Street Culture: A Culture of Growth at PacketZoom
PacketZoom CTO and co-founder Chetan Ahuja says that the company’s cultural base is grounded in growth, though the company itself is growing slowly and evenly.
The app optimization software startup will be five years old in June and currently employs about 25 people, including about 10 remote engineers around the world.
“Introducing [new employees] to the culture has been very important; it’s important that the people we hire are growth-oriented,” Ahuja says. “We want them to already be useful to the business, but their main goal is to grow and to grow with the company. They’re much more valuable that way.”
Initially, Ahuja says he likes assign new team members to a small project that they can immediately contribute to – usually a technical project, since the company is very much focused on engineering its product. Ahuja emphasizes that while PacketZoom’s software serves gaming communities especially well, at its base it simply enables faster loading times and fewer interruptions on mobile.
For the first year and a half, the company employed fewer than 10 people, Ahuja says.
“We grew at a very uniform pace; we didn’t have a huge growth spurt like a lot of startups do,” he says. “We just hired people slowly as we wanted to absorb them into our team and into our culture.”
Cultivating opportunities for growth is the basis for PacketZoom’s culture, and Ahuja has specific ideas about the types of attitudes he wants to see in his employees. He does yearly check-ins with his staff to understand each individual’s growth in order to compare that to the growth of the company.
“If I ask you after a year how do you feel about your own growth, your own journey, the answer I want to hear is ‘I grew a lot, I learned a lot, and I’m a better professional than I was a year ago,’” he says. “When we are hiring, we are looking for those traits, we’re looking for people who are very eager to take the next step. Even people who are senior level and who have done big things before – we want them to join only if they feel this is something they can grow with.”
Ahuja attributes the growth focus to the industry that PacketZoom is serving – the company is approaching solutions to problems that have never existed before.
“Everything you do at PacketZoom will have an element of something new,” he says. “Something that has not been seen anywhere else, no matter how big or how small a company you’ve been with before.”
The way that networking software has been functioning for the last 20 or 30 years doesn’t work for mobile users, Ahuja says. PacketZoom’s challenge is to fix mobile networking so it works more efficiently on mobile devise.
“The challenge is about how people use mobile devices today, and the fact that they’re always moving, [the device is] always in your pocket, and you could be changing wireless networks possibly from minute to minute as you move around,” he says. “There are a lot of technical challenges that were not considered when the networks were developed in the 80s and 90s.”
Today, the challenges are very different, and that’s where PacketZoom’s software comes in: taking a new look at how network connections should be made on mobile devices. These new problems are actually helping PacketZoom attract fresh perspectives as it hires.
“That’s what helps us get people to buy into this growth mindset,” Ahuja says. “If you’re coming in to the company, you’re going to be learning something new and investing in something new.”
Seeking out the originality that comes with defying convention is an element of his personality, something that contributed to the founding of PacketZoom.
“There was no company when I started,” he says. “I started writing some code and testing products while I was still in my previous job. I had had these ideas for a long time.”
A desire to break rules – and finding pleasure in it – is essential for every successful startup founder, Ahuja says.
“Breaking rules doesn’t mean laws or the norms of society, but in every established convention,” he says. “When we’re looking for people to hire, that’s one of the things that we look for – that they’re not bound too much by convention.”
In 2017, PacketZoom’s team identified a need to revisit how they collected and processed their data.
“The team is mostly network engineers and mobile engineers, and not necessarily data specialists,” Ahuja says. “Normally any team like this would probably pick up some open source software and just follow what the convention is because we’re not data specialists. But we decided to see whether we could do things better.”
Within three months, they had built a brand new data system from scratch.
“This is more data, it’s more scalable, more reliable, it’s overall a much better system than what is available out there right now,” Ahuja says. “We just normally don’t buy into whatever the trends are, whatever’s being talked about on TechCrunch. We keep that at arm’s length, and build what is necessary for us to do the right thing. That goes for the main product we’re selling but it also goes for us internally, for the products we need for our own development and customer support.”
April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.