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Building From The Ground Up

Managing Expectations
Scaling Team
Company Culture
Hiring

10 April, 2018

Raju Menon
Raju Menon

VP Engineering at Sunrun

Raju Menon discusses how he helped to build a startup’s engineering team from the ground up.

Problem

When I first started working at Insightly, it was a very small startup with roughly twenty people, and around five or six engineers working on building the first version of our product. I spent a lot of time getting to know how things worked, the company's processes, and the technologies we used. As with any nascent startup, it became very apparent to me that a number of things needed to be changed and improved.

Actions taken

We needed to incorporate the right engineering processes so we could build a great commercial software. Bringing Agile processes into the equation really helped, as it streamlined a lot of things in terms of development and feedback loop. The product architecture also needed some adjustments. After getting to know the product we were building, the technologies we used, and the reasons behind the choices we made, and our customers' pain point, I went about prioritizing our issues, and tackling the most urgent issues first. It was difficult at first to prioritize things correctly, and it was a bit of a juggling act between short-term fixes and more long-term solutions. I had to mix and match the short-term priorities with the long-term view of where I wanted the engineering team to be. I also realized it was important to build a team culture where my team felt ownership over their product. The Agile processes we had in place allowed my team to discuss what they would work on, and what they felt was the most important task. In addition, every two weeks, during our retrospective, we would discuss what did and didn't work. We had a standing rule that we would take one item that didn't work in every sprint, and we would make a change. This helped to make people feel more involved with the processes and success of the product. Taking a page from Google's 20% projects, we also encouraged engineers to work on any project they were passionate about, one day a week. Slowly, over time, we changed this to being a week, every quarter. At the end of this week, they would then present on what they had achieved. Many of these self driven micro projects made it into the final product too. Finally, as Insightly grew, we hired a lot more engineers. Ensuring that we hire the right people for our group was a key piece of the puzzle. By focussing on good cultural fit, strong technical skills, and our own interview process, we tried to find the right people for our group.

Lessons learned

It was a tough process, but we got there. We had a good feedback loop, with my team members providing feedback on what worked and what didn't. Slowly, but steadily, we incorporated the changes required, and built a process that the team really bought into. I really believe that when you hire people for your team that it is important to have clearly defined the culture of your team, and that you have certain fundamental values that you believe as a team. This really helps when you hire, especially as the team grows.

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