Startups: The early employee

It’s been just over and year since CipherGraph was born. Ever since I started working in the industry, I have maintained that hiring is a challenge for any company (read my past post on this here). It is one of the major problems in a startup’s life. Over the past few months I have been trying to hire for my company. I have noticed a strong inclination among young people to join startups, but also a surprising number of people who do not quite get why they want to do it or what to expect.

Lack of exemplary precedents

Almost all trends stem from a singular or small set of events. There is a lack of success stories in India that inspire the startup story among young people. Not many people in India have seen inception of Google/Facebook, their steady rise from being a closed group conversation, to evolve into raging phenomenon. Granted, the movie “The Social Network” did a good deal to inspire people, but that was not a documentary about the company. As such, it left the spirit of startup untouched (lost in a brief “photo montage”, as Eric Ries has been known to quote). Getting back to the point, the experience of seeing an end to end success story unfold is missing.

Infosys did a great job of letting people know that employees can be successful (money mostly) in a company, but that story was never followed up with anything similar in nature. It’s easy to mistake it for a fluke (but wrong). I, for one, am very hopeful that companies like InMobi, iXiGO and FlipKart will set the tone of the repeatable-success revolution. These companies are generating the right buzz and inspiring the confidence needed to set the wheels in motion. We need to see the people around us pull off a Google, Facebook or Amazon. What was missing was the hunger to do bigger, better and audacious. I see it happening around me now, building up, waiting for the flash point.

The Mercenary Needs to Die

The IT boom in India has done a lot to transform this country (or at least a few select cities) beyond recognition. What started out as large scale “outsourcing”, empowering engineers across this nation, simultaneously gave birth to a mercenary culture among young people. Living in today was never more fashionable. But there isn’t enough headroom for the “coasting” generation. A lot of people will argue with me against it, but I don’t care, I have seen enough that if I am proven wrong I will not curse myself of being too quick to judge. To fuel the rocket-ship we are all building, the mercenary culture needs to die. Money is certainly important, but the feeling of building something, competing with the heavy-weight veterans to make a true mark is a whole different story.

Thankfully, things are quickly changing! I am happy that there is enough mass of people who understand that it is not a scalable model. Progress beyond the beaten path requires leadership, ambition and a lot of audacity. If the recent startup events I have been to are any indication, we are gearing up very steadily for our next boom (and I think this will be bigger, much bigger).

It’s just a matter of time where the first few precedents will set off an explosive chain reaction.

What Women Startups Want?

Gear up! You want a roller-coaster ride, bring your hunger. The last person anyone wants in a startup is the person who does not want to do his best. Mercenaries are always a bad bet, if they come only for money they will also leave for money. I often get criticized for reading too much into the covering letters or specifically asking for descriptive resumes. I know it’s time consuming, but it’s worth it to know who you will work with to build the rocket ship you are working on. More than anything else, a resume’s contents are often a good reflection of self-esteem.

Startup success and early-employee success are a package deal with almost 100% symmetry. One of the things that has fascinated me in the past few weeks is the story of Marissa Mayer. Not just because of her exceptional success, but because it highlighted how incredibly well assembled the early Google team was. It’s good to read how the almost all of the early employees were able to fulfil a long term promise and grow parallel with Google (read at Business Insider).

I have always been a fan of team sports (mostly football/soccer), because I have always thought that it enhances the journey and the experience. Not just of winning but also recovering after a loss. If it was all about superstars, I think Real Madrid would never lose a single game, but they do, often. A team must be able to accomplish a feat bigger than the sum of its parts. To thrive, a startup must assemble the best superstar “team” possible, not just assemble the best “superstars” it can. Teamwork requires putting yourself “after” the team to work collectively for bigger returns. No pain no gain, no risk no reward.

You can’t jump if you refuse to get both feet off the ground.

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5 thoughts on “Startups: The early employee

  1. Very good read. Well written. Spare some thought for the young employee though. The failure rate of startups in India is (anecdotal) 70% higher than the valley at least. I know many employees are mercenary, but there’s tremendous pressure from peers & family for them to “settle down” and “work for a brand name”. As you point out, the successes are far and few between.
    There are people I meet who want to work for startups, but cant afford to take the risk.

    • Mukund, you are right that the failure rate and consequently the odds of success here are much lower than the US. However I have been approached my a large number of people who have asked me to pay a 30% premium over the market salary since they are taking a risk by joining a startup. That is mostly what I was talking about when I mentioned that people do not know what to expect.

  2. Things are changing now Jiten. If not radically but at least slowly. Lots of people are prioritizing the things what they actually want from their life. As Mukund said, most of them don’t want to take any risk in their life due to the commitments and responsibilities in their life. this is the main difference between Western countries and here in India.

    As you said, ‘The Social Network’ made some of the people to change, it may be true. But if you see the Movie, you can see a Guy with out any responsibilities and commitments in life working towards his goal. for this to happen, One should be very sure of what he wants to do and how to do it. unfortunately in India, we are lagging behind in that sense due to various factors.

    • Sumanth, no one ever said startups are everyone’s cup of tea, its a function of various components of life and boils down to what the person wants and what he/she can afford to risk for it.

      The equation is different for everyone, but then again there is no entitlement for a “shot” at entrepreneurship, its not expected to be a fair fight. Hence, it’s completely ok to not want to be in one (because of whatever reasons).

      The difference, as you pointed out, is certainly of culture. But every culture (just like ours) has rebels and we only need a handful to get the ball rolling :-) Refer to the explosive chain reaction I mentioned. There are always problems, but movements are started out by those who solve them on their own. And I again mention, there are people who are setting a great example for us to follow “right now”, listen to Aloke Bajpai speak at unpluggd http://www.pluggd.in/ixigo-story-297/ think he did not have problems?

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