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Sarthak Goel on scaling a remote startup in pandemic & importance on empathy while working remotely

by Pushpak Mundre April 21, 2021

Sarthak Goel is Co-founder, CTO & Product Manager at inVoid, which is backed by Y combinator.
inVOID enables businesses to onboard 5x more users everyday. inVoid strive for seamless onboarding & faster conversions.


Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of Be Remote podcast. I'm your host Pushpak. And today we have Sarthak with us. Sarthak is the co-founder and CTO at invoide. invoide started in 2018. Backed by Y Combinator, welcome to the show. sarthak. How are you? Hi, Pushpak Thanks for having me. Good. Good. How are you?..........

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Awesome. I  am doing fine. So let's talk about what invoid exactly it is. And who are your customers and what problem are you solving?Sure. So in wide Miss helping create a layer of trust when products are communities being accessed remotely online, especially in times like these financial products, or meeting people online, it's all remote, and you never get to see them physically. And it's a thing of the past now, right? So we help create a trust layer between these people and the services they're accessing. So for example, we help banks confirm the identity of a person before they offer their products, financial products, right. This is both a regulation and business need. So same with other FinTech products, insurance products. And now we we also have gaming companies, dating companies, shared economy platforms, merchant onboarding platforms, so we help them automate their customer identity verification process, which helps companies give your products and people access products within seconds and access it from typically anywhere face to face interaction for buying the products, the thing of pasta. And this, this seems like a pattern we grow immensely in the coming few years.So like the FinTech platforms, like Google pay and stuff, they have KYC things like ATM, mithali. And then on platforms like Tinder, there's this face verification, which is new. So like, where exactly do work like, on what part?Yeah, so glad that you give the two spec two ends of the spectrum. We work across all of these industries, right? We work with dating apps in confirming the identity of somebody who they're onboarding, because now people want to talk to trustworthy people. And they don't really want to waste any time. And sometimes even if they're going to do a video call, they do want to make sure there's a blue tick. Right. So that is one spectrum. And then of course, we will pay frontage and the banks the way they want to offer products to even people who not they cannot access physically, right? Probably the bank is in your location and somebody in a tier three city wants to access those products, maybe insurance products, it's not necessary for you to meet them anymore, right? You can do it remotely by verifying someone through regulated means or through automated automated manner, in an automated manner. So that's what we provide.Right? So all these services are for digital products, right? Like even for the bank or when the following thing happens.That's right. So most of the products that we use are digital, right, the cash is gone digital, which all card UPI so makes sense that we don't meet people physically to buy products, which are digital, digitally accessed venues. So that's what the synergy is all about.This started a company like why you the mode, or you started working remotely in the pandemic?Right, so when we started work, we were working in an office, right, and we were a small team. And we used to work physically close to four people working in the founding team. And yeah, and so we went remote, to do the due to the pandemic, back in April 2020. That's when the lockdown hit. We had to go remote. Talk. The good part is we had a good growth rate during the pandemic, the time when you were at home. And we also were able to scale our team from four to 14. Right. So now we are a team of 15 people. And most of the hirings, most of the people who've joined us recently have been hired remotely through Of course zoom. And yeah, so since then, we've been remote and most of the growth has been seen in the remote economy.So yeah. So what were the initial months of working remotely, right? Because just because of the pandemic, you had four people and then you hired a lot of people remotely, right. So what was it like?Yeah, so we did. We were really skeptical about how things would turn out and I remember me and my co-founder were the day when we had to. So we went remote before the lockdown, right? We were expecting things to go worse and we decided to work from home. I remember me and my co-founder stayed back and made some pointers. And thought about what are some key metrics that we need to track for our company's growth? And what are the things that we should make sure are followed so that our productivity does not get hampered? Because we were at a very crucial stage when we're gonna happen, right? We were, that was an inflection point for us. Now that I look back. So it was very important for us to sort of document everything that we need to do. And we passed it on through email to everyone. So by the time they would start their day, while working from home, they had a set of instructions, a set of things that we all needed to follow, right. So there were daily check-ins in the morning, then we'd write what we were working so that everybody's in this on the same page, then we bought a premium tool, slack premium tool, because yeah, we couldn't, we couldn't work with a free, free slack plan. So we did a couple of shuffling. We divided responsibilities. And then after the commotion had sort of ended, we decided to take this as an opportunity, right. So we used to approach a lot of enterprises. And there's a specific way to sell to an enterprise. And it's mostly, you meet them physically, and you show them products, they're not very, they're not very eager to come on zoom calls, they'd rather build rapport, face to face. But we took this time as an opportunity to connect with them, because apart from us needing them, there was a time when most of the companies needed our product as well, because they couldn't meet customers, they wouldn't want to slow down the customer acquisition chart. So it was easier for us to set up a zoom call. So we, I think we said there was a day where we had 10 zoom calls. So that was divided. And yeah, so throughout the day, there were zoom calls, a one hour zoom call, or or one and a half hour zoom call. And that's how we took it as an opportunity to talk to more people in less time. And we would divide it to three people, and then we increase the zoom calls as well. So we took that as an opportunity, and helped us get integration done faster. Close, close a couple of deals faster. That was the later part of the pandemic. But yeah, starting was commotion and required some enthusiastic reports from it.So you said like, you know, you hired a lot of people once going remote. And also you had a lot of clients, like you were talking to 10 you're having 10 zoom calls, if the company wasn't remote, like if everything wasn't remote then would that be possible? Or like if the company was physical? So does that would have been possible?So I don't think so, because in a startup timing matters a lot right. So, if that window that you have to grab the most often opportunity if that is wasted in tasks like traveling or waiting for meeting people setting up calendars to meet physically at would have definitely been a waste of time for people for companies as well as us right. So definitely cannot lead so the credit is there to go remote economy and going all remote that is definitely helped us in our growthSo basically, you know, if you go to meet a client, suppose if you are in Delhi, or if you are in Poona, it takes a lot of time because you're traveling and sometimes it's like 10 to 20 kilometers away. And it takes one hour to reach over there. And then you talk to a client for one hour. Or like in three hours, you can just have a call with the client so completely, you know, things once you're working.So let's do so. Yeah, yep. So traveling is something that I consider as some tooling which takes up a lot of time. Because you're probably traveling by Metro or cabin, it's difficult to sort of utilize those hours. Sometimes you do, sometimes you're not able to but that time gets saved and that's like a very big boon. Yeah, so what kind of works to do while working remotely reset box, yeah, box here. What kind of box as a company? I think what we utilized was sort of got all of a process documented, right. And that is something that we wouldn't have done. If we weren't physically present, right, we would have more verbal communication, and sort of not be the ones who are writing things down or probably making the proper documentation of things, making the keys or routines or charts, that is something that does not happen. Usually, when we are a startup, a small startup, like ours working in an office, has most of the things available. And things do skip in the priority list. So I mean, it was great that we explored certain areas that we could work on and that enhance productivity, right. And some tools that we came across, which helped us maintain a proper To Do List of probably making, making the product more understandable for the sales team as well. Right. A lot of technicalities, we could write it down and explain, explain it in diagrams that generally are done on charts on sorry, on boards, and then they get wiped out. So it's like an archive of documents. Over the time that we've built that word to help people who were to join us at a later stage, it will be helpful for them as well.So what kind of challenges did you face? Because like, of course, you had a lot of advantages, but what kind of challenges did you face while working?I think it would be more like not, I mean, that's like a con that remote or working from home has is, is no line actually between your personal and official life in some way gets merged. And there are no weekends. And of course, there are times when you have to call people or you people call you. So it's very difficult to create that line. And I feel like this is something that we ignore, for the most part, when we are building a startup or trying to scale it from zero to one. But sometimes you need to switch off, sometimes you need to cut, cut the official work. And working from home does. I mean, it's not somebody's not deliberately doing it. But there, there have been situations where you're not. And you cannot afford to cut the work. And that's something that has gone negative for working from home. And then going more technical. It's to be that we do millions of API hits every month, right. And for us debugging is something that we need to constantly work on. Because a technical company does come with technical debt. And there are things which need to be fixed, debugging those things and fixing them remotely. is something which is difficult, right? Because when three engineers are sitting and it's easier to pinpoint a problem or verbally communicate things, but it's not possible on zoom, how do you switch? How do you share screens? How do you switch context easily? So that is something that has been, for sure a problem a challenge. And for a growing company like ours? It's difficult, it takes time, probably takes an hour, if we were sitting face to face it would take three hours to debug the same problem.Yeah. So you know, as you said, about, like, you're working on weekends, and it feels like your personal life and official life is like a kind of Magento but don't you think like there should be boundaries? Like, like, if you're having lunch, or if you're spending time with family, these are things also important for yourself and for your mental health, right? Otherwise, it will mess up your mind. And then you want to be able to like, focus on things, right.Yeah, definitely. I mean, people and it's very underrated, right? People think that it's important to work, be a workaholic, or work is work is life. And this is all we have. But that's something that needs to be cut off. Sleep is something that needs to be given enough importance. It's not. So Jeff Bezos specifically says that he wakes up with a lot more fresh ideas more fresh when he sleeps for a certain period of time as compared to when he's traveling. And he does not get enough sleep. He does remain cranky. And there are times when he thinks that his productivity is not up to the mark. So these are some things which obviously, these people have made big in life, but when they say it now makes all the more important because it's something that they would take to tell their younger selves. So it's definitely noteworthy what they say when they say key. You should have a different You should have a line. And that will help you increase your productivity, not decrease it. Yeah, that is definitely a point.Total. Yeah, totally. So you said like, you have a remote, completely remote team, right. And after the pandemic, you hired people from multiple locations. So like, where your team is located in your geography geographically? Are they all from India? Or you hide people from the outside as well?Oh, pide people. People have joined us only from India. Not terribly. So right now locations are like, somebody stays in Gujarat. Somebody stays in Bihar. Somebody says in Karnataka, so it's all over all over the country. And I mean, some people don't wish for them to come to Delhi. I mean, they're comfortable with their homes. And they're, it makes more sense when they're geographically located at some other location, because that gives us more access to resources or to meet people. Right. That's a plus. So we definitely acknowledge that some, some locations are strategically very helpful. Yeah. And so when they work remotely, that's an advantage. That's like a plus for us.So will you be going back to the office after the pandemic is over, or you're planning to stay remote?So we plan to go to an office, of course, because we say debugging is something which is very important for us. But we definitely have realized what productivity could be when we work from home. And we definitely have a plan to incorporate a hybrid model or probably have something which is more towards flexibility. Right? Even if it includes working from home working remotely, or even flexible working hours, that is something that we've learned. And we don't really wish to go all in like we did for physical spaces. Yeah. But work from home and remote is definitely something that is now there in our heads, we can't really remove it. That's, that's an option for sure.Yeah, I think a lot of companies are going for hybrid work. And like 50% of the team will be working from home and the other 50% will be working from the office, I think some companies are going for that.Yeah, they will have their various models. Now, I mean, supplying a whole plethora of options for their IQ, you work from home, you give them to sit somewhere where they appear whenever they want. Is it the nearby cafe or co-working space? I mean, everybody realizes that the work that does need to be made to be done, and who needs to see them physically. So that's the power of remote.So what's the one thing you know, which you're curious about remote work? And where do you see the future of work?Definitely the flexibility it provides, right? I mean, people love working at places which give them the flexibility to walk in and out whenever they want. And it gives them a lot of freedom to manage their personal life according to their own preference. Right. There is a particular time that they want to work dedicated to work that is up to them. And that's something which remote really forces you to at least consider the flexibility of working as though the place and the future of work will not be nine to five, at least for a lot of companies. This will look different. And people have acknowledged it. And the reason why the hybrid model comes into a place where in places like India, right, where we work a lot, I mean, European countries, there are a lot of holidays, a lot of restrictions on work. Even the government here was planning for day week. Sorry, you're probably working in Europe or in India. In India, the government was discussing this, oh, they had a plan of making it five day, a week, four day a week. So that is something that is being considered now which wouldn't have been in the back of our minds also. Yeah, I did not be in the power of remote. Yeah, cool.So one more question. Like what did you learn from starting a company which you wouldn't have learned anything from?I think the sheer time and effort it takes to build something from scratch. The patient's right. That is what I've learned particularly: Waiting and working and waiting for things to happen, and not getting disheartened or losing hope. Because probably if there are the opportunities which you will lose, if you stick enough, stick long enough, you will find more opportunities. And that's what we have to wait for for the next yes for the next opportunity. And I mean, things take time, and you have to stick long enough to see them get through. So. And that also adds another point that I mean, nothing comes easy. Even this is even the simplest of things, right? The only difference between hard things and simple things is that simple things have a well defined process with so many people who've gone through it. So that's why they seem easy, but doing things is hard. Even even the simplest things need some process or some sort of doing everything is odd. Basically, you just need to choose what you want to do. Right?Yeah, there's a lot of people now who say, choose your heart. Right. Soyeah. So actually, I have the last few questions for you: a short question. So what are you really into outside of your work?Instead of work? Yeah, so I follow football, right? Yeah. Sport is something that is really close to me. I've played sports in school. Plus, since I couldn't play it, I started following it. I mean, all kinds of sports aside, I watch football. And then I also watch, obviously, cricket is something that can't really be avoided when you stay in India. Yeah, then follow 10 is at times the Grand Slams. So that is something that I really follow. Because, I mean, it really teaches a lot about discipline, and hard work. And that's one place where we get a lot of motivation from. So that's something that I look up to, apart from work and generally, really attracted to how startups or the tech world works. Right, constantly seeing what's going on. What are the new ideas popping up? I mean, that is work. But yeah, I as I said, it's very difficult for me to create a line between my personal life andso enjoy the world, your first startup or you started something earlier as well.No, so in weight remains my first startup. I've done small ventures before this one that I did for the government of India. And so yeah, that was back in college final year. After that, for dat in software and then, sorry. Awesome. So what's your favorite book? I think? Yeah. Yeah. Atomic habits by James clear, and his book is great. It's a simple read. teaches you a lot. Yeah. gives you a lot of context about things around you. So yeah.Yeah, I heard about it a lot. Like it's helping building habits. And it struggled with contest consistency and doing small things so we can make up the difference rate.Yeah, great. Great book. A simple read also probably since I'm not a very heavy reader. I don't read a lot of books. Do I? That's a very, that's a habit that should be developed. I try to develop it using atomic habits. Yeah, so I tried the simple one. It's a good book. Definitely must go if you in any, any, any field does not really matter if you promise a startup world from the North Pole. That book is really what itexactly, yeah. So what are your top three favorite remote tools? which you are using andreturn to your company and all three of them? Yeah. Okay, I'll try to name three. So one that I really like using was probably so probably. Yeah, so it's an on on desktop call too. So I'm always on my desktop or laptop and I really hate getting on calls, picking up my phone and calling people so I just tried to get them on frankly. And it's easier to connect on, probably it's not a zoom call per se, sort of phone call. It's somewhere in the middle, right you as the toggle button and people aren't plugged properly and you get connected to them. Okay, it's that. So use it proudly. Then, of course, I got this awesome platform called notion. Yeah. I hadn't used notion. before. I was hardcore, Google Doc, cloud. And all of these apply and then I came across notion I started building documentations on it. started making notes on it started sharing my observations and sites, people. Way too many amazing. Yeah. I mean, I was very interesting. I saw a company pitch on notion. It was beautiful. And I mean, now people are removing slides, websites, they're pitching things on notion. Yeah. So that's the case. And third. Yeah, I mean, appreciating the tool. The tool was always always there in slack. Right. As startups, we sort of underestimate the usage of such productivity tools or communication in the team. Obviously, we weren't spending on slack. We weren't spending on any communication platform. But definitely, that is a must, right? Need a physical setup for a remote setup. tools like these help you in communication, help you document things. So, like very underrated, but we definitely should, you should consider paying for a tool like this, it will help you in longer.So is there any message that you want to give to people who are into remote industry and founders or employees and remote work?We I mean, yeah, I mean, something that it's very, again, reiterating on my point, should understand how people. So it's more a lot more to understand what people are, what someone is going through, and they're working remotely, it's important that you know, what's their timing, like, understand more, right, because they are in the natural setting. Now, in a natural setting, there are a lot of things that affect somebody's situation or somebody's thought process, it's very important to accommodate those differences. Because they're not sitting with you, they're not sitting in the same space. So there might be a lot of things, a lot of commotion around them. So it's important to understand where a person is coming from while you're remote. So empathy is something that definitely is something we have to build. And we have built a lot during the remote working culture, right. So I mean, if somebody pops up on a zoom call, maybe it's humor, it should remain humor. Yeah. You're on a zoom call, if you catch bumped up, or your kids or they're running around. It should be a part of the joke. Everybody should be comfortable.Yeah. And also, if you have booked a meeting, and just someone, maybe some Something came up, something came up, and you just forgot to jump on the meeting. So this kind of stuff also happened. I think this is also normal stuff.Because Yeah, I mean, definitely. Definitely. I mean, it's pretty normal, something at the last moment pops up. So anything could happen, I think. Yeah. So the best way to go about this is to keep the communication clear, right? At the moment, the biggest enemy of ours is gap, lack of communication, or communication gap, total. So one thing that we could do to remove this even necessary evil is sorry, not necessarily my right, remove this email is to communicate more, right, more properly send emails to a communication platform, right. So again, the reason why I emphasize on slack was because it gives a lot of communication, scope of communication, when you don't really do pick up calls, or it means select something in the middle there. SoI know if the employees or if new employees are joining in the pandemic, then it's very important, like they should have a call. And because of this thing, this kind of stuff doesn't happen in all the companies. I think that is very important because they can help each other. Usually, you can't just reach out to the manager or founder all the time, right? So like if you're in a physical environment, and you just like you're with a colleague and you can start out with these issues, but if you're working remotely, then these things matter a lot. So communication is really important.For short, I mean orientation of people who join you remotely, never make you physically haven't had that comfort with you. It's important that you create that comfort with them. It's not something which will magically pop up. So you have to have that context, give them that comfort when they join. I can do two more. Totally.Awesome. Thank you so much SATA. Thank you so much for all the insights and things we talked about, like hiring, scaling up a startup in remote work and you know, instead of taking it as a destruction by and looking at an opportunity to grow and scale the company, to your goals, really amazing talking to you. Thank you so much. Same here Pushpak, it was nice talking to you. Bye.

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