Interview with Rahul Shelke, Co-Founder at MyCuteOffice

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One of the problems that most of the businesses face in their initial stage is to get a good office space for themselves. The market being highly unorganized and most of it being dominated by brokers makes it a challenge in itself for startups and professionals to find a decent office space. And most of the times dealing with brokers, their commission, security deposit, furniture, etc. takes away the attention of the company from their primary operations. The same was the situation when the founder of the company Qpeka Technologies Pvt. Ltd. went looking for an office space for his startup. This hunt for a comfortable and affordable office space led him to conceptualize My Cute Office.

My Cute Office is a startup that provides a marketplace for sharing of vacant work spaces, offices, studios and meeting facilities. It is based out of Mumbai and is presently providing services in 17 other cities. MCO’s portal allows companies to list their spare commercial spaces to be rented to small businesses for flexible durations. This helps startups and small businesses to save on their setup and rental costs and also allows them to focus on their core operations without having to divert their attention. My Cute Office was co-founded in January 2015 by Abhishek Barari, Rahul Shelke and Neelay Jain.

Here is a small interview with one of the co-founders of the company, Rahul Shelke.

Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

I’ve always been looking for challenges that will enable me to think, discuss and build things by diving in the unknown waters. So, while I was in the last year of my M.Tech in Computer Science, I was looking for an opportunity where I can harness this skill. That’s when I found Blisstering Solutions Pvt Ltd. and decided to grab it without a second thought.

During my graduation years, Databases was one of my most hated subjects, as I always found myself at the mercy of incomplete information and lack of database design skills. But when I got the opportunity to lead Business Intelligence development at Blisstering, I decided to challenge myself and work on it. This helped me learn database design and acquire skills like, team management, time management, transparent communication across the company and clients, etc.

While working on this project I understood that, It’s not what likes or dislikes you have that will define who you will be, but what challenges you take and work through”.   

Along with this, during my tenure at Blisstering, I also got an opportunity to work on Forex trading platform where security and availability of the system was most important thing, and other various small projects in Drupal which helped me understand the agile web development.

I also took the responsibility of hiring new team members who can fit into the culture, train them and help them with technical guidance during their first few months. This helped me understand the gap we have in education and the skills required for industries. So, I along with my friend decided to train students into programming skills and started a private training institute. I used to give my whole Saturday and Sunday for students and on weekdays 2 to 3 hours in evening. This experience taught me to get into the shoes of the people, understand problems from their perspective, analyze them and give right solutions.

After 2.6 years of working at Blisstering, I decided to move on to the next challenge, hence I joined a startup into Industrial automation where I improved my analysis skill to develop algorithms.

Since childhood, I’ve been very much fascinated about literature. So while doing my job I also joined a literature group in Thane, Poetry Tuesday, where amateurs like me were coming together, writing poems or short stories and sharing with the rest of the group. During one of those gatherings, I met Abhishek Barari, who also had the similar likes for literature. In one of our conversations, idea of providing such platform for everyone to share their content with the world struck us and qpeka was borned, our first startup. Since, the idea was so close to my heart, I decided to leave everything and focus on qpeka. We worked consistently on qpeka for 2 years.

While working on qpeka, we found a challenge common to every startup and also professionals which is to get an office space to work from. Our research showed us that more than 5 lac individuals work from home or cafes in Mumbai, just because of the higher cost of setting up an office. And more than 500 lac sq. ft. of commercial space is lying empty, because very few can afford to use them. We found an opportunity in this and a challenge to organize this highly unorganized industry, and that is how My Cute Office (MCO) was borned.

What were the early days at MyCuteOffice like?

When we started to work on MCO, we were sure to not repeat the mistakes we made while building qpeka. This is where all the learning from my first job helped me. I gathered all the information required for our prototype and worked for two days along with my colleague Shashank, who was working with us as a developer for qpeka, and made MCO live. From there on each day has been a roller coaster ride for each one of us in the team.

Being a highly unorganized market, we had to unlearn and learn a lot of things about real estate. We started from the scratch as a newbie, and experimented a lot. We had to know how builders / developers work with buying, selling and renting of commercial properties, how agents and their network works, what are the things that people look for in an office space, what kind of rules and regulations our government has on commercial real estate, what are the legal formalities to follow, which are the locations that are highly in demand right now, which will be in demand in future, and other things related to real estate.

The technology team was on their toes all the time since we had to analyze and implement all the experiments we were carrying on the operations front, and make them live. All these experiments helped us build MCO with our own Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System that our operations team is now using.

During this one year journey, our core belief to help space providers rent out their office spaces with ease and help people find working space as per their need has helped us motivate ourselves and go on each day.

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Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?

Each day comes with a new challenge and new things to learn. Our vision to provide the best service to space providers and space seekers keeps each one of us motivated and look forward to each day.

We do have a roadmap for our progress which we evaluate every week and discuss in group meetings, where everyone has a right to put his/her thoughts. Each day we review our work and set priorities for ourselves and work towards improving it.

We do believe that everyone is equally responsible and accountable for the progress of the organization. Hence, we do not have any kind of hierarchy in the team, no one is boss here, everyone is at an equal level. Everyone has the right to approach and discuss things in hand with anyone who is equally aware of it, this helps us to remove the barrier between operations and technology team.

As a cofounder and CTO of the company, I believe my responsibility is to maintain this transparency across our team and help each one of us to progress. I help both the teams in communicating and analyzing problems and finding out solutions to move closer to our goal.

Can you tell us about the technology stack used at MyCuteOffice?

We started out with Drupal during the initial days of MCO as it provides a lot of flexibility for the developer to focus only on business logic rather than reinventing a wheel.

Over a year we updated this and now we do have python flask and drupal working together to serve the purpose. There are backend scheduled tasks which are developed in python and are executed by celery. We have developed a notification system in python to deliver emails, sms, push notifications and web notifications, which works along with drupal and uses redis as queue. We are also using redis as cache. We have developed a web service layer for our android app, which is based on Command Query Responsibility Segregation (CQRS) pattern.  

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Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?

Technology is the heart of everything that we provide at MCO and we are working towards improving it every day. Drupal has helped us to achieve this till date, but going further we need something which can be developed fast and scaled much faster. Hence, we are currently migrating our services to python based CMS that we have developed in-house for MCO’s need.

Since our aim is to provide end-to-end solution to our users with less possible human intervention, we highly trust on the event driven CQRS pattern as our future. We are currently working towards building everything in event driven CQRS pattern. We already have notification system which can be scaled to use any number of different notifications across geographies.

For front end, we are strongly believing in Semantic UI and javascript frameworks like ember.js as the future of MCO.

How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?

At MCO, whatever we do, needs to be tracked and analyzed every day. Every event that happens on the platform, every action taken by our users as well as our team is tracked by the analytics system that we have developed in-house, which is right now in its primary stage.

We have developed a heat map, which is enabled by analytics system we have developed, and that helps our operations and marketing team to find specific locations of demand, target them on priority, and get office spaces in those high requirement areas under MCO.  

We are also using Google analytics to get insight of user activities. This has helped us to improve user flow and redesigning of the web site.

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How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?

When we started out, we were the first one in India. But as time progressed we found a lot of competitors rising up in this domain. MCO being purely tech driven stands out in this competition.

MCO started as an aggregator, but over a period of time it has now become tech based enabler which is helping the real estate market to enhance with the help of technology. We do believe in transaction driven marketplace will be the future of real estate market. Thats, where MCO stands apart from others.

What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running MyCuteOffice?

As I mentioned previously, being completely new domain to work on, each day has been a challenge for us. We being the primary players to make it tech enabled, had to face a lot of challenges in analyzing the needs and then building them into technology.

The biggest one being, making people trust us and provide their space information and renting it out online.

The first six months has been a roller coaster ride for us as no one was ready to accept it easily, so making people comfortable with the technology and then getting to know what exactly they need, how the flow should be and how to make it simple for them to use has been one of our challenges.

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What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?

We do believe that transparency, trust, being a team player and a good listener are the key characteristics of each one of us in the team.

While hiring, I look for the same characteristics in a candidate along with analytical and problem solving skills. It does not matter which programming language candidate is comfortable with, only thing is he/she should be able to develop things, ready to take on challenges, make mistakes and ready to learn from them.

How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?

MCO is a technology based company at the core. So we do follow online media for the latest happenings in technology. We are subscribed to tech-based channels on medium, techcrunch, quartz (qz.com) and others like inc.com, business insider, etc. for business related news.

Our team has the flexibility and freedom to learn any new technology, discuss findings within a team and help everyone understand it. This has helped us improve our stack a lot in the past couple of months.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

Everyday there is a new challenge, to learn-unlearn and improve ourselves, which helps to keep us on our toes. Being the first few globally, and first one in India, keeps us motivated to improve on to the systems we have developed. The challenges that we have with us for scaling of the system, making it globally available and enabling everything with the help of technology, which till date has been offline, excites us and motivates us to look for a new day each morning.

What sets MyCuteOffice engineering culture apart?

We believe in transparency, trust, self accountability, clear responsibility and ownership.

Everyone is allowed to work as per his/her preference. We do not even have strict office timings, everyone in a team has flexibility to come to office or work from home.

We do believe, it is important to have a bonding in a team as a family. Hence, we help each other in following their hobbies.

Everyday we keep some time where we engage in discussions other than work, like discussions on topics such as history, mythology, philosophy, nature, current affairs, politics, etc. We do hang out together, celebrate small victories, go on for company sponsored lunches, etc.

In all, the culture in organization is free, friendly and fun filled.

Which MyCuteOffice value resonates best with you?

I believe in transparency, trust, humility and being accountable to the team.

Any piece of advice for the techies out there?

Be open to new ideas and be hungry for knowledge. Learn something new, practice it, build something out of this newly learned skill to help society improve. Always be ready to fail and get back on. Trust yourself and the people surrounding you, share what you have with everyone, especially when you know you have something which may not benefit you, but will definitely help others.

Remember one thing, Failures are pillars of Success, but build those pillars on strong foundation”.

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