Even the best startups in India and abroad, that are now on the cusp of taking off on a growth trajectory venture capitalists love, have struggled with the fundamentals at some stage.
The folks who bear the immediate brunt of these teething troubles are the startup employees. Those intrigued by the phenomenal growth prospects that the best new startups in India offer often ask ‘What’s it like working in a startup?‘
Religiously sticking to our predatory philosophy of inviting readers who make intelligent and insightful comments on our other posts, we requested Vikram Budhiraja to write a guest post for us about why he left a big company to join a startup and what his experience has been.
My experience of working in a startup job in India
by Vikram Budhiraja
If you feel that your plush corporate job has become monotonous. The stable job and monthly pay cheque are not exciting you anymore. You feel that you are just a small fish in the vast ocean. You hear the buzzword “startup” and you contemplate on being/not being part of this journey.
If these things hover in your mind then read on to know the inside story of a startup right from the horse’s mouth (a startup employee). Let me inform you at the beginning that my experience is not from a typical Information Technology (IT) based startup company. The startup I work for, belongs to the defence sector.
Background before joining the startup
After graduating in mechanical engineering from one of the NITs (National Institute of Technology), I worked for the Korean giant Samsung group for a while then moved to a big French MNC – Alstom in the power sector.
My 4 years of association with them had been mostly in Supply Chain Management (SCM). In SCM, I was mainly handling the procurement of goods and services for power plant projects.
Decision to join the startup
Frankly speaking, I was going through quarter-life crisis (a new syndrome that one faces before mid-life crisis). I am one of those people who desire to keep learning new things otherwise the saturation sets in.
I am a Supply Chain Management enthusiast but I wanted to get exposure in all aspects of SCM such as Sourcing, Procurement, Logistics and Inventory Management. It was clear to me that it would be very difficult to get the desired role at early stage of my career by being in big organization.
I started visiting various startup portals, applied for startup jobs in India listed there and used network of my friends from college, NGO etc. I kept trying to get my desired role. I did receive an interview call from a startup company in defence space. After few initial rounds, the final interview was with the CEO of the company.
By being honest about my desire to move to startup and explaining how I could add value to the company with my skills and strength in handling projects, I managed to receive the offer from them.
I received the compensation almost on the same level but the role was bigger than my previous. I am now handling the complete ambit of supply chain activities.
Initial shocks & surprises in the first few days of my startup life
The idea of joining a startup company may sound romantic and adventurous but when you are in face to face with one, it is quite another thing. For a person like me who had only seen corporate life so far, it seemed like I have shifted my base from a metropolitan city to a small village (pardon my analogy).
The startup business, by nature, is a cool workplace. There were lot of shocks and surprises for me in the first few days like the Space constraints for sitting, no properly defined roles and responsibilities, no ERP (Enterprise resource planning) software, all the work being managed with MS Office and MS project, processes and systems are not in place while dealing with cross-functional teams, manual approvals from the senior management to be taken for everything, no clearly defined human resource policy, chaos all around whether it’s bidding or execution of the project and as obvious, facilities like library, canteen and place for recreational activities are not available.
The coolest part is the open culture and transparency between the senior management and the other employees. My boss and I are more like friends than a typical senior – junior relationship.
We do have monthly birthday/ anniversary parties, internal employee magazine where the best article wins movie tickets and dinner parties are a regular affair.
Getting into the groove
I realized that I had to discard all my notions of omnipresent processes and resources provided to employees for making their job easy.
My job revolves around sourcing, auditing of suppliers, procurement, supplier relationship management, supplier quality rating and performance management, handling imports and exports of goods, inventory management, providing cost inputs to BD team during tendering activities, spend analysis etc. As they say that one should find opportunity in the adversity.
I decided to utilize my learning and skills from working in big organizations to set-up standard procedures and processes, framing rate contracts with suppliers for ease of operation, defined metrics for measuring the operational aspects etc.
I am also working in the team to implement and apply for CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) Level 3 and ISO certifications. That’s what startups are known for: you can contribute more than your standard job profile.
A typical day in my life in the startup company
Things don’t really go as per the plan in startup. Everyday is a new day full of challenges. Below is the snippet of activities that I do on any usual day.
Reach office around 9 AM. After exchange of pleasantries with fellow colleagues, I quickly settle on desk with my arsenal – laptop, notepad etc and read the important emails.
9:30 AM: Review and plan all the activities for the day.
9:45 AM: Have a brief meeting with SCM Head to provide him the status and discuss if any major issue is there which is creating a bottleneck.
10 AM: Have a phone call or drop email to Suppliers as a follow-up to know about the status of critical items in the project.
10:30 AM: Analyze and compare the suppliers’ offers. Prepare for the negotiation with the suppliers as per budget and terms & conditions of the project.
11 AM: Attend the meeting for one of the seven projects that I am currently handling. My role is to handle all the SCM aspects for the projects. In the meeting, we discuss the current schedule of the project, highlight, discuss and plan the strategy to overcome the challenges.
11:30 AM: Have a discussion with custom house agent (CHA) to know about the status of clearance of shipment (if any) from the customs. Drop an email to transporter to pick up the shipment from the suppliers and co-ordinate all the activities for ensuring proper documentation like road permits (if any), verify the scanned copy of invoice, packing list etc.
12:30 PM: Have a phone call with the supplier to negotiate the prices and finalize the commercial terms and conditions. Discuss with the finance team for any issue related to taxation or invoicing.
1 PM: Process the documents for concurrence from all the stakeholders of project and release the Purchase/ Work order to the supplier.
1:15 PM: Go for lunch to the pantry area. We share and eat lunch together.
1:30 PM: Go for a stroll with fellow colleagues outside our office. We crack jokes, discuss the current topics and do some leg-pulling on each other.
1:45 PM: Check emails and respond to them. Quickly review and prioritize the important activities for the day.
2 PM: Check with the warehouse person, co-ordinate for the incoming material and arrange for the inspection from the quality person.
2:30 PM: Attend meeting with the supplier and my design to discuss and finalize the technical requirements of the item(s) required for project.
3 PM: Process the invoices received from the supplier for payment purpose and handover the same to finance. Meanwhile, my desk phone and cell phone keep ringing all the day to co-ordinate and resolving the issues.
3:30 PM: Float the Request for quotation (RFQ) to the suppliers for the items required for project. Co-ordinate with the design team and supplier for any information/ clarification required from either side. There are lot of discussions with the suppliers and the design team back and forth.
4 PM: Attend the meeting regarding the implementation of processes for CMMI Level 3 certification, review the progress and formulate the action plan.
4:30 PM: Check emails and respond to them. Have a phone call and discuss on the important matter with the suppliers, project managers, designers etc.
5 PM: Do some work on creating the templates for CMMI process. Here, I use the knowledge of process and systems from my work exposure in MNC.
5:30 PM: An extempore meeting is called in at any time of the day by GM or Director to discuss on important issues which are becoming bottlenecks in the project. This is also a brainstorming session to discuss about strategies for project, innovate new processes and discuss about rate contracts with the suppliers for making supply chain more effective and efficient.
6:30 PM: Process the purchase orders. Basically, the earlier documentation processes get repeated.
7:30 PM: Update and monitor the purchase orders tracking sheet, individual project tracking sheet, payment tracking sheet, supplier database etc. These things could be easily maintained and tracked in any ERP software but remember, you are in a startup, so have to manage with the available resources only. I am pitching the idea of ERP software to senior management but they are waiting for the increase in business volume.
8 or 8:30 PM: I call it off and leave for the day. On my way to home, I do make/ attend calls in case of urgency.
Advice for people willing to take up startup jobs
- Be comfortable with chaos – You have to find order in the chaos in everything you do.
- Jump in the mud and get your hands and feet dirty – Due to scant resources, most of the things are done manually. You have to do the smallest of the things like punching and keeping documents in files and maintaining them for records.
- Urgency seems to be in the blood of startup employees – Everyday is a firefighting situation. We douse one fire and find that other things are already lined up for catching fire.
- Diving deep into the Sea – The daily challenges in the job make you face the extremes of your skills. As in my case, it’s a daily challenge for me to negotiate with suppliers for procurement of goods which are often required in unit digits and also push them for early delivery. I have to navigate and find a way to make them agree on my terms and conditions.
- Meeting sky-high expectations from Senior Management – As startups have to quickly make the mark in the business community, they take up very hard deadline projects and challenge themselves to execute it with finesse. You need to put in extra efforts in meeting those expectations.
- Stretched working hours and working on weekends are norm in startups.
- Freedom to do things in your way: It’s completely up to you to fine tune the strategy to accomplish the tasks.
- You get to celebrate birthday and anniversary with top management (CEO, VP etc) and your colleagues.
- You would be able to closely know the business strategy being followed by the top management and learn from the entrepreneurs.
- The most positive thing that you would always know is that you can always rise from whatever your current situation may be.
If you are aspiring to join the hottest new startups in India or abroad, these tips might help. We hope to see Vikram and his startup among the big established companies in India with stable and mature processes soon. Read more entrepreneurship blog posts.
Read these interesting articles:
– Why join a startup after MBA
– Why are more startups hiring MBA grads
– Serial entrepreneur turned venture capitalist shares advice with startups