Q.1 Back in 2014 when you were at Flipkart, it was a budding start-up with a huge piggybank. What were the challenges you faced back then and what made it what it is today?
A. Well, it wasn’t a budding start-up back then, it was already valued over a billion dollars at that time. Amazon was still investing a lot in India at that time and Flipkart was the clear leader. It was after that in 2016 that Amazon started to catch up. I think Flipkart had the first mover advantage. It knew the market well, it realised that its growths were in the second and third tier cities. Of course, the focus then changed over the last 12 – 15 months to operational excellence, faster delivery and better choices. It’s been a neck to neck battle with Amazon. But Flipkart is still ahead.
Q.2 Zee news titled you as one of the top 20 Indian HR influencers on social media. How do you feel about that?
A. Well I was lucky I started blogging in 2002 and I was one of the few people blogging about HR and business those days. So, it was just a circumstance of being at the right place at the right time starting off as an early business blogger. I convinced a lot of people within HR that if you take to social media, take to blogging, take to Twitter you could connect with people across the world. So, I guess that momentum from blogging to twitter and to other social media helped. So, if you start early people know you much more and when you move to another platform they follow you into that platform. I’ve now spent more than a decade on twitter and one and a half decades on blogging. It’s just a matter of being consistent and keeping at it, trying to share something of value. It is not that the audience is always on my mind, sometimes I post interesting stuffs that might or might not interest them like graphic novels, quantum mechanics or science fiction that interests me. People don’t just follow me for HR articles. I try to say these are the kinds of things that interest me, if you want to, if these interest you then you follow me else it’s fine.
Q.3 On Quora you’ve been answering questions on various topics. What I got to know from this is that you are interested in books. Sir what do you suggest students our age should read?
A. Don’t discriminate, read everything, form your own opinions. I think that’s critical. You’ll see some lists like “These are the five books Bill Gates thinks you should read”, “These are the 6 books Elon Musk thinks you must read” but I’ve chosen to read everything from Chetan Bhagat to Amish. I prefer fiction but there are some books that are highly recommended by people like Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and its follow up. Most American books have the same pattern, they have a central theme that they extrapolate in the first chapter and then keep repeating. After reading the first chapter you’ll know if the book interests you or not. There are some books that I read on recommendation.
Q.4 Coming back to blogging, HR world says that your blogs are one among the top 75 business blogs in the world. How does it feel to achieve something that big?
A. When it was there it felt great but that was sometime back. These things come and go. After a point of time you realize that people who are ranking you, want you to link back at them. Service or Product Companies give you these titles in the hope that you blog about them and they get inbound links. At one point you realize what the game is.
Q.5. Right now, you work for VBeyond, a recruiting firm. What are the qualities that are usually looked for in a new recruit?
A. We hire recruiters and we hire engineers into recruiting roles. So, if you are an engineer and you feel that you want to try something else, if core engineering is not your cup of tea but you have knowledge of engineering, you can talk and convince a person that you have self-confidence and are willing to work hard and earn a lot of money if you are successful then this is it. What we do is our base pay is minimal but if you achieve more, your rewards are exponential. You place one guy a month, it could double your salary throgh the incentives that you earn, and these are US guys that we are talking about. We are billing clients at the rate of 90000 dollars, 6000 dollars depending on the role and seniority levels. A lot of that we share it with our recruiters. We like people who are achievement oriented. But unlike a sales guy, you are not pushing the customer. The candidate is also a customer. You can’t push a candidate. If tomorrow the candidate does not get the offer, the next time you go to him and say I’ve an offer, he’ll say no you are that pushy recruiter, I don’t want to deal with you or he paints the whole organisation with that brush and you’ve lost a great candidate forever. You are basically 2-3 years out of college and you are engaging with people who have 15-16 years of experience, who are architects, SAP, assistant vice presidents in major software companies and if you are pushing a role to them, you’ve got to be confident, you’ve got to deal with them as equal, so I think this is the number one quality we look for. You learn while working with others as to how you come across and talk to somebody who is at that seniority level and yet come out as an advisor to them saying you’ve worked in so and so, what’s your next career goal. You actually start to empathize and think alike. There is a little bit of coaching and advisory role, but a huge amount of confidence and communication skills is what we look at, somebody who can do things on their own. If you are not meant to be a recruiter you’ll never be a recruiter, it is something that we say is in the blood. So, if you like it there is no other role that’ll excite you as much.
Q.6 You are active on a lot of online platforms like Linkedin and Quora. On Quora you have more than 2 thousand followers which is astounding! How do you manage all this at once?
A. Quora. I visit out of the blue and once in a while and if you see my answers they are mainly one or two liners. On Quora I haven’t focused on building a followership. When somebody asks me if I should do an MBA in HR or go for higher studies, sometimes I am like “What do you want! figure yourself out!”. You know there are some days when I feel like picking up a guy and shaking him up to ask “What stupid questions are you asking?”. Someone asked me “what is the best time to post pictures on Instagram?”. Well do a google search, why are you tagging me on such questions (chuckles). I think some people use this platform for all their queries without thinking that some things are better answered on google than on Quora. I only answer questions that are worth answering and when I feel that my answers adds value to that question.
Q.7 How should start-ups handle their online presence and what are the key dos and don’ts for them?
A. It helps if the founders of that start-up are social as it increases credibility. In that way I was fortunate enough as in flipkart Sachin and Binny were active on social platforms. Also for a lot of start-ups, not just using it (social media) as a marketing platform but using it as a tool for further research also helps by getting surveys done and finding out what do people need. It’s not exactly a start-up story but it highlights my points. When I was in Philips we were thinking of coming out with a water purifier. As Philips was new in the market, we decided to come up with a strategy. We asked our product managers and brand managers to join mom groups like the Gurgaon moms group or the Mumbai moms group on Facebook and just listen to what issues they face with their current water purifiers. By looking at what they faced and what the strength of Philips are, we realised that this market is not the correct market for Philips to move in and we would not be able to offer something drastically different from what others are offering and yet meet the current need of the consumer. So as a result of the social media feedback, we chose to drop a product rather than ending a market and then taking the risks. A market research will never give you such insight because on social media, people opinions help in validating various assumptions we make about the product being useful or not.
Nishant Singh Tomar