The ten equations of work in startups

No article about startups is complete without a generic MacBook Pro stock image in it.

Stationed on the West Coast of the United States, flanked by the blue hues of the Pacific Ocean, is a city that’s home to some of the greatest companies in the world.

I don’t live there.

I live on the other side of the world in a city called Gurgaon. The city is essentially a consolation prize for Indian H1-B rejects.

It’s not the tech capital of India; that would be Bangalore, a glistening IT paradise 1700km south. It’s not the finance capital of India; that would be Mumbai, a Bollywood-run mafia 1200km south. It’s not the capital of India; That would be New Delhi, 25km to the northeast. Flights from Mumbai and cabs from New Delhi take the same time to reach Gurgaon.

After just a year of working in this city’s “startup community”, I declare myself competent enough to generalise my personal experiences in startups into mathematical equations anyone in any startup should be able to relate to.

By doing so, I am:

1) Selling you this like I know it all and I’m the expert,

2) Copying ideas from other places without citation (and if you’ll ask me about it, I’ll deny them as inspiration entirely), and

3) Bragging about the whole thing on Medium.

In other words — I believe this article is now entitled to seed funding.

1. Once = every time.

You can vividly remember how it all started. The struggling colleague; the casual advice thrown in to inflate your sense of self-worth; the frustration at how long it was taking someone to do something so simple. And how, in a momentary lapse of judgement, you said those cursed words;

“Here, let me do it.”

Those words haunt you again six months later, as the same guy shows up at your table with a grin, with the same thing, for the 154th time.

2. “Flexible hours” ≥ normal work hours.

It’s okay. We were all sold on this. No keycards! No work logs! No attendance! Just a backbone of trust in your dedication, and a faith in your abilities, that made your boss declare to you confidently during the final interview;

“As long as you’re delivering your work on time, and not missing any meetings, you can come as you go as you please…”

…as long as it’s before 11am and after 7pm, 6 days a week.

Can people’s words come with asterisks in the corner too?

3. Deadline = how long it took you last time / 2.

Hahahahaahahahahahahahaah come on, you know this one already.

“It took you three days before, right? So now you should be able to do it by tomorrow evening.”

With this exponential decay algorithm applied to other things, it should now take your boss only three femtoseconds to pee.

4. Actual work you do = 20%(your job description) + 80%(tasks of roles not yet hired).

Of course, this wouldn’t happen unless your superiors are capable of a certain level of wilful ignorance about the KRAs of the very job they hired you for. (Even though they’re perfectly aware of it) —

“Why not? UI Designers and Graphic Designers use the same tools, right?”

Taxi drivers and NASCAR racers both drive cars, yes.

5. ASAP ≥ “By when do you need it?” ≥ EOD.

It could take you three hours or three weeks to actually do it, but for some reason it’s always due that very evening.

“Just take that thing we gave to (x) earlier, and change a few things, it’ll take you two hours really.”

Bitch, you do it then. Oh of course you’ve got a call.

6. (Sick leaves + Casual leaves) ≈ Sick leaves

It’s like Steve Jobs once said (he didn’t, but because all startup founders have a gene-coded love for him, I’d like to name-drop him for extra substance):

“When your employees get no casual leaves, they get sick more often.”

It’s okay, founders. You’ll figure it out someday.

7. Minimum Viable Product = unstable code + sales pitch.

In every startup, the MVP is a fictional product that:

- Takes the development team barely any time to build;

- Is so brilliant that it deserves its own website, promotion, and blogs;

- Is worthy of being shown to all clients in exchange for enough money to “get the ball rolling”; and

- Can easily be scaled up or built upon with minimal fuss because the underlying product-market fit and code is rock-solid. It’s the future!

Naturally, when an MVP’s ridiculous roadmap is ratified to reality, the results are remarkably relatable, resonant, and repetitive. Fast-forward to “launch day”, and you have:

- A pretty front-end, courtesy the designer who had too much time to kill while the rest of the team was endlessly solving bugs;

- A lot of “hacks”, as the backend developers call it. (I know what hardcoding is Bill, you’re just writing code that shows “Transaction Successful” when I press “Send”, your code ain’t sending shit);

- A half-assed sales document with “product screenshots” (actually just mockups from the designer from three weeks ago), and written by the only sales guy who doesn’t know what the product is.

8. Client’s Expectations = (Your Sales Brochure)² = (Your Product’s Capabilities)³

Client: “Look, I understand what your product does, but I only need to keep my food cool. So actually I’d rather buy…”

Sales: “No no, we can do that too sir. I’ll get in touch with my Tech team and revert to you ASAP.”

Goes into the next room to find Bill -

Sales: “Hey listen. The Client needs a product that can cool food by Tuesday. It’s top priority now, let’s get on this.”

Bill: “Dude WTF, we’re building microwave ovens! That heats food!”

Sales:

“No worries. Our product already heats food, so cooling it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Fast forward six months later: you’ve sold the client a microwave oven that doesn’t heat food.

9. ∂(Workload)/∂t > 0.

The hopes of projects ending, parties starting, and teams being organised, are quickly turning into a mirage. You now have buyer’s remorse. You were told this was “a temporary hack”, but it’s been eight months now and you’re still hacking it. Things that were supposed to go on for “only a few days” are now things you find yourself doing even on Sundays. Workload never decreases, and deadlines never get more lenient.

And then, one day, in some random meeting, in the middle of some droning you hear someone say to you…

“…this does mean your workload will increase for the time being, but it’s only until (x) happens.”

You’ve had enough. This fucker’s getting it today. It’s time to go all in.

“Okay, but I want the bean bag then.”

Come on. We all know that (x) will never happen.

10. <@Bill write one more equation here and publish the article by EOD>

Hi everyone, this is Bill. I couldn’t be bothered. @ Suhail I recommend you complete the articles from now on rather than sucking up to clients on phone calls. BTW thanks for the bean bag.

As always, I must end with a little suck-up:

If you liked this article, you’re obviously in a startup. Please share this with your other startup buddies, have a little laugh, and make sure your boss doesn’t catch you giggling in the “meeting room”. Cheers!

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Suhail Gupta / Audiini

Suhail Gupta / Audiini

Senior Product Designer at Urban Company. India’s Best Design Project 2019. Once saw my degree certificate from DTU. Music Production, Photography, and Writing.