Warning: This post is a longish sanctimonious end-of-year analysis of my performance, that may contain passive-aggressive commentary.
The common theme in my life has been 'survival mode.’
Survival for the basic needs of life; survival against failure; survival of our business, our startup, our family, our life.
Year 2013 was about not letting go, and completely disintegrating. I did a few things I am not proud of and wrote about it here.
Year 2014 started with a lot of promise, and a lot of hope. I saw a way out because I had become a master of survival. Nothing could fray my nerve, or soften my resolve. I knew how to rebound from failure. We built a team, got into 500 Startups, and started building the core of a software company to reimagine apparel manufacturing.
We then raised some money and I returned to India in September mid-way through our fundraise to ‘solve’ our manufacturing issues.
But this is when I went from surviving to making cocky mistakes.
We soon realised that our supply chain couldn’t keep up because we had built a team of well-meaning people who didn’t share our values nor appreciate what it took to build and run an early-stage startup. Our two-person team in San Francisco was poached in October while I was in India, we lost three key clients to quality issues, work ethics and commitment problems cropped up in the team in India, and our business momentum slipped.
In November 2014, I promised myself we were starting afresh. So returning to US to rebuild our team was a conscious decision. We hired a new team here, and started rebuilding Sourceeasy from the ground up. Our platform relaunched and the response was phenomenal.
Towards the end of the year, I was confident that we had built up a good team again and that 2015 would be the year we’d coast to success.
So, 2015 began with a lot of promise. For the first time in years, affording salaries was not a struggle for a while. The team seemed in good shape and the market seemed ripe for the taking.
However, sales continued to rise while shipments continued to lag. Our gap between bookings and shipments continued to widen as we took on more customers. We struggled with our Indian fulfillment as I desperately searched for toe-holds in China and Vietnam.
A lucky break at the 500 retreat in February gave me a connection in Shanghai that we were able to translate into a fully functioning China office today.
We did a team retreat in March for everyone and hoped that it would integrate tech, production and sales, with our larger vision. However, familiarity ended up breeding a lot of contempt.
Over 15 orders being cancelled in Q1 helped along the decision to pull the plug on our India sourcing office in Q2; 23 people and six-months worth of work shuttered in less than a week. Our six-month-old builder project was mothballed and customers had to be turned down.
Meanwhile, a chance meeting and a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend led to one of our best decisions ever in April.
By the end of May, I realised that we’d created a toxic work environment where no results were forthcoming but the blame game was strong.
Customers stayed in pre-production cycle forever and nothing moved forward without micromanagement, heroic pushes and individual flashes of brilliance.
Suddenly, money in the bank didn’t matter nor did inbound customer leads. Our inability to produce quality product on time, our lack of conversion from leads to orders, and our increasing distrust for each other brought everything to a head.
This was when I went from making cocky mistakes into a let’s-fix-this mode
We commissioned a complete HR review through June and July2015, and unearthed a systemic malaise. We questioned everything, brought in our teams from India and did open houses where we pushed people to talk about motives, agendas, cultures and values.
Lip service was no longer enough.
Between July and September 2015, 18 employees either quit or were asked to leave.
We reiterated our core values and built a Sourceeasy Employee Handbook that lists them down for everyone to see.
If there’s one thing I realised through this entire ordeal, it was that I could do one of two things:
I could continue to fight-flight-freeze my way to micromanaging a business with a great vision and mediocre execution, or I could go out and find the VERY BEST people I could to run this business and create a scalable team structure that would build that business.
I think we’re on that second road right now.
The last three months of 2015 have been possibly the most rewarding of my Sourceeasy journey.We have
- built a world-class cross-functional leadership team.
- support from possibly the best investors in the world.
- found our customer focus and have doubled down on it.
- been able to focus talent in the right areas.
- built out strong multi-layer teams which were drawn to our mission, and not just the free organic coconut water.
I’m proudest of the fact that we have never tried to be the most over-hyped, over-valued or over-sold startup in either New York nor San Francisco.
But we’ve still found believers, who get what we do here.
I’ve never been more optimistic about the quality, commitment, depth and desire of our team to succeed.
So it is now time to move from let's-fix-this mode onto what’s-next mode.
For 2016 and beyond, my biggest responsibility will be to reiterate the values we stand for, reinforce the culture we agree to, and remind our stakeholders of the shared objectives we all strive for.
Every. Single. Day.
Bring it, 2016.
About the authorPranay Srinivasan is the CEO of SOURCEEASY, a 500 Startups alumnus which is a custom apparel manufacturing platform. Pranay has been an Entrepreneur in textiles for over 15 years, and in sourcing, supply chain and manufacturing of apparel for over 16 years.
(This article was first published here.)