Author Archives: Cherian

  1. For Entrepreneurs building companies in the United States and India

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    SF-check

    Recently a former colleague asked me about setting up office in India and San Francisco. Compiling these tidbits made me realize how reusable this database is. A part of it is useful for any foreigner setting up shop in the Valley.

    Cucumbertown is a network for cooks. Think Tumblr for cooks. We are a platform with users from around 162 countries but we haven’t generated revenue yet. Our lead investors are from the Valley and by virtue of that we setup shop in the United States with a subsidiary company in India. Fortunately or not we don’t have to deal with payments in India.

    I have met quite a few entrepreneurs building SaaS products billed both in the US and in India. If that happens to be your case, reach out to a CPA in the US and a CA in India. This post is not going to help you much.

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  2. Our San Francisco brunch

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    The pics say it all (although we didn’t do justice with the photos) .

    With the cherry blossoms, Chinese lanterns, cheese spread and the most beautiful of people – this was our perfect Japanese autumn.

    If you would like to do a local Cucumbertown get-together, reach out to us. We’d be more than happy to help.

  3. Why we love the Vine way of recording

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    One of the major requests we have from our users is for a start/stop recording button as opposed to a press to record button like Vine.

    Here’s something I got last night

    “My sis was visiting and she took most of the video. But I really want to have the ability to take a video by myself with least amount of fuss. This translates to front view camera capability with touch-and-release ability to start/stop recording.”

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  4. The tools that define us. Building a tool culture

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    IMG_0964

    From time immemorial I’ve had a Swiss army knife in my pocket. My best friend introduced me to this during my engineering days and ever since this Swiss knife MiniChamp has gone on to be an integral part of my life. This Swiss army knife has gone on to fix laptops, fans, a mini surgery to remove coconut husk fiber from the toe to all the way from hitchhiking in Europe, the south East Asia and my daily routines. I had this tool in my pocket for over a decade and had to part this only once when I inadvertently took it to the airport check-in. To me this tool is like wearing a suit. It empowers.

    orangutan-tool-use-fishing

    We humans are characterized for our ability to build and use tools to make us efficient. Its that one defining character that terms us “intelligent”. It’s that trait that separated us from the evolving family. We started using flints, stone, levers and sticks all the way to mixers, washing machines, cars, elevators and airplanes to make our lives better. For the vast majority of us we don’t know how life is so simple with the tools that make it implicit and invisibly defining.

    Build tools. Builds tools to replace yourself

    During my Zynga life when the company was scaling we were constantly pulling all-nighters to keep the games up and running while dealing with variable peak loads. It was evident to my director Manoj Sharma this wasn’t going to be sustainable. Programmers are going to just burn out, he knew. And one day he made statement that had a profound impact. “Build tools. Builds tools to replace yourself”. He probably meant it as a passing statement but the thought grew on me. I’ve always had a hacker mindset and all of us hackers try to maintain DRY. But when I combined this with a tool building mindset I realized we could build an incredibly good hacker culture.

    Till then it never struck me that tools should be built with a systematic, focussed  and scientific approach (focussed with an emphasis). We have .bashrc files that define us. SSHing to 100 machines is 5 keystrokes for us.

    But this is more about a systematic approach and company wide approach. Something that requires a mindset change top down.

    At Cucumbertown, we push ourselves to builds tools to make this proactive.
    Tools that start with a simple alert mechanics like :

    1. Informing admins about weird ingredients
    2. _CT__New_Ingredients_-_cherian_in_gmail_com_-_Gmail

    3. Informing the team about deployments that go to production
    4. Deployment_complete_on_prod_-_cherian_in_gmail_com_-_Gmail

    5. Building toolkits on top of Jenkins to automate everything
    6. Hipchat_example_jpeg-5

    7. Referrer spike – an email alert tool that lets us know if we got slashdotted
    8. __prod_cucumbertown_com___Referer_Scan_report_at_Sun_Aug_11_01_01_02_2013_-_cherian_in_gmail_com_-_Gmail_jpg

    9. Search log tools that let us know of invalid search results
    10. Pasted_Image_1_11_14__2_08_PM-2

    11. Engineering is right now in the process of building a tool to create a stage subdomain whenever a new branch is pushed from git with a new DB and settings. Delete all the env and domain when the branch is deleted. From a git post commit hook.
    12. Cucumbertown-10

    Most of these are tools are part of every company/startup in some manifestation.
    Building a tool culture isn’t easy. Especially when you are a startup.

    1. A tool is mostly useful when its 100% complete. Most of us tend to take it to the 80% level. At this level its not good enough for “others” to use.
    2. Tools are laborious to build. The time required to build a tool might not seem to be worth the end result. At least initially.
    3. The time that we all fight for.
    4. The most important is focus. If this is not directed to the solutions we need at that stage of the company, it’s easy to get distracted. For startups time is the most precious currency.

    But despite the obstacles, building a tools culture has more benefits than you can possibly think!

    1. A tool culture immediately differentiates the hackers from the rest.
    2. Tools bring tremendous attachment to the product/team. The gratification of achievements in efficiency is beyond words.
    3. Tools set the stage for code reuse. Consequently for open sourcing them. If the stage is set right at the onset, a lot of the problems of encapsulation and project management become implicit.
    4. Opens source tools are the best evangelists. Think firebug.
    5. Tools help ramp up new hires. They contribute to it and the eco systems matures.
    6. A tool culture makes the company sexy. Dashboards, pagers, scripts.
    7. There is an element of serendipity. Phabricator, Urchin Analytics etc. ended up being companies.

    To do this much like a company HR policy, tool building has to be integrated into the engineering manifesto.

    1. Tool building should be part of an employee’s Objectives and Key Responsibilities.
    2. Direct focus to ensure this aligns with the company’s strategy at that stage.
    3. Mechanics should be built to measure a tool’s efficiency but not at the cost of company productivity.
    4. Above all the founders have to believe.

    I’ve realized that tools not only make us efficient but the incredible sense of gratification the author gets by improving an otherwise manual process is unparalleled. The same way I feel watching a Maker video.

    Do you think its justified building a culture like this in early stages? What more can I do to get this into the DNA?

    What are some awesome indispensable tools you have built?
    Oh and btw, yesterday I fixed my teamie’s MacBook pro keyboard with the Swiss knife

  5. The Easter Egg Song

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    You’d think I’d remember the morning that the code went into production after all the work and effort that went behind one of the biggest pranks I have ever pulled, but I don’t. However, I do remember every other charming detail. Who can forget such a challenging labor of love after all?

    It all started with a close friend and a brilliant programmer’s idea to craft an Easter egg to celebrate the launch of a product. Now, as innocent as that sounds, this Easter egg was one of the many hilarious pranks in which I’ve participated. A small incident in the larger scheme of life you could say, but it was an incredible exercise in learning and totally worth the effort and thought. Looking back, I wonder how we managed to pull it off…

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