The following is a blog written by Satyajeet Tripathy who was a Product Manager with us in Bengaluru for a year. You can find his musings at medium.com/@satyajeettripathy.
Culture in a corporate organization is the most frivolously used yet the most important term. Let me quote a few biggies of the world stating their very different views on company culture.
Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.
— Brian Chesky, Cofounder, CEO, Airbnb
We have a culture where we are incredibly self critical, we don’t get comfortable with our success.
Mark Parker, CEO, Nike
Performance more often comes down to a cultural challenge, rather than simply a technical one.
– Lara Hogan, Senior Engineering Manager of Performance, Etsy
Search “Company Culture Quotes” and you will find some more.
‘Company culture’ is the north star of a company. Each culture’s inner chromosomes become the company’s values. Culture, along with these values, becomes even more important for a startup where every individual has to take decisions every day which are critical for success. While this value system provides a framework where business leaders can feel safe while taking super risky decisions, it helps founders delegate tasks without worrying that the wheels might come off.
For the past eight years, I have been in five different companies spending most of my time in large organisations, where an introduction to the culture and values were a set of rituals which the HR needed to complete and new hires needed to sit through as a part of the orientation. I never thought these things to be so important till I joined Grofers.
A brief context: Grofers is the second largest grocery e-commerce platform in India, trying to solve the mystery of the sustenance of unstructured retail in the country. I worked for a year in Grofers as a Product Manager. Here is what I learned about its culture and people.
I joined Grofers in April 2016. We were still in the process of stabilizing our own in-house POS (Point of Sale) application which could relay inventory information directly into our consumer app. The product had been in development for a couple of months and a decision was made to roll it out to around 60+ dark stores in the next month. I was coming from a background where rollouts were planned for a month, forget about executing everything in a month. I was sure there would be massive screw-ups and started having sleepless nights. People who had been around some time at Grofers came to me and said,
“Yes there will screw-ups but no amount of planning can replicate the on-ground issues. So we need to push it through. And if anything happens, Sambhal Lenge“.
I am pretty sure in any organisation, a product manager in a similar role would be having nightmares if that product was going to impact 80% of business within such a short timespan. Yes we sometimes screwed up, we failed miserably at other times but somehow we managed to push through and rolled out to all the stores within a month and eventually made the product stable within the next few months.
Around four months after this gut-wrenching roller coaster ride, we, as a company, decided to move to a complete inventory-led model from a marketplace model and open up bigger warehouses. The timeline for making this transition ~ 2 months. Again a bombshell, to which both business and product team had to adjust to but not without an explanation. The biggest reason for this dramatic change was to not only match service levels of the competition but to improve on those. It was made clear to all of us that we needed to keep dropping these bombshells till we have the right recipe for success. We are all new to this business and so are our customers who are still acclimatising to organised retail. Hence, we need to keep the change button on and we keep solving problems as we go.
Yet again there was a scramble for what all features could be cannibalised and what all needed to be built afresh. In all this, we even decided to do away with a third party tool we were using as our warehouse inventory and procurement system. If the inventory-led model needed to be a success, we needed to have more control over our inventory and procurement processes. My job was to make sure the warehouse operations fit with the POS we had built for dark stores, build a procurement system from scratch and deploy it within two months. This time I was a veteran of hustle and we on-boarded 1500+ Vendors supplying around 10,000+ items across 12 cities in 2 weeks.
Was the product stable? No, we are still fixing bugs but it did the job better than the existing solution.
Was the product complete in handling all use-cases? No, we are still building new features in every sprint. But our basic platform is ready and robust. We just make sure that we don’t make the same mistake twice and are ultra proactive in solving issues.
Did I as a PM have prior experience in building such products? No I didn’t. I figured it out by working with people actually executing on the ground. Instead of spending more time with business heads, I spent more time with people who actually used my product. Small nuances built into features always helped in gaining everyone’s trust. This trust is what helped motivate people to use a new product despite knowing that, in the short term, their life was going to be hell. But they believed in me and the long term vision of the product.
The biggest stakeholder in all this was the tech team who scrapped and hacked to build the product quickly. For a good developer, it’s against her religion to release a subpar product and a crime for a QA to release it. The magic words that always helped us along were “Sambhal Lenge“.
In my one year of this roller-coaster ride, whatever success I achieved can solely be attributed to the risk taking appetite of the organization and the complete belief that it was being done for the right reasons. In summary, I can summarize my one year with one line which can rightly be the culture of Grofers.
“Don’t be afraid to fail, take risks, get out there; make mistakes but above all get things done because Sambhal Lenge“.
It was nice to be at a place where someone always had your back.