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Would Sherlock be a good entrepreneur? 🕵️

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If you have already read the preface on the email, directly start reading from here.


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I love sports. While I only excelled at swimming, I played many other sports (poorly, but still). It has given me a fair share of injuries too - a torn right ACL, a left groin tear, a troubled left shoulder...well, let me stop there.

I promise that I am not venting. It is just that this made me appreciate the beautiful way in which our human body works together. As I spend most of my time building my startup, I couldn't help but draw some lessons for it. My broad learning: To be a good doctor OR an entrepreneur, you need to be a smart detective & scientist.

Today, I tell you one such experience at Flexiple that needed these skills.

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A Sherlock physio

Let me preface the article with an experience that backs my above claim.

I had intense pain in my left shoulder. Most people (even trained physios) attributed it to an injury in the area or lack of strength in the associated muscles. None of their treatments worked. Enter Syed, a physio-Sherlock.

sherlock as an etrepreneur

You see, each part of our body is intricately connected. Here's his narrative, à la Cumberbatch rant:

  • Your pain started because of a tight left calf muscle (leg)
  • That made your left hamstring tight (leg) and you started walking lopsided
  • This loaded your back inappropriately and altered your posture
  • Your shoulder tilted over time and now pains like hell

Whew!

Now, I am not saying that things always play out in such a complicated fashion. Occam's razor - we should always start with the simplest explanation. Syed did do that. But he also was able to test his hypothesis and move on to spotting & connecting dots beyond the obvious.

I have found this ability to be critical in solving both the mystery of body pain and any growth problems at your startup.

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Let's unravel a mystery together

I want to share one such mystery to you. That of a painful problem at Flexiple. A couple of years back, three clients approached us to hire a freelance developer. This happened concurrently and after interviewing our talent, none of them hired from us. We didn't get much feedback either.

I should expand. In a nutshell, Flexiple helps companies connect with quality freelance tech talent. Quality talent and accurate recommendations are our biggest sells. So an obvious metric that we are obsessed about is the leads to conversion ratio. I guess you can understand why would be absolutely livid at ourselves about the situation.

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Proposition 1

We got down to solving the situation. The first assumption was that our client-facing team wasn't doing a great job. So, we reviewed the communication - details of the calls with the respective person in our team and also the mails exchanged.

Calls seemingly went smoothly. The mail from the client afterwards was very positive - so calls didn't seem to be the problem. Mail then? They were sent promptly and addressed the problems the client had approached us with. No typos either.

Nope, this didn't seem like the problem.

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Proposition 2

Maybe our talent recommendation to the company was wrong? To test this, we made a simple table of all our past projects and the talent recommended to them. We added parameters against each talent as well to aid in this analysis.

Our recommendations were no different from all our past successful projects. Maybe we were missing some parameters in evaluation all along and our past success was just luck?

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Proposition 3

So, we questioned the screening process of our talent. Firstly, the existing process was already pretty intense. We were very confident about the technical aspect of our developers. Maybe, it was the cultural aspect that was a mismatch?

A candidate was already tested on their soft skills. What else could we do? We accepted that there is only so much we can infer through that process. So, borrowing from the traditional hiring process, we added a step to the selection process - to take a reference from ex-colleagues and managers of the individual.

Now we not only had our opinion but the thoughts of people the individual had actually worked with. This certainly was helpful. But these inputs would typically be useful to understand how the individual would perform during a project, not the interview. This wasn't the whole answer either.

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Proposition 4

We realised that while we were trying to analyse internally, we had never questioned the kind of client leads we had received. Couldn't the case have been that the clients were not a good fit for our model? So, we researched about them and added details in the same table made in "Proposition 2".

And we were able to see some pattern there! Here is the profile of each of the clients:

  • First was doing this on the side; i.e. they already had a day-job and they were just experimenting with certain ideas.
  • Next was already working with software agencies. So they were used to working at a fixed cost based on output. Our model works on hiring talent hourly, weekly or monthly.
  • Lastly, the third client didn't have any tech background. So the concept of evaluating a developer would have seemed daunting. Not to mention having to manage such a person during the project.


We had never encountered such clients before. All our clients till then were:

  • Managing their startup full-time
  • Committed to hiring a person for their team rather than just outsourcing
  • Had some members in their team who were experienced in tech


Hmm, this was most likely the reason!

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Solution

Our client-facing team started to explicitly position our offering to our customers in these aspects. Based on the details provided by them, our projects team also started to tweak talent recommendations. Of course, we had already added another step in our evaluation process!

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Closing thoughts

This is just one of the many puzzles that we faced and continue to face in our startup. I am sure that you face many too! It just requires us to keep asking the right questions to the puzzle. Then, to analyse the answers thoroughly and to put them to test. A series of investigative experiments - to be a detective scientist, if I may.

With poor social skills, Sherlock might not have been an ideal entrepreneur. But he woul still have been a darn good one :).

So, what is one problem that you had to really dig into to solve? I would love to know your thoughts!

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