#TeamTalk: How we cultivate a ‘startup mentality’ at Shadowfax

Team Shadowfax

Wherever you look, the world is changing fast. It’s no different in the world of hyperlocal logistics. The delivery time in e-commerce, for example, is shrinking from weeks to days to now hours. Kirana stores are merging with e-commerce channels to deliver orders sooner. Electricity is powering these last mile deliveries in various places, instead of petrol or diesel. We believe that thinking and acting like a startup is an effective antidote to this chaos.

Inside View: Shadowfax rockstars talk about the company culture and what drives them to succeed

An organization’s success often depends on its ability to embrace work culture & diversity and Shadowfax’s unique…What’s tricky, though, is how do you build this ‘startup mentality’ in your team. We asked business leaders at Shadowfax to answer this question and then some. In this post, Abhishek, Vaibhav and Praharsh share what the words ‘entrepreneurial culture’ or ‘startup mentality’ mean to them, which entrepreneurial traits they see as contributing the most towards success at Shadowfax and how they select and hire people for these traits.

Let’s see what they have to say.

Abhishek Bansal, Co-founder and CEO at Shadowfax

"Do the words ‘entrepreneurial culture’ or ‘startup mentality’ mean to you?

For me, it is a culture that thrives on innovation. Such a culture invites people to take initiative, solve problems and be rewarded for their creativity and ingenuity. When I see most people talking about building a ‘startup culture’ in their offices, conversations mostly revolve on creating an ‘open’ environment that has all kinds of perks. I don’t see a ‘startup culture’ in the same way. Perks are important and have their own place, but you got to balance perks with a ‘get stuff done’ attitude."

Which entrepreneurial traits, do you think, contribute more towards success at Shadowfax?

Curiosity is a very important trait if you want to keep innovating. You got to be interested in new things and be able to see the old things in new perspectives. I mean, it’s a very conscious effort on my part to extract new ideas from every person I work with on the team. Now, sometimes these perspectives can lead to dramatic changes in work, on a day-to-day operational level. That is why it helps to have a certain amount of adaptability, to be comfortable in a dynamic and fast-paced environment. Before I finish, I also want to stress that goal-setting is another trait that I absolutely appreciate in people. Innovation means nothing if you can’t ship the product out the door. It’s really important to articulate the goals clearly and follow it up with great rigor. Anything meaningful takes a great deal of energy to achieve, you know.

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Avdhesh receiving the ‘Recruiter of the month’ award from Abhishek

How do you select and hire people for these traits?

I rely on my network. You can’t hope to hire entrepreneurial people by simply adding things like goal-setting, curiosity and adaptability as a must-have on the job description. 😄

I have realised that the traits that am looking for are better reflected in people’s stories. I like to talk at length with any person I’m considering for a position in my team. To hire people who are good at setting and achieving goals, I like to ask people about their own personal and professional goals. A person who is good at setting goals also usually has a good idea about his career and the trajectory that he is on, you know. Also, if you listen closely, the person tells you where you can place them within the company for best results. So, there’s that.

Adaptability, on the other hand, is a bit tricky to assess. People can tell you great stories, but for the most part, you can only tell how adaptable a person is when he or she actually faces a new, uncomfortable situation. I think I can best put it this way. Adaptability may not get people inside the door, but it does help them succeed to a great degree, once they’re inside the company — you see what I mean?

Yeah, fantastic. Is there a quote that you’d like to leave people with?

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else”

— Eric Ries

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Vaibhav Khandelwal, Co-founder and CTO at Shadowfax

What do the words ‘entrepreneurial culture’ or ‘startup mentality’ mean to you?

I am usually a quant guy, a man of logic and reason. But, I am okay putting those qualities aside for the love and passion I feel towards the product and the platform we have built here at Shadowfax. What’s interesting is that I know many other people in the industry who feel the same way about their products too. It is a very ‘startup-only’ phenomenon, in my opinion, and that is what I think the startup mentality is all about.

You say a place has a ‘startup mentality’ when people there take ownership over their work, are at their toes at all times — getting feedback, making changes and developing new features as quickly as possible. I think this culture also inculcates agility which helps engineers overcome the sense of perfectionism that all of us are very likely to fall for.

Look at it this way. You can never think of all the use cases for your product right out of the door, can you? This means that the product will have imperfections and it will fail someone at some point in its journey. When you are trying to grow fast, it happens even more often. A startup mindset gives people the confidence to turn such ‘failures’ around, into new learning and success for the team and the company at large.

Which entrepreneurial traits, do you think, contribute more towards success at Shadowfax?

Passion would be high on that list. I have seen time and again that the best ideas and best solutions have come from people who care more and look deeper into problems than others would. You can’t do that without a sense of passion towards your work. Other than that, I think speed and agility are two of the most important qualities needed to build products in a startup.

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We recently hosted Ashish to discuss how Blockchain will change the Last Mile in Logistics

Broadly speaking, speed is the biggest asset a startup has over a larger competitor or the incumbent in the industry. It’s important that a startup iterates quickly, especially with respect to the product. Therefore, it is important that people who are responsible for the product do not find themselves at war with their own self making those changes quickly. It certainly means that sometimes the team and the person will see something go wrong, or not as they intended. The point is that these apparent ‘failures’ should not disappoint you. You should still be able to take lessons from them and help yourself and the team grow.

How do you select and hire people for these traits?

I try to see if people have worked in small teams or not. They may have built a product themselves or been a part of a small team that tried to build an interesting product. In the field of technology, a person’s past work speaks for itself to a fairly large extent and that is what I rely on the most. It’s even better if the person can demonstrate that he or she understands, and follows the ‘lean startup’ principles which is sufficient proof that the person appreciates speed and agility at work.

Makes sense. Is there a quote that you’d like to leave people with?

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

— Bill Gates, Microsoft

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Praharsh Chandra, Chief of Operations at Shadowfax

What do the words ‘entrepreneurial culture’ or ‘startup mentality’ mean to you?

Being entrepreneurial almost boils down to a single word for me — resourcefulness. I’ll like to expand on this ‘startup mentality’, especially as it relates to operations.

When handling operations, you are going to face a lot of uncertain situations, situations you have definitely not faced before. Being entrepreneurial in this context means to be able to find solutions where none are visible, and gather the resources that the team might need to bring that solution to life. Talking about being resourceful, it is very important that a person can think on his or her feet and operate spontaneously. When it comes to the last mile in logistics, speed arguably assumes much more important than at any other time in the supply chain. It is important that you do a good job, but it is important that you do it fast enough too.

If there is one thing that you might remember about Shadowfax from the LOTR series, it is that the horse runs ‘faster than the wind’. It is only obvious that everyone who works here also displays that same spirit, don’t you think? So, ‘resourcefulness and responsiveness’ is my 2R-strategy for building an entrepreneurial team and culture in the company.

How do you select and hire people for these traits?

When I am looking for a resourceful person, I am looking for someone who can make something out of nothing. We are able to attract some really wonderful people here at Shadowfax and I get to hear wonderful stories of achievement from our hires. However, it’s not something that I can simply pick up from a person’s LinkedIn profile or a resume, in my opinion. It often requires me to probe deeper and ask a lot of questions on a person’s specific achievements to know how well he or she contributed to a project’s success.

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What’s also important, in operations specifically, is that the person fundamentally feels comfortable with people. The job needs you to meet and interact with people from all across the board. It requires experience and a unique ability to communicate effectively with that broad an audience. I suggested responsiveness as an important part of the ‘startup mentality’ earlier. I think a person can do that so much better if he or she likes meeting and talking to people, especially those who come from a different background.

Sounds about right. Is there a quote that you’d like to leave people with?

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

— Teddy Roosevelt, American President (1901–1909)

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