5 Key Attributes for Successful Founding Engineers

5 Key Attributes for Successful Founding Engineers

The following article was written by Ashmeet Singh Rekhi, Founding Engineer at Luminai


I graduated with a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, but I knew I would not enjoy designing chips for the rest of my life so while at school, I self-taught myself coding by taking free online courses. It was a tough journey and I still get goosebumps thinking about that time.

Upon graduating I received a few offers and decided to join eBay in the Bay Area. As my first job after school, I learned a great deal and had the opportunity to play a critical role in getting 5 patents in the software field while there.

After 4 years at eBay I found myself growing comfortable and decided to take a new position at Apple. In that role I owned the backend systems that power language content to all of Apple’s Media Services, including the App Store, Music, and Podcasts.

I’ve always been drawn to the startup space, but had never explored any opportunities. Being on a work visa, I knew it could be risky to leave a stable job. But when Luminai reached out regarding the opportunity to join as Founding Engineer, I knew the time was right.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a great deal and am loving every bit.

In this article, I unpack 5 crucial attributes that are needed for a startup founding engineer.


1. Curiosity

When embarking on the journey of a startup career, one of the most essential qualities is an insatiable thirst for knowledge and an unrelenting sense of curiosity.

It’s truly awe-inspiring to witness the vast array of experiences and roles that unfold within the dynamic realm of a startup. Beyond the acquisition of new technical proficiencies, you’re exposed to the intricacies of sales, marketing, HR, and leadership.

And that just scratches the surface.

Even within the realm of my own expertise of engineering, the methods employed to deploy resources and iterate on ideas differ vastly from those of larger corporations.

In a thriving startup, every individual is required to operate on multiple levels, leading to an unintentional yet delightful immersion in a constant stream of fresh information and learning opportunities. Possessing an innate curiosity and an insatiable hunger for knowledge makes this process not only effortless but also immensely rewarding.

Naturally driven by an enduring fascination with the inception and operation of tech startups, my tenure at Luminai has enabled me to accumulate a plethora of invaluable skills and tools, firmly establishing me as a versatile and accomplished professional.


2. A Willingness to Pivot

Just as startups are known for their propensity to pivot in product strategies or sales approaches, this notion of adaptation holds true for the individuals who comprise these innovative companies.

My own journey at Luminai exemplifies this nature.

Commencing with the establishment and management of the initial analytics system, I swiftly progressed to the construction of robust server systems for the backend infrastructure. Once the foundation was solidified, my focus shifted to the creation and refinement of the actual product, meticulously crafting workflows that would resonate with our valued customers.

Simultaneously, I undertook the arduous task of devising streamlined processes capable of scaling alongside our expanding team.

Presently, I find myself at the helm of our Customer Engineering team, cultivating relationships with our clients while crafting bespoke solutions tailored to their unique needs. In a world that often recoils from change, I embrace it with an open mind.

It is this steadfast willingness to evolve that remains crucial in navigating the ever-shifting landscape of innovation.


3. An Entrepreneurial Mindset

At the heart of it all, as a founding engineer, the startup becomes your very essence. Every action, decision, and endeavor should be driven by an unwavering commitment to the company’s success. Amidst the swirling chaos and ever-shifting demands of a startup environment, it is all too easy to lose sight of this fundamental truth, particularly when donning multiple hats and contending with constant change. However, two principles resonate deeply with me, serving as guiding beacons amidst the tumultuous seas.

First off, there is no room for hesitation or procrastination. In a startup, opportunities and challenges arise with fervent urgency. Should you identify a need or hear the faintest whisper of a customer’s request, swift action is paramount. Even when the designated point of contact is unavailable, step forward boldly and bridge the gap. If answers elude you, ensure the customer feels genuinely heard and offer a transparent plan of action. Proactivity becomes the lifeblood that propels the startup forward.

Secondly, embracing calculated risks is an inherent facet of the startup journey. Innovation is the vital pulse that courses through the veins of every successful venture. It necessitates pushing the boundaries, fearlessly exploring uncharted territories, and defying conventional norms. Amidst the frequent moments of uncertainty, where no clear path emerges, one must dare to ideate, implement, learn, and iterate. Embrace the exhilarating dance of trial and error, for therein lies the true essence of progress.

By adhering to these tenets, anchoring ourselves in the core of our company’s mission, and perpetually striving for audacious achievements, we navigate the terrain of startup life.


4. A Sense of Urgency

In the realm of startups, speed and a relentless sense of urgency are not mere luxuries, but the very lifeblood that courses through their veins. While large corporations may boast vast resources, it is the nimble agility inherent to startups that grants them their competitive edge.

In this high-stakes game, a startup’s swiftness is ultimately determined by the slowest link in its chain.

Within the startup ecosystem, cultivating a profound sense of urgency becomes imperative. It is not an exaggeration to declare that this virtue holds the power to shape the destiny of a fledgling venture, delineating the fine line between survival and demise. Regardless of one’s designated role, everyone within the startup ecosystem must heed the clarion call to act with unwavering speed.

In this realm of perpetual motion, the ticking clock becomes both an adversary and an ally, propelling teams toward decisive action. Each moment holds the potential to make or break, and opportunities swiftly evaporate if not seized with unwavering determination. It is through this shared commitment that startups forge their path, navigating the uncharted territories of innovation and disruption.

Check out our article offering time management tips for startup engineers.


5. Customer Obsession

This fundamental principle holds true for companies of all sizes, transcending roles and titles. Whether one assumes the mantle of an engineer, a product manager, or any other position, this mindset stands as the revered treasure to be upheld. The significance of prioritizing the customer cannot be overstated.

By embracing this tenet, teams safeguard themselves against straying from the crucial objectives that drive their endeavors. Amidst the cacophony of competing voices, the unwavering focus on customers serves as a compass.

After all, product development lies in the art of listening to your customers.

Unlike traditional models relying on dedicated business or product research teams, our approach centers on direct engagement with our customers. Our mission is simple: to deliver precisely what they desire.

Ashmeet Singh Rekhi, Founding Engineer

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