When Mike Shebat met his co-founder Akshay Buddiga in the introductory session of the On Deck Founders program, they made an immediate impression on one another. “We have extreme alignment in values and vision,” Mike said. For Akshay, the feeling was mutual, and they began building Traba right then. The two now work together in person every day from their Miami offices and are opening a NYC office as well.
Traba aims to revolutionize the light staffing industry by providing reliable, on-demand workers to manufacturing employers– emphasizing choice, flexibility, and transparency. For Mike and Akshay, success looks like building a company that empowers millions of workers and businesses globally, and a high-performance team that executes seamlessly towards big goals. Read on to learn
What was your first impression of one another?
Akshay: The weekend before ODF8 started, I was going through all the intro messages from the cohort. My girlfriend stopped by and read a few over my shoulder. When I got to Mike's, she said, "you should definitely talk to this guy. He's a winner." I said, "Whoa, slow down, there are so many talented people here. I'll talk to him, but I'll meet other people too." Two days later, I ended up meeting Mike in one of the icebreaker sessions during virtual orientation. We hit it off immediately, and my first impression was that Mike had a gift for inspiring people with his vision for Traba. This is an essential quality for recruiting and motivating a strong team that can win, and I was excited to work with him more and see where it led.
Mike: When I met Akshay, I immediately knew he was the smartest person in the program and I wanted to get to know him further. He had experience at Zenefits, a company that disrupted the old-school benefits industry, which is a similar dynamic within the staffing industry that Traba is disrupting. Akshay was a Senior Engineering Manager at Fanatics so he came with the experience necessary to become a great CTO.
How did you know your co-founder was “the one”?
Akshay: We individually completed a very extensive co-founder dating questionnaire and then discussed our answers to each question in depth over the course of a few days. We really went deep on our values, goals, strengths and weaknesses, how we handled conflict and stress, and why we wanted to start a company. My conviction that we were a great match was solidified from these conversations, as well as working together to build the early product during a hackathon weekend, and driving around Miami meeting prospective customers and workers. We worked really well together and had complementary strengths.
What are your co-founder’s strengths?
Akshay: Building and instilling culture and values. This isn’t something I had thought too much about before we started outside of an intellectual sense—I’d read plenty about why culture is important, and had seen in my past experiences where culture led to winning and, conversely, where it led things going off track. But actually starting a company and building a culture from zero is, of course, a different challenge. We were very intentional about setting our cultural values from the beginning before we made a single hire.
I remember sitting with Mike in the Founders Fund offices a week after our seed check cleared, revisiting our values alignment from our co-founder dating process to write Traba’s cultural values (that were authentic to us) for the first time. - Akshay
Since then, I’ve seen Mike keep culture top of mind at all times as CEO — during hiring, onboarding, evaluating team performance, and when we think about organizational structure. It’s helped us build a very aligned team as we’ve grown.
Mike: Akshay is efficient and resourceful. This has empowered him to run the product side of the business with extremely high velocity. In most instances, Akshay has likely already thought about what’s around the corner and how all the pieces tie together. He understands the business side of the company as well, which empowers him to be a great CTO and partner. Startups move fast, so we’re both aware that we need to have a growth mindset as we tackle challenges we haven't had before. In these instances, Akshay will find materials or talk to others in order to find the best answer quickly.
What were your expectations of the co-founder relationship?
Akshay: We expected it to be like a marriage in a lot of ways, and I think it is (although we’re not married yet though, so we can’t say for sure!). Trust, communication, division of responsibilities, recognizing each other’s strengths, and acknowledging your own blind spots are all very important. Being able to manage inevitable disagreements and stress is also key. We are very open and honest with each other and communicate directly in disagreements, which I think has really helped build trust even (and probably especially) when it’s a contentious topic. The biggest benefit has been not going through the founder journey alone.
Do you have advice for founders looking for a co-founder?
Akshay: Having a co-founder certainly helps in a lot of ways if you're working with the right partner. In terms of advice, I would first spend some time in self-reflection: What are your strengths? Your weaknesses? What areas would a complementary skillset help? What do you value, and what are your goals for the company? You want to find someone who’s aligned in these ways, and also is a good complementary fit for you in communication style and someone you like working with.
Mike: I originally thought that a co-founder wasn’t necessary but now that I’ve been through the initial phases of company-building, I would definitely recommend having a co-founder. Startups are not easy, at all, and you will want to have someone in the trenches with you during the hard times. You also want to have someone there to hold you accountable and empower you to be the best you can be. They’ll understand it all because they're there with you all the time!
How have your roles evolved past the functionally critical roles you did early on? What has that meant for your working relationships?
Akshay: Early on, we were hands-on building product and meeting customers. There wasn’t much time or need for management overhead. As the team has grown and we’ve hired leaders for different functions, there is more of a need to focus on managing towards our targets, communication and cross-functional alignment, and (of course) recruiting. Mike and I stay in sync with each other and our leads in all of these areas to ensure we are making progress and maintaining velocity as an organization. Thinking about organizational structure, culture, and communication have all become more important areas of focus as we’ve grown.
Why are you two the right people to solve this particular problem?
Akshay: We think we have a unique background and perspective to tackle this problem of connecting workers and light industrial businesses for flexible work opportunities. Mike is an expert in launching and building marketplaces from his time at Uber, and has experienced the problems in the space firsthand from his time managing warehousing staffing relationships at McMaster-Carr.
Mike: On Akshay’s end, he’s seen the massive impact an innovative product can make in a slow-moving, low-tech space from his time working at Zenefits. We have a lot of ideas for how we can help our customers and workers unlock new levels of productivity and improve their earning potential, and we’re just getting started. Our company lives and breathes the culture that will increase the likelihood of success: Dream Big, Olympian’s Work Ethic, Growth Mindset, and Customer Obsession.
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