The story of Flipkart’s second-ever hire, an unlikely startup employee
An excerpt from 'Big Billion Startup: The Untold Flipkart Story’ reveals the story of Tapas Rudrapatna, who wrote to the founders on a whim and was hired after one meeting. He went on to become an integral part of Flipkart, functioning as the startup's conscience-keeper.
In the second half of 2008, a few months after the Infibeam episode, Sachin and Binny received an email from a stranger. It was addressed to ‘Bansal and Bansal (not in a particular order).’ The sender, Tapas Rudrapatna, was familiar with Flipkart. He liked to read and had ordered books on the website. His family had recently moved back from Bombay to their home in Mysore.
Tapas had come to Bangalore to look for a job and had found temporary accommodation at a friend’s place in the same Wilson Garden neighbourhood where the Bansals worked. He had noticed a Flipkart signboard and, on a whim, written to the Bansals asking if they were hiring. Sachin and Binny responded; a meeting was set up.
The Bansals were startled by Tapas. He was an unlikely startup employee, and would probably have made an unlikely employee anywhere. He was around the same age as Sachin and Binny, but seemed to have lived many lives.
After studying commerce at Sydenham College in Bombay, Tapas had worked in advertising, helped run a shack in Goa, and played a clown – an actual clown – in a circus act. He was a talented musician, having played bass guitar in a metal band in Bombay; he could even handle a rhythm guitar and drums. He had tattoos all over his body, wore his hair long over a thin, bearded face. He loved his chai-and-sutta.
The Bansals were fascinated by him, but they weren’t sure what Tapas could do for them. He wasn’t a coder or an operations man, and they couldn’t imagine how couriers and distributors would react to his unusual personality.
What sealed the decision was Tapas’ prized possession: a laptop. Tapas also admitted that he needed only enough money to cover his rent and chai–sutta needs. This came to less than what the Bansals were paying Ambur Iyyappa (their first-ever employee who oversaw procurement, packaging and shipping of books). They hired Tapas and asked him to work in customer service and do a variety of odd jobs.
Unexpectedly, Tapas became an integral part of Flipkart for the next four years. He performed the widest range of duties out of all its employees. He helped set up new offices, wrote Flipkart’s blog, oversaw social media marketing, and became the most important member of the customer support team. Most of all, along with Sachin, he was the strongest advocate of the customer at Flipkart, ensuring that the company never veered from its motto of keeping shoppers happy.
Whenever there was a prickly user issue or a call from an angry shopper, Tapas would handle it, pacifying them with apologies, jokes, conversation. He spoke to Flipkart users in an informal, friendly, almost-irreverent manner, and wrote blogs and Twitter posts that charmed them. He handed out free books and offered additional discounts. While within Flipkart, employees in charge of any mishandled order would be treated with swear words, scorn, and contempt. In these moments, the funny, friendly Tapas would transform into a raging bully.
Without an official role, Tapas was simply seen as Flipkart’s conscience-keeper in the early years, ready to help wherever there was a crisis.
Tapas’ presence diminished quickly after 2011 as Flipkart exploded into a mid-sized firm and then into a huge company.
During the company’s first three years, however, Tapas played a crucial role in building Flipkart’s cult-like brand. He also became a confidant to the Bansals, who found it easy to trust Tapas as he was singularly uninterested in acquiring power. In Flipkart’s final years of independence, he was perhaps the only employee, out of all former or existing Flipkart employees, who was close to both Sachin and Binny.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
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