Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘Chennai

This is a wonderful time to be starting up. You will come across very few people who will give comparisons to all the benefits they get working for big corporates. Its one such time. Hiring will be slightly easier, and retaining them will be even more easier.

Even in the midst of all that, it does seem that a lot of the Startup Companies are hardpressed for resources here in India. Here’s a solution.

A few of us have been talking about putting together a centre that trains people (as blank slated as freshers) on the common technologies that people use while building products – the usual PHP, Python, AJAX, MySQL, etc etc and getting them upto speed on mashups, APIs, documentation, and moving forward. That is the level of skill that most of the startup community folks are looking for it seems. Or am I wrong here?

If I am right, then there is a simple way around it. Every chapter of OCC in the country is doing quite well. I heard from Santhosh that Pune is a 300 people group now (though I do suspect that the turn out ratio would be still less), but who knew Pune had 300 people who would be open to being part of a community right? And the same case has gone on with Bangalore, Kolkatta, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, and even now and then with Mumbai.

Here’s the thought. What if in one of the OCCs a dozen of the startup companies, especially the folks who can code and code really well, commit that they will run a two month training program for people in these languages? It is going to take a bit of time and commitment, but there are a lot of resources already on the web, and with a couple of screencasts, and proper documentation, you could essentially also use it as training material for the next batch of people that you hire in your company later on.

What I am proposing is that a batch of technology entrepreneurs, each taking a week to cover different aspects of the course, could put their hands together to collaboratively solve an issue which is haunting a great many of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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You must know by now that we get involved in quite a bit of work related to the city. I believe that a city is a representation, collection and expression of the people living in it. If you walk into a city and cannot hear the voices, and expressions of its people, the city … aint quite alive. And I love having cities which are alive.

Mahesh Radhakrishnan, a friend of mine who is behind MOAD and is one really talented architect and I often meet to discuss about something we can do to solve these issues.

One latest such initiative is to setup something like this in Chennai. We are going to need some hands on this, but if and when it comes out, it will be quite something to boast about. What do you think?

This is an installation done in (Helsinski) Europe. We are planning to build the same at a fraction of the cost.

This is an installation done in (Helsinski) Europe. We are planning to build the same at a fraction of the cost.

Youtube Link of the Wall in Action.

That was the title of a talk that happened at the Fastrack Sessions of Proto.in January Edition. Since we are sitting on three editions of fabulous talks, I thought I’d take the pains to transcribe them one at a time whenever i find the time so that the larger audience – some who didnt and couldn’t make it – could benefit from it.

Imagine a situation where a technologist is trying to showcase the iPhone. He goes through every step of the features of the phone, the gestures, the various user interface nuances of the device and the audience barely reacts. A little frustrated, the technologist tilts the phone to the side, and the picture aligns itself sideways, and the audience goes wild – almost giving him a standing ovation. We’ve seen this demo before, and we know what all an iPhone can do.

Case in point: Technology alone doesn’t fascinate. How it is packaged, and how it resonates with the audience and customer means a lot more. India lacks in that space, most times.

Read the Entire Transcript at the Proto.in Blog here.

Seems like this weekend is far from over. I am wondering at the Irony of the situation, since yesterday was more of a serious, fun and laughable evening – I went to the Laughter Fest with a good friend yesterday. More on that in a little while.

Some of the key observations for the weekend:

Democracy – More critics, and extremely less participants. Atleast thats the way it feels like. We started an initiative called I Fix (which has taken off to other cities) and are planning our next activity. I am really wishing that someday there is going to be a significant turn out in one of the planning meets – given that there are close to a 100 volunteers on the mailing list. So far haven’t achieved that, but is it always this way – that there are few planners and the rest all just fall in place?

Comedy: Went to the Laughter Fest in the evening with a colleague and friend, and must say that yesterday’s play was much better than some of the ones I had seen earlier within the same fest. Theatre is fun I must admit, though the flaws of a poor done script stands out blatantly at your face. Yesterday’s play “Twice around the block” was a stellar performance, except for the bit in the second play (most of the plays were multi-part) the lady who played the wife seemed to have this monologue going on with her at most times, when there was another character on stage (perhaps the quality of a wife she was trying to become?). I heard that Amit Singh who put together this entire idea to bring together so many directors and plays together, is bent on making a living in theatre – and one that is quite nascent here in Chennai, if I may say so. I am sure he knows that better than most others. It certainly is applaudable in that case trying to live as an artist.

Identity: I still don’t understand why folks don’t adapt scripts for India, or take some of the work of an Indian writer (Anyone noticed the spurge of indian writers lately?) and would adapt it into a play – it would make much more sense than trying to make vague jokes about Iowa and Idaho which no one here seems to be able to place. That’s a much longer topic that I’d like to discuss someday.

Death: It’s sunday morning and I just heard that someone close, and someone who was very wise passed away two days ago and the funeral was yesterday. I have been bothered by something for the past two days, and I am wondering if this event had something or anything to do with it. Immanuel, was a man who stood for nothing of ice-glacing, told the truth as it is, never got too emotional to lose perspective, was a loving father, a great man and husband, and one who met his end in his sleep. They say the end of a man’s life depicts his entire life, and knowing the way he finished his journey, it feels as if his ability to plan stands out till the end.

I never thought I’d get into this. The IPL frenzie, I mean. Too much of pompous marketing hype, and a proof of what would happen if cricket was more than cricket and added bollywood and cheerleaders to the mix – thats what I thought. I had initially gotten some tickets from a friend, and had passed it on to some friends who showed more interest than me in the game. But when a couple of tickets were offered by a close family friend with the best seats in the stadium, it was a bit tempting to say yes, than to put it down and Yes I said.

This is the first time I am watching a live cricket match in the Chennai stadium and I am no sports reporter. So I hope the readers of this blog will be lenient should this fall short of an actual coverage.

The game was to start at 4pm today, but the ticket said that folks would be expected there a good two hours beforehand. Knowing how our folks have no sense of time these days – or are just enjoying an extra hour or so lazing on a saturday – we decided to play the first mover advantage and head to the stadium early. We reached there at around 2:45. The sun was still out. It was fairly hot, but a couple of folks – Mirchi Suchi, Benny Dayal etc were trying to keep a few people occupied and entertained with their live music.

At around, 3:30, the teams started coming in, and were going about their routine of stretches and excercises, and ten minutes before the game, the coin was tossed and Kolkata won it, preferring to bat.
Read the rest of this entry »

I am this closed to being convinced that the team, and the process of putting together that team is probably one of the biggest issues that a startup faces. While there are plenty of new recruitment firms popping up to target this very market, most of them are just a little better versions of the traditional headhunting firms and plus I am not sure if you want to outsource the task of forming the core team to someone else. Its better to get them from circles you know.

Ofcourse, the issue starts with, “What if there is not a big circle of folks that I know of?”

Well, the simple answer is, “Build it.”

There are plenty of interesting experiences that I went through in the last three months putting together the Startup Lunch Program. It has been quite well received, but not before quite a bit of talking was done with the founders of these companies on what their strategy for talent acquisition need to be.

Lets start with some issues and major opportunities Startups seem to miss out on;

1. One situation was when someone had gone through the list of candidates that had signed up, decided that no one was an exact fit for their requirement and called me to ask if it was worth showing up. I actually thought it was a pretty simple decision and I thought the answer should have been a definite YES. Here’s why.

Finding people in India who understand working for a startup is extremely rare. When a couple of folks are signing up by themselves saying that they would like to come work for a startup, you should immediately meet up with them. Like anyone else, everyone has their own connections, and lets say that you do meet with the folks – most of which might not even be perfect fits – and do make a convincing pitch about what you do, and showcase your attitude towards work, and manage to convince a few of those guys about how real you are, you will have influential folks working within their network pitching about your company to their friends urging them to consider working for you. In the long term it will reap amazing benefits.

2. Not thinking long term. Following up on #1, you might ask “But I need a guy today!”. Well, unless I am brahma and have the powers to instantly poof a guy in front of you, you know its not going to happen. Sometimes you are just plain lucky to meet folks who meet your exact requirements, but not always. If we as startups are stubborn that we want immediate results, can we even blame those we are looking to hire for not respecting ESOPs and asking for industry-par salaries?

3. Start with a Blog. Not your personal blog, but a company one. It doesnt take much. It could be as simple as things that happened in office that day. Do you know the only plus point of working for a startup? Its close-knit, small, personal and very friendly. The attitude is all that makes a startup environment fun to work in, and a blog is the easiest way to express that. if you dont have one, you should start one NOW.

4. Learn how to pitch. I have seen people go on and on and on and on about millions of dollars of projects, the cutting edge technology they use, the profile of the founders etc etc etc. I usually am at the verge of falling asleep by then. Do you really believe that a candidate – unless he is senior enough to understand that – understands all that? Nope. Zilch. Nahi. Keep it simple. As i said, the only thing he is looking for is that it is going to be about something that makes sense, is fun and the people who are running it are sane and logical folks and NOT clinical maniacs who will strap him to his desk and ask him to code for 14 hours straight.

5. Get the branding right before that. Do you want to know the definition of what a brand truly is? A brand is not and has nothing to do with what you say about your company. A brand is what others say about you and your company. figure out how to “enable” others to say the right things, as in the exact and accurate vision, that you intend to convey.

6. Hiring Practice. Never, Never, Never make a bad hire. Never be hasty to make a hire. And always include your current employees when making a hiring decision. At the end of the day the team needs to play together and thats not going to happen unless they can all get along. The decision can wait for a month or so, if required.

7. Whether they ask for it or not, in the offer letter have the provision to issue shares. Remember what I said about long term changes and investments towards that? The more and more you start issuing offer letters with ESOPs, the more and more people are going to read it, go around asking about it and have more awareness about it and the benefits that come with it. So make it a point to had a mandatory section about the ESOP advantages.

But before that, ensure that you have shares allocated towards that.

So, what has your hiring strategies been?

Update: This post was made on April 7th, much before the recently concluded Barcamp Bangalore 6. Keep that in mind.

Barcamps, they are happening everywhere now. There are debates and raging discussions on as to whether we “interpreted” the format right, but whether or not, its still going on. Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Kerala, Hyderabad and maybe even more have joined that league of extraordinary unconference hosts. Here’s a random and crazy idea to mull over, debate and discuss. I can already sense half my readers getting ready with pitchforks and flame throwers, but as long as it leads to something beneficial, I am all for it. Here goes:

I know that everybody is thinking this but let me say it out loud: I think someone in India got the barcamp format totally wrong. Barcamps, as we do it in India are not conversational. They are very, and very speaker-centric. We kinda figured this out when the team in Chennai started out on this audacious project to write a book on Unconferences. The project, I believe is abandoned – or perhaps just a little dorcile, but we did learn quite a bit of stuff while we were at it, since the project brought together quite a bit of people from across the globe, including a fair bit of heavy weights. So I guess, I could say that I did hear from the source as to where we got the definitions wrong.

Contrary to Popular belief, Unconferences aren’t anything new. They are quite old actually – as old as 1970 actually. Unconferences just went by a different name – “Open Space Conferences”. It essentially meant that all the participants came together to run the conference. Hmm.. sounds quite close to the definition we use for barcamps and its sister camps I would say, wouldn’t you?

It was almost during the time when we realized that barcamps were too speaker centric, and getting diluted in content that the Chennai Team, under the Banner of TKF, decided to run with more focused verticals to drive deep into a topic. Hence, Blogcamp, Wikicamp, Podworks and the likes were born. The credit goes to Kiruba for putting the brains behind the inceptions, and the enormous energy of the team that makes it all happen.

Now that the pleasantries are over, lets get back to the topic.

Siddharth, a fellow blogger/unconference lover/startup entrepreneur and I had a discussion over our trip to Mumbai to attend the barcamp there. Its during that trip that he was discussing how he had attended a workshop on Agile Methodologies in Hyderabad which totally blew his brains out as to how “barcamps are conversational”. I must say that I agree with him. We are not doing something right.

A couple of things we could do to improve things:

1. Get rid of the Projector and the PPT. Stick with whiteboards, and even better, limit the audience of each session to 20 – 30 people max. Smaller groups are more conversational. Larger groups tend to sit back and act “audience”.

2. Small is beautiful. We need to let go of the obcession to get people signed up in the hundreds. The pain to organize an event in such a scale, is simply not worth it. In most cases I see the organizers burnt out before the morning sessions of the first day get over.

3. Focus. Focus. Focus. Pick a theme, topic and go deep into it. Don’t run topics which are as wide as “Politics. Technology. Startups”. One wouldnt know what to do with it. You arent really dealing with an uber smart audience. Most folks are spectators and the rest are there hoping to learn a thing or two.

4. Have some solid deliverables. Ten people in a room, all knowing how to count to three, cannot magically learn how to count to ten just cause they were debating, arguing and in the same room. You need to ensure that there is a mix of people who are willing to share, and people willing to learn, and even better if the sharing types are more. Lately I am getting nothing out of barcamps, apart from meeting people. And I am quite positive that I am not that all-knowing… Yet! 🙂 There is definitely more to learn, with the pace at which platforms and technologies are evolving, and it would be great if that was looked into.

5. Keep everyone within the same room if possible. The law of two feet only works here, otherwise you might need cars and golf carts to carry you around 🙂

6. Keep it simple. Dont complicate it by having it in 17 rooms and three more “outdoorsy” spots included to that. Goes back to point 2.

I am not sure if anyone is listening, but if you are It’d be great to have all, or atleast some of these taken care of in future plannings.

As for the title, a few of us are mulling over a very radical different idea of a barcamp. It is going to incorporate most of the above mentioned points, and most of all will require the least amount of logistical nightmares. In a day when softwares could automate, and processes could be simplified, months of prep work for “barcamps” simply cant be justified. We are hoping to make things simpler, effective, with oodles of new learning, all done in a fun environment. Now, that’s a guarantee!