Hiring and firing

20 Apr

Something I read several years ago has always stated with me
I have never regretted firing someone. I have only regretted how late I did it.

And so the question stems – how long before you fire someone.

I would start at the selection itself.

Groupon has this test we give every candidate before the interview. It’s a simple test comprising questions on general awareness,  quantitative ability, verbal reasons and psychometric profiling.

Here is the deal. We have made every existing grouponer take that test. And now have average scores for each function.

So every new hire needs to be above the average score of the function they are being interviewed for.

There have been 5 instances where we made a hire despite the scores being lower. Each of those exited the system within 3-6 months. I regret making the call to hire them.

And then I would take a call after their first month.

It’s the most important month. At the end of 30 days I send a note to everyone, checking how the month went. Are they having fun. Are they enjoying their work. Are their managers and team members treating them well.

91% of those that didn’t reply to these emails left us or were asked to leave, within 3 months of their joining.

Sometimes, all you need to take a decision is just a signal.

Archive (doesn’t warrant reaction or decision)

  • it’s not worth my time to reply to this
  • Happens 10% of the time, for me

Reply (take a decision)

  • I need to clear the passage and take a decision
  • The decision, if reversible or with low “capital at risk” will be taken almost instantaneously
  • Else I will reply to buy time or seek more data
  • Happens 30% of the time, for me

Forward (delegate)

  • Send it to someone and empower them to take the decision
  • Lay out the rules of the game. And what your expectation is.
  • Don’t share the solution. Then you might as well do it yourself.
  • Once taken, their decision is final. No review.
  • Happens 30% of the time, for me

Compose (create a new task or seek help)

  • Take the lead and create a new task or identify a new problem to solve
  • Create the framework to approach it
  • Assign an owner to the problem
  • Set a time to discuss the possible solutions
  • Track the progress and bring it to closure


And here is what most people do wrong

  • Archive when they should be replying instead
  • Reply when they should be forwarding instead
  • Forwarding when they should be composing instead


14 Apr

I wrote to Indra Nooyi yesterday.
One of her interviews inspired me to write a personal letter to the families of our top performers. Acknowledging them for the invisible support they extend in the growth of the organization.


She hasn’t replied.
She perhaps never will.

But it feels comforting that I have left a timestamp of acknowledgment. Just as she so did through her interview.

So many people to learn from
So many things to learn
So many timestamps to read
And to leave

Productive or Busy

7 Apr

The two are not equal. 

A productive day is when you glance into the future and take decisions to reach there from where you are today. Let’s call this a workshop. 

A busy day is when you glance into the past to see how you landed in the present. Let’s call this a review. 

Here is the thing about review. They rarely move you forward. Because they end up being just that – a review. Shifting a review into a workshop is an art. 

And a necessity! 

The markets are bad

The product isn’t there as yet 

The systems failed 

The team size was small

The long weekend impacted sales 

The traffic was bad 

The hours are long and I don’t have time 

The money isn’t enough 

The excuses I have for not delivering on my promise are unlimited 

The helpless story equates excuses to output 

Unfortunately, it isn’t 

Instead, try the ownership story

I will make time

I will find a workaround 

I will solve this

I will get it done

And if I don’t, I will not shield behind an excuse. 

The hiring pitch

31 Mar

Pitch 1:
We have an awesome culture
We have the smartest people
We have free lunch
We have low attrition
We have great compensation figures
We have an open door policy
We are awesome!

Pitch 2:
Here is what we have done
Here is what we want to do
Here is why it’s not a trivial problem to solve
Here is why we need the smartest people to work on this
Here is why we think you are perfect for the role
Here is what you will get to do
Here is the team you will get to work with
Here is why you will make us awesome!

Pitch 2: 1
Pitch 1: 0

Output vs Outcome

30 Mar

Output: Here is what I was supposed to do and I have done it
Outcome: Here is what my output was supposed to achieve. And I have achieved it.

Own the outcome. Not the output.
Don’t convert yourself into a checklist.

Wild card entry

27 Mar

I have been extremely lucky in life to be part of tribes that I wasn’t deserving of, in the first place.

ISB – got through with less than 2 years of experience.
Kearney – got through despite not being a top ranker.
Entrepreneur – became one completely by accident
Rocket – got through after a 15 min meeting
Groupon – was asked to lead with no such prior experience or exposure
Fortune – can count 100 more people who could be part of the list instead of me

I am the wild card entry in all these. The guy on the fence. The not so obvious choice.

Here is the deal with wild card entries
No one expects you to win.
No one knows about you  either.
No one expects you to contribute.
And the only direction you can go is up!
The only thing you can do is to observe the obvious entrants and learn

And perhaps someday you won’t be wild card anymore

Reading people is an art
Reading them right is a blessing
Misrreading people is lack of practice
Misreading people to suit your bias is a habit

The key to read them is not to classify them as adjectives. Rather to figure their probable reactions to situations.

Everyone has a good side and a dark side. Capable of loving and hurting. Capable of being loyal and back-stabbing. Capable of being thoughtful and selfish.

Question is: when do they behave which way?

Being comfortable with just yourself is a blessing. 

The first 1.5 days of Beijing – I communicated with the world only through my lens and pictures on my phone. Didn’t speak a word. Simply walked the streets in the bitter yet sunny cold. Capturing faces, structures and culture. Occassionally singing to myself. Not missing where I came from because I know I could always go back to it when I wanted. While this new world will only last for 3 days. 

It would be amazing if we started each day as if it were in a new city. You don’t know anyone or anything. And you only have yourself. Would you live it differently? 

Scaling up

5 Mar

Fascinating conversation with an industry colleague, this morning.

Key take away
Companies don’t need to scale up in numbers, to scale up
They need to scale up in mindset!

What heals

5 Mar

Time heals

Love heals

Money heals

Music heals

Travel heals

Meditation heals

There is nothing that can be bigger than your will to heal. 

Everyday when you wake up, it will the first thing you think about. Until one day it will be the second. 

Teach me something

27 Feb

A fascinating interview question,  especially for product managers,  is
Assume you are a teacher. Teach me something I dont know of

In one stroke this exhibits several important traits of a successful product manager
Ability to structure thoughts
Communicate clearly
Ask for feedback

In the past 2 days alone I have learnt
Why acute mountain sickness happens
How to make kulfi faluda
How do you control directions when paragliding
Why do cars need gears

2 interviews a day
25 days a month
That’s 600 new concepts in a year!

I love what I do!

Note to self

24 Feb

What you eat in private
You wear in public

And I am not talking just food…

Pick one

23 Feb

Here are my favorite interviews questions
1. Speed or perfection?
2. Spontaneous or calculative?
3. Money or power?
4. Starting things or finishing things?
5. Institute or course?

Neither of them have a right or wrong answer. But here is the worst response – “both”

Life doesn’t always give you both. Most of life is about picking one option,  one path. Even if you don’t want to.

Only on 3 occasions have people come back and said – neither. I have a third one for me.
All 3 of them are top performers at Groupon today.
They didn’t accept the choices life gave. Chose to create their own path in some way!

Pick one
Better still, create one!

Admit,  rectify and never repeat mistakes
Commandment 8 of the Groupon India Bible

If I had to make one for managers,  the same would read
Identify the cause and solve, to ensure no repeat problems.

The biggest mistake that managers make which they are unaware of,  is that they don’t solve problems. They only address them tactically – at a individual level,  circumstantial level,  momentary level. They don’t solve the problem. They solve the situation.

Ask yourself – will this problem occur again within the same set of individuals? If yes, you haven’t solved the problem.

It takes a lot more will. A lot more time. Definitely a lot more attention. Imagine the returns,  though.

A conversation with Ankur Singla this weekend set me thinking.
The hardest part about running a company are not the technical issues. Most of those are binary. Capability and  perseverance will get you there. If something doesn’t work,  you find the solution and fix it. And it mostly works the way you expect.

People don’t work like that.
We are unpredictable. We have varying emotions based on what we had in the morning. We have varying reactions to the same situations. And we expect different things at different times.
Handling people should then be the hardest role of a manager. And it is.

But nothing is codified. There is no Bible. No course. When Singla asked me a few questions,  I couldn’t articulate the response despite living those problems everyday (and successfully handling most of them).

And it’s obvious why. Because I am a person myself. The way I handle the same situation is also not standard. It varies.


I wouldn’t pay as much to hear how founders came up with their idea and made it successful
As much as I will pay to hear how they handle people


12 Feb


Imagine designing a customer survey.
You want to know what your customers think of your product.
And while you are at it,  you might as well ask them their age,  gender,  email.
Perhaps get them to even upload a selfie,  so that the best one gets a prize.  Gamification,  as they say it.

Imagine inviting applications for an open role.
You want people to submit their resume.
And while you are at it,  you might as well ask for their current compensation,  expected compensation,  references.
Perhaps get them to upload their marksheets,  so that your database can be complete.

As I look back,  I see most of my unsuccessful endeavors lying in the bracket of “One Task – Multiple Goals”
Rarely works

Instead – optimize your task for one and one goal alone. Recognize that everything else you add is most likely adding friction to the process. Lowering your chances of getting to the objective. 

The survey is only to gather responses
The application is only to gather resumes
The campaign is only to gather traffic
The product is listed only to drive sales
The merchant is acquired only to generate trust
The task is meant to accomplish only one goal!