Mahesh Shankar joins Influx as CTO

Following up from the excitement of onboarding Tina to lead our product team, our CEO, Harish Anand Thilakan (HAT), writes to welcome Mahesh Shankar as CTO of Influx. Mahesh joins us from his immediate past role as CTO of online retailer, Zivame, besides having previously run TenTenTen Digital with Ramesh Srivats where together, they built Fandromeda and the IPL’s first-ever fantasy gaming app.

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Like I often do, I felt the need to tell this story on why we’ve never had a CTO and how the partnership with Mahesh fructified. Read on for more.

There are many things strange about us at Influx. But the most perplexing is perhaps how we’ve come this far as a tech company, without a tech co-founder or a CTO.

Now to give you a bit of context, Influx was born in 2004 when I reconnected with my high school buddy, Anuj Sawani. He’d moved out of Chennai to Delhi to complete his last two years of schooling and we’d lost contact. However, Uni brought him back to Chennai and that’s when we got talking again. He was still the nerd + geek that I knew in school, hacking away at computers, making magic happen.

It was around this time that I felt the urge (after 10th grade in school) to restart my web development business and after a few rounds of brainstorming, ComPort Technologies (yuck!) was reborn as Influx in 2004; he would look after all things code and I’d manage design and business.

After what was an interesting first two years where we hired our first employees, Anuj left (sensibly!) to pursue his Master’s in the U.S. I continued to run Influx from Chennai.

Those two years alongside Anuj and working with freelancers when (more often than not), we realized our tech skills weren’t enough, taught me enough to be able to hire engineers and get things done. I learnt from some of the team and picked up enough to be able to sell ourselves as a design-led tech shop.

In more recent years, with our global expansion and interest in building a product portfolio, the need for a CTO was imminent. With our ambitions rooted in positioning ourselves as enterprise software integration experts across technology systems, both legacy and modern, the rewards were large but the risks were immense as well. Building, managing and supporting real-time, mission-critical transaction applications meant zero room for downtime as that instantly construed a revenue loss.

Yet, four years since our setting up in the Middle East and securing near one hundred percent market share among cinema operators in the region and closing in on two years since entering the U.S. market, we still didn’t have a CTO. Why, you may ask.

I never found the right person.

I was convinced that we needed a CTO. But the person needed to check more than the usual number of boxes that a CTO would check. The following were supremely important to me -

1) Tech knowledge and prowess across various stacks and ecosystems.
2) The passion to code himself or herself, every day, if needed.
3) Not just be a tech geek but be empathetic towards design, UI/UX, customer experience, business goals and needs.
4) Be a nice guy (or girl); easily fit in with the rest of us who form the company’s leadership team who operate as really close friends brought together by a common vision.
5) Be ridiculously ambitious. I have some mad goals for myself and the company. The product road-map we’ve chalked out for the cinema industry can only be described as audacious. The CTO candidate needed to make child’s play of this road-map and push us ‘business people’ to dream even bigger.
6) Have a personality, outside of his/her core work.
7) Play a role in the software and startup community in India, an essential piece in attracting the best talent.

Enter, Mahesh.

My brother (from another mother) Rahul Bhardwaj was kind enough to point me towards Mahesh in mid-January. We had a 35-minute call, by the end of which I was near-convinced, Mahesh was the man for the job. I mean, a guy who was instrumental in writing key pieces of code that eventually went on to become part of the VoIP standards that all of us use everyday when we place a Skype, FaceTime or Whatsapp call today, who enjoys coding himself till date, scoffed at our product road-map as being under-ambitious and expressed an inordinate interest and knowledge in fonts and design systems was all I needed to fall in love. Additionally, the fact the he was a music director actively working in the South Indian film industry (he has his own wiki!) besides being a board member of a cinema circuit in South India slayed point 7 from the above list!

Post the Friday call, Mahesh met with Amit and Dodo in Bangalore over a drink that ended up being a 6-hour session. I remember Amit’s comment afterwards on one of our internal groups - “Great guy! HIRE AT ANY COST!”

Now while I appreciated his sentiment, financial discussions are never easy, especially when both parties are emotionally sold, if you know what I mean. That said, I’m glad that Mahesh and I were able to jump through those hoops and arrive at a happy ground.

Mahesh heads both the services and products side of the business as CTO and will be instrumental in working through delivering our projects and products, growing and mentoring the engineering teams across Chennai, Bangalore and Dallas, besides helping up-skill the existing team and bringing in efficiencies in operations through continuous improvements in processes.

Mahesh, you know I will hold you to many of the commitments you’ve made but if the initial indications are anything to go by, I’m preparing to eat my own HAT :-)

Welcome, from all of us at the leadership team at Influx - we missed you Bobby and Karthik.

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L-R: Amit Mehta (Product Development Director), Jesu Christhdas (Technical Director), Tina Ngo (VP of Products), Nagarajan Manimaran (Head of Technology), Mahesh Shankar (CTO), Harish Anand Thilakan (CEO), Gopinath Premnath (Finance Director), Daniel Anandaraj (COO) and Jose Joseph (Head of Accounts).


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