Tete-a-Tete with Nishant Rao, Country Manager LinkedIn India


Nishant Rao is the young leader at the helm of LinkedIn India. He took over as the country operations earlier this year. India is an important market for LinkedIn having surpassed the 20 million-user mark this year, and is the second largest market for the networking site behind the US. What does it mean for Nishant’s leadership? We find out in a freewheeling chat at the sidelines of the Asian Business Angel Forum hosted by Mumbai Angels.


Leadership mantra for LinkedIn India

Leadership is about inspiring talent to achieve things that they probably would not have thought possible. In a nutshell, it is about hiring the best talent, it is about giving them the space and empowering them to dream, and then holding them accountable for those dreams. I am constantly thinking about how best to bring that proposition here, considering that in India the management styles have been different when compared to the US. I am trying to find the right balance between these two different styles. I am trying to figure this out myself over time. If you look at the Indian talent they are very passionate, they are very young, they are very eager to learn and they work very hard. It is about channeling them.

One of the things I am focussed on right now is identifying where do we want to be, and our talent can come in and contribute to how to go about achieving our big goals. One of our core values is to “Take Intelligent Risks”. We want to take risks, but we also want them to be intelligent bets. It is about bringing that mind-set here, and encouraging people to take risks.

Learnings from India journey

My biggest learnings have been -

1. If you don’t know where you want to be, it is hard to hold people accountable for dreaming big, and that is what I am trying to do now. What is India’s role in the broader company strategy? What should our goals be on the consumer side and the business side? The first thing we are saying is let us set up some yardsticks and then measure our success.

2. Another learning has been that India has very young talent, they are incredibly talented and passionate, but they still need moulding. In addition to talent acquisition we are investing heavily in talent management. In India this is extremely important. In India you can’t just go on the road and hire someone with grey hair who has done stuff 5 times before, also because 50% of our population is under 30. Reed, our founder, has written a book called The Startup of You, and he says “don’t ask the company in two years what’s next for me, you tell me what’s next for you based on what your dreams are and what you think your skills are.” Putting some talent management tools to make this process seamless was one of the learnings I had.

3. The next learning is enabling people to dream. Our global playbook has worked quite well for us and continues to. But each market is so different. In the US, the attrition rates are 3-4%, while in India they are 30-40%. How do you solve these unique local problems? is something that I am thinking about.

LinkedIn India users

Our growth in India has been amazing. People are just starting to see the full-value of the platform, it will take sometime, but I am starting to see the tipping point. Instead of seeing it as a platform where you maintain your identity, people of seeing value from the platform consistently whether it is through the insights we are delivering, or through our address book, or through the contact intro feature. In consumer internet you rely on product virality rather than on marketing, going on TV etc. Soon we will have many people realize the full potential of the platform here in India. We are working on various ways to take that message to our users in India.

Business in India

The adoption from a business perspective has been phenomenal. We are seeing high growth for both our businesses, talent solutions as well as marketing solutions. People are slowly but surely realizing that we are playing a quality game. If you look at hiring, marketing and selling, it has always been a quantity game so far. I have 1000 resumes, hopefully I will find the two people that matter. You have one-way advertizing, the commercial is same for everyone whether you are an engineer or a sales-guy. The quantity game is the way of the past. Now it is going to be a quality game. For example, if you are a company, now you can look at just 50 resumes to find the two people that matter. From a content perspective, we show you different content based on whether you are an engineer or a business development person. From a cold-calling perspective, can you call the 50 people that matter instead of calling 1000 people who don’t? That is the game we are trying to play. We are trying to invert the way companies work. To our credit, India is getting it. In fact, employer branding is also picking up big time in India. Companies are realizing that they have to be available for the talent that is reaching to them, instead of just going out on a search. From the marketing solutions, apart from Display, we are seeing uptake in some other areas as well. Like we had these API deals with Tourism Australia, we had a deal with Van Huesen to identify best dressed professional etc. People are realizing that there is so much more to the platform that just recruiter search or display, and that is really exciting for me. People are getting this early. We are still a couple of years behind the developed markets in terms of how people are seeing the full-value of the platform, but we are getting there faster than expected.

The new age marketerInitially,marketing has been about a funnel model, wherein we start with the many and then go to the few who are interested in what you say. But what we are doing is the reverse. We are saying, start with the few who really really care about you, and then go to the many. Hubspot is a company that helps other companies be effective in their marketing. They are seeing over 300% more conversion for themselves via LinkedIn.

Marketers are used to seeing the number of clicks or visits so far. But it is important to marketers to understand the quality vs quantity game. We tend to measure success by what we have seen in the past. Mindset shifts will always take time, and we see that happening.

Authors I read

Jim Collins is someone I really like for Good to Great and Built to Last. Both these books have been great reads. Ravi Venkatesan’s new book Conquering the Chaos has been a great read in terms of understanding the Indian customers psyche. Steven Cohey is very good, because as a professional you are always trying to up your game. There are all these management books that are really useful depending on what you are looking for.

I however constantly go back to fiction. I look forward to Jeffrey Archer. It is always important to get that release from time to time.

Advice to Indian consumer tech entrepreneurs

I set up one of the first few BPOs in India back in 2000. I do understand what it takes to be an entrepreneur in India. My only advice to entrepreneurs in consumer internet is that, in our industry, incremental changes matter a lot. If you change something and if it improves user experience by even 5 percent, it could mean gaining millions of new users. Keep iterating, and iterate fast and often. That is one message I want to leave Indian entrepreneurs with.