Interview with Madhan Mohan, CTO at Zepo

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The initial problem faced by any eCommerce company is to build a store and launch themselves. Marketing the product also comes as a very challenging task to make your company grow and prosper.
Further what comes in as one of the most cumbersome task is that of logistics. Delivery details, pickups, security, time duration and customer satisfaction, all these aspects are to be taken great care of.

So, to make things a little simple and efficient, Zepo has come up as a brilliant platform. The zepo e-commerce software enables you to start your eCommerce website in mere five minutes. You can further replicate it easily so that you can sell through mobile websites, your Facebook page and your own Android/Ios apps as well.

In addition to an eCommerce website, Zepo also offers a free payment gateway, shipping and eCommerce courier services and also helps with how to market your online store. Through Zepo, you can easily sell on Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon and all other top eCommerce websites in India. Thus, Zepo provides you with the entire framework required to start an eCommerce business.

Zepo was founded in 2011 by Nitin Purswani, an economics graduate from H.R. College of Commerce and Economics. Post his graduation, Nitin started with a venture of his own, along with some of his friends. They started with a T-shirt manufacturing business. However, even though the business showed promise,they could not take it online. Primarily due to factors like lack of desired technical knowledge, logistics and payment gateways. Zepo claims to address and resolve the very same problems. The company offers to deliver you with an exceptional experience while working on your own e-commerce startup.

We caught  Mr. Madhan Mohan, the CTO at Zepo, to know a little more about their startup for startups.

Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

I started by joining Tech Mahindra as a Software Engineer right out of college after completing my BE in Information Science. Spent close to 5 years working on Java technologies and leading Android development teams.

Took a sharp turn into the startup world with Zepo in February 2013 when we were in our early stages. Been leading the product team since.

When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

Throughout my first few years in TechM, I used to try to keep myself fresh and interested in work by taking up side projects. Hacking together tools and projects was a very rewarding experience. Towards the end of my stint at TechM, I was looking out for something much more challenging and interesting to do as a part of my core work. Around that time, my sister-in-law was just getting started on setting up her online store. I gladly pitched in to help her wherever possible on the technical front. I immediately knew that this was a deeply satisfactory work. Moving to a technological company that helped small business ventures get online was only a natural progression after that, I guess.

What were the early days at Zepo like?

Chaotic!

Just how a budding startup should be. We were all learning about our roles and responsibilities. It was fun, hectic, challenging and rewarding. All at the same time.

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

A typical day at office involves coming in and taking stock at each of the servers to see if anything unusual is happening. Short scrum meetings are held with each team to assess what needs to be done. Then each of them takes a cup of chai/green tea/coffee and puts on their favourite headphones…and it’s GO time. I spend equal amounts of time troubleshooting wherever required and planning out on the future features for the product. Throughout the day, folks from our fantastic Operations, Marketing and Business Development teams trickle in with various questions/ideas/suggestions. Lot of interesting stories and conversations take place as we assess, re-assess and decide on our roadmap.

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

The stack is primarily based on Java. We use Spring framework in all our applications. For database we use MYSQL. Redis for caching. ActiveMQ for queueing. SOLR for indexing. Bootstrap, jQuery and Handlebars  for most of our Web frontends. There are various applications handling different functionalities. All of these are hosted on AWS.

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

According to me, what matters more is the process. Tools and technologies are only a means to an end. So I bet on constantly evaluating and improving on processes that will help us scale up. In our current environment, the ability to quickly and efficiently build business logic that can be shared between different clients ranging from desktop,  Android/iOS apps is becoming critical. So going API first and service oriented is almost a given now. Frontend templating languages and frameworks give the UI developers peace of mind. Servers that are easy to monitor, setup and scale up enable developers focus more on building features rather than maintaining servers. AWS fits in quite easily into this requirement. Technologies that will enable us to gather, understand and help us make quicker and better decisions are also a focus going forward.

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

Over the last 4 years, we have had more than 3000+ e-commerce websites selling on our platform, bringing in a varied set of users with different habits. Analysing this behaviour using tools like Google Analytics, Crazzy Egg, etc is a very a important part of our decision making process.

Apart from analytics, we use UTM tracking to figure out the source of most of our trial registrations, and for evaluating our marketing efforts. We also use the HTTPS Referrer Code, to check where our users get redirected from, for the first time.

In addition to these, we use a multitude of tools and softwares like Moz, Ahrefs, KissMetrics and more from time to time to gauge the impact of every single marketing and design activity we undertake.

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

Having built an in-house platform enables us to tightly control the growth and maintenance of this platform. Our Support team is able to provide exceptional assistance as a result of this. Additionally, there are tools that have been hacked together that enable internal processes related to customer management, issue management and lead the management to run more efficiently. This reflects positively to our end users.

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

We started off by going to market with a Minimum Viable Product and constantly kept hacking away as it grew continuously. At a particular point, issues of scale and security started coming up and the pace required from the team to plug the gaps was furious. Plugging the gaps, learning everyday, falling, failing and finally figuring our way out of it was probably the most challenging and, in hindsight, a very important experience for me & every other tech. team member.

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

An innate curiosity for technology, humbleness to be willing to always learn and the attitude to look at problems as challenges are the most important attributes I look for in people willing to join our tech team.

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

In the world of technology, where there are things happening constantly, sometimes too much information is just a waste of time. It’s easy to get lost chasing one buzzword from the previous one. RSS readers are notorious for pushing way too much information if not used rightly. I tend to follow a select few websites like readwrite.com where there is no information overload. What is more important however, is to keep  your eyes open while working on a daily basis. Understanding how the community is thinking, and solving issues by reading on sites like stackoverflow, github is important before making decisions on your specific use case.

I’m a big fan of MOOCs. To be honest I have registered myself on way more courses than I have completed. But I love the medium of instruction where you decide to learn at your own pace. Some of my core skills which I have applied at Zepo too, have been things I learnt via sites like Udemy, EdX and Coursera.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

The fact that I know there will be some fresh challenges awaiting me that will ensure I learn something new today. And of course, the fact that I am working on something that directly impacts a large and growing user base. When I see crores of sales being done using products built by our team, it’s a source of great satisfaction, but at the same time, a humbling reminder that I have to put my head down and continue forward.

What sets Zepo engineering culture apart?

Being open and transparent, and encouraging a culture of respect and healthy disagreement is what sets us apart.

Which Zepo value resonates best with you?

Exactly what sets our engineering culture apart.

Any piece of advice for techies out there?

Find your passion. Technology is a skill that can be learnt. It isn’t something people are born with. There are enough tools, courses and resources available today that anybody interested, can use and grow with. You need to first figure out if you want it and if it excites you. If yes, refer to #10. Good luck!

 

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