Living the Indian Adventure

One of the first things I understood during my internship at an Indian startup was that knowledge grows when it is shared and not hoarded. Hence, here I am sharing my journey with you.

I had the opportunity, during my first year of engineering at Telecom Lille, to spend three months in India, working for a start up called Synup.

Synup started two years ago and now employs almost thirty people. The company offers a tool to manage your local marketing. It’s a really fast growing company (a dozen more employees in 3 months) that went cash flow positive a few weeks ago.

This was my first real work experience and I was really happy to do it in such a small structure and moreover, in Bangalore. I was really curious about what I could learn in this place and what I could share.

At first I was scared of how I could make my mark here and not be just an intern who does work rejected by other people. But after working with the team for a few days, I changed my idea about how my journey will be.

A totally flat company

When I first came in, I only knew the two founders of the company — Ashwin, the CEO, and Mohan, the CTO. I was surprised to see that apart from those two, I couldn’t figure out this company’s hierarchy; even the distinctions between the teams were difficult to find. I could just see a bunch of people sharing a space, working to make one idea reach maturity.

That maybe the best part of this company — even I, an intern who came just a few weeks ago was able to share his idea without any fear of being judged or classified. After a few days I already had the feeling of being a part of the company in the same way as the developers that worked here for a year.

During the first week, I was working on the corner of a table and Ashwin brought the entire team in for a meeting. As an intern I wasn’t feeling concerned and kept working, but he didn’t start before having my attention. On that day, he shared that the company was in debt and that he wouldn’t give himself a salary before the company got cash flow positive — he even stopped shaving during this period to give a physical reminder. The entire team knew that it would be tough to go positive, that everyone would have to make sacrifices, work twice as harder and we had to cut costs. That was the day I really felt like I was an integral part of the team.

Everyone was really concerned about this announcement and I really felt an engagement from the entire team — we got positive a month later.

Transparency is the key

There is also a major point here — there is no distinction between different parts of the company. We work together; we are a team, we share everything.

Everyone here is aware of the health of the company, the health of the product and the different projects everyone is working on. The sales of each day are on a whiteboard in the middle of the office and shared with the team. Everyone feels concerned about how the company is doing.

On one Friday night we had a big sale, an agency gave the tool a shot and decided to subscribe. The next day, even if the office was closed, everyone was aware of this one particular sale.

The company is completely transparent and wants its workers to feel like missionaries instead of mercenaries.

Always bringing new ideas

After a few weeks, I had plenty of time to fit in and get a better idea of what’s an Indian start up.

There’s this urge to always bring something new to the company.

My idea of the start up spirit can be summed up in one example. One morning while I was doing some work, Akash, our best developer, came and said to another developer “Let’s build something today”. It doesn’t mean that this guy is relaxing everyday but that “today we have a bit of time so let’s try something new”,

And that’s the whole point of living in a country of opportunities like India; “let’s try, if it does not work, we will try something else”. Always find new ideas, and try them before asking questions.

This really comes with the Indian culture. Will it hit or miss? Do it and we will see the results later… and honk while doing it. This possibility to try new things, to fail without being judged, gives wings to anyone who comes up with new ideas. India is really the country of possibilities. Creating a start up or an app has become so easy that everyone is trying his luck. We can see this at the number of service apps that are available here. You need a cab? You have an app; a cook? You have an app; someone to get your clothes to the laundry? You have an app for that as well! I almost never went out for lunch because of the numerous food delivery apps available here. And even if most of those start ups won’t survive after a few years, people try. Most of them only exist because of the price of labour and the Indian working culture.

India at work

It was really a surprise for me when I came to this company, to see how long people could spend in the office and how dedicated they are. Coming at 10 in the morning and leaving at 12 in the night. Spending 16 hours a day working and sometimes, even sleeping in the office.

Further, it is really questioning, how can we be competitive in Europe? We are 700 million people working at an average of 40h a week, while here 1.3 billion people spend 50h to 60h a week working. And people are doing their best here not to build their company, but to build a global business in India. They don’t work only for money; they work because they have this feeling of building something great.

How can we respond to this?

How can you react when people try to grow a garden in the Place de la Republique in Paris, during the Nuit Debout protest, while here some people need to work 7 days a week to survive. My whole idea of what working is has totally changed because of this internship.

But this gap in people’s minds came along with the Indian culture, living in a country where things still have to be done for the country; where you can help your people by trying to figure out a solution to difficulties.

Figure it out

I’ve been told this by coworkers almost every day — “figure it out”; learn, work, but do it yourself.

And if you are confronted by a difficulty, don’t try to avoid it, “hit it or miss it”… Fail if you have to, but try again.

It’s really pleasant to not be judged after failing but supported instead. Failing means learning, and learning is a major part of the startup spirit — don’t be comfortable with your knowledge. Learning a new thing means bringing new ideas and doing some more interesting work.

One of the first comments my tutor gave me was to not waste time if he doesn’t give me work. I was learning html/css during this time. He forced me to create my own website, to document myself on my free time so I could be able to give more to the company. I guess one of his passion is to give me work without telling me what to do. And I thank him for this.

Moreover everything is done here to keep people in office happy and motivated, we even have someone in charge of everyone’s problems — I’ll call him a lifesaver. During my first week this guy arranged everything I needed, a place to stay, a new SIM card , etc. Everything is done to keep employees focused.

I’ve been doing a lot of things here during this internship, various tasks and various learning’s but I didn’t come to learn new skills. When I told my school that I wanted to do an internship in an Indian start up with some marketing expertise, they told me that the best thing I could do is a poster. Instead I met passionate people loving their work, loving building things and see them grow. I came to learn from them and learn I did, more than I ever envisioned.

I will have a new internship come September and I think this experience will be extremely valuable. Not only for future work but as an experience I can share and a big part of expanding my belief system . I came with a certain idea of what a start up is, of what working really means and of the engagement you can have with your company and I leave with a completely different one . I learnt that knowledge grows by sharing and not hoarding; hence, here I am sharing my journey with you.