Advice From A Startup Veteran: Building The ‘A’ Team


Serial entrepreneur, science fiction enthusiast and startup veteran. Sandipan Chattopadhyay, CEO of xelpmoc (Turning complex around!) had some interesting pointers for the rookies and aspiring entrepreneurs at Startup Saturday Bangalore February 2017. Based on Sandipan’s extensive experience in his previous ventures (JustDial, and some more), he stressed that he lives by the maxim ‘The team is everything’ and that he cannot emphasize it enough. He began with addressing a few key points before proceeding to have a no holds barred AMA session with the audience. Here are a few of the key takes:


On the right mix of tech and non-tech while starting up

Sandipan: There is no such thing. That is entirely subjective as it depends on the domain. However, the sole premise on which one must select the first ten members boils down to asking oneself “Will these guys pay to be a part of this and for the long term?” It must always be such that the next ten will trust the first ten to lead them. Culture, then, is an indirect manifestation of the set of rules that these twenty individuals abide by. One thing that I vehemently hate (Yes, hate!) is people going overboard with importance on tech. It’s always important to reaffirm that tech is an enabler, a means to an end and not an end in itself.

On the ideal co-founder

Sandipan: Someone who’s not always nice to you. Someone who has the intellectual honesty to call you on your BS; one who can be pragmatic when you tend to have whimsical fantasies of your own. A group of people with great chemistry, complementary skills and similar philosophical beliefs tend to be very effective. There is a notion that one must look at co-founders based on what a VC may be looking for. However, it’s important to note that VCs look to invest in businesses and that it’s important to choose people for the business, not the VC.

Processes! Yay/nay? When to have them

Sandipan: First off, before setting anything in stone, you want to have logical process driven guys. A good time to set in processes is after you’ve broken into a small fraction of your target market. Figuring out things like your business model, product-market fit, etc is of great importance and comes before the rest.

Good employee retention strategies

Sandipan: Transparency is extremely important. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Everyone should feel that they can express themselves. Although rare, suppressed feelings can often emerge in the form of emotional flares and can cause people to leave. Pay is more often the case for people leaving. Be honest to yourself and pay the person what is fair. If the person is using the act of quitting as leverage to up his/her salary despite being paid in a fair manner, let them go.

Additional tips to hiring team players

Sandipan: I know this may be a little humorous, but gamers make great hires! We once hired an entire team of players because they were great at this game called Ragnarok. The game was intellectually demanding and required good team coordination. You can only win when you know someone’s got your back.
It’s worth mentioning that hiring is a selection process, not an elimination process; you pick a person if they’re appropriate for the role, one shouldn’t pick for the sake of it. Asking the person irrelevant questions in the interview is a great way to evaluate how the person reacts when someone throws them off.

Sandipan ended the energetic session with a slightly cliched albeit relevant quote: “Do not startup for fashion, but only do so if you have the passion.”


Written by Suhas Mallya