Archive by Author

NextDrop Adventures in Varanasi

25 Jun

Hi, my name is Madhu Reddy, I am a chemical engineer and I have been working at NextDrop from the past two years. I manage utility relations and also build products at NextDrop. Here is my first blog post.

I visited Varanasi with my colleagues Bindu and Bhargav for a business proposal. Varanasi is a sacred and one of the oldest cities of the world located at banks of the holy River Ganga.

Our visit was quite adventurous as Varanasi felt the earthquake waves on our arrival, month after tragic tremor in Nepal, however that did not stop us from pursuing our mission.

One of the first things we saw were two over head tanks near by, eager to learn about the field operations we went to one of the tanks. A old man(pump operator) was giving prayers to God, we inspected the tank till pump operator finished his prayers. we learnt from the pump operator that, the tank is under maintenance, also there are no valveman, this was interesting. We tried to explain to him that we are talking about the men who run the water supply system, we didn’t believe him completely that there were ‘no valvemen’.

We got some insights from Govind, our auto driver on his water supply, he said first five minutes they get dirty water, after that water doesn’t smell. He gets water twice a day, for three hours. Govind was kind enough to show us some valves. Govind bought us tea made of ginger which was served in kulhad(earthen bowl), delicious.

River Ganga is indescribable but in humble words I would say she is majestic, lot of people come here to take a dip in the holy water for “paap vimochan” cleansing of sin. Every day there is the ‘Ganga Aarti’  at Dashashwamedh Ghat which is beautiful.

Ganga aarti is the magnificent event during evening in the Varanasi that one must not miss to see it. It makes us experience the great feelings while Ganga aarti become in process. This beautiful ritual makes every moment of the evening period special and fills with the spiritual thoughts. It is performed by the brass lamps which accompanied with the mantra chant in the presence of the huge crowd.

All the priests who have to perform the aarti, wear same cloth, the dhoti and kurta which is tightly bind with a long towel. First they make preparation of the Ganga aarti by making collection of the five elevated planks, a multi tiered oil lamp, an idol of the Goddess Ganga, flowers, incense sticks, a conch shell, a big and heavy brass lamp having a snake hood at the edge of the River Ganga. A group of boats filled with devotees come around the place of aarti at the bank of River. They are very eager to see the event; some of them take live video, photos as well. Ritual of the Ganga aarti is performed by the students of the Vedas and Upanishads which is lead by the head priest of the Gangotri Seva Samiti. The whole event takes around 45 minutes.”””

Walking along the banks of River Ganga reached Harishchandra Ghat, I was curious to know about the cremation. there was a guy standing and watching the people unload the wood from boats, I smiled at him, I asked him where are these wood brought from, he replied nearby woods. I asked him, how much does he sell in a day, he told me around 1-2 tonne. I asked him what’s the selling price, he replied Rs10 a kilo. How much quantity is required for cremation, he replies around 250-350 kilos of wood. Now coming to my business, I asked him about his water supply he said he gets water once or twice a day. He said quality of water is poor, hence he has installed a filter at home.

He took me to his shop and started talking about dirty politics, how the water is not managed well in the city. I asked him how much time does it take to fix a leak, he said it gets delayed, I asked him if he complains to the water board. He told me no, there is a guy who comes around we complain to him. I told him about what NextDrop does, gave him the missed call number to get registered to our service. He told me before Modi became prime minister he was in the ashram across his shop for 6 months. I told him to call the missed call number, he asked my phone number, I gave it to him and said goodbye.

If you fancy fried food you can get some delicious food along the river banks. I tried some raw mustard oil for the first time with chaat, it had an interesting flavour. the presentation of the food was excellent.

Lassi is very famous in Varanasi, it is so delicious, people stand in queue at the famous lassi joints. Lassi in Varnasi is not like in cities where they whizz up in blenders. Here Lassi-wallah’s macerate the homemade yoghurt using big wooden stick in a steel handi, adding little sugar. Before serving they add the heavenly ‘malai’ cream which forms as a thick layer on the top.

Sun rises very early in Varanasi, by 5:40AM the sun is dancing in the sky. When I went for a walk. I saw people cleaning their porch with water, I asked a guy if it was drinking water, he told me that this water was from his storage tank. I asked him when will he get drinking water, he said, he has drinking water stored inside. On asking about his water timings, he said they get water between 7:30AM – 8:00AM.

On my morning walk I reached water board of Varanasi, which was just a few kilometers away from our guest house. I asked the gatekeeper is this where water gets treated, he said you are not allowed inside without permission. I told him I am just interested in understanding the water supply in Varanasi, I learnt that in Varanasi there are no valveman. Water board is very keen on the water quality in the reservoirs, so they don’t let anyone inside without permission. There was a chemist at the gate who told me that banaras has the best water supply in India and the water quality is good and is treated with chlorine.

Bhargav and I were escorted by Mp Singh an assistant Engineer. Who gave us the field visit. Our field visit comprised of visiting Pump house at the source (the River ganga), overhead tanks, chlorine diffusers, Water Treatment Plant.

First stop was Pump house, five pumps pump water to water treatment plant at badini. River ganga has been the source for varanasi since 11th century, and withdrawal has been increasing decade over decade.

We were eager to learn about supply system, so we went to a over head tank at Sunderpur, only to realise that there are no valveman in Varanasi. There was no one at the over head tank as most of the supply is during morning and evening. I saw the first electric valve in water supply system.

Then we went to Water Treatment Plant to learn about the water treatment process. The process starts with settling section for suspended solids, there are four huge tanks. Clear water from settlers is supplied to filtering. Water is filtered through sand bed, then it is disinfected with chlorine.

Next day, Bhargav and I met executive engineer first thing in the morning, we talked about Bangalore, he told us his son is in Bangalore and he is buying an apartment. He was excited about it and then he arranged a meeting with the junior engineer who took us to field to show complaints.

While waiting for the junior engineer, we looked at the storage house which was 120 years old over head tank made of mud and brick, the thickness of the wall was almost 6ft. The Engineer took us for field visit to see the process of complaints redressal. On one of the sites we saw there were 5 people trying to unblock the sewer system, with the bamboo stick. Engineer told us that, they try to do the job manually, if it is difficult then they get the jetty machine. The contractor was a sweet guy, he bought us the cold drinks, which we couldn’t say no to. We went and interacted with the residents asking them questions about water supply, water quality, how much time does it take to attend complaints. We found out that the citizens were satisfied with water quantity, but not so much with the quality and the complaint redressal was not satisfactory.

We also visited the sites where people had complained about pipe damage. An apartment was under construction, they damaged the pipe while trying to dig the bore well. We tried to ask questions around this neighborhood, we found out that this area gets water 24/7, this is because the area is at lower elevation. Hence whenever someone  would plug a pump, water  would be drawn in the pipe and people feel that they have access to water 24/7.

Then we met the, GM of water board. He was very down to earth and he asked us, what changes could we suggest to him in making the water supply system more efficient, we told him they have good infrastructure, but maintenance, needs some work. He asked us if we can help the call center to collect data in such way that we can place the residents geospatially and visualise data. We met call center employees and instructed them to follow our steps in collecting data and left.

Adventurous Journey came to an end with banarasi maghai paan which is world famous, It is expensive so, you don’t get in all the paan shops, the taste was delicious and I started talking in bhojpuri.

The Island of Misfit Toys

26 Dec

It’s funny, most people (and by people I mean media, investors, interested onlookers) just don’t know what to do with us.  Tech people say we are too social, social people say we are too tech.  What box do we fit in? What sort of company ARE we anyway? Are we a social enterprise? Are we a tech startup?  Are we trying to make money or trying to save the world? PLEASE TELL US YOU ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS! That’s really what we are (and so fitting for Christmas)- the island of misfit toys.  I couldn’t tell you what box to check because honestly, those definitions keep changing every day, I can hardly keep up.  But at the end of the day, the classification all comes down to money.  How you get it and what you do with it.

All organizations around the world create value.  The more capitalistic leaning organizations try to capture that value monetarily.  For example, Google captured $17B of their value monetarily last quarter.  The American Red Cross captured $3B of theirs last year. Does that mean that Google provides 6x more value for the world than the Red Cross?  No- it just means they do a better job of monetarily capturing it.  That’s not good or bad, it just is.

Funding structures inform how a company operates.  If you need to pursue grants, you need to tell funders at least a year in advance exactly how you are going to spend the money to hit the milestones that they set.  Which is fine, if you know exactly how you are going to hit your goals a year from now. I would argue that if you are a fast moving tech company, you should never be able to predict exactly how you are going to spend that money to hit that goal a year from now, even 6 months from now.  If you can do that, I don’t think that company is moving fast enough in the agile framework.  Innovation isn’t happening at a rate that would make it competitive in the pure tech startup space.  So the reason the startup wouldn’t qualify for grant funding isn’t because it isn’t making the social impact it said it would (because it would actually do it in half the budget, half the time), but it just outgrew the plan it had in place a year ago for the way in which goals would be accomplished. In the grant world, line items matter. Not so much in the investment space- we give you money, make us more of it. Period.  Again, not bad or good- it just is.

So us.

We move fast and break things. I can’t tell you how we are going to be operating even 3 months from now, but I can tell you it’ll be radically different (and by different I mean better faster stronger) from today.  We put humanity on a more positive trajectory. We believe in good design.  We know what you, the user, wants before you even know you want it.  We will never offer a technology we don’t genuinely believe will help solve a problem you have.  Another thing- we don’t make up user problems.  (Personal pet peeve).  We believe that if you create tremendous value in the world, the money will follow.  And we plan to capture a significant portion of that monetarily (just to be clear).  We love creating, innovating, and pushing the boundaries of what is currently possible. We are those crazy people you sit next to on the bus/train/plane that are talking to themselves,head-phoned in, as they vigorously scribble chicken scratchy doodles into their beat up notebook (ok that may just be me).

But that’s where we are at right now.  The Island of Misfit Toys.  Otherwise known as Team NextDrop.  And I don’t think it’s going to get any clearer in the future.  We will continue to be those outcasts in this tech/social/whatever else is out there world. Which is fine by us.  Misfits are awesome.  Because I said so.

And hey, if you want to a part of this misfit island, we are always looking for people to join our tribe and hack with us.

Happy Holidays

NextDrop is My Tribe: Home For the Smart Creative (Hacking Real World Problems)

20 Nov

I read Seth Godin’s definition of “tribe” a long time ago, but didn’t have anything to relate it to.  At that time, I remember wishing I had a tribe, something I felt so strongly about, something that I felt connected to.  I was sitting in San Francisco the other day, reading Eric Schmidt’s book on Google, when I realized that NextDrop had become my tribe.  I belonged to a set of like minded individuals who were intent on using startup frameworks to hack real world problems dealing with governments and citizens.  Most importantly, we are a group of people who believe that the why is just as important as the what and the how, and at the end of the day, company culture trumps all.

So my biggest challenge: How do I get a like minded group of individuals together to hack problems in this space, but more importantly, how do we create that environment for them to thrive? Those Smart Creatives?   And most importantly for the discussion, how do we do that in emerging markets across the world? How do we do that in India? Kenya? Indonesia? Given the education systems, and the parental structures, and the cultural barriers, how do we a) find those smart creatives and b) create a space for them to..have fun? Feel like they are doing things that actually matter? Feel like they are expanding their minds, (and very selfishly, expanding my own realm of possibilities) to move this tribe to really change the face of government and citizen interaction as we know it?

That seems to be top of mind for me right about now.  It’s a very interesting problem to have.  But I think if we can solve this problem and have NextDrop become the haven for smart creatives around the world, the rest will take care of itself.

Any inputs welcome.

Wow Our Last Post Was From February! But We’re Still Here, Promise.

25 Jul

This is what happens when I can’t think of a better title.  And when you realize that half the company wasn’t even a part of NextDrop when that was posted (which is completely crazy, let me tell you.)

 

Things are fun.  Crazy, awesome, fun.  It’s a great time to be working at NextDrop (and guess what, we’re hiring! And if you’re awesome and you don’t see a matching skillset, we’ll make a job for you anyway- yes, that’s how we roll). ANYway. I digress.  The point is, it’s been awesome times at NextDrop High.  I have to say, one of my proudest moments at NextDrop came last week, when we were presenting to the Chairman of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (because, yes, we now meet with them on the regular!) and they saw their own data for the first time.  And they started to DO something about it!  In the meeting itself, making plans! YES! Making change! One government utility at a time! It was…incredible.  It was such a rush.  And the best part? They were asking us for MORE STUFF.  More data, more analytics, more predictive models.  When does that happen?  Apparently when you work at NextDrop.  And for the record, they’re a great group of people- they really want to make good things happen.  I love working with them.  Backing up, we actually signed an MOU with them in May to monitor their water supply, and it’s been a wild ride ever since.  If you live in Bangalore, you should be hearing about us soon.  We’re making a push to recruit residents (because actually, the utility itself is asking us to collect citizen feedback- so cool, right?) And if you just want to say hi, or want to re-imagine the Bangalore water supply network, let us know/drop us a line!

Another cool thing happened when I started talking to all the people that work at NextDrop.  I wanted to crowdsource a vision statement for NextDrop- why do we exist? Why does everyone want to work at NextDrop?  And it was crazy how similar the answers were.  And it was pretty enlightening too, because I didn’t think about it before.  But.  The main reasons people love NextDrop are that you basically have the freedom and learning/growth potential of a startup, but the incredible real world impact of a traditional non profit.  They basically said they loved it because it was the best of both the worlds.  The vision for NextDrop was not just an external one, but an internal one as well.  (Not your typical vision statement eh?) Learn something new every day right? Who am I to argue with organic sentiment?

But that made me so, SO happy.  When I quit my job and moved to India about 3 years ago (and wrote this first blog post) I don’t think I could have imagined, in my wildest dreams, what a great group of individuals NextDrop would comprise of.  And now, when we’re working as a unit, I still blows my mind thinking about what the sum of our differences can create. It creates magic.  Pure magic.

And it’s just beginning.  I still feel the same way I did 3 years ago.  Scared. Not sure if I’m doing the right thing.  But I do know one thing now that I didn’t think about then.  That we have an amazing team.  And we’re only going to get better.  We work hard, we make lots of mistakes, but we learn from them, and we get better for it.  We stick by each other in good times and bad, and we help each other out.  It’s such a rush.  I’m so honored to be a part of something great.

And I think that maybe, just maybe, we’re going to put a dent in the universe.

I can feel it.

It’s Time For Another CEO Post (I Should Probably Recap 2013 or Something)

21 Feb

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
twitter india
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
sms receipts
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
GEODJANGO integration
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
vagrant
realizing we have customers in unmapped areas!
We got a postcard from a customer saying everything should be in kanada
Bhargav joins!
Madhu shadows utility engineers
Devin starts watching pycon videos
experiments with price sensitivity in bangalore
Anu starts to learn python!

May
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

June
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
NUWA visit
AngelPrime
hubli interns big push for geotags
paid utility contract from Hubli

July
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
coverage report
valveman customer referrals
SalesForce foundation
franchisee opportunities
exit interviews with first set of bangalore interns

august
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

september
Peter Thiel schools NextDrop with CS183
nextdrop_secrets
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.

#GameFace

 

Bada Bing, Bada Boom: CEO Post Time

18 Jun

I bet everyone is just really excited that it’s not just me posting on this thing (finally!) right?  Yeah, our team is pretty awesome, and have really amazing insights that I thought should be shared with the world at large (or at least internet-dom for starters). I thought it was time for a post from me though, mostly because I was getting a bit nostalgic since it’s been a little over two years since I officially became CEO of NextDrop.

Good News: Company has not been run into the ground yet.

I digress though.  What did I want to talk about today?  I wanted to talk about company culture, because I think it’s probably one of the most important factors for startup success.  Why do I think this?  Greatest influences on my business life thus far: books like Good to Great, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, and learnings/slideshares/conversations with people who have actually done stuff that I want to do, like Chamath Palihapitiya and Fred Destin.

How have they influenced NextDrop?  In a few ways.

Everyone Learns Python.  Yeah, Even You, Civil Engineer

I remember around January, Quijano approached me and Nishesh after a team meeting and basically said that we would suck as a company if we all didn’t learn Python. (Ok maybe not his actual word choice, but that was my takeaway).  Of course Nishesh and I were terrified because…well..IT’S PROGRAMMING.  I am a CIVIL ENGINEER.  That was WHY I chose civil engineering, and not..Computer Science or something.  Same with Nishesh- Water Engineer and POLICY.   Totally not what we signed up for.  We tried to push back, but Quijano was adamant.  Luckily we both secretly (but not so secretly) sort of think Quijano is a genius, so we decided to just go with it and…learn Python.  Best decision EVER.  Why?  Think about what we’re actually doing at NextDrop.  We’re using simple technology to solve complex social problems.   The hardest part is understanding what problems need to be solved, and how we can solve them.  But the other really important part is knowing what technological solutions are available in your arsenal to solve these problems.  Without an intimate understanding of your system, there is no way you can accomplish this.  Also, it saves a TON of money on development, because in this early stage, most of what is going to hold you back is programming.  So if you have all key people focusing on the biggest barrier to moving forward, then you make the most progress.  I know I know, you’ll probably argue that everyone should be focused on what they do best. Sure, in an ideal world yes.  But in that ideal world, we would also have all the technology we want developed in an instant and we would have all the data we need at our fingertips.  Without data, we have nothing.  Plain and simple.  And speaking from experience, let me tell you this is what makes or breaks you as a company.

Again, I would encourage everyone to adopt this policy.  I’m currently working on a program that more accurately breaks down/visualizes our valvemen data so that we can make more informed decisions around our valvemen incentive program.  Really stoked about it actually!

Hire People You’d Want To Hang Out With

It’s pretty simple actually.  You’re going to spend most of your waking hours with these people.  If you wouldn’t even want to be friends with them, chances are, you wouldn’t want to work with them. No matter what their resume says.  This goes even beyond work though.  I think it also self selects for people who believe in your vision and mission.  Chances are you hang out with like minded people.  At least for me, I hang out with all sorts of people, from different walks of life.  But the thing they all have in common, is that they think what I do at NextDrop is pretty neat.  They get it.  They may not want to do it themselves, but they get the vision.  The most important thing I can do is make sure I populate NextDrop with people who jive with the vision, and are working at NextDrop to build a new reality- one that doesn’t exist today.  And have a really good time along the way of course.  As long as that is your motivation, I’ll probably want to hang out with you and we can hire you at NextDrop.

Fail Fast, Fail Often, Learn As Much As Possible

The Hacker mentality and the Lean Startup.  Let me tell you, another thing that really influenced my personal life greatly, and all of us at NextDrop, was the essay, How To Be A Hacker along with Eric Reis’s book, The Lean Startup.  In short, the life of your company is determined by the number of experiments you run, and the number of learnings you can acquire within the lifetime (i.e. burn rate) of your startup.  You’re probably going to be wrong, so just be nimble, and as soon as you know you are incorrect, pivot.  Putting ego aside, just look at the facts and do what needs to be done to achieve our goals.  Pivot or persevere.  It doesn’t matter, as long as we know we are headed in the right direction.

Those are the 3 major takeaways regarding culture I wanted to share/learned along the way.  Personally, it’s been an incredible journey, and in addition to just being really thankful that I get to work on solving really interesting problems, with the smartest people I know, I’d have to say I’m a pretty lucky person.

I also wanted to say thank you to everyone out there, reading this post.  It’s been two years, and with all of your support, we’re still alive and kicking.  We wouldn’t be where we are without you, and I wanted to make sure everyone knows how much we appreciate it all.

So thanks, from all of us here at NextDrop.

NextDrop In Bangalore

7 Apr

It’s a bit difficult to keep this blog updated on everything interesting we’re doing, but we’re trying our best!  Today we have our newest employee, Bindu, who is running operations in Bangalore (yes, we’re actually working in Bangalore now), writing about her experiences/our progress thus far.

Where do I start?
For someone who had spent 9 years enjoying the centralized AC, freq cafeteria visits, chit-chats (most frequently discussed were traffic jams, where is our country heading? kind of interesting topics..;))
The pilot in bangalore has made me go through ‘A hell of an experience’ (of course in good sense ;))
Right from searching for the water tank in the area we first visited (I remember how me and Anu were asking every other person on the street if he knows where the water tank is.. no one seems to know and they gave strange expressions.. like why are these two girls so desperately looking for a water tank after all!) to sitting across the table with top BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) officials explaining the outcomes of our pilot and astonishing them

We got the necessary permissions from BWSSB to carry out the pilot in Bandappa Garden NE1 sub-division and Bhoopasandra NE3 sub-division (Of course it was as simple as that! :D).  We trained the valveman, enrolled people for our service and started monitoring the notifications.  4 weeks down the line, taking feedback from customers was so much fun – they totally loved us! :))

Our observations in Bandappa Garden after 3 months pilot – 2 Skipped supply, 6 Unscheduled supply timings.  Not trying to point out any inefficiencies here but, the goal is to make sure people know about it so that they plan their tasks accordingly.  The delays in the supply or the skips may be genuine (lot of times) due to shortage of water supply to the reservoirs or power cuts/pipe damages etc.  If they are made aware of it in advance, I am sure most of them would understand and co-operate.  Thats exactly where we are pitching in.
This is how the supply graph looks like.. Do you see the streamlined supply timings?  Don’t want to take away all the credit.. But yes, our monitoring has definitely made a difference (I see a steady trend continuing since)
Graph

Bhoopasandra was even more interesting.  To bring in a seriousness in the valveman to notify us of every supply was a challenge (he thought it was OK if he forgot to let us know?!)  Other than 11 Unscheduled supplies, it was fascinating to see that he was supplying water to the area every day continuously for 15 days!!  And no one seem to know about it.  When our reports reached the Engineers, initially they denied that was true and when we confirmed it was actually true, they gave us a ‘oh’ look. I know for sure that they have inquired into it, the valveman got back on track following supply schedules (took so much to convince them that a lot happens under their nose!)

Then the question came up.. why did he give water to a specific area for 15 days at a stretch???
We have not been able to arrive at a conclusion but here are some speculations at a high level..
a. Could be political pressure.. since the elections are round the corner?
b. Someone from the area pays him to open the valves for them?
c. He lives there? (actually No, he doesn’t)
d. He might simply be trying to impress us? Wants to show he is doing a good job?Well end of this luxurious supply period, on one end we have the Engineers with surprised expressions and on the other hand residents complaining that the supply was great and now its gone bad (No no! trust me! they mean that its only alternate days now!)Summarizing the study:  The board faces a challenge in coordinating within its various levels and effectively communicating with its consumers.  This gives us a great opportunity to make a difference.  With due respect to the enormous task the board has, to supply water to the monstrously growing city, we think that slightest of the change in the way the supplies are currently administered can bring in a drastic improvement in the system.  And we want to help them and be the instrument for change and move india forward!

Throughout the pilot the experiences I have had dealing with super-fast auto-rickshaw drivers, amazingly slow BTS buses, naive valve men, surprised looks on arrogant officials, encouragement from knowledgeable officers, long waits before the meetings, walking down lanes of North Bangalore which I never had, friendly slum residents, curious people who are amused to hear their phone ring a while before the supply was simply amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Do you want to see what the residents of the pilot areas has to say about us?  Do watch this video
My sincere thanks to the officials of the water board especially Mr. Amruthesh, Executive Engineer North East division for being so supportive and letting us into his fort.  Also, MSSS for helping us choose these areas and introduce us to the pilot area residents.
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