Tag Archives: outsourcing

Interview with @KevinHenrikson of @Acompli, hot mobile startup with Pune connections

Mobile email startup Acompli has been in the news recently for raising $7.3 million in funding.

Kevin Henrikson, co-founder Acompli, has a long history with Pune, and Acompli has a 4-person team in Pune which is expected to grow. Kevin is visiting Pune this week, and we took the opportunity to interview him for the benefit of PuneTech readers.

Can you give a quick overview of Acompli as you see it?

iPhone Email Just Got a Promotion. Acompli allows professionals to take more action with email on their mobile devices. Leveraging the full capabilities of smartphones, Acompli uniquely combines advanced email, full calendaring, file sharing, predictive search and smart contacts into one powerful app. Request an early invite to the iPhone app at http://www.acompli.com

Can you give an overview of Acompli’s development activities in Pune and overall – in terms of team size, composition, and responsibilities?

Vishwesh Jirgale leads a team of 4. The focus is identical to those in the San Francisco, CA USA office. Make Acompli the best place to work for those focuse on solving the hardest problems for professionals on mobile using email. Team is made up of experienced experts in both the email and mobile space.

Specifically, can you give details of the technology stack you’re working on, the kinds of skills that your team has, and generally the cool technology challenges you’re tackling?

We’ve got a very modern tech stack. Server side Java running on AWS talking to mailboxes on both Gmail and Exchange. We have a Python based Frontend device API proxy and a custom binary TCP based protocol that delivers lightening fast dat to our iOS Objective C client. In short we use the best tech for the task and are very focused on both end-user UX and speed of the application.

How did Acompli land up in Pune? Can you talk about the structure, and other important aspects of this relationship?

9 years ago I started a team in Pune for my last company Zimbra. After 12 trips to Pune in the last 9yrs it’s become like my second home. I know so many people and have so many friends it was an obvious choice for us when starting Acompli. Vishwesh and I connected via mutual friends and we quickly assembled a team from within our networks. Having a team in both Pune and San Francisco is a huge advantage to a small company like Acompli. We get 24/7 coding and operations support. We also get to hire the best talent from two super strong software cities.

Doing geographically distributed development is always a challenge – how are you tackling this problem at Acompli Pune?

Number #1: Hire great people. Great communicators, great engineers. The rest really just falls into line. Also you need to spend time together. I’ll be back in Pune the first week of March. This constant face-time with the team is the best way to build a strong team and great relationship. It’s also the best way to recruit. We are looking to hire a Sr Java Platform engineer and a Sr Android engineer. For communication we use Google Hangouts. It works really well.

(Kevin is visiting Pune this week. Those interested in meeting him should get in touch with him or Vishwesh)

Global Mining Giant to invest $80 million on mining tech innovation center in Pune

Rio Tinto, one of the biggest mining companies in the world, announced the opening of an innovation center at iGate Patni in Pune, which will work towards developing next-generation technologies for mining. Rio Tinto expects to invest about $80 million on this initiative over the next five years.

Just to be clear, we are talking about real mining, the kind where you dig up the earth and extract minerals – not data mining. Software technology is becoming an increasingly important part of mining, and is used in all aspects of mining, including use of sophisticated data analysis and modeling to locate mining sites, analysis to make mining processes more efficient, and also to to improve mineral recovery, and automation to allow remote mining, underground tunneling.

According to the press release, the mining innovation center in Pune will have about 300 engineers focusing on disciplines such as image processing, advanced data mining and analytics, automation and control systems, human factors design and logistics.

This is just one more development that cements Pune’s position as one of the top destinations for technology development at the intersection of software and the “harder” engineering disciplines like manufacturing, mining, automobiles, computer aided design, and computer aided engineering.

Advantage Pune Panel Discussion: Opportunities for Pune to become an Innovation Hub

These are a few quick ‘n dirty notes captured during a Panel Discussion that was held as a part of the “Global Conclave: Advantage Pune” event held in Pune yesterday, organized by Zinnov and Software Exporters Association of Pune (SEAP). The panel discussion was on the topic “Opportunities and Challenges for Pune to become an Innovation Hub”. The panelists were:

  • Bhavani Shankar from Zinnov
  • Akila Krishnakumar head of Sungard India
  • Ashish Deshpande from Google (based in Pune)
  • Kiran Gadi head of Motorola Mobility India
  • Omkar Nimbalkar head of Tivoli Group IBM India
  • Tarun Sharma head of BMC India

Overall, a few themes that most people touched upon were these:

  • Pune isn’t just about software. It has automotive, manufacturing, sciences (for example, NCL), and other things going for it. So it is more rounded than other cities
  • Pune has great climate
  • Pune has lots of educational instiutions
  • Pune is still not as crowded as Bangalore, so growth is still possible in Pune.

Overall, these are the advantages that Pune has for driving innovation.

Here are some additional interesting points made by the panelists:

  • [Akila] Sungard is probably one of the earliest Software Product MNCs to set up in Pune (back in 1993). Pune has 20% of Sungard’s global R&D strength. BFSI is the biggest market for the software sector, and hence a lot of innovation in Pune’s software industry has to happen (will happen) in this space
  • [Kiran] Our Pune center had lower attrition than other cities. This was a huge advantage.
  • [Tarun] 23% of BMC is in Pune. Largest in the world. This gives huge advantages – having many different teams in one location. This is easier to achieve do than in other cities.
  • [Omkar] Pune has an advantage over Bangalore that it still has space to grow. In Bangalore, it is very difficult to find space.
  • [Tarun] Pune definitely has a better perception of quality of life compared to Bangalore. It’s still a small city compared to Bangalore – you can get anywhere in 30 minutes. And the culture and art is great.
  • [Akila] Pune and Germany have had a great relationship, because of the auto industry. Pune has the largest concentration of German companies in India. This is a great opportunity for Pune’s software industry – it needs to leverage this and grow the software market in Europe.
  • [Kiran] The great thing about the Pune Community is that all the different groups (Software Exporters Association of Pune (SEAP), PuneTech, TiE, Pune Open Coffee Club, Head Start, CSI Pune) all talk to each other and co-operate.
  • [Akila] Pune’s demographics are interesting – lower than average age, and higher than average per capita income. It is easier to find early adopters in Pune, and easier to do viral (i.e., cheap) marketing in Pune. For example, it is not a surprise that it is the gaming capital of the country.

Pune’s too expensive, outsource to Nashik – Interview of Sushrut Bidwai (StartupForStartups)

Nashik based StartupForStartups (SFS) is marketing itself as a “facility to help early stage companies with limited resources to build first cut of the product (V0.5/V1.0)”. Founder Sushrut Bidwai is a regular fixture at Pune startup events, and is trying to convince Pune-based startups to outsource work to his programmers in Nashik, promising that it will be cheaper than doing it themselves. PuneTech interviewed Sushrut to get a first-hand take on SFS’ value proposition.

Can you give an overview of StartupForStartups?
Many times people have good ideas, but dont have guts OR are shouldering family responsibilities, which does not allow them to pursue these ideas further. In some cases none of the founding team members are from tech background, so even getting a good CTO is difficult for them (salary wise as well skill wise) . StartupForStartups (SFS for short) is meant for such teams. Its better to have something ready before taking the risk of quitting (high paying) jobs. It gives you more insight into product you are building as well domain you are targeting.
What SFS does is, it provides you resources required to build that beta version which you will show to investors (if its a big product) or will launch to limited audience and see how market reacts to it. After having this beta ready and some reactions from market or investors it becomes easier to take the risk and pursue it further full time.

Why are you doing this in Nashik? I would have thought that being in Pune or Bangalore (near all the startups, who are your customers) would make more sense for you?
Problems with Pune and Banglore are operational costs and resource costs. Also Nasik will have lower attrition rates and keeping people happy is easier. With technologies pushing the boundaries, we have so many tools available which makes working in distributed teams far easier. We even can do pair programming with two people sitting 5000 miles away from each other using WebEx/dimdim/Skype. Also it provides lot of cost advantages to startups we are working with.

As a customer, one of the worries I would have with StartupForStartups, is the availability of quality talent in Nashik. How are you tackling this?
We have developed a unique training program called “Implementing Concepts” which all our engineers go through before joining any startup team. So even if a particular engineer has gone through it once for a particular project, he/she will go through it again using the technologies which are going to be used in new project. This kind of a very elaborate HelloWorld for a project. Also, my experience in working on tech products is 80% of work is trivial and 20% is core work which is complex. So even if a startup is working on a product which is complex, they can take help of our resource in rest of 80% work. Though this does not mean we do not have expertise to take up complex work, it just means we are flexible and are okay with working as part of larger team. Also this is not outsourcing model, it is collaboration model. So you know who is working on your product and what that persons skills are and you can choose from the pool available. Also, to keep high availability of quality talent we are in process of collaborating with colleges here in Nasik. In this we will take the training program to colleges and have students go through them while working on final year projects. Please note that we do not assign interns on the projects.

Considering that most of your customers are early-stage startups who are strapped for cash, how do you plan on charging them for your services?
Charging is transparent. We send details about salaries we are paying to engineers assgined assigned to work on a particular startup and plus typically 20% operational costs. Now if you consider Nasik and typical salaries engineers expect and are more than happy with are much lesser than in Pune/Banglore. We already have the infrastructure and are building team. We are planning to build a team of 12-15 people by Dec end.

Could you give us an idea of what kind of savings I can expect compared to outsourcing to a company in Pune? (Where are the savings coming from: lower salaries, or other factors too?)
Lower costs for resources.
Lower operational costs. Just to give you indicator of savings, an Entry level GWT/J2EE programmer will draw salaries in the range of 17-22K in Pune/Banglore same programmer if he/she is from Nasik will be more than content to work on a good startup team if given around 9-10K salary. Plus you have to keep him/her happy so there is no attrition. Spend money on infrastructure like office space/ furniture/ hardware/ software / electricity / lunch facilities and many non-tangible costs like FBTs/Mediclaim facilities etc etc. you save these costs by almost 70%.

What do you see as your key competencies?

  • Experience of working in large scale product companies as well as early stage startups.
  • Top management has excellent problems solving and product designing skills.
  • Understand working on an Idea and processes involved in the same.
  • We are young, enthu, full of energy and love working on good ideas. (This is probably the most important quality.)

In the context of StartupForStartups, I’ve heard you talk about having a startup ecosystem. Can you elaborate on that?
This eco system is for people who are still in jobs and want pursue ideas. Though part of it can be used by full time entrepreneurs.

  • We are signing an MoU with a financial and legal service provider company having experienced in handling these services for startups.
  • We are creating pool of consultants (Architects, Performance engineering, Marketing/Advertising, HR, Viral Video creators etc).
  • We are collaborating with engineering colleges here in Nasik. We have designed an unique training program “Implementing Concepts” which is focused on training engineering students with latest technology and early stage product engineering.
  • We are talking to people who have the expertise of providing mentoring to early stage companies even before product is built OR evolved. Though we are in early stages of discussions with these people, but hopefully it will happen.
  • We are building a tool (looking to raise funds for this tool) which is designed around a process called Super-Agile, which I will be publishing shortly. This tool and process are targeted for early stage product development. The tool will make writing code almost a trivial thing and even non-tech background people after a little training can build the products first cut on their own.
  • Network. Not all startup founders are well connected. It takes lot of time to connect with people who can provide you help in building the startup. We can help there by connecting you with people we know, so its some starting point.
  • Knowledge-base. Startup entrepreneurs does not have time to go through lengthy tax stuff etc. Or does not have time to design their documents like Offer letters, seperation letters, NDAs. Over a period of time we will collect such documents and put them in an inventory. This inventory can be very valuable to startups.

Note that all the services mentioned above does not necessarily come with a price tag. Some are out of goodwill some are for money 🙂 . Our main problem is we are young, have the skillsets necessary to pursue an idea and make it to successful business. But we do not have the idea. So we want to work with people who do have it.

For those interested in meeting, Sushrut is in Pune today (25th September 2008) and is likely to attend the CSI Pune Seminar on Entrepreneurship. I know that there are a bunch of PuneTech readers who have an idea for a startup but haven’t made much progress yet because they haven’t been able to quit their job and take the plunge. If you are one of those, would you be willing to outsource some of this development to StartupForStartups or a similar company? Do you think this model will work? Let us know in the comments section below.

Related Links

How social|median is developed out of Pune

Jason Goldberg is a serial entrepreneur, who founded and headed Jobster, and who is now on to his next startup, social|median, a social news website. In a long article on his blog, he talks about what lessons he learnt from his first startup, and what he is doing differently in social|median as a result. The whole article is very interesting, and I would say, a must read for budding entrepreneurs (Update: unfortunate, the website seems to be gone, and the original article is no longer available). However, most interesting to me is the fact that, although Jason is based in New York, his entire development team is in Pune, with True Sparrow Systems.

He talks about why he decided that development of social|median:

  • Second […] we decided to build on a tight budget. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking cheap as in 1 guy in a dorm room. I’m talking low budget as in constraining the company to <$40k/month of burn in the first 4 months and then only taking it beyond that to about $60k/month once we had shown some early initial traction. The notion here was that spending our cash is the same as spending our equity. The more we spend early on, the less the company will be worth in the long run.
  • Maintaining a burn like that forced us to think outside the box when it came to staffing the company. To put a $40k/month burn in perspective, that would get you about 3 employees at most fully loaded with office space in New York (if you’re lucky). I remember interviewing a total rock star CTO-type in January in NYC and walking away thinking there went all my initial funding and that’s just for 1 guy. Instead, we have run the company out of my apartment in New York and from our development center in Pune, India. I’m the only U.S. based socialmedian employee (besides our awesome intern Scott who joined us for the summer from Syracuse and who has been a god-send). The rest of our team is based in Pune, India. We started with 6 fulltime socialmedian employees in Pune and have since grown the socialmedian development team to 11 fulltime employees in Pune.

Finding the right company to outsource to is another interesting story.

Jason first found out about True Sparrow Systems when he saw a facebook application they had developed. He felt that the application had been designed very well, by someone who had not just done a quick and dirty job to jump on the latest bandwagon (social networking! yay!), but instead someone who had spent time thinking about the application and its users. Based on this he decided to go with True Sparrow Systems.

However, this is not your usual outsourcing relationship. Jason has set-up things rather differently from most other companies:

A few notes about working with an offshore team. If you’re gonna do it, do it right. What I mean by that is that I’ve seen it done wrong so many times it’s sickening. Folks in the U.S. all too often have this mistaken belief that there are these inexpensive coders outside the U.S. who are just on call and ready to write code based on specs. That’s a recipe for disaster. In order for software to be developed well, it takes a team that is adept at planning and strategizing and problem solving together. It takes a team that feels like a team and who is passionate about the product they are creating. It takes a team who truly feels like they are building their product not someone else’s.

So, we decided to set up things differently at socialmedian. First, our decision to go offshore was certainly based on costs, but it was equally based on abilities and mutual respect. I had worked with the future socialmedian team in Pune before socialmedian on other projects and only chose to work with them on socialmedian because I was impressed with their thought process as much as their work product. We chose to work with them because they know how to solve problems and how to figure out how to respond to customer/user needs. And, they passed the most important test of all, an earnest early interest in the problem we are trying to solve at socialmedian and fantastic ideas on how to tackle the problem.

Second, I personally committed to travel to Pune, India nearly monthly for the first year of socialmedian (I’ve been there 6 times thus far in 2008 and am headed back in a couple of weeks). The logic here was that if the team was there, I, as the lead product manager, should be there too. As per our hunch, we learned early on that in-person time was critical for planning. As such, we have evolved into this regular cadence wherein for 1 week out of every month we plan together in person, and then for 3 weeks we are more tactical as our interactions are over skype. Sure, all that travel is tough (ask my spouse who hates me for it), but it has proven to be very effective for us at socialmedian.

Third, we have made our Indian team shareholders in socialmedian, so we are one company building one product. It’s an offshore situation, not an outsourcing relationship.

Of course, this model is not for everyone, but it has worked well for us thus far. Mostly because we have an awesome team joined together working on socialmedian and we’ve created an environment where it’s all about our users and the product, and the fact that we are thousands of miles away from each other is just a fact of life, not a problem. If I had to start over today I’d choose the same team 10 out of 10 times to work with.

A lot of this is enabled by the tools:

In case you were wondering, here’s the process and tools/services we use at socialmedian to mange our New York – India operations. As noted, I travel to Pune for at least 1 work-week out of every 5 work -weeks. We ship code 3x per week within 3-4 week development milestones. We use TRAC (open source bug tracking tool) to manage bugs and feature requests. We use basecamp to share files. We talk on Skype when I’m not in Pune pretty much 6x per week from 8am Eastern Time to around 11am.

Read the whole article for a whole lot of other (non-Pune related) advice. It is long, but worth the trouble, especially if you dream of having your own startup.(Sorry, the article is gone, but here is a copy from the Wayback Machine (thanks Pragnesh))

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IT cos find Pune rentals high-priced

The Times of India is reporting that the increasing rentals in Pune could be a significant deterrent in growth of IT in Pune.

Sunil Patil, president (Pune region), UBICS, a software company of the UB group, believes that the rentals may spoil the show. “Rentals in Pune for software companies have gone up 300% in three years. We are being offered space at Rs 65 per sq ft, which at $1.50 is the rate in Manhattan,” he said.

This comes on top of the disappearing cost advantage, especially in product companies. Salaries have been going up, and what used to be a 1 :: 6 or at least 1 :: 4 cost advantage is fast evaporating, especially at the higher levels. For people with 7-8 years of experience or more, I’ve heard numbers like 1 :: 1.5, and in some cases, I’ve heard that execs in India actually need to be paid more than the equivalent US salary. Factor in the increasing cost of real estate, travel, and other overheads associated with having India operations, and the economics of the situation start looking troubling.

When riya.com (now like.com) shut down their Bangalore operations, CEO Munjal Shah wrote a detailed post on why they couldn’t afford India. It is very instructive reading. Larger companies have an internal headcount ratio – if you have budget to fund a 100 person team in the US, how many people can you fund in India. This number used to be 300 earlier, and there’s at least one company that has updated its numbers to 100. Think about that. They end up with the same cost irrespective of whether the team is in the US or India – and this factors in the fact that junior programmers in India are much cheaper than those in the US.

If you are not careful, your job is going to Shanghai. Or Philippines.

Note: I am talking about product companies that are trying to do full-fledged product development out of India. In services (i.e. outsourcing) the ratios are better. But even there the situation is grim. Read Sramana Mitra’s “The Death of Outsourcing“, for example.

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