the servers.

Needless to say, the product was met with a lot of criticism, suggestions, mockery, praise, and lots more! We were hailed as new-gen dorm room entrepreneurs in reputed dailies like The Hindu, the Times of India, the Deccan Chronicle, the Indian Express, etc. Meanwhile, our product’s screenshots were being mocked for it’s lack-lustre quality and barren outlooks across social media. I didn’t know whether to be happy that we reached 1,000 users in less than 10 days — if you want a reference, Twitter took 6 months to achieve this figure, or so Quora says, or to be sad because I was being publicly ridiculed and had no freaking idea on how to scale the product!

I decided to calm down and trust it would all work out okay. I intently listened to people over email conversations, Facebook chats, phone calls on what they are looking for in an upcoming social network. In MBA terms, I was trying to determine the market fit for the product that I was trying to build. Over the next couple of months, I iterated the product design thrice, Mrudula wrote endless lines of code, and the third version seemed to kick things up a bit — people took note of the product and me; I was featured on Inc. magazine with the cofounder of Facebook, Dustin Moskovitz, thanks to a Quora answer that I wrote which really helped us in marketing the product.

The traffic to the site surged through October and November, and we were faced with the perennial problem of scaling. Guess what, PHP scales horribly. Yay us, for writing in PHP! We had to either find novel ways of scaling in PHP, like Facebook and WordPress did, or we had to switch to a completely new platform like Python or Ruby. Owing to the traffic, our site had considerably slowed down and was experiencing server faults often. I was forced to kill the PHP version towards the end of November. And we started rewriting the codebase in Python, understood the awesomeness of tools like Git, in December and we shipped furious amounts of code in February – to me, this was a make-it-or-break-it version of Inu. I decided that if this version did not work out, I would kill the product, and retire to some dark corner of the world where no one would know I was a failure.

On February, 9th, 2013, I pushed the final git commit that triggered what eventually turned out to be the last version of Inu, but all for good reasons. Right from February 10th, we got over 1,500 visitors per day — okay bro, stop comparing with Facebook’s traffic, really now! :P That gave me a little bit of confidence to go ahead even if this version didn’t work. Four days after our ‘final’ version was shipped, we received an angel investment offer — wow! :D

And under the guidance of my angel investor, I completely rethought the product, and my visions for the future changed. Drastically. In order to incorporate the changes that I envisioned for Inu, I had to rework the codebase. Again. :( Meanwhile, we also ran into certain bureaucratic issues which prohibited us to retain the name Inu — so we rebranded ourselves as Likewyss. On the 25th of April, 2013, Likewyss Technologies Private Limited was incorporated as a company with headquarters in Chennai.

And right now, I am writing code for the first version of Likewyss, having fun at The Startup Centre, every hour of every day. I envision a similar build-learn-repeat cycle to occur with Likewyss as well, as it did with Inu. But now, I’m armed with a far more advanced knowledge of programming, a better understanding of startups, marketing, and thanks to the investment, a pile of cash — so I hope to build and ship better products in the near future.

Ultimately, you might ask — why this blog post da? This is just my way of recounting everything that has happened with Inu in the past one year, my way of saying thank you for helping us all along the journey, and my way of promising you we will do a good job with Likewyss. 

Here’s to the many more years to come. At Likewyss.

With love and endless gratitude,
Gokul.

 

Image

Grow up, middle class.

by Gokul Nath Sridhar

My rage against the typical Indian middle class mindset has reached an all new peak tonight. People of various demographics keep asking me why India fails to produce an Apple or Google despite the abundance of tech talent (?) here.

The reason is you. Yes, you, the kid with the fancy degree running behind a fancy brand for a job.

Am I being brutal, really? Imagine two scenarios

  • VC/Angel-backed startup + decent salary + possible equity options + ton of learning experience
  • Boring IT company + boring IT job + same decent salary + virtually inexistent ESOPs

Which would you choose? If you choose (a) and you know Python or something of that sort, write to me at careers@likewyss.com. We are looking for you. Marketing apart, sadly most of the folks from the middle class families choose (b). And the worst reason I have come across is security of a branded job.

Stop selling yourself to IT brands, please. You sound like a college-graduated-whore.

Honestly, how many of you know that TCS is rated 2/5 in employee relations by Mouthshut? Or do you know that many Indian IT majors have an abnormal attrition rate? Indian IT recruitment scenario was rosy, a long time ago. A senior employee from a mass-recruiter shared with me that over 32,000 people work in Chennai, in that particular IT major alone. Guessed the major? And you expect to be noticed among the herd, right? Well, good luck.

Imagine the other side. You join a startup. You get a decent salary; angel backed startups tend to pay pretty decent figures. You probably get a decent equity if you hang around for sometime; of course it will be vested over a couple of years as an incentive for you to stay around. Two things happen — either the startup goes boom or buss.

  • Case a) Startup goes boom and becomes the next Google; do you know the statuses of early engineers of companies like Facebook, Twitter, etc? I will give you one example. Aditya Agarwal was an early engineer at Facebook. He rose to the level of Director of Engineering within the company. After that, he started up a company called Cove. I don’t think that panned out well. You know who/what he is now? The Vice President of Engineering at Dropbox. Yes, you read that right.
  • Case b) Startup goes bust. Given that it was angel funded startup, it is quite possible that the founders were good, and the idea was viable, but due to bad execution perhaps, the startup died.

Managerially speaking, you probably learned:

  • What makes or kills a startup?
  • What are the pain points in running one?
  • How to learn to market your product to somebody?
  • How to make awesome PowerPoint presentations and impress people (trust me, your founders did at least this right. They got funding, no? :P)!

Basically, you get to see the C-suite in action at a very close range, and that teaches you things a two-year MBA cannot.

Technically speaking, if it is a web startup, you get to do a lot of cool production level stuff like releasing something you handcrafted into the Internet. However small a feature you build, the feeling of seeing people clicking on that button you designed cannot be put into words. Plus, if the startup had scaled decently, before shutting down, you probably worked on extremely cool things like Heroku staging platforms, EC2 instances, Hadoop clusters etc. Trust me, writing boilerplate C++ code is NOTHING compared to working on these stuff.

Also, you celebrate everything when you work at a startup. First user? 50th user? 1,000th user? 10,000 page-views today? Everything calls for a party. And with whom? The CEO of a goddamn company.

Either way, there is a lot of things that you can benefit from being an early engineer at an VC/angel backed startup. I keep iterating VC/angel-backed to instil in you a sense of security that the founders and investors are probably far more intelligent than you imagine, and have pumped in money to handle at least 12-18 months of expenses, including your salary.

So cut the crap about job security. Man up and change things.

And please. Show your brand loyalty elsewhere, not your career. eCommerce sites really could use your loyalty to balance their LTV-CAC figures. :P

NB: Even if someone takes offense, I really don’t care.

Startups. And boxing.

by Gokul Nath Sridhar

‘Startups are like boxing. You don’t fail when you fall. You fail when you refuse to get up.’

This quote has profoundly impacted me as a startup enthusiast. I found this in the Twitter timeline of the co-founder of InterviewStreet, an online tool for companies to shortlist programmers

Hello.

by Gokul Nath Sridhar

Yes, this is yet another startup blog. Yes, this is gonna be all about marketing, product ideas, RoI, angel investments, etc. Yes, entrepreneurs are crazy.

Hi there, I’m Gokul, a twenty year old startup founder with a passion for consumer technology and web applications. I’m also an average programmer with interests in C, C++ and Python. No, I don’t like Java. I run a startup called Inu that is basically an interest network aimed at connecting like-minded people across the globe.

So, why this blog? Honestly, sometimes I just need to vent the founder frustration. Other times, I feel like giving back to the entrepreneurial community in India. And, that’s why I created this blog. You can find ask me to focus on something specific and I will dig it up in my free time and post it.

Hope to see you soon, with more posts, of course.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,581 other followers