In this episode Aquid Shahwar takes us through his experience of working with startups and the things one should consider before joining one.
Key takeaways from the episode
- Successful entrepreneurs are persistent even though they have gone through several stages of failures without giving up.
- I always try to learn and commit to something every day before leaving the office and that’s what what makes and motivated.
- Self-motivation, ownership and passion are three important skills he engineering leaders should possess.
- You should be capable enough to handle the work in case you are left with no team to help you.
- It’s not the founder who makes a successful company, it’s the entire team’s effort.
- I never looked for happiness in monetary things. I always try to learn and commit to do something every day before leaving the office which makes me happy and self-motivated.
- You should hire people according to the organizational structure. I believe in a flat structure as I’m not a big fan of policy and terms and conditions.
Some important questions covered in the interview
- How did Aquid make his way into the startups (02:31)
- How to keep yourself motivated towards work (05:24)
- How to find the best people to work for your startup (09:19)
- Importance of culture- How to create and maintain one (11:23)
- Must have skills to be a good engineering leader (06:55)
- How and where to find the right technical talent (09:19)
Here’s the full transcript
Meetul (00:47): The series as we discussed the entrepreneurs in India, where I think there are a huge amount of startups come out of India. But rarely do they get the right level of funding; this is an effort to essentially help these entrepreneurs. Do you want to quickly introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your journey of starting till becoming the V.P of Shoppinpal?
Aquid(01:18): Started all from like doing internships from the college and going through working under ways and very high skill mentors and people. From their understanding the business how a startup works, how the culture works, what is the right set mindset for people where should I go and what kind of things I should look for in a startup before joining this kind of things which I learned from all of these internships and people I met and the recommendations they made in this kind of things, made me come to the right platform and made me take right decisions at the right time. So, this was the other thing and after college, I worked in three startups till date out of which two were acquired. And this has been the third startup that I’m working as the V.P. of engineering. And each startup, it has always been like you get one step ahead. So, I started as a junior level guy then senior and suddenly it was VP.
Meetul (02:23): In India startup is still bit stigma I don’t think culturally many people really understand what it takes to start from that aspect to figure out ,you want to join the startup and try to figure out these characteristics you talking about? How did you end up discovering that these are the characteristics I should look for in joining a startup because this was very deliberate and very intentional attempt? You didn’t stumble upon Startup you did deliberate attempt toward that?
Aquid(02:53): When I started I obviously didn’t know about thing but luckily I got a guy who is right now in MIT. And he just said that he actually wrote the whole Linux operating system in Bangla. So, I got really inspired with that thing and from there I got the knowledge that if you want to learn and do things at that time in like 2010. It was the best place to be a startup. So, that came into my mind and said okay I need to be there and I need to go in a startup and then do these things but then eventually we’ll working I figured out that not all startups are good. There are places where you will go and you’ll get retreat. You will not be improving you’ll be going down so you need to choose how you want to go ahead with your life. I wanted to be a technical person and I wanted to be a leader in the technical development and technical area. So, I choose people where I figured out what are the right set of things and the mindset of people that promote what I want to learn. I wanted to learn something where my exposure is out. That mean I need to be in company where open source should be promoted. So, that became criteria for me. I wanted to sit next to the founder and ask him a question. So, I searched for the place where the founder sits next to me and whenever there is a need I can go to him approach him and ask him. And this kind of small things leads me to away where I was clear about these five things I want in a company and I want to be compromising these factors and that has been the point of my success. These things helped me to reach where I wanted to be. So it’s all about understanding what you want to do? Where you want to go? And very typical question that you will hear in HR, where do you see after five years but that is very important. You need to know where you see after yourself after five years. Not because you want to sit someplace and earn money but actually in a practical life if you are given five years’ time where you do think and what we want to achieve and act on that thing.
Meetul(05:03): As senior entrepreneur there are more up than down, startup is package it might look glamorous and sexy sometimes from outside, when people get such said back then people start giving up, they tend to give up, How did you figure out ?how do you keep yourself motivated?. How do make sure that resiliency which is not common in India?
Aquid(05:38): So, the point that you made it’s very true that people tend to give up in India very soon. If you see the big names what they’ve done they have been persistent all of their life they’ve gone through several phases of failures but they didn’t give up. They said I’m going to do this and I’m going to achieve this. So this has been the key to the success and for me, I never looked for happiness in monetary things. I never said I need a big salary to be happy. I don’t need big bungalow to be happy. All I need to be happy is a need to learn something and every day when I leave office I need to make a commitment and I need to do something and I need to say that okay today I have done something and this makes me happy and let’s make myself motivated. For me, this has been the steps or the points of success. This has been the point where I keep myself self-motivated. And a small-small thing even if I fail my company is going to shut down or there have been phases where the product I built was not good. But my take away from that thing was I wrote a beautiful code which can be reused in any other project and that project can be live in hour And time and amount of my energy spent on writing a project even though it was not successful. I know I can take this and build something else so that was the motivation. That was the reward for me and I was happy for things.
Meetul (06:58): As engineer leader, the product which is building is core to your success, what are the 3 important skill set required for good engineering leader?
Aquid(07:07): So, the first thing that I think is important is self-learning you should be able to learn you by yourself. And if, I need to learn something I need to hit hard. Even though I am not able to understand it I need to again go back there again learn things. So this is like one point where I think it’s like top most quality for being a good developer. Second thing obvious is ownership you need to own the product you need to take the product as this is what I want to build not this what someone else’s won’t build. If you are building it just because you were said to build it then you will never become a good developer I will sit down in my room and when I’m sitting alone I won’t watch a movie or something. I will think about it how we can improve the UX and UI of this app, what magical thing I can do in this thing. Passion is very important .Ownership’s so you own that thing just you. You’re doing it to learn something. You’re doing it because this is your product And obviously being independent I think you can go to a stack overflow website and you can see things and you can write something but doing that independently finding the right keyword finding where the right places blocks right Method ,right channels to go. I think this is what differentiates between good and bad developer a good developer can go to a specific place a specific site a specific tutorial and he know he’ll know that what I need to write and how to learn So you need to be independent you need not if you’re too dependent on one else and someone is spoon feeding you. I think you will never be able to become a good developer. So for me these three things ownership, being entrepreneurial and self-learning.
Meetul(09:10): India is such an entrepreneur country where everybody have five ideas, but still the question is I can’t find people, I can’t find right people or technical talents, where to look for it? Do have any advice for that?
Aquid(09:40): People who have been successful have been the experts of what they wanted to do, they gain the knowledge they had a passion to build that thing. They understood that this problem is there and this is how I can solve it, for a person to come and say “I have an idea but I don’t know how to solve this thing. I don’t know how to write code or maybe I don’t know how to build these solutions so, that people can benefit.” I think that is not the right way to go. If I need to start something I’ll make sure that I have 60 to 70 percent of what it takes me to build something otherwise it’s always going to be a failure. You don’t know how to write a code and you’re going for a tech startup .You need to know how to write a code. Definitely you are going to need the team but see you need to be prepared for the best and the worst, you might get a team which rocks solid and who can do wonders for you. But there are days where you will see everyone gone from the company and you are staying alone and that time if, you don’t know how to handle things and if you will definitely be failing and going away from this thing. Practically for me is like you one criterion to become entrepreneur is to understand the problem and know the problem that this is what I’m going to do to solve it. And 80 percent of the solution you should know at least not from the technical point of view but from other aspects also. What do you need to do; these things need to be clear with you as founder right because that will motivate you to never give up even. So, I think that’s what my point of view.
Meetul(11:27): You brought up the importance of culture, why culture is important – Sometimes people may or may not realize it the importance of it but I love you to talk about culture and its importance.
Aquid(11:50): Culture is the top most priority for any given company. If a company doesn’t have a goal culture he will never have a trusted employee, for a company to succeed. If a person can come and see that okay he’s the founder, he’s the co-founder and he made this company what it is today. I don’t think I agreed to that thing because it’s always a team behind the founders and this kind of teams is there where who will support you in the good and bad right. So, to build this team you need to earn the respect you need to on their 100 percent. What they want to give right. And if you don’t build this thing over time you’ll never be able to complete or be a successful entrepreneur. So how will you sustain that team? How will you build a team? How will you make your team respect you in good and bad? In that time it becomes a very important point to bring the right set of culture. People hire people, and that’s not like some people say I want to build a culture where I should be hierarchy approach and some people say I want to cultivate where there should be a flat hierarchy. If you have the intention of having a hierarchical approach then hire people with that mindset hire people who love being mentored who want their hierarchy to be there who want the level of the powers and hire those kind of people. And if you are a fan of that flat structure then hiring people will always be there on the flat side right who will say I don’t want a hierarchy. I’m not a boss. Call me a friend or something and always be there. So, the culture is also about having or hiring the right set of people that I am going ahead with this kind of culture. I want to build a company like this and I’ll be hiring people with this mindset only.
Meetul(13:40): What are your recommendations for local entrepreneur people who are starting up or even doing this for a while. Resource to learn from or check out for resources
Aquid(13:47) So, for me I think every entrepreneur whichever sector which was domain they are, different kind of products there. I have been in the logistics and travel and all these things so I always kept me focused on the B2B side. I used to read a lot of blogs and there some very good news apps that were there I cannot see myself as a good reader and I don’t read too many books. But I have always been active on social media and forums and places where the right set of news can come to me and the knowledge come to me. So, for example, there was a very new app called ‘In shorts’ and I found this app and loved it. I used to get hundred short messages every day and I can just scroll through them and I can see that what kind of message, what’s happening in the foreign affairs and where is the right business. And then update for example B2B Facebook started something recently for manufacturer’s stores. I came to know about these six months before. So it’s more about being active on various platforms but not saying that it shouldn’t be like you don’t go for books or proper but yeah good apps for me my part of knowledge was always through people through social media through personal contacts. And discovering new tools like apps, all these things which helped me become a good B2B fan.
Aquid Shahwar is a startup enthusiast, a technical leader and an open-source fan. Presently he is the Vice President, Engineering at Shoppinpal and has been a part of many other successful startups (mostly B2B) by being one of the core members of the initial team. He loves technology and his vision and mission revolves around solving big problems like education and rural development in India using “technology” which he believes is an enabler, and not a complete solution. He is a also firm believer of flat and open culture in company and is gradually aiming towards building the same.
About the show
Sunny Side Up is a series of 15-minute podcasts which shares concentrated analysis and advice from startup founders, B2B marketers, sales and product leaders. We welcome your ideas for future topics. If you know someone who would like to be on the show, give us a shout.