Category Archives: RightBuy

Why Slack?

I have been running remote teams for almost a decade now. Tools available for remote teams have evolved a lot during this time.

In the early days tools like Skype made it easier to communicate with remote teams via text, audio and video. After that came a wave of tools like Dropbox, Google Docs that helped manage files in the cloud for remote teams. However, these utilities were never able to create a real office like environment. A real office doesn’t feel like you are transacting with a co-worker, but has a character to it. You don’t talk with co-workers only when you need something. You overhear other people talking about the new episode of The Game of Thrones. You crack jokes, you huddle. Not all these things can be done by remote teams, but having a “virtual office” can help get the team connected better.

HipChat

At RightBuy, we started using HipChat, which is an excellent chat application for a small team. I really loved the simple design. We kept things simple by just setting up 1 room where our small team interacted. HipChat had opened up their API and enabled teams to integrate with external services like GitHub, Pingdom, CircleCI, etc. using Zapier. That was pretty cool. I have heard CampFire had some of these great features, but never used it.

Slack

I found about Slack through Jason Calacanisinterview with Stewart Butterfield. It was intriguing, but I dismissed it because it appeared to be exactly same as HipChat with IRC-esque UI. On asking other startups using Slack about differences between HipChat and Slack, all I got was – it has built-in search and it is pretty cool. I tried asking Slack themselves about why people are going crazy about Slack, they didn’t have anything concrete to offer either.

Slack Replies

Slack Replies

Search wasn’t a big deal for us so that was the end of Slack’s evaluation.

Slack Re-evaluated

About a month later, a friend from Seer was going gaga about Slack and showed how they were using Slack. That was the moment where I actually found out how Slack was a lot more than HipChat. The thing that sold me on Slack was how well Asana is integrated with Slack. It is a first-class integration that updates any comments or new tasks. As compared to this, HipChat had integration using Zapier and had limitations where we only could get only new tasks from a specific project. To keep things simple and extendable, HipChat didn’t provide custom experience for these integrations. I don’t mind using Zapier for integrations, but the UX on HipChat’s side was lacking. Here is how the integrations (at least for us) looked in both of these services.

HipChat Asana Integration

HipChat Asana Integration

Slack Asana Integration

Slack Asana Integration

Asana isn’t the only better integration. GitHub, Sentry and the webhook to push messages into Slack can be customized a lot more and provide a better experience. For instance, this is the same commit from Github to HipChat & Slack.

HipChat-Github Integration

HipChat-Github Integration

Slack-Github Integration

Slack-Github Integration

Notice Board

I found out from Bryan Helmig that they use something called async at Zapier, which is an internal WordPress blog for things that do not need immediate attention. It seemed like a great idea when I heard about it, something that I would like to implement for RightBuy as well. We have a lot of conversations among us that are way too long for ‘chat’, not actionable enough to be put in ‘Asana’ but at the same time needs to be captured in some shape or form.

Slack has a great feature for this use case. You don’t have to setup an internal WordPress blog, but just use their ‘Post’ feature. Anyone can write a post which can be shared with any channel or a person. It is great to capture things like your medium to long term goals, certain processes and in general company updates (especially if you are a big team.) The posts act as a ‘notice board’ (when was the last time you actually saw a notice board?) for the company.

Another great feature Slack has that I hadn’t even thought would be useful until we started using Slack – Favorite a Message. It is a like bookmarking a message for easy access for later on.

Not Everything Works

As I mentioned above, I really like that they are themselves building the integrations with other services. It provides a unique experience which can be customized based on each service they are integrating with rather than have a one-size-fits-all model where none of the integrations have an outstanding experience. That being said, not all of their integrations are the best. For instance, we found out that Slack’s default RSS integration is far inferior to Zapier’s Slack-RSS implementation. I haven’t tested all the integrations, but wouldn’t be surprised if there are more integrations that are being implemented better by third parties.

Another nitpick with Slack is that when writing a ‘post’, they use Markdown syntax. I would much rather use a WYSIWYG editor that can speed up formatting.

Slack Post Markdown

Slack Post Markdown

Email Killer & Future

I remember sending a lots of “chatty” emails to my co-workers a few years ago where everyone on dev mailing list had to bear with them. Combination of tools like Asana and Slack are effective on killing email use at least internally for small teams. This is a great start. Slack seems to be integrating with several services, but it has to be seen where does their future live. To expand, do they in future start competing with likes of Dropbox, Google Apps, Skype, or even Asana and provide a plug and play infrastructure layer for remote teams for a virtual office? It is yet to be seen, but so far they seem to be heading towards the right direction.

Did I miss something? Would like a follow up on how we use Slack? Reach out here.

How to communicate with “Regulars” about your startup

It is ironic that an introvert like me is writing about communication, but here I am.

While working on a startup you meet a lot of other people who are in the same boat or have passed through the phase you are in. At the same time you also meet a lot of people who haven’t heard of Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Convertible Debt, Pivot (maybe they did), MVP, AARRR, Lean Startup and the list goes on. I call these “regular” people or the sane ones. They could be your friends, neighbors, parents of your kids friends, mailman, teller at your bank and sometimes even your own family members.

When one of the “regulars” ask me about what I do, I start thinking about what version of my pitch do I tell them. I used to mention the current “solution” of the problem I was testing with my startup/product. Some times people questioned back about it and asked more details, but usually I got the “OK. Sounds good” response. I believe “OK. Sounds good” is the one of the worst answers to get from a person you are talking about your product. It is most likely think it is stupid or worse they didn’t get what you are doing.

One of the other things about telling “regulars” about the current “solution” you are experimenting is that it is an experiment and most likely will be replaced with another one in a few weeks, if not days. When you meet the same “regulars” again and talk about how you are doing this new experiment now, in their head they validate that you are a loser, you have no idea what you are doing and your product is going nowhere.

A lot of founders say that they don’t care about what people think or say about them or their product as long as they are on the right path and see progress. I disagree. Being a Founder/CEO your job is to make sure that from your grandma to your neighbor’s 5 year old boy should understand what you do to a basic level.

I started testing a few things with “regular” people about 3 weeks ago. I started talking to them about the problem (not the solution) I am trying to solve and in some cases I ask them even before telling what I do about how they find the products they want to buy. How did you know which camera to buy when you bought the last camera? Why did you buy your last camera? These questions are very relevant for RightBuy and help me understand the user’s thought process and current buying/researching habits. Talking about the problem helps me understand how many people have the problem vs. how many don’t even think it is an issue. Earlier, when I talked about what I am trying to solve the conversations went into silence because I talked to them about something they never saw, but something that I live 24/7.

Since then I have noticed a lot of people getting passionate about the problem and talking in detail how they wasted a lot of time and if they can use the application right now. There are also people I meet who haven’t experienced the problem or don’t consider it as a problem. Both kind of people help me understand who can be beta testers for the app and even evangelists.

I would love to hear other ways you talk and engage with consumers/customers who are not early adopters or tech savvy. What kind of questions do you ask them to get honest, constructive, actionable feedback?

Starting Up

Starting Up

Starting Up


Silicon Valley is an amazing place, everyday we wake up with TechCrunch reporting millions of dollars of funding to startups, acquisitions and a lot of screw ups. Almost all of my friends have talked about starting something new at one point of time or another. Some just talked about a cool idea and are not sure if they really want to work on it, while others go after trying it out. Like my friends, I have also started several projects and shut a lot of them down. I am responsible for shutting a few of my projects prematurely, but I learnt from each of those instances. I learnt what not to do next time and so far have not repeated my mistakes.

Late last year I was toying with yet another idea and this time wanted to make it more than just a project. While I was talking with potential customers and friends, I met Gagan Biyani from Udemy. He had a lot of good things to say about Founder Institute (FI). I vaguely knew about FI via TechCrunch post that they wrote when it launched. I knew there were other incubators but wasn’t really planning to join one. I thought I knew about startups and wasn’t sure what value an incubator will add. However, I knew about one of my weaknesses – starting up. Reading about latest technologies, startups, meeting amazing people is all good but the hardest part of a startup is starting up (at least for me). There was something in Gagan’s recommendation to Founder Institute, it seemed more than a recommendation, something that truly came from heart.

I took a leap of faith and took the exam for FI about a day before the last day for submissions. I got in and met other 50ish people who were in a similar boat. First day Adeo Ressi mentioned in his unique style that starting a company is not that easy, it will take several years and based on statistics you are most likely to fail. He offered an additional $100 for people to drop off the session. That is when I decided that I have to get through this session. From that point onwards, the semester became a survival game.

Being the programmer/tech guy I underestimated the things required by a successful founder. Some of which are research, formal presentations, ability to clearly articulate your idea and most importantly building a company not an app. I realized that how my initial idea lacked the right team for it and that I most likely won’t prefer to work on that idea for several years if I had to.

I had another idea that I was passionate about it and started researching about it. FI creates “peer groups”, some of the members in my group were instrumental in making me think and work hard on solidifying the idea to be a meaningful company. I got harsh criticism from some of these mentors mostly about my presentation. At that time it wasn’t the happiest moment in my life, but it helped me evolve my whole presentation a lot. Thanks to the mentors, I am now happy to say that my presentation is 100X better (still needs work) than what I presented the first time.

On 23rd Feb 14 companies graduated from Founder Institute’s current batch and I am pleased to say that I along with 13 great founders survived and added a lot of value to our companies. Fortunately for us things don’t end here, but begin. Talking with other graduates from Founder Institute and my experience so far point that all the amazing people I connected with in FI and FI itself will add a lot more value to my company while its way to success. My friend and one of the graduating founders Brajeshwar has a great compilation of all the companies and lot more.

My company RightBuy is working on cool technology behind the scenes. Don’t forget to signup for our private alpha priority list. We are also looking for backend engineers.

Starting up is generally not easy and I believe founders do need a catalyst that can shorten the learning process by a lot. I would highly recommend Founder Institute as that catalyst.

Photo by State Library of Queensland, Australia, via Flickr