Wednesday – It’s midweek and the weekend is far enough to plan something new. It was a usual workday filled with meetings, deadlines, and tasks, but with something unusual. My inbox popped with an invite for a 7 pm meeting titled – ‘Xeno Happy Talks’.
Now, usually that’s the time when I leave for home so I was eager to know what talk will make me happy. My curiosity soared and I asked my colleagues if they knew what it was but even they were as clueless. Then entered Pranav (Founder of Xeno) and he told us that we’re hosting the Founder of a startup for a chat. He’ll be talking to us about his learnings, challenges and answer our questions about the startup culture.
It was none other than Mr. Swapnil Khandelwal, the co-founder of AlmaConnect, a startup that works with institutions to help them build a strong alumni community by creating a social-professional ecosystem among alumni, faculty, students, and management of an institution. I’d heard about it and surprisingly was a part of the alumni network in my college, powered by them. Now it only got better from there. We were given a formal introduction about his company, how he scaled it and that even after 6 years of serving more than 500 top institutes in the country, his team was 10 people strong and how much he believed in a lean team setup.
Swapnil was affable and with his witty one-liners swayed all of us with his stories.  We got acquainted with the challenges their startup faced while dealing with the government sector, how time became a challenge for signing up Enterprise deals and how these deals taught him the true value people were ready to pay for his product.
Out of the many learnings, my seven  key takeaways would be:

1. Technology can’t solve everything.

Technology is great—but it alone won’t solve all.  In an age of Automation, few things are better done online, especially in a fast-growing startup. There should be an ideal amalgamation of automation and manual effort, before investing heavily in technology. At AlmaConnect, technology timelines were reduced occasionally by human interventions for many experiments that they have undertaken.

2. Don’t Manage, Just be in the loop

Being a good manager sometimes feels like walking a tightrope. It’s important to make sure your department or company is making forward progress. But at the same time, you don’t want to be so involved in your teams’ day-to-day activities that you squelch their creativity, hurt morale, and miss out on your priorities completely. The golden rule, as emphasized by Swapnil, is not to manage your team and keep a nose over their shoulders, but by just making sure that one is in the loop for all the critical decisions and activities.

3. Self KPI’s

Everyone knows about how OKR’s and KPI’s work. A lot of startups now have implemented KPI’s into the core of their Employee evaluation process. Just Like AlmaConnect and Xeno, we all know what to achieve in a quarter (or month or year) and we all work hard to achieve those. But, what Swapnil here was talking about is Self KPIs.
A relatively new term in the industry, its a means to empower everyone in your company to do something that they decide for themselves, something that they would love doing, something that they will inherently take ownership of because its what makes them feel closer towards their progress.  Magic happens out of all these small experiments, Sony’s Play Station is one of the most recognizable examples of this. Read more here.

4. Don’t lose your belief, no matter what

The grass is not always green in a startup, in fact in a fast-paced startup grass is most of the times it is covered with a thick layer of snow. A company is founded on the strong backs of its co-founder’s vision. Its the vision, backed by the action towards reaching the vision makes a company successful. There will be times when you will start to doubt your vision and belief. These are the moments when you need your belief and your team’s belief in you to be intact.

5. One bad apple can spoil the entire bunch.

“Toxic employees destroy your Culture and your Bottom Line”- Harvard Research
Working in a company that has one toxic employee (even if just one) is practically lethal to the company. Swapnil learnt that even in the happiest organizations, unhappy people can cause havoc. It takes only one bad apple to ruin a bushel. Toxic employees alienate their co-workers and team members, which also directly impacts everyone else in ways (negative) you can’t even imagine.

6. Emotional Security

When Swapnil was asked a question on building a community, he spoke about how Emotional Security plays the pivotal in building a successful. Emotional Security, or how confident a user feels where he posts something on a platform with people he knows (or doesn’t). The fear of rejection and the anticipation of acceptance drives people to share on a social media. There is a reason why Facebook never had/or will never have any dislike button. To be able to build a successful community, you need to win over people’s insecurities, make them see the positive side of their activities.

7. 3 Keys to success

  1. Ownership – Work like it’s your own company
  2. Hard work- Good’ole yet the most critical funda for success
  3. Self KPIs- Experiments with passion and ownership create magic.

Experiments with passion and ownership create magic
We couldn’t agree more. We Happyxens were lucky enough to have had this amazing opportunity and we would like to thank Swapnil for sharing his experiences and learnings from AlmaConnect’s journey. Looking forward to hosting him again for Xeno Happy Talks.
Keep watching this space, we will update about your next guest on Xeno Happy Talks.

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