Team building

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.

Shortlister Spotlight: Meet Poonam, UI/ UX Designer

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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.

Meet Poonam!

The next installment of our Shortlister Spotlights (a Q&A series to get to know some of our team members) stars Poonam, a UI/UX Designer in our Mumbai office!

Who is Poonam? Given a chance, she would do anything to be taken to outer space. If you think she is lost, you will probably end up finding her in the deepest parts of the ocean exploring the mysterious marine life in an all-glass submarine. If this isn’t enough, then you should know that mimicking Gollum from Lord Of The Rings is her secret talent.

Read on to learn more about our creative, hardworking Poonam!


Hi Poonam! Tell us about what you do at Shortlist:

Besides making party hats and reinforcing good ergonomics, I help design and build empathy-driven products that empower employers and candidates to find the best job matches. All whilst trying to make them smile!

In this exhausting and tedious world of applying to jobs, I love that I can help build products that are delightful, empathetic and easy to use.

Fun times with the Shortlist family

What is your professional background, and what were you looking for in your next career step when you found Shortlist?

I have a background in fashion design (and so, strangely called P-Fash at work now) and spent close to 8 years working as a magazine stylist, a costume designer, a founder of a clothing label, a curator at a fashion week and a creative director for an innerwear brand. Was that enough? Guess not!

Last year I decided to venture into uncharted waters of digital product design and joined Shortlist as an intern to start my learning curve with strong mentorship and guidance. Little did I know I’d still be here today! Huge thank you to Rachel, Paul and Simon for giving me a shot.

What’s your favorite Shortlist value and why? (If you need a reminder, check out our blog post here!)

Hard to have a favorite- they’re all great values to live up to. I would although, give our newest value “One team” a special mention. A big part of the culture and what I’ve loved about our Shortlisters is the willingness to help and support each other and putting the team first.

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

👉🏼 ⚡️🙌

👉🏼 🚀🌈

👉🏼 🙃👻

#Stimulating #Growth #FUN

What’s your favorite Shortlist memory?

My first day at Shortlist. I was scheduled for meetings and was spoken to in two foreign languages- tech and recruitment. Do I remember anything from that day? NO. Where was I? From hemlines and buttonholes to handmade everything to fashion shows to designer boutiques and now to assessments and competencies to hiring to coding to bots!! Hello world!

My greatest reminder, day one.

What surprised you about working at Shortlist?

Shortlist is like being a part of a vibrant family. A family you work with, play with, you struggle with, prosper with. You share responsibilities with. You feel supported with. You do better with, think different with, think human with.

And amidst all, who always has your back.

Shortlist gives you the space to be who you are and contribute to your individual, unique ways. Every Shortlister contributes significantly to making this a more shared space, space more like home.

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

Reading Cyber Sexy and listening to KISS. Yikes, not sure how that sounds. And, playing LOTS of table tennis. Wait, you didn’t ask that.

What is your spirit animal?

Nudibranchs. Might be too slow to be my spirit animal, but boy, aren’t they fascinatingly beautiful?

Spot the odd one out

Anything else you want the world to know about you, Shortlist, our team? Your favorite playlist to work to? Inspirational quote? Favorite restaurant in Mumbai?

Mowgli days with some simple bare necessities 🎵

I like pineapple on my pizza,

But recently lost my dairy visa,

Sorbets and smoothies are the way to go,

Vegan, Gluten-free, Boring, and Ket-o

I love being in nature, Chlorophyll is my drug,

It’s like being given, a warm fuzzy hug

Dr. Seuss shows me all the places I’ll go,

And I continue my journey with a little disc-o,

Now give this a read as if you’re rapping,

And make it a song with some tapping!

Silly I know, but I like to rhyme,

If it lightens up your day, maybe it’s worth my time!


Thank you, Poonam! We’re so lucky to have you on Team Shortlist.

Did reading about Poonam’s experiences make you want to join our squad?

We’re hiring a Data Scientist (Mumbai or Hyderabad), Head of Product (Mumbai, Hyderabad, or Nairobi) and Recruitment Associate (Nairobi).

Apply today — we’re excited to hear from you!

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 Lotika, Senior Business Operations Manager

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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.

Today we’re kicking off Shortlister Spotlights, a Q&A series to get to know some of our team members. First up is Lotika Baruah, a Senior Business Operations Manager in our Mumbai office!

Tell us about what you do at Shortlist:

As part of the Operations team (or as we like to believe, the heart of the organization!) we work on matching the best candidates to the right positions. This includes a lot of micro-functions like client management, research, creating custom screening questions, assessment design, and eventually reviewing applicants to find the best shortlist of candidates for the role. We also work closely with the product teams to improve operational efficiency and create a fabulous candidate experience.

What is your professional background, and what were you looking for in your next career step when you found Shortlist?

I have a background in HR and have worked across different sectors to scale their HR functions. Ironically the thing I have had the least experience in, prior to joining Shortlist, was recruitment. I have a Masters in Organization Development.

What’s your professional superpower?

I am a good problem solver!

Why is the Shortlist mission important to you?

In countries like India there is no scarcity of skilled talent, and a simple search on Naukri for a sales guy will fetch you over 3 million hits. In situations like these people with good resumes or those that have worked for bigger and better brands have an unfair advantage and get selected often without an objective review process. This is why the Shortlist mission is important to me. It gives every candidate a fair shot by asking them to demonstrate a given skill set as opposed to simply stating it on their resume.

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

“Culture machine,” “fun,” and “always got my back.”

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am a crazy group games fanatic — Catan, Monopoly, Taboo, Heads Up, Mafia, Psych. It’s a safe outlet for the crazy competitor in me (though “safe” is using the word very loosely, if you ask my closest friends and family).

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

“Be a whole person.” I love the fact that a company is invested enough in your overall well-being (not just professional) to make it one of the core values. I live and embody this every day, and receive constant support from the team at Shortlist.

What’s your favorite Shortlist memory?

I have a ton of them. But my favorite so far is when all of us were working alongside the carpenters to get the office furniture in place. That was my first experience of living the startup dream!

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 a couple of high fives — the biggest will always be to Rishabh and Ben — for hiring me to be a part of the Shortlist story, even though I was far from the perfect candidate on paper.

Also to Kriti, for being a constant de-stress pill in office, be it with Bollywood trivia quizzes or all of the amazing ‘quotable quotes.’

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

I am currently thinking and dreaming Game of Thrones because of the latest season! I mostly read fiction, and I’m currently reading ‘If God Was a Banker’ by Ravi Subramanium.

Tell us about a candidate that inspired you:

There was a candidate that I had once shortlisted who was very different from the initial requirement shared by the client. However on speaking to him, he totally bowled me over with his application and performance over assessments. He is currently hired by the company and is responsible for an entire business unit. Candidates like him remind me of the Shortlist mission and what we are here to achieve.

How is Shortlist different than other companies?

You are the master of your own career here at Shortlist. If you want to do something, own it and get it done. With people in the team that are the best across their respective functions, the learning opportunity is massive. This is why Shortlist is different. You actually see yourself play a key role in building something big from scratch.