Chapter 1, The Portfolio Chronicles

I knew Vijay was leaving Exotel. I also knew @webaficionado from Twitter, not in person back then, and that he had interned at a couple of Blume startups when he was still at BITS Pilani. And now, they were plotting something together. That was the first I heard of the storyline that’s come to be known as Belong.

Belong - logo

It all began with Vijay’s hyperreal energy at Exotel, in a marketing role. The excess energy spilt over to helping in hiring. And the next natural outcome of that was the Exotel culture code e-book that he published. It became clear to him (and others) that he was obsessed with the idea of setting culture at a startup. He also knew that it was easier to fit folks into an organizational family after having defined the culture beforehand rather than letting the wrong family members define it once hired. I think his flings with Practo and Exotel out of college will always stay with him, but the possibility of building solutions to a problem, that is so fundamental to most of our adult lives, was too much of a draw for Vijay.

Like the ingredients of most great startups, there were two fundamentals falling in place here. The first was a young leadership team that knew no boundaries, no fear; no notions of plan B, no room for a word called failure in their vocabulary. It’s a great starting point for a transformational startup – not to have a defined end point. The second was that the problem definition was staggering. Most human beings are spending most of their adult lives designing their existence around “work”, but most of them are unable to decipher the language of corporate culture and what it means to check into it at different places, a few years at a time.

Is there a Yash Raj (one of India’s most acclaimed romantic film makers) romance moment for “work” as well? Loosely translated, one of the soppy romantic dialogues in his megahit movie goes “Somewhere, someone has been made for me; and someday I will definitely meet him/her” – the same rule for a life partner and long-time friends should apply to workplaces too.

Dataemo was started in 2014 around that simple thought: Data + Emotions – can we use Data about a person and an org culture and bring an Emotional connect between the two. It was inevitable that the founders would iterate through the name and also arrive eventually at a winning revenue/business model. But the mission was always clear and consistent: we are talking about falling in love here, with one’s workplace. Once the clarity emerged in the product, it was imperative that the starting point was an emotional connect, couple with a high trust quotient. The name had to connote this emotion of Belonging. Country, language, community friends and family all evoke this strong bond. The absence of Belonging is what leaves people dejected with their lives.

So, how about work? How do most people consign themselves to drudgery? Isn’t everyone entitled to loving what he or she chooses to do with most of his or her day?

It’s easy to say that someone sucks at the job. Or to have a one-size-fits-all selection process that leads to a huge wastage of time and resources on both sides of the hiring equation. How many people are focused on building an identifiable culture as founders/CEO’s of companies and how many employees are capable of navigating through these culture codes, and finding their right employer “partner” in life. Li & Fung’s (a leading HK-based supply chain and brands company) current Chairman said to one of his corporate generals – “its easy to say that person X is bad at his job, but its usually just that he’s at the wrong job”. Once you’ve found a culture fit, it’s easier to find a “job” fit or role fit (of course, with the basic assumption that such roles are required by the firm in the first place).

Belong embodies this obsession around work and culture and fitting in. The firm’s founders, its next level leadership, and the rank and file – all drink the same brand of Cola that they’re making for their customers – they use their own product to identify their future family and add to the team. Every time I go in to visit them, whether its in the board room or outside of it, you can sense that there is a belief that runs strong through every corridor and desk – that they’re building something transformational and that they are respected for being there, for Belonging.

Belong is a Blume portfolio company. Recruiting and managing one’s most precious resources – people – with care and respect has innumerable elements that need fixing – not just in India, but globally. And at Blume, we are believers in a number of such companies attempting to help fix these problems – Mettl, Greytip, IDfy, to name a few.

Investment announced: 2015 (Blume Fund IA)
Co-Investors: Matrix Partners, prominent individual angels

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