Startup – A more fashionable word?

When we were starting and looking for people to join us, I personally used to make lot of calls for the initial screening. The screening is very elementary but we made it a rule to do the telephone screening to find if the expectations (ours and the candidate’s) were not too off from each other. It saved our time as well as saved time and energy of the other person. During those days – I used to introduce us by saying that “we are a startup doing ….”. But then Ashima came and she took the job of screening candidates and our contribution got scoped to the actual interviews.

Recently, we were again given the responsibilities of calling up a few people for the telephonic screening (depending upon the profile) and that is when I again had to introduce Tekriti to the potential candidates (I was glad to see that a few people already knew about Tekriti – so my job was easier there). As I started, I was wondering if I should say that “Tekriti is a small company” or should I continue to say that “Tekriti is a startup which was founded 15 months back”. The thought came to my mind because we have come a distance where the risks have reduced drastically while still maintaining the agility and culture that a startup boasts of. So, from that perspective, calling ourselves a startup over the phone may not be the best thing especially when there is a large section of Indian Engineers who still prefer a large established company over a startup (This has to change – it’s just a matter of 2-3 years).

Anyways – I stuck with the word “StartUp” over the phone and went on to describe the kind of stuff we have been doing. A “StartUp” sounds so much more fashionable than a “small company” – and then being in such an early stage, I feel that we refine our strategy much more frequently than a lot of “small companies” out there.

Just wondering – when does an organization really cease to be a startup and become a “small company”!

Apartment hunting in Gurgaon, India

One of the many things that impressed me greatly while I used to be in the US was their houses. I had seen houses that big only at my ancestral place that my great grandfather maintained. Otherwise, in the bigger cities of India, people are mostly used to staying in small apartments only. A 3 bedroom house with 1600-1700 sq ft area is a decent sized place. Anything more than 2000 sq ft area in a metropolitan city is really a luxury.

So, when I stayed with my cousin at his house in Seattle for the first couple of months, I used to always think what will be a good time for me to buy a house there. I didn’t really have to think much about that since I made up my mind in the very 1st year only that I will be returning back to India – soon. But, now that I have returned back to India and decided to stay here for a long time, I thought that it’s better to buy a house of my own rather than staying in rented apartments and changing them every year. And then my dad’s insistence is another reason for me to get serious about the same.

Things were good till when I had not talked seriously to a property dealer (real estate agent) – it took me a while to really believe the prices he quoted me initially for a 2 bedroom / 3 bedroom place. After a couple of apartment hunting trips based on my previous budgets, I decided that no house was really like where I will love to stay and the ones that had a strong chances of being liked was way out of my budget. I had a rough idea of the property prices in Seattle and what was surprising was that 1 sq feet of land in Gurgaon, India does not cost a lot less that 1 sq feet of land in Seattle – which is steep because of the difference in the buying power of the people in the 2 countries. Then, as I had done for petrol prices, I looked up the prices of the apartments in NewZealand and came to the following results (I considered houses of the sizes that, I thought, were the most popular in the respective places):

A 2000 sq feet house in Seattle, US costs 400,000 USD ~ Cost per sq feet: 200 USD

A 1500 sq feet apartment in Gurgaon, India costs 135,000 USD (6,000,000 INR) ~ 89 USD / sq ft

A 2000 sq feet house in Auckland, New Zealand costs 250,000 USD (400,000 NZD): 125 USD / sq ft

Now – whoever thought that India was cheaper, needs to really think again :-) This is especially harder because of 2 more reasons:

1. The wages of Indian workers is a lot lower than the wages of their counterparts in US or NZ. So, a price difference of just slightly lower than half between US and India is not justified.
2. You need to pay a huge down-payment – which is because the owners typically ask almost 30% (or more) money as black money (so that they don’t have to pay taxes on that). So, if a house is for 6 million INR total and you pay 2 million as black money. Then, out of 4 million, you get a loan for maximum 3.2 million (assuming 20% down payment ~ 0.8 million). This directly translates to 2.8 million (28 lacs) INR as down-payment and 3.2 million INR (32 lacs) as loan amount.

I am not sure how many salaried people can afford to pay 28 lacs INR upfront for a house. Anyways, the search is on – the difference is that I first find out the percentage of black money the owner wants and then enquire about the other details of the house. I am always looking for tips – that can help me buy an apartment this year :-)

Update: I got the initial area of the houses in NZ and US incorrect. Thanks DL for pointing this out in the comments – I checked again and re-worked the numbers.

so long and still busy…

Blogging has been such an addiction that it hurts to know that the last post that I made was almost 2 weeks back (except that ‘Thought of the day’ post, but I won’t count that one). But, without exaggerating this time, I neither had the time nor the energy to write. A lot of things happened – I changed my residence, have started to look for apartments to buy in Gurgaon (the property prices in Gurgaon have sky-rocketed – I could have gotten a much better deal in Seattle!!), fell sick (thanks God that my Mom was here then), witnessed a few internal and external projects at Tekriti having their interim releases.

Few of the interesting things that either happened in the last couple of weeks or is going to happen in the next couple of weeks and worth mentioning here are:

PeopleAggregator Release: The PeopleAggregator team had a good closed alpha release of the PeopleAggregator platform. We will have a public release coming up in the next few months and the entire team is excited for the same.

Upcoming Beta release of GoingOn: We got some very good feedback on the GoingOn alpha release and that has helped us immensely with planning for the Beta. We are very near doing the Beta 1 release of the product at the real domain. There are a few more things happening in the next few days there – more thoughts on this later, in another post.

Opening for Technical Architects and Senior Engineers: Manish tells me that we have requirements for senior people who are “hands on” to help us in the existing and new projects. Preference will be given to people experienced in building highly scalable systems using LAMP (PHP, MySql) and / or Microsoft platforms (.NET, C#, ASP.NET). If you are the one who is looking to join an exciting new business where you can make impact and, potentially, change the way online businesses happen – get in touch and I will provide more information and / or put you in touch with the right person for the same. I have got some good resumes from people, particularly fresh graduates, through my blog. Keep that coming too – I make sure that I go through each one of them and forward the ones, I think might be good matches, to our Hiring Department. We need to get started on it soon – the sooner you join, more are the benefits :-)

I wonder how high will the property prices go in Gurgaon: This warrants an independent post, that I will do in the next few days, but I am just wondering how high will the property prices go in Gurgaon. And how do people afford to buy houses here – I have already revised my budget twice and think that I need to do it one more time before I can even start liking any place.

Biking time is here: Now that winters are over and the weather isn’t changing much that frequently, it’s time that I start driving my motor-bike again. It’s been more than a couple of months when I was regular with my bike.

Noticed the ‘Profile Views’ feature in Orkut: I logged in to my Orkut account a few days back and noticed that they added the ‘Profile Views’ feature, which shows the last 5 visitors to one’s account. Now, I have had this discussion with my clients a few times before also – that it makes sense to give an option to turn this feature off to the users. I think it’s too creepy to let people find out that I visited their profile. I am not in the favor of automatic recording of my views in others’ profile – at least there should be an option to mark it as ‘anonymous visit’. For a social networking site like LinkedIn, it will make sense but for a general purpose site like Orkut, there has to be an option.

Anyways – I gotta go back to work but I will write a few more posts this week.

Are we moving towards mediocrity?

It is final – the quota decision in IITs and IIMs is final. The day my cousin (who appeared in the IIT entrance exam that happened today) read that in the newspaper, the first things that came out of him was “This is the worst day of my life.” Agreed – that it was a statement made in haste by him and is a bit immature – yet the least you can do is to appreciate his sentiments.

Before I go any further, let me make a very strong statement – “Most of the Indians are happy in mediocrity”. We are just happy being mediocres – it’s sad but it’s true. Just look at people around you and make a comparison – what is the ratio of people that you know who you can term as ‘genius’ and are Indians. For those who are in the US or the other developed countries – it is very easy to make a comparison. Just look at all the people around you and the most likely thing you will notice is that all the Indians that you know of will be average and above average but there aren’t many who are genius or in the league of the smartest. The same thing does not hold true for the developed countries, and that is the reason that they are developed and we are still a developing country after 59 years of independence.

I apologize in advance from those who feel offended by the statement. Trust me, the idea is not to offend but is to definitely shake a part of you, in case you are not affected by the announcements above. Now, I don’t say that the people who will avail the reservation (and qualify in the 49.5% reserved seats) will be worth nothing. I know that the standards of IITs (or any premier institute, for that matter) are so high that anybody who spends 4 year in the institutes will be groomed enough to be a person of decent capability. But, is that really the idea? Is the idea of these premier institutes to create mediocres or to produce geniuses? There still was scope to take some bold steps to produce quality which justifies the quality of the incoming students (and we had started to make a progress there) but isn’t this a step back?

I used to believe that I don’t get very affected by things that do not directly impact me but this news about the increase in reservations in the higher educations to 49.5% has bothered me. Ask anybody who goes to the esteemed institutions (IITs, IIMs, RECs, and even MIT, Harvard or any good foreign insitution as well) and the primary thing they love about being an alumni from these institutes is that – it instantly labels them as a person of above average intellect (and may be more). In the light of the just announced quota system, I am not sure if the above statement will hold true after a few years.

There are more than a few consequences of the reservations and it’s difficult to find positives in any:

  • Affecting the quality of the students – When the 50% of the seats that gets filled up is not exactly based on the talent, it is bound to affect the quality of the students.
  • Making the competition tougher – It will only make the competition doubly tough (and it’s already one of the toughest in the world) for students who can’t avail the reservations. That will mean – more stress, more frustration and more discontent.
  • Force more students to move to other countries for their higher education – If one can’t find good seats in India, they won’t be left with options other than to move to the other countries and they will only be glad to accept the Indian students.
  • Faint the brand image of the premier institutes – The image of these premier institutes is that it produces students of quality much better than most other will only get tarnished a bit as the other half might not have had the kind of background and aptitude as is the norm.
  • Setting wrong trend – Today, it is demanded for these premier institutes. Tomorrow, somebody will demand the same for actual placements in the other fields including the private companies. So, why should there not be reservations in the field of Acting, Art, etc. Is there an end to it?

I am all in the favor of having laws and rules to make sure that the underprivileged get more opportunities and it’s the duty of the government to think about that. But then, that should be done at the primary and elementary school level and not at the professional level. And having a reservation based on the caste system is nothing but laughable. The real differentiator is the financial background and not the caste background. Let’s not try to solve a problem which existed in 80’s and earlier now, without validating if it makes sense in the current situation.

Having said that – it only pains to know that the authorities in the excitement of forcing the laws forget that steps like this will only create more mediocres. We, as a country, have had our share of mediocrity – it’s time to move a ladder up. Are we ready to take up that challenge?

Working with Young Employees

AllBusiness.com has a good article on working with the young employees in its Business Advice section. The points are:

  • Be clear from the outset: When you interview a younger potential worker, be sure to craft a clear representation of what your company will expect of him or her. Fully explain performance goals, appropriate office behavior, dress code, and office hours.
  • Give them extra structure: Your young employees need defined due dates for reports and detailed schedules for projects in order to properly structure their workday.
  • Teach business standards: It is important that you instruct young employees from the beginning about your company’s business standards. Young workers may never have been accountable for meeting strict objectives and might not understand the costs of actions such as using unsuitable language in a business e-mail.
  • Give them free rein to multitask: Keep in mind that your young staffers can multitask unlike any generation before them. This means that they can send e-mails, talk on the phone, and compose memos at the same time — and enjoy themselves in the process.
  • Cultivate a positive atmosphere: For young workers, the workplace needs to be fun and employee-centered. They want to enjoy their work and their workplace, and they want to make friends with their colleagues. This means going out to lunch with other employees, laughing and joking with staffers during work hours, and being involved in planning company events
  • Be a mentor: Young employees want to learn from you and receive your daily feedback. They want your leadership and supervision, to learn about how the company works from the source. You should understand this when you hire them, and plan to spend time teaching and coaching them. Young employees will return your investment in them with their enthusiasm.
  • Strive for work-life balance: Young employees fill their lives with many activities — sports leagues, social groups, classes, time spent with friends. They work hard, but they are generally not workaholics. Home, family, and friends are often their first priorities. It is important to remember that work-life balance is very important to young employees.

I will add a few more points to this one:

  • Give responsibilities: Keep giving more and more responsibilities. There are chances that people will make mistakes in the beginning and one needs to be patient there. But this is something which pays off very soon and makes huge difference in the productivity.
  • Educate them on the perks: Most people when they are starting don’t have enough knowledge on the benefits like Mediclaim Insurance, Tax Laws, Stock Policy – it’s important for a company to provide education about the same for people to be able to appreciate it.
  • Encourage them to form committees to solve the problems: Encourage people to come up with their feedback but don’t jump on to solving it all yourself. Instead, let them only form committees and suggest solutions and own the implementation.

Of course, it helps if you are also in the same age-group.