On hiring with Kunal Bahl, Snapdeal, “We are looking for rawpassion and killer motivation”


Kunal Bahl, founder of Snapdeal (www.snapdeal.com), a daily deals site that has come to signify the coming of age of e-commerce in India, shares his perspective on building the company through people with YourStory.in. Snapdeal.com was started in February 2010 and offers discounts across lifestyle segments such as health & beauty, dining, travel and entertainment. It also offers discounts on products such as mobile phones, electronics, bags, watches, perfumes, and sunglasses.

Kunal earlier founded a detergent company in the US as he was in college, which is still in operation selling products to 3000 stores. He has worked with Microsoft and Deloitte Consulting before Snapdeal. He studied engineering at Pennsylvania and management at Wharton.

Kunal takes us through the DNA of Snapdeal, a vibrant workplace culture with openness that has attracted its customers as employees last quarter. He bets on raw passion and energy to begin with and later matures to a rigorous hiring practice, which is usually six rounds at the senior level. Right attitude to hiring matters and Snapdeal’s phenomenal success may be attributed to of its people. Snapdeal is growing big in terms of people too. Read on . . .

How big is your team?

Kunal: We’ll be about a 1000 people by the end of next month.

So, if you have to divide and give us percentages in these 1000 people between tech, marketing and sales, and others, what would that be?

We have a lot of teams. But, about a third of the company is in sales, talking to product and services vendors. We feature tens of thousands of local merchants, and tens of thousands of products. So we have a large team that is working towards getting a lot of these products and merchants on board. And there are a lot of associated functions such as content. Then, we have an online marketing, a brand marketing team, customer support, which is in-house and will always be in house for some time to come. We also have core functional teams like HR, admin, finance, accounts and about 10–15% of the company in an engineering role.

Is your logistics team also in-house?

We don’t do self-delivery. We leverage the capabilities and existing infrastructure of a logistics company to deliver our products.

Can you tell us how was it like hiring in early days? What were the challenges and how did you find the right kind of people? We are sure your networks must have helped to some extent.

Actually, we had absolutely no networks when we started. I and my co-founder Rohit were 24 when we started the company. We were almost right out of college ourselves, so we didn’t really have much of a network. But I think we always had an open mind. We knew absolutely nothing ourselves. And, in order to bear a successful business we needed to bring on board people who were smarter than us and who were as motivated as we are, but really know what they’re doing so that our learning curve wouldn’t be very steep that we would be making too many mistakes.

In a span of 2 years (we’ll be turning 2 in a couple of months), we’re soon going to be about a 1000 people. We started with 20. We made sure that our interview process was very stringent. Even today, for mid to senior level management and senior level team members, we do on an average 6 rounds of interviews. So, people need to be very smart if they want to work with us. They’re very motivated people.

So, first of all, open mindedness to people who are more capable than the founders on the board. Second is motivation. Third is, having the right culture. The average age in our company is around 24-and-a-half. We have a lot of experienced people with 15–17 years of experience in product management. So we have a good mix, but nonetheless, we’re still a young company. And for a lot of people in our company, this is their first or second job. And many of them come and tell us that working at Snapdeal is like going to college again and we’ve kind of created that kind of culture.

We work incredibly hard. We are 1000 incredibly hard workers in a very collaborative environment. There’s no other ingredient to a happy workplace.

What do you look for, probably three things that if you have to point out, in ideal candidates to work in a startup like yours?

I think we’re a little beyond the startup stage now. Thousand people is not really a startup anymore. But we still have startup DNA. And, we’re looking for is passion and attitude -- absolutely raw passion and killer attitude. Everything else you can pick up very quickly. We have enough training and modules and we ensure that it won’t be very long till you’re wrapped on a job.

Do you also do social recruiting?

Absolutely. Last quarter, 54% of the people who joined Snapdeal were Snapdeal customers. They joined Snapdeal because they were customers and really liked Snapdeal. I feel we’re able to create an experience so great for our individual customer that they start making professional life choices based on that. We have noticed that if there’s a very smart person working in a good company, either in India or abroad, and if he wants to come to Delhi, their first stop is Snapdeal. If you want to be in Delhi and you want to work in a path-breaking company, you’ll see that most people prefer to stop at Snapdeal. You need to be the first stop where the highest quality talent wants to work.

Are you planning to move out to other cities as well in terms of setting up teams?

We have people on the ground in 50 cities. We do hire people from Pune, Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Chennai. There are a lot of people from North India who want to move back to the North, to Delhi or somewhere. I would say half our engineering team is such people, who are working in Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, but want to move back to the North India.

Do you take any specific measures to retain talent?

It’s important to pay what is suitable, for someone’s talent and experience and that’s more of a hygiene factor. But you cannot retain people because of what you pay, but there’ll always be somebody else who’ll say I’ll pay 30% more. So we do not do that. We pay according to what a person’s caliber and experience warrants. However, ensuring that people have high-quality work environment, which includes quality infrastructure, quality peers, quality colleagues and quality work. And, open mindedness of your juniors, peers and seniors in the company, in addition to ensuring that the company is very transparent.

I think, after you go beyond about 150 or 200, then it’s almost impossible to remember everyone’s names, and I actually felt sad about that because we went from 20 to 1000 people in 20 months and at some level I never got the opportunity to know a lot of people. And I try my best to change that as much as I can. I try to interact with people beyond the first 150–200 people, but it’s tough. So, you try different things, conduct various events, team building exercises to ensure that you do interact with different teams that you otherwise wouldn’t interact with. We do a lot of internal knowledge transfer programs and also management training programs.

We may be the only company in India who lifts their entire management team on the website. Someone mentioned this to me a couple of weeks ago, which I never noticed it myself, that if you go to the ‘About Us’ page, most of the e-commerce companies in India, they basically founders. In our case, each and every senior management team member has their photographs and bio on the site because we appreciate that this company wasn’t built by us alone, we just started it.

Advertisements on TV and radio. Does this help in building trust? Do you see more and more people willing to work with you because of these advertisements?

It helps. e-commerce is still nascent, so a lot of people of our parent’s age still don’t know what all this is. Awareness is increasing though. Ads build a lot of peer prestige amongst people who work with us when their friends tell them that “You know, I saw your ad.”

Do you have any hiring plans for 2012?

We’re hiring about a 100 odd people a month and I think we’re going to continue that for at least 4–5 months and then we should be at a point where our team is mostly built out. We’re probably the most profitable e-commerce company in India.

We launched a product part of our personality about 4–5 months ago, and in a very short period of time it’s probably the largest lifestyle e-commerce site in India. We’re the largest retailers of watches, sunglasses, perfumes, jewelry, personal care products. The reason for that is that we choose the key levels. And it doesn’t mean that some other level is not a great level either. We know what levels work for our brands and our business and our customer base and that level for us. We ensure that we provide people the highest quality of products and services at the best prices.And as a company, we’ve made a lot of investments in our people, processes and technology in that direction. If you have to give three tips to startups that are looking to hire, what would you say for early stage companies like 6–7 months old...

Firstly, don’t go for too much experience earlier on, go for raw passion and energy and a willingness to learn, because there will be so much uncertainty in the beginning, and you don’t want someone who has settled their ways, the way things are done according to them, because if you are a startup you need to keep innovating in order to survive, so you need people who in their mindset are more malleable, Secondly, don’t overpay to attract talent because you don’t want such people. Thirdly, ensure you bring a culture of distributed or shared ownership in your business earlier own through stock options.