Category Archives: Founder Essentials

Offshore software development: fears, risks and stereotypes

Risk is definitely a factor in all software development projects, not only in outsourced projects.

Let’s look at the different kinds of risk, what can go wrong, why some of these risks are more stereotype than reality, and how to manage and mitigate them.

The most dangerous risks are those you can’t predict. The good news is that most risks connected with software development outsourcing overseas are well known and you can eliminate or be ready to deal with them. Continue reading Offshore software development: fears, risks and stereotypes

F.A.Q on software development outsourcing

Software development outsourcing has long been accepted in the IT industry, but there is still no unified recipe on how to find the right partner.

While large enterprise has the benefit of outsourcing advisors, SMB companies and startups have many questions, especially when considering outsourcing overseas.

We’ve put the most common questions into a short, helpful guide. Continue reading F.A.Q on software development outsourcing

Freelancer vs. remote employee vs. custom software company. What is the best option when hiring for software development?

 

No matter the size of your company at some point as you grow you will need to  hire developers.

Finding good talent is where the problems usually begin. Hiring can be a long, complicated, often overwhelming process and hiring tech talent is usually at least 5x more difficult. Unless your company name is Google, Apple, Facebook or a unicorn, with salaries and perks to match, hiring developers is more like 10x as difficult.

If you are facing this dilemma, why not consider using remote workers? It’s a solution that not only gives you access to the best talent, regardless of where they live, but is also cost-effective.

Remote hiring usually falls into one of three categories.

 

Hiring freelance software developers

Freelancing is a common practice in IT, so hiring a freelance developer may seem the easiest choice.

There is plenty of talent, from almost any location in the world, with whatever skills you may need, and dozens of services that make the hiring process and payment simple and easy.

However, in order to work effectively with freelancers you need enough technical expertise to be able to produce clear technical requirements, judge code quality, control technologies, establish tight-but-achievable deadlines and control the overall process.

Hiring a software freelancer works best when you have  one specific task.

If you have multiple tasks or a complex project you may consider  hiring several freelancers to create a team. However, you should keep in mind that managing a globally dispersed team requires a specific skill set, so it is prudent to hire a project manager as well.

Obviously, the more people you need to find the longer and more complicated the hiring process becomes, as well as a greater chance for missteps to occur and errors to happen in the finished product.

 

Hiring a software developer employee to work remotely

Once you are no longer restricted to a geographical location the talent pool is definitely larger; you have access to high-skilled software developers from all over the world, but you still have to find the right one.

Not every person who is an ideal candidate for an in-office position is great for remote work. Remote work demands a high level of self-discipline, self-motivation and self-organizing skills. Therefore,  you need to choose a candidate who has had at least some success working remotely.

You’ve probably heard about successful companies that work entirely remotely, such as Groove, Basecamp, and Buffer. Their inspiring stories encourage lots of startups to work as a distributed team. Just keep in mind that before they succeeded they put in a lot of effort to create an effective remote working culture.

Another point that is often overlooked is that when hiring overseas remote employees you need to deal with international money transfers and compliance with a tax structure you are unlikely to be familiar with.

 

Hiring a custom software development company

A custom software company is basically a ready-to-hire remote team.

There are dozens of different companies on the market, but their scale, experience and expertise varies. They can work as a temporary team on specific projects or dedicated, long-term as an extension of your in-house team. The common feature they all have is a complete infrastructure that can provide the full software development lifecycle service.

That means that in addition to the development team you get project managers and team leaders who will organize the process, keep it on time and in budget, and discuss it with you at whatever level you choose, from overview to in-depth detail.

Hiring a custom software development company is the best solution for projects such as MVPs, complex iterations, or large projects requiring innovative technologies. And because these companies value their reputation, they are careful with IP and confidentiality.

Choosing the right partner can be a long process as well, but after signing a contract everything moves faster. An experienced team, with established processes of communication and collaboration, can achieve results faster than a newly-met group, no matter how skilled the developers.

Many of the best custom software houses are overseas, which allows you to take advantage of substantial compensation differences. And because you pay the company they are the ones who deal with taxes, benefits, policies, management, etc.

 

Which should you choose?

That depends on your needs. What are your technical requirements? How complex is your project? Does it demand a widespread skill set or rare talents and knowledge? What is your number one priority, time or money? How much do you want to be involved in the process?

All that requires you to carefully think through your decision to ensure it is the best one for you.

While there are several approaches, they all carry one major benefit: each allows your business to grow fast and independent of the local talent pool.

Avoiding Founder Errors

This is a short post, because I want you to have time to read the link.

At the start of a new year most of us look for ways to improve. We make resolutions that occasionally even last past January.

We study what others have done and in order not to make the same mistakes. This process is even more important for founders, because their errors have a greater impact.

These days more founders are willing to share their mistakes, but it’s often after the fact and sometimes dressed up to minimize their own responsibility. (Just saying.)

A few days ago I read a truly unvarnished description of 54 errors made by a founder I have enormous respect for, Anand Sanwal (@asanwal), CEO/Co-founder/Customer Service at CB Insights.

Anand Sanwal (@asanwal)1

“Here’s a running list of my screwups at CB Insights. They span all facets of building a company – everything from HR to culture to product to sales to operations to admin. I am what you might call “multi-talented.””

CB Insights is incredibly successful. And if you don’t subscribe to his newsletter you are missing out on terrific data presented by someone who is also an excellent writer.

It is rare to find such a complete and candid list. I guarantee that if you take the time to read it, it will save you from at least three disasters this year (and beyond) if not more.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Holiday Wishes from Yana

 

I hope 2016 was as good to you as it was to me!

I’d like to share some of my wins, both personal and professional, with you.

I succeeded in both: my job at NTR Lab and my second job as an artist. I became the CMO of NTR Lab (BIG promotion!) and am enjoying my new position. It’s very challenging, but I’m inspired by the fact that I learn more and more everyday.

My company is growing, too. We are now 120 people strong and celebrated our 16 year birthday this year. ( I attached short video from the celebration) Now we are looking forward to serving our clients even better next year.


On the personal side, my band released an album,  a single and a music video, which became very popular among our fans. Plus, we played about 25 concerts all over the Russia. It’s been so much fun and I am really thrilled.

I also took two wonderful trips this year. The first was deep in the Altay Mountains to for a vacation last summer and this month to London with my boss to work at the Tech Crunch Disrupt conference (great fun).
 
I hope you will find time to share your successes this year and your plans for next year with me in comments.
 
Finally, our entire team and I wish you a great holidays and a happy, healthy, prosperous and successful New Year!
 

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Interview with the CEO of Poshare

I’m very excited to share today’s interview with Zhanna Merson, founder of Poshare. Anyone who loves glamorous gowns, but not their price tags, will love Poshare (for the curious, Poshare is a contraction of ‘posh’ and ‘share’). And that includes guys who are looking for something totally unique for that special woman.

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Tell me a little bit about yourself, your family, your background, your roots.

I am originally from Ukraine; I came to the United States in 2006 as an exchange student. Both my parents are engineers, my father started his own business in the 90’s, he has certainly inspired me to pursue something of my own.

When I moved to America, I lived in New York for the first nine years. When I started Poshare I had the opportunity to move to Houston, which, so far, has proven to be a smart move.

My initial idea was a result of my interaction with a good friend, with whom we used to exchange dresses and accessories. This practice has virtually doubled our wardrobes, but all that ended when she moved to Miami. Initially the idea was to build a P2P marketplace where women would rent dresses from one another which could help them kind of monetize their closets. But after thinking it through, I realized that a peer-to-peer marketplace had a serious flaw – unreliability. Women typically rent dresses for a particular event, so there’s no space for error. If the dress wasn’t shipped on time and in perfect condition, client may be left with nothing to wear, which would result in a nightmare, decorated with complaints and bad reviews. I decided that Poshare should be a curated community of boutiques and designers, those that have a proven track record of customer satisfaction. I wanted to pick and choose our dresses and make sure my vendors were professionals who would deliver the product in good condition and on time, minimizing customer service issues.

When did you start Poshare?

I started the company in 2015, but the website hasn’t launched until February 2016.

Congratulations! What actually drew you to become an entrepreneur, rather than working for somebody?

Well, I guess growing up in a post-USSR country and living through the 90’s, with all that political turmoil and economical hardships around, made me feel uncertain about working the regular 9 to 5. It felt like I am putting my well-being into the hands of someone else. As a kid I remember seeing so many people with presumably steady jobs were losing their income, everybody was so stressed out about government companies closing left and right, people were wondering whether they will have a place of work tomorrow or not. From my experience most those who were bold enough to start something on their own, took risks of trying something new, have succeeded. Plus of course having this sense of freedom, being able to do what you think is right and being responsible for your own future looked quite attractive to me.

You mentioned that you don’t have a cofounder, so what triggered your move? Did someone influence that decision?

Initially I really wanted to find a co-founder but finding a good one is easier said than done. I’ve met a lot of people who were interested, some went as far as immediately printing ot business cards, but unfortunately when it came to sitting down, rolling up their sleeves and really getting to work – I kept hearing excuses: don’t have the time, not feeling it today, sudden health issues, this, that.. You know the old saying, if you want something done right – do it yourself. So that’s what I did. Initially I was working evenings, after a day at my full-time job. I think it took about 10 months before I realized that in order to really get Poshare off the ground I will need more time in a day. Fortunately, I have always been financially responsible and saved enough to be able to leave my job and fully dedicate myself to Poshare.

Tell me about your culture.

Our company culture is about being a team, being as open and honest with each other as possible. Thankfully we are all good friends from the same city in Ukraine so we know each other quite well.

Right now, Poshare consists of two people here in the States and three developers in Ukraine.

I want to build a friendly, compatible team, where people support each other, where everyone is comfortable bringing up an idea, asking questions, pointing out any flaws they may see. If someone disagrees with me and they have a better solution – I am happy to hear them out. I don’t want to run this company as a dictator and surround myself with only those who agree with me. I want a team environment where everybody feels equal in terms of being heard.

Nevertheless, I don’t want my teammates to think that our friendship means that they can slack, because they really can’t.

 You don’t want them to become too relaxed.

Exactly. There must be a clear understanding that, while I’m not going to micromanage and constantly look over your shoulder, I expect you to do your best. When I hire people I try to find those who love what they do, who share my vision about the product. One of the least pleasant things is having to fire someone. I’ve only done it a few times thank God.

What values are most important to you?

Professionalism – in whatever you do. Honesty and responsibility are two main traits that I’m looking for in people, whether we are speaking about my closest circle or the folks that I work with. I like straight shooters. Of course this isn’t about just flat out saying everything you think; it is about being open and honest. If you promise something, you make sure it’s done. You have to own it. People of course make mistakes and it is perfectly fine as soon as you can take responsibility for your actions and learn from it.

What focused you on those particular values?

It might be my Ukrainian background. One of the hardest things for me personally, when I moved to US, was to get used to corporate politics. I just feel a lot more comfortable when we act as a team – not when we pretend to be one.

Makes sense. How will you hire when the time comes?

Well, I’ve noticed that my best employees were brought into the company through referrals. I am kind of obsessed with recommendations and references. I also am not afraid of outsourcing certain things. Ultimately our team was made from outsourced developers that later became the in-house crew.

The last question is about leading. Of course, position-wise you are the leader of the company, but it’s interesting to know how you think about leading.

Leader should lead by example only: one must be motivated in order to motivate others, be able clearly communicate company’s vision, be passionate about what he/she does. If the spark isn’t there, it’s only a matter of time for the team to fall back. For example, if you expect someone to work weekends you should be ready to pick up the phone or respond to their email during that time. At least this is my philosophy. Being a leader is a great responsibility and a lot of hard work.

I first came to America thanks to a program called Future Leaders Exchange. I got a full scholarship. Applicants had to go through a number of exams and psychological tests, then among almost 3000 people only 50 were chosen. I work hard to live up to their belief in me.

They definitely made a good choice :)

Thank you and thanks for having me.

Interview with the CEO of Stuffed Pepper

 

Today’s interview is with Heather Jacobsen, the founder and CEO of Stuffed Pepper, an online magazine and resource for the gluten-free and paleo lifestyle. Heather says she is also a mother, researcher and writer, and loves to find order in chaos.

Jacobsen Heather

Tell me a bit about your family/background/etc.

My father was a Naval officer, which brought me to exciting places around the world. I’ve lived on both coasts (in the US), went to grammar school in Denmark and even got to spend Christmas in the Philippines when I was three. I developed my wanderlust at a young age, as well as an appreciation for the paradox that this world is vastly diverse, yet at the same time most of humanity shares many of the same values. One of those values I believe we all share is the desire to be healthy and most of us are even willing to take the proper steps to do so. Unfortunately, however, many of us are lost when it comes to knowing how to eat properly.

Being the daughter or a Naval officer, I also developed a great sense of discipline at a young age, which helped me focus my creative world views, so I can really get things done. I have a Master’s in Ethnobotany and have used those skills to delve deep into the science of nutrition and break it down in a easy-to-digest terms for laymen.

What drew you to becoming an entrepreneur?

I never thought I was an entrepreneur. But I’ve always had the wish to do something that would “make the world a better place.”  After my second child was born, and I no longer had a career, I was looking for something to do and decided to start a blog.  Because I had been gluten-free for almost a decade, I thought I could share my gluten-free recipes and advice; I found I am not alone in my gluten sensitivity and the blog snowballed into a larger, community website as I found others that wanted to share their knowledge and expertise.

I continued to research the far-reaching effects of gluten sensitivity, as well as the proper way to stay gluten-free. It isn’t as straightforward as you think! It wasn’t long before I realized that people needed more than just recipes.  Going gluten-free is not easy!  Not when most of us have been conditioned since birth to eat bread and cereal with pretty much every meal, including snacks.

That led to developing meal plans, a 30-day program, and other downloads that would help people really stick with the diet and get back to health.

 

Where/how did you and your co-founder meet/decide to do a startup?

I don’t have a co-founder. But if you know someone who is interested… :)

 

Tell me about your company culture.

I work with interns from time to time. Otherwise, I am the sole employee. Other than my own posts, all of the contributions to the website are from volunteers.  I have no set schedule. I am a mother of two young children, who are my first priority. So I work when they are at school or when they have gone to bed. I allow the same flexibility with my interns and volunteers.

My interns are rarely local, so we meet over Skype when we need to. I don’t have a set schedule for posting articles or for tasks that need to be done by interns. We all work together to negotiate hours and timing so that it works to everyone’s benefit. Because my company is mostly online, we have that sort of flexibility. That is the nice thing about the digital age.

 

 

What values are most important to you?

Truth and integrity are hugely important to me. We are an online magazine giving free health and nutrition advice. Our income comes from our downloads and advertising.

Unfortunately, most people get their nutritional advice from the food industry itself. The food industry has a powerful influence in the FDA and the USDA who create our dietary guidelines, so there will undoubtedly be bias in what we are told we should and shouldn’t be eating.

Additionally, when consumers scan the labels of foods in the grocery store and see captions like “heart healthy” or “low calorie” they assume it must be healthy for them. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Our aim is to provide honest, scientifically sound nutritional advice, without industry influence. We work only with food companies that truly understand the importance of nutrition, and are not just interested in the bottom line.

 

How did it happen? Were there conscious decisions on what you wanted the culture to be?

Yes. I consciously chose to be flexible, casual and also trustworthy. As a mother, I need flexibility. And I am not the only mother out there, who needs this. I have had several interns who were completing degrees in nutrition who were also mothers. Flexibility was also important to them.

I have also always been a seeker of truth. Maybe it’s because I am a Sagittarius, and we are notorious for being so truthful we sometimes hurt people. I try not to do that! Or maybe it’s because I always admired the muckrakers such as Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle which brought to light the ugly truth behind the meat-packing industry of the early 1900’s.

Either way, I believe people have a right to be informed about their own health and that proper nutrition is the first place to start. For that reason, all of our information on the website is free. Its only the extras, the meal plans or the consolidation of information in books, that we charge for.

 

How do you hire? What are the most important traits you look for in a candidate?

In addition to having the proper experience, such as in nutrition or social media marketing, I look for someone who is enthusiastic about the subject matter, who can demonstrate hard work and commitment, and who has the ability to put their own creativity into the job.

 

Do you think of yourself as a leader? Why?

I have never really thought of myself as a leader. Which is why, I suppose, I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur.

But in order for me to be able to stand behind my website, I needed to become an authority on the gluten-free diet. It’s when I began researching it more that I realized most people were not doing gluten-free “right.”

That is, simply replacing food containing gluten with those on the gluten-free foods aisle, was not enough to heal people’s bodies after gluten had done them harm.

This notion is different from what the majority of gluten-free consumers understand, and certainly what the foods industry wants them to believe. When I discovered this, I realized that I needed to take a stand, and become a leader in this new direction.

While there are still some who are resistant, I believe that more and more people are understanding that we really need to eliminate all grains from our diet or even adopt a paleo diet, if we want to truly heal. The paleo diet is receiving a lot more attention these days, and I am happy to help play a role in that.

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Interview with Startup RigBasket’s Founder

 

A few weeks ago I mentioned we were going to do a series on founders and startups and promised you interesting people to meet.

Art Trevethan was the first and today I want to introduce you to Ali Hasan Raza, one of three founders of Houston-based RigBasket.

ali

The interview was conducted by my colleague Artem Nadikta , in Houston.

Artem: Tell me a bit about your family, background, roots and where you are coming from educationally, personally, etc.

Ali: OK. I was born in Pennsylvania. I come from a family of doctors. I actually grew up in Saudi Arabia for nine years and then nine years in Pakistan.

I studied chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, but even then I was more interested in the pharma and genetics side, rather than energy. When I graduated there were more opportunities in oil and gas, so, although I didn’t know much about it, my research professor was a big fluid transport guy, so I thought it might be interesting to explore hydraulic fracturing design and operations and here I am.

In terms of entrepreneurship, I’ve been selling all kinds of stuff since I was 12 through student council and have had this innate need to sell. I didn’t know this behavior was called entrepreneurship until college.  I was an intern at a startup in 2009 called TapInko, which gave me exposure to the US innovation ecosystem. . After graduation, I joined Schlumberger as an engineer, which gave me a grounding in oil and gas.

I could see many inefficiencies in the corporate world, which meant opportunities to change how things are done, and that’s what led me back to the entrepreneurial world again. Continue reading Interview with Startup RigBasket’s Founder

Let’s talk about “good leader”!

 

The last few weeks I’ve been reading many articles about leadership and sharing them and my ideas with you.

Leadership and culture within companies are a relatively new focus among Russian business and I find them fascinating. My friend Miki writes about them for her company and sometimes we have very interesting conversations.

We had one the other night and I think you will find it interesting, too. I’ve italicized Miki’s words and left mine in plain type, so it won’t be confusing.

ленин уорхолмао уорхол

Andy Warhol’s  Red Lenin and Mao

Do people there talk much about leadership?

Yes, we talk about that, but ideas about company culture and its importance are fairly new. Culture was ignored because we thought it was less important for a company then R&D, selling or production. I think Russians never got that it all goes together.

What is your impression of the stuff you have read from the US?

Sometimes I think you guys talk about culture too much and too meticulously. Russians mostly don’t like to talk about culture and leadership. We aren’t used to talking about culture because we are
just starting to recognize its importance.

What do you personally think of the idea of leadership?

Hmm, that’s complicated :) I think that it’s rocket science to be the perfect leader
and to build the right culture in a company. I think it’s mostly depends on your personal
human qualities, but doesn’t depend on economic situation and on the country where you work.

Do you think a person can learn leadership better in school or from doing it and analyzing after?

If you are a strong person with a strategic and analytic mind you still need to learn how to communicate with people, how to take responsibility and how to build the company’s culture in order to be a leader.

You could analyze the experience of great leaders and start to do stuff to get your own experience and analyze that. Mistakes are not bad, as long as you notice, acknowledge and analyze them. Also, it’s good to accept advice from someone more experienced than you, as long as their values are similar to yours.

I think I’m writing very obvious things)) I don’t have any real experience.

Do you think there is such a thing as a “perfect leader”?

I think it’s not about being strong and forcing people; it’s about to be smart enough to be different and flexible if it’s needed.

Leading is getting people to do what you want them to do willingly, but so is manipulation. I think it’s defined as negative, because it’s always used that way. Do you think a good leader must be a good person?

Yes; I don’t think a good leader forces at all, I think he gets the ability to inspire people to follow him. A really good leader is smart enough to listen employee’s opinion and find compromises. He is not strict, he is flexible, he is not egoistic, he always can change his mind if finds out someone’s opinion is more reasonable.

My own opinion is that the actions come and are described as leadership after the fact.

I agree with that. There is a quote from Spinoza (I think) that freedom is a necessity only after you have had it. I believe that a good leader is a flexible person who is able to inspire some people to follow and finds ways to convince the rest without using force.

I agree that culture is a reflection of a leader’s values, but nothing you’ve said has changed my mind. I just don’t believe that leadership is inherently good, “…history tells us that people are more than willing to be shaped in socially unacceptable directions—think Jeff Skilling or Hitler. Of course, if the leader crashes and burns, his constituents will claim that they were led astray unwillingly and/or had no idea what their leader was up to.”

When you or anyone talks about a “good leader” they are referring to someone whose values they share. Founders bring their values, which become the basis of the company culture, but that doesn’t mean the culture is good. I have seen horrible cultures in very successful companies. What is the culture at NTR?

Good, there is a company culture with values which are similar to mine.

And what are your leaders like?

I like Nick’s style. He works hard to build good culture in our company.

So what kind of leader is he? What makes him good?

He is smart and he inspires people and never forces stuff in a bad way (not too strict or manipulating); employees have opportunities to think differently. I always have a chance to argue something he says and defend my own points.

You have asked me, now it is my turn. How would you describe a good leader.

That’s easy; my ideal of a leader was described by Lao Tzu way back in the 6th Century BC. You can read it here.

I would love to continue this discussion by hearing what you think about leadership. What is your “good leader” definition?  And any other thoughts you have. Miki and I promise to respond.

Bad News Everyone

You can’t lead wearing rose-colored glasses.

That means talking about bad along with the good.

We live in world of crisis. And whether people are looking globally, or just locally, they would need to be six feet under not to have noticed.

Here are a few examples, in case you’ve been traveling off-planet recently.

  •        The Russian economy has been in a deep and painful recession for the last 18 months. Our national economy is down 6% second quarter 2016 compared to 2015.
  •        Dozens of tech companies are laying off.
  •       Official unemployment stands at 4.9, but the government numbers are notoriously low, since it only counts those actively looking (millions have given up).

Bad news, be it internal, regarding products and process, or external, with regards to your markets or the general macro-economic trends, will happen. Period.

But many leaders don’t like receiving bad news, which is really stupid.

Start with internal bad news.

According to Darrell Bracken, C.E.O. of Logitech, “The most dangerous thing is to be sitting in an office and nobody’s telling you what’s wrong.”

If you don’t know what’s wrong it can’t be fixed.

GoodNewsEveryone

OpenTable’s CEO Christa Quarles, whose team was wasting time trying to make everything perfect before showing her, passionately believes news should be “early, often, ugly,” which allows for faster course correction.

But that only works if your company culture is built on the precept that the messenger won’t be killed, which is also the basis for innovation, especially if it disrupts anything.

Avoiding external bad news is even stupider.

Why?

First, because companies put enormous effort put into hiring the smartest people possible, so expecting them to be dumb and not notice the economy or how the company is doing is downright idiotic.

Second, because what you don’t address will give rise to rumors that are far worse than the actual news — particularly when it comes to layoffs.

This is also the time when age plays against many founders, because they have little-to-no experience communicating any kind of bad news.

good news1

While there are dozens of approaches to communicating bad news, a good place to start is with Miki’s six basic steps.

Finally, the one sure thing about bad news — you can’t make it go away by ignoring it.

But you can make it worse.