by Ryan Choi9/1/2020
Deepak Jhalani joined Ravti (S14) as their CTO after finding them on YC’s Work at a Startup. He previously managed a team of over 40 people, and was looking for his next challenge building a team and the technology from the ground up.
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Ryan: So when you joined Work at a Startup, you knew you wanted to work in the HVAC industry, right?
[Laughs.] Not exactly, no. It was really helpful to have a single directory of good YC startups, browse lots of different ideas, and learn more about the teams and their backgrounds.
Going into it, I was actually pretty flexible on the business itself. I’ve worked at startups before, most recently running a 40 person engineering team at VenueNext. I really liked that challenge, and mostly I wanted a place where I could leverage my past experience — having a direct impact on the technology and infrastructure, building the team, and doing it better than I’ve done at my previous startups.
Ryan: Given that, what drew you to Ravti?
Well, building a hardware and software product is really challenging. We’re building IOT devices to capture the health of HVAC units in real time, which helps with energy efficiency and lowers overall maintenance costs. We’re also collecting a ton of data on usage, which is allowing us to do predictive maintenance — and do so remotely. It was clear that it was a real business, and had some real technical problems to tackle.
Moreover, as the CTO, I got to shape our technical strategy from the ground up. And not just what we built, but how we built it. As soon as I started, we jumped into discussions of how we’d approach using an onshore versus offshore team. I’d gotten working with offshore teams right and wrong before, and I wanted to use my experience to get it right at Ravti. One of the main differences to getting it right is making sure the offshore team has an engineering manager who is in the weeds — giving them context on the business, instilling quality as a value and not an afterthought.
Ryan: What was your initial interaction with the company like?
It was completely different — much more casual. My first contact with Alex [Ravti’s co-founder and CEO] was just a message on Work at a Startup saying he wanted to chat. When we did, he was very open — telling me about what he’s trying to build at Ravti, how far along they were, and why he thought I was a good fit.
And then he was more curious about my style: how I manage, how I’ve gotten stuff done in the past, and what my strengths and weaknesses were. From there, I met with a couple others on the team — the head of data/product and the head of sales. They were really thoughtful and reasonable people.
Other companies I’ve talked to, typically larger ones, had me go through engineering coding exercises on data structures, and sometimes seven rounds of interviews. That didn’t make any sense, and meeting with Ravti just seemed like a better fit for my style.
Ryan: And given the opportunity, how quickly did you adapt to managing Ravti’s team?
It’s been actually great. I’ve led remote teams in eastern Europe and India, and there are a lot of pros and cons of having a remote team. But ultimately, there’s a huge benefit in terms of cost and productivity if you can get it right.
With Ravti’s team in India, and I feel like I have the right experience to make this work. In India, a lot of engineers are incredibly hard working and passionate about technology. But they don’t necessarily have experience at scale. They’re pushing code fast, but not taking the time to bake in quality. So making them part of your team and giving them time & space to write test cases and mentoring them to do things right is a huge win for them, and for the company.
Ryan: And I’m sure it’s had its challenges?
Oh, definitely. One of my first tasks was figuring out whether we should move more onshore, or commit completely to offshore. It required me to better understand everyone on the team, get their perspectives, and find out what was or wasn’t working.
After a lot of 1-1s with our engineers, it was pretty clear that we needed more technical managers in India. Previously, we had project managers who weren’t as knowledgeable about the technology or able to get into the weeds. Once we had technical engineering managers, it helped the engineers focus on their jobs, kept us on track with progress, and actually gave us more visibility overall.
The other thing — and it’s more philosophical — is to treat the offshore team like it’s an extension of my team in the US. Working directly with the engineers and making time for scrum and 1-1 makes us feel closer and on the same page. That’s huge for morale and long-term team building, especially for how small we are.
Ryan: As an early leadership, how has it been working directly with the founders?
My biggest thing in talking to Alex and Justin [Head of Data & Product] was, “Would I have fun working with these people? Would I want to go for drinks with them after work?” It’s what people say all the time, but it’s entirely true.
Having been at startups before, I’ve seen that to make a startup successful, all verticals need to work in sync. And an important part of that is if the different leaders of the company are on the same page. And I’ve definitely found that at Ravti. Everyone on the leadership team knows what they’re doing. And everyone here is to change the HVAC industry. It might not seem like the sexiest industry, but it’s a huge opportunity — especially as building owners are looking to reduce costs and use smart technology to save money. And we’re poised to make the most of it.
Ryan works with YC companies to find great engineers — from 2-person startups to larger ones like Airbnb, Stripe and Instacart.