Some thoughts on building a team

Of late, hiring has been a topic that comes up in every conversation with a fellow entrepreneur. It took me some time to think about how we built the Akosha team. I am a first-time, single (non-tech) founder in Delhi who luckily found several super-smart people to join and become co-founders/VPs. Obviously these thoughts reflect my personal experience.

Here are 2-3 interconnected thoughts:

You don’t find the best people, they find you: For some reasons, despite a lot of aggressive hiring efforts (distribute the JDs, use recruitment firms, search on LinkedIn and Naukri, having an elaborate interviewing process etc.), the best hires at Akosha have been people who just came across us, liked the idea and just applied or wrote a mail to me. So, while there is no way to avoid the hard work, finding that really good person (someone who is your equal in terms of passion, intellect and drive) to come and become a pillar of your startup is not really in your hands. So maybe you shouldn’t even go out looking for that kind of a person but concentrate on hiring the other people in the team.

E.g. Vishal, our CTO, was the 109th person I interviewed for the CTO position but he just randomly came to us because he had a complaint. He saw the position open and just hit reply. I saw his CV, and I knew he was the right guy. Same for our marketing head, Kali. I spoke to so many candidates, but randomly Kali wrote in one day and we moved fast from there. Avinash mailed in with his presentation to me.

So don’t try to find a co-founder/VP level guy. It will just happen. Concentrate on the other things.

Nothing succeeds like success: Traction is by far the most influential reason for us to be able to build the team. It’s a chicken and egg problem and that’s why when you raise money, it doesn’t change things directly – hiring is still difficult and throwing more money at the problem doesn’t solve it. So the thing to do is not to go hiring, but to start using the money to get traction, make sure you tell the world about it and attract great people.  A lot of stuff happens in parallel, but bottom line is to focus on traction and let the best people find you.

They are odd people: We went out for a drinks session with some recent hires, and when they were sufficiently sloshed, we made then tell us the weirdest/funniest stories about themselves. From all the stories/anecdotes, it was obvious that all of them were very odd people (odd as in they had done things in a way in their past life which “normal” people rarely do). One guy ran away from home after 12th to pursue life in another city; one guy had hitchhiked from Amsterdam to Paris when he was 19 (and claims that there was a threesome on in the car as well); one woman decided to break her engagement 10 days before her arranged marriage to marry someone she loved; another one from a conservative Hindu family/city, married a Muslim boy; one IIT guy had found innovative ways of coping up with English medium education after studying in Hindi medium till 9th; one guy collaborated with his dad with make his grandfather believe that his love marriage was in fact an arranged one etc. etc. As stories pored out, it showed that all these people had thought independently, been impulsive, taken risks and followed their guts at some point(s) of their lives.

I don’t think it is easy to check for this oddness during a formal interviewing process but I think there is something in these people that leads them to work with startups and give founders a chance. Maybe you can get potential hires (who have cleared a couple of interview rounds) to meet informally outside office and get them to share their life stories.

All in all, working with the smart people gives the most amount of satisfaction to me; but it has taken quite a while to get all those people to join.

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7 thoughts on “Some thoughts on building a team

  1. While we are at it. I’d be interested in knowing

    1) In your experience which hiring decisions work out better, gut vs rational? Some details/examples would be nice

    2) Any red flags basis which you have a clear NO GO policy

    Have a few more questions but would wait till we catch up to ask them 🙂

    • 1. The best hires have been using my gut instinct. There is an elaborate screening and interviewing process, but when you talk to the right guy, it just clicks and you know it. Every senior guy in our team has been hired that way.

      2. Lots of different red flags – too focussed on money, doesn’t have perspective, hasn’t been insanely passionate about anything in his life, ability to handle chaos, shown some proof of liking delayed gratification and obviously, a bit of an oddball.

  2. Nikolaj says:

    Love it! Made me smile too. I would certainly belong to the odd people category!

    Btw, nice blog. I like your posts (I read the last 8), very personal and with a nice (and needed) human touch.

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