Target your prospective employees

This is the fourth installment in the Interviewing series. The first three can be viewed here.. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

How do you target your prospective employees? The answer is.. the way you target your customers.

Go where they are most likely to be..

Are you looking for good programmers to join you? By good programmer, I mean one who can code. No.. not just write code, write code which is readable, maintainable, well tested and easy to change.

Where are you looking?

Job site

If you think job sites would provide you with such people, all I can say is keep trying.. someday you will find them. Its just too much effort to find one good programmer from a herd of resumes. Too painful and not very rewarding. And by the way, good programmers have started to remove their resumes from those sites. Thus your chances of finding one is made even more difficult.

Recruitment Companies

All I can say is.. well.. I can say nothing. They’re supposed to find you a good resume. I’m sure if you close your eyes and pick a resume from a pile, your chances of that being a good one will be equivalent to the ones filtered by these companies. And bonus.. it won’t cost you anything.

Go look at..

1. Technical conferences

2. Programming community (online/real-world)

3. Open source code bases. (github, code.google, and so many)

4. Gaming channels/forums (well.. atleast 50% are into virtual reality)

5. Twitter and stackoverflow. (There are some serious folks out there..)

Once you’ve found a few developers who you would like to have in your organization, what do you do?

1. Torment them with joining calls from your HR/calling staff.

2. Send them endless emails about sending their resume to you.

Well.. enough. You’ve already lost him. Now, let’s try something else

1. Have a chat with him about his interests (in programming and other things..) whenever you meet him.

2. Host a session on programming and invite them for a talk/session. They’ll respond willfully.

3. Host a session that matches their interest (gaming/social networking meet/others..) and invite them to participate.

4. Have an open-office day. Invite people from outside to come and visit your office. Let them have a look at how you work.

5. Constantly seek feedback from them. What do they like about you? What they don’t like about you..

Believe me.. you won’t need a formal interview after all this.

Its not easy. Certainly not. But the chances of finding a good programmer are much better this way. Certainly better alternative to a 1-hour interview session.

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Why I did not build my first product..

Couple of years back I was at this job at a software company building stuff for large enterprises. Regular day included writing large modules of software with no vision of who’s going to be the final user of the system. We would mostly be provided with a spec and all our development would be centered around it. This would get fairly mundane fairly quickly and then starts this long wait for the project to end and next one to begin. In all likelihood, the way outsourcing projects work, the new project would be similar to the last one, except for different people.

All the time, there were few ideas growing in my head to start a software product on my own. It gained constant momentum and in few months I had two more people interested in one of the ideas. There started this journey of my first startup.

The Idea

The initial idea was to make a platform for fashion designers to showcase their talent and share it with the world. This would be a part of community where people would visit profiles of different fashion designers and choose among them. This would enable even middle-class citizens to select designs and accessories, helping the budding fashion designer community too. Sounded a great concept. With this in mind we started our research. I was still in job when we started this.

The Research

We needed to get the opinion of fashion designers on this concept and also of the potential buyers or middle-class fashion enthusiast. We started with the fashion designing community. This led us to different parts of our country and to some really odd/funny looking fashion designers too.. We figured few things from our research:

1. Fashion designers won’t put their stuff up on the web easily.. since there’s lot of plagiarism in their industry and they do it themselves too 🙂

2. There isn’t really a community of fashion designers. Well at least, as far as we knew.

3. From the buyers side, one always wants to touch and feel their clothes before buying them. so they wouldn’t really buy online (unless it’s from a brand)

4. We really sucked in the skill required to talk to those fashion designers. Just two different worlds.

(This was just our assessment of the situation from our limited research. The inferences may not hold true for all people, I may add. )

This just meant, we had little interest from suppliers (fashion designers), consumers (online buying market) and we totally did not understand their language. Nothing was going for the idea.

Guess what.. we dropped the idea.

During the Process

There was this other thing that was happening while we are at the whole research thing. We were meeting lot of business people and we were getting exposed to lot of real-time problems that they were having. Some went like managing their demand and supplies, working out their cash flows, working with illiterate people, and handling their sales team effectively. Hang on.. lets zoom on the last point. Handling their sales team effectively.. Wasn’t that problem solved already by all these super Sales Management applications? Apparently not. They themselves are a problem most of the times.

So during our research for our first idea, we came across all these things and ignored them first. Once we dropped our initial idea, we looked at an alternative and there was this interesting situation.

The first idea, we were passionate about, but we did not know our customers or consumers. We lived a different world. The next set of ideas came directly from the customers (or people/companies with problems).  We figured that the best way to go about was to solve the problem that we knew about and had a customer to help us out in testing the solution.

The Product

So, out came Lead Simplified. A platform to help manage your sales leads. And in next few months, we had the product out in the market and implemented with a dozen customers. Now Guess what.. It worked. It solved the exact problems that they were having and did nothing more. It started growing and people started referring our product to their friends and circles and we started getting many enquiries and suggestions for more features to be included. We were pretty overwhelmed with the response.

This was the product  in its 5th month and we started getting inquiries from the biggies of the country. Not something that we were prepared to handle.

This concludes my point and rest of the story is for later. The point is:

The Conclusion

Our first approach started with an idea in head and then doing the research on that. The second started with some research already done and the product was based on a problem communicated by the users themselves.

Both these approaches have something in common. ‘Knowing your Customers/Users’.  The first one, we did not. The second one, we did.

Are you able to draw the characteristics of your users correctly.. absolutely to scale?

Do you know the pitfalls of the industry you’re targeting?

Is there really a problem that you’re trying to solve?

Never guess.. Just ask them.

The key is to just go out there and listen. Talk to people. Listen to them talking. Try to solve problems that people actually have.

Also, while solving it, constantly keep checking with them if you’re in the right direction.

Now.. go out there. Talk to your customers.

Training the Dragon..

The story goes like this..

I had a dog named Dragon, who just spent time lying around and enjoying the stay at my house. One day I thought of training him.

So here I start. I give him an exercise. Simple one. I throw a ball and he has to get it back to me. So I show him a video of another dog doing the same. Then I try to motivate him to play this game by telling him how much fun it would be.. we would be the greatest of buddies. I think he kind of bought into that too..

But he just wouldn’t get the game. He would go behind the ball and start wandering around. If he manages to get the ball, he wouldn’t bring it to me. Sometimes he starts chewing it too.. I lost my hope and gave it up.

After a few days, I asked Dragon to sit in a corner every time I play my violin. He would again not get it. Only this time, I tried to correct him whenever he went wrong. As soon as he starts walking out the door, I ask him not to do that and sit in the corner. I was surprised to see that he had started learning and improving this time.

So what I was getting to in my effort so far is Feedback is an essential part of the learning and growth process, and when it is provided in an effective manner it works magic.

Instant Feedback

In the earlier story.. when I started giving feedback, my dragon started learning better and faster. Also, I did not wait to give my feedback. It was instant.. the moment he was making the mistake. The intention is to provide the feedback when it happened, so the context isn’t lost. Say if I give the same feedback after an hour, Dragon wouldn’t remember what it is for.. and worst, might take my feedback for some other thing and start doing that wrong.

Intention to improve

All the time, I wanted Dragon to improve. Improve his skills, improve our relationship and improve my skills to handle him too. That was also the key. Had the intention been to torture him or make fun of him, it wouldn’t have worked. He just wouldn’t have learnt anything from that.

Learning is at its best when it is driven by actions and guided by feedback. That’s the practical learning we talk about. The famous term experience refers to the amount of feedback received by a person on the various activities performed by him.

The mind works that way too.. You can show him all the videos and tutorials you want. They won’t help you in programming, unless you actually do it. Just get down, write code and learn from that. That teaches you more programming than the best of books around.

This Independence Day..

Lets evolve..

from

a nation which is struggling for passion apart from cricket.

a nation where education is about producing order-takers.

a nation where money is the only reason you work for.

a nation where there’s still a large percentage of population under poverty line.

a nation which emulates the west.

a nation governed by incompetent people/politicians.

a nation which is indifferent about what goes around them.

a nation that celebrates mediocrity

to

a nation that cares.

a nation that innovates.

a nation that encourages people to think on their own.

a nation where every individual is educated.

a nation where everyone can afford 3 meals a day.

a nation where passion is the reason people choose careers.

a nation where there are equal opportunities to all castes, religions, backgrounds and present.

a nation that respects people for who they are.

a nation that is free of corruption and bureaucracy.

a nation that believes in excellence

Lets evolve..

If your small business does not have a blog, be concerned (via Mario Sundar)

fantastic case for blogging by Seth and Tom Peters..

If your small business does not have a blog, be concerned A week ago, I found this gem of a video on the need for blogging. Some valuable comments from Seth Godin and Tom Peters on why blogging matters to any professional. I couldn't help but think of how much more important blogging is to small businesses and wondered how many small businesses actually blogged. More on that after the jump.

Hat tip to Mitch Joel for the lin … Read More

via Mario Sundar

Who do you have in your team?

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Every now and then you come across a colleague who fits right into a stereotype. Let me try describing a few of them here..

The yes guy.

The guy never has a problem with anything. He’s at peace with everything in life.  There’s not a single negative bone in the guy.

Delivery is not assured though. Sometimes you wonder, does he really think before answering at all..

The no guy.

He’s an exact opposite of our “Yes Guy”. He almost always comes with a negative answer to a situation. Sometimes he himself doesn’t know why he’s objecting to a solution, but he objects nevertheless.

The reasons could range from wanting to be heard to absolute clueless. But he has to object.

The invisible guy.

The guy who’s never really around. He works at inhuman times. Doesn’t believe in discussing to bring about solutions.

Only reason he’s not fired is because he has a proven track-record of solving complex problems.

The innovator

The guy who pops up new ideas left, right and center. Anything conventional is just boring. He jumps around at anything new. Lets do the new library by that community, Lets move to the new version of the api.. Left to him, he’d be redesigning the solution every month with one of his new tools.

The problem guy.

“I once used this library and faced many issues.. I don’t seem to remember. But, it doesn’t work”. This is a typical statement from our Problem guy. He’s done it all and exposed them all. He knows problems in anything and everything that we use. Very handy at times, but really annoying otherwise.

The social guy.

The guy who can’t think beyond 140 chars. Always looking for things that he can put on his profile. For him, this is the augmented reality which he uses to build his social profile. You’d see him most of the times on his twitter or facebook account. Has more conversations there than within the team.

The lawyer.

The person who can debate on everything. He loves to talk. Loves to challenge the decisions. He doesn’t necessarily believe in his argument, but still goes about for the sake of it.

For him, the debate is more important than the solution itself. He thrives in discussions..

The Buzzword guy

Lets write a mobile app in functional language with a light-weight nosql db and deploy its data on the cloud”. Statements full of buzzwords are a signature of such people. He thrives on latest. Reads up any blogpost and tweet posted lately. Always upto date and keeps looking at newer buzzwords. Can’t construct a sentence without them.

We all play one of these roles interchangeably.. But frankly, this diversity is what a team is all about. If all were the same, it’d be pretty mundane

Team is as good as its Leader

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As the saying goes ‘A leader is as good as the team’, most of the times the reverse is true as well ‘A Team is as good as its leader’.

In our part of the world, we believe a lot in bonding and forming close communities, with our leaders at our center. They are the source of inspiration, energy and direction. They command utmost respect from one and all and are a huge part of what we are as people.

During my startup, I wanted to be all that a leader should be. In the process, used to involve myself in all activities starting from product design, architecture, technical decisions, marketing and sales strategy, day-to-day operations, finance and all the rest too. The intention was to help all departments and be on top of all the things going on.

Soon I realized that there was a trend contrary to my beliefs. The team started depending on my views for everything that was going on. I was becoming the bottleneck.

This is the basis of the post: The team started becoming a shadow of myself. It could be only as good as me.

I had no clue what to do. For few months, I was able to stretch and be there at every place helping the team. But after a while, I was really struggling.. with time, with pressure of work and stayed drained out most of the time. This started affecting the quality of my decisions too.

So.. driven by compulsion, I started taking myself away from these activities, and started giving my folks more room to make decisions on their own. They were uncomfortable at first and afraid of making any crucial decisions but things improved with time. After about couple of months, surprisingly for me, the team started taking more responsibility and at times were taking better decisions than what I would have. It also increased the motivation levels among team members. All of this and their respect for me was still the same (if not higher)

I tried to see what caused this and following were my inferences:

1. People got more empowered, resulting in higher motivation to do the work.

2. They appreciated the trust that I showed on their work. This improved their morale too.

3. The decisions were taken in a democratic way. This had a very positive influence on the culture of the organization.

Conclusion:

Add right people to your team, and then trust them to do their work. Never limit a team’s capability depending on your own.