Aravind Bala had been at Microsoft for nearly 15 years when he met Anoop Gupta, his manager on the Office Mix team.
After working together for a couple of years, they began kicking around startup ideas. Eventually, they came up with the concept for Nextio, a platform that pays users for responding to messages from recruiters and offers other career-related insights.
“Every day you receive messages from people outside your social networks,” Bala said. “A message from a recruiter about your dream job is very valuable to you. One from a Nigerian prince who wants to share his treasure — not so much. Companies and individuals are spending real money to reach you … but all of this money is going to a middleman.”
Nextio officially launched earlier this month, with Bala serving as Chief Technology Officer.
“I wear multiple hats at Nextio from architecting the product and writing code to talking to customers, working with legal and hiring,” Bala said. “About 70 percent of my time is spent in coding and working on the product, and 30 percent on strategies for getting traction and program management.”
During his 16 years at Microsoft, Bala was as a partner engineering manager on a wide range of products, including Bing and Office.
We caught up with Bala for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: “Redmond, Wash.”
Computer types: “I use a Windows workstation at work and a Mac Pro for my laptop. I work with a lot of data for the Career Insights tool, and we have built a custom in-memory database which requires a ton of RAM, and so my main machine has 64 GB of RAM. Having worked at Microsoft for most of my career, I’m very used to Windows machines, but I wanted to try a Mac Pro for my laptop to get used to the Apple ecosystem.”
Mobile devices: “I had been alternating between iPhone and Windows Phone while I was at Microsoft, but now I’m just using an iPhone. My current phone is an iPhone 7s, and I love the battery life and the screen.”
Favorite apps, cloud services, and software tools: “Microsoft Office is my favorite productivity tool, in part, because I can hack it to do anything I want. In my previous jobs at Microsoft, I built a feature to be able to search over all the commands in Office and as part of that, I became familiar with every single feature in Office.
At work, we use Visual Studio, Microsoft Azure, Node.js to build our software, and GitHub and Zenhub to manage our work items, issues and for project management. Zenhub is really great to manage our tasks on top of GitHub. We also use Slack for team communication.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “I have an identical computer setup both at work and at home with two 27-inch monitors. At work, we have an open space and it’s great for collaboration, but when I need to get stuff done or work on hard problems I like to work from home without any distractions.
Working in a small team at work is a lot of fun since we all get along great, and it’s energizing to bounce ideas off each other. We also go out for lunch every day as a team and try out new restaurants. It’s a nice break during the day, and it’s great for team discussions.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Working in a startup tends to be all-consuming, but it’s really important to carve out dedicated time for the family. I try to get home by 6 p.m. every day so that I can spend a few hours with my kids and wife, and then usually work later in the night after they have gone to sleep. In a startup, you are always severely under-resourced, so it’s critical to prioritize to ensure that you work on the tasks that give you the maximum return for the amount of effort you have to put in.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I use our platform Nextio for messaging, as well as Whatsapp and Facebook to keep in touch with friends and for articles of interest. I follow several people on Facebook who share interesting content, but given that Facebook tends to keep showing you stuff that you like, it’s important to go out to other sites that might have the opposite viewpoint.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Since we are a small team, we do most of our discussions in person, and sometimes Slack. We don’t use Email as much, and so I only have 10-15 unanswered emails in my inbox.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “Depending on the phase of the product we are working on, I might have a lot of meetings or very few. Within the team, we do not usually have formal meetings, but we sync up every day when everyone is in the office. This week I only had one formal meeting, and several interviews as we are looking for a great software developer.”
How do you run meetings? “We typically have two types of meetings – one about work items and priorities which are best discussed by working off a task board like Zenhub/GitHub, and brainstorming meetings that are more open-ended. While it is great to have robust discussions on various topics, it is important to designate an owner for the agenda item who can listen to all the arguments and everyone’s feedback, but make the final decision.”
Everyday work uniform? “Jeans and T-Shirt.”
How do you make time for family? “I try to get back home by 6 p.m. every day so that I get to spend some time with them before my kids go to sleep. I also carve out some time to spend with my wife where we usually end up watching some TV before starting to work again at night.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “The best stress relievers for me are playing tennis and listening to comedy. Instead of the typical garage startup, our office is a pool cabana. We have a tennis court next door. When the weather is good, it’s great to get a half an hour of tennis in during the day.
At home I love playing with my kids – we usually play tennis or cricket inside our house or in the backyard, and watching our favorite shows on TV with my wife.”
What are you listening to? “In the morning, during my commute, I listen to the radio. My favorite radio station is Movin’ 92.5 FM which plays the latest music and I love their morning show, ‘Brooke and Jubal in the morning.’ I find that listening to comedy in the morning puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day. I also listen to various podcasts on startups and user growth. My favorite podcast for startup-related topics is ‘This Week in Startups.'”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I read the headlines on CNN and MSNBC, and get some of my news from Facebook. I also keep abreast of tech news at GeekWire, TechCrunch, and I subscribe to various startup-related newsletters like the Launch Ticker, the CB Insights newsletter, Term Sheet, First Round Review and Founder Hacks.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader) “These days, I mostly read non-fiction books – many of them related to growing our user base and building products. Recent books I’ve read include Traction by Gabriel Weinberg, Play Bigger by Al Ramadan, Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini and Payoff by Dan Ariely. The last non-business book I read was “When Breath Becomes Air“, which is a very moving real story of the life of Dr. Paul Kalanithi who chronicles his journey as a doctor and his battles with cancer.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I am definitely a night owl. I try to sleep by 12:30 a.m., and I get up around 6:30 a.m.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “I get my best ideas when I’ve been thinking about the problem for several days, usually when I get up in the morning having thought about solutions to the problem the previous night.”