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Lessons from Pramod Dabir of West Agile Labs on minimizing technical debt while moving fast [Podcast]

For this episode of Secrets for Scaling, we chatted with Pramod Dabir, Co-Founder and CEO of West Agile Labs - a global digital design and development partner. With offices in San Francisco, Ukraine, Pakistan, and India, Pramod is focused on ensuring that each office is running smoothly, aligned around their vision, and communicating effectively across teams.

Here’s a quick company snapshot:

  • Founder experience: 6 years
  • Team size: 150 team members
  • Customers / Revenue: 40 clients
  • Company founded: December 2012 (5 years old)

We talked to Pramod about what you can do early on for smooth growth, how to align a distributed team around a vision, how to build a sustainable MVP, and more. Listen to the full episode here:


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Episode highlights

Hiring operations people early on is crucial for smooth growth. Structure has been key to West Agile Labs’ operations. That’s why they hired operations leads on the global and local scale early on. Pramod and his partner run operations at their headquarters in San Francisco. Another senior person works with each office on a strategy for key hires and operational activities. They also have a head of global operations, and an office lead for each location. These people manage the day-to-day operations and are responsible for developing and maintaining the culture of each office which varies by location.

Hire junior roles with potential for senior-level positions. West Agile’s senior leadership grew into their positions. They built the trust and autonomy needed in a leadership position by starting out in a junior position early on. They already embodied the company’s culture and knew how to communicate it with their direct reports by the time they were promoted.

Trust your gut when hiring - a bad hire has a huge impact. If you or your team members have any doubt that a person isn’t a fit, trust your intuition. Don’t force a hire you have doubts about, especially if you feel like you’re on a time crunch. Don’t rush it, hold out for the right person. Pramod reflected on the impact of bad hires, “It’s amazing how much a bad hire can affect you, the business, and other people.”

Set the vision and let your team define their actions. Pramod and his leadership team set the direction, vision, and overarching goals for the company. The team then defines what they think is the best approach for meeting those goals and what they can get done. The leadership team provides guidance and support, and the team defines what the deliverables, timelines, and expectations are.

Leverage tools to stay connected. West Agile Labs has a tool stack to foster collaboration among their distributed team. They use Teamwork to manage and log their time, and its threaded conversations to replace email. They use Google Drive for document collaboration, GitHub or Bitbucket for code collaboration, and Invision for design collaboration. Finally, they use Slack for general back and forth communication with clients.

An MVP (minimum viable product) should have a solid foundation with minimal features. Taking the time to build the core of what you need and limiting the bells and whistles will result in a product that solves your core problem and is ready for sustainable business growth. Pramod often sees founders build too much for an MVP and spend too much money on it. He believes founders should allocate equal funding to marketing and sales as they do to the product.

Balance technical debt and pushing features fast. Pramod suggests being mindful about how quickly you want to move vs. how much you’d like to avoid returning to cleanup mode. He understands it’s difficult to avoid all technical debt. If you’re building for speed, it’s important that the core of the product is solid and clean. Then you can go back and cleanup features later - just make sure you allocate time for that.

Engagement metrics are most important post-launch. Try to focus on people who care about your product after launch. Ten highly engaged users are more valuable long-term than one hundred who are not. With engaged users, you’ll get better feedback and build a better product. Once identified, focus on other users who have a similar need or use case.

Don’t get caught up with the small things. Finding someone to help with the little tasks has always been a challenge for Pramod. Learn to delegate the day-to-day tasks that are preventing you from stepping back and thinking about the business strategically. Trust in yourself that you’ve hired the right people and learn to let go as you grow.

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