It’s been a while since I last wrote something here. It’s definitely not because of a lack of exciting events since my last post. On the contrary, there were lots happening. In this post, I would like to type a few things about building a great team and product. One of the big realizations in the last 3-4 months for me is the very definition of success. How does one achieve great heights in any field they are in? Is there a rule of thumb? Is it the ability to come up with new ideas? What is it that makes an idea click?
There are founders like Elon Musk, who may define creativity as creating a hyper loop or creating a habitable colony in Mars and there are founders like Zuckerberg who may define creativity as making a channel for teenagers to share and like photographs on their phones. Then, there are founders who just replicate another business in their own way and become really successful at that. Personally, I had a big problem of involving myself in something that is not the first of its kind and used to look down on founders who did that, even if they are immensely successful. Books and experts always say it’s not the idea but the execution that matters most. It’s a cliche that everyone knows. But, what is the difference between a bad execution and a good one?
Before I try to answer these questions, I want you tell you something that happened 2 months ago. In February, me and my co-founder (Vijay) met one of our investors, Mr. Gokul Rajaram who is currently Head of Products at Square and previously created products like Google Adsense and Facebook Ads. We discussed some of the issues we were facing with respect to product development. But, we approached the discussion wrong. We started with a quick demo of the product and started asking him questions on ideas for future product features. He, instead, started asking us questions on our team, structure and processes. The discussion went on for an hour and our takeaways were more useful than product ideas that we initially wanted feedback on. Some of the important ones are:
- Every quarter, the entire company should have 3 main priorities. It’s a company’s vision for the next three months, for a lack of a better word. Every feature built, every process undertaken, every team meetings should revolve around these 3 priorities. Define this right at the beginning and row towards that. It could be something like “Increase the number of photographs uploaded on the platform by 10x” or “Make sure every car manufactured have the exact same dimensions”. All these priorities should start with a verb.
- If you have a small engineering team, always hire full stack or train every developer to be full stack. If you hire an iOS front end engineer, train him/her to build web services. There should not be anyone in the team who say “I have done my part and I don’t know why it’s not working”. If it’s not working, you better find out why and for that you need to be a full stack engineer.
- Good engineers have the best ideas because they know what the code can do. So, have quarterly internal hackathon events to get the best out of them.
- A start up engineering team cannot have hierarchy. It has to be fluid. Every product feature should have a lead and this can be anyone in the team. The lead is responsible for two things
- Implementation, manage resources involved and reports
- Track performance of that feature over a period of time for further tweaks until it’s successful.
- Daily code review. The head of engineering should do code reviews on every update.
- Finally, document everything.
When we got out of that meeting, Vijay and I were blown away. We went in to buy a TV remote and we came out with the knowledge of building a home theater on our own. This was brilliant. Since then, I realize more n more that it’s not the idea that matters. It’s not what you do or what you wanna do. It’s not even just the passion or perseverance to do something. Of course, all of those matter too but the key difference is the Process. Gokul obviously went through his career building great products not knowing everything but he was probably always on the lookout for flaws in his processes and kept improving on that. Now that he has that experience and learnt from his mistakes, he can build any product. It could be Adsense, Facebook ads, a car, or a rocket, anything. I am sure I can still improve on the 6 points mentioned above in building a great team/product/company with time and there are probably many more best practices out there which people have realized. We just need to keep looking to improve processes towards perfection and that’s the underlying secret.
Today, I am on a mission to make everyone in our small team think the same way, believe in the process and become leaders in their own domain 🙂