I feel like that’s what all the good CEO’s do. And who am I to argue with tradition? Except the problem is that it’s pretty hard to truly capture what it was like at NextDrop in 2013. Not gonna lie, it was a tough year. But we survived. The best way to describe it is to compare it to my first two years in undergrad. I went to UC Berkeley and did my undergrad in engineering, where your first two years were filled with things called “weeder courses“. These courses were literally designed to make you fail (or at least try it’s very best to). To be fair, when I was the graduate student instructor for one of these weeder courses, I finally understood the point- the professors were only trying to create a normally distributed curve, and the test was written to challenge those that were at the top. But that’s pretty much how I think of the last two years at NextDrop. The weeder years. But when you get to upper division courses, it’s still hard, but nowhere as difficult as the first two years. I don’t really know why, because the material is more challenging, but maybe it’s just because…you’ve survived. You know you can survive. I think you’ve also developed the coping mechanisms for working in uncertainty, and stress (pretty much all the time). You’ve developed the framework for success. That’s how I feel about where NextDrop is. I think we’ve paid our dues, and we’re leaving behind our weeder years. We’re getting to the fun stuff now.
Anyway, I thought I should somehow try to describe what the weeder years at NextDrop felt like. In December, Quijano asked the Exec team to write down month by month, what was happening at NextDrop in 2013. This was what mine looked like:
Jan- Meeting Desh, realizing we need money
Feb- Start asking for money
March- Asking for money
April- Begging for money
May- Really frickin desperate for money
June- Please, I will sell my left kidney for money
July- WE GOT MONEY! Moving to Bangalore
August- Trying to get some more money in India
September- Now that we have money, lets use it!
October- Lot of Progress on the utility side
November- Learning more about our customers
December- Customer systems in place, valvemen systems in place, Bangalore office
This was Devin’s
Jan – Reservoir monitoring. Bangalore pilot. Fixing.
Feb – Celery (periodic tasks). Outbound calls. Incoming SMS. Fixing.
March – Missed call! Valveman report. Billing.
April – GeoDjango! Maps! Bhargav!
May – TESTING! YES!
June – South Migrations. Caching. Telephony handling!
July – Valve areas state changes. Pipe damages (leakage squad)!
August – Utility dashboards. Supply Durations.
September – Feedback loop.
October – Supply Schedules. Geocoder!
November – Predictive analytics. Modular Feedback 2.0.
December – DevOps. Backups. Water clock.
Personally, I like QJ’s the best (But he stopped in September- apparently life at NextDrop stopped after September for him)
jan – 424 emails!
delivery reports for how many messages were being delivered. believe it or not at one point we weren’t sending messages to landline numbers that didn’t have a 0 before their number
zero customers in areas
presentations for BWSSB
India Water Week submissions
customers who are deactivated but paid
feb – 550 emails!
fund raising – Unitas
emails about tech fixes
will poole teaches us about increasing returns
devin forks the nd repository
mapping and sweeping
charging residents in bangalore
experimenting with PPP for company operating system
valveman reminder sms
using data to scheduling areas to bill
QJ aspires to be a hacker
deactivations because we’re sending incorrect messages
experiments with customers using advertising books to refer other customers
reservior level monitoring contract
forbes 30 under 30
creating dashboards to quantify good areas
integration of ODK collect
march – 414 emails!
fund raising – Khosla
accepted to speak at IWW 2013
meeting with Rutvik from Inventus capital on scaling sms products
experiments with kirana shops billing
experiment with advertising in movie theatres
mapping, mapping, mapping – billed all the areas where we launched customers correctly
no more excel for data collection
mannually transfering customers based on geotags
anjana sends out the last ‘customer’s launched email’, the thread had started on 17/9/2012, there were over 3296 customers acquired, and 50 messages on teh conversation and this was the end of the customer service team acquiring customers on hand bills
pronita commits to nextdrop
pitching to the BWSSB
MISSED CALL customer acquisition systems
april – 480 emails!
fundraising – IAN
reservior monitoring MVP
HD1 center billing partnership
city view map – pretty map
billing getting approvals from valvemen team
talking about websie updates
realizing we have customers in unmapped areas!
We got a postcard from a customer saying everything should be in kanada
Madhu shadows utility engineers
Devin starts watching pycon videos
experiments with price sensitivity in bangalore
Anu starts to learn python!
fundraising – Venture East
Our first interactions with GSMA
Srikanth and aadhar
time studies on HD1 centers and people paying there
Intro to the World Bank, India
working on Bangalore expansion
Testing the code
fundraising – Soc+Cap closed!
valve monitoring emails
experimenting with intern team in Bangalore
e xperimenting with value added service of collecting other bills
first interactions with KUIDFC
nextdrop advertisements on local hubli+dharwad channels
hubli interns big push for geotags
paid utility contract from Hubli
looking into feedback
progress in NE3
geotagging customer before launching them
bhargav begins developing utility product
Devin and Pronita meet in California
survey on water tanker prices MVP
looking at ez tap
fundraising – mumbai angels nextwrok
valveman customer referrals
exit interviews with first set of bangalore interns
pronita arrives in India! starts to crack billing
training second set of bangalore interns
trouble shooting geotagging in bangalore
NextDrop GameClock gives us insight to our representative resources
overlapping polygons makes it difficult to recruit customers
missed call for leakages
second application with GSMA for grant
Hubli EE changes and wants to provide the service to the city
integration of supply schedules to our application
meet with some Mumbai angels
finish off geotaggin in Hubli+dharwad
switch over to ZenPayroll
backlog in bangalore customers
entire team meets with AngelPrime
manual send sms to customers
feedback loop mvp
Peter Thiel schools NextDrop with CS183
feedback mvp experiments
I think Pronita and Nishesh decided to do theirs in person when we had our meeting so I don’t have it, but I think you get the idea.
Also, I’d like to state, for the record, that just like my weeder years at UC Berkeley, I was probably a horrible person to be around. I’m really surprised that I still have co-founders and a staff actually (i.e. they didn’t mutiny). Being a boss is really hard, and I must admit that I did a very poor job last year, in general. What with the stress and all. It really hit me when one of my employees gave me feedback- he said hey Anu, it would really help if you just asked how we were doing when you got into the office. Wow. WOW. I didn’t realize it, but it had gotten so bad that I wasn’t even treating my own people like regular human beings, I was so engrossed in my work. (Thank you SO much Melwyn for bringing it to my attention, I hope I’m doing a better job this year!) But I think that was my takeaway/learning from last year. Sometimes, especially during your weeder years, you as a leader forget that you have an entire organization to take care of. Not just externally, but internally as well. And at the end of the day, organizations are human. Very human. And if you abstract that out, and treat your internal organization like a machine, bad things happen. (I know, that totally sounds like a no brainer, but let me tell you when you’re in the thick of stressful situations, its funny how many things you stop doing…)
So I’d like to apologize to my team and thank them for sticking with me through trying times. Speaking of team, I should probably write out who works with us now in 2014! But lets make it fun- this is how I see each of them
Quijano: He’s our Co- founder/COO. He’s pretty awesome and in undergrad he used to help me with my engineering homework. He was definitely one of the smartest people I knew at Berkeley, and that’s saying a LOT. The coolest thing about him was that I knew he could be making so much money at other jobs using his brains (read: financial sector), but he turned them down to learn about the water sector (as evidenced by turning down his Amex internship to work with the San Jose water utility). I think that takes serious guts. In undergrad I knew I wanted to start a business with him (in the very very unlikely possibility that I would be running a business…)
Nishesh: He’s our Co-Founder/VP of Product Develop. Nishesh is probably one of the most solid guys I know, and he’s the guy anyone on the team goes to when they’re having issues. I would even go so far to say he’s the rock at NextDrop. But besides his internal rock-ness, he’s the go to guy for anything related to governments or utilities. So all of that, “What, you’re working with governments and utilities?! Not possible!” We have Nishesh to thank for disproving all of that. (Sorry girls, he’s getting married next month :)
Pronita: She’s our Co-Founder/Chief Growth Officer. Pronita is awesome because I truly admire the way she relates to people. We used to do dance together in college (that’s how we met) but then we sort of became travel buddies, and then she was also the other person in college I knew (in the very very unlikely possibility that I would start a business) I wanted to work with her too. She’s an absolute boss when it comes to anything relating to customers, or making NextDrop come alive. Seriously, some of the stuff she comes up with, I’m just like..whoa. Yeah- lets do THAT. She brings the flesh to the NextDrop skeleton
Devin: He’s our Co-Founder/Software Engineer. Devin is a friend of Quijano, and when we met, Quijano told me that he knew the next Bill Gates. And then I met Devin. And I was sold. And then in true startup style, he dropped out of college and started NextDrop with us. Seriously, look out for this guy. He’s 20 and he’s a powerhouse. Devin comes up with stuff, and I just think, holy CRAP. That’s awesome. Why are you so smart?
Thej: He’s our Chief Technical Architect. Thej sort of does a lot of amazing things, but mostly, he is just a really really cool guy. Did you know you can find his name on the new Mozilla Monument in San Francisco? Yeah. Enough said. I love working with him, because every time I leave the conversation knowing so much more than I did before. And that’s not just work related- about the world, politics, feminism, history, you name it, he knows about it.
Bindu: Bindu runs operations in Bangalore, but that’s really code for doing lots of important things at NextDrop. She’s pretty much responsible for any progress we’ve made in Bangalore re: utility contracting stuff. I also really admire her because when I hired her, she told me she doesn’t work weekends, and she holds to that rule because she wants to spend time with her daughter, and her family. I was like…YES. Because she gets it done during the week. And I respect her for that. I’m trying to learn from her actually.
Bhargav: Bhargav develops with Devin and Thej and he’s just pretty awesome. I know I say that a lot but it’s true. His attention to detail is amazing. It’s fun because he hides little details on our dashboards! He was teaching me front end development stuff recently, and we had a great time going through the D3 documentation to pick out visualizations for our customer service team. I got to see how he thought about design, and it was really really cool. Loved pair programming with him- especially on front end stuff. Keep on being amazing Bhargav!
Kavya: Kavya works on our customer service team, and I love the way she interacts with customers. She has a way of gleaning information from them without even asking! It’s the absolute best (I like seeing her customer service entries, she never asked this stuff, but she writes it in there! So Great!). She also has great ideas on how to improve our customer experience, which I love hearing about! I think she really has fun with customers, and I think customers really like that! Love having her here!
Madhu: Madhu works on valvemen stuff in Bangalore, but codes on the side (Yeah, I’ve seen your commits to the NextDrop code repository Madhu- go you!) If you want things done on the valvemen side that you think are impossible, you ask Madhu. It’s a lot of firefighting, and it’s a difficult job, but Madhu keeps it under control. It’s great to have him on our team!
Aseem: Aseem also works on the valvemen side, but we hired him as an intern 2 years ago. He worked at NextDrop through college, and now works here full time. In a very Nishesh sort of way, he’s just a solid guy. If I want something done, I have no doubt in my mind that Aseem will do it, and not only that, deliver amazing results. It’s very rare to have people that you can forget about what you told them because you KNOW they’ll do it and they’ll do it on time- Aseem is one of those people. Pretty much the best!
Fanus: Fanus works on the valvemen side and the thing that I remember about him was being amazed that he learned English just from watching movies! I was just floored. You really wouldn’t be able to tell. “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”- Steve Jobs, I’d say that definitely applies to him. Wonderful to have him on our team!
Melwyn: Melwyn works on the customer side and like Aseem, worked through college with NextDrop and now works with us full time. It’s been a joy to see Melwyn grow- the types of questions he asks now and the level of thought that he has now is leagues above where he was before. He has so many great ideas- just yesterday he saw my bus ticket from London and he asked- hey Anu, why can’t we just do this in Hubli? See- McDonald’s advertises on the back, and these are the people who would use NextDrop- the public bus users! YES. He asks the best questions, and gives me good feedback (he’s the one who had the courage to tell me hey Anu, this is how what you do makes me feel, do you think you could change that? So great). Keep doing your thing Melwyn!
Anjana: Anjana works on the customer side, is pretty much the one who keeps us in check fiscally, and her story is interesting. I was recruiting at a college where she was working as industry recruitment director, and at the end, I met the kids and I wasn’t really interested in hiring any of them. She came in, and convinced me to have a coffee and talk to her about how they could improve their system. By the end of the conversation, I knew that I wanted her to work for us! And..well, the rest is history :) She is the enforcer who makes sure we abide by the rules and when we’re not, she definitely yells at all of us (and I mean ALL of us- I have not so happy WhattsApp messages from her as well). Which is awesome. Keep on keeping us in check Anjana!
Prabhu: Prabhu works on the customer side and his story is pretty interesting as well. He started off as a part time rep that went door to door to recruit and bill for NextDrop. I clearly remember that he would come to the office early to pick up phones, and come back late to deliver the phones back to the office. I was really impressed. And one day, he took the time to get his ideas translated from Kannada to English, and sent us all an email on how we should run marketing campaigns in Hubli. I was sold. We hired him full time to work on the customer service team. Keep on learning and making us get better Prabhu!
Amit: Amit is our newest team member, and he works on both the valvemen side and the customer side. The thing I remember most is that he asks the most insightful questions. That’s what got me at the interview too. It felt like he was thinking 2 steps ahead and asked the right questions. I hope you keep asking good questions Amit, I love it! (And make sure people are giving you good answers- especially me!)
Ok! Now you know the ENTIRE NextDrop family! Feel free to drop us a line, or if you’d like to be adopted, I’m sure we could find a job for you too (especially if we think you are cool).
No seriously, that is really how we hire people.
Ok done plugging NextDrop careers.
What do we have planned for 2014? Well, for one thing, we’re going to try and keep things updated more regularly here on this blog. But in short, I’m excited because I think this is really where we get to do the cool stuff. The fun stuff. The big stuff. The opportunities are in front of us, now it’s up to us to work our butts off to make it happen. I think that’s the best possible position to be in.