We have been running a service-based start-up form past 18 months. In this article I am going to highlight some points which I have learnt over the time period.
We are now 18 member team and while writing this article I am the person who is responsible for infrastructure, HR and technical concerns. So in this article I am going to write about recruitment, team management and infrastructure.
1. Power backup
Before you decide on an office location, please make sure that it has enough power backup for power cuts of longer duration. I have had some bad experiences in the past. We had power backup for 3-4 hours for all PCs, light and fans, but not for air conditioners (AC). Working without AC in summer was almost impossible and sometimes these power cuts were so frequent and longer that small power backup systems would not suffice.
Availability of less space is acceptable. However, this kind of power cut not only interrupts the work atmosphere but also demotivates employees. Sometimes it would be embarrassing if the power is cut during a client visit.
Try to occupy a rental building where the complete building has power backup plans with generators, which will make you feel that there is no power cuts at all. For such buildings, you have to pay more, but believe me, it will be worth paying.
2. Office Boy
When we start a business we think that office boys can be replaced often, but we are wrong. If you have decided to hire your first employee, then the first choice should be to hire office boys who can do the following activities:
- He should make good tea/coffee.
- He should open the office on time and make sure office is cleaned before any other employee comes to office (remember that the workstation should be neat and clean on all working days).
- He should get lunch/dinner from nearby hotels for the office staff (it would be better if he knows some of the best nearby food places).
- He should handle office administration work such as posting couriers, taking printouts, scanning, photocopying, etc.
These small activities might add burden on you and make you frustrated.
For any web-based start up, internet is the life line. We started with a plan from Airtel that seemed good for a couple of months until we faced a huge downtime for 3 days due to some maintenance work. At the time, I realized that having another internet connection with some other provider is a must. At least one big failure in a month, leading to couple of hours of downtime is usual with every provider. Having another connection with less bandwidth is essential.
4. Office Size
I don’t know what to say about this. A number of people told us that having bigger offices is a huge advantage. But I believe that they either gave us an incomplete picture or we understood them wrong. According to me, a well-managed office space is more important than a bigger office space. For our organization, it was enough to have 20-30% extra space but we went for around 60% extra space, which added a lot of burden on me to manage that space. If you are really planning a larger space, then make sure you hire some infra guy who can manage that space.
This is the single most important thing for a start up. Steve Jobs said the
first 30 employees would define the future of the company.
But I would say that the first 5 or first 3 or even the first employee can define the future of the company.
One of our valuable unofficial advisers, who had great experience in recruitment shared his experiences:
Hiring the first person is important if you are hiring for some area where you do not have some experience. He will bring other people according to his taste and if something does not goes well then you never understand; what is wrong—people, market or something else.
This is quite true. We also had similar experience with our different department. The first thing you should know when to hire. According to Peldi (Founder of awesome mockup tool http://balsamiq.com/) – “You should hire somebody once you see you are going to die just because of work”. This is correct because it gives you a clear picture of what you are looking for and once you hired somebody you can assign a good amount of work.
1. Job Sites Suck
Yes, recruitment websites suck big time, not because they are bad but because they are not designed for start ups. People who post their resume on Naukri/Monster don’t know about you and your company and you end up with lots of resume which don’t fit the needs of your company.
I would suggest you go for reference. Ask your friends, family members, employees for reference. It will solve two problems a) Most of the time they portrait the right picture in front of candidate b) You will end up with resumes which are in less in count and more relevant. Searching candidates to come-up for interview is a time taking process and you save time on that with references.
2. Age, Marital Status and Start Up Passion
First of all I am not making any judgment about a person based upon their marital status, sex and their age. But I am sharing my experience. You should look for candidate who is a) Passionate about your start up b) Passionate about the skills for which he/she has been hired c) Can work extra hours if needed d) Can take less salary ;).
A & B is the most essential element you should look for in that order. We had some bed experience with hiring very experienced and skilled persons who leave us without adding any value because they do not have the attitude to work in a start up. You lose money, time and energy and its add only frustration. OK now let’s talk about C & D. A person who is not married and is younger can easily spend more time on work and live with less salary. I am not underestimating older and married guys, but it is little bit more difficult for them.
3. Hiring Friends
There are some really serious pros and cons of the same. If he meets all the above four criteria of an employee, then you should consider yourself lucky because you don’t have to put in efforts towards recruitment. Its like winning the lottery without buying the tickets. But if does not turn out to be a good, then it is very difficult to get rid of him. So don’t go with gut feeling while hiring any friend/relative as an employee. Make sure you have seen his work in the past and know his strengths and weakness and discuss it with him/her as well.
4. Make Sure the Person is Eager to Join You
This leads to point number A. If he is not eager to join you and you use some other technique like paying a big salary or giving a better position, the person is not going to last.
5. Never Hire a Person in the First Interview
People have multiple faces and you can see only one face at a time. Try to call a person for an interview at least 2-3 times and make him meet different people each time. It will give you good perspective about the person. It will also test the seriousness of the person. If he did not show up the second time, he probably was not interested.
6. Don’t Hire Too Many People at Once
Hiring too many people at the same time can become difficult to manage because every new hire requires attention to get familiar with your company. If you hire too many people at the same time, you are splitting your attention between all the new hires. In start ups your attention towards your employee is considered important.
All above points are too idealistic about recruitment. We have learned some hard lesson in past. The biggest challenge in a start up is to find time to get recruitment done because you are always so busy with current execution. But it is the most serious thing you can do in your start up while scaling it. Every founder and employee of the company should be involved with this process. If you hired the right person for the right job, you are almost done. People management becomes difficult when the person is not right or the task is not assigned to the right person.
One of our advisers has suggested a great tip: “In a start up you should know each and every employee’s family, not just the employee”. You can achieve this only though un-official discussions where there is no boss and no employee. Have small, cheap frequent parties in your office. Have lots of un-official discussions about people. Make sure not a single employee feels lonely. Everybody is not a party animal. So make sure every employee feels like he is in the company of friends.
2. Work & Work culture
If you want to hire and retain good people make sure you have adequate work culture. As a programmer, I never want to be around non programmers. Everybody loves to stay with similar kind of people because dealing with them is easy and that’s where culture begins.
Developers want to work quietly, while business people want a lot of discussion. Developers think business people are wasting time in discussions and business people think developers are boring, but both are right in their own place. Developers require quite and longer time to finish their task and business people requires meetings to get things done. If both people will work on the same location without any physical boundary, then it will be difficult for them to work and create appropriate work culture.
Another point is that every employee should have enough work to keep them busy. When an employee comes in morning, he should feel that there are a lot of things to finish. It gives you couple of benefits a) Employee starts feeling that company is growing b) Finishing the task or deals are most important feeling for any professional. It gives a good feel when we leave for home. Employees gain a sense of achievement and learning in such a scenario. That leads to the point where I said hire people at a time when nothing can move without them.
Even if employees have free time, do something that benefits the company as well as employees. Think of free time as scrap and try to sell it as high as possible. Whatever something comes out of it, it is a benefit to the company and the employee. If nothing comes of it, then it was scrap. But try to use this free time seriously, there might be a gold mine.
All the above points are our learning through lots of failures and some successes. I want to thanks people who have shared some wonderful tips for certain problems from their experience. Implementing the above points are challenging as far as our experience is concerned. It requires a hell lot of time, money, energy and motivation.