Monday, August 11, 2008

So I am sick + some learnings and thoughts

So yes I'm down with an upset stomach - so bad in fact that I had to leave my Co-op's Annual General Meeting mid-way (which was a shame as I was one of the two members younger than 70. Luckily Hemisha could stick through the whole thing and have the samosas and juice!!)

Haven't been able to sleep well - woke up at 3:30a.m. and spent a LOT of time trying to look up old friends on facebook and check on updates in my friends' lives. Finally decided that I had seen all the new pages on the internet and had pretty much tracked down all my friends and it was time to do something productive.

Most of you might now that for the past 16 months I've been working on building a new company. Paytronic is an attempt to build a retail network for the acceptance of consumer payments in India. It is our aim that if you are trying to get retail customers to pay you money you will come to us and we will provide you the reach and an elegant way to do so with the least cost. It's been a learning experience (as always) and I wanted to share some of my learnings with the world at large:-

Firstly, I wanted to share things that every start-up should do to save cost:-
1. Move all your email hosting to Google. We run a company with 200 employees and an even larger number of mail boxes on it and it's brilliant. It comes with shared calendars, documents, files etc. and we have never felt the loss of Outlook. Most importantly, it never goes down, it works seamlessly with Blackberry (including the calendar) and you don't require to dedicate resources to administer the whole thing.

2. Never hire through recruiters. We have found that the best way to hire is through referrals and through job portals. Recruiters are just lousy. If your HR person is using a recruiter or wants to use one, it just means they don't want to put in the effort to do the job themselves. Of course the best hires are people who have worked with other team members in the past.

3. Encourage people to start the day early. This is especially important for people like us who are based in Mumbai. Starting the day early means that at least some people will avoid the pain of commuting two hours and coming to the office all fagged out. Trust me this takes a huge toll on their productivity.


Next I wanted to share things that we have learnt through experience:-
1. Ensure that the entire process is under your control. This is very important. There will be temptations to do that deal with a large company who will get their entire sales force to sell your product. It will be lucrative to get integrated with this large pan-indian bank so that your cash management becomes a trivial problem. Trust me, this will not work. The fact that you want to do any deal with an external party means that you feel that the problem is a difficult one for you to tackle. Wisdom has taught us that the only reason the external party agrees to do the deal is they don't realize how difficult the problem is. In the initial days, it's important for every company to have full ownership and a fool-proof plan they can implement to solve the difficult problems they come across.

2. Metrics, Real Time Systems and Automation. When you are running a large company, it's very easy to get bogged down by operational issues. During times like this it is important to drill into every employee - Are you doing the same thing everyday? If so, can it not be done by Software? Are you being continuously asked for reports ? If so, can it not be generated by software? Would you be able to do your job better if you had some data from another department? If so, can the software not get the same for you? It is absolutely critical that every member of the organization's performance, goals and achievements are monitored in real time. There is no better way to improve productivity.

3. Ensure that the company can function from cybercafes and buses. We operate in a country consumed by chaos. In the last month there have been severe rains in Bombay meaning on many days our staff has not been able to commute to the office. There have been riots in Indore, floods in Jharkhand and our Sales manager Om in Jammu has been sitting inside his house (hopefully only till Aug 15th) because of a curfew in Jammu and Kashmir - along with a ban on SMS. We operate a real time business and it's impossible for us to not have productivity from even a single team member for even a day. It has been important for us to give all team members an ability to function from the closest cybercafe or else by sending an SMS from their mobile.

and lastly,

4. Put in effort into building a culture. This is different for every company. I like to feel we have built a culture where we are aggressive as a company, we do what we say we will do and every person is accountable for his commitments. This is an ongoing process and I am thinking hard on how to build some of the softer values into the company such as compassion and respect for dissension etc. Let's see how it goes.

P.S. We've crossed over 10,000 Recharge points across the nation. Congrats to the team!!

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