Note: As ‘indicators of capability’ failures are often misunderstood and success might be misleading. Business success or failure depends on factors far beyond the capabilities of individuals. It is important to analyze the Disha experience in this context.
- Did jobs for 6 years after MS in Computer Engineering.
Started out as an independent consultant in 1994 in
- In 1996 worked onsite at Microsoft as a contractor.
In 1997 started Disha
- Doubled every year to become about 300 people in 2004 when got acquired by Aztec. At acquisition there were 4 principals.
- I did not have "plans" of starting my own business since childhood
- Decision was mostly influenced by entrepreneur friends
- My last employer went bust forcing me to choose between looking for another job, or start on my own; luckily I decided to start on my own.
- My own technical expertise was a key to the initial success as independent consultant. Having good relations with ex-employers was helpful.
- Getting a solid partner for the bigger venture was a big factor. He had complementary skills – business background with HR and Finance
Keeping costs low was the culture right from the
- Focus was on development of systems software tools.
- Focus changed to software testing and quality
- Temptation to go into the Internet marketplace (the Dotcom gold-rush) was avoided
Another friend (
- Business still heavily dependent on one customer (Microsoft)
- Competitive pressure didn’t matter because there was none
- Samir Bodas came on board (as a stakeholder) for scaling the business
- 100% focus on software testing despite all challenges
- Capacity building and enhancing capabilities
- Gradual evolution into a professionally managed organization – with departments, owners, objectives, measurement systems etc.
- Great focus – unattractive for others but a big market opportunity
- Great team – top-level as well as the initial core team
- Low cost operation – profitability was not optional
- Long term vision but short-term focus – no daydreaming or planning too far ahead
- Other operational reasons:
- we did a good job on pilot assignments
- we provided a lot of customer face time and had dual-shore presence
- our customers believed in our sales team (sales team had credibility)
§ Approach: The essential driver has been its approach to and perspective on STQE. At our best, we have applied the skepticism, rigor, & analysis of critical thinking to the discipline of software engineering. We understand that without validation and verification of design, requirements, and implementation, product engineering cannot be assured that it has achieved its business objectives.
§ Technical challenge: We started with system software testing – activity that requires deeper understanding of software systems, quality issues, interaction with hardware, etc.
Culture: Creating and maintaining an
acute sensitivity to software quality is largely cultural. It requires the free exchange not only of
information, but passion -- a love for testing, for root cause analysis, for
the chess-like game of discovering the weaknesses or blind spots of the
software under test.
The curious thing about extraordinary testers is that they must have that culture around them or they will go cold. Either they will "turn off", or they'll exit. Even though Disha didn't pay much, extraordinary testers stayed because they knew they would not find its atmosphere elsewhere. Expensive equipment, plush offices, enviable benefits were not available, and were not missed.
§ Role models: To make an extraordinary team of testers, you've got to have at least one person with such passion. They will pull the rest along. Fresh graduates who already have this passion are extremely rare. A mentor who has this passion can bring it out in some people through careful and patient mentoring. Other testers will never get it.
o Confidence and faith – one has to believe one can take care of oneself (and dependents) in case of failure.
o Independent-minded – people who need structure (i.e. someone to tell them what to do, e.g. religious cults and armies) won’t succeed as entrepreneurs. You need to have independent thinking and also have similar people in your team to run your startup.
o Whole hearted involvement - a lot of people want to do something of their own, but are hesitant to leave their cushy and stable jobs to do so. They try to do something on the side, or over the weekends. This is an unworkable strategy. You must start the business activity full time with no other distraction.
o Personal risk – ‘Uncertainty’ is an integral part of the startup experience. Putting your family (if they depend on you) in financial risk is not a good idea. You should look for ways to minimize that. ‘Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst’.
o Co-founder(s) with common values and complementary skills – running a startup alone is very difficult. You should always have one or more cofounders. Besides the entrepreneurial streak (sense of adventure) the most important criteria are trust and common values. Overlapping skills can cause stepping on toes and decision paralysis. It is especially helpful if one of the cofounders has business skills (finance, operations, etc).
o Do it all yourself is a bad strategy – it is tempting to do everything yourself, but it is important to find a balance between cost-cutting and expertise. You should know your limitations and weaknesses and be willing to give away stake or control to someone who has the expertise.
o Avoid friends and relatives – you should avoid risking special relations or friendships to get a partner. History has shown that business partnerships cause damage to relationships. It is best to assume that it will happen to you also.
o Get professional help – for government matters (taxation, immigration, etc) you should only get the best professional help even if it costs. You don’t want any distraction away from your business.
o Focused but flexible – in reality small businesses have to do many things that customers may ask, but that should be viewed only as exception. The focus (the initial idea) may also shift over time; in fact in most cases it does evolve as you gradually develop a better understanding of the marketplace.
o No grand plan or timeline – people have a tendency to set artificial time-lines to everything. ‘I will work in this company for x years’. ‘I will try this for x years’. ‘I will have a few affairs in a year and then get married’. A better approach is to say ‘only time will tell’. One knows when it’s time to make a change, or do things differently.
o Customer focus extremely important – Your services must be useful and compelling for the customer; customer is always right, even though sometimes he/she may be wrong! And finally, you should not blame customer for your troubles.
o You will have two types of customers – customers who keep you profitable, customers who don’t – the latter type can most likely be viewed as marketing cost or as learning opportunity. So, don't lose them.
o Large customers are important – may be unprofitable in the beginning, but lucrative in the long run. You should avoid having too many small customers as each customer requires a lot of attention and management bandwidth. Build relationships with key people on the customer side.
o People and Networking must become a habit. People are the greatest asset in life. We give up these assets too easily due to petty differences of opinion, misunderstanding, poor communication, etc. You need to have a genuine interest in people.
o Cost consciousness
o Having competition is healthy – undue and untimely attention to competition is unhealthy and costly. It’s best to know what they do, but not worry about being run over.
- Employee retention was difficult – due to poor infrastructure/facilities, low pay, etc
- A few people latched on to the vision, stayed, have benefited
- In the long run career is more about fun, team work, sense of accomplishment, than about ‘are you richer than your classmates’. I personally worked for a small company that couldn’t pay salary for a few months.
- A good entrepreneur values employees who are entrepreneurs. You don’t need to start your own business to be entrepreneurial. It’s about being creative and having the courage to try your ideas.
Questions Disha audience asked: