One year at Akosha – Archit Chandra

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My name is Archit and I am a Program Manager at Akosha. I recently completed one extremely eventful year with Akosha that taught me numerous lessons, both on work and on life. I could have hardly imagined that the first year of my work-life would alter the way I think so dramatically. Coming from a very middle-class family with a “government jobs are the best” mentality and an idealistic thinking process, I did what every guy like me would have been advised to do: study extremely hard and get to a good engineering college. Thus, I reached a pretty decent engineering college called

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Netaji Subhas Institute of Technology (which I really hope you know about; we NSITians kind of have an eternal identity crisis) in a pretty decent stream called Electronics and Communication Engineering (well, I thought it was decent). I used to see the world through my own peculiar lens with a coating of “should” on it. This SHOULD be done that way (and that way only), that SHOULD be done this way, you SHOULD do this, he SHOULD do that, etc etc. There was a thought that everything has one optimum solution and that solution alone would work.

Well, as you can imagine, this did not get me too far. I was an average student at best and put in a lot of effort in a direction which a lot of times turned out to be sub-optimal, so I would course correct and do everything again. Plus, I was trying to do everything to perfection and that maybe instilled in me an aversion to making mistakes (ever pushed the Rematch button of a FIFA game again and again if you’re losing?). End result: worknot done, at least not on time. Why am I saying all this BS? Because getting past this was a very fundamental change to the way I thought and worked and it was made possible only because of the kind of work I was given and the kind of people I was working with at Akosha. Skipping a lot of random nonsense, I was in my final year in college and sitting for placements just like everyone else. Again, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I just knew that I did not have enough technical knowledge in me to go for a TI/Qualcomm/Freescale type electronics company or even a software company. Thus, by the law of elimination, I “chose” to try out for “non-tech” (who even knows what that means?) companies that would come to campus. Fortunately for me, I got selected in Snapdeal on the 30th of August as a data analyst (again, who even knows what that means?). All I knew was that I had a job in a smaller company where maybe I won’t be just another cog in the wheel. Fast-forward to May the next year, when the placement season is nearly over, and we get a shocker: Snapdeal’s deferring our joinings by six months and there’s no guarantee if they would be there at all. Then began a lot of scampering to the placement committee, phone calls to seniors and clicking on the careers pages of a ton of random websites. It was then that a friend of mine, Tushar, got me to a startup event that was happening in town: Hug-a-startup by Morpheus. I researched about the companies and the one that caught my eye very quickly was Akosha. I made up my mind that I definitely need to get in touch with them.

And get in touch with them I did. The founder, Ankur Singla, made me wait a lot but I was finally able to talk to him on the terrace (that evening is still quite a vivid memory) and he asked me to follow up on email. About a week later, I was at the Akosha office for the interview process. What I did not know was that I would go through the most grueling selection process I had ever faced which would take up the entire day. I had no complaints, though, as a few days later I got a call from Sanchit, the HR at the time (who used to mark resumes with Jhakaas Hai and Bakwaas Hai stamps after evaluating them) that they would like me to join.

The 17th of June, 2013 was my first day at Akosha and it still seems like yesterday. I met Vishrut, who was to be my reporting manager and the heads of all the departments, trying to understand how Akosha worked. On the very fourth day of work, Vishrut told me that I would be handling a team of around four people and will be supervising the work that they do in handling operations for our B2B clients. My heart was in my mouth. I wanted to ask “Don’t you know that I’m a fresher? I’m sure I’ll fuck up”. I did fuck up a few times but did a pretty fine job a lot of other times as well (I believe). But that’s the kind of place Akosha is. They’ll have faith in you even before you have it in yourself and will be willing to give you a lot of responsibility if you are up for it. As it says on a wall in our office, a ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. We follow the same advice for people.

The work usually is pretty intense with a lot of things happening at the same time and constant pressure to deliver quickly. You are generally juggling multiple balls in the air. A few might fall but the show must go on. I was also acting as a Key Account Manager for a few of our B2B clients. It was quite ironic that I was also assigned Snapdeal’s account. Meeting with them regularly and finding out about their needs and suggesting improvement to the current processes was a part of the job. Later, when the number of B2B clients started increasing and the heightened consumer complaint volume started started breaking our processes, I also got to work on a complete overhaul of the entire backend operations for these B2B clients – what we call the Delivery process. Those moments were exhilarating. Plus, I had recently read this book called Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt (suggested to me by Avinash) about the theory of constraints and all this elimination of bottlenecks stuff had me hooked. Nights had become immaterial as I was completely in the grip of what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “the flow”.

We came up with a re-design of the process, predicted a few gaps in terms of personnel required, hired people for those gaps and then started monitoring the flow of complaints through the processes. Touch wood, the new set of processes have worked fine till now. What mattered to me a lot was that I had been able to do something that helped in creating value for the system. And no matter how much I try, I can’t help but smirk every time a complaint is resolved.

I have also worked on automating a lot of things that we have done manually in the past. Asking people to confirm whether their complaints have been resolved or not, get more details on their complaints and telling them about Akosha are just some of the use cases that we were testing out using IVR systems. And in the beginning, you have to do it all by yourself only (pretty croaky, innit?). One particularly interesting project that I worked on was the expansion of our Inbound team, which basically set us up for receiving complaints via the telephone, increasing our reach to Tier II and III cities. For that, I worked (under the supervision of Avinash, our operations head) on increasing the team strength from 4 to about 25, did all the hiring, training, created new processes from scratch, got in a telephony vendor to set up a new system for calls and managed day-to-day operations of the team for about 4 months. One particularly challenging task for me was to create the reporting macros on MS Excel so that you enter the raw data and all the report metrics are automatically populated (seems pretty straight-forward now but looked like a mountain then when I didn’t know jack about Excel). I had spent nights at a stretch trying to figure stuff out and made multiple trips to meet friends in Gurgaon who worked in ZS and Axtria to “learn” Excel from them. In the end, the entire experience was extremely rewarding and the reporting system is something that I am proud of even today (it’s still used in exactly the same form). I was also given an opportunity to try my hand at content marketing. I was writing blog entries and creating newsletters for B2B marketing. It was quite a lot of fun and helped me appreciate how much work actually goes into doing those kind of things. This included proper circulation even when ourfunding was announced. (See here for all the media coverage that Akosha has received so far.) I have also worked a lot on recruitment. Managing candidates who have applied to Akosha and doing first round interviews with very senior level candidates was a part of my job. There is still a good chance that if you apply to Akosha for a job you might talk to me (so now you know what you need to do to get to talk to me :P). There are a lot of other small things that I have been able to get my hands into. Organizing parties (yes, we too have a party planning committee like Dunder Mifflin), being a part of our employee care committee, setting up important interviews, working with the top management to select a public relations firm and creating a readings course to get our new joiners up to speed with what happens in a growth stage startup are just a few to name. Of course, apart from just planning and organizing parties, we have a lot of fun in them as well.

Organzing a table tennis competition at Akosha was another fun task. And yes, I also did a general quiz at Akosha. The second one is in progress right now, but will happen very soon. I also had the good fortune of appearing on a local radio channel for a consumer awareness related show.

The most important fact is that Akosha is a place where people are given the freedom to thrive and do the best they can. This, in effect, comes only because of the beliefs of the top management that if you throw people in the deep end of the pool they will figure stuff out. Ankur, Avinash, Vishal and Vishrut are all highly competent people who have faith in the ability of the people around them. This one year at Akosha has been a great learning experience but not all of it was smooth sailing. There were hiccups, times when things went wrong on my part, but the “picking-up-the-pieces” and the lessons that I took with me very more valuable than anything else. There was a time somewhere in the beginning of this year, when I felt like I was not putting in enough effort and thus not getting enough satisfaction out of work. I myself was feeling a bit down. I was not going to sleep happy and content. Shortly after, I went to Ankur for some advice on how to get out of the rut. Certainly enough, he had already noticed it and I got some amount of flak first for the sheer “laziness” that I was subjecting myself to. A few of the things he then said were pure gold to me. That conversation almost flipped a switched in me which helped me bounce back very effectively. That is also something which is extremely valuable to me as an Akosha employee: the amount of advice and feedback you get from much more accomplished people which helps right a lot of wrongs. If not that, then prevent multiple wrongs from happening in the first place. All of these things are very easy to say, but the brilliant truth here is that we follow all this and more every day, day-in day-out. And that’s what makes the experience of working at Akosha truly challenging and fun at the same time. The work then becomes extremely stimulating and leads to higher outcomes, resulting in a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle. Plus, whenever you stumble, there are strong hands to pick you up and get you back on track. You don’t need to do it all alone. A great part of stuff that I used to struggle with in college has pretty much sorted itself out as I started understanding that there are many things that have no right or wrong way of doing and that getting things done is way more important (and fulfilling) than achieving perfection. All this and so much more is stuff that I have learnt only by being at Akosha. I truly am grateful to everyone here for enriching my life so much. Below is an image that was shared by a happy customer when we got his complaint resolved. My feelings towards Akosha are exactly the same.

And that is the reason why I am at Akosha (although it was pretty much a lot of luck that led me here) and will stay here for years to come. And of course, a presence on Akosha’s website is one other thing that keeps me attached 😉 . Here’s a screenshot with me on our Careers page.

Akosha, in my perception, can be summarized in two words – the same two words that we speak whenever we want to appreciate something in Akosha: “Good stuff”!

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