Aditi: Designing Dreams

Date:   Wednesday , August 01, 2007

Pradeep Singh, Founder and CEO of Aditi Technologies, is ready to take on the world in a relatively young market—the outsourced product development (OPD) market. “The OPD industry is highly promising. We are already seeing a great momentum in this industry,” says Singh.

Unlike in the IT services industry, where end-user companies offshore work in order to cut costs, in the OPD industry it’s all about time to market as companies build products. Cost becomes the primary driver for outsourcing corporate IT. However, for software businesses it’s very simple - if they don’t innovate and be the first to get to the market, competition will get them “And it is this fundamental difference that Aditi bets on, as it changes the very characteristics of the game,” says Singh.

Having spent nine years in various management positions at Microsoft and seen success in his own entrepreneurial venture—Talisma, a CRM software product company, Singh knows what it takes to build world-class products and teams for global software businesses.

For instance, an IT services player requires fewer experienced people but a larger base of engineers with little or no experience. The composition of the team in a product company is very different. The operating pyramid is much narrower, with less number of people, all of them with rich experience in building and shipping products. And that’s exactly how teams in Aditi have been structured. Betting on the narrow pyramid fosters innovation—a crucial element to build products at Aditi.

Singh avers that the real glamour lies in developing products, and it is more so in the case of Aditi since it entails working for some of the marquee customers whose businesses are time and market critical. “The slope of talent versus compensation is the steepest in product development firms, meaning if you are competent your compensation as well as position in the company rises very fast,” says Singh. Chetan L Shinde, Vice President – People Department, shares the example of an employee who had joined the company fresh out of college last year, and is currently based at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Seattle, evangelizing clients on what sort of specifications to include in future releases, and how to make current products migrate to new platforms. This is just one of the numerous such cases in the company.

Emerging Microsoft Platforms
The Microsoft technology stack is changing. Windows Vista, Longhorn, SQL Server 2005, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, and Dynamics are emerging as powerful development platforms. This presents exciting opportunities for companies to exploit these technologies, and to offer new functionalities and powerful features. It is here that Aditi’s long-standing partnership with Microsoft makes it rise out of the crowd. One of Aditi’s primary strengths is expertise in consultations services, helping software businesses transition their architectures to the new Microsoft stack and to translate that to user and business benefits.

For instance, Aditi has helped clients integrate their products with Microsoft Office by offering solutions around collaboration, search, portal, content management, and business intelligence.

Riding on Web Technologies
Aditi is seeing tremendous traction in the established ISV market. For close to 70 to 80 percent of the deals that Aditi wins, Singh says there are no competitors. Several of the ISVs who have built products in the beginning of this decade now tend to migrate existing products to a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, as well as to build new ones from the ground up. They are looking for technically sound partners who have competence on emerging platforms. According to Gartner, a third of all the software vendors will change over to SaaS model in the next three years, and 40 percent of new applications will be built on it. In this context Aditi’s proposition, ‘modernize and migrate’, seems appropriate. “We enable ISVs to take advantage of what the web really demands. We help our customers to think through how the new platform works and how they can monetize,” says Singh.

While Aditi has the experience and methodology to take products into the Internet world, the company’s current focus is on helping online businesses modernize their applications using the latest Web technologies, and in transforming to a Web 2.0 paradigm. Besides offering competencies in scalability, reliability, security, and usability, Aditi has consciously invested in building designs to enhance user experience, which is the key to remain competitive in the online world. Aditi’s employees possess web expertise that span across MS, Java and open source platforms, and are trained on next generation technologies like Ajax, Ruby on Rails, and Silverlight in order to design and implement rich user interfaces.

Apart from the established ISVs, several new-age companies are among Aditi’s clientele. “The OPD industry is morphing where the newer ISVs are focusing more on the idea of the product and they leave the complete execution of the idea in the hands of a product specialist. We are, in effect, taking on the role of a CTO to many new-age product entrepreneurs,” says Pradeep Rathinam, President of Aditi.

He cites the example of Aditi developing an online music service engine for one of the new-age clients. The client had very good marketing capabilities and access to market, and handed down a set of marketing requirements to Aditi. The Aditi team went about defining the product specifications and functionalities, architecting and adjusting the same, based on performance, and eventually releasing a ‘successful product’.

Being a high-end player in the OPD space, Aditi has made a strategic play in building a strong and pioneering ‘product functional design’ (or program management) department, which helps customers define what to develop. This core differentiator is illustrated with the example of how Aditi took a five-line vision outline from GreenPrint, and developed it into a full-fledged product blue-print that defined what exactly the product will do, how exactly the features would work, and what the developers need to create.

The Startups
Having been an entrepreneur himself, Singh understands the challenges of a startup—getting the product to market quickly, reducing cash burn rate; and creating a one-of-a-kind product. Turning startup dreams into reality is right on Aditi’s agenda.

Seattle-based DocuSign started selling software to digitize documents. Its goal was to make electronic signatures as ubiquitous and simple as email. Jerry Barber, Chief Technology Officer of DocuSign, didn’t have the resources to build what was needed, so he turned to India. Aditi helped DocuSign to take its project from concept to delivery - in just eight months and at one-third of what it would have cost DocuSign to complete the project in Seattle. “We brought out the product much sooner than if we’d tried to do it ourselves in the U.S.,” reckons Barber.

The People: Work Hard, Party Harder
Contributing to the growing base of offshore work is an uber-trend: the declining supply of computer science graduates willing to be programmers in the developed and technologically advanced geographies. This dwindling supply of programmers has led engineering honchos and CTOs to look at companies like Aditi who have the ability to react quickly to market opportunities by developing relevant products, and an ability to scale. The four cards that Singh uses to cater to these requirements are experience and competence, rigor and reliability, predictable quality on predictable date, and expertise on newer areas like UI design.

Since product companies are quite demanding in terms of competence level, one can look at growing rapidly in an OPD company. There is tremendous opportunity to learn, coupled with variety of challenging tasks. “At Aditi we have a higher concentration of talent. We empower our people and they get smarter as they learn and earn a lot quicker than they would otherwise,” says Singh.

However, he is quick to add that someone coming to work at Aditi ‘ought to be scared’, since every line of code they write is reviewed by executives with over 10-15 years’ experience from the clients’ side. Singh knows that his people shouldn’t live in a persistent state of fright with regard to job security.

It is in this context that Aditi’s culture has ensured that it is a ‘fun and exciting’ place to be at. Aditians know it’s not all work and intensity always. They also know how to let their hair down. A couple of months back, they were witnesses to the jumbo welcome ( Over a dozen new recruits, who probably were worried how their first day at work would be, had a surprise waiting. A grandly decked elephant stood outside Aditi’s office. A red carpet had been rolled out; a music band played the chenda—a traditional percussion instrument, flower petals were showered, and a puja was on in full swing. “I thought I’d reached a wedding party,” Samee Athar, the newly recruited Test Lead says. As Athar and 13 other new recruits walked into their employer’s premises, each one of them was welcomed by the entire executive management, consisting of the CEO and the Vice Presidents, and blessed by the elephant.

“It was crazy, bizarre, even weird, but it clicked. The new guys were bonded early into the Aditi culture—a culture where creativity and originality is encouraged,” says Singh with a laugh. “It is difficult to find smart people in the industry, and when we did, this was one of the ways to recognize their worth,” he says.

A three-minute video clip of the celebration posted on YouTube recorded 180,000 downloads, thus reaching out to many prospective employees of the company. For such reasons, as also to promote the feeling of fun at work among employees, the company encourages the implementation of similar bizarre ideas. The HR department, aptly known as the People Department at Aditi, does its bit to support ideas that are irreverent and off the wall. For example, owing to pachyderm paucity in Bangalore, arrangements were made to bring an elephant all the way from Palakkad, Kerala, for the ‘jumbo welcome’.

“One of the reasons I have stayed on with Aditi,” says Walter Saldhana, a Group Project Manager who joined the company straight out of college in 1997, “is that even during the late 90s when the concept of a free work culture was not prevalent, at Aditi things were different. There was no dress-code and even a flexi-time regime was in place back then.”

While flexi-time and free work-culture have stayed on, things like taking new recruits for out-of-town weekend trips are relatively new additions to the company’s HR policies. “These things,” says Singh who often hosts dinners for future and present employees, “prove that we don’t have a maai-baap culture.” In fact, he adds that anyone could walk into his cabin and share an idea he or she might have. If the management finds value in the business proposition of the idea, it extends all help to the ideator to implement it.

Right now, Aditi is at an inflexion point. The company will be doubling its headcount by the end of this year. Building new products has its own challenges. “It is hard to scale the kind of capabilities we have built. But that does not stop us and we are all geared to move to the next level,” concludes Singh. The verve in his gestures and his way of talking are some things one would associate with a 20-something year old, raring to take on the world.

With some of the best talent, work and customers, Aditi continues to ride high on the wave of OPD growth, keeping its corporate values of intensity, creativity, being people-driven, ethical, and socially conscious close to its heart.

Aditi is where dreams are designed. Not only for the customers but it also holds true for the employees. This is evident because we spotted some thing among the Aditi family that is missing from most other techies. A smile.