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June - 2007 - issue > How I Got Where I am Today
“We-stop-just-short-of-hitting-each-other”
Aritra Bhattacharya
Friday, June 1, 2007
A thrash-out on Sundays was de rigueur. Considering that this was the (mid 90s) strife-torn state of Assam, a thrash-out on any day was de rigueur, but the weekly one just spoken of was a different kind. No gun battles here, neither any busting of hideouts. Instead, all it had to do was with convincing—where members of a family sat together and thrashed out issues in each one’s lives, trying to reason out and make the other person see one’s point. At the center of this was Gautam Shyamantak. Born to a duo of doctors, he required numerous such thrash-out sessions to convince his parents that computer science engineering was what he wanted to do, and where his calling lay.

Cut to 2007, Shyamantak is sitting pretty at the helm of product engineering at Razorsight, a provider of business intelligence to process, manage and analyze financial data. This role is a slight shift from earlier ones; while his stints in Wipro, Trigo and IBM were focused on code-writing, this one cuts through a certain degree of the management component.

So how does the shift reflect in his work? “Earlier as a techie, I would only focus on how best to architect a product. Now, I’ve learnt to be market-leaning, look at the business aspect and the long-term benefits, and then decide what to do.” Simply put, Shayamantak has realized the difference between the ‘best’ product and the ‘best successful’ product.
His efforts at Razorsight are concentrated on steering the product engineering team toward the next big release, due in ‘three months’ time’. “We are fortunate to have a good sales momentum, and my team is playing catch up with them most of the time,” he says.

A necessary part of his product development mantra constitutes coordinating and interacting with the sales team. This, due to a bittersweet experience while at Trigo.

The global data synchronization system his team had built then was, by his admission, technologically cutting-edge. But when it was shown to the first customer, the product development team realized that good amount of functionalities they had given shape to was not in the customer's agenda of requirements. The team went back to make amendments, and Shyamantak realized that it was not enough to create technically polished products, they should, in fact be tuned to the market needs. In accordance, it was important that product engineering folks realized the market pulls, especially in a small company where there was no dedicated strategy group to show them the way.

The Trigo days (in the Valley) bring back fond memories for the 31-year old Assamese. “We (the Trigo team) had a stack of clothes and toiletries in the office itself. Quite often we used to work through the night, and sleep over it in the office itself,” he reminisces. Also, those days were marked by ‘innumerable fights’ over the how and why of doing a certain thing. ‘We just stopped short of hitting each other’, but what won eventually was the ability to convince the other person of the feasibility of one’s proposal.

In 2004, Trigo was acquired by the Big Blue for an undisclosed amount. For him, as well as the entire tech team, it was a wealth-creation opportunity gone awry. While few who were aware about ESOP's made millions, 'enough to start their own companies without any angel', the long standing tech team, in other words the backbone of the company, got very little, one because they had very few stock options and two because their awareness about stock options was very less.

That led him to realize the value of stock options, something he has carried into his present role. Today, while on the one hand, Shyamantak vociferously pitches with the senior management to allot more stock options to the tech team members, on the other, he through narration of his own and many other anecdotes, explains the importance of stock options to his peers, even offering them more options in lieu of a cut in the fixed pay. While how much of that counseling has touched a chord with them is an open guess, what is noteworthy however is that Shyamantak has grown the Razorsight product development team from three 10 months ago to 60 now, seeing 2 attritions on the way.

“I spend a major chunk of my time involving people and making them feel important as well as providing all possible help to make each individual successful,” he notes. Part of the affair includes going with them for lunch and smoke. The bottom-line is to remove the ‘should-I-go-and-ask-this-to-my-boss’ tendency. It indicates distance between the boss and his teammates, and does not augur well, especially for a product company. Openness for discussion is a must, and in order to drive that, Shyamantak often falls back on replaying Sunday sessions that were characteristic of his formative years in his family.
It ensures healthy discussions, and more importantly healthy differences. In many ways, he says, Razorsight is similar to Trigo. The fights about product specs and ways to achieve them are often played out here too. Over and above that, he endeavors to establish a peer-to-peer comfort level with his reports.

“I aspire to be a mentor and never a manager,” notes the one time national level Taekwondo player. Though he’s lost touch with martial arts a long time since, Shyamantak makes it a point to workout regularly.

Primarily, his energies are focused on developing products that will see Razorsight climb from the present $15 million mark to $100 million by 2008. “I must also learn the art of selling,” he hastens to add. He had once tried doing that for 6 months when he was in Bombay with his friends: they tried to sell music, but didn’t quite meet with the kind of success aspired. Now, he reckons is the time to hone his sales skills. “I keep telling our Chairman to let me go for sales calls,” he says.

First a techie, then a manager, and now an aspiration to grow in sales; is all this in anticipation of starting his own company some day?

“Not really, but yes, I will definitely have something of my own one day. And if resources permit, I would like to base it in Assam.”

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