4 lessons I learnt building and running businesses: Alok Goel, CEO, Freecharge

Alok Goel, the CEO of Freecharge, the technology company that makes the process of recharging fun and rewarding, scintillated the audience at TechSparks 2014 Bangalore regional round.

Alok Goel joined redBus as its Chief Product Officer in late 2012, after 13 years of product management experience at Google, Adobe etc. Before joining redBus, Alok was global Product Management lead for Google Display Network and was responsible for the re-launch of Google’s flagship display ad product – AdSense. Prior to that, Alok was Head of Search and Mobile products at Google India where he played a key role in growing the mobile internet ecosystem across India.

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Alok listed the key ingredients for building a great business – a kickass idea, strong team, solid execution and money. But he stressed that the importance of a great team trumped the other parameters.

#1 Build a great team.

One shouldn’t build a team with people bought out from the market. The team members should be committed to the vision of the company; not to the salary. The team should be empowered and passionate.

The company and the leader need to build a culture of safety – a culture where failures are treated as a collective failure of the company/team and not an individual. This kind of a culture will ensure that the middle management does not become risk averse and mediocrity doesn’t seep into the mindset.

Alok also stressed on creating a sense of transparency, wherein all the team members are on the same page. This would ensure that all the team members are aware of their vulnerabilities and weak points.

#2 Always build for the future.

Startups have to make quick decisions all the time whether it is related to the product or the market, or the consumer.

All this while the startup must remember one thing – “You’re not building for today; you’re building the product for 4-5 years from now. You need to ride an upside tide, not a sinking ship.”

Alok related a phase from his time at Google. This was the time when Google was working on three products simultaneously – an SMS-based search product, a call-based search product and a mobile product. iOS had just been launched. There was no app ecosystem to speak of and Android was unheard of. Google had to take a call to focus. And they decided to work on Mobile. The team knew that 5 years down the line device prices would reduce, and the mobile internet ecosystem will better. While others continued to focus on SMS/call assuming that ‘India is a feature phone market’, Google’s vision for the future helped it dominate and be in the position that it is today.

#3 Engineer your organization structure.

Startups need to try out different organizational frameworks and zero in upon what works for them. Alok said that Freecharge has a culture where there is no respect for titles and the team works as a unit in different functions as ‘Pods’.

The team’s goals and targets are metric driven and the pods have individual metrics as their target. There are no cross dependencies within these pods. “This ensures that the team stops ‘doing cool things’ and becomes crazy about the top metric.

#4 A different perspective to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Alok has a very different perspective on MVP. According to him, an MVP is playing with the complex equation that are startups by tweaking a single variable at a time and keeping the others unchanged.

This approach works because the startup will be able to validate its products even before it writes a single line of code.


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Abhash Kumar

Abhash Kumar

When he is not over-analyzing random stuff, Abhash likes to read a lot and write a little. He has helped co-found Gyan Lab, an education startup while still at college. Most of the time, you can find him hanging out with startuppers and go-getters.