Culture

Top startups in India

Top startups in India: Three lessons on culture and team-building

1600 997 Olivia Wold

Ravi Venkatesan — in his analysis of some common threads between these top startups in India — said it best:

“Becoming a magnet for talent is a very strong predictor of eventual success for all companies and even more so for startups.”

Being the recruitment geeks we are, this got us wondering… what makes these top startups in India so good at attracting and retaining top talent? And what can other growing companies learn? Read on for the three lessons on culture and team-building that you can apply to your startup today:

  1. Craft an amazing employee experience

Even though access to the world’s most advanced technologies continues to become easier and cheaper, it feels like it’s harder than ever to find the right people to power your business. Add to that the fact that it’s often difficult for a scrappy startup to compete on salary with established industry players. How, then, have these upstarts been so successful at using their people as a competitive advantage?

An engaged workforce is a motivated and high-performing workforce. If there’s one thing that stood out to us across these top startups in India, it’s the care with which they craft their employees’ experiences. This means everything from obsessing over their onboarding (like Schbang’s potli of hope) to making sure employees are challenged and given room to grow every day, and to being deeply invested in employees’ physical health and wellbeing.

Every new joiner at Schbang is greeted with a ‘Knapsack of Hope’ (Photo Credit: @letsschbang)

2. Build a strong connection with the customer

Love your customers and they will love you back”, or so the conventional wisdom goes. Purposefully creating a direct connection between your team (regardless of seniority) and your end users not only helps keep your team’s ears to the ground but also creates empathy and ownership for the problems your customers face (which is ultimately why you are in business).

For example, all new employees at Dunzo — a Google-funded, online concierge services startup (and one of our clients!) — are required to complete a customer order to understand the nuances of the business firsthand. Similarly, Razorpay team members at every level are required to answer customer calls for 4 hours a month.

It may seem counterintuitive to have employees spend their precious time on such unscalable things when your primary goal is growing faster than your competition. But you need to look no further than companies like Amazon or AirBnB to realize that the world’s most customer-centric organizations are also the most innovative (and successful).

3. Create a business that solves real, everyday pain points

From working with over 200 companies across India and East Africa over the past few years, we’ve noticed ‘problem-solving ability’ to be a nearly universal requirement for any position employers look to hire for. It also happens to be the case that the brightest, most ambitious talent is attracted to companies that are committed to solving large problems in a unique way.

Mukesh Bansal led Cure.Fit is a stellar example of this, combining primary care clinics, yoga studios, no-equipment gyms, and food delivery into a one-stop healthcare platform (or, as Aviral Bhatnagar put it in his fantastic analysis of Cure.Fit’s business model, “a combination of Swiggy, Gold’s Gym, Baba Ramdev and Metropolis”).

It’s also no surprise to see Digit Insurance make the list of top startups in India given its bold mission to create simple and transparent products in an industry that is otherwise anything but simple or transparent.

At Shortlist, we’re always thinking about how we can help growing companies build happy, high-performing teams. Did you see any other big lessons we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks to Sneha Iyer, Olivia Wold, Doris Muigei, and Yvonne Kilonzo for their contributions to this post.

One Team: A Fifth Shortlist Value Enters the World

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By Paul Breloff, Simon Desjardins & Matt Schnuck

Our Kenya team, happy about our fifth value (or so we choose to believe).

A year ago, we wrote a blog about how Shortlist defined our values. It’s been fun to see the engagement with that blog, which has interestingly been our most popular one ever. We interpret this to mean that people really like stories about team culture & values — or people just happened to be Googling the term “swashbuckle” and stumbled on us.

So we thought we’d share an exciting development: We’ve added to our values!

Values, and the culture they help define, are living breathing things. Just as our team continues to grow, expand, change, move around… well, we wanted to create some space to revisit some of our basic building blocks and see if they’re keeping up.

And when we considered that, we decided: mostly, yes… but they were missing something.

Specifically, we wanted to call out the importance of team and collaboration a little more directly. We loved our existing values — but with a critical eye, we realized they came across as more individualistic than we’d like.. Own it; Act with intention; Find the adventure; Be a whole person. These are all things you can do just as well on your own, with or without a team.

In the time since we defined our values, we’ve seen how crucial it is to us to emphasize a team-centric spirit. We strive for the “we” rather than “I” in most things. We want people to act and believe that when the team wins, each individual wins.

This was brought home for us when we acquired Spire last year. While we brought the legal entities and office space together, we went through a parallel process of merging our team cultures and work-styles (see below white board). We realized how the values of both teams were more similar than different, and as a team we connected each team’s distinct values to a set of shared underlying principles and behaviors we could all get behind. With one exception: one of Spire’s value was “Generosity,” which was reinforced through mantras like “feedback is a gift” and practices like gratuitous fist bumping, which represented a generous burst of personal connection amidst otherwise busy days and personal agendas. We really liked that, and we wanted a little bit of that in our global Shortlist culture.

Epic work session merging Shortlist and Spire values…

To make the change, we learned a little bit from our last process: we made sure we pulled ideas from everyone, but ultimately took it upon ourselves as co-founders to define the actual words. We held three brainstorms across our offices in Nairobi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, collecting examples of what great team moments look like, what behaviors embody the teammates we want to be, and what sort of practices we want to avoid. We also collected different phrases or words or ideas that were particularly resonant for the team, and got lots of great ideas.

One of the brainstorms about being a great (and less great) team…

Then, the three of us co-founders combined individual journaling and co-drafting (hey, it worked last time!) to come up with the “new value.” We went back and forth, discussing what different words and phrases meant to us, and what behaviors we most wanted to enshrine and discourage. Ultimately we settled on the following:

One team. Teammates come first. Mood is infectious. Listen loudly. Feedback is a gift. “We” instead of “I”. When the team wins, we all win.

This captures so many different meanings for us. The idea that we’re “one team,” united by a vision, mission, and passion for unlocking professional potential, despite a variety of backgrounds, offices spanning three locations on two continents, and the dozens of individual life trajectories that have converged on the shared Shortlist adventure. These ideas orient us towards the credit-sharing “we” and away from the credit-hoarding “I.” They remind us that in our company (which we try to keep as flat and nonpolitical as possible), the best way to win individually is to help the team win. And they encourage us to think about feedback not as a critique, but as a gift from your colleague, who is giving it in the hopes of mutual growth.

Will this be the last change we make? Who knows, but probably not! But that’s all part of the adventure.

P.S. Curious to see the whole set of values? Search no more!

Own it. Be your best, even when no one is looking. High standards are contagious. Generate discipline. Drive for results. See the needful and do it.

Act with intention. Do the work to get clear. Buck convention. Big goals start with small steps; step with purpose.

Find the adventure. Changing the world should be fun. Inject romance into the everyday. Be bold. Dream loud. Swashbuckle.

Be a whole person. We’re more than our work. Seek balance and health. Learn from differences. Unlock your potential.

One team. Teammates come first. Mood is infectious. Listen loudly. Feedback is a gift. “We” instead of “I”. When the team wins, we all win.

 

 

The Power of Swashbuckle: How Shortlist Decided What’s Important

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By Paul Breloff, Simon Desjardins, Matt Schnuck (Shortlist Co-Founders)

At Shortlist, we pride ourselves on being a values-driven company and we love working with values-driven employers. To that end, we’re hosting (with our friends at Spire) what we expect to be a really cool breakfast gathering next Thursday June 8 in Nairobi — Defining and Living Your Company Culture. Check it out.

This event has caused us to reflect on our own values, where they came from and why they are important to us. The Shortlist values are:

Own it: Own yourself and your work. Don’t wait; see the needful and do it. Generate discipline. Drive for results.

Act with intention: Do the work to get clear. Buck convention. Big goals start with small steps; step with purpose.

Find the adventure: Changing the world should be fun. Inject spirit into the everyday. Be bold. Dream loud. Swashbuckle.

Be a whole person: We’re more than our work. Seek balance and health. Learn from differences. Unlock your potential.

(Side note: every time we write these, we kind of get the chills. We love our values.)

So where did these come from and what do they mean to us?

We followed a very deliberate process, and engaged in a series of open-ended brainstorms among our senior team, with the prompt, “What is important to us and what kind of company do we want to be?” Needless to say, a lot came up. We attempted, as a group, to give some form to the mush, organizing different ideas into thematic buckets and teasing out which ideas felt like personal preferences and which ideas felt core and embodied our aspirations for a durable cultural foundation.

At their best, company values are inspirational but must also be “real,” not simply aspirational. Company values should already exist within the team, and should be discovered more than invented. Values help us answer “Who are you at your best?,” not “Who do you want to be like when you grow up?” We believe our growing team would see right through any value we couldn’t embody (or at least try to) in real life on a day to day basis.

We co-founders believe that values must bubble up from the team, but ultimately be defined, lived, and breathed by our leadership, whose actions and decisions are often most visible and set the tone for the whole organization. As such, we did not try to settle on values statements through a polite process of lowest-common denominator appeasement among a broad leadership group. Instead, we took all the feedback away to come up with something opinionated on our own. Specifically, we headed off for a head-clearing weekend perched on a cliff above the ocean in Varkala, Kerala. (It was less fancy than it may seem, but not less awesome.)

Matt, Paul and Simon standing on the cliffs of Varkala, after our values brainstorm

While there, the three of us reflected on what’s important to us as individuals, what we heard from the team, and what we wanted to champion and enshrine for the future. We crafted ideas and words through a few rounds of solo journaling followed by group discussion, openly discussing what we liked and didn’t like about each other’s ideas.

We strove for boldness in articulation, and took blandness as the enemy. With each value, we framed it in a way that we could actually imagine a company with an opposing point of view. We’ve all been at companies with conventional values like “respect” and “integrity” — but really, who would ever not value those things?

For example, with “Own it,” we were responding to the fact that we did not want to foster a culture of obedience, hierarchy and blind rules-following. We wanted anyone on our team to feel empowered to see an opportunity and go for it. As leaders, we try hard to own our words, our actions, our personal and professional development. This also extends to apologizing and trying to improve when we screw up.

With “Act with intention,” we were responding in part to the Facebook ethos to “move fast and break things” — we would rather build a company that is thoughtful and intentional about the products we build, the employer/candidate relationships we cultivate, and the way we treat each other, even if there are occasional speed sacrifices.

With “Be a whole person,” we were responding to the intense, work-obsessed culture at SpaceX described by Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk biography (which all three of us happened to read that same weekend in Kerala), and other unhealthy work styles that can sometimes consume hardworking, disciplined individuals. Instead, we want to build a culture that acknowledges differences, encourages employees to find physical health and spiritual balance, and respects family and personal lives. We encourage team members to treat exercise classes as valid appointments on their calendars, to take a daily walk to clear their heads, or to work from home occasionally, believing these to be happier, healthier, and more productive ways to work.

We were particularly excited to use the word “swashbuckle” somewhere in these values, which we believe is one of the great yet under-used words in the English language, and rarely seen in its imperative verb form. The word prompted Matt to leave mid-brainstorm at one point and return sporting a new Indiana Jones-style fedora, purchased from a beach vendor, to make that particular “adventure” value real.

Matt (in his adventure fedora) and Simon in the middle of values-drafting

Once we returned to the office, we shared these values with the leadership team and then shortly after that with the full team in one of our monthly Town Halls. Our values are displayed as inspirational posters in our Bombay office (yes, the cliché “poster on the wall”) but we believe culture has to exist beyond motivational decorations, and instead define the way we run meetings, tackle new projects, support employers, and interact with each other every day. We also try to make the Shortlist values real and encourage their embodiment by calling people out in Town Hall “high fives” with value references, linking company decisions and priorities back to our values, and generally modeling them and keeping them top of mind across the team.

By no means do we have all the answers, and we continue to make this up as we go along. To that end, we’re eager to learn how other companies have thought about and approached this, and can’t wait to engage with you around this topic on June 8 in Nairobi!

 

Shortlister Spotlight: Meet Tilak, Software Engineer

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Meet Tilak!

At Shortlist, we love building our team almost as much as we love building yours! We have some pretty amazing people across our three offices who have a real passion for what they do and for the Shortlist mission.

The second installment of Shortlister Spotlights (a Q&A series to get to know some of our team members) stars Tilak, a Software Engineer in our Hyderabad office!

Tell us about what you do at Shortlist:

I’m a Software Engineer on our tech team. We are building an awesome platform for job-seekers to find their dream jobs and employers to help build their dream teams. In my job I do everything from fixing bugs on the website to developing a cool new feature or product.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be an F1 racer 🏁🚗 or dancer💃🏾.

So what led you to a career in technology, and what were you looking for in your next career step when you found Shortlist?

To be honest, I was taught from childhood be an engineer or a doctor. I knew that medicine is not my cup of coffee, so I went with engineering and did a Bachelors in Technology. I had heard a lot about startups — how you can learn a lot, be a part of great ideas and do a variety of projects instead of the same mundane tasks every day. I was looking for a startup which does its own product for a meaningful purpose and found Shortlist. I joined this family in August 2016.

What’s your favorite Shortlist memory?

I actually have a few favorite memories: One is when we launched the webportal for the first time back in October 2016, it was crazy time, and another is when we all pulled together in early 2017 for our biggest contract yet — hiring for a big four accounting firm.

A few months ago, four members of our team went on an adventure trip, where we did a motorcycle ride, rafting, hilltops, waterfalls and had an awesome time together.

Teams that play together stay together

What would you say is your professional superpower?

I am good with communications, be it professional or personal. I’m a good listener as well, ping me if you want to share something!

What are three words or phrases you would use to describe Team Shortlist?

“Cool,” “Rocks,” and “Explore Yourself.”

Tech team selfie 📷

Why is the Shortlist mission important to you?

When I was a job seeker before joining Shortlist, something that constantly bugged me and my friends is that employers might reject us based on a verbal interview or less, even before testing what abilities we have. We used to think, “Give us a problem and a chance and show if we can solve it or not… “Luckily our mission is to do this, taking employers from traditional resume search to competency based hiring.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I watch a lot of movies and series, play PC games, and hang out with friends and close ones.

What’s your favorite Shortlist value? (Learn more about our values here!)

OWN IT!!! I strongly believe in it personally.

We like to give high fives to recognize when our team members do something awesome. Now is your chance to make a public high five to a fellow Shortlister:

I have high-fives for two people: One is our CTO Sudheer, a true leader, always backing us and standing as wall in front of us. Second one is for Niranjan, “ROCKSTAR” for guiding me through every step I take (you could call him my guru).

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?

As a Game Of Thrones fan, I’m currently waiting for Season 8, and I’m also listening a lot to Linkin Park’s album “One More LIght.”

How is Shortlist different than other companies?

The tech team is a big surprise compared to other companies, the team here is so innovative and constantly staying ahead of new technologies and using them in our products.

Any final words?

CHALO KEEP ROCKING m/