Sramana: You are still quite young and you are managing people who are a lot older than you. How does that dynamic play out here?
Jaspreet Singh: I have found that I have to constantly evolve. When I got funded I asked a VC how long I should be CEO of the company. He told me that the company was growing at “x pace”, and that I would grow at “y pace”. There would be a point where my growth would outperform the company. He told me they were not paying me to work; they were paying me to think. My thoughts would lead the company and I would be respected for my thought leadership. He also told me that when I was not longer able to provide the thought leadership to the company that I should step down.
Sramana: Can you talk some to the Pune story?
Jaspreet Singh: Pune has shaped up to be a good base for our engineering operation. It is not a great place to raise money so I had to leave, but from a talent acquisition and retention position it is a great place. We had a third co-founders who ran operations there but he came down with Parkinsons Disease. He had to step down recently due to his health issues.
Sramana: How have you managed your retention story? That is often difficult.
Jaspreet Singh: There are not a lot of product companies. The majority of the companies in India are doing crap work and it is not product work, particularly in Pune. People love doing great, valuable work. If you have good value in the stock and you offer the chance to do great work then you can retain top talent.
Culture is a big part of it as well. There is a reason why Utah is a big center of operations in the US because people get married early and stick in their jobs longer. Cities which have more culture will retain people more and people stay in their jobs longer.
There is one other aspect that has helped us and that is our philosophy of distributed leadership. Bezos had an interesting post recently about this theory when he said that a team should be big enough for two pizzas. We have had that philosophy for a long time. There should be 5 or 6 people per team, no more, and that the team should have respect for their leadership. I’m not worried about those teams respecting me or Milind, I want them respecting their team leads. Treating people as leaders and empowering them with smaller teams has really helped glue teams together.
Sramana: What you are describing goes against the culture of the Indian IT industry. When you look at resumes from that industry they all brag about the size of teams and the years of experience. You don’t need that in the startup culture.
Jaspreet Singh: Service companies have spoiled a lot Indian contemporary culture.
Sramana: As a computer scientist I am impressed with small, elegant code bases with algorithmic finesse. That is an intellectual game, not a people game.
Jaspreet Singh: With Druva we have core engineers who create our product. That team is still very small. We do not look at cost advantages when it comes to that team. The goal is to get great talent and nurture them. We fly people to the Bay area for every conference. That is not a cost reduction center for us. We have larger teams in Q&A and support. We often use the phrase “Indian roots, value centric”. We are blending two cultures. We still have our Indian roots.
Sramana: That is a very different viewpoint than a lot of the Valley companies who go to India for labor arbitrage. One of the reasons why your success story is so celebrated is because very few Indian companies have been able to build a successful product story. Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us, it is fantastic. Congratulations on your success.
[This interview is featured in my Entrepreneur Journeys book, Seed India – How To Navigate The Seed Capital Gap in India]