Email to a key guy leaving Akosha

This hiring saga continues (see previous posts – 1 and 2). If you think I am pathetic at building a team, it seems I’m not alone. I was in Goa a few weeks back with over 80 entrepreneurs on a fully sponsored The Morpheus retreat (one more reason to join them!). All smart men and women I find easy to admire for their passion, intelligence and perseverance. However, it seems each of them  is facing difficulties in finding the right person to join their team.

I had found the right person to join but could not retain him. Since it so tough to find the right guy, when you have to see him go, it can be quite painful.

Here is an email I wrote to this guy asking him to stay.

He still left.

Background – smart guy, had founded a startup before joining Akosha, really down to earth and chilled out guy.

I’m publishing it here as it might be useful for others in thinking through their decision of working in a startup.


February 2011

Hi __________,

I don’t know if you have already made your decision but I thought I’d share my thoughts with you and maybe it can make a difference to your decision.

I will try to assess the situation from your view point.

You want to do work in a startup environment but the scars of the last startup makes you think twice. What if Akosha fails – if it does (which you will only be able to know in another six months), you will be left 2.5 years work-ex which could potentially be disregarded by a future employer. Not to take into account all the burden that would come with seeing your second startup fail. Is this is a problem? Yes of course it is. Honestly, from a conventional viewpoint, it would be the “correct” thing for you to go seek a job.

Working for a bigger company

When you start working for a bigger company, for two months (yeah that’s it) you will enjoy the stress free life and the money hitting your bank account at the end of the month and your parents being happy and you being able to tell other people that you work for “IBM”. What happens post those two months? I have been there so I can tell you from experience. For a guy who is cut out for startups, you will start looking down upon the people around you – they will be mediocre, without an original thought in their head. The work you do will not test you at all and you will not wake up in the morning feeling like going to work. You might try to get some freelancing work to keep yourself busy – but it won’t really cut it because you wouldn’t want to build a services brand long term. Trust me – that life is shit, and during all dark hours of my startup life, the biggest motivator has been not going back to the corporate world.

Now you need to assess the alternative – doing Akosha or another startup. I don’t know if you are excited about any other idea at the moment, so I can only talk about Akosha.

How do you assess Akosha?

The way to assess any startup is –

–  Does the idea solve a real pain point?

–  Can it scale?

–  Are people willing to pay money for it?

–  Does the team have the theoretical ability to make it big?

–  Do they have mentors/well wishers?

–  Are you guys “lucky”?

The answers are: Yes / we don’t know yet / Yes / Yes / Yes/ Yes. By lucky I mean, work really hard, talk to everyone possible, and be patient for the magic to happen. I started in June beginning and you came on board in November. In the last 6-7 months, we got into Morpheus (6 out of 100+ startups), we have been covered by the media several times, got two brands on board without a product in our hands, we are not repeating our earlier mistakes, we made real sales of ** complaints to ** different people this month. There is progress, but is there enough? I don’t know so we have to ask other people if they think so. Some people like ******** we met, think we are doomed to fail. Some people like ******** and ******* think we should keep working – something good might happen.

What is in it for me?

You could look for 3 things – picking up skills, enjoying the work, and creating wealth for yourself.

Picking up skills – in the last 3 months, if you look objectively, without being dismissive of what you have done, you have picked up the innards of a complex CMS, picked up rudimentary PHP, and worked your way through a support management system, learned about SEO, analytics, content strategies. All this in less than 3 months. If you think you haven’t done that much, that is not correct.  Coming from a Java background, you did something completely different. Tomorrow we might develop our app in RoR, Python or even on a PaaS – all of them will involve steep learning. How long can this happen? You would be surprised – a good product with just a single guy working on it will give you insane skills (imagine you are software architect, product manager, coder, analytics guy, SEO guy – all rolled into one – don’t miss the significance of this!).

Enjoying the work – the work should be challenging, and you should getting along with the people you work with. This is for you to judge – I have a good time working with you, I regard your tech skills and integrity highly and I try to work hard myself and be professional with you.

Creating wealth – this is a hard one. If Akosha fails, you and I are in the same boat, except I will have burned a lot of personal cash on it. If it succeeds, and in 3 years we make an exit of Rs.** crores (which is if we are a mediocre success and don’t raise bigger rounds), and you own **% of the company after dilution on subsequent rounds (Morpheus has **% right now, if we raise another ** lakhs, we’ll give up another **% which will leave about **% for the two of us), you could end up creating wealth of about Rs.** lakhs in ** years. That is like a package of Rs.** lakhs per annum of out which you are saving ** lakhs every year! If you can think about Akosha failing, and you call yourself a startup guy, you’ve got to think about Akosha being a mediocre success at the least. What are the chances that this will happen? Go back to the assessment of Akosha.

Worst case scenario – let us say Akosha is not going anywhere till the end of 2011 – you quit and join a corporate. What are the plusses? You know you gave it a good shot (trust me, this is a fucking big thing), you will have learned shit loads about internet startups, you will get a much better job because of your skill set (in any case, I think a VC-funded startup with gives a good salary of 8-10 lakhs would be a good fit for you then), and you will know what works and what doesn’t. This is valuable stuff – not more than 2000 people in India would have gone through what you have.

Here and now – you need the mental strength (which you will need to find from inside you), you need more cash (we can think of ways of doing that – I don’t really mind you taking a higher salary) and you need more equity – again as I said, someone like you who is smart and honest, is an asset and I would love to share equity. What I would ask in return would be insane levels of commitment, hard work, belief in Akosha and a positive attitude. Startups are tough – they are supposed to be man.
It’s your call. Hope this helps clear some thoughts. If there are things that you would like me to change, you should say them.





7 thoughts on “Email to a key guy leaving Akosha

  1. Hoshedar Havewala says:

    Wonderful post Ankur, just chanced upon it. This was almost a year back, and I really hope you and Akosha have gone places since. I so completely agree with your assessment of working for a ‘bigger company’ with a steady pay packet. I go through all that you described everyday. Kudos to you.

  2. Prasanna says:

    Hi Ankur,

    I trust things have become much better since you wrote this. So did the guy come back, by any chance:)?

    I think the bigger question one needs to ask, especially if one believes in the story one is part of and it comes true, is what to do with the people who want to come back. I’ve faced a fair bit of that, and generally move on a case to case basis. But there is a school of thought which says never take back, and vice versa…

    • Yeah things have changed. I just reread the post and found it hilarious that I thought there’d be some outcome in 3 years. It’s been 3 years, and it’s still a long and eventful ride ahead.

      The person didn’t come back. He joined Adobe, then quit after some time and is now doing his own startup.

      I’ve had people leave, it has ALWAYS been for the better. It’s just strange – you are so scared that someone good might leave, but then life and work just goes on without too much of a problem.

      On taking people back – I haven’t had that yet, but if it does, there would be two categories of people: a) studly people who left because of a lack of perspective and got that perspective (humility, expectations, hardwork, patience etc. etc.) when they were outside Akosha; (b) everyone else who left. Most people fall in the latter category, so most of the time, it is generally not a great idea to take them back.

      My two bits, but considering every passing year just makes me realize that I don’t know so much, I might end up changing my opinion.

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