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My Story: Nikhil Gupta 14 April 2022

 

I joined Muvi in 2020 as the Head of Product and Design. I knew it was going to be an adventure but had never anticipated just how special it would turn out to be. 

Over the years, one of the simplest ways I have gauged my work satisfaction is – if I wake up every day looking forward to it, and how excited it makes me feel during the day. I am glad and surprisingly proud to say that during my time here, I woke up every day (except weekends :D) at 5 am (didn’t even try), fully energized and motivated to give my best. No it was not required of me, but it just became a de facto habit. I don’t know if this resonates with you, but you are very lucky if you find such a zone or mental space in whatever you do. 

I think this was not just a coincidence but a culmination of many things ranging from their home-brewed work culture (it is written by the CEO himself over the years, and it’s public now, give it a try, it would be tough to put it down!) to the challenging learning opportunities it threw your way.

I am sharing some of my reflections on why I think Muvi has achieved something special (no I am not talking about valuations, yet!)

A Flexible Work Culture It is completely up to the employee how they manage their time, while they align themselves with some common ways of working, and are outcome-driven. My tenure here coincided with one of the most gifted events of my life – the homecoming of our twin daughters. I didn’t miss a single day with my family, working remotely, and at the same time was able to do my best work, because of the flexible policies they have. However I do admit that remote work can be very stressful due to a lack of communication/ alignment, but the communication engine and operating cadence here were so seamless that “remote work” could not work any better. 

DNA of a “true” Product Company It is a dream to work in an organization that is product-driven (it doesn’t mean other functions are less important, a popular misconception). The product philosophies and strategies you live by here would stay with you for life. It teaches you how to flex your strategy muscle while having a bias for execution. The product team was focused on “true/ core” product work, and more recently there has been a lot of discussion on how they can spend more time on the “outbound” work, and less on “inbound/ delivery”, for which we had more specialized and dedicated teams. 

Exciting Problems – The versatility and novelty of problems existing in their product ecosystem are amazing. It is a growing and niche industry. I personally found it enriching to be amidst such problems and the exposure it gave to the team. Anything that helps me flex my muscles excites me, and here was the perfect opportunity to grab it! One great learning was how to manage time. I always thought it was trivial and easy, but when put against the wall, is when I really found innovative ways to manage (or free up) my time.

Empowered to Execute We could achieve some amazing milestones in a few months instead of years, a few weeks instead of months, and a few days instead of weeks – because of guerilla-style collaboration across teams, flexibility in execution, empowerment to prioritize what is good for the product, and a culture of being ambitious in our goals instead of fearing failures. 

Owner Mindset – There is an expectation for every employee to have an owner mindset (the company provides ESOPs by default to every employee!) – while a function or team has the final say, anyone in the company could give open feedback or opinion on any subject. Most of our good ideas came from employees of the company, and not necessarily from the same team or function where it would be implemented. 

Systems Thinking If you are from a product company that has tried to scale, you probably understand the importance of product philosophies to live by, and a need to create systems and processes that cut across PODs/ Departments. Every operational hiccup is looked at from the lens of having a system or automation in place, so that it is solved for everyone, forever, and not just for one individual or team, temporarily. Easy solutions are always not good for building scalable organizations. 

Speed of Decision Making A lot of time in workplaces goes into what I call “trivialities”. If getting simple ideas and points across is heavy lifting, it discourages employees from proactively driving things forward. This place has achieved (somehow) zero friction in its communication within and across teams and functions. There is no place for ego, and everyone is encouraged, not just allowed) to openly share ideas. This helps in making decisions faster, but not without considerable thought. 

Zero-friction Communication A lot of emphasis in their work culture has been on effective ways of communication. Their operating/ meeting cadence is so well designed, that the entire organization of 250 people stays almost on the same page at any point in time. It is not easy to align 250 people in real-time, but it’s made possible here. I hope this will continue as the company scales further. 

Everything “Equality” The organization was extremely clear on practising equality in all ways, whether it be gender, religion, language, age, and anything else. I can say for myself that women have been a very important part of my life, from my mom, sister, wife and now two daughters. It was good to see that gender equality was not even a discussion, it was normal and expected – a small example of how it was expected to be a subconscious choice was how we used “she”, and not “he” for any reference of a second person in our written documentation! If there were many people on the call, the language that was understood by all would be spoken, even if it had to be done to accommodate just one person. 

Super Transparent Almost 99% of the information, including the CEO’s salary 😀 was available to all employees. There were no filters and data was truly democratized. It was mostly to empower employees to look at the data or information of their relevance and make decisions without having to wait for someone. You cannot just empower people, you need to give them tools. 

Home for “Smart” Generalists If you are trying to get into product management, the most popular reason for rejection is your lack of readymade skills or experience in the field. It is not seen as a handicap here, in fact, it can be to your advantage if you can bring fresh eyes. We had team members with varied skills and experience, from no professional experience to 10+ years of experience, and everyone was successful in their own way. In an age where the young minds (I am no more sure what we call them nowadays – GenZ or Millennials :P) are the new CEOs/ CTOs, there is no place for bias in terms of age or number of years of experience. This was acknowledged by leadership, and their job was to empower and motivate such talent. 

An Amazing Team I think this is what I valued here the most. 

There are many accomplished people in the world, but fewer who also live a life of virtues. It was enriching to work with a CEO who conducts such an honest and simple life himself and is probably more disciplined and hardworking than most of us (I can say that for myself, but I am sure everyone in the company would also agree). His day begins at 4 am every single working day, and I wonder about the kind of self-motivation and discipline it requires. He leads by example, and I learnt not only about leadership and product management from him, but also a lot about life. He spent most of his day staying connected to his employees and helping/ grooming them as a family. They say good leaders don’t impress, but they inspire, and I get it now. My best takeaway was the weekend nuggets that he used to email to the company (treasure troves)!

The other leaders and their teams were very much a sport. I think one of the reasons why we were able to avoid slowing down was because of everyone’s willingness to accept and own the problems, and then solve them. The technical teams were themselves very usability oriented, and the product didn’t have to spend a lot of time convincing them. In fact one of the most reckoning moments was when we started getting more usability ideas from other teams, including technical teams – it is a moment when you realize how far we have come on our user experience mindset, with everyone thinking about it, not just the product managers and designers. This was a golden moment for me. There is a lot to be done there, however, we are in the right direction, with a lot of new things in the making/ coming soon!

The product managers and designers on the team were among the most knowledgeable in their respective domains and in general about the overall product. One good thing was that the products are so interconnected, that product managers are exposed to the end to end products other than the area they specialize in. It gives them a holistic picture and destroys siloes. I was fortunate to have such champions who led their PODs so effectively. I was only as good as them at my best, and they were the foundation of whatever we achieved. 

The Smiling Gatekeepers The HR/ Finance/ IT teams always have the toughest job, and are least acknowledged. They are very creative and have worked diligently to keep the processes simple and avoid unnecessary red tape. They do their best to implement policies that are driven by employee feedback, instead of chasing fads that don’t last. You won’t find yourself filling out many forms as in many companies. It is just that focus is on taking care of the most important things, and the general way of operating is based on trust. 

And many more, I can go on…

Was it a perfect place? No place is. Every place has its own challenges, and experiences differ depending on your individual situation. In any situation, it is up to you to see the glass as half full or half empty. It was personally a glass full of joy and experience for me. If I could sum it up, it was “humbling” because I know there is a lot to be done, and it was “energizing”, because each day was purposeful and my work (next to family) is the major source of energy for me.

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