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There are never people problems, there are always hiring problems" -Mohit Bhakuni, Contify
Contify, a curated intelligence platform for delivering the first line of market intelligence to large enterprises around the world, was founded by Mohit Bhakuni in the year 2009. Contify helps businesses in improving their market intelligence function. Contify works on a hybrid SaaS model and is based in New Delhi.
Mohit Bhakuni received his degree in mechanical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology in the year 2000. He then worked for various companies like Deloitte Consulting, The Indian Express Online Media Ltd., Hindustantimes.com, etc. prior to founding Contify. Mohit is currently the CEO at Contify.
In an exclusive interview with CrazyEngineers.com, we got Mohit to talk about his experiences at Contify, the team at Contify, what influenced him the most, how to keep feelings from clouding judgement, how to bring courage and conviction to risky solutions and a lot more. Mohit also shares his learning during his entrepreneurial journey, discusses the best way to keep eye on future results and ways to find the second best solution. Read on!
CE: Hi Mohit. Could you give our readers a brief overview of Contify?
Mohit: Founded in 2009, Contify is a New Delhi based market intelligence company. We use machine learning, natural language processing, with human curation to deliver a customized enterprise grade market intelligence platform. The product has been designed for intelligence and market insight teams of large organizations that deal with the gargantuan job of identifying, sourcing, curating, and disseminating critical business information, across several functions, which may impact the medium to long term competitiveness of their organization.
Contify takes the best of technology enabled information harvesting and fuses it with a layer of human curation to deliver a customized platform that is unrivaled in accuracy and relevance. While algorithms handle the sizable task of harnessing information on the Internet for anything that might be important to a business, the subjective task of determining what is absolutely relevant for a specific business function or senior management within the organization is carried out by a team of analysts. Additionally, users have the ability to upload internally generated intelligence (from the field, primary research undertakings, special reports, etc.) making Contify a centralized interface for accessing actionable information.
CE: How did the team at Contify come together?
Mohit: After graduating from IIT Delhi, I started my career working for Deloitte in the US. After four years of experience, I moved to France to pursue an MBA from INSEAD. After graduating, I decided to come back to India instead of taking up the lucrative consulting jobs. The primary reason for coming back to India was to get a job where I responsible for the P&L of a business unit, because that’s where one learns the basics of running a business. After spending a few years managing the Internet divisions of some of India’s biggest media companies I concluded that I was ready to start up. At this point, I already had a great network. The initial team at Contify was recruited from this network. We started working from a one room office situated in a basement where the sunlight never made its way inside. From there, we’ve grown to 85+ plus employees spread across New Delhi and Bhubaneswar.
CE: Who has influenced you the most and why?
Mohit: I think in my case, “who has influenced you” wouldn’t be the right question because I believe that every person succeeds or fails because of different circumstances. What has influenced me is an event. I was in New York when the World Trade Center was attacked. I saw the building collapse right in front of my eyes. I think that was very unsettling. It suddenly made me realize that life is fickle and you have limited time to do something worthwhile with it.
CE: How do you keep your feelings from clouding your judgment?
Mohit: I think this is a great question because whether it’s business, or relationships, or any aspect of life, to keep your feeling from clouding your own judgments is incredibly difficult. It’s one of the biggest challenges and also the root cause of most of the things that bother us. Everyone has a different approach to this. But in my case, I’ve been trying to do this through Vipassana based meditation. Vipassana is a Buddhist idea that is based on the concept of “insight into the true nature of reality.” Every year or so, I visit a 10 days Vipassana retreat which allows me to spend time with myself in silence. Being in that situation enables you to acknowledge the impermanent nature of life. In the end, you come out a better person. You come out with a realization that all suffering is a result of the anxiety of holding on to things that are constantly changing. By simply acknowledging why we suffer, it becomes easier to not let emotions get in the way of better judgment.
Apart from Vipassana, I also maintain a journal. Every day, since 9th standard, I have been writing my daily journal with analysis of how I am spending my limited energies - what I have achieved, what I failed to achieve, what made me angry, what made me happy, and when did I get emotional about something. Once I’ve separated the positive outcomes from the negative ones, it become much easier to investigate what resulted in those negative outcomes.
For me, practicing Vipassana and maintaining daily journal are the two most powerful things that bring positive energy and focus in my life.
CE: How do you bring courage and conviction to risky situations?
Mohit: Just like any project planning, life planning should also start with visualizing the end result. In this case, it is death. The most difficult part is accepting death and staying positive about life. Once you’ve acknowledged that no matter what we do, the over arching end result is going to be death, it gives you immense courage to do new things with a lot more conviction. You can’t change the end, but you can definitely define your journey. My concept of life is based on the thinking about my state of mind when I’m on my deathbed. Every risky situation begs a question: when I look back, will I be satisfied if I go with my gut and take the bet or will I be satisfied if I let this situation pass? If you keep asking this question in the context of having only limited time, then you would almost always go with what your gut tells you. There can be nothing more unfortunate than looking back in the end and realizing that you didn’t play your game. Trying to remember this every day gives me enough courage and conviction to take on risky situations.
CE: Contify was founded in 2009. Could you share your experiences and learning with the readers?
Mohit: In terms of experience, exciting is the word I would use to describe the journey. We’ve had our fair share of challenges but beyond that it’s been a pure joy. What it has never been is boring. In terms of building the product, we’ve learnt to keep our eyes and ears to the ground, take customer feedback, and develop features around that feedback. During the initial days of Contify, we were comfortable with a relatively slow pace of development. We would take our own sweet time to build features and directly introduce them to the market. Over the years we adapted to significantly cut short our development cycles and link them to customer feedback. This has helped us develop the market intelligence platform in a relatively short period of time.
While doing this, here are the top 4 lessons we’ve learned:
Getting customer feedback is one of the most difficult things:
We thought we will get the feedback when the product is ready. Big mistake! Two reasons, one product is never ready and second customers are always busy. This is especially true in India where general lifestyle is full of inefficiencies. Everyone is busy! Customers don’t have time to give ‘feedback’ to new product companies, most of which will anyways fold in a few years. But customer feedback is the difference between success and failure. Of course breakthrough innovation requires acting on your gut and taking bold steps, but you cannot afford to let a consumer product outlook cloud your judgment when building for the enterprise. Enterprise customers have very specialized needs and very less time. If you’re solving a problem for them, then you better make sure that you clearly understand the problem. I think this is perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned. And I realize that you only learn this lesson by experience. Everyone tells you to “talk to your customers”. But in the excitement of ‘building’ almost everyone makes the mistake of ignoring actual needs. And that is why this is a classic paradox of starting up in India. First you don’t realize that you need feedback. And when you finally do realize you find out that it’s hard to get feedback. How do you work this out? Well that’s something we all figure out on our own.
Products usually fail because of no other reason than failure to find distribution.
Most online product companies are founded by entrepreneurs with technical backgrounds. They are usually good at the technology behind the product. However, product is technology + many more things. There are several case studies on how inferior products were able to succeed over better ones in a market place. The difference lies in figuring out the distribution strategy of the product. How will the product reach its customer? Directly calling, meeting and closing the deal with the customer is not the only strategy – thank god for that! Working with a partner who can get you access to the end customer is not a bad strategy for a startup. There can be ten other strategies for your product to reach target customers. There are already too many variables in running a business; we should try to focus only on those variables that are absolutely necessary, and try to minimize others as much as possible. Entrepreneurs have this tendency to believe that anything is possible by their sheer will power. It is not. Let’s accept it. We don’t wear red underwear over our pants.
UI is important, but don’t confuse it with the design
UI is just one component of the design. It is not the design. You can leave an impression with your clothes but soon your customers will find who you are. Design is who you are. You cannot do justice with design unless you know your customers better than they know themselves. We hardly know ourselves or the people we spend most of our lives with. Go, try to figure out customers. That’s why design is difficult and so few companies get it right.
There are never people problems, there are always hiring problems
If you find yourself saying that we have a people problem, or we need good people – just remind yourself that there are never people problems, there are always hiring problems. It is your mistake. You didn’t have enough information on the role or you didn’t know how to evaluate an individual. You failed in making the employee-job fit, just like most products fail in product-market fit. Whether you’re hiring for engineering, sales or marketing, there are certain kinds of people who thrive and deliver in an early to growth stage startup. These people are resilient, can handle uncertainty, and are unfazed by the drastic decisions that are commonplace at startups. Finding people like these is hard. They won’t fit in a standard JD. In our case, we prefer to groom people within the organization. So that our values and culture, which is defined by the common denominator of values practiced by the managers, and not defined by HR, remains intact. However, this is not always possible in a fast growth startup. We also look for strong potential candidates who are feeling suffocated in their current organization and are waiting to find a place where they can release their creative energies. You know such a hire when you talk to one. They always have time to invest in brainstorming discussions, they almost always have a strong opinion once they go through your product, and they are quick to keep in touch and follow up if you haven’t spoken to them in a while. Right now we’re hiring a technology lead, project leader and few South East Asian language experts and our approach is working just fine.
CE: What is the best way to keep your eye on future results?
Mohit: The best way to keep your eye on future results is to visualize it and try to live in it. That’s my way of doing it. But I believe there is a lot of power in visualization. I try to visualize the future with as much details as possible. This has worked with me in the past. Starting Contify is what I visualized when I was working in the US. Today’s Contify is what I visualized it be when we started in 2009. And I am really excited about what Contify will be in five years because now I visualize it as a globally respected brand where some of the finest professionals (read artists), are working collaboratively and competing with the best companies in the domain of market intelligence.
The answers to difficult and subjective present day questions are relatively easy when in your mind you are living in the future.
CE: If you wanted to find the second best answer to a question or a problem you face at your startup, what technique would you use?
Mohit: The answer to every question or problem we face at Contify is always linked to how much value it will create for our customers and how much time it will take execute. There are no right and wrong answers to difficult questions. There are multiple answers with varying levels of acceptance. So if the most favorable answer does not meet our criteria of adding immediate value to customers and shipping on time, then we decide to go with the alternative even if that means compromising on what we think should be done.
When it comes to making a choice between ‘doing things right’ and ‘doing the right thing’ we try go with the latter.
CE: Thank you for the time you have spent with us. Any message for our readers?
Mohit: I think CrazyEngineers is a wonderful community of people who want to build things and work on projects that make a difference. We’re always excited to meet with good people with a forward thinking perspective. If you find what Contify is doing interesting, feel free to connect with us.