More than a year back, I bid farewell to a cosy Zomato’s position as Sales Manager in Hyderabad and joined ShieldSquare at Chennai — the crown jewel of Tamil Nadu or as movie buffs fondly call it – the Land of Talaiva!
I’m not going to paint a rosy picture of how amazing my first year at a startup has been or how great it was to work. You can get all those stories all over the internet. This is my story and I am painting it as-is.
I worked for Dell, IBM & Deloitte in tech support broadly and like many others, I too felt choked, brain dead sometimes and above all lifeless. Joined MBA-Marketing and realised that educational institutions (I’m not judging top-tier B-schools, just the one I studied and ones similar)are terrible when it comes to teaching what’s needed to the industry. They have no clue where their syllabus stands w.r.t real-time skills that the industry looks for.
I interned with three different firms while pursuing the MBA for two reasons:
- Because I did not want to sit for the hopeless placements where students are asked to wear a suit to take interviews with companies that offer slavery jobs for peanuts.
- Because I badly wanted to get into online marketing where I can learn things for real than sit around and act, like people usually do in MNCs. (No offence to the sloggers, keep going!)
The only way ahead for me to make the U-turn successfully after having worked for three years in three MNCs and one (part-time) event management company is to learn work through internships and, of course, there’s the MBA on the sidetrack to explain the same in euphemistic theories, analysis, and curves.
Why I Chose ShieldSquare And Not Zomato
ShieldSquare was one of the first startups I interned (for 4 months)while pursuing my MBA. Every day, as the laborious class work ended I worked on lead generation. I liked Pavan (CEO) who’s the most unpretentious person I’ve seen to date. I knew they were steadily growing in an ultra-niche security space and by that time had got their first round of funding.
My internship ended early December 2014 and I was not offered a permanent role proactively. In my active pursuit, I sent an email to Pavan sometime in May 2015 and eventually got offered a job.
Zomato was on a hiring spree when I was offered. They were ready to launch the Order App and I was hired to sell it to restaurant owners. The office culture was all chilled out but, in all honesty, the job sucked. Except the fact that I get to stay in Hyderabad (my home city) and eat at lots of places, nothing else was lucrative. ZERO learning, less pay as I saw it.
Sweat, Sacrifice, And Success
I’ve travelled across TN before for site seeing. But this was the first time I’m actually residing in the sweat capital of South India to work with ShieldSquare.
Nothing fancy. I was the fifth member to join the four-member team in Chennai comprising COO (Vasanth), Account Manager a.k.a Sales (Jasper), Service Delivery a.k.a Support ( Sharadha ) & HR (Geetha). The Tech., DevOps & Engineering were (are till date)operating from Bangalore.
It was a co-working space (shared with Contract IQ)in a flat in Baby Nagar, Velachery. We worked out of a small bedroom with one AC right on top of my head, where I used to sit.
It was not easy. It was not meant to be. Understanding the product and marketing it in all forms was a huge challenge.The company was growing and there were a lot of voids to be filled.
Usually, people do one thing as part of the job, my thing was to do everything – from running ad campaigns, writing content, preparing decks, generating reports, designing images, getting pop-up banners printed in SF to ordering t-shirts, greeting cards, visiting cards, planning events, PR and what not.
It was a roller-coaster ride. I alone was the Marketing Team! It was what I signed up for.
Many weekends were roasted away trying to figure out how to tune the haphazard Adwords, test various other platforms for marketing/re-marketing etc. to increase the quality of inbound lead gen. I was not alone. Pavan was always available on call to guide, advise and ensure that we do what best needs to be done in time.
We worked hard and smart to ensure that the marketing was intact and targetted so as to eliminate all sorts of noise. It was painful, I missed out on several movies after having booked tickets in advance and other weekend plans. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make not for ShieldSquare, but for me. I had to learn to do better.
It was during this time that we emerged as the Wild Card Winners of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015.
For the first time in life, I realised the beauty of the times we live in.
Sitting in a bedroom office, on the eastern side of the globe, we were able to steal the show at SF. I never imagined that we’ll make it big at TechCrunch but after we won and Pavan pitched on the Battlefield, there was a rush of inbound leads. I was very happy.
Things gradually improved and we closed some big customers, and also got our second round of funding. We started to hire across functions and in the process moved to a fully occupied 3 BHK flat with better infrastructure for all of us.
When It Rains
December 1, 2015. The rain god lost his mind and poured relentlessly on Chennai. The city drowned in flood water and we were all stranded without power, food, and water. Vasanth was kind enough to come search for me but the flood water in the colony I live was too deep for him to even enter.
I shot this video of an SUV making its way through the flood water during the initial days of the rain. The water level was much higher and drowned all the walls that you see in the video when the rain actually went on a rampage.
Work never stopped. It never does at ShieldSquare.
The Bengaluru team filled in spots for us, as much as they could to ensure that our customers are not affected. I wrote this blog post as we resumed operations.
It was good to be back to work post the floods. When you’ve survived the worst, the regular seems magnificent. Like fate had it, we closed another big customer and increased our country count from 44 to 68.
As the year 2016 dawned I’ve learnt that what works for SaaS online marketing specifically, and formed a complete marketing team hiring people with experience and expertise. I feel deeply obliged to the founders of ShieldSquare, especially Pavan & Vasanth for believing in me and trusting my actions.
I did not come in with tons of experience despite which I was given a fair chance to grow and lead. There were ups and downs and times when I felt sick and tired. But that was all temporary. I believe seeing your work take shape and contribute to growth is what will keep your enthusiasm to do good work intact.
Many think it’s cool to work for a startup. In reality, it’s really hot and sweaty. Creating everything from scratch, staying focussed, building teams,consistently doing hard work etc. is not so easy.
If you want to have a comfy and relaxed work life, never join a startup. Startups are only for the ones who want to get their hands dirty.
In the last one year, I’ve learnt what could have possibly taken two-three years if I were to do similar kind of work at a large company. It is essential to choose the right company to work for, followed by the pay. The learning so far has been tremendous.
The Highs And Lows
May 5, 2016 — Sanjay Anandram (mentor and investor) presented a High Five award and a cash prize in recognition to my efforts across various sub-functions of marketing. In truth, there is a long way to go. I have barely scratched the surface.
The Chennai Team (sales, support & marketing ) has grown to 20+ employees, overall ShieldSquare is now 50+ employees strong. We moved out of the 3BHK and have a bigger office now with real meeting rooms.
I’ve transitioned to a different role (still waiting for the official letter so I can update LI) with a team of five, all set to generate quality leads for sales to close. This is both new and challenging for me. Like the saying goes, you got to do what you got to do.
So as long as I see the devil in the details and make sure leads come into the funnel I guess I’ll be good to achieve more at ShieldSquare in the days to come.
[This post by Sasank Raavi first appeared on Medium and has been reproduced with permission.]