Amar Goel, CEO, Komli
Deep Kalra, CEO, Makemytrip
Kunal Bahl, CEO, Snap Deal
The young achievers, in conversation with Shireen Bhan, Managing Editor, CNBC TV 18
Question posed to Amar Goel
#You started your first company at the age of 19, the second one at 30, and now at 38, how different does the world look like?
In youth, money, is given an inordinate degree of importance, but later it slowly dawns upon us that it is really “time,” that is the most important asset that we have. Kunal had mentioned earlier that the real wish in all of us is to create impact. Eventually, it boils down to family and whether one has been able to bring about change in a chosen domain.
He named some inspirational figures : Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell. Interactions with these people have left a profound and indelible mark.
One gets left behind, only if chances bestowed by life to do things differently are constantly ignored. One has to be able to spot them and subsequently work on them.
In popular media, there are stories abound on the upside of entrepreneurship, but what does not get reported with as much fervour for obvious fear of drawing flak, is the downside. The fear of failure looms large, but Amar is seen to be constantly encouraging employees to try out new ideas, shed the fear of failure and the ignominy attached.
#Art of sacrifice….
Entrepreneurs make that all the while. They have to keep letting go. Simple, as it may sound, but very few are able to actually do it – to simply let go.
#What’s the challenge when product lifecycles are shrinking… when you started Makemytrip, things were different?
If 2-3 individuals have a common belief, the group rallies around and is able to give it full dedication. The pace hastened with internet, but with mobile, it’s like running on a treadmill and it is not going to slow down.
Sometimes he is made to feel quaint, because he believes the quality of current entrepreneurs, is way superior. When he graduated, companies to look up to were, the Infosys’ of the world, run by people in their 40s & 50s. Today we draw inspiration from people who are in their 20s and 30s. The maturity curve has been really impressive.
#How do the young and the not-so-young cope up?
Competition is about speed, the rate at which it is happening and the quality of entrepreneurs who are central to it.
Zomato takes in 20 new hires, pays for their travel and sends them off to London to get more listings than there ever was, and yet they achieve it… its crazy, the speed of things!
#Is Valuation is a proxy for progress ?
Private space is raising eyebrows. There is a scarcity of really great companies. A lot of it is about betting for the future. There are 2-3 big investors who are writing cheques. Companies like Snapdeal, Flipkart, Ola are quite different from rest… Zomato as well… they are the ones who are going to enjoy this premium. It feels awesome to have a valuation of a billion dollars.
Is the pressure just as much to be listed? Public markets are far deeper and closer to perfect markets, and the valuations are more real.
Kunal Bahl, Snapdeal
#What gave you the confidence to build a tech company and not an e-commerce company?
When he started out, the only idea was to work together, hang out, and build a company that moves the needle and does something meaningful. Eventually, it was all about creating an impact.
He gave the example of Online Coupon biz which was not going to scale up to eternity and may have fallen like a pack of cards. But, part of building biz is about taking hard decisions. The difficult part is about galvanizing the team, but eventually it paid off.
What Kunal said of Deep. “Someone like you with experience and with no strings attached, spent so much time with us, who had nothing to offer when we started.” “You have to find your own mentors, who will offer give good advice about your organiation. I would often go to Deep and find his organisation to be the best run tech company in India.”
#IPO any time soon?
Kunal: Right now, we are focused on the long term. In his own words, they have currently built only 1% of what they want to eventually build for buyers and suppliers…(Deep adds – advantages of being private players are far higher…)
#Building blocks of growth
Kunal: it’s about People. You do not necessarily need building & machinery for this. One must have the maturity to give people headroom to grow. Or, to bring in the right senior team members who can help you to grow. Have fewer people, but talent as far as possible should be world-class.
Deep – when he finds good colleagues, he is able to “lock in” that is how he made 3 good friends his co- founders. He says he is open to taking in good talent. Working with good competent people is a learning process in itself. And, of course there are seniors from the past to fall back upon. At Genpact, ABN Amro and others. Try and put yourself in their shoes, Deep says, and work out how they may react to a particular situation.
#Selling out vs… keep going on your own?
Kunal: In the beginning it is the joy of survival, which later gets superceded by the euphoria of growth, which gives in to super growth and the machinery keeps going. It’s difficult at times to identify one constant vision, he says. Vision of Snapdeal in 2015: 1 mn successful online entrepreneurs in India in 10 yrs. Once that is achieved anytime soon, the goal post would have shifted.
#Scale of aspiration has it changed for you, at Makemytrip?
Millions of people are becoming customers these days. The vision is to make more Indians travel, perhaps under one or multi-brand with two clicks from a smartphone.
It is hugely satisfying to see people go no further beyond the brand, irrespective of what they want to do in terms of travel.
#large mega acquisitions on the cards?
Deep: It’s perhaps easier to acquire, but it’s so hard to integrate, assimilate and digest. Having done 4-5 small-med acquisitions, he can vouch for, that it takes a lot. He is clear that he will acquire only if he is convinced on the quality of the team. There cannot be any compromise on that.
Kunal: He believes they are on a different track.. the focus is on building the platform quickly, but there are so many vectors of innovation, that what’s going to kill us, is something that doesn’t necessarily exist today. So all ears to the ground and eyes on the market. Some acquisitions may be announced soon.
Amar: Lot depends on the culture that exists in the target company. If the culture is different, then acquisition can become a challenge.
#Biggest challenge to Snapdeal
Making the team feel a sense of purpose in what we do. Not only today, but even 5 years from now. This constant re-enforcement is by far the biggest challenge.
#What keeps you up at night?
Deep – Complacency. That’s my KRA, that we don’t become complacent. To remain relevant, nimble, agile…
#How do you continue to remain agile?
Amar: The CEO of Intel once famously said, only the paranoids survive. It’s a daily battle. Everyday, if you don’t keep pushing you becoming irrelevant…
When you are in consumer biz, you need to be clear what kind of experience you want to create.. but when you push boundaries enough, people do get offended.. yet you don’t shy away..thoughts?
#Challenge of managing growth – that is a genuine fear for entrepreneurs … how do you deal with that and yet not disappoint customers…
Kunal – you have to come to work every day and care about customers… if there are customers, concerns are inevitable. 99% of these concerns will be genuine and we try and give benefit of doubt to them. At the end of the day, companies are run by humans only…
#You need to push the boundaries… but how hard do you push? So it doesn’t harm the company?
Deep: It has to come from within, that I have to make it up with a customer who has a justified complaint. I try and read each complaint and get bothered enough to seek a solution. It has to be in a programmed manner… Need to invest in the backend as much as in the frontend… so you get close to 4 sigma 5 sigma… yes, it is hard sometimes. But we feel the same way as the customers… (Lighter vein) rather than writing to the CEO it’s better to write on social media these days… they get to the company much faster…