Startup success as a Product Manager

Success? Stockroom? yes, here’s the mind bending story. Its been approximately 10-11months since I joined a startup. What did I learn? What did I earn? What are the advantages? What are the negatives? What makes you love your work at the startup? What makes you hate the same? How different or similar is it to any MNC? You will love some of my answers and hate some. Nothing surprising, yet something exciting. Here are my frank views on working with a seed funded startup, based on my past and present experiences. 

India vs Pakistan cricket match and India won by 5 wickets. Virat Kohli gets the credit for win. The score was low but the match was exciting. Why do people celebrate when India won against Pakistan? The same celebration is not seen when India wins against any other team. Startups are similar, the excitement that comes when you work for a startup isn’t same as when you work for a MNC. The team is small but the growth is high. The happiness you get when you code for a startup is way more than, that you get doing the same at a multinational company. Why? There are a lot more “F**king yes!!!” moments when you solve a problem be it technical or non-technical. Each time you say “yes!”, you have definitely done something big. 

Many people say word of mouth is more effective, but I feel realizations come only through experience. Product Manager is a tag, never felt like one and never wanted to feel like one. It was a three member core TECH team – Backend developer, front-end developer and me. I work around anything and everything. In the initial few days, I planned to implement many new things and methodologies that I learnt from my previous experiences. Agile, Git, Meetings, Events, etc… BUT, the team wouldn’t cooperate and wanted to stick to the conventional approach. May be due to lack of knowledge. I shouldn’t say this right? You will realize the reason for this towards the end of this para. Moving on, I started my work by taking series of sessions on how the startup was working before the time I joined (5month baby). I conducted sessions on the things I was knowledgeable. I was determined about some strong approaches. The team was not yet ready for these changes. Unless you face a problem, you don’t actually think of a solution. Yes, I got a real life problem. How should I solve? Rome was not built in a day, I started working the way the current team was working. Gradually whenever an issue occurred I took out the list of my plans and solved the issue with the help of these plans[I wished to have in a startup]. The team knowingly or unknowingly, got adapted to most of the tools. Whenever I faced such situations of resistance from team- I gave them a real life problem, allowed them to solve the normal way and later showed the same implementation when proper tools were used. The first line of this para should be apt now. I still have so many things that can be implemented, but the word of mouth isn’t enough for everyone. It is the experience that makes you realize. 

As a Product Manager, I have to look upon and dig into all the technical stuff of a project. So what was my 11 month stint about? Hmm, something exciting! Something crazy! An online code assessment interface for the companies to hire the best of the candidates, who clear the challenges (online coding competition) as set by the company. Not as simple as it sounds, but its worth 45 days of effort. Forty Five days? Wooaahh? Did I mention the team size earlier? (3) But the team’s hard work lead us to finish the work on time including testing and production. We are not done yet, it’s time for additional features- almost 10 new large features that can be integrated into the code assessment tool. Startups don’t have time, the work has to be done always in a ASAP mode. As the features were being built, simultaneously we had our first online assessment event. The tension was evident in us. Despite decent testing there was a bug found when the candidates were participating in the online test. We did not lose our cool, fixed the issue in less than 5minutes in production and thus letting the event continue smoothly till the end. The bug was due to the flow the company had to follow but it couldn’t. Avoiding the blame game, we took the experience constructively and started working on simplifying the process for every feature. We conducted a few hackathons which went pretty well. We managed not to face any major issue though we did face minor issues occasionally. You got to experiment to figure out what works, so we experimented on different features, like creating job specific hackathons and job specific online coding challenges. Supportive users gave feedback related to user friendliness for the coding platform. Feedback is a gift for startups for constant improvement. We at stockroom considered every single concern and updated the front-end with a motto to improve the user experience and simultaneously incorporating our own optimizations. The best feeling is seeing your users use your platform and we had such opportunities by conducting offline hackathons for big clients. We faced few issues related to server and database which were not upgraded to handle heavy traffic. We did get requests to make a few upgrades to the platform. With so many valuable inputs in mind, I had to make a critical decision to get everything right in a go. Better late than never. It wasn’t too late to revamp the product which was made up of the tightly packed code developed in primitive stages. The increased team size was an icing to the cake. So I had a meeting setup with the founders requesting sometime to revamp the product. The founders approved the request and within 2 months we got the best out of our team. The revamp has very good UX. The Design guys got the design right and with the best dev team we got the product done in 2 months. But we were not live immediately. Wha aaa at??? why?? Testing plays a major role in a product development. We did a thorough testing of the platform and are working on improvements. It took around 15days including weekends for the preproduction version. We are not done yet and the product is under rigorous testing. Soon team stockroom[sr rockstars] will be rolling out the public version with a brand new logo and an exciting news related to funds. The good news is that will be rolling out its beta anytime now. 

With great power comes great responsibilities and opportunities. This is my first startup success and I am greedy to have few more in my bag. No prizes for guessing, I have resigned at stockroom. I did not leave stockroom hanging but rather contributed towards making the team very strong now and capable of handling any obstacle further. The eighteen member team has been performing very well. We had internal hackathons to speed up the development where in I participated a lot in the coding stuff. Technology stack in stockroom has increased from django to angularjs, semantic, webrtc, socketio, nodejs, celery, rabbitmq and mysql, Subsequently diversifying my tech stack. It doesn’t stop their, I did learn a lot about managing teams. There can be no great accomplishment without risk which is evident from my move from Persistent to Stockroom. My decision was right, to risk moving to an early stage startup with no infra from a well established MNC. 

The most exciting news for me is that, the next startup is IoT based startup trying to integrate IoT in construction. Einsite is an early stage startup and I am looking forward to play a major role in the product development as a Senior Product Manager. In short, I learnt about some new technologies like webrtc and socket programming and handling a team. Above all I earned the satisfaction of taking the startup to next higher level with a happy and strong team. The role at stockroom gave me an advantage of handling more things than possible. Startups have no proper infrastructure but that’s why they are called startups. The team and their dedication towards the ASAP mode of development makes you love a startup. You are so attached to the team that leaving the team makes you hate a startup.  I intentionally write long posts, just like the reason why weird animal pictures are printed on O’Reilly programming books.

“Startups are always in high sprint mode!”

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