Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Internship Opportunities @ Allies

We have been working on some exciting stuff for over last three years, we want to take that to next  level. We also have some crazy and cool ideas for new products/saas, we have got enough details figured out to get started.

We want some smart interns to work with us during this summer or longer (perhaps six months or full-time :-) ) in any or all of following:

  • Web Development (goal: build new products or extend existing products)
  • Mobile (goal: turn our ideas into reality by building some cools apps and games for iPhone, Android and other mobile-devices)
  • Flash Platform (goal: build some cool applications for our existing project)

Summer vacation has started in most of the colleges in India; Some passionate students would want to do something more useful during this time.  If you are one of them, why don’t you get in touch with us?

BTW! We are always looking to hire smart and passionate designers and developers for our team. If you are interested into a full-time position, please let me know.

TEDx in Kanpur – TEDxIITKanpur

Entrepreneurship Cell (E-Cell), at IIT Kanpur, is organising TEDxIITKanpur event on March 12, 2011. This is the first event of it’s kind, and I hope we would have more of those (TEDx, BarCamp, DevCamp, etc.) in Kanpur (within IITK campus or outside).

Our company (Allies Interactive Services) is honoured to contribute as design sponsor of TEDxIITKanpur, and hopefully other events organized by E-Cell, IIT Kanpur.

Hiring Mistakes

Hiring mistakes hurt us[1] in terms of time, money, cultural-issues and many other things. I have made those, more than one time – that makes me guilty of repeating mistakes (a crime or sin?).

We filtered résumé, screened candidates over phone, interviewed in-person over multiple rounds and discussed among ourselves before extending employment offer. Sounds good to get good candidates? No, it is not. We ended up having some bad hires.

Anyways, most of us know – Resume don't matter anymore; Someone really good at things[2] should have more than résumé to show and talk about

  • bunch of projects done in free time;
    • indicator: passion, love for craft and desire to improve by practicing in free time
  • technical or craft related blog
    • indicator: communication skills; knowledge sharing attitude
  • contribution to open-source projects
    • indicator: love for FOSS; desire to do something beyond self, for others; team player
  • active participation in technical communities[3]
    • indicator: knowledge sharing attitude; mentoring and helping
  • every word on résumé should be justified
    • indicator: modesty and humbleness

I believe, we lacked some discipline in our hiring process and new-hire-orientation process. We were also not strict, at reviewing and monitoring progress, during probation period.

Both pre and post hiring phases are important.

Pre hiring is good time to know about candidate personality wise.

Post hiring is another chance to make sure if hiring decision was really good. Within three months, it should be absolutely clear (binary: 0 or 1), whether one is good match[4]

The one who has potential to be rockstar and great team-player should be given more time and mentoring; This might affect the economy of company in short term, but worth doing for long term benefits. Patience works, I need to get better at this.

I am learning something everyday, often I realize I am not doing something right; I need to bring discipline in my life and the way I do things, hopefully, rest would go very well.

In Kanpur, I am yet to connect to good software developers and designers. I know there are good ones, perhaps they are working outside of Kanpur.

I am curious, how do you hire, train and get people started?

[1] Entrepreneurs and companies
[2] Programming, Software development, Graphic/UI/UX Designing or skill in question
[3] flex_india or alike), forums, etc.
[4] Great Thinker, Technically sound and has emotional-intelligence

Professional Responsibility and Ethics

I would have spent hundreds of hours talking, about professional responsibility, craftsmanship and ethics, to my team. What you would read below, is a summarised version of the same.

If I sign up for something (a job, a project or something else), I am going to do it with responsibility. If I develop disliking for job/project at any point of time, I am going to:

  • reflect (validate, find causes/solutions)
  • communicate promptly and proactively all the times
  • challenge myself to keep myself motivated
  • try changing things around for better
  • find responsible exit strategy, if there is no hope

We live in free country, there is no reason to do wrong, like:

  • being dishonest with myself and others
  • doing anything (moonlighting, sharing confidential information, etc.)
  • being irresponsible towards my work, hence often repeat mistakes which cause loss to my employer/customer
  • being irresponsible towards, in general

Let me give some examples of wrong-doings, based on my experiences:

  • I lie (wrong reasons) while quitting the job
  • I do something, which I agreed not to do, for the sake of extra money
  • I don't spend enough time figuring out solutions of problem, instead I start running away from problems.
  • I don't communicate properly
  • I assume and judge based on rumours/gossips/assumptions
  • I quit without giving any notice and expect my employer to give me all certificates and positive reference
  • I request to be relieved from my duties without serving a required notice period. I promise buy out (i.e. pay money back to company/customer), which I never do
  • I take some days off from work but I never return back to work; I don't communicate and keep my employer posted on status
  • Above all, my actions are irresponsible, unprofessional and unethical

We all make mistakes. If I made one (wrong-doing) intentionally, it's not good. If I made one unintentionally, later realized it as a mistake, however, I keep repeating, what could be worse than this?

No one is perfect in this world, neither is the company/customer I work with nor I am. However, we can work together despite all these imperfections without doing anything wrong (ethically, professionally). There is always a right option, thankfully.

Good communication, at all the times, always help us doing things right and avoiding wrong ones.

I am not sure, if I could express what I want to say; I hope you can understand what I mean.

Please leave your comment and feel free to correct me, if I am wrong somewhere. I am always open to learn about different perspectives and improve myself.

Entrepreneurship session at IIT Kanpur

Entrepreneurship Cell (E-Cell) team at IIT Kanpur invited me to talk about “idea to business-plan” to some students (budding entrepreneurs). I ended up speaking about different things, hopefully I covered what they were looking for.

I mostly iterated what successful leaders, entrepreneurs and businessman have shared over the years.

A very brief and high level outline of my talk:

  • started session with Derek Sivers‘ Ted talk “How to start a movement
    • an entrepreneur is seen as half-naked guy who is dancing alone, different from crowd, in Indian society.
    • it takes courage to start something while you have choice to work for the best companies
    • there would be skeptics but don’t worry about that.
  • what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
    • get going and get your feet wet, enjoy challenges, trust your instincts, get a good mentor, learn from experiences, learn from others)
    • be prepared for uncertainty, rapid growth, quick and drastic changes, limited resources and resource conservation
    • respect time, short cycles and more results
  • some stories
  • YouTube: first in solving problem but very late in figuring out business-model
  • Flickr: their idea and usefulness
  • Bulkr: how Prakaz came up with a useful product, while he is/was in job. Build something that you would use
  • Directi: about two brothers who have built a great company with little or no funding
  • Allies: why we got started, how we do some things, some pains and gains
  • some books
    • Blink: instinct and intuition. what customers do? how they do? avoiding asking what they want because human preferences are unstable
    • The Tipping Point: why certain ideas tip
    • ReWork: a new way of thinking business
    • Freemium: business model. why freemium works? examples: google-apps, e-books, etc.
  • some of my experiences
    • funding: bootstrap on your own, if you can. or take as less as you can from outside. retain control and ownership. go to someone who can not only give you money but also be your mentor
    • hiring: difficult to attract smart folks. share your ideas/vision. give equity instead of high salaries
    • operations: equally important. be ready to take care of things so that your team can execute your ideas
    • challenges: getting ideas executed, getting customers, getting a good team, getting a good accountant, etc.
    • sales/marketing: various market-places, complicated tender process, social-media, word-of-mouth, freemium
    • retaining customers: commitment, think of them before your own personal gains, good process, good support
  • importance of connections
    • keep in touch with everyone you know or would know
    • go and enjoy parties (twitter, linkedin, facebook)
    • follow gurus and interact with them over social-networks (twitter, facebook, linkedin)
    • go out, help others and get helped

After session, couple of teams discussed their ideas with me and wanted my thoughts. I shared what I knew, hope I could be of some help.

Thanks to entire IITK E-Cell team for inviting and giving me an opportunity to share some of things I know. It feels great to give back.

I already know, I need to get better speaking on stage. With every opportunity and effort, I am getting better. Hopefully, I can engage audience and be entertaining in coming years.

I would hopefully elaborate some these items, when I feel like. I am posted these as a record/note to myself, before I forget what I talked about :-)

Don’t live with broken windows

Most of us have heard about “Don’t live with broken windows” or “Broken Window Theory” in software world, through books (Pragmatic Programmers by Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell) and other sources (wikipedia, blogs, articles, etc).

Like many others, I have also experienced that Broken Window Theory applies to many business and personal-life (and many others) other than software-development.

Over the time I have read books and articles, as listed below to learn more and apply in day to day life. You might following links useful.

Change management

I have been thinking to start sharing my experience as an entrepreneur through blog posts.

As someone wise once said, you can’t make everyone happy or completely happy. It’s so true, we all realize sooner or later in our personal and professional life.

The context of this blog post is, how some of changes in an organisation can upset some people, even though changes were done with good intention and bring good results after some time.

It’s just little more than an year, since I moved back to rejoin this company, where I am also co-founder.

First couple of months, I was just focused on doing some projects (as solo contributor), talking to team, helping them, sharing and observing various things around here. In little over three months time, I figured out, all aspects of this organization needed some sort of change.

Team, culture and process were three top most important things, we wanted to start fixing. When I say “fixing”, it means to make things great when things were just good enough. I wanted to have culture, I have experienced in some of the best companies like Macromedia, Yahoo!, etc.

We made a decision to move into a better facility, which is lot better than earlier one. It was critical to do it for all good reasons we know – comfort, productivity, pride, etc.

While in parallel, we were fixing thing other areas – HR, Accounting, Administration, etc.

We started to spend most of our energy on our team and clients. I wanted to have a team of individuals who are smart and passionate, better than me. I wanted a process, which is simple and solid enough to handle complex projects as well as our future products.

Internally, we were trying to help our team to get more organised and focus on right things i.e. the approach instead of just getting things done in any manner. In long term, our success comes from our learning, experience and a great team. If we don’t focus on doing things in right way, we would never learn, hence never achieve one of our visions – a great team together, a great company.

When I look back, I see we are different company now, but there is a long way to go. It’s all getting better with each passing day, however, while “fixing” – people, operating-systems, tools, development-methodology, philosophy, vision and many other things changed – we couldn’t make some people happy.

Had I bootstrapped a company from scratch last year, I would have spent half of my energy which I did “fixing” things in this company. But I learnt a lot of things, which I could have never learnt in total new company. Managing change is tough job, we did in good way, it would be better next time.

I couldn’t keep this post as short as I wanted to, in fact, I had to delete some paragraphs to keep it to this length. I would keep sharing my experiences, perhaps you can relate to some of those.

Another Common Early Start-up Mistake

In most common early start-up mistakes, Mark Suster talks about very interesting and insightful points. However, I feel like adding one more point, quite known but often taken granted, more specific to software or web start-ups.

If you are a software or web start-up, it’s really important to use the experience of founders (if they are come from technical background) or your core team to have following in order, as soon as possible.

Guidelines and best-practices: code, documentation (wiki), version-control (branching/tagging – when and how?), bug-tracking, testing (unit-tests, functional-tests), deployment, performance objectives and related stuff.

I would not go crazy (get distracted too much) about these initially but have these in place and encourage(mandatory – certain cases) everyone to contribute, follow, discuss and document. It’s lot easier to adapt things at an earlier stage rather than later.

I strongally recommend you to read Martin Fowler‘s article Technical Debt to learn more about the importance of having things in order.

HR and Payroll for small companies in India

Running a company in India is not an easy task, not because you don’t know what you are good at. One has to know a lot more to do things – laws, acts and statutory requirements. It’s easy for anyone with just technical background to make mistakes (i.e. unintentionally not being able to follow things) unless one is surrounded by people who are either domain-experts or professionals.

For last one year, I have been spending a lot of time reading about basics of accounting, acts, laws and such things. Thankfully, there are some good resources (listed below) which proved super useful to anyone like me (technical guys with hardly any background in accounting, laws, etc). I am listing some websites (forums) below, which really helped me a lot.

Though I missed doing things (programming, development, flash/flex, etc), I love to do, during last one year. But I realize, as an entrepreneur, I would have to learn things sooner or later. I hope, in long term I would feel it was worth spending time (almost an year).

(If you are interested in more resource, keep looking at my delicious bookmarks.)

Anyway, let’s talk about things which are related to the subject of this post.

Towards an attempt to be more organized and productive, we started looking at various software/SaaS options for accounting, HR and Payroll. In a small company like ours, which is located in a city where it’s hard to find many good consultants and professionals in these domains, SaaS might be super useful.

At first, we thought of using and customizing some opensource software like openerp for our requirements. But we know, we don’t have domain experts in these areas (accounting, hr, payroll, etc), hence can not keep changing the software the various compliance and statutory requirements by law/government. On the other hand, the total cost (time, money, etc) of ownership for such things is lot more. We find there is more value to use professional services offered in the form of SaaS . That would allow us to focus on things, we should be i.e. innovating, doing great work, building great team and providing great services to our clients.

We are trying to move to a smart SaaS that helps with our HR and Payroll stuff. I have been playing with following websites that offer SaaS for Indian companies.

There are other companies but they don’t allow you to quickly signup and check out their services, before you can make a decision.

I also found one interesting software (windows desktop application), it’s not expensive and actually allows most of things for small companies like ours. The only issue I see, it’s desktop based  and requires windows.

I was expecting Zoho might have payroll solution, it seems they are still working on it (I got a confirmation via email). Zoho seems to have HR (HRM, HRIS) stuff:

After spending a lot of time during last week checking out and playing with various services/software (some listed above). I realize,  greytip is the most mature, flexible and smart solution but user-interface in greytip can be improved a lot.

On the other hand, evetan (thanks to Swaroop for pointing me to it) seems to have a simple user-interface and workflow. It can be improved a lot too while keeping the simplicity.

Hopefully, I would choose one very soon and start using it for our company. If I get some time, I would love to post a detailed comparison of these SaaS/Software (listed above).

Entrepreneurship Resources – India

These are some of the sites from my list, I visit quite often:

I have more sites bookmarked in my delicious, but I want to create a list and put it here just for an exercise. It seems due to productivity tools, I hardly remember website URLs or names. So keep watching this space, you might find more links over the time.