Interview with Mohit Malik, CTO of Chaayos

Success is not what you are offered but what you make for yourself. Mohit Malik, The CTO of Chaayos, is one such person who was bold enough to make a change. His journey on Chaayos is no less than inspiring, and shall supplement us in creatively pursuing our careers. Let us read through his entrepreneurial journey as sizzling as a hot cup of chai! 

The doors will be opened to those who are bold enough to knock.”

Tony Gaskins
Table of Content
1. CTO’s interview
2. Tech Stack

CTO’s Interview

Journey begins … Incorporating chai with technology!

YC - Let’s start from the very beginning. Can you tell us about your background?

Mohit – I was born and brought up in Lucknow. I was a naughty yet studious child. I am from a lower middle-class family, and at a very young age, I realised I had to get things under control. In 1997, when I was in 8th standard, I started teaching younger students. The 1500 rupees I received from it was my first earning. I was happy to support my parents with what little I could and am proud of it. It made me realise how important it is to stay grounded and take up responsibilities. It also gave me the confidence to face the various challenges in life.

YC -  How did you manage your studies and job hand in hand?

Mohit – My mantra was the best way to learn was to teach. The coaching institution ACDA Class is my Alma mater, and my tutor there, Mr Manish was the prime influence in my life. Everything that I am today, I owe it to him and the institution. It was tough, but I knew I had to somehow pull off the two hours. The things I taught were pretty fresh to me, and that was an added advantage. But the most important thing was to be mentally prepared for the challenge. I wanted to pursue Engineering, and I got into NIT Allahabad on the first attempt. Since my marks were low, I couldn’t get admission to the Computer course I wished for, so I had to take a year off. I later joined for B.E. Computer Science at Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology – Allahabad .

YC - How were your college days? What is your advice to the students who are about to start their careers?

Happy Days it was!

Mohit – My college days weren’t a time where one had plenty of opportunities. Only the best were hired and I had to be at the top. I wanted to be on the list of the ten who were hired through campus placements. So I worked on my marks and was hired to the company GlobalLogic. Academics were not critical for me, but I had the idea that it was the means to reach my goal. Being at the top is hence important. Apart from this, I would suggest to all those who intend to pursue a successful career,

  • Do real-time projects. Having real-life industry experience increases the chance of getting hired. Your onboarding time is less, and you will be on the priority list of any hiring manager.
  • Be thorough. You might or might not have industry experience, but being thorough with what you know is crucial. I have observed that students tend to take up courses to add to their skill set, but doing a live project helps you to master your knowledge. If you do not have the opportunity to do an internship, you may pursue a course, but make sure it is the latest technology and be thorough with it.
  • Reach out to the right people. Shortlist the companies that you want to work with and who need your skill set. It increases the chances of being hired. I would not offer 20 companies and let one of them hire me, but probably reach out to five companies and let one of them hire me.
YC - The journey from GlobalLogic to Chaayos.

Gaffes, Gains, Gratitude!

Mohit – My role in GlobalLogic was as a Software Engineer. As I was being moved to the DevOps role there, I decided to move on. I wanted to do the development part, so I got into Tribal Fusion, as a Senior Software Engineer. There I worked with a lot of good folks. I learned a great deal about startup culture there like,

  • Getting your hands dirty in anything and everything that comes.
  • To be fast and responsive to the changes and be agile and fast.
  • To either perform or commit mistakes rather than being idle. 

I realized that mistakes were a part of learning and I learned a lot from that team in the two and a half years that I spent there. I then decided to join a bigger company and pursue my MS along with it. I was hired as Senior Engineer by Goldman Sachs and was promoted to VP in the next 2 years. My first year there was so exciting that there were so many learning opportunities, and I got exposure at all levels with the senior folks in the company. The tenure there helped me realise that I was good at coding, and I chose the same. I worked for Goldman Sachs for about five years. It was then Nitin  (Founder at Chaayos), my childhood friend, introduced me to Chaayos.

YC -  How did the realisation of Chaayos take place?

Mohit – Nitin was looking for a CTO for Chaayos and he wanted me to help him in hiring one. We discussed how a CTO could scale up Chaayos using technology and how to build a technology team. We had the entire vision of what the potential CTO can achieve. In the middle of the discussion, Nitin, took a pause and asked me to take up the role. 

A Decision Made!

I was to choose between a salary cut with Chaayos or financial stability with the present job. It was a tough one since I was to be married soon and had to be financially stable. My wife Ritika supported me over the decision, and I chose to grab the opportunity. 

Although I was convinced to take up the risk, I had three things in mind :

  • I cannot have a salary cut that will burn me out.
  • I will have no savings for a year.
  • I cannot afford extra expenses for sometime, till things are more stable.

I decided to join Chaayos. I still remember having cold feet while leaving my apartment, but I wasn’t ready to back down. I had come from worse, and things changed for me only because I had backed myself up. I had to do the same here, and thus, I decided to go for it. In the initial few weeks there, I was literally setting up laptops and other such things that were once served on a plate to me. But that’s how it started, and I always knew it is not how small you start that matters.

YC - What are the things that you have regretted in life?

Mohit – In 2003, I had a paper presentation in my college and could have implemented it, but I kept it to the presentation alone and did not pursue it further. I had a couple of opportunities too, but I never took up those extra projects that had potential. I regret that, and I would urge everybody and anybody that scorecards would be a means to the end, learning is those little extras. Take up all those opportunities that come your way, where you can have industry experience, and it should start from your first year of college. It will give you a real-life experience, keep you connected to the latest trends in technologies.

Second, always think of how doing something would influence your life. It took me four years to realise I never wanted to do my MS. I never thought over my reason for doing my MS. I wanted to do it only to go abroad. One should reflect on how pursuing a course or an initiative shall be fruitful for them. If it helps to learn more things that will help you perform better at your job, and bring about a change in the way of functioning, then go ahead and do that. You should not take up something just for the sake of anything other than improving yourself.

YC - What are the three things you would suggest to a potential CTO?

Lessons Learned

Mohit – The three things to suggest would be : 

  • To understand your company – The role of a CTO in an early stage startup and an advanced startup should be formulated from two different perspectives.  (a) An early-stage startup –  A CTO needs to be hands-on. One cannot hire people for anything and everything, and if the trend continues, technology becomes a big cost. If an early-stage startup that is growing on a VCs fund, is spending two million dollars on just managing a technology that has been built for a particular scale, and the company has not yet reached that goal, that is not a good match. We at Chaayos built 23 products from scratch with just five people for about four years. (b)Advanced startup –  A stage where you require more people. You have to meet deadlines, and if you do not have ample human resources, you will be facing a revenue loss. Also, divide the team into two:
  •  A BAU team – The BAU team will be in charge of the immediate updates and changes required for the product. 
  •  A Strategy team – Always have at least a handful of people in strategy to be ready for the changes and adaptations required in the future.

It is also important to constantly communicate with the stakeholders. We should understand their requirements and strategy for the next six or twelve months and plan accordingly. We once had to develop a new brand in the North Indian category within 15 days. We were able to complete that only because we were expecting it in advance, and I believe “Being prepared is very important.”

2. Frugality– A second thing that has worked out for me is being frugal. People usually spend a lot on infrastructure that they do not require and this has to be avoided. If infrastructure is required when at a particular scale, only then go for that.

3. Have calculated plan– A CTO should always prefer – “An ROI calculation and build on a Minimum Viable Product.” One could then divide the product journey into phases. The first phase would be developed within the time frame, and by the time the second phase is to be developed, the product will be naturally ready to go as we know the time period.

YC - What are your hiring strategies?

Mohit – We have 19 business principles of must-haves in an individual. In a resume, we try to figure out the role a person held where he previously worked, the kind of company he worked. I talk to the person beforehand and evaluate him on ownership management, frugality, stakeholder management, and how data-driven that person is. Spending this initial 15 minutes is essential as it saves a lot of time, and you also get to hire the right people.

I also have passed this strategy to the team that hires people at the junior level. You cannot talk to everybody in person, so creating that culture in the hiring process is also necessary.

Do not do any impulse hiring. Even if a person is technically sound, they will not be the right choice if the cultural aspect is missing. The employee should realise the value added to the product and the process, and only such a hiring would last for the long run.

YC - What is that one thing that keeps you going? Is there a founder you admire?

Here are my Inspirations!

Mohit Kunal Bahl, Co-Founder & CEO of Snapdeal is a person whom I admire. He had multiple failures in entrepreneurship but always bounced back strong. Running a company like Snapdeal is never easy. Seeing the low, and then coming back strong with more fundamentals in place is indeed remarkable. I admire the self-belief and perseverance he showed in building that company. He innovated at each step and added value to the e-commerce world.

The one thing that keeps me going is the thought of creating an impact on my business and customers. If I can create value, it will keep me going today, and it will keep me motivated to continue further and having that clarity is what helps me. It was the effort of two and a half years, but I had the clarity of what we can create in the retail business with Chaayos.

Lastly and most importantly,  I would like to mention Mr. Manish again, how indebted and thankful I am for his relentless support and love. Also Ritika, who at a very crucial point in my life, stood by my side and supported me. My friend Nitin and my mentors at Goldman Sachs were all very important in my journey. I would like to thank all of them for whatever I am today. 

It was wonderful talking to you on the journey of Chaayos. It is very much inspiring, and Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best for your future. Thank you.

We’ll meet again for more stories! 

Thank you for reading!

Chaayos Tech Stack

Backend –

  • Java J2EE – Microservice Architecture
  • Databases – Mongo, MySQL
  • Caches – Hazelcast, Redis
  • Python – For AI/ML Loads

Frontend

  • React Native for Customer Facing Apps
  • Angular for Internal Systems
  • Android for Instore Technology

Cloud Infrastructure provider

  • AWS – Use many AWS services like SQS, SES, SNS, S3, EC2, REKOGNITION, RDS, CDN, ALB etc etc.

CI/CD Pipeline is built using Jenkins, Artifactory and SonarQube

Automation Testing

  • Using Postman, JMeter, TestNG, Junit

This page was last edited on 11th January 2022, at 11:00 (IST)

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