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LAST MILE CONSULTANTS

LAST MILE CONSULTANTS

Can you briefly describe about your company & the offerings? When did you found the company?

We are focused on the software testing and quality assurance space. We offer two kinds of services - Consulting and Learning services. Our goal is to help organisations transform their QA services by being their catalysts. The key underpinning strategy is to serve our customers with integrity – what we say is what they get. Our consulting services are focused on helping enterprises scale up their software testing services – this could mean helping them put good governance practises in place, put the right processes which are benchmarked against global standards, helping them define the right set of services that they can take to market, and also put in good test design principles that can serve as a platform for accelerating their testing and improving their overall quality of releases.

On the learning side, we focus on role transformation. Our offerings help organisations baseline the software testing skills required at each level, and assess the existing capability; provide the right levels of learning inputs – be it through classroom sessions, e-learning, or undertaking assessments on their current projects – which can help individuals not just understand the concepts, but also apply them in their project scenarios. The blend of e-learning, classroom training, assignment led workshops, assessments; help evaluate the individuals capability to take on the next level of roles within the organisation. Our learning practise covers transformational programs for entry level testers, those taking on test lead roles, and those taking on test management roles.

What are some of the risks involved in your business and how you have addressed them?

The biggest challenge on the learning side is the commoditisation trap. Our uniqueness stems from the fact that we have carefully designed the programs, tailored it to organisational role definitions, and ensured the assessments are aligned with the organisational assessment frameworks. In the reach for scale, it is possible that some of these principles will get watered down. We are making our processes robust, ensuring that there is a principal consultant aligned with the organisation and ensuring that the tailoring is done to suit organisational realities. The people we bring on board will be our differentiating factor, and to that end, we have been lucky to get the right team in place.

In a consulting mode, we offer point solutions – i.e. we come into an organisation, solve a particular problem, enable the organisation to work independent of us and exit. Unfortunately, our industry is still not completely tuned to the consulting mode of operations – they would like to engage services vendors for specific periods of time. Hopefully, that is changing now, and outcome based services like ours is probably the way to go for the future.

What was the most critical decision you had to take and how you went about it?

Saying no to a particular line of business. We have been telling a lot of our clients that we don’t provide testers as resources. Our goal is to help them solve a particular testing problem, not be a supplier of resources to them. It can hurt both ways – to you as a potential loss of revenue, to your customer as a disappointment of having to look elsewhere. However, I think in the longer run, this should hold us in good stead. We are not there to compete with our customers, we are there to help them get better at what they do in their core services – so you bite the bullet and hope that this choice we made is good.

What are some of the difficulties you faced while building your product/ solution?

Outcome based pricing as opposed to T&M services. Point solutions as opposed to hiring for defined durations. Seeing us as a everything-that-is-testing as opposed to catalysts for their cause.

What are some entrepreneurial/leadership insights you’ve learned from mentors over the years?

Being close to your customer and being available for them 24x7. We have come across situations where we know we are not the right persons to deliver, but have stepped out of our zone to help them find the right partners. Solve their problem, even if you have to stretch yourself. It’s a trait I learnt from observing my leaders at Perot Systems and Tech Mahindra.

Keep an eye on the cash flows. We have been cash flow positive from our early times, and we have been prudent with how we have scaled. We hired part-time consultants initially to start with, invested in bright kids, co-shared office spaces before we rented our own, and managed our expenditures. When you have employees dependent on you, you look at financial risk very differently!

Lastly, the value of a good network. The value that a good network provides cannot be quantified.

What are the three big lessons/ mistakes you encountered as you built your company?

Sales and Marketing : We built a lot of our offerings leveraging our network, but good sales and marketing has to be built so that your business can sustain outside of the network too.

Anil Balan
Anil Balan
Founder, Director

Product focus : We started our product focus a little too late, IMO. We should have created different ways of funding this and spun this out separately early in the lifecycle. However, this is always a chicken-and-egg issue – so not really a big regret.

If you were to rebuild your company from scratch all over again, what will you do differently?

Enrol in an entrepreneurial crash course! We met a lot of entrepreneurs when we were about to start, but the practical challenges of managing and office, managing your finances, managing your sales – not many tend to speak of. These are basic building blocks of a lasting organisation, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

How did you get your first customer to sign up? What were the challenges and lessons learnt?

When we look back, I think we head enough riding on us based on our past credibility. However, what we needed to leverage was good domain expertise. We needed to work with a team that had an insight into financial services from a practitioner’s perspective. Being able to quickly put together a team was what we were first challenged with, and once the team was up, I think the credibility of the team is what led to that order. So an important lesson – focus on the team, the rest is relatively easier.

What motivates you or what  drives you?

Focus on building a lasting organisation. If there is any decision that we take, we look at it from the longer term perspective. Puts what we want to do in perspective. That is not to say, we don’t do things for short term benefits, but then we are clear about what we want to focus on and continue to build in the longer run.

What is unique about your way of motivating troops?

Understand the pulse of the team and give complete ownership with accountability.  We call it Last Mile Family which means we care for each other and work as a team to deliver more than the expectation of the customer.

How do you choose your people? (spotting right talent, nurturing them, inspiring, etc)

We have completely relied on references and contacts to build our team. As a start-up it has helped us better in spotting the right team.  Working as a  team with giving them complete ownership and freedom while they learn new technology, have out of the box ideas and zeal to excel.

Lakshmy Usha
Lakshmy Usha
Founder, Director

Tell us about the culture of your company. What insights have you had about culture as the company has grown?

We have an open attitude towards work thereby sharing ideas and thoughts.

Can you summarize, how your role has taken different dimensions as the company evolved?

Founders have been primarily working as mentors for rest of the team, helping them sharpen their capabilities.

How do you as a leader make sure you are connecting the right dots? (avoiding mistakes)

We have mechanism to discuss and agree among the team to ensure that we do not miss or let any of the activities fall between the cracks be it delivering or internal to Last Mile.

Any other thoughts related to entrepreneurship/ leadership and management that you would like to share?

Ego - the biggest stumbling block to getting work done. Be ready to don different hats – from running around to paying bills to taking strategic decisions.

Set short term targets in the general direction of where you want to head. Long term is 6 months in the initial stages .

What is your advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

Have a focus, stick with it, be ready to adapt – since market perceptions can be very different. Go out of your network, and get a true feel of what your services (or products) are worth to people who have no obligations towards you.

 

Diwakar Menon

Diwakar has over 22 years of work experience ranging from test consulting to delivery to pre-sales. He has been the head of service delivery for key customer contracts that encompass a variety of services from AD, AM, Infrastructure Management and Business Support Services across a multiplicity of pillars like Govt, Health, Financial Markets. He has pioneered and set up end-to-end test...
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Management Team

Anil Balan
Founder, Director
Lakshmy Usha
Founder, Director
 

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