Mahesh Gawali, the Head of engineering at IntouchApp shares his motivation behind joining a startup and how in order to change something you need to make changes yourself for others to follow.

Key takeaways from the episode

  1. A smaller company or a startup basically is related to having more freedom and responsibilities, also have that really exciting way of working rather than just being bogged down into a huge long painful process at the end of delivering products just like clockwork.
  2. At the same time living up to the quality expectations was much easier in startup especially having our own checks on the quality made much more of difference because we cannot have a big team which is just doing quality analysis.
  3. You have to not only embrace the product that you are building with you. You have to motivate yourself. At the same time you have to build your own brand. So, that’s why I say that you have to be your own product.
  4. In recruiting, it’s much better to have actual assignments and evaluations which helps in understanding the candidate,not only his or her tech capabilities but even the personality and the culture fit is  much easier to understand.
  5. Portals like ‘Hacker rank’ or other places which let you float out tests and do certain preliminary evaluations on top which make easier to test the candidate.
  6. It is important to create culture fit at the beginning than later, because once you are at a bigger size then a certain amount of processes can take off and risky.
  7. I think having a culture fit early makes a difference because it’s about understanding each other at the same time because it’s a difficult time when the startup is trying to build a product

Some important questions covered in the interview

  • Why did Mahesh think of joining a startup?(00:33)
  • The tackling problem of the increasing tech debt.(03:33)
  • Finding the blend of a good developer and a good manager.(4:38)
  • How to find the right people and building the best team in a startup?(09:00)
  • How to bring a change you wish to make in a startup?(07:50)
  • When is the right time to start building a culture?(11:07)

 

Here’s the full transcript for the episode

Meetul(00:30): You were telling me about your interesting journey from large companies to small companies. You know there was a deliberate attempt join the startup.You can walk us through that thinking a process that would be phenomenal.

Mahesh(00:45): So, the thing about making the shift to a smaller company or a startup basically is related to having more freedom. At the same time more responsibilities and having that really exciting way of working rather than just being bogged down into a huge long painful process at the end of which you are delivering products just like clockwork. Having exciting and what do you say fruitful journey while creating the product. Is what I was looking for. That’s where the startups come in.

Meetul(01:22): So, you know while doing conversation you mention something that was so insightful that “In a small company if you want to make a change you have to be there.” Can you expand a little bit about that? What was the thought process rationale you had it?

Mahesh(01:45): So, in a small company there is the teams are pretty streamlined so getting a change is easier because there’s less friction but for getting people motivated or justifying the change you still have to do it yourself first. So, if you had to move from get up and get lab you go and do it first and you have to justify why this both of tools were same but you have justified like this is more easier to use. There’s much easier Ci pipeline this much easier on other aspects of the products. So being with the change obviously makes it easier. And it’s one of their emphasis I would say if you want to work successfully in the startup always be in that mindset where you have to lead by example rather than. So if you have to even use new Python library in the work you had you might as well just go ahead and integrate it and show with James voters or something that hey this is much easier it’s making it easier to work with dictionaries rather than just going in and doing square basis and darn good methods. So yeah that’s how it works.

Meetul(03:33): There was so interesting been change that how you guys implemented the TDD,  trying to plug the holes because you guys just got frustrated without that things would never be addressed or fixed. It just started when you’re trying to run a thousand miles an hour. It is very hard kinda stop, reflect and look back and see if, you can stop collecting technical debts.

Mahesh (03:37): Yeah, the tech debt gets on accumulating over the time. And the problem we use two faces used to see similar issues cropping up now and then. So, that’s when we decided to, we had heard about tester and development and tried it out a little but there came a time and we just put our foot down and said Let’s just do it this way because it’s much easier and having a tangible approach to what has been developed because now just justified because it passes a test you know that this thing can go out and chip in the product. So that made accessing things and making them manageable were easier. At the same time living up to the quality expectations was much easier in startup especially having our own checks on the quality made much more of difference because we cannot have a big team which is just doing the quality analysis.

Meetul(04:38): So, the Hands on leaders ,somebody who is pretty hand who coach, trying to manage the team and still trying to be hands-on ,it’s bit of acquired taste right either good developer or good manager finding the blends is difficult, What are the important skills for Tech founders or emerging founders you know who is getting into this that they need to be aware of that you be cognizant of that. Otherwise, it’s going to hit you from the left side.

Mahesh( 05:15): I’d say reading is the most important of the screen and listening. So, reading is with the printed mediums reading comes very you assimilating information consuming all of the knowledge you have to keep yourself updated about the technologies that you are already working with the potential technologies that you are evaluating keeping an eye on. Maybe there was a tech which was not suitable for months on the line but now it seems like a really exciting thing. So, keeping your eyes out all the time and the management aspect I would say the most important skill is to listen to people and think about why they are doing things the way they are doing it rather than just imposing ‘hey you have to do this.’ And this is the way that is one of the things I was not really it was something that I did not like particularly because it had been a big company so that that part is really easy to deal with because you get to talk to people directly. But think about what problems they are having and how to solve them. And at the same time you’re also dealing with lot of tech. The most important thing I would say is getting up early in the morning that  is actually the first thing. But if you get just hardcore tech I would say even I like to stay awake at night and squash all those bugs. But people have to be in the office next time in the morning and you had to have a head start before people start arriving. So, that’s getting up early in the morning helps in the people management aspect of things, getting insights about yeah this team was done may be a pull request did not match your expectations but rather than you obviously write a comment on it but you should still have a one time conversation with someone about it. So, the contributors know about Yes, you should have this kind of design rather than just taking a shortcut at something like that.

Meetul(07:50): The other aspect is discussing so something about the insights full comment you made, in a startup, we talked about ‘you want to change, you gotta be the change but also you got me a product.You have to drive yourself as a product. That was I was curious just gonna understand your view on that, what do you mean by that?

Mahesh(08:16): So you have to not only embrace the product that you’re building with you. You have to motivate yourself. At the same time, you have to build your own brand. So, that’s why I say that you have to be your own product because if I’m working on Inter chap have to envision myself as the as Interchap so that people who are using Intershop will be able to  understand them better because you yourself are the user first and if you are finding it difficult, to begin with, users are obviously going to face the same difficulties. So, having your own mind trained into thinking yourself as a product helps a lot.

Meetul(09:00): Let’s go back to I guess the one the biggest bane for any startup, ‘Recruiting’ finding the right people, building the team or more team. What’s has been your insights from that other people can glean or learn from it.

Mahesh(09:20): I think there is a lot of confusion and lot of trial and error. There’s no magic bullet. People in startups go through the process of finding out one after the exploding one option after the other. Like recruiters, online sites and portals.One thing that I have in my personal opinion seen work much better is having actual assignments and evaluations which follow that helps in understanding the candidate. Not only his tech capabilities but even the personality and the culture fit it is much easier to understand that being said it’s no easy to do that because it needs substantial effort on your end to get people to the assignment. Not many people even do the assignments and that’s another issue.Portals like ‘Hacker rank’ or other places which let you float out tests and do certain preliminary evaluations on top of that much of help.

But we used to do it initially but now I just feel having assignments which mimic the kind of work you’re doing. Like you know are in data science project, giving out the science assignment which is very close to what you ’re doing rather than well which still does not give out any IP or idea.Gives the candidate a feel for what it would be like to work for this company. And at the same time test, his technical skills is a much better way of getting a good and fruitful recruitment.

Meetul(11:07): So this culture fits you know every entrepreneur, tech or business leader I have spoken with they all have kindly mentioned that culture fit is very-very important And you also brought up the culture fit is very paramount. Is this Something you think about it from the very beginning. This is something that you should worry about early on, worry about it when you get to some scale.

Mahesh(11:38): I think it’s rather more important in the beginning than later because once you’re at a bigger size then a certain amount of processes can take off and that risk from you. But in the initial days, it’s especially more important because you need to have more and more like-minded people around. I’m not saying people should not be critic each other. That should obviously be happening that’s how to start a group. But I still think having a culture fit early on makes a difference because it’s about understanding each other as the same time because it’s a difficult time when the startup is trying to build a product. It’s extremely difficult because there is a lot of pressure. So here is very fast feature train which is going on.  And if you don’t have people who are working as one unit it becomes very difficult because of no matter if I mean you’ve seen the movie the movie 300, a small unit can still take on a big task if they are aligned properly.

Meetul(12:50): Are there any books, any resources, you recommend to entrepreneurs, to people who are on this journey and are getting started on this journey?

Mahesh(13:04): I’ve read a lot of books but I like ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell, much because of talks much of what makes people successful apart from what you think are the obvious factors.And that’s what teaches you about thinking from a different point of view. Also, I do read a lot of medium blogs I follow almost all the tech that I use have their own Twitter handle some Django, python and whatever database I’m using.  So I follow them on Twitter. It’s much easier because Twitter is like a sounding board where people announce big things. So, you get to know all the new things when they come away than just stumbling upon a blog somewhere. Well, that’s one thing. Yeah you should still have your own,What you see on the people who you aspire like I like Sanders Miss blog and that’s most related to C++ but I still follow it because at end of the day that’s still core and that tool and python and other communities people are pretty eager to share new things. But I still feel that is the best medium and place where I have seen people share a lot of good content.  the pretty big community of Python developers who meet up every month. So, is the community about ElasticSearch forks and there’s a Pune developers group as well which is still upcoming and visiting these communities and interacting personally helps a lot in understanding what kind of work the other startup’s are doing. What kind of tech stats they’re using. And lots of them there are common problems that you will be faced with somebody else has also faced and maybe they have found a better solution to it. So that kind of knowledge, as well as interaction, happens in these groups and I’m really thankful to the Pune Python community for continuing their efforts with making the community what it is and keeping it alive.

Mahesh Gawali is an Engineer at heart, always interested in what makes things work. Currently heads the full stack team at InTouchApp. Believes in getting every ounce of performance from the stack. Likes to solve problems in the world of travelling bottlenecks where running a stack is like an orchestra and everything has to perform in a proper rhythm.  You can always access the data quickly if you modelled it properly, so think before you ‘create’. Believe in leading by example with the team and learning new things everyday. Loves python. Oh, and its spaces over tabs

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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. Know someone who would like to be on the show, give us a shout.

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