Batista R. Harahap

Products & Engineering

Since as long as I can remember, I've always enjoy building tech. It's part of my identity. However, more often than not, I enjoyed the tech part more than the product itself. The temptation of any technical founders.

I have a confession to make:

I hate writing code but I hate not writing code more.

As an engineer, naturally you'll always try to find new ways to solve, enhance and or upgrade the tech part. Admit it.

Now with this startup I'm now building, this is not good. It's an engineering company from the beginning, not a programming company. I think doing just enough is very artistic. It shows depth of knowledge in just a fraction of the cost and time.

To pull it off, I think the people in the team matters more than the skills they individually have. Software Engineering and Products are something anyone can do with the right amount of willpower. It's hard to get the right people but it's even harder if there's a wrong hire, the complexity point is 13 out of 8.

Small is BIG

I really feel that to think & execute big things, it must come from something small, and winning them. A good exercise for anyone's confidence level.

Nowadays, Software Engineering is getting way smarter with the revolution of tools and methodologies. What was before a process infused with dependencies along its lifecycle, now is getting decoupled more than ever.

With that in mind, a big team is not necessarily a high velocity team. We've come to upgrade our understanding of time into complexity points. In a sense, how we develop software right now is getting more personalized and humane.

Ideas & Execution

The beginning of any product is the designing of it. They are:

  • Product Design
  • Technical Design
  • Business Design

In that order preferrably.

But before all that happens, it starts with a small idea that got stuck in your head. Next is validating it. Let's assume that all the assumptions are validated, so why don't everyone else is not executing your idea?

I stress that even though you think you have all the answers, all the work are still assumptions until proven otherwise by the user. I like that in Lean Canvas, one of the required work are experiments. We are always seeking to prove a point (or not) in all of the experiments.

The 7 Questions from Peter Thiel's 0 To 1 book sums it all.

What makes an idea distinguishes itself from the others? I think it's the execution. If there's an absolute truth in the Internet business is that the incumbent status is never permanent.

However, these days the incumbents are disproving the previous sentence every single day. What's different?

Hunger

On the book How Google Works, Eric Schmidt pointed out that technical insights are key building blocks for a smart creatives to build upon. They've successfully and also failed to launch products that stemmed from it. However, they always thought of failures as a needed lesson for progress.

As an engineer, I can relate to the whole book, I am not a stranger to its ideas. That book talks about culture and hiring on its earliest chapters. I believe the same thing, I truly believe that to build businesses, the culture shapes the people and the people enforces the culture. A never ending cycle of improvements.

When I meet with ex-colleagues from Urbanesia, I listen to them talking about 1 common theme. They tell me that they feel like a stranger in whichever companies they're working at the moment. They are so used to being empowered that they just hate being just a tool or a mean to an end.

They are people who are just too smart and too creative to only just be doers. I'm very proud of them but above all, I am happy that they persisted the culture way after we have gone our separate ways. They stick to the belief that culture and people are what drive products forward.

When they can't find a supporting environment for them to excel, they feel like they are boxed in into a suffocating dilemma. That's a problem I hear about happening in many startups and companies in Indonesia. It's what's crippling the startup ecosystem generally.

So if you're a founder, let me ask you this:

Have you empowered your employees enough?

When you instill trust and delegation to smart creatives, they will come to you with their ideas. They will build products that are as big as their sense of belonging.

But I don't think that's enough. Look at Urbanesia, it's going nowhere now. For that reason, I reflect on these mistakes when I think of products:

  1. Vision
  2. Energy
  3. Emotion
  4. Stakeholders
  5. Focus

Out of the 5, I am more careful with point 1 & 5.

Vision

Paul Graham came up with this quote:

Live in the future, then build what's missing.

As founders, we live in the future, constantly. It's not for everyone. How the hell do you live in the future?

My simple answer is: question your existence. It's fascinating that there are only 2 constants in the history of humans which are Ideas and Technology. I've been watching Mankind: The Story of All of Us for the last month. I was questioning why humans need to exist from the first place.

It's only by fractions of fractions of a second when the universe exploded that life on earth is sustainable. The odds are stacked so high against us existing that it's incomprehensible. We are just so tiny when you look at it from the scale of the universe.

Only by questioning everything around me initially I expanded my mind to know more about the physics of the universe all the way to today. Asking the right question is an art. When in doubt, I always question why am I even thinking it.

Bottomline, to live in the future, it must start with questions about the past and the present. The past is so important because even though civilization has progressed so much but as I said before, there are only 2 constants.

Focus

It's hard, really it's not easy. How do you focus on building for the future when the present is blocking? Questions like "I don't even have enough to get by" or "How will this affect my family" keeps on popping out. What if you change the questions to:

What will happen if you don't try?

I always have a 5 years plan. Most of the decisions I did always revolves around my 5 years plan. How do I get there sooner? Because of this, the deciding part gets as binary as it can be. Boolean truth makes sense.

Why 5 years you asked? I think 5 years is not too far or too close to the future that you can shift directions (if needed) without having to sacrifice the destination. This has helped me focus my efforts with a single minded approach.

As do with any Agile executions, break down the goal into more manageable pieces with lower complexity points. Small wins are always better than loosing.

The Bar

As a first-born, I usually get what I want sooner or later. The instinct to just do it and make an example of myself to my brothers is so strong that it drives me forward all the time.

I was the first one to get scolded coming home late in the night. This built an appetite/tolerance for risk.

Above all else, I set the bar. When I first joined Urbanesia, I immediately code alongside the other engineers. I stayed late and played guitar with the others. The only purpose is to show the others my persistence.

Along the way persistence turns into respect and respect turns into support. It took 1.5 years to gain the support but it was all worth it. Why did it took so long? Because all the efforts need to convert into results first.

In the end of the day, smart creatives are by default kind-hearted. My approach back then was totally unscalable but it will and has stuck with them for as long as they can remember. Now the people has a benchmark. The only thing interesting for them is to best it, nothing less.

Culture

This is the last part for this blog post. I am Indonesian and here there are 2 important defining traits for any Indoensian: Role Models and Relationships.

Once the bar is set, it's all about relationship. I find the most effective way to nurture it is to share knowledge. By knowledge I mean making "Think Big" as a source of empowerment.

If you're a business leader or an employee and you feel that sharing knowledge is dangerous, you might want to recheck yourself on the topic. People don't get to be smart creatives by controlling them with fear or lack of information. Instead I feel we must flood them with knowledge.

Of course the term "flood" is overly unneeded. A more conservative term would be "give". I said it before that smart creatives are by default kind-hearted, how else are you gonna keep them around and joyful without giving?

In the office, I never liked having my own office or workspace. I like to be in the middle of the chaos. Not to add more to the chaos, I wanna be there to let the surrounding know that it's ok to be chaotic. I also like to approach someone to their desk rather than talking through a digital medium. It's the small things that matter that'll eventually become the best investment.

The only time I don't wanna be disturbed is when I put my thinking cap on. That means that I'm focusing on something, fuck off. One of my colleague at Icehouse even put an office hour sticky notes on top of his workspace so people know when to reach him.

Even though we're in the digital space, we're still humans. We feed from each other's energy.


In closing, the writings here is too good to be true. It's like for every x there's a y. No way, linear regressions only happens in Math. There's no such thing as an equilibrium in life. Something will always outweigh something else.

Please take all this with a pinch of salt. Squeeze some lemon juice, have a shot of tequilla to go with it.

This is an act of sharing, right now there are just so much trust in Indonesia, we just can't fuck it up. Be very careful because when you fuck it up, the whole industry suffers!

27 February 2015 by Batista Harahap on culture | product | startup | urbanesia | thoughts | engineering
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