Building A Startup’s Indian Operations: A Year of Reflection
In 2009, I was fortunate to return to my home country of India after several years in California. I was working for an impressive start-up called Egnyte, which had raised a $6 million USD Series A funding and was building a small engineering team in India to support its new product, the Egnyte file sharing platform.
In India, we were working on building the platform to scale and dealing with uptime issues in a remote setup. Those were the days when the term “work from home” didn’t even exist—and we were doing it. Over the years we built a small but core team of engineers in the country who were critical to building a product that has now scaled to 17,000 customers, serving billions of requests per day and securing several petabytes of customer data.
Fast forward to 2020—we now had a large presence of employees working on our popular product in the U.S. and Poland. We had expanded the offerings to focus on security and governance—critical areas for our life sciences and architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) customers. The rate at which we were growing as a company required us to make a crucial decision on where to set up our next employee and innovation epicenter for future growth. And we chose India in July 2021.
Hiring Lessons Learned
Establishing a new company epicenter requires hiring, and hiring is never easy. In my and the teams’ experience building teams in two different countries, there was one very important thing that we learned: Setting up a new site is similar to starting a new startup. Even though Egnyte Inc. was a well-established cash-flow positive company, all principles of a lean start-up were applicable. So, we needed some solid guiding principles to ensure success:
- Test the Waters. While the legal entity in India was in the process of getting set up, we tried hiring engineers by convincing them to join as contractors initially. It’s safe to say hiring just contractors and encouraging them to trust they might be hired in the future was not easy. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not, but we got to test the waters and understand the local talent and the market better. I am very thankful to the early team that understood our values and trusted that our growth path would work.
- Move fast and break things. We started onboarding engineers with no physical office, no manager, and on the very rare occasion—even without a laptop ;)
- Focus on your core strengths. We focused on hiring for core engineering functions—teams we knew we could onboard quickly and remotely and would immediately start adding value to the organization. We tasted some early successes, and we were able to onboard a small team of engineers who now work on some of our core projects.
- Build remotely—before COVID made it popular. We made a conscious decision to be remote-first. It was easy given Egnyte’s history with remote teams long before the pandemic popularized the term “work from anywhere.” We believe a hybrid workplace is a win-win for all, and there is enough research backing it. When hiring, we always look for folks with an “ownership” mindset. That has enabled us to build remote and productive teams.
Building a Culture-First Mindset
Staying true to our guiding principles resulted in a close-knit group of solid performers, we affectionately call the “believers.” One such believer was Pranav Dabral, who first interviewed with Egnyte based on our remote principle, which seemed too good to be true.
“I remember smiling like a kid at the end of each interview because the conversations had been so stimulating. I could see myself joining Egnyte but I wasn’t convinced—was it truly a remote opportunity in India?” said Pranav Dabral, senior software engineer. “Once Egnyte had extended me an offer, I had three or four calls with a very senior engineer who patiently helped me understand more about the technical domain and the engineering culture in the company. I just wanted to be sure that I was making the right decision. Now when I look back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Finding time to collaborate and come together outside of individual teams and products is still crucial to our team in India. We make connections and our culture a priority.
“Egnyte is a great place to work with talented engineers and the company has one of the best work cultures I’ve ever seen, even though the whole team is distributed across India,” said Pritesh Kanthaliya, senior software engineer.
In a little over a year, we’ve hired more than 100 people across various disciplines in engineering such as frontend developers, backend developers, system developers, program managers, and product managers. Building on that momentum, we’re even recruiting teams for finance and marketing functions in the country. Each position can be based anywhere.
Periodically bringing the team together for a fun filled work week is an essential part of a remote-first model. Coupled with the fact that, post-pandemic, people have been itching to step out and travel, we hosted two full blown team events in the last 12 months.
We brought the entire team together in Pune in November 2021 for the official launch of Egnyte India.
Then in May 2022 we brought everyone out to Bangalore and spent a rocking week of work and partying on Church Street.
The team meeting in Bangalore included visits from our Chief Executive Officer Vineet Jain and our Vice President of Engineering Tal Broner. Executive visits are an important way for us all to feel connected globally and for our India team to experience the wider Egnyte organization.
“I really appreciated meeting the entire team from across India shortly after I joined Egnyte. Seeing our executives from California demonstrated the importance of India and my colleagues here,” said Sayali Godbole, senior human resources manager. “I felt so included so quickly. Even now, team members mention this event as one of the best experiences they had. The company takes huge efforts to bring the entire team together and it reflects the true employee-centric work culture at Egnyte.”
On July 1, we completed one full year of officially operating in India. I am amazed at how much work the team has been able to accomplish and how far we have come in such a short time. Identifying and fixing challenging problems will continue to be our focus on the engineering front as well as welcoming our new team members from across our functions.
I am thankful to all our employees, our counterparts in the U.S. and Poland, and our contractors for all that we have accomplished this year. I am honored to have been selected as our first global head for Indian operations and look forward to what the future will bring. India is certainly looking bright!
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