Engineer #1: Daanish Mazhar, Gordian Software (YC W19)

See the full article at
Y Combinator blog
October 20, 2020
Daanish Mazhar was the first engineer at Gordian Software. With a background in mobile development, Daanish learned Python on the job, and even transitioned to a more hybrid product/engineering role. Learn more about his experience and what he enjoys about working at a startup below.
Engineer #1: Daanish Mazhar, Gordian Software (YC W19)
Ryan: So how did you even find Gordian Software?

I was pretty intent on working at a startup, and I wanted to gain experience before starting my own company. I’ve been coding since I was 10, watching YC videos at 15, and constantly playing with my own ideas. I started a company that did checkoutless cashiers a few years ago, and did another with HIPAA-compliant messaging in Canada.

For my job search, I figured there wasn’t a better place to start than Y Combinator. All the companies are vetted for product and founders, and I knew I’d shortcut a lot of issues some startups have around product market fit.

When I started my search, I think I literally searched for “YC startup jobs”, and that’s where I found Work at a Startup. I jumped on and just applied immediately.

Ryan: And what was it like?

It was really different. First off, it was focused more on my profile and specifically what I wanted from a startup. It had questions about what projects I was proud of and what I hoped to do at a startup. It gave me a chance to stand out and say succinctly what I found interesting about each company.

Also, after I applied to 5 or so companies, the actual founders reached out — so I got to interview with them directly. That was a great experience, and gave me tons of insight into who I’d be working with, and why they were so passionate about their company.

Ryan: So what stood out about Gordian?

Definitely the founding team. When Stephen and Joe interviewed me, it was really unique: it was more of a conversation, and at one point, they asked me to interview them. I got to learn how they saw themselves growing, how they felt their business should scale, and I realized that I really resonated with their approach. They want Gordian to grow strong revenue, and build a real company with solid financials. They’ve stuck to that so far, and it’s working.

Ryan: And have you learned a ton about the airline industry since starting?

Oh, yeah. The airline industry has a lot of inefficiencies. There’s so much operational debt in working with airlines, from seats, luggage, meals, boarding and making changes. And Gordian helps solve a lot of those problems — it’s a simple and elegant API to help manage flight bookings and ancillaries so much better. Some OTAs use the API directly and we also built a React widget for OTAs who wanted to get to market so quickly they didn’t have time to write their own UI. Either way, we’re building software that makes travel better for every single person who flies.

And looking to the future, there’s a tremendous opportunity to dictate how the industry will be run. We’re able to have that impact by working with direct connections through both the airlines and consolidators. It’s practically a drop-in solution for so many of our customers, it’s a no-brainer for them. And it’s such a massive space, it feels like we’re onto something huge.

Ryan: And what does that mean for your day-to-day?

Airlines themselves operate at tremendous scale, so we need to build APIs that are equally scalable. We also make sure our stuff is compatible with every airline and their platforms and APIs, so our platform has to be very versatile. To me, it’s meant learning a ton about databases — ingesting so much data that I’ve been forced to be an expert on scalable models in SQL.

I also spend a lot of time with our customers — I currently lead all our integrations, or about 10 airline APIs at any given time. I get on calls with the head of airline eng teams pretty regularly, something I wouldn’t have imagined I’d be doing so early in my career. But I like getting to know our partners and working directly with them. It keeps me closer to the business — revenue opportunities, product features, expansion — and that’s what I like the most.

Ryan: It sounds like a lot more than just engineering.

The work I do is kind of like a hybrid product/engineering role, where I get to deeply understand the similarities and differences between each airline and their platform, and then have to deliver a solution that solves all the variables of the equation efficiently and elegantly. When we get it right, it’s incredibly satisfying.

At the same time, Stephen has been great about working with me to build my product skills and intuition. He’s nudged me to be more product-oriented, and to get in front of customers to understand their pains and how we can truly help them. It’s been huge — to have a place where I’m given ownership and big opportunities to step up, deliver and learn.

Stephen and Joe
Stephen and Joe
Ryan: And you’ve been there for over a year now. Has it been what Stephen and the team said it’d be?

We’ve talked about my interest in starting a YC company some day, and he actively works to help me. He points out areas where I can improve — both in technology and in business. He’s given me great mentorship on the product side. And he even shares with us how he thinks about team building — communication, planning, painting a vision, and more. All these things have been incredibly insightful, and work to build my own intuition for both product and business.

I came in wanting to sharpen my technical skills and learn how to build my own startup, and on both fronts I’m further along than I could have imagined. And when I start my own thing, I’m sure I’ll rely on a lot of what I’ve learned here. But for right now, I’m focused on building Gordian, and we’re just getting started.