How Keka bootstrapped its way to success by creating an iPhone of HR Tech products

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For decades, startups have raised money from investors to scale their business with hopes to reach Unicorn status and beyond. Entrepreneurs who are self-made and have bootstrapped their way to success are a rare breed. As Shark Tank entrepreneur Mark Cuban puts it - “I think the biggest mistake people make is once they have an idea and the goal of starting a business, they think they have to raise money,” this mantra has some takers close to home. One such is Keka HR, a company that is thriving without any external funds. Keka HR has grown to become the leading provider of HR automation services in the country in a span of just five years.

“'Veni, Vidi, Vici - We came, we saw, we conquered' from Julius Caesar pretty much sums up what our team did in terms of disrupting the SME HRTech market," says Vijay Yalamanchili, Founder and CEO, KekaHR.

Keka's bootstrapped journey was not an easy one. It had to compete with established and well-funded organisations. In the highly crowded and competitive HRMS market, Keka carved new strategies to build, manage and maintain its workforce in the most optimised way. "We had to be creative and work much harder to become the HR tech leader and maintain that narrative in the market," adds Vijay.

Building smart HR processes

Keka's journey goes back to 2015 when Vijay Yalamanchili was busy growing his software services business and was looking for the right HR solution to support them. Frustrated with the poor user experience and clunky interfaces present in the existing options, they took it upon themselves to build a solution, paving the way for Keka, a true employee experience platform. Their mission was simple - they wanted to help HR practitioners focus on their vital assets i.e. their employees, making it easier for any company to make the journey from good to great.

The founders realised that proper product adoption and user experience was something the HR tech space lacked, and if they were able to crack it, they would be able to scale. “This was a very crucial part because the HRs who started using Keka found it simple and easy to use, and they were able to achieve more in less time. So, whenever they switched organisations, they would adopt Keka HR there as well and would also refer their friends." This advocacy was a major reason for Keka's organic growth.

Keka offers products and services such as payroll and expenses, modern HR, hiring and onboarding, performance and careers, time and attendance, project timesheet, security, integrations, and more.

Employee Experience Software, a term coined by Keka, has been embraced by 400,000 employees in India. The reason being, unlike the traditional HR systems, it focused on solving complex HR problems in a straightforward and intuitive manner. Simply put, Keka enables companies to put to sleep mundane and tedious tasks of workplace administration.

Almost everyone who has come across Keka wonders what the name means. In Telugu, it colloquially means 'Awesome' and surprisingly enough, the company proved to be worthy of the name since the very first day. Vijay says he chose a meaningful name explicitly as a reflection of his love for the Telugu language and simplicity, a theme that’s consistent with the product as well.

A culture of extreme ownership and simplicity

Imagine a workplace where employees come inspired, feel safe, share a common purpose with peers and leaders, do their best work, and go home fulfilled. That's what Keka's work environment looks like. One of the core tenets of the organisation is self-accountability, which manifests in the form of extreme ownership. Every single person carries more than their weight, the prime propellant for Keka’s growth and success. Users of Keka feel more empowered and connected to each other, as the great user experience permits them to focus on their core activities and shape their company’s future.

"We're on a mission to create inspiring digital workplaces where employees can do their best work. Employees feel more responsible towards their work, colleagues, customers and it shows in the quality of the work they do. In fact, a lot of times, I've had to ask my employees to stop working,'" says Vijay.

As a CEO, Vijay takes charge and faces problems head-on. And he transmits this same energy and unshaken determination to freshers who come in by training them first-hand. Freshers learn from the values emulated by the strong leadership team and experience an open work culture, one where even a fresher can directly approach the CEO to ask questions or pour in suggestions.

Taking giant strides in the HR world

Often referred to as the ‘iPhone’ of the Indian HR market’, Keka is transforming the world of Human Resources with its software. During the odyssey, it has impacted companies from multiple industry verticals including tech hospitality, gaming, mobile devices, among others. "Our journey from zero to 3,130 customers wasn’t a cakewalk but a pleasant and inspiring trek for sure. As a bootstrapped entity, we had the freedom to do the right thing for our customers and employees without undue pressures for blind growth," says Vijay.

Today, Keka has ascended to become the face of the modern-day HR world, supporting companies and bringing value to the nation. What started as a squad of five, has ascended to become a stellar team of 150 in the past five years. With an average age of 25, the company is vibrant with the energy of a young team, living to inculcate the idea of working tirelessly, but not aimlessly. When asked how they felt about their work at Keka with one word, their employees echoed one single feeling above others, “inspired”.


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