Hiten Shah: Setting Expectations and Cultivating Environments that Lead to Success

How the Co-Founder and CEO of FYI creates processes that promote speed while cultivating an environment that allows team members to hire and successfully onboard engineers quickly and efficiently.

Hiten Shah is an entrepreneur, advisor, investor, and a remote work evangelist with an impressive track record. Hiten is a passionate leader that strives to foster environments where incentives are aligned so entire teams can move forward cohesively. 

Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn more about how Hiten improves slow-moving teams by making sure everyone is aligned. 

1 Is it true that you listen to audio content at three times the speed? 

Yes, and I watch videos, TV shows, and movies at two times the regular speed. It takes about three to five minutes to get used to the speed and if you can’t get used to it you can adjust accordingly and lower it or you can start with 1.5 and work your way up. Something that I’ve noticed is that people don’t tend to wait it out and it’s important to try to get your ears and brains acclimated to the difference. 

2 How do you allow yourself to digest big learnings? 

I think that people have way too many different theories in terms of how they learn so they are putting all kinds of limitations on themselves. People often approach it with having to take away these massive lessons or huge learnings and I don’t like to think about it like that. Take audio for example, if I start thinking about a concept in my head, I’ve likely already bookmarked that section of audio so I can come back to it if I decide to. I also like to stop and take notes. I think it’s all about having the flexibility and openness to try new things and do what works for you. I don’t listen fast so I can consume more, I listen fast so I can consume enough. 

3 Who has been your most memorable boss? 

I’ve never had a traditional boss. I had an internship in high school at a medical devices company and I wouldn’t consider the head of the company a boss because it was an internship. My obligations were very low, and I basically just worked on whatever he told me to. I learned a lot about autonomy from him because he would give me tasks, discuss the scope of the project and then expect me to complete them. He was also open to answering any questions and never made me feel like I couldn’t ask for help but he also recognized that I wasn’t necessarily going to ask questions if I didn’t need any help. 

Ultimately, I’ve learned the most from people that I’ve worked with. There’s this person that I hired named Steve who I brought over from Intuit to work on Kissmetrics. I’ve learned the most about management from him compared to anybody else that I’ve worked with and the reason for that is because he’s been the head of engineering for a few of my companies. We actually hired him as an analytics engineer back in the day, so an analytics company hired an analytics engineer and then he ended up running product and engineering at the company. By the time we were done he didn’t care what role he was in, he just wanted to earn the right to help the company and our customers. 

One of the biggest lessons that I learned from him is a process that he uses that he’s written about which refers to him working himself out of every single job in the company that he tries to do. I believe that recruiting in any department is really about bringing people into the environment you’ve created and being able to find ways to accurately assess them during the interview process and we’ve done a really great job of doing that to the point where the system that Steve taught me can now be implemented within just a few months of hiring. 

4 How do you measure success? 

In engineering everything is planned with hourly estimates. We don’t do coding exercises instead, we put up a job posting for engineers and they apply by emailing us. We then vet them based on their email. 

If they qualify, we send them one of two planning app exercises, the planning exercises are specifically designed around seeing how they think about their engineering time and identifying how they plan. If they choose to do the planning exercise it usually lasts anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours and it’s unpaid because it’s just part of the interview process. After they submit their plan they will jump on a call with our head of engineering where Steve will score the plan from 1-10 and review their submission as if they were part of the team. The rest of the call will be used to discuss company specifics. 

We ended up creating this process by taking a piece of what we do in our work environment and combining it with the critical piece of planning to create an interview process and it’s been working extremely well. Something that has pleasantly surprised us is our ramp-up time for engineers because we’re able to ramp up an engineer in two weeks as long as they have gone through our specific interview process. 

5 How would you improve a slow-moving team? 

Slow moving teams tend to be because of a lack of alignment or incentive alignment. If incentives aren’t aligned people tend to not operate in a cohesive or straightforward manner. Almost one of the biggest pitfalls that I’ve seen is all the unspoken stuff like all the things that managers assume their teams know that they don’t know. I see some managers be pretty passive aggressive and wanting to make their team learn the hard way. If someone comes to me complaining that their team is slow it’s usually indicative of some communication breakdown in their process somewhere where things are just not getting spoken about in the right way. 

Oftentimes you find managers who are saying their teams are slow and ultimately the environment they’ve created incentivizes the slowness, and a lot of that has to do with really small innocuous things. At the end of the day, as managers, we’re essentially training everyone to treat us a certain way and most managers I’ve talked to don’t understand that until I explain it to them. 

6 How do you make decisions at your company? 

I have a take on this, especially as a product founder, somebody has to be highly convicted, or have the ability to be highly convicted with little data. Ideally one of the founders because there’s so many things you’re going to be doing that you won’t have evidence for. 

I think consensus is an interesting solution that people try to use to help teams move fast and I think that it can actually slow you down so I go for conviction. If I’m the one that gets convicted early, I test my own conviction before bringing it to the team. Once I feel like it’s the right direction then I start talking to the team about it. 

I always point to conviction and I really look for where I’m convicted. If I’m the one that has the most conviction I start roping other people in by asking them questions about the direction and what they’re thinking and what they’re seeing while providing them with some context into what I’m thinking. I’m not looking for a consensus, I’m looking for opinions.

7 It’s all about understanding the environment you’ve created for your team and looking for people that perform well in that environment, correct? 

When you have a well-oiled machine all you have to do is not screw it up. If you don’t have a well-oiled machine all you need to do is create one. I don’t mean great culture, I mean great operating systems and models and having the ability to run and go as fast as you can. We don’t want to screw up the environment that we’ve created so we’re being way more prescriptive about who we bring on and how we think about all of the behaviours that we’ve noticed. 

8 Does Steve’s theory of putting yourself out of a job also apply to you as a CEO? 

The short answer is yes. If I’m not doing that it means that I’m doing things that other people could or should be doing. I think the trick is deciding when someone else should be doing it and making that decision can be very difficult. 

9 Do you have any advice for managers or leaders that are looking to get better at their craft? 

All of us in different phases of our lives end up taking things personally so my biggest tip is to not take things so personally. It’s something that I wish I understood a lot more and I also think it’s very personal. It took me a long time to learn how to not take things personally and realise that whatever someone is saying about me is really a reflection on themselves and that realization helps me react in a much more balanced way, especially when I’m at work. I think taking a balanced approach to whatever arises is a lot healthier. 

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