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Doing things that don’t scale

Doing things that don’t scale

Startups are all about doing things that don’t scale. In fact, there is an interesting and famous article by Paul Graham on the same topic. http://paulgraham.com/ds.html. If you are an entrepreneur or planning to start something soon, this is a great read.

We’ve done our fair share of things which never would’ve scaled. Looking back, we never actually planned to do things that don’t scale nor follow Paul’s advice. Some of these are even illegal. All these were how we used to do things in 2010. Things have changed a lot since 2010, but our core values are ingrained from some of these non-scalable practices.

Meeting Product Deadlines

In 2010, HackerRank was just me and Vivek. There were always more features to build. Irrespective of the team size, we were always focused on customer delight. We were usually promising customers how we will get done everything the very next day. For any startup, this is how it was going to be during the early period of the startup. Usually, we were up all night trying to build the features we promised for the next day. While building the products, there is a gradual dip in energy and productivity at around 4 AM. The trick Vivek used to do was that at around 4 AM, he used to send an email to the customers saying the feature they were expecting on the website is done and they can check it out now. This had multiple positive effect. 1) I can’t bail out anymore and had to build the feature no matter what. 2) Our customers now know they were building their requirements at 4 AM and were very happy about the same.

Online Support Chat

Again, this is from the early days of HackerRank. Immediately after YC, both me and Vivek were in the same location at the same time. We had a 24*7 customer support chat. Given it was just two of us, we came up a “brilliant” plan to ensure we still have 24*7 support. We decided that Vivek will sleep only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I get to sleep on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Of course, there was no less work we took because we were up all night the previous day. I still don’t know what were we thinking or how did we even manage to follow this plan for a few months in a row.

Developers OnCall

During the early early days of HackerRank, the entire team lived in the same house. We used to call it the HackerHouse (at this point, the company was not even called HackerRank. It was still Interviewstreet). Again, there was so much to build and so little time to sleep. And more often than not, the developer who just went to sleep after a long night of coding is needed to fix some critical production issue. So, it was actually normal to wake up the developer (including me) by pouring a few drops/glass of water on them. While it is totally unimaginable to think about it now, I can’t believe how it was an accepted (and in fact preferred) practice among the whole team. We stopped doing this once we hired our 4th team member and got a proper office of our own.


Our entire hiring process in the early stage was so much different and unique. Our standard process for hiring new developers used to have the developers come and live with us in the HackerHouse for three days. There was no clear interview with multiple rounds. We used to discuss technology during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. At the end of the three days, it was very clear whether we will enjoy working with them or not.

I’m sure there were a lot more things we did when we just got started, but the things mentioned above are the ones I would never forget. Looking back it looks like fun stories, but at that time it was hard and painful. I’m sure every startup has its own stories of doing things that never would’ve scaled.

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