In the last of our 5-series blogpost on Blume founder Karthik Reddy’s conversation with Deepak Jayaraman on the Play to Potential podcast, Karthik shares his views on how ‘purpose’ plays a key role in building great teams, and how the best founders use this as the north star to inspire and motivate their teams. The full conversation is here.
I think what a good founder and good investors/board should constantly educate and monitor is, should we keep looking for good people? Even ahead of their time, so you don’t wait for inflection points, to perfection and it always becomes contentious is my view, so if you think XYZ and so you point around, is it around the funding milestones? Is it around revenue milestone? I wish it was so predictable only because the path of the startup itself is not become predictable in India, so then to try to build predictability around any of these is very very difficult. So I am not joking, I think I have noticed a lot of firms which go, either a funding or a revenue or a growth spike and then actually flatten out for a bit because you are figuring all this out.
…at some stage you say may be I should take care of the shop, look inward and then…
Board start saying what’s going on? Who is fixing this? Then suddenly you get a sales head and realize that the co-founder, is a great passion selling or not selling guy, terrible sales process guy, and so suddenly you realize that sales, just by just fixing it with one guy and bringing process it went 2x next year… something as subtle as that but that’s a lot of work, right? It took one year and six board meetings to convince the co-founder that he is just not correct. So my point is, there’s no milestone, it’s a continuum, so all I am saying is, as long as you have capital you can afford it, that’s the other challenge, how much money do you have in the bank? Which kinds of resources are you likely to pull, who in the market is interested in joining you? Is such talent even available? And they played the playbook that you are getting them to try and solve the playbook. So all of this is evolving as we speak. In 2011 these were like what are we talking about, boss? Lets just get to the next stage. In 2015 we were saying, guys, XYZ Freshdesk has a playbook in this. Dhruva has a playbook in this, in enterprise; in consumer three guys have built massive 100x scale in three years – Shopclues, Delhivery whatever etc. Let us go and talk to them; so we have a company called Dunzo; arguably it is like a pre-A company; they have raised about 2 million but it is like very tiny right? What is 2 million? Their hire is from Uber. Where was this guy five years ago? You would learn the job on your own, no? So I think it’s a combination of the founders themselves scaling and recognizing where they are not able to scale? Point A, and then the ecosystem giving you enough resources both in terms of capital and people and then the choice sets all come together; the answers emerge if the board and the driver and the founders are sleeping on the wheel, somebody along to take you or even miss the growth, the boost that you could have got, that’s the tradeoff, so that’s what I am saying now we have begun to realize that, you are going to be so damn conscious of this well in advance, so I am seeing that in one company recently, I introduced them to somebody who can be a power house, so that guy may not join them but I am opening five conversational paths to open up…
…seeding the thought, right?…
If you don’t do it now we won’t be able to find the right person one year from now, that guy might join in three months and we might be home but that’s like asking for miracles.
…. yes you are right and it’s just like, how you spoke about hiring for Blume, it’s a journey, it’s never a transaction over three months, it’s a journey of engagement and chemistry.
We have a company called Belong where Vijay is like obsessed about culture and fit and all that, and that fellow will do like due diligence on everybody, on every guy, on every employee, on every investor, because he wants… it’s a dream, it may or may not be as relevant in the end state but in his mind that’s the journey. So I wish everybody thought that way, it is not about filling spots, it’s about filling like…if you want to build a truly truly great company more of these ingredients I will place, the higher the probability; somebody can turn around and say I did it without all this bullshit but the point is you are reducing the odds and that’s all we are trying to do, always increase the odds.
What have you seen in terms of some of the good practice for entrepreneurs to scale up their leadership capability as the organizations scales up. What do good entrepreneurs do?
I think they inevitably take a year or two, but the best entrepreneurs start sharpening their….you know we used to joke about it in business school, what is vision, what is mission, it is almost disastrous we don’t have it in a startup, it is counterintuitive actually; the startup needs it more than the big organization. The big organization reflects it, in the scale to which it is already been built. You go and find some part of…let us say my last day job was with Times of India. You go and interview ten people (there), you figure out the vision mission for yourself,
It is distributed enough in the organization.
It is there, it might not be perfect but it will be 5 on 10 to 8 on 10 with everyone. In a startup if you don’t define that it can be 1 to 10, a founder thinks he gets all of it, somebody down the line doesn’t know. So one ability to articulate that, define that…and it goes back to purpose, what are you solving? What are you building? Because to me that attracts the best talent, that attracts the most missionary of team members and eventually the leadership that you might want for your company. If they are not married to the idea, and you are trying to hire them, then you better be like at a few hundred billion dollars of value, then somebody is coming for a job again. And so I found that the best founders actually, are able to win the best people from the market basis this, not simply throwing money, which if you had, (say) thrown money, then you fall into these traps of having built random organizations at random scale too rapidly without having any emotional connect with what you do. At first drop of some situations whether it is funding or whatever, all of them will run out of the door. I am coming up with empirical things on the fly but it is like if you are coming up with the need to negotiate everybody’s salary down by 20% 8 out of 10 times, it is probably a problem. That means he is coming for the salary, not for what you are selling. And I think that the best leaders I have seen have built on that formal premise, having this in place, and again all things which we, in HR courses used to laugh about, culture setting etc., can go so wrong so quick it is not funny, because the organization is a baby, right? It is like teaching cusswords to a child. It can go very wrong and it’s so fragile in that sense that if the leaders are not working around fixing that very early; sometimes you are not capable, you may be not confrontational, so you don’t talk about it.