Is Open Office Setup A Fail? My View & Discussions

I recently wrote a Facebook post sharing a sentiment that open office setup / modern work stations is a fail.  At Pricebaba we have always had an open setup and I always considered it to be a good thing in the initial days. However as the team grew we started seeing occasional complaints of ‘too much noise’ but the underlining problem escaped my mind because most of us were on desktops. As we grew and moved to a larger space with most people shifting to laptops overtime, we realised that this setup is a big problem! Many people (including me) started to escape into meeting rooms with their laptops. One of our advisors even commented that finding a closed room / section for developers will up their productivity by 50% or more.

737445_491903360853343_1451631798_o

Here is what my post read:

I am leaning towards agreeing 100% with this.

“The open office plan is a tyrant of interruption, a deep loss of privacy, and the death of productivity.”

The above quote is from a post by Yan on Quartz. He covers the Open Office topic and that sparked my search for more comments from friends about what they feel. Here are a few responses to this. Read More

As I Turn 30. Some Things I (Almost) Didn’t Learn

When I first read this awesome post by Rand Fishkin on his life learnings, I thought I should write one too. My immediate next thought was, may be I don’t need to write about my learnings. I haven’t learnt enough.

I just turned 30. Sometime in the past few months I realised that there are things I have learnt in this life so far and those are the exact things that I strive to live up to each day. Here are some of my learnings that still continue to challenge me … Read More

Empathy – Pricebaba

Pricebaba started with a ambitious online to offline approach, connecting consumers to local retailers. In 2016, we declared this part of our business a failure along with the reasons. However the amount of traction Pricebaba generated (at peak ~INR 60cr worth of leads every month), there were several interactions with end users & retailers that shaped our learnings. Back in 2014, at a time when we were growing very fast, we started encountering a problem that we had long anticipated – customer experience issues at local stores listed on Pricebaba.

We built out enough flags & intelligence in our systems to detect anomalies. A lot of this was smooth because the ops, business & tech teams were one small group working from the same floor (even at peak we were 30 people in the company). I sensed the need to get our teams to understand the gravity of any customer complaint that reached us. Below is an email I wrote to the team (alongside all the other processes & systems that we put). Sharing it just like the previous post on Commitment to Equality. Read More

Commitment To Equality – Pricebaba

Following is an email I sent to the entire Pricebaba team last year. Some of my friends have recently pushed me to share more insights from running Pricebaba all these years. So I would be sharing a few notes that I wrote to the Pricebaba team over the years. Please do note that this was written back in time and often impromptu emails sent out without much editing or at times much thought. I am open to feedback and comments on these :)

From: Annkur P Agarwal <annkur@pricebaba.com>

Date: Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 7:17 PM
Subject: Commitment to Equality
To: all <all@pricebaba.com>, “community@pricebaba.com” <community@pricebaba.com>

Dear Friends,

Every since I started working in 2002, I have had invaluable learnings from the people whom I met and transacted with. However my learnings in recent years has been far greater than the entire previous decade of work that I saw. A large part of these learnings are as a result of starting PriceBaba. I have had to break many barriers within myself, learn new skills every day and grow myself as an individual & leader. In our Super Saturday sessions and other leadership meetings, I try and share a lot of these learnings with you.

Today I want to share another commitment that I have towards the PriceBaba team and the society as a whole. This commitment is towards equality. So much so that we are adopting Equality as a company value today. In some forms, it has been around in our values as growing each other, but let’s be more explicit about it.

During my US trip with 500 Startups, Read More

Focused vs Unfocused – The Larry Page Perspective

The Vinod Khosla fireside chat with Google founders is great. My favourite part from the interaction is this:

 

VK Let me go back to Larry. As CEO of Google, a lot of these guys have board members who keep saying, Focus on a few things. Self-driving cars is one. You’ve done some things in health and others. How do you decide what’s focused and what’s unfocused?

LP I’ve been thinking about this change quite a bit over the years. I think it sounds stupid if you have this big company, and you can only do five things. I think it’s also not very good for the employees. Because then, you have 30,000 employees and they’re all doing the same thing, which isn’t very exciting for them. So I think, ideally, the company would scale the number of things it does with the number of people in a linear fashion. As far as I can tell, that never happens. It’s logarithmic with the number of people, if that.

I would always have this debate actually, with Steve Jobs. He’d be like, ‘You guys are doing too much stuff.’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah that’s true.’ And he was right, in some sense.

But I think the answer to that – which I only came to recently, as we were talking about this stuff – is that if you’re doing things that are highly interrelated, then there is some complexity limits. It’s all going to escalate to the CEO, because you have things that are interrelated. At some point, they have to get integrated. A lot of our Internet stuff is like that. The user experience needs to make sense. It needs to feel like you’re using Google, not that you’re using something else. So I think there is a limit on how much we can do there, and we have to think carefully about it.

Everything about the automated cars is like– Sergey can do that, and I don’t have to talk to him. I like talking to him. But I don’t really have to talk to him about that, because there’s almost zero impact on the rest of our business. Although it does use some great engineers who we have on mapping and other things. Naturally, they move to that project, but that’s a scalable process. I don’t have to talk to those engineers. They just move magically.

So I do think companies usually try to do very adjacent things. They figure, “We’re going to know exactly how to do something that’s very similar to what we already do.” The problem with that is that causes a management burden. Whereas, if you did something a little less related, you can actually handle more things.

Jugaad & Growing Up With Constraints

Silicon Valley

One of the observations that I made during my stay in Silicon Valley was the absence of Jugaad. Jugaad is a relative term, fellow entrepreneurs in US work hard and do well with bootstrapping just like we do. But the reason I say absence of Jugaad is because the magnitude of Jugaad I have grown up with in India is far higher.

From what I saw people in US follow the protocol (be it business, a line at the bus stand or crossing the railway tracks), they pour a lot of effort in small things. This shows when they are designing a product, launching their ventures or even when setting up their homes. We like to push out things in a hurry, not listen to any wisdom that increases the workload and look for safety hooks. It seems as if we are hard wired differently.

The more I think about it, it is so much cultural. Me and a few more of my entrepreneur roommates (during incubation in Silicon Valley) grew up back in India with little or no luxury. Almost all of us started working In our teens and while today we choose to do a startup and talk of passion, let’s be honest – all of us started working for we needed to either support our families, education or at least not be a liability on them.

I remember a couple of us talking about how Friday evening brings such cheer on the streets of Mountain View. People out in big numbers, long lines outside Ice-cream shop on Castro Street (oh and you can’t imagine the clubs) and hardly anyone works over the weekend (even the startup junta). My roomie was mildly upset that he doesn’t think of his existence in India in the same way. Neither of us would really think of going to a club back in India and can hardly think of life from an angle which would say ‘how can this be more fun?’. That’s when it occurred to me that so many of us back in India have only worried about survival. Survival = Luxury here.

Even after being educated basic existence here is tough. Read More

The Hard Things Challenge (Entrepreneurs Listen Up) #HardThingsChallenge

Hard Things

I recently read the book ‘The Hard Things About Hard Things‘ and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Every little self doubt that I have while building my company and every fear that I can’t express is touched upon in this book by Ben Horowitz. I have always loved reading Ben’s blog and this book just takes it to another level.

So as I gift a copy of this book to my friends in the Startup world, I propose to start a challenge (thanks Subhendu for the idea). After you receive this book as a gift from me under the #HardThingsChallenge, read it in 7 days and gift it forward to someone else. If you fail to do so, you gotta gift 2 copies of the same to fellow entrepreneurs.

To start with Amit (@amit_lakhotia) and Subhendu (@Skipiit) have accepted the challenge – Go Read :)

#HardThingsChallenge

 

Dear Founders

I see your courage and the risk that you take. I feel it myself, day in and day out. Every time I see you, my eyes lit up in honour of your dreams. Most of us will fail. And all for our own lack of experience, wisdom, ability … <insert reasons here>. But for the foolishness and courage to startup, you have my respect.

I have been blessed myself to have several of you helping me when I need (you know who you are). I can’t imagine making an impact without your support. As I begin typing that email or DM to ask for your support (and that happens often), I think if I would be ever able to pay you back. I fear I don’t have enough value to give in exchange. You are paying it forward and I hope to make up for it the same way.

Every time a young one emails me for any help, I try my best to answer. I try and make a connection that would help them and almost always offer a meeting. It may not always be enough, many a times I would know that this is a path of failure (and I would tell that to you), but I will search for that reason to tell you yesa meaningful yes.

 

No, we are not greedy!

I just happened to read an open letter by Guy Turner and as I complete my time at 500 Startups Batch 6, I find it hard to digest all of it. Here is the link: http://www.builtinchicago.org/blog/open-letter-yc-techstars-and-500-companies-take-fn-money-now-take-all-it

(We @pricebaba are part of Batch 6 at 500 Startups. We are an India business)

Guy’s advice is great. I would happily dilute 5% more at this point and ensure my company survives (oops, I just admitted it). But did any of our mentors or venture partners at 500 Startups told us to maximise our valuation? Not really. We get told often to ‘get the fuck back to work and get more users / customers’

500 Startups never told us to hold the incoming cash and maximize our valuations, they tell us to get a reasonable runway and be prepared if the business takes a little time to pick up or Series A doesn’t happen as easily.

We have also been guided to keep our valuation reasonable. It is kinda weird to tell an angel investor that we are asking for a lower valuation because that’s what our market merits. It also ensures that we aren’t overvalued when raising our next round back in India.

The venture partners at 500 Startups are some of the most wisest people I have met. And no, it is not just Dave McClure. There are a bunch of them helping us out at 500 Startups :) (Hey, Pankaj, Bedy, Rui, George, Parker…).

So on behalf of batch 6 at 500 Startups – GIVE US THE MONEY :) we will take it!

Apologies, typed on mobile while travelling. Updates from desktop soon.

Maine Bola Tha

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” – Henry Ford

One of the most ridiculous and irritating argument I have heard time and again around me is “Maine Bola Tha”. Sounds much like someone predicted the end of the world and it came true. And this applies to so many things, be it politics, cricket, family, relations or business. The part that I am focussing on today is business.

Most startups fail and things hardly ever go as predicted. You are almost always short on resources and what defines success is choosing what not to do and when. So if you think you are a leader / entrepreneur, better learn to take the bitter pill and get out of the ‘Maine Bola Tha’ club. Humans need gratification, appreciation and admiration. Seek it. But not for things you thought, but for things you did.

If you think it through, you would have done it, provided it appeared as a must do. You didn’t do it, you didn’t make it happen.

The race wasn’t won by the ones who predicted what would happen, it was won by the ones who put their money behind that prediction.

To win you need to do. So shut up and start working. Anyways, nobody cares.

Update: A good read on this topic by Seth Godin – When to speak up