Lessons I learned from working at a startup

"Apply these principles in the context of your enterprise business, and you are most likely to succeed," says Pawan Chawla, CIO at Girnarsoft

Lessons I learned from working at a startup - CIO&Leader

Pawan Chawla, CIO at  Girnarsoft has over 18 years of experience in the IT industry. In a candid interview, he shares lessons from what he has learned -- from working in both -- startups and enterprises

 

Can you give us a peek into your professional background? How has your career panned out in enterprises and startups? How different were these roles from each other?

 

I was introduced to computer hardware back in 1996. Being a quick learner helped, and I soon felt the need to differentiate myself from the herd. From being part of a team managing infrastructure in an enterprise to owning an entire project in a startup – and building my own startup, my career scaled as I gained experience. I fervently believe that all knowledge comes from such experience. 

 

What were some of the lessons that you carried over from founding and running a startup and being an entrepreneur, when you took over as the CIO of Girnarsoft? 

 

The truth about startups is that they are here today - gone tomorrow. After having worked in one such startup, I learned the harsh realities of the job quickly.

In a startup, understanding the need of consumer is more important than executing your idea. The second and the most crucial thing is to look for ways to delegate. Do not try to do everything on your own. And finally, don’t say that you will ‘try to do’ something. It is also important to never forget why you wanted to start a business in the first place.

 

In a large corporation, no single individual has a huge influence on the outcome for the overall business. In a startup, every employee’s performance matters. A startup really gives an employee the opportunity to "own a piece" of a project. If a startup's business successfully exits, an individual can get to share the reward. 

 

Can you explain how you applied these lessons at Girnarsoft? (can you explain some of IT projects/implementations that you worked on) What are the challenges? What are the benefits?

 

As the CIO of a large enterprise today, I recently applied the aforementioned startup principles on a project. As a result, we were able to make better use of what we have today; standardize, simplify IT management, support cost, and finally, reduce unnecessary business cost. Today, we are able to align an organization’s strategy and visualize our information system design, convince all stakeholders and end users to commit to change, and make all implementation participants to agree on the scope and timeline for change.

 

In your opinion, can you /should you run an enterprise like a startup? 

 

Once again, the reality of startups is that they aren’t for everyone, and one person’s cons may be another person’s pros. Here’s how you can translate your startup lessons to an enterprise:

 

Innovation accounting: Lean startup principles state that "a new kind of management specifically geared to its context" is crucial. To replicate this in an enterprise setting, the senior management must be willing to give up control, and allow individual teams to feel empowered in the development process, thereby improving speed and efficiency. With individual teams possessing more autonomy and control, a revamped process on reporting is beneficial to both senior management and individual teams. The metrics used should help to make these decisions.

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset: In an enterprise, to react fast in the product development lifecycle (as required in a lean methodology), a business should adopt an agile mind-set. Applying the principles of agile and lean innovation requires a change in perspective, one that sometimes can challenge the mindset of old managers who, for decades, have attempted to predict the future with big, upfront, annual or multi-year business plans. These managers, instead of attempting to predict the future of applying the principles of agile and lean innovation, must embrace uncertainty – shifting the concept of planning to one of adaptive steering and making continual adjustments to the business in response to inevitable change.

Validate learning: Each step in the product development process should be measured to determine its effectiveness and validity.

Feedback loop: The goal of a feedback mechanism, such as build-measure-learn is to turn assumptions, risks, and the unknowns into knowledge. Knowledge guides teams and companies to progress effectively through uncertain environments, and this leads to a more stable path to innovation.

 

State an upside and a downside of working in a large organization such as Girnarsoft, and working in a startup/working as an entrepreneur?

 

Startups work to get funding, which means money is often tight, and they can’t afford to pay employees the same high salaries that they may receive in large enterprises. They are also often quick to hire and quick to fire. To summarize, working in a startup is equivalent to taking a short term risk. Work life balance can be tough to maintain. Especially in the technology sector, there is always the likeliness of a major project taking a backseat as a result of a sudden invention or innovation.

The benefits, however, are as many as there are drawbacks.

In a large corporation, no single individual has a huge influence on the outcome for the overall business. In a startup, every employee’s performance matters. A startup really gives an employee the opportunity to "own a piece" of a project. If a startup's business successfully exits, an individual can get to share the reward. 

Remember there’s no harm in aspiring to be big. There’s also nothing wrong with staying small and achieving big in a small team. Apply these principles in the context of your business, and you are most likely to succeed.


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