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Dhaka Tribune

Building technology function in startup: Lessons from Ataur’s ShopUp journey

The co-founder and chief product officer of ShopUp delves into his insights and experiences in building and leading a technology function

Update : 29 Feb 2024, 06:39 PM

Ataur Rahim Chowdhury is the co-founder and chief product officer of ShopUp, the largest B2B commerce platform in Bangladesh with a network of small neighborhood shops that serve 31 million people. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune, Ataur delves into his insights and experiences in building and leading a technology function within a rapidly growing organization.

In establishing the first technology division within your organization, what would you prioritize?

When ShopUp began, we envisioned a tech-driven solution to empower small businesses. The key was not the idea, but in bringing together the right minds to turn this vision into reality. If you're a tech founder, remember, your team is your greatest asset. Selecting individuals who share your passion and vision is crucial.

The first hires are a balancing act. I remember back in the day, we hired a project manager with vast experience. However, we soon realized that his approach was slowing us down. A decision about a basic folder structure, which should take only 20 minutes, inexplicably turned into a two-day debate. In a startup, agility and adaptability are vital.

Early recruits must align with your speed-focused ethos, emphasizing rapid product releases. Our mix of fresh graduates and seasoned pros ultimately paid dividends; the former's rapid learning curve proved invaluable in understanding the business from its core.

Moving on to product development. What do you need to keep in mind when creating the perfect product?

It’s not absolutely important that the very first product will have to be the perfect product. In the starting days, like any good tech team, we wanted our solution to be perfect as well. Therefore, we tried to visualize every possible need of the user and tried to build the perfect solution that offered all that and more. And yet, when it came to adoption, we were surprised to see the users being less than thrilled with the product experience. After multiple rounds of surveys and user feedback, we determined that our users were overwhelmed by the feature-packed nature of the product. They would actually be much happier with a simpler product experience that solves their core challenges first. This setback was pivotal. We learned that building a tech product is like laying bricks - you start with the fundamentals. Later, we ended up turning the core features into a simple Chrome extension, and the users were more than happy with the result. It was an important lesson for our young team, focusing on a minimum viable product first can go a long way in understanding and serving the actual user need.

In the rapidly evolving environment of a startup, how does a tech team adapt to changes in the business model?

Before putting in significant development efforts, the business model should be evaluated beyond any doubt. Development requires time, effort, and incurs costs, which can be wasted if you ultimately need to reverse your decisions. Back in our early days, we hypothesized that we would get significant business opportunities in international deliveries.

After spending months into development, it resulted in a number of shipments that you can count using your fingers. The setback was on our end where we initially failed to realize the cost implications of this module. Striking a balance between automation and manual efforts is essential for scaling without exhausting manpower or encountering reconciliation issues. Smart solutions require working smarter, not harder, and embracing "smart hacks" to optimize operations.

Could you provide some examples of these 'smart hacks' that you've employed?

In the realm of technology, wisely leveraging existing tools can be transformative. Why reinvent the wheel when there are already effective solutions at your disposal? If subscription services or ready-made tools suit your needs, it's worth considering their integration into your processes. The emergence of "no-code" platforms has revolutionized product development, providing a new pathway for turning ideas into reality. These platforms allow for the creation of entire products without the need for extensive coding, saving both time and resources. This approach was exemplified in one of our early products, which we developed extensively using the no-code platform AirTable. This was to the point where the platform was used for almost a year before we moved to our inhouse system.

If you had to share one tip for young technology leaders, what would it be?

In a startup, time is of the essence. We strive for rapid releases, aiming for monthly or even weekly updates. This approach allows us to be responsive to user feedback, continually refine our products, and stay ahead in a competitive market.

Your users are the cornerstone of your product, and engaging with them yields invaluable insights. But there’s a caveat to this. There are tons of user metrics out there. The key is identifying which metrics are relevant and important to you. From your perspective, you need to identify the Northstar metric or metrics that align with your strategic goals. I remember back in the day, I established a daily routine where I used to look into every individual user’s journey, up to 100 journeys every day. Looking into user chats, emails, and issue trackers provides direct, unfiltered feedback. When uncertain about a feature's functionality or design, consulting your users can often shed light on the most effective direction. Focus on metrics that truly reflect user behavior and product performance, as these provide clarity on the impact of your product.

As your business scales after finding the right market fit, what are the implications for the technology team in terms of hiring?

As we scaled our engineering team, maintaining a commitment to hiring quality engineers was paramount. Our thorough interview process included multiple rounds, live coding sessions, and interviews with senior engineers. When building a larger team, embracing candidates with diverse ideas, backgrounds, and educational experiences proved beneficial. Giving everyone a fair chance, irrespective of their background, often led to surprising discoveries.

As a leader of the technology function in a tech-driven organization, the duty falls upon you to create the organization's culture as well. How have you fared this particular challenge in your organization?

Adaptability is key. Every organization's work nature is unique, and there are no one-size-fits-all rules. Fostering a culture of innovation involves facing challenges head-on, being open to new ideas, and continuously learning. As a leader, I strive to be adaptable and discover what works best for our team.

 

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