Start-up BOT: Hiring, Retaining and Firing

Product Start-up BOT: Hiring, Retaining and Firing


In our blog, we discussed about WHAT-WHY-HOW-WHEN for Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model for Product Start-ups. In this blog, we would brainstorm details for the Product Start-up Team Building and Management under BOT model.

All the thoughts mentioned below are outcome of our experience at multiple Start-up teams built from Pune-INDIA especially couple of BOT model based Teams built at Isana Systems ( At the same time, those thoughts may be still applicable for the established Product Companies and not necessarily only for the Product Start-ups. Because overall market has turned so dynamic & demanding in nature that even established Product Companies are forced to run certain product features/groups in the start-up way. Read More below:

Product Start-up Team Hiring under BOT – Model

First of all, the Team hired under BOT model in India is technically not fully owned by Product Start-up Company but hired on the payroll of BOT Vendor Company until company is incorporated in India for the Product Start-up. This is certainly hurdle to attract right talent during the initial phase of team hired under BOT model. However, this hurdle is not blocker to build the team mainly because every hired team member is aware that he/she is going to be integral part of the Product Start-up, from day-one going to participate in stock-options plan and the most important – equally responsible to build the Product. Also, each hired team member knows that being on payroll of BOT Vendor Company is an intermediate arrangement for HR, Logistical & Legal purpose and eventually Product Start-up Company has plans to establish their own India subsidiary instead of spending time & energy on Logistical & Legal overhead during early phase of the Product building. Also, there are good number of examples, where Product Start-up teams and their India Subsidiaries established under/by the 3rd party company and that has not at all blocked to build Product Start-up teams from India.

Once above described initial hurdle is addressed then Hiring Opportunities, Challenges and Issues for BOT model are same as any established Product Start-up Team/Company in India. Below are high-level steps, which would help to build team in India moderately faster:

  • India Team Head/Lead is advertised as face of the Product Start-up in India to use his/her network and cash on his/her followership by the people in Industry.

    • It is extremely important that people from Industry to sense that the India Team Head/Lead is really empowered for decision making in Hiring & Engineering milestones and is considered at par of the executive team of Product Start-up Company. (India Team Head details are high-lighted at the Product Start-up Company Website at right time.)

  • Preferably all, but at least few important positions are filled-in by exposing the candidates to multiple team members in India as well as from the Head-Office.

    • If the Founders from Head-Office take efforts to make sure that they talk to maximum (ideally all) candidates (who cleared the initial rounds) then it helps a lot to convince the story of Product to them.

    • It is important to keep the final decision of Hiring with India Team Head/Lead by balancing out the positive & negative opinions about the candidates by team members in India as well as in Head-Office. This helps a lot to hire right talent at much faster rate.

  • Treat each existing Team Member as brand ambassador of the Product Start-up and encouraged to refer his/her friends & colleagues from the past.

    • Network based references auto-happens if individual team members think that they strongly believe in Product story, they are upbeat to contribute Product building and take huge efforts to make each & every customer release successful.

    • India Team members must not get feeling that they are not integral part of Product building process and are treated as extension of team in Head Office.

    • There is well-defined Product Roadmap at least for the next 2-3 quarters and well-aligned with Product Business Goals. The roadmap and its updates are well discussed with the existing team members and the entire team is aware – where their next 6 months efforts are required to be channelized.

  • Candidate gets impression that there is or will be enough work partition between India and Head-office team.

    • This may not be possible during initial phase, however it is important to stress on the plan to make it happen once sizeable members are hired in India.

  • Not to hire any candidates, who are just behind Money despite their excellent engineering capabilities and Company’s urgency to hire.

    • Hire only those people, who believe in Product Start-up Story, looking for good Work Culture, Cutting-Edge Technology work combined with good (not necessarily the highest in industry-bracket) salary and have faith in probable exponential income out of stock-options.

    • Hiring process to focus on Candidate’s hunger to participate in building successful Product Start-up Company, readiness to work in fast-paced environment in addition to core Engineering and Problem Solving Capabilities.

  • Not to always look for ready-made material in the candidate but for potential & capability to work in the required technology domains.

    • Candidates seek to build diversified work experience.

    • Candidates hired based on potential & capability are longer-running players & respect the opportunity more than the candidates hired purely on ready-made expertise.

  • Build the balance between Senior and Junior team members.

    • Team is required to be mentally young and enthusiastic to face the challenging targets and situations.

    • Must hire Interns every year and go for College Campuses.

  • Accept that Hiring in India (and also in many other countries) is tough but believe that the hiring targets are achievable.

    • Candidates have more than 2-months notice period at their existing jobs.

    • Ready to face candidates not showing up from technical interviews to -> offer discussions to -> actual joining despite accepting the offer.

      • No response is a new response ☺

    • Hiring is like playing Casino, where you hope but do not get gain always. In fact not to expect Thank-you or Sorry note from few Candidates ☹

    • Industry always have candidates waiting for the right opportunity.

  • Arrange Technology Events and Invite Industry veterans as Speakers.

    • Keep the focus on Technology.

    • Try to make it as joint event between 2 or more Companies.

    • Avoid Marketing of your own Start-up but do not forget to tell why you are behind a specific problem.

Product Start-up Team Retaining under BOT – Model

Hiring and Retaining are two sides of the coin and are quite inter-related especially building core and initial team for the Start-up. It is not at all proud thinking that one is able to catch up hiring for the replacement of leaving team members. Quick replacement is need of the time and should not be part of normal course for any growing Start-up. In other words, Hiring rate is required to be much higher than attrition rate during Product building time and few initial years of the Start-up.

Below practices help in general retaining the Team for longer time.

  • Well-established Communication between India and Head-Office Team.

    • Bi-directional status meetings are happening religiously every week.

    • Road-map updates and customer achievements are discussed.

    • Good and Bad news are communicated transparently.

    • Each team member on both the sides of ocean feels free to discuss in design meetings and express his/her opinions freely.

    • Both the teams are contributing code reviews and have common set of development & testing tools.

    • Company wide meetings have participation from both the sides.

    • Mutual respect is established over the time period, but avoid foul language in any case.

  • Well-defined Work Partition between India and Head-office team.

    • This is always a tricky part especially during the initial 1 or 2 years because there are too many variables & changes while building prototypes, POCs before you build something, which has more fitment in the market. During this phase, teams are literally operating on daily or more frequent calls and it is not exaggerating to say that Engineering team operates on continuous shared responsibilities.

    • Once this phase is passed, then all stake holders need to make sure that good amount of work partitioning and responsibilities are defined between India and Head-Office team. It is important to make sure that the Product release responsibilities are shared however individual product features are owned by either site. Remember that such arrangement is double sided sword and only capable people can handle it.

    • Understand that zero shared responsibilities situation is not practical and work partitioning does not mean for reducing the communication, integration and harmony between both the teams. But treat it as empowering the team members on both the sides.

    • Having more than 1 VP of Engineering positions and multiple Architects is not intention of Work Partitioning especially during few initial years of Start-up. But Work Partitioning is result of trust & respect built after the initial 1 or 2 years, which is never built by the people, who always treat India team as an extension of Head office team.

  • Founders are meeting remote teams every quarter.

    • Despite all busy schedule, Founders must plan to meet their remote teams.

    • There is no replacement for personal touch in any relationship and building Product Start-up team is not an exception for frequent traveling.

  • India team members are traveling to Head office on need basis regularly to complete the work by building the bond strongly with remote team.

    • This helps to build Product knowledge base faster and certainly pays off during the later stages of Start-up.

  • Successful Products Companies are NOT built by having groupism and fiefdom culture.

    • Change the attitude from Working-For-Me to Working-Together.

    • When any Founder or Industry leader move from one start-up to another start-up, it is quite natural that few fellow workers to follow you in the new venture. But while maintaining the older relationship, make sure that new stronger & longer term relationships are also built. Give up the thinking of My-Go-To-Man because now there are additional good men/women around you. Leadership is not purely respected by one’s followers but it is his/her capability to successfully execute in different work environments & with variety of people.

    • Stop enforcing knowledge & practices gathered from the history. Saying – “We worked in a specific style or using certain tools in the past, so let’s do the things in the same way now” is the most dangerous and balancing act is always required here. Technologies and engineering execution models are changing too fast than your age. Distributed teams demand regular changes in your work style.

    • Balance between old and new ideas & tools for the Engineering execution. Remember when you are thinking to use new ideas & tools, there are few 100s of industry people, who have tried & provided pros & cons for your faster learning.

  • Somewhere I read this quote “HR is not there to be nice but to be fair in the Company”. It is so appealing and describes the difficulty when Founders & Leaders wears HR cap.

    • Each and every team member is required to be continuously assessed for the contribution and outcome. Quantitative measurements like number of bugs fixed or filed, number of test cases and number of features worked upon etc. gives limited picture of one’s performance. Qualitative analysis of complexity of bugs, test cases, features and overall time spent to help other team members should contribute to the value put by individual team member.

    • Continuous rewards must be provided to performing people, but not to cross the boundaries of over-pampering. Having Quarterly awards, Employee of the Month, Contributor of the Year and Salary & Stocks revisions at right time, always stirs the environment and makes sure that people are encouraged to do better.

    • Give sufficient opportunities to non-performing team members but give immediate feedback. People are going through different phases of their life and human beings are not machines. For example, younger team members performing so well in the last 2-3 years may not be the same in this year as he/she is getting into new relationship/marriage and going for bigger liabilities like Home Loans and mentally they are occupied for so-called Distractions. Another example, senior team members are busy to take care old aged parents and/or themselves facing health or relationship issues. Life has changed so much and hence their performance at work also. If despite Company’s support going through different phases of life, individual performance is continuously not up to the mark then it calls for certain actionable steps but I have seen people bouncing back in sufficient cases.

    • Understand that everyone is not star or super-star. Team also needs people who are continuously good and stable performers. Hence avoid too much comparison with-in team members and everyone has his/her own pie.

    • Establish PIP – Performance Improvement Programs time to time.

    • Do not hesitate to manage out non-performing and performing but bad attitude people. The most important thing behind every successful Product Company is good working culture and hence sanity with-in the team is required to be maintained.

    • When team members are laid off or people are leaving, Founders & Leaders must talk other team members and discuss the honest reasons of attrition. One cannot afford to have low-moral of the team but at the same time, team has full right to know reasons behind the attrition. Not talking about negative things is as dangerous as talking too much about them. If the foundation of Company is right and strong, positive developments would always follow.

  • Build Strong Social Network for Product Start-up.

    • Call it as Marketing or Advertising, every Product Company needs good social network awareness and spread for all the developments happening in your own Company and by your competitors.

    • Most important be honest and stop exaggerating about your achievements.

    • Even there is nothing wrong to tell the world why you failed or why you changed the path of Company. We all have seen multiple articles at Linked-In talking about negative or not-so positive achievements. You never know that you are laying stepping stone for others in the Industry and for yourself in your next venture.

    • Social Network has its own grey side and when the Company goes through unstable path, good amount of negativity is spread at Social Networks & Forums. Do not bother much and one positive development would wipe-out entire negativity. Just keep moving and doing the things right for your Product and Team.

Product Start-up Team Firing under BOT – Model

As like Hiring, technically BOT Vendor Company has legal responsibility to full-fill, however it becomes lot easier when there is good understanding between Product Start-up and BOT Vendor Company and lay-offs are done before India Subsidiary for Product Start-up is established. After all, Hiring as well as Firing is joint responsibility of both the Entities.

We have seen, BOT Model has been executing Reduction-In-Force (RIF) in following scenarios:

  • Based on pure & continuous performance reviews & improvement programs, team members may still fail to perform in the fast paced environment. There is no need to make charity by retaining such members and discouraging other performing fellow workers. It works well for the Company and helps non-performing people to learn the lesson when they move on their next job. Such RIF has to be the regular practice.

  • Not all people are meant for the Product Start-up. Some are really not fit for the game and may work better in well-established organizations. Sense such weak links, try to bring change for them but at the end, fixing of weak links is not avoidable.

  • Even if people are meant for the Product Start-up, but few of them may be just good for initial phase of the start-up but fails badly in subsequent phases. For example, POC/Proto-type thinking is not suitable when Product Start-up is expected to sell the stable product to have better & recurring revenue. The Company cannot afford do-it-patchy approach for the long time and certain correction is required.

  • Product Start-up Company changes the Path due to all valid reasons of Market fitment and it needs different set of skills & experience.

  • Product Start-up Company goes through financial crisis and forced to manage certain head-counts. All actions are driven by Business needs and even Founders may not have any say into it.

  • Product Start-up Leadership changes for the good sake of Company Business and it is not always smooth walk for the new leadership. Mostly it results into people separating themselves, but few times, hammer on non-cooperative heads is inevitable.

In a nutshell, Hiring, Retaining and Firing has its own course to make Product Start-up as Worker’s paradise and BOT Model fully supports it.