On A Culture Of Constraints In Product Development
By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee)
In 4 days, it will be the 1 year anniversary of launching BizeeBee my second startup. When I started BizeeBee, I was determined to put in place engineering principles that I hadn’t been able to at previous companies. I also wanted to avoid a lot of bad practices that I had experienced throughout my career such as splitting the responsibilities of development and testing, and product bloat.
I know most startups like to take the quick and dirty approach to product development, and then go back and refactor or rebuild their product. That’s great and we’ve certainly refactored a lot of our code base too. But I started charging customers from day one of launching and had to convey confidence to get them to pay. So I emphasized quality first and foremost.
My vision for BizeeBee’s product and engineering team was to create a simple and high quality product, and to do so cost-effectively. I communicated these constraints to my team, and we knew there would of course be trade-offs, but we all agreed to these basic principles to guide our decision making and product development process.
Invest Time In Talent
In any industry, employees are not interchangeable. I know there are a lot of people who like outsourcing and just want something “built”. This is fine if you are driving a culture of results.
I truly believe employees need to be engaged in worthwhile work to produce quality. So I hire for raw talent, hunger, and patience above all else. I truly believe this is the only way to attract top performers. You can look at people’s track record, but many don’t have one so you just have to rest on raw talent and motivation.
Having a talented team is great because it means they will invest time in learning. After all, talent is just a byproduct of learning, practice, and refining a skill.
So I invested the time in letting my engineers learn Rails and the entire stack of technologies that went with it. I also had them talk to experts in the field about engineering process. We adopted an Agile process and pair program.
The Trade-Off And Cost-Effective Quality
Giving people time to learn and not spend all their time developing means that less features will be built. I know most founders would be too impatient with this approach, but I guess that’s why its helpful that I do yoga :)
I didn’t have the luxury of having enough money to hire QA engineers, but then again I never liked how engineers would abdicate responsibility for their code to someone else. Not having a QA team meant that my engineers would need to test their own code. So for the first time ever, I got what I had wanted: TDD (test driven development).
Trade-off: once again less features are built, but what is built has a high level of quality.
Simple Design And Integrating Solutions
Over the course of my engineering career, I’ve read a ton of design books because my personal mission of becoming an engineer was to build things that improve human life.
So I wanted to build products that had an emotional appeal, and people would derive joy and want to use them all the time. Life is already full of stress, the last thing I want to do is cause someone to have a bad day because I built a shitty product.
We don’t build everything, especially if we can find a good off the shelf solution. If we don’t find one, we’ll either build it ourselves, and if its not cost-effective, then we’ll wait until we can afford to build it.
This of course means we’re spending a lot of time doing research, talking to vendors, understanding terms of service, and understanding the long terms implications of the partnership.
Trade-offs: This can stall product development but it’s important to know who you’re getting hitched to
I can’t speak for other startup founders but as one who wears both the business and technical hat, I’ve had the freedom to create a company and engineering culture that I’ve grown to love and can be proud of.
And last but not least Lyndi Thompson, our buzz bee who spreads the word about our product and team, and keeps encouraging me to write code and blog posts.
It’s been a good year and I look forward to continuing to build BizeeBee in 2012!
This post was originally posted at Femgineer.
About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder and CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup’s acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master’s degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.