The Indix sales, marketing, customer success, and business operations executives are based in the US while product and engineering are in Chennai. At the beginning of January, the execs from Seattle visited Chennai for some quality time with the team there.
Big week for Indix Seattle! Six of us (four of us who have never been to India, much less to our fabulous office in Chennai) journeyed starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday (1/8) fueled by M&Ms (in my case) from Seattle to London to Chennai (total flight time—20 hours) and arrived at 5 a.m. Sunday (1/10) local time.
Chennai weather feels a lot like Hawaii and the people are just as friendly. We are trying as much Indian food (southern, especially because we’ve learned that almost all of the Indian food in Seattle is from the north) as possible and so far have been able to handle the spice.
Sri introduced me to vada today! Yum. They are a kind of a savory doughnut you have at breakfast. They are made from lentils and rice and lots of great spices. I’m trying to convince him to help me open a store in Pike Place Market to sell them.
According to our colleagues here, our office is in the best work facility in Chennai, and we’re inclined to believe them since we didn’t lose power or connectivity in the recent floods. The coffee in the office is a little less strong than in Seattle and everyone takes it with milk, but it will hopefully get us through our jet lag. Chennai is 13.5 hours ahead of Seattle, so we plan to become very inarticulate by about 3 p.m. here.
In the meantime, we are having some really productive sessions talking about our customers. Best stage-setting concept was “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” from Ted Levitt from HBS. We know that’s true about our customers!
We are loving meeting all of our colleagues in person!
On day two in the office, we spent a lot of time talking about aligning sales, marketing and product around some new product launches. Pretty exciting stuff, but hard work! I also got to talk to Prasanna and Joe (from the Chennai HR team) about our great mentoring program here.
The ping pong players here in the Chennai office are numerous and very good. We’re trying to think of a way to get at least one of our star players to come to Seattle for the annual GeekWire ping pong tournament. Last year, we lost in the quarter finals and one of the finalists was flown in from Japan, so Chennai doesn’t seem like too far a stretch.
From a culinary perspective, I am shocked at how small the Pepsi cans and potato chip bags are. Hmmm. Maybe this explains something about the US? On the other hand, I may have to have two of everything!
Tonight, we are going to have drinks at the Madras Club. It is supposed to be a bit formal, so we’re wondering whether our startup attire is going to keep us from getting in—time will tell!
Day 3 was a lot of work and a lot of jetlag, but the awesomeness for the day was in two parts: (a) part two was that we got to go to the beach with the whole team and (b) part one was a rousing performance (including Hotel California) by the Indix Band with a guest lead guitar appearance by John O! He’s not David Bowie (may he rest in peace) but he’s really good! We’ve been enjoying the band on Slack, so it was a real treat to see them in person.
Here they are performing Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here
At the beach, we hung out in a surf club (one of the first ones in Tamil Nadu and it started because of an effort to give the kids in the neighborhood something cool to do) – The Covelong Point Social Surf School. Those of us who are too American for words got to try cricket for the first time. Sri closed the place down so I’m going to let him take over for a while here. Oh, and P.S.: our team in India tried to pull a prank on us but it was an UTTER failure because they dropped us off into the “wilderness” that also happened to have a bar.
[Sri Velamoor] And the rest settled for some friendly beach volleyball. After whetting our competitive appetites, we settled in for some amazing local dining options ranging from curried fish dishes to vegetarian biriyani. It’s fair to say that no one lost in that endeavor. As the evening progressed under perfectly clear starlit skies accompanied with cool sea breezes, another party must-have began to fill the air. Music.
No party is complete without some music and dancing and this team certainly wasn’t about to go home without shaking a leg. Co-workers that are otherwise quiet and focused on being coding rock-stars suddenly transformed into dancefloor mavens who could care less about onlookers or inhibitions. The only thing that eventually managed to stop this work-hard play-hard crew was the restaurant management who kindly asked us to wrap things up. The music continued in the cab ride home as we were all dropped off by our amazing driver who came back to get us all home safely.
It was an awe-inspiring evening that offered us an opportunity to bond in a way that would never be possible over web meetings and we are all super thankful for the opportunity.
Day 4 was more “go to market” conversations in the office and then we took off for Pondicherry, which is a relic of the colonial era (except French colonial—huh?). We had a pretty exciting drive down (lots of passing on two lane roads that were treated as four lane most of the time in some improbably psychic experiment). And then our driver got confused (apparently Sridhar’s Tamil leaves something to be desired) and we had to double back, only to get a flat tire, so we did the last 3 km in auto rickshaws (not to be missed actually). The one I was in was kind of a carpool, because in addition to the three of us, there was apparently a pre-existing passenger who persuaded the driver to stop briefly so he could buy some fruit on route to our hotel (the Hotel Duplex—very cool architectural restoration of the original governor’s home).
Pondicherry is a gorgeous spot, and we included a side trip to Auroville on day 5, a utopian community of 50,000, complete with the most surreal geodesic dome (this is saying something, since geodesic domes are kind of inherently surreal).
And a special highlight for me—our first shopping! (About 15 minutes worth, but hey, it was something.)
On day 5, we worked in the afternoon wrapping up our week of meetings. Good and candid communication—team building at its best! Lots of chai and then another exhilarating ride back to Chennai. Getting used to cows crossing the road for sure.
Anu told us to be SURE to have “Indian Chinese” in Chennai so we made it a point to do that Friday night. I think we loved all the Indian Indian we’d had during the week more, but there were some interesting differences—more spice, and yet lighter at the same time?
On day 6, we got to do a “story” tour of a temple and neighborhood in the oldest part of Chennai, including briefly visiting a priest’s home. We learned a lot of interesting things including that there are many, many versions of every story about each god. One of the best sights was worshippers feeding the temple cows special goodies (very happy cows indeed). We also were wowed by the nearby special tree that is used to ask for babies and marriage with special handmade threads (marriage) and cradles (baby). Apparently, it is very important to take the offering off of the tree once your request is fulfilled, so we interpolated that there is a very high success rate since there were only four cradles and maybe a dozen marriage request threads on the tree currently.
On day 7, we journeyed home and ate every last bit of Indian food offered along the way. 20 hours in flight later, it is back to rainy Seattle. We miss the weather, the food and the sights, but mostly we miss our colleagues! I leave you with some memories from our Pondicherry trip.