“If it moves, it will break. And if it breaks, it will need assistance.” – Lokesh Kumar, Urgently
A man clutches his cell phone while frantically pacing next to his car on the shoulder. He was already feeling anxious about his second job interview; now he has to deal with his engine stalling on the side of the freeway. The taillights flash beside him like bolts of lightning. He tears apart his wallet for his insurance card while he calls to ask if he can reschedule the interview.
Lokesh Kumar and the founding team at Urgently understood the anxiety that comes with a broken-down vehicle. They sought to find a solution.
We spoke with Lokesh, Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of Tech, about his journey to Urgently and how their platform will improve roadside assistance.
As an accomplished engineer with experience at a myriad of startups, Lokesh also provides valuable advice on the mindsets and responsibilities required to succeed at a four-person startup (vs. a later stage startup).
In this interview, we cover:
- How Lokesh navigated to his current position at Urgently
- The problem Urgently is solving
- The pros and cons of joining startups at different stages
The conversation below has been edited for length and content.
Describe how you got to your current position at Urgently.
The incarnation of Urgently is roughly eight years old. I’m one of the co-founders. I’ve been running the engineering team and building out the platform since day one.
Prior to Urgently I worked on the engineering teams at various technology companies. I’ve worked at big companies like Comcast and VeriSign, small ones like Wireless Matrix, and some startups like Pervacio and FamilyArmor. But I’ve found a good home at Urgently.
What are you building at Urgently? What problem are you solving?
Urgently is a mobility assistance business. We provide a platform for complete assistance for stranded motorists to ease their anxiety. At Urgently, we often say that if it moves, it will break. And if it breaks, it will need assistance. That’s where we come in.
Urgently was conceived around 2013 when six of us came together and discussed what urgent problems we could solve. One of those problems was roadside assistance. Prior to 2013, you were on your own for getting help. If your car broke down on the side of the road, the first thing you did was pick up your phone and call your friends. If you couldn’t get through to them, you called your insurance company and the nice person on the other end would say, “We’ll take your details. Where are you? What do you see around you?” You’d give out the details and the person would say that somebody would come in about 60 minutes, but then you’d wait for 45 minutes and hear nothing. So you’d call again. Now you’re told that towing will definitely be there in 15 minutes. After 60 minutes of waiting, someone would finally show up, but you wonder if they’re the right person?
We thought about how that whole experience needed to change, and that’s where Urgently was born.
What are some of the pros and cons of joining startups at different stages?
One way to approach this is to build a risk-reward profile. At a late-stage startup, the risk is low but so is the reward. Early-stage startups, on the other hand, carry a high risk but offer high monetary rewards and ample opportunities for career growth and shaping the trajectory of the company.
You have to match your risk-reward profile to the stage of life of your company. If I covered my bills, then it makes sense to jump on a four-person startup because the lessons you will learn in a four-person startup will take you a long way in becoming a good developer, manager, and leader. A hundred-person startup provides better job security but a lower chance of receiving those lessons.
Is joining a four-person startup more demanding on your time than a hundred-person startup?
Generally speaking, yes. At a four-person startup, you end up becoming the part of the core team. And the core never stops. Even at later stage companies, the core team works much, much harder. So you have to be ready for those things.
You must also look at your life and take note of where you are. Everyone has this image of a startup with people living off pizza and soda and sleeping on a couch in the basement. To some extent, that image is true. In fact, you may not even be sleeping on a couch because likely you’re not really sleeping! You probably just doze off for a couple of hours here and there and then get back to work.
If you can tolerate this type of lifestyle for free years, and you are in the right market, your startup can go to some amazing places. But if you can not work those types of hours for family, health, or monetary reasons, then a four-person startup is not for you.
Can you tell us about the internal infrastructure and tech stack that Urgently is using?
Our architecture is based on microservices in the back-end and micro-apps in the front-end. The microservices that we have on the back-end are built on Java and Spring Boot and run on AWS cloud. The front-end is a mixture of AngularJS and React.
When we started in 2011-2012, Spring Boot didn’t exist. At the time, we had to choose between Spring with Java, Spring with C#, and Ruby on Rails. I had experience in all three of them, but we elected to use Spring with Java for a couple of reasons:
Most options in 2011 besides Java lacked stability. Around that time, Twitter ran on Rails and we heard issues with their site quite a lot. So I said, “You know what? We need something that is a little more stable.”
- Lack of Resources
As an early-stage startup, we needed to find team members who were affordable and dependable. In 2013, finding a Rails developer was $125 an hour while finding a Java developer was only $75 an hour. We did the math and chose to use Spring with Java.
Our architecture has served us well. We now have a mixture with Python and Node.js but the heavy usage is still Java and Spring Boot.