How should a growth stage startup react when an employee makes a public assault?

Hiring the right talent and building a team isn’t easy for a startup, irrespective of whether it is funded or bootstrapped. Entrepreneurs often lament the lack of talented people willing to work for startups. “Building a startup requires people with high levels of energy and passion for the business. The challenge is to find the ‘right’ kind of people and retain them to work in a high-growth environment,” says Sanjay Sethi, CEO, Shopclues. The Gurgaon-based company has grown from five to 500 member team within two years.

Building a culture that attracts a lot of talent and keeps up the growth momentum takes a lot of doing. The going becomes especially difficult when the team grows to more than 150-200 people. Not long ago, we had seen Zomato in a tight spot when Deepinder Goyal, CEO of Zomato, had to write a public blog when former employees made public their unpleasant experiences with the Info Edge-backed company. More recently, a controversy is brewing on Quora about Commonfloor. While we at Yourstory often write about fabulous workplace cultures across various companies, we also want to highlight few cases where there have been allegations by an employee.

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According to a discussion thread on Quora, the six-year-old startup, allegedly, has around six employees who happen to be relatives of the co-founders; which is not very common in professionally-run ventures. Replying to this accusation, Sumit Jain, one of the co-founders and CEO of the company, wrote on the thread, “Half a dozen family members out of a total workforce of 500 is not a disproportionately high number.”

An anonymous post which appears to be from the Commonfloor sales team alleged that the startup delays reimbursements like petrol allowance for over 40-50 days and imposes very strict guidelines for the employees inside the office. However, the management of Commonfloor dismissed these charges, according to the thread on Quora.

What’s the lesson for startups here?

Having relatives in the company isn’t wrong, but we hardly see five-six people holding key positions in a startup who are close relatives of promoters or founders. Commonfloor, if the allegations made by the employee are to be believed, has over six key positions held by the co-founders’ close relatives.

“Hiring relatives isn’t an issue if they fulfill the required skill-set for a particular function. However, absence of professionalism could lead to discrepancies in management,” points out angel investor Siddharth Talwar. As a startup grows in scale, the management’s task is to ensure that the ‘startup spirit’ continues to flow through the organization which includes maintaining a high-energy environment, transparency, open communication, and camaraderie among team members. Coordination and conflict of interest may become an issue as dealing with your near and dear ones is not as easy as with independent professionals.

Dealing with employee outbursts on social platforms

It is a common belief now that employees are the best brand ambassadors of an organization, but in an age where social networking is practised in real time, it’s difficult to differentiate between an employee’s private and corporate social networking. “This is relevant and critical because due to the increasingly real-time nature of social networks and ‘always on’ you never know which whatsapp message or tweet can harm your organization’s reputation,” said Saurabh Pandey, CEO of digital marketing firm dotConverse.

We decided to ask the question on Twitter and got some great responses. Key pointers include:

· Solve it offline, make sure you also address it online in due time and next time have social media policy in place, said Prasant Naidu of LHInsights (detailed thread here and here about forming social media policies).

· Kris Nair, a seasoned entrepreneur, says, “Listening and giving sincere comments on that matter is the key.” The founder should apologize if a mistake has been made, explain the scenario of ‘why’ and should keep sarcasm and anger away.

. Pravin Jadhav of Wishberg adds, “Usually accepting mistakes is the best solution.”

· Dhruv lakra of Mirakle Couriers suggests having an honest discussion about the outburst. “Make him/her understand the impact it can have on the brand/company,” he says.

These incidents are bound to happen with the rise of social media and it becomes important to share experiences from which others can learn. What are your thoughts? Do comment.

Update: An earlier version of this article mentioned that CommonFloor has 5-6 relatives of the co-founders in key positions at the startup. We’d like to clarify that the statement was an allegation by one of the employees (on the Quora thread). The management at CommonFloor has since clarified that this is not true.

Jai Vardhan

Jai Vardhan

Starting his career as a crime reporter with 'The Indian Express', Jai Vardhan is a storyteller, erstwhile entrepreneur and a habitual prankster. He is inclined towards entrepreneurship, philosophy and startups, not necessarily in that order. He likes connecting the dots, breaking news, nose and beliefs - ‘To wake up in life one must fall asleep’.