A year of belief to a year for fulfillment

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In the beginning of this year, all I had was belief.  A belief that my business plan would be a company.  A belief that I can convince investors to write us our first check.  A belief that I can build a good team.  A belief that we can make a good product for real estate professionals.  Getting into Angelpad accelerator program was my highlight of 2014.  I had to uproot myself from India and move to New York in under 3 days.  A big thanks to my family, who did not see that coming, still raised no concerns.  In hindsight, it was the right call.  Changed my life.

This year started with me incorporating Agentdesks and preparing for the “Demo day” of Angelpad, followed by a bunch of meetings with investors. As expected, many highs and lows for 4 months.  Things started looking up in May.  We lined up our investors in June and closed the round in July. And the journey of Agentdesks started immediately.

I knew my first task at hand was to set up good leadership and a good team.  Agentdesks is not my first company and there’s one thing I learnt from my previous startup.  You cant do it all alone.  You need people who are better than you to get a startup going.  Enter Sanya Gurnani (COO) and Vijay Bharath (CTO).  Both have better experience than I do in their respective fields.  I already had 3 engineers prior to raising money. Mithran, Raghu and Devi had been with me since my previous company, Metroplots.  And, we now have a stellar team of ambitious and hard working colleagues.

Over the next 4 months, we put in a lot of effort in hiring the best people for Agentdesks.  Apart from skills, we mainly looked for attitude and how hard working they are.  Product wise, we only had 10% of the product we are supposed to build.  By the end of October, we had a solid team of engineers, designers and a customer success manager.

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We built 3 Agentdesks apps, one for each web, droid and iPhone.  Today, we have 40% of our product on each of these platforms.  The product is now highly engaging with our active users and we know what we should do to improve it further.  We believe, we are doing the right thing by focusing more on increasing engagement amongst our active users instead of reaching out to more users right from the beginning.  Fortunately, our investors and board think the same way as we do.  We have been getting mixed advices from different experts on what we should be focusing on but our priority is to make a product we love and our users love.  When we get there, we will start pushing the growth pedal.   

We have learnt multiple things along this short journey so far.  Some from making mistakes and some by awesome people who have made these mistakes before.  2016 is the year for us to put all these perspectives to work and execute our plan with our perfect team.  Our goal for 2016 is to make lives of a number of real estate agents simple and make them independent by building the perfect product for them- a new age mobile real estate CRM.

Wish you all a Happy and life changing 2016!

Learning to lead a team (Part 1)

As a founder, one of the first questions that popped up in my head was – “What kinda leader should I be?”  Then I started reading about how good leaders talk, behave, do things.  Read quotes about leadership.  Research Steve Jobs, Sir Alex Ferguson, Elon Musk…..the list never ends.  And of course, listen to Ted talks about it as well.  Simon Sanek has multiple 15 min monologues about this.  Some common basic tips are:

  • Hire well.  It’s important to have a good team to be a good leader.
  • Define the vision of the company clearly to everyone.
  • Break down the vision into actionable items.
  • Empower your team.  Actively engage them in team discussions.

Some things I picked up with experience

  • Stay healthy and create more mind space.  Stay away from distractions.
  • Prepare for the week every Sunday.  Have a clear plan of action.
  • Be detailed about everything.  Success is truly in the details
  • Be the hardest working member of the team.  Your team will respond to it.
  • Make it a personal mission to make everyone at work an expert at what they do.

But, one of the biggest takeaway for me is that there is no recipe to be a good leader or a successful leader.  There cannot be.  We all have different personalities.  We are all unique in our background, our experiences and the way we do things.  So, there is an element of personalization that’s unique to you while answering the question – “What kinda leader are you?”

For me, I’d like to know what’s happening with everyone in the team.  I like people taking ownership of discussed responsibilities and most importantly, making sure it’s done.  I take a lot of parallels from football (soccer).  I am a firm believer in everyone doing their bit to make the team successful instead of having a few rockstars in the team.  On a particular day, the opposition/competition can get the better of you but a strong defense can make you win the league.  In our case, a strong defense is having a team with a well structured plan chasing a big vision.

Setting up an Indian subsidiary for US companies and startups

At Agentdesks, we decided it’s in our best financial interest to have our engineering team in Bangalore, India.  As soon as we closed our seed round at Agentdesks, I traveled to Bangalore to recruit and set up our engineering team.  I truly believe it’s a good option for most startups in the Seed / Series A stage to think about setting up an engineering team in India (assuming you already have a good network in India).  I decided to write this blog to make it easier for other startups to do the same


  1.  As a first step, I registered a wholly owned subsidiary of Agentdesks in India.  This involved a bunch of paperwork, which our accountant took care of.  Keep in mind, you should have at least 2 directors to start a subsidiary in India.  So, the second director can own 0.00001% of the company or something that insignificant.  It doesn’t really matter
  2.  We found a co-working space, that’s plug n play in Electronic city, Bangalore.  It just takes a day to shift.  I would advice not to waste time in finding a dedicated office space and furnishing it, etc.
  3. Starting a bank account – Pick a Citibank or any other bank that has Global presence.  We picked up HDFC Bank and struggled for a couple of weeks to get it going.

Recruiting and team management

Now, about setting up a team – Recruiting engineers is the most difficult job anywhere in the world.  It’s as difficult in India as it is anywhere else.  Engineers who join a startup are already taking a big step in their career to stay away from normal.  This means that they need additional assurance before joining your company.

  1. You definitely need a Head of engg, who can code, understand architectures very well and is a proven winner.  Recruit him/her first.  This person should be an experienced engineer who has led teams before, at companies that have scaled up fast.  He/she is your go-to person and an integral part of your co-founding team.
  2. Spend enough time in India explaining the vision of your company and why you are doing what you do.  Everything you believe in is easy for you to understand but it might take a while for everyone else to catch up on.
  3. In India, getting engineers who are really good at their job and want to work for a startup are really rare and expensive. So, interview them really well.  Most of them say they know everything but they really don’t.  As a startup, speed is the most important thing for you. So, take your time in getting the right engineers.  It’s alright to spend a couple of months to get the right engineer.  Don’t be in a hurry and settle for anyone.
  4. For us, I am not sure if this is a rule of thumb, websites like LinkedIn, naukri and a multiple other websites didn’t really work out.  Neither did HR consultancy firms.  All our hires have been through references.  So, as a first task, we really think you should spread the word out through your networks and your team’s networks.  When it comes to joining a team, most engineers make that call based on who the team already has.  If they are comfortable working with someone, the decision becomes easier.
  5. Once you have a good team, it’s very important for both teams (Indian team and your US team) to be on the same page almost every day.  There is definitely a layer of complexity added to the team structure because of the distance between the engineering team and the sales team.  But as a CEO, it’s my responsibility to bridge the gap.  I have a call every day with engineers in India and I keep everyone in San Francisco posted on what’s happening.  Once a week, both teams have a call too.

This is an ongoing process of learning for me and I will keep posting blogs about it.  If you are planning to set up a subsidiary in India and have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at biju@agentdesks.com.  I will try my best to help you out  🙂