The story of multi-millionaire Ambur Iyyappa: Flipkart's first employee who was once a delivery boyThink Change India
Around 12 years ago, Ambur Iyyappa was working as a delivery boy with a courier company. Now, courtesy of ecommerce major Flipkart, he is a multi-millionaire. How he went about transforming his own journey from rags to riches is something everyone should know about.
Iyyappa was born and brought up in Ambur, a small town in Vellore district of Tamil Nadu. He started off by working with Ashok Leyland, the automotive manufacturer, in Hosur after having acquired a diploma in Ambur. He then shifted to Hindustan Motors for a while and later moved to Bengaluru to work with the courier company First Flight Couriers as a delivery boy. He got a quick hang of things at the workplace, and in a jiffy learnt about the basic operations of a courier company. He had a tenure of four years and by the end of it, was heading the entire incoming mail logistics section for South Bengaluru.
First Flight Couriers then collaborated with Flipkart, which had just entered the ecommerce market. One of the employees at the former intimated Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal about Iyyappa. The duo was looking for an in-house logistics manager for their then-upcoming startup Flipkart. That was how Iyyappa was hired as Flipkart's first employee. Iyyappa, not having received an official offer letter from Flipkart because the company did not have any department for human resources, trusted his gut and joined the startup.
Sachin Bansal, in a testimonial on Flipkart's stories section, said,
We were not looking for much. All we wanted was a person who could speak some English and use a computer. Iyyappa was out of a job and had no prospects. He came at a very low salary of about Rs 8,000.
Iyyappa faced plenty of challenges in the beginning when the company was working with about 10-12 big publishers in Bengaluru and making around 100 shipments a day. With time, he got so knowledgeable about what was happening at Flipkart, that he received the tag of 'Human ERP' by his bosses. Being a stakeholder in the company's shares himself initially, Iyyapa sold them and made quite some money in 2009.
Binny Bansal, according to Flipkart Stories, said,
He was our human ERP until we reached 1,000 orders a day. Iyyappa would know exactly which books were pending to be bought, which customers were waiting for delivery, etc. When a customer called, he would know exactly what was happening with his or her order without looking at the systems. He had also found an effective way of pasting all this order information into Gmail and using that as an ERP/servicing search engine for orders!
On this day, Iyyappa's designation is Associate Director for Customer Experience Management at Flipkart. He makes Rs 6 lakh and still chooses to use his Suzuki Access 125 scooter for commuting and lives in the same house his family has been living in for the last 10 years.
Being the humble man he is, Iyyappa once wrote a blog for Times of India and this is what he said in it:
When I walked into Flipkart's makeshift office on a sunny April morning in 2008 looking for a job that would meet my simple necessities, little did I know my life was about to transform. Two young men in ordinary clothes, Sachin and Binny, greeted me and the meeting got underway. At that time, I didn't know I was going to be the first employee of a company that would eventually redefine commerce in India. Or that I would still be around to celebrate Flipkart's 10th anniversary in 2017.
I was nervous and with good reason. All my experience until then was on the operations side of a logistics company and here I was interviewing with an online seller of books. E-commerce was at that time a relatively new industry. Was I in for a monumental failure?
Many companies run with this tag line. And why not? It is attractive. But how do you live it? At Flipkart, customer delight was and still is the single most important driver. Much before today's well-defined policies for returns or replacement, Sachin, Binny and I had to tackle complaints of a missing CD that should have come with a book, or torn pages inside or something else, and fix the issue. That customer-centricity is still the way Flipkart operates.
I still remember how Sachin, Binny, and I would debate ways to improve our supply chain in those early days. My ideas were seldom different from theirs. While their opinions prevailed at times, mine topped on other occasions. The important thing was that I could speak freely. That sense of inclusion, mutual respect, and valuing differences has stuck to this day. It's something we ought to live with in our family and people around us in our daily lives. Not everyone will think alike.
On a personal level, this was perhaps the single-most important lesson—that it's not enough to have great ideas. What's important is to execute them with urgency. Flipkart operates in one of the most competitive markets in India. So we don't have the luxury of ideating endlessly. Sure, there were mistakes. We sometimes went too soon into a category and had to withdraw. But we learnt from them and emerged stronger. That's how we leave a mark in this world as people and that's certainly how a great company leaves a dent on history."
"Ambur Iyyappa embodies our focus on customers. Solving problems related to customer experience keeps him going", says a proud Binny Bansal.