Saturday, September 20, 2014

For the love of the customer



Our product, EZOfficeInventory is a leading equipment tracking solution and we've been busy disrupting this space for a few years now. When we started, our goal was to help office employees manage and keep track of assets assigned to them. But if we had stayed there, there might not have been much of a product for me to blog about today.

As customers started signing up on the product, we started getting feedback and requests for updates. My initial fear was of us listening to the wrong customers or moving away from a product thats useful for a large majority to something only a select few customers can use. Two books that guided us through this decision making are:

Innovators Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen
Cross the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

But fear aside, when I look back today, I am comforted by a decision we made fairly early on, which was to be customer centric. Our goal is to make products for businesses that help them be successful. That meant being a high impact company. Money and revenue being a secondary goal. And there were more than a few times when we had to make long term decisions and this rule came in handy.

As an example, one of our customers wanted us to customize the solution and have it deeply integrated with their backend system. They were willing to pay some serious dough but we decided not to proceed as it was less about enabling the majority of our customers in being successful and more about taking the money and doing what one customer wants.

Another good outcome of having a focus of customer-first is that everyone in the organization understands that we cannot leave our customers to hang out to dry. If there is ever a data consistency issue, or a system availability issue, its our number one priority. It doesn't matter if the customer facing the issue is on a free package or a paid one, we never let a customer hang out to dry. Because of this, we've seen good retention and decent referral business. But most importantly for me, its helped comfort me in knowing that we've come a long way in achieving our goal of providing a valuable product to our customers.

And every now and then, speaking to a customer who raves about how our product has helped their business in being more efficient or successful always makes my day!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tips for Interviews

I've been taking interviews for technical jobs for over 10 years now. I still have a long way to go in terms of coming close to perfection, but here are a few tips if you're looking to land a job



  1. Come prepared. Its not a weekend barbecue party. If you cant bother to spend a few days to brush up on basic technical concepts, then dont waste my time!
  2. Exercise basic hygiene. That means cutting your nails and brushing your teeth. While looks and physique help in getting a good first impression, if you have bad hygiene then I dont want to punish others by having you forced on them. You'd have to be Einstein for me to look the other way and hire. 
  3. Be confident. I know of someone who tool anti-stress medication before interviews to help with keeping calm. Dont recommend it, but as an FYI he's been pretty successful, and he happens to be a doctor! You may want to exercise, rest, yoga or whatever to help put your nerves at ease before the interview.
  4. Research the company. In the end if you ask interesting questions and get ideas rolling in my head, I'll like you. And that can be a determining factor if you're a borderline.
  5. Know what and how you'd like your career to pan out. Dont be over ambitious but have some ambitions. Dont be naive either. If you act like you know what you're doing, people will think you know what you're doing - even if you dont.
  6. Dont give up easily on tough questions. You should ask if you have time every few minutes if you're stuck, but dont give up too easily. Nobody likes quitters.
  7. Dont BS. If you dont know the answer, say you'd like to attempt a guess before throwing  baloney my way. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Careless, cross that, criminal negligence in Pakistan's Doctor fraternity


The events and characters covered in this article are real. No synonyms or pseudo names are used, its the real deal. If you believe I'm being unfair, I don't care. In Pakistan we're blessed with more than a decent share of black sheep, and what I'm about to narrate is something that will render most individuals speechless.

Preface

My wife has had two Caesareans at the National Hospital in DHA, Lahore. The first Caesarean was unnecessary as the labor was artificially induced even when the term hadn't been completed; we'll classify this as incompetence on the Doctors part. Now incompetence beats criminal neglect, since incompetence mixed with dedication yields successful, although non-optimal outcomes. Having your first kid and some painfull stitches isn't the kind of experience that does justice to parenthood.

Moving on - we were on our third child pregnancy and my wife insisted she wanted a normal birth. We read a lot on the internet, by that I mean my wife become the encyclopedia on medical practices in pregnancy and in that process she had me pick up a few pointers on how pregnancy is dealt with in the developed world. So now we needed an expert gynecologist. This was going to be no normal pregnancy, we needed the best. 

Chapter 1 - unlucky

The process of finding a good doctor in Pakistan is that you talk to a few friends and relatives to come up with a list of potentials. We attempted this and in Lahore we couldn't find anyone other than the old generation of gynecologist, and since they were like really old, we couldn't go with them. So we decided to go with the head of Gynecology in a hospital that came highly recommended. Like I stated earlier, I'm not going to hold back any names. Fatimah Memorial is the hospital and our ill picked Doctor was Fozia Manoo Khan. She's specialized from somewhere in the US. I wish I had digged deeper into her degree, I fear she might have specialized from Harlem (a low ranked Hospital in NY) although doctors even there have some humanity in them.

On our first visit we laid it out to her i.e. we're not the standard case she's handled. We're going for a normal delivery after 2 C's even when its fairly rare in Pakistan. And we needed her to help us. She responded with the expected lecture, i.e. very rare in Pakistan and that she would give us a trial if we so demanded. 

Chapter 2 - the journey

The pregnancy progressed with a hiccup. After all, Pakistan didn't become a nation of 190 million magically, the nation has seen so many babies that we might as well make the baby our mascot! I digress! 
Dr Fozia M. Khan isn't the cheap doctor, she charges Rs 1,500 per visit, and we probably had over 10 visits easy. Each visit had us wait around 40 mins for a 10 min session. On most visits we'd bring up the following subjects:

1. I, the husband, want to be in the delivery room. She would typically respond that there in an LDR room that we can avail. Something of a rarity in Lahore, I guess most men think its honorably to be dead farts siting in the waiting room for the mother to do the 'womanly thing'. But in the late 8th month of the pregnancy she said the room had been broken down to make way for some renovations since it wasn't being used. Crap!

2. We want this to be a normal delivery. She would generally respond to this by saying that its high risk but would let us try it. 
So all was going well, until we hit the last week…..

Chapter X-1 week. Storm before the storm

On the last visit to her clinic, we ended up waiting 30 minutes for Dr Fozia or her nurse to arrive. Her nurse took some basic tests and then asked my wife to wait further for Fozia to arrive. I felt bored out of my wits in the waiting room and made the mistake of asking my wife if it was ok for me to check up on office stuff for a bit since my office was close by. I received a call 30 minutes later that I should come back from office to pick her up. My wife was extremely emotional when I arrived. On her last visit before the big day, Fozia M. Khan decided to SCARE by wife. She used every scare tactic she could, from describing how her uterus could shear and her organs splatter, to her taking 'NO RESPONSIBILITY' for her safety. Holy #$@$. On the only solo visit by my wife and the last before term completion, she decided to put on the witch costume! 

We were vested in her too much to change gynaes now. We prayed, we browsed the internet for more similar cases, and we prayed some more. My wife decided the next day that she's not changing her mind, she's going for the normal. Everyone who knew what was happening had their guts sticking in their throats but we all acted with confidence, and with confidence in her. What kind of a crazy doctor decides to scare a patient at the worst possible time when confidence can mean the difference between life and …. 

Chapter X! 

Somewhere up above, a decision was made to send a new life to this world. My wife had read enough to know that being in the hospital too early is bad for deliveries. She had us walking in a park during the labor pains and having me time them. I was scared. When is it too early and when is it too late to start the trip to the hospital. Why can't things be more simpler! In the evening my wife finally said, lets go, but on the condition that we would come back if the labor wasn't in its final stages. The drive took 40 minutes to the hospital. They checked, stated labor had begun but my wife said it wasn't in the final stages and we went home after discussing it with the nurse. Then at midnight, we went again. This time she was admitted. I was asked to wait outside in the waiting room. My mother in law accompanied my wife, thank God she had come by when she did. 
The next part of the story has two angles to it, one that I experienced and the other of my wife. Fozia M. Khan was busy with her dreams if you're wondering about her experience.

Me: I was in touch with my wife every 30-60 minutes via cell phone. 4:30 am was expected to be the moment by my wife's calculations.
Wife: Took no epidural or spinal. Doing so could complicate an already complicated labor. Duty Doctor who was suppose to check regularly was sleeping. The Duty Doctor needed to be woken up after every hour just so she can do her job, which she felt was a favor.

Me:  Time stops in moments such as these, and when 4:30am came …. it stopped for longer than I'd wanted. Than at 5am, my mother in law called, asked me to pray and from her voice I could tell something was off. At 6:15am I got another call from my mother in law, she said they were taking my wife to the delivery room
Wife: At 6am, ready to push. No Fozia M. Khan. Even the Duty Doctor is now ignoring me. Telling me to lay on the side and not to push until Fozia comes. Babies don't wait on Doctors! The pain was off the charts, and it wasn't the pain thats associated to prepare for the delivery, its the kind of pain thats telling you to push. I go ballistic, throw away the baby monitor. They finally move me to the delivery room. 
But instead of guiding me to push my child out, now I'm alone. No one is with me. Not even the Doctor. I wait for what is eternity. A rude nurse is now my sole guardian. The pain of not pushing is extreme. I beg the Duty Doctor, who was clearly avoiding me, to guide me in pushing so I can deliver. She says ONLY Dr Fozia can do it, to which I respond that I don't want her. I can feel my Caesarean stitches being stretched and the baby has come down. Another Doctor inspects and says the baby's crown is visible. BUT DO NOT PUSH - MUST WAIT ON FOZIA

Me: At 6:45 am, I'm worried. Something is not right. Why haven't I heard the 'good news'. I call my mother in law and she says the Doctor hasn't come! I call her assistant (the doctor never gave her own number), and she says that Fozia is on her way. I'm in a state of numbness …. my brain is sending too many signals at this point, some of anger, others of frustration and the rest of fear. I just say in a calm voice, what happens if there is a complication right now? Why is she not here. Little do I know that things have already unfolded that required Fozia to be there 30 minutes ago (6 am) at the minimum. A Doctor with some conscience would have been at my wife's side by 4:30am. 

At 7:15 am Fozia arrives. Delivers and then leaves not to be seen until 32 hours later. Some dedication by a Doctor for a case that even she, i.e. Dr Fozia, described as being extremely complicated and rarely carried out in Pakistan. 

Chapter - The End


I had a few choice words with Fozia when she finally came to check up. Her parting thoughts to me, "Take your wife to a foreign country for your next delivery then". 
I then complained to the MD of the hospital, who seemed frustrated at the state of affairs as well. His every attempt to try to figure why Fozia wasnt in the labor room were dead ends. In the end his opinion was, you cannot find replacements for doctors - better to have something than nothing. 

Charges for a delivery, one where the Doctor was MIA, Rs 60,000. 
Of which Rs 36,000 as direct fees going to Fozia. 

Summary

Dr. Fozia Manoo Khan was late by 3 hours per any decent standard, and criminally late by an hour in which two lives were put in danger. Incase you're wondering if its possible that Fozia was unaware as to how things were unfolding, let me clarify. Fozia was called by the staff at midnight and she was the one who had asked the staff to call her at 4:30am to update the status. Rather than rush to hospital given the level of dilation at 4:30, Fozia just waited until 6am for the dilation to complete, and only THEN have the hospital ambulance sent to her home in DHA. Did I mention, I live in DHA as well and even under no-traffic conditions you're looking at 30 minutes one way! So an ambulance leaving the hospital at 6 can only bring her back by 7! 
Ok - maybe there is still some wiggle room, possibly that she had some urgent matter at home. In my confrontation with her, her classy words were "my sleep was ruined and you're still ungrateful for having a healthy baby!"

Why

Both mother and child are doing fine. The purpose of this post is not to count my lucky stars, but to ensure that I do my part in highlighting criminal negligence. And if you're thinking of having Dr Fozia as your gynae than at least I've done my little part in trying to highlight her record.


So if you've been thinking I sound cynical these days on how bad things are in Pakistan, you're right.





Thursday, September 29, 2011

In favor of recession

Recession, contrary to common opinion, is a needed part of the economy cycle and more importantly for sustaining our civilization.
Booms while great, do have downsides. No need for me to write on the upsides of a boom since they're well known and even fantasized! So to the upsides of a recession:

1. Helps the 'humanity' aspect. During extended booms, its easy for individuals to became part of a rat race ie who has the biggest car, the exotic summer vacation etc etc. Recessions enable individuals to be grateful for what they took for granted. It helps reset the human clock on being content.

2. Improves professionalism. This is my favorite - during booms the dumbest of the lot start to believe an imaginary worth of themselves. During booms, the human resource shortage creates an impression in the heads of the 'not so above average' that they have abilities that need to be coveted by employers. Well, the wake up call during recessions, when the low performers are typically first to be let go helps them get out of their slumber. I've seen engineers being hired in booms who I would hesitate to hire as blue-collar workers, and that puts a dent in any organizations minimum bar of professionalism.

3. Sets up an environment for the next boom. Recessions help people realign such that the bad typically get weeded out and the great get some breathing space to kick around. This sets up the infrastructure for the next boom since exceptional talent is able to focus without being distracted by the not-so-talented.

So next time you hear that we're in a recession, stop and think if you're one of those who needs to realign and/or push harder to be the best that you can be.



Monday, March 28, 2011

Rails Developers

I've recently started noticing the same trend in Ruby on Rails development as Java development was 10 years ago. Everyone who is anyone is jumping into it. From engineers to musicians. While its nice to have a lot of developers, the end quality remains elusive. So if you're thinking about picking up Rails, ask yourself this:

Are you in it for the money or are you in it for the passion?

If you're for the former, all the best to you, I really dont have much to say after that.

If you're the latter, then I suggest you strategize before becoming a code monkey, a list I'd recommend is:

1. Read the basics - ie know what Ruby is first and then pick up on the basics of Ruby on Rails
2. Write a simple application - but dont leave the 'magic' work under the hood without understanding it. Rip it apart, figure out why something works and why it doesnt work. Scaffold's and ActiveRecord in Rails make web development look like a walk in the park. But only those developers who understand what happens under the hood make it past the standard websites and onto the more interesting and challenging tasks of scalability and security.
3. Keep returning back to the basics. A sky scrapper would fall if its foundations were to be eroded. Dont let that happen to you.
4. Be active on GitHub. Nothing beats being the person who writes code that hundreds or thousands of other developers get to use. And you'll learn meta-programming in the process too!
5. Take on energetic developers as your proteges. Every now and then you'll get a question that'll make you think even when your current projects doesnt.
6. Avoid the 'I am god' syndrome. No matter how good you are, there will always be someone better. And nobody likes a snob anyway!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The light at the end of the tunnel for Off-Shore Web Development

If you're in the offshore web development business and think there's a train coming head on - you're probably right!


I've been pondering over this for a few months now and the conclusion I come up with is that offshore web development companies are like tiny fishing boats rushing into the ocean not realizing its the calm before the prefect storm. Most such businesses today are only concerned with one thing, recruitment. Gone is the thought that there can be a storm lurking just beyond the horizon and the more they recruit the bigger the downsizing they'll need to do.

If you're a developer, work hard to be the best. Since the best define their own destiny and even during tough times can find work.

Why do I believe this is a bubble thats going to burst:

1. Recent adoption of consumer devices eg iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry pad etc are sending most brands and companies into a panic attack, the same way the dot com boom of 2000 did. Most of the mobile apps being launched today are plain crappy - they add little value other than being installed on the device and allowing the user to enjoy a customized experience. But WAIT, didnt the web promise us the same? Oh right ...html just isnt ready to do the work these apps can, or is it. It doesnt matter which side of the argument you're on, we can all agree that html5 will become mainstream and these apps will be gone the same way desktop apps have.

2. It takes 3 (three) developers to do the work of one. One developer is doing the website, another the iOS and another the android (lets assume no body wants to develop for BB, WebOS and Symbian). Question: How many browsers are there? How many developers does it take to write an app for all of them? ONE! So we likely have a 3x Artificial/Temporary demand in resources going on right now.

3. Labor Intensive. All labor intensive industries have gone the way of disruption through productivity tools and automation. Software is no different, and we're already seeing the emergence of a new breed of RAD tools as well as technologies that enable porting to all devices by writing code once. Ahh - Java Applets, you were born prematurely! Flash - you suck. Microsoft SilverLight - you belong to the 'dark side'! HTML5, you'll do just fine.


So the million dollar question is, When is the bubble going to burst. Thats anyone's guess, but a market correction will come. Have you hedged your bets in terms of growth initiatives?

Friday, February 25, 2011

StartUp! Why NOW?




I've been doing extreme forms of mental tightrope walking over the past few months. And the end result is me going my separate way. Each time I state to someone that I've left my X-Company to form a startup, I get asked "WHY" ??
So here it is, and for those that dont know me, I hope it helps you think about your own aspirations and next steps.

THE WHAT

I've resigned as a CTO & partner of a mid size software services/products company specializing in web and social media applications.

THE WHY

My career path (you can check the details at http://www.linkedin.com/in/asyed) started with a step into a 20-30 engineers company and then went on to working for a 50,000 engineers company. Then the downward slope of joining a 5000 man company and then to a dozen or so engineers based one. The latter being the place I'm just exiting from and now being over 80 and likely to be the next big software house in Pakistan.
Reading the above, it almost makes me want to pinch myself on leaving a technology company when I'm confident in its growth, and by and large being a great place to be. Even my exit speech left most confused if I had changed my mind to stay or if I was indeed leaving :)

However, my biggest fear was an image of myself that I saw 2 to 5 years in the future - an EX-engineer who's stuck doing management crap primarily troubled with recruitment and employee training. Growth for a software services company will always be about the ability to recruit the smartest engineers, thats because engineers create value and not the business managers. And constant growth pains isnt the kind of problem that gets an engineer-at-heart excited. And lets face it, services industry is not for the faint of heart. Its a shop thats open for business, and you dont get to choose your customers. The customers choose you. Read the story of the mac store employee to see how even top brands have to entertain jerks at times

***Disclaimer: Most customers are professional, but every now and then the few jerks can hit the raw nerve, or at times the firms own jerk engineers can cause perfectly professional customers to match them.

And then the light at the end of the tunnel, the product idea for mid to large businesses. I remember having to waste my weekends just to file paperwork while working at the fortune 500, and its still the same for my peers working in mid to large enterprises! Keeping the actual product ideas under the lid until its ready for the curtain raising!
The idea(s) came about during the usual client calls and even recruitment interviews with fairly experienced software development managers working in/for large enterprises. And it hit me that most mid/large sized companies are still stuck in the early 2000's ... a decade of catching up still needs to be done in how most companies run their internal software development units. Having worked in a fortune 500 while interacting with a couple dozen other fortune 100's, it was like a huge 10,000 Watt bulb switching on! The ROI and the pain each employee of a mid to large size firm goes through to get their job done is considered part of the job.

No more pain for employees of mid to large size firms is the value proposition of the fledgling startup!

THE WHY NOW

I'm betting on 2011 being a great boom year, and that a professor of mine once explained to me the greek concept of opportunity or Kairos. MIDDLE EAST: Get your act together quickly, high oil prices are NOT good for the global economy!
And like any business that needs to be successful, the passion to excel and deliver must exist. And for me, its now! I believe in the mid to large businesses product space and more importantly the ability to execute on it. The rest of the matters will be tackled as they come (the "what if questions")

Lastly and probably more importantly, if you want to be part of a journey that is sure to be exciting and nothing short of a crash course in creating a great products based startup targeting the North America market AND you're great exceptional in UI design or Rails development, then get in touch with me! jobs 7vals.com (spammers - stay away!)