It’s no secret that I’ve spent some time in India, but I am frequently asked, “why were you there?” I know that I am better at documenting my weekends and time off, but I don’t just travel the world for fun, I do have a job to get done!
In India, my job was to launch a new facility for Mutual Mobile in the city of Hyderabad. This mission was an enormous challenge and a wonderful experience, but I didn’t have to go at it alone. We already had an office in Hyderabad with about 50 employees. Before I arrived, that team expended significant effort scouting a new location and negotiating a lease on the new space. I went to India once that space was selected and helped identify architects, designers and builders who would turn this concrete box into a cutting edge and inspiring place to work. I stayed in India and managed the project until the facility launched 5-months later.
Before I went to Hyderabad, I established what my personal measure of failure would be. For me, failure would be indicated at any point where I had to make a decision. Of course, I am capable of making decisions, and I am not hesitant to share my opinions and insights. However, at the end of this project I will leave India, and it is the Indian team that will need to maintain their new facility and have a sense of ownership for it. Therefore, they need to own the decisions. Additionally, if at any point my and their opinions differ so drastically, and I feel so strongly about my view that I overrule them on a decision, then we have gotten to a very bad place. Therefore, if ever I make a decision on this project, I have truly failed.
I am very thankful to too many to count, but I can’t go any further without acknowledging Abin Chowdhury, who’s hip I was attached to for five months. I also relied heavily on leaders of the Mutual Mobile Culture Club and Design teams to generate ideas and design decisions for the space. The architects from Ajay Pershad’s firm, the engineers and builders with Space Matrix and the sales team with Haworth, were all closely held team members throughout the course of the project. I am very thankful for their guidance, and at times, patience, in seeing us through to a successful and on-time finish.
Upon seeing the new space for the first time, I knew I was up against a new kind of challenge. The sum of my construction experience comes from a tree house I built when I was 12 and sets that I’ve designed for community theater productions. This was neither of those things. Our to-be future home in India was a 10th floor unfinished space with rough floors and not a single piece of conduit or ductwork to get us started. We even had a private lake to wade through.
Starting from scratch was a great advantage for our design expressions. The only element that defined our design restrictions was the shape of the building. We went through many floor plan variations and even several different architects before we found what we were looking for.
Indian business culture is very hierarchical, and typical office layouts reflect that. Early iterations of the floor plan featured manager offices and conference rooms along the windows while putting workstations toward the interior, away from natural light. The space is L-shaped with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows along the entire outer perimeter. The views from our 10th floor windows are awesome. The nearest buildings are far enough away to prevent claustrophobia from setting in and most of them are nice designs. Many buildings in our immediate line of sight are not very tall, and so we look right over and past them. There is a nice park and Greek amphitheater out one corner, and the other end of the office has spectacular views of the sunset behind a lake.
Since this access to natural light and great views is the best asset of the space, we wanted a floor plan that would give as many people as possible access to these elements. Therefore, we moved all of the conference rooms to the center and built only one office in the corner, albeit with a great private view.
After locking in the floor plan, our next order of business was material and color selection. We selected Haworth as our primary furnishings vendor. Haworth provided all of our chairs, desks, tables and modular cabinets. The design team liked the new carpet we had in our headquarters office, so we stuck with the same carpet from Shaw, even though it had to be shipped all the way from the USA. I found a great Indian designer for our sofas and huddle furniture, Urban Ladder. The rest of the materials (paint, glass, laminate, vitrified tile, hard flooring, raised server flooring, lighting and countertop material) all came from vendors through Space Matrix.
While we were busy working on the color and material choices, construction was underway. The first tasks to complete was the laying of floor electrical conduit and then pouring the screed to give us a smooth, level floor.
As with most projects, the vast majority of the time was spent laying foundation work, which as time progressed, made us more and more nervous that we weren’t moving quickly enough to meet our deadline. With just a few weeks until the grand opening, disaster struck!
The floor above ours was also under construction, and the water from the screed was seeping through the concrete slab and dripping down into our nearly finished space. We had to replace sheetrock in the ceilings and some walls. Luckily, we caught the problem quickly, and the building management assisted us in a solution and in paying for damages. The disaster turned out to be a minor setback, but the timing was less than ideal.
In the last two weeks, the finishing touches came together almost overnight, transforming the construction zone into a believable office; all it needed was furniture.
When people ask me what my greatest challenge in India was, I tell them, without hesitation, that it was the procurement of anything. Buying things in India is incredibly difficult. Firstly, locating the item you need proves to be such a task that unless you have a true need for it, you are likely to give up looking before you ever find it. Once found, all prices must be haggled through several rounds until you feel that you are on the upside of a win-lose situation. When the deal is finalized, issuing payment becomes a nightmare, especially in business.
The P.O. system of invoices and crosschecks, last minute renegotiations and the issuance of paper checks, to then learn that the government just changed the tax rate, or the item which was available a week ago is no longer in-stock, or the vendor changes their mind about selling you the item at all, makes the process too cumbersome to bear. I once waited 5 weeks for some HDMI cables to be delivered, despite the vendor telling us on the first day that they were available and could be delivered the next day. On top of this, you can’t really just walk into a store and buy something, and online shopping rarely produced the selection we sought. It’s a nightmare.
The most difficult and project-threatening of these procurements was for our internet service. We had signed a contract with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) months before, and when the fated day of installation came, they had forgotten all about us. On top of that, the building was not honoring to provide the ISP with a proper hosting room in the building where their equipment could be stored before sending fiber cable up to our server room. Many dozens of emails, heated phone calls, meetings and legal interventions finally resulted in our getting internet just days before the grand opening. I had the honor of sending the first Tweet through our active internet line at 10pm on New Years Eve. Celebrations ensued like it was 2015!
The finished product is an inspiring, modern creative facility which will have a dramatic impact on the lives of the people who get to spend their time in it. It will be very exciting to see what products will come out of this space! I’ve done more than enough writing up until now. So I will let the photos tell this part of the tale.
Of course this is good and all, but what’s the point of a new facility if you don’t have a proper grand opening celebration! Our Co-CEOs came for the occasion and led the ribbon cutting honors. We had cake and ate it too (with our hands) and hired a live band followed by super fun karaoke. Oh, did I mention we have a helipad? We did a company-wide sunset champagne toast on top of the building. It was awesome!
For more pictures and videos of the entire process, check out Judson’s original post on his personal blog.