"The point about Connectors is that by having a foot in so many different worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together."

The above quote by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book 'The Tipping Point' best describes Srikrishnan Ganesan, the co-founder and CEO of the leading Customer Onboarding Platform Rocketlane. As a part of the Freshteam Leadership Series, we talk to this two-time entrepreneur to uncover his secret to finding the right people for his company and share the lessons he has learned as a co-founder in the post-pandemic world.

The startup bug bit Sri (as he is popularly known) when he joined Jigsee, a mobile video app, in its very early stages. Though he was the head of Product at Jigsee, he handled many management roles and wrongly assumed building a startup and getting traction was easy. Before his current stint, Sri had co-founded Konotor, a mobile-first user engagement platform acquired by Freshdesk (Freshworks' former avatar). At Freshdesk, he helped build Freshchat, a modern messaging product for sales and support.

Currently, he is the co-founder and CEO of Rocketlane, a purpose-built customer onboarding platform, which he set up in April 2020, right after the pandemic struck India. However, despite the odds, Sri says they've been able to get excellent traction from customers and that they have exceeded their own expectations.

As of July 2021, the Rocketlane team was 27 member-strong. They did a private beta launch in March 2021 and the full launch in June 2021.

 

Finding the right propellants: Hiring at Rocketlane

Since Sri and his co-founders have had the experience of hiring for and building a team before, they were pretty sure of the kind of people to bring in. They typically look for people:

Who want to be a part of the startup journey (it’s not for everyone)

Who come with the mindset that they need to learn fast, grow fast and do things fast





Who understand that there would be a lot of learning on the journey and are optimizing for that

Who have a growth mindset: to challenge themselves to do things beyond what they’re good at

Who have friends who’ve been through the startup journey or have done so themselves

are ambitious and want to do world-class work

Sri says they primarily look for "signals" while interviewing their candidates. For instance, somebody who is over-indexing on the salary part may not be a good fit for the startup journey - unless they've been paid much below the market range in their previous job. When asked about what kind of companies they want to work for, the answers paint a picture of how ambitious they are.

A lot of Rocketlane's hiring has been through referrals - this makes it easier for the company to know that they are probably coming in for the right reasons. This is because someone has pointed them in the startup's direction where they know they will learn, and that's probably why they want to join. The Rocketlane team has also included background checks as part of its hiring process.

 

Tuning in to the signals

 

The 17-month-old startup has hired all its employees remotely. Most of them are spread across the country but the management team has set expectations that they would need to move to Rocketlane's headquarters in Chennai, India's cultural capital city, once things settle down. 

The startup's management team believes that an in-person workspace would help build relationships as folks would feed off each other's energies and ideas. While the team has been doing many things to ensure this happens virtually as much as possible, being consistent about it has been not easy.

Sri says to a fair extent, it is possible to figure out the person on the other side of a video call. The co-founders spent a reasonable amount of time having conversations with the potential hires and talk about:

 

  • Their ambitions and motivations

  • What sort of background do they come from

  • How did they get to where they got to?

 

This was possible in the early stages when they set up the team but now it has become difficult as they are pretty "slammed" for time as they move to the next growth stage. Sri watches for the kind of questions the potential hire has - one of the kinds of "signals" to assess their candidature.

An example of a question that he generally asks a candidate is, "What will you do if I'm doing something wrong? Like, if I'm guiding you in the wrong direction that you don't believe in and I keep pushing you back on what you want to do or how you want to do something differently…".

Sri says this is just a way of telling the candidates, "Hey, I expect you to challenge us." It's not about the answers they give to the particular question but for the potential candidates to understand that the co-founders expected them to challenge everyone in the team (for the right reasons).

This helps set the right expectations, and the team members understand that this is what the co-founders expect from them. Such a direction shows the team that the co-founders want to build this kind of culture.

 

Life at Rocketlane: A typical day

 

The team at Rocketlane does several things to ensure a certain level of comfort among the members to work together better. The first point is for them to understand that this isn't a formal place, and it's more of a workplace where they get to know each other, build rapport, and build relationships.

 

Welcome aboard!

When somebody joins, the first thing that they do is do a video interview with them to record their journey, their habits, what's weird about them (a mandatory question for everyone who joins Rocketlane), and so on. All these video interviews are put in a shared folder so that everyone can get to know each other.

This is a great way to break the ice, says Sri. People post comments and questions for the videos based on what their team member has said in the interview. These are great conversation starters and help form connections on individual and team levels.

 

The birth of ‘Demo Day’

Earlier, the Rocketlane team used to do two stand-up meetings a week on the engineering side. But quickly, the team realized that whatever new they were working on did not come together as a new feature or a finished product. So, they decided to shuffle things a bit.

They decided to catch up every day to figure out where they were stuck and fixed Friday as the 'Demo Day'. On this day, everybody on the team demonstrates what they have built including showcasing the small features. 

The idea is that each member is motivated to demonstrate the whole experience instead of showing up after working on, say, 50% of a particular feature. This means they get on a call with the product designer, make tweaks and more tweaks to showcase something with pride on Demo Day. Such an initiative helped build excitement for Fridays (adding to the already existing reasons!), where the members have a sense of achievement of what they've created. Sri says this has helped accelerate their journey.

 

Decision-making

At Rocketlane, the team makes a lot of the decisions along with sharing how they arrived at a particular decision and what factors they took into consideration. The management team may add comments and new angles for the members to consider or they may accelerate a particular decision. 

Be it a decision on a particular framework to be implemented for something to their vision on a particular feature, the management team provides context to the rest of the members and answers questions related to ‘why’ and ‘how’ of the decisions. This allows the members to understand how the startup operates and align everyone on all the decisions being taken.

It’s important to be conscious of knowing how things are going and making sure that the team is thinking of what to fix and what to change. This evolved over a period of time and not that the team had a framework from Day 1.

The management was open to ideas from the very beginning. Even the Demo Day was a one-off event, which gradually evolved and took its current shape and form. Sri’s two co-founders handle product and engineering divisions and they share how they’re thinking about their decisions. This percolates down to the team members who keep those factors in mind while making micro or big decisions in the product features they’re working on.

The factors that need to be considered to make decisions at Rocketlane are largely in people’s heads though Sri has codified some of them such as why they didn’t build an MVP (minimum viable product) and how they built a startup through the pandemic as part of the updates they send to the investors.

 

Culture at Rocketlane

 

"Culture is not like you need to come behaving in a certain way," says Sri.

Though Rocketlane doesn't have a formal definition of 'Culture', the way Sri thinks about it is "the average of the experiences" the members create for each other. For instance, if all the members give feedback to each other, it becomes a culture of giving and receiving feedback. If the people are high on taking ownership, it becomes a high culture of responsibility and accountability.

The team has been conscious about doing specific things, such as pushing each other to be world-class and always thinking about doing things better. Anybody can give feedback to anybody on anything. That's the kind of culture Rocketlane has been building.

For two folks who don't seem to agree with each other, the co-founders help them by coaching them on how to give feedback better, raise issues in a better way, and understand each other's perspectives.

Every Thursday, Rocketlane does something called 'All Faces' where everybody meets and turns on their videos. Sometimes, there are company updates to share, but most often, it's chatting with each other, pulling each other's legs, and getting to know each other.

The Thursday events help drive one of the critical points: there is no hierarchy, and everybody can have fun, including with the founders. With this, they want to establish that they are a set of people working together towards the same goal and a culture of openness where people can raise issues when they see them.

Though there are some senior people in each function, it's pretty much a flat structure at Rocketlane. There aren't any pods or managers as of yet.

 

Creating “Wow” experiences remotely

 

At Rocketlane, the team claims that there are at least three points during their product demo that their customers go "wow"! Sri says this starts with everybody having context about their customers. The team has 400 hours of recordings of their potential customers' problems, customers providing feedback on demos or how they react to the given features.

Since it isn't possible to watch 400 hours of content, the team shares a playlist of the most important videos with the new hire and asks them to watch a couple of them every day. This helps the member understand their customer's persona and the problem they're trying to solve better.

The video recordings have another effect on the team. When the team members see the customers reacting well to the features they've built or worked on, they become even more eager to create those "wow" moments for them. Fridays are extra fun because the team showcases all the moments where customers displayed a sense of amazement during demos.

 

Get them excited!

 

It's worthwhile getting the team excited about what they're building and consistently sharing what's happening in different spheres. This can include how well a demo went, how people reacted to a feature that the team has introduced, the marketing launch plan, and what's happening with the podcasts created. This would help folks in the team to understand how they can contribute to what's happening or spark ideas in their minds about things that are not yet happening. 

Regular communication and updates help the team members to become more passionate and involved in what they are doing. Conscious steps to increase the bond among members are imperative. Rocketlane has a Slack channel, which asks random questions to people such as: "Which Marvel character do you associate yourself with the most?" Or "What's your favorite Pixar movie and why?" every Tuesday. Every team member can view the answers posted. This helps everybody to know everybody else on the team better. Sri says introducing the fun element into such bonding exercises or activities is essential. Otherwise, he says everybody ends up working in silos - coding or creating content or designing or talking to customers. The team is also running a self-monitored fitness challenge where all of them post how much they worked out each day. 

Such activities help the members form that bond and keep them excited about working with each other.