[YS Lounge] Death Threat From An ex-Employee and Lessons Learned, a True Story From a Startup Life

cool-killer_422_14343At start-ups if people coming on board to work for it fail to understand what the company needs to achieve its goals, the founders usually have a magic wand to say “bye bye” to them after the threshold of tolerance is crossed.

Any serious start-up cannot afford employees who don’t match the gene. My start-up Moolya is no exception to it. Our goal is to change the way world tests and how the world perceives the value of testing. To change the world, we know we need people different from the usual lot.  We need people like us – who think different, who are courageous and who want to do awesome in their life and change the world. To get people like us, our hiring cannot be traditional. So, our hiring is structured in ways to find people who are different.

Wait a minute! We thought we cracked it. Hiring is a nut that is never completely cracked. It can be cracked better as and when we fail to crack it and learn from it. So, a bad hire is learning – if you learn to see it that way.

It is not easy to fire!

The employee world thinks it is easy for people like me to say “bye bye” to them, wipe them off their job, dream, money and other things. I am sure a lot of my fellow entrepreneurs would join me in this moment to say how hard it is to fire people from their jobs. It is the toughest thing to do because when we entrepreneurs were dreaming of starting a company and succeeding – we never in the wildest corner of the dream saw firing people off their jobs as a way of living this life. We always dreamed of our people succeeding as much as we did.

In early 2012, we hired our first batch of freshers. Prior to that we hired one fresher at a time and we were very excited with a batch full of people joining us. So excited that I personally took the job of coaching them, thinking this would be a great way for them to learn testing and understand what Moolya wants. I have a great reputation for coaching freshers in the past. During the journey of coaching the batch of freshers we recruited, I recognized that some of them would take a much longer time than what Moolya can afford and there came a moment where I fired 2 of them, then 1, then 1 more and then 1 more. There were 2 people left from the batch we hired – one quit in fear and the other stared to look out for a job.

We learnt a great lesson. We learnt that we were very bad in our hiring methods for a fresher. We accept our failure. All of a sudden we have our office half full and about 7 computers with no one to switch it on. We changed our methods of hiring. We later changed our coaching methods too. I don’t coach anybody although I did a great job in the past. As a founder, I shouldn’t be coaching people.

Fresher hiring is rocket science!

We scouted a partner to help in hiring freshers and found e-litmus. They recently put an ad in News Papers claiming, “Fresher hiring is rocket science” and I completely agree – it is rocket science. If we get great freshers we can put our company’s growth similar to the trajectory of a successful rocket launch.

We have seen great success with e-litmus and we haven’t had to fire people the way we did.

The threat arrives

killer-clown_422_29256At the end of 2012 when we were declaring a successful year, I started to get anonymous messages about me being a bad a**, a b*s***d, a f****r, a** h**** and what not through one of our portals.

This wasn’t the first time I got such nice words from the world because I piss off bad people really well but this wasn’t comfortable either because it was recurrent. It happened over a week and then a bomb got dropped. I got a comment on my blog saying I will be dead soon. That raised an alarm to me and I started to share with my trusted colleagues at Moolya about something like this.

I was restless, for more than a day. I tweeted about it and got my followers shocked with what was happening to me. The next day, I suspected it to be someone who knows me closely as there were remarks of things that are specific to Moolya. There was only one possibility now – someone who has been in Moolya. However, I didn’t want to suspect anybody. It just would cause more trouble to me. I wasn’t in my best of thinking abilities too. It was so disturbing that I guess it raised my blood pressure. Good software testers are supposed to be like Sherlock Holmes. I am definitely one but when I am investigating others case, not my own J

Finding the face of Anonymous

I called in my colleague Santhosh Tuppad to help me in this case. I forwarded him everything I had received. He has a hacker mindset and helps customers of Moolya find security risks and vulnerabilities. I hoped that he would figure out the Anonymous.

He came back after an hour to me with his analysis and whom he suspects but he did not have a definitive way of concluding things – a mark of a true investigator.  He did tell me how he arrived at the suspect and to me it looked like the case is cracked. One of our ex-employee and now I knew who. There was a pattern match!

Like every thief who leaves a clue, Santhosh found a clue the suspect left. Long ago, there was a tweet from this fella with identical patterns, words and tone. Yet, he is a suspect. Not convicted yet. The only way I could find if it was really that guy was to call him up. I looked into the records and found his number, called him up to hear that the number no longer exists. From our records, I called his home number but no joy. I called his batch mate (whom I had fired as well) and took this fella’s number.

The first call that didn’t change my life

I called him, he picked the call and before he said anything, I said, “Look, I know it is you who have been posting such disturbing stuff and I am going to report this to cyber police and get you jailed soon. Stop doing it if you don’t want to go to jail”. If it was not him, I know the response I would have got. Instead, he acknowledged that it indeed was him and asked me to do whatever I want to do.

I disconnected the call with a final warning. I was not one bit comfortable. I was pissed off to the core. I didn’t know what to do. Should I go to police should I not? Should I inform this to my family and get them to panic or seek help from somebody. I wanted to teach him a lesson. I wanted to show him, he can’t mess with me.

This is a moment I remembered my mentors and gurus. I have a broad variety of mentors and gurus who consult me – for testing, for business, for excellence, for writing, for life, for speaking, for people relationships, for craziness, for creativity and for a combination of all of that.

Wise mentor to the rescue

killer_dogI immediately knew whom to call – Vipul Kocher. Vipul is a fantastic human being. He heads Indian Testing Board and I publicly oppose the ISTQB certification they sell. He was the co-founder of a testing services company in the past and right now he also runs SALT – School of Applied Learning in Testing( I don’t oppose that). He is aware of my opposition and yet welcomes me with open arms because he is wise and knows how not to mix professional opposition to personal relationships.

I thought he is the right person to guide me through this phase. I explained to him what had happened and then he narrated a story that happened in his life as an entrepreneur and advised me to listen to what that fella had to say on why he is doing it. I was like, “You want me to give a listening ear to this guy who is threatening to kill me?” and Vipul said, “Often, when you give a listening ear and allow people to vent off their frustration on you, the problem is half resolved”. I could not agree to give this guy a listening ear, however, if Vipul says something like that there must be a reason and I wanted to try an idea that is not mine. Vipul added, “Please seek out for feedback and ask how you can help him?”

The shocker lessons

I picked that fella’s number and did exactly as what Vipul advised me to. This was a context where I felt putting my brain to work on the advice would be counterproductive. What came in return were the greatest lessons of my life as an entrepreneur. To this date, to this moment, even as I write this sentence, I am shocked of what this guy who anonymously threatened my death has taught me.

Here is the story you have piled your expectation to read: This guy wasn’t angry at me because I fired him. He was angry at me because I fired his friend who was in the same batch. Unbelievable!

He said, “I am a son of goldsmith. We have lots of money. I don’t need a job now. I don’t need money. I don’t need your help. However, my friend whom you fired in 25 days of joining is from a very poor family. His father is a cab driver and is old. He had been waiting for his son to get a job. You made their family dream a happy living for the first time and you took it off. You didn’t give this guy a notice to search another job. You have no clue how his family is affected by your decision. Now their family has lost hope as this guy is unable to get another job”

I replied to him saying, “It is a business decision and if we start factoring in all these reasons then we can’t progress in our business and help people who have come on board to grow in their lives but I acknowledge that I should have given some notice. I should have helped him in some ways to get time to find another job. I did not do it. I apologize to you and your friend for this. Now, I have a promise to make to you – nobody in Moolya will be fired with no notice period” and he gave me another shocker, “That is all. I wanted you to realize this mistake. The clues you got to call me was intentional so that you would call me. Now that you did realize your mistake, I don’t have anything to do to you.”

I was speechless for a couple of moments.  I then asked him if I treated people well when they were working with me and if I did behave professional in all interactions with them. He acknowledged that I was good but he said he didn’t like me doing the mistake I did. I once again apologized to him and he said “Good bye”

Digesting

I couldn’t believe what happened. I definitely did acknowledge that I did a blunder. Time had arrived to do some internal bug fixing!

The rules at Moolya changed ever since!

No firing will happen like the way it was done before (with the exception if we find cases related to ethics). If we do happen to fire somebody because they are unable to meet the company’s needs, we give them sufficient time and notice to find another job and help them with a respectable exit and help them succeed in securing their next job. We are happy to see them again and interact with them over social networks.

Thanks to the Anonymous and thanks to Vipul. You both got a better man out of me and helped me create a better world around me.

 


Pradeep Soundararajan

Pradeep Soundararajan

Pradeep Soundararajan is the Kung Fu Panda and CEO of Moolya Software Testing. Moolya helps solve business problems through testing. Pradeep is experienced at getting fired, being considered dumb, redneck, rebel, being bankrupt, falling many times in his career and rising from ashes while (or, because) he was doing good work. He blogs at http://moolya.com/blog and http://testertested.blogspot.com on testing and writes about start-up life on yourstory.com