Founding, building and running a startup on Indian soil come with its own share of fun, hardships and experiences. Our founders and husband-wife duo Ujjawal Asthana and Ankita - would never deny this. We know it because we successfully managed to make them pen down some of their conventions that they strictly follow in the workplace when it comes to crisis management, time management, team building and leadership.
Ankita reminisced about the time when there was a crisis at hand. What helped her and how she dealt with it!
Being a young startup in a competitive space with a growing team, there has been quite a few challenges that we have gone through. And these challenges are bound to drop every now and then. But the biggest challenge that we faced recently was when we were shifting our entire production unit from outside India to within India. And we are proud of it :)
Given that we design, manufacture and sell physical products, this shift has been no less than a crisis. Imagine explaining how a product feels on skin over a zoom call.
But we had to do what we had to do, so we moved our product development process to India. During this process, there was one specific event which really punched us in the face.
After the initial 3 months of research and early product development phase in India with various vendors, we had boiled down to one entity which was suiting our requirements up to 70%. So we took the call to move ahead with them and start production. They were happy, we were excited and everything was moving well, until one day, when a large corporation decided to wake up and block the entire production capacity of our vendor by bullying them into losses.
Well, this event has put us to a halt. We had expensive fabrics coming into the factory, all accessories and materials were ready, marketing strategy was in place, but the meat of the deal i.e. the production, wasn't happening.
At this point we had 2 options. Either to go in a frenzy or to go for a run and come back with a clear head. I did the latter. I cleared my head, spoke with Ujjawal, and we ruffled all our contacts to restart the hunt for vendors; and within a week, we had another factory ready with similar capabilities producing our garments.
“What I learnt from this was that a crisis can only be managed well with a clear head and by not panicking.”
As it so turns out, time management was something that she learnt over the course of building Zymrat. This is what she has to say about it.
Easily the most difficult part of the day. Prioritizing is the only thing that works for me.
The best day to day example of this would be when we are facing the customer part of the business. With hundreds of queries coming in on our social media and customer calls/ mails, it becomes quite overwhelming who to respond to on priority. So when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is to quickly skim through the customer care emails and social media messages to see if someone is angry or has had any bad experience with us. If that is the case, I try to respond immediately or assign it to one of the team members. This has become a routine, and top most priority for the morning ritual. I wouldn't be at peace if there was someone not happy with us out there without receiving a response from us.
Another example is managing my workout timings. Well, I have been failing big time at this, but thanks to a great team, I have recently been able to offload some of the things off my plate and I have started hitting the track and gym again. But to be honest, it is very easy to miss it. If I don't prioritize and spend half an hour extra watching a youtube video or netflix series, the workout of the day goes for a toss.
“So in a nutshell the best way to manage time lies in the prioritizing and planning.”
Ujjawal on the other hand, shares his experience on how Zymrat team grew, what he backed from his previous professional stint. What team character he chose to keep and how has he been keeping it.
Having run the company for the first 2 years as a 2 people team, I couldn't wait to build a team as we started growing. I already had a fair bit of experience from my previous consulting startup on the traits required to build a team, but the domain I was dealing with this time was completely different. But irrespective, there are few key traits that I value over everything else when seeking a team member -
Accountability - This commands my ability to let go of the control of the specific departments into team member's hands. I have always had a strong dislike for micromanagement, and hence I ensure that our team is highly accountable and they own their responsibilities without the need to be reminded about it.
“The best way to test out a team member's ownership is to start with a trust first model, where they are aware of the task at hand, the strategy, and the techniques, but the execution is left completely up to them.”
Whether it involves aliasing with other in-house teams or outside teams, or whether it involves hiring an external freelancer or an agency, or buying a subscription for a tool, I look for the team member to come up with the end-to-end solution and see it through. Trust-first model comes with fairly high chances of failure, but if it succeeds then you know that you have a rockstar in your team from day 1. We at Zymrat are truly blessed to have not 1, not 2, but 8 rockstars in the team right now. I have my fingers crossed to continue this trend.
Relevance - I believe every startup needs 2 sets of people.1 set of specialists and 1 set of generalists.
“Specialists are the ones who know their skill inside out while generalists are the agency folks, who get things done. They are both equally relevant, but who is more relevant in what role, and what point in time, understanding it well can prove to be a making or breaking point for the entire team.”
This is subjective to the domain, industry, and stage of the startup, but identifying these in the early stages helps in building a stronger team from the initial days.
Humanity - This is a mix of “Great communication skills + respect towards others irrespective of gender, age, caste, religion or socio-economic status + ability to not panic in crisis.” I constantly hunt for folks who display these traits, because they can prove to be the leaders who will not only grow themselves but will take others along with them on the path of growth.
Digging up more, he explains how leadership has shaped up for him and how he plans to carry it forward as Zymrat grows bigger.
In continuation to my point about professional humanity, I strongly believe that leadership is a mix of many traits that include empathy, compassion, communication, calmness, vision and the tenacity to see things through.
“To be honest, anything which is worth building takes time to build. And it never comes without a few peaks and many challenges. The magic lies in not allowing any of it to get on to your nerves.”
A successful leadership tenure can never be accounted alone to the man or the woman who is the leader, but it is always a combined effort of the team. It is practically impossible to lead a team, a company, a ship or any entity towards success without having many sub-leaders or vertical-leaders within the entity with a highly accountable team at their back. So it is crucial to constantly keep identifying leaders from within. These leaders should believe in the vision and should also be able to inculcate the same belief in others.
I also personally believe that being able to get their hands dirty is a crucial trait for leaders. One should be able to crank open the laptop/notebook and figure out the things if things are getting stuck instead of sitting back and waiting.
As time advances, we are certain both Ujjawal and Ankita will have many more lessons and escapades to talk about. We will continue to chase them and get them to share their experiences for and with you all.