Disclaimer: This is not a blog. This is a short story about my year at Leado and my learnings from it. As such, it is longer than my previous blogs.
Today marks the day when I joined Leado a year ago. Previous to Leado, I had worked at babajob for nearly 2 years. I joined Leado, not because I was blown away by the idea but mainly because I gelled well with the team. I had worked with most of them previously at babajob and the coordination was good between us. It has been a journey of experience and has compounded my learning from babajob.
Although I learnt a lot at babajob and joining it was one of the good decisions I’ve taken(I had a choice between IBM and babajob), I was just a fresher right out of college. The tasks trickled down from the Head of Engg, the code was already architected, and there was a protective bubble around me which gave me just enough room to make mistakes and learn.
There was no such thing at Leado. We started off with nearly half a dozen people. All of us had industry experience, but none of us were gurus. We had experience in B2C companies but not B2B, and our product was B2B. When I joined, the product was already in very early stages of development.
The entire story of Leado till now along with my learnings(highlighted):
We had noticed a problem in babajob. Marketing team had a huge dependency on the dev team. They required dev effort even for a small thing as sending your leads from Facebook to a CRM. This took months to build and add the cost of maintenance. Marketing team remained unsatisfied because of the pace of development and the dev team’s resources were being invested in marketing activities. Some of us decided that there should be a solution to this problem, built in a generic way so as to apply to most of the businesses. Leado was born and we set sail.
During the first few months, we had very little idea as to in which direction we should steer the ship. We got Byju’s as our first client from a referral. The initial revisions of the product was hugely influenced by the problems Byjus’ digital marketing team was facing. The next phase started when we got 1mg as our client, again from a referral. Again, the product was heavily influenced by 1mg. We were taking rapid feedback from the marketing team of both the companies and developing the features at a breakneck pace(that pace continues till date). We were always available for the teams at Byju’s and 1mg and considered almost 95% of their requirements and incorporated them into the product as soon as they asked. The wind was blowing hard and our ship started steering in some direction automatically, but we were wary that we should not become a consultancy developing products specific to a client. We wanted to make our product usable by a much much larger audience.
Learning 1: It is always good to have contacts and a healthy network. It always comes in handy in time of need. If you yourself don’t have a good network, then you should have a good relationship with a person who has a good network.
Learning 2: Customer is God. Always treat your customers with respect and value their feedback. Ultimately, they are the end-users of your product. Not you. The best thing that can happen to your product is that it grows by word-of-mouth.
Learning 3: SaaS(B2B) companies have to be wary of not creating a product very specific to a particular customer. You must not lose focus of this, otherwise you will become a consultancy in no time.
It was during this time that we decided to do some sales and got more referrals. We got a few more businesses to start using our product and help us build it by giving their feedback. We kept taking all the feedback we could get and kept incorporating it into Leado. Some of the businesses stopped using us because of less marketing budget. But our ship kept sailing at full throttle. We started seeing a pattern among the requirements of different companies and decided it was time for Leado v2.0. This was around August/September, 2016.
Learning 4: Know your target market. We targetted smaller startups with less focus on marketing, and thus less budget for it. Leado didn’t make sense for them, and rightly so. We learnt that our targetting needs to change.
Learning 5: When you don’t know what to do, try to find patterns in what you are doing. Some hint might point to the direction you should take.
It was around this time that we parked our ship at a port and decided to look at things from a different perspective. We made 2 important decisions back then:
- We decided what we were going to invest our next couple of months into. We chalked out a tentative roadmap for the next few months and decided to build Leado v2.0 from ground up using the learnings from v1.0. We went ahead with flos(linking different marketing apps together based on rules/filters). This feature was not there in v1.0 and was entirely new. In v1.0, you could only start campaigns for a specific app but there was no way to link them together.
- We had structural changes in the team. We were a 7-member team. We decided that 2 of us were going to support v1.0 customers because v2.0 would be a very different product from v1.0. The same 2 people also had the responsibility of handling marketing and external relations, and sales. One of us had to handle finance and accounts. The rest of us decided to take the tech development forward and I decided to lead the tech team and took up leading v2.0.
From then on, my learning started growing exponentially. I had to build a product from scratch. There were a few things I had to do but the complexity and scope involved was overwhelming: architecting a codebase from scratch, managing resources(time, money and people), building a product.
Learning 6: It is always good to take a step back sometimes and re-evaluate the situation you are in and where you are headed. Gives you more perspective.
Learning 7: Get out of your comfort zone. My comfort zone could’ve been to just code, like in babajob. But I wanted something more. I wanted a greater influence on the product and the company. I wanted to lead the team and get better at it.
Learning 8: When you are overwhelmed by problems, apart from breaking the problems down into smaller pieces, another thing that helps is to keep aside some problems for later on. I kept aside leading the team for later on as architecting the codebase was a bigger and much more important task at that moment.
By the end of 2016, v2.0 started looking good. The codebase was in a stable state and not in a constant state of flux. We started getting few more clients on v2.0. This was when we decided it was time to shift the features and functionality of v1.0 to v2.0. This was also the time that things started getting a little rocky as we were having more clients than we could handle. We knew it was time to keep calm and expand.
Learning 9: It is very important to stay calm in a stressful situation. The development work increased manifold during this time and one could easily get confused among all this. Personally, I tend to get confused but as soon as I do that, I bring myself back to the task at hand. Finishing that task gives me a sense of satisfaction.
Learning 10: Never stop your sales. We had periods in between when we stopped sales completely to focus on development. During those periods, you get no new feedback from your customers and you start to lost momentum. Even if development work increases, sales and feedback loop should not stop.
During this time, I decided to lead the team properly and to get some calmness into it as things started becoming more random. Due to the pressure from various clients and the pressure of leading, I also started making more mistakes. I started taking wrong tech decisions and wrong decisions in time investment. What I missed was that I was learning from all this. All this was new to me and gave me a ton of knowledge. This was not apparent until I talked to my mentor Shashi Singh(previously, Head of Engg at babajob). He said,
“It is fine to make mistakes and learn from them but you should be wary of making expensive mistakes.”
Learning 11: Always try to talk to others when in a bad situation. Talking always helps, more so if the person is more knowledgeable and experienced than you. Always have your Yoda by your side.
After the talk with Shashi, I was able to make myself calmer and went back to my calmer state where I try to step back, analyze things, make a plan, and then move forward. I stopped rushing things because of external pressure. The development of the product continued, we started pleasing more clients who were coming on v2.0, and continued to build it.
This was the story of Leado from my perspective and my learnings over the past year.
Presently, Leado has 6 clients with a few more in the pipeline. We are looking for accelerators to get into and to get more clients and feedback. We know the direction we have to go to and have pointed our compass and are sailing steadily.
Final learning(and the most important one)
All of family is asking me to do a post-graduation, many of my friends do not understand why I keep working in startups by leaving the cozy, well-paying jobs in MNCs. Honestly, in college, the only thing that I valued was money and placement, but after a 6-month internship at babajob, this changed. I started valuing learning more than money. This is why I chose babajob over IBM, and this is why I’ll be at Leado for a long time to come.
Final learning: Keep at it. Even if the whole world is against you, always follow your gut. If it turns out well, you would’ve gained confidence in your instincts and proven others wrong. If it doesn’t turn out well, you would’ve learnt from it and would have no one else to blame.
As for me, I’m keeping at it.
If you finished this story, thanks a ton for reading. Also, I’ve managed to keep you engaged and one more learning that I gain: I should write more. Please send over your comments/thoughts about it, both positive and negative. I appreciate it.