I've been in the startup world for almost a decade and I recently completed a year at Razorpay, where I led digital marketing efforts, an excellent learning experience. Razorpay was one of the best startups I've worked with.
During my tenure, Razorpay grew more than 3x in employee count and by a gazillion-x in revenues (that I cannot reveal). Startup success involves a lot of variables and here are the top five startup lessons I took home while working with them.
1. Obsess over perfection
Perfectionism can be a negative trait only if it prevents you from launching your work. What if you can be perfect and still ship the product on time? Only the Elon Musks of the world are capable of that. Razorpay is made of one such team.
Almost everyone in the product team understands that we cannot ship a mediocre product. Make it great and get it done on time — that's the only unfair advantage you have over your lethargic competitors.
2. Be humble and down to earth
As a CEO if you feel someone is below you, then you are not down to earth enough. The founding team, and especially the co-founders, are some of the most down to earth people I've met in the startup world.
They’ve never let off a vibe that made others uncomfortable. At Razorpay, every employee handles support chats twice a month, and this would include the co-founders too. Sometimes customers would suddenly realise that they were talking with one of the co-founders and get excited about it.
3. Dream big but don't create hype
No one in the company ever said things like, "We will soon be number one in the market" or “We will become a gazillion-dollar company in X years.” Such things shouldn't be said — they should, by default be felt by everyone in the company. Your goals should radiate from the work you do, not from the words you say.
If you need to say it out loud, then that's hype. Don't overpromise and underdeliver. If you say big things and achieve small, employees and customers will lose respect very soon and stop taking you seriously. I've seen and heard big numbers at Razorpay, but they were real numbers, looking backwards, not in the imaginary future.
4. Treat your employees well, really well
No company has ever pampered me as much as Razorpay has. Companies should treat their employees well but that doesn't mean spending a lot on employee benefits. Razorpay has one of the best offices and perks in the startup world, but it was not as much about the material benefits as it was about how I was treated.
Treating your employees well means treating every employee with the same respect as your co-founder. No one at Razorpay was ever judged based on the work they do. From the lowest employee to the most senior person, everyone felt they owned the company. Employees felt it was their product, their customers, their success. After a tiring day at work, we took home satisfaction; money was just a by-product.
5. Transparency means more than what you think it means
Almost all the startups nowadays are supposedly transparent. They share their growth numbers, talk to all employees about the products they are about to launch, and so on, but that’s not real transparency.
Transparency matters more in decision-making than what happens after it. One of the reasons that everyone at Razorpay feels they own the company is that they always have a part in almost all the decisions.
Transparency in decision-making is the most difficult thing to pull off in a startup because a complex and democratic decision-making system can slow down the growth of the entire company. But when carefully implemented with the right checks and boundaries, you can still have everyone have their say and keep growing fast.
All the above qualities together make the culture of a company, and culture is the invisible co-founder who can make or break your business. Spend as much time in building your culture as your core product or service, because companies are made of people, and people unified with a singular purpose is what makes a valuable brand.