The Delhi Belly edition: Part 1
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AVNISH BAJAJ
FOUNDER & MANAGING DIRECTOR

As the Internet bubble began to burst in early 2000, the nascent Baazee story quickly went from one of multiplying revenue to one of holding on tight for a bumpy roller coaster ride.

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7th Oct, 2021

Todays discussion is heavily centered around the prevailing start-up environment and we’re here to essentially take stock of the current scenario, from the overheated funding situation, to exits, MNA’s, remote hybrid working models, the COVID impact, all of these and more. We have with us today, Chirag Taneja, the Co-founder of GoKwik, Amit Lakhotia, Founder of Park+, Anindya Dutta, the Co-founder of Stanza Living and Asish Mohapatra, Co-founder of ofBusiness, along with Avnish Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director at Matrix Partners India.

Salonie:

Hi and welcome to Matrix Moments, this is Salonie, and today’s episode is a very special Delhi edition, founder moments episode. We have with us today, Chirag Taneja, the Co-founder of GoKwik, Amit Lakhotia, Founder of Park+, Anindya Dutta, the Co-founder of Stanza Living and Asish Mohapatra, Co-founder of Ofbusiness, along with Avnish Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director at Matrix Partners India. 

Todays discussion is heavily centered around the prevailing start-up environment and we’re here to essentially take stock of the current scenario, from the overheated funding situation, to exits, MNA’s, remote hybrid working models, the COVID impact, all of these and more through the lens of seasoned operators and entrepreneurs,tune- in to her their prespective.

Avnish:            

Hi, and welcome to in my view a very special and rare episode of Matrix Moments. For those of you who follow what content gets put out the section that gets the highest engagement is what is called the Founder Moments. And I could not be more excited and privileged to be alongside four founders sitting here in Delhi. And I hope that you guys will find this episode interesting. We had put out requests for input on what we should cover and we got a lot of input but for one person, Asish. 

And hopefully you’ll see the camaraderie here, we all know each other for a while so he suggested that there should be a panel and I thought it’s a wonderful idea. We have some questions, hopefully we’ll get more inputs from you guys so we can do more of these things. And the idea is to actually really cater to the top questions that people have in their minds as they undergo their journeys. 

All of you have started and seen various phases and are at various stages of building very large companies but hopefully the topics we cover can help everyone. I’ll make a quick introduction and then I’ll turn it over to them to give a slightly more detailed introduction. All of their backgrounds are very, very interesting. On my left is Amit, Amit Lakhotia, founder of Park+. I would say the simplest way to describe it is to aggregate and solve parking problems but it’s going to be much beyond that in terms of a super app but I’ll let him talk about it very quickly. Very illustrious background from Makemytrip, Paytm, Tokopedia. 

We have Anindya, Andy, whose Stanza Living, disrupting and providing student housing throughout the country. It would be very interesting to hear actually both their perspectives on how they handled in their businesses the Covid related disruption and I’ll let Andy also talk more about his background. 

Chirag, also a repeat founder on to his business GoKwik where the investment was recently announced. He says he’s democratizing e-commerce or commerce in India. So I think that’s interesting. 

Asish used to be at Matrix before he chose better things. 

Asish:  

Let go from Matrix for the right reasons.

Avnish:            

Let go from Matrix for the right reasons, whatever that means. So building ofBusiness, the business has done extremely well and I know a bunch of you would have heard about it and are also inspired by it. I’ll let Asish talk about his background also prior to Matrix which was McKinsey. Amit, why don’t we start with you quickly covering your background and why you chose this problem statement. 

Amit:   

So I run Park+, we’re building a super app for car users, all problems of car owners getting solved on a single platform. The problem I think started like when I was at Paytm, when we used to go to the office and office had limited parking. So you would go first to the office, check whether there’s a parking in the office, then there is no parking, then you go to an authority parking and then you have to go and figure out on the road. So this used to take like a 15-20 minutes wastage every day. And I’m not a big car fan or -- so basic problems around even servicing, denting, painting, roadside where to get it done etcetra used to bother me.

So, I started my career with Makemytrip, then went to Paytm for building the whole wallet business and then I was at Indonesia. So when I came back I was very, very clear that I wanted to build business for the top 3 percent of Indian population and this problem just fitted there. So that’s how I started. 

Avnish:            

Superb.

Anindya:         

I’m building Stanza Living along with my co-founder Sandeep. What we’re trying to create is basically a managed living ecosystem solution. Obviously, students who are an obvious initial segment to go after and made a lot of sense to begin with. But the idea is to create a service enabled amenetized way of accessing residential real estate for multiple consumer groups and obviously students as I said was an easy. We then moved on to young professionals, we want to kind of go the entire lifecycle from a consumer lens.

So if anyone needs a place to stay, we want to provide our service enabled solution or methodology for someone to access that real estate and in the most hassle free convenient cost effective manner. So that’s what we’re building at this point in time. I think on day 1 we didn’t think about the problem statementthis way. You know, I was at Goldman and then at Oak Tree, both large owners of student housing businesses in a global context and I’ve seen that sector in an international context. And that’s what brought me back to India to start Stanza, but I think one of the beauties of being in the Indian venture ecosystem is that problem statements evolve, yourunderstanding of the problem statement evolves. 

And hence how we thought about Stanza has also evolved and it’s continuing to evolve. So I think Stanza of 2017 is very different from Stanza of today and hopefully will be different two years out as well. So, yeah, the problem statement keeps evolving and that’s where we are. Maybe the next time I do Matrix Moments I’ll have a very different definition to how we think about Stanza. But, yeah, that’s what we’re building. 

Avnish:            

So, Andy, what’s tech in your business?

Anindya:         

Yeah, so I think at the end of the day what we want to say is that consumers need to access multiple services on a day-to-day basis. Today he or she does that using multiple different solutions which exist on our mobile phones. Why should someone need to go to different platforms to solve for their daily needs. We should be able to do that today on a single platform. Providing that solution for a consumer to access different things like accommodation, F&B, home services, laundry etcetra, etcetra on a single platform is what we kind of solve through tech. So it is at the end of the day a operating business which sits on real estate but at the heart of it it’s a consumer tech problem which we’re trying to solve. 

Avnish:            

Just like people are getting deliveries of various stuff on demand at home.

Anindya:         

Yeah, I think I was -- I actually Amit used the word super app, I always thought super app is taboo, you should not use that word. But in many ways, we’re thinking around that same lens saying that why should a consumer -- every day what a consumer needs? Living in a place, should be available subscription pay as you go whichever format but on a single platform. 

Avnish:            

Student super app, that makes it double the valuation already. 

Anindya:         

Well, you can treble, quadruple that valuation if you’re saying every person living in any kind of residential real estate super app. 

Avnish:            

Chirag.

Chirag

Yeah, I’m Chirag. So, I started this business called GoKwik, so this is a pandemic born business unlike all of the three others here. So plan is to democratize as Avnish said democratize shopping experience. By that what I mean is that can we provide Amazon type experience on the non-Amazon or non-Flipkart world. That’s the broad idea and I think -- you know, I used to run Bombay Shaving Company prior to this and if you would have asked me in last year Feb 2020 that Chirag would you do another startup I would have probably said no. And then I think Covid happened.

Asish:  

They weren’t shaving anyways during Covid. 

Chirag

And I think I saw the world changing, we ourselves doubled in a month. Saw a lot of brands quadrupling in a matter of a quarter. It became quite clear that non-Amazon, non Flipkart will be a sizeable portion in our country. And that led me to -- and there were some problem statements which were, you know, which required deep tech data science companies to go out and solve for it. Expertise which I saw at least this world didn’t have as a DNA. So we’re now building a deep tech data science company. It’s been 8-9 months since we launched and that’s about it. 

Avnish:            

Super. Asish.

Asish:  

Hi, this is Asish. I’m helping 600 odd OFBians build a Ofbusiness. Our business is a B2B commerce platform that also solves for other needs like financing and marketing. By far the oldest both in terms of age and business and you know who to kick for in case this doesn’t go well. Thank you. And again thanks for having us here. Multiple editions of Matrix Moments for all of us. 

Avnish:            

No, thank you to all of you for being here. So, Amit and Andy, their businesses saw Covid tailwinds. Your businesses saw Covid headwinds. But I have also observed how you guys were executing during that period such that you’d come out of it very strongly. Was there ever a period of time when you regretted why are we now -- and I’m sure there are people listening here who would have felt some of that stuff. And how did you, what did you do without giving away, you know, maybe too much detail, what did you do during that period?

Amit:   

So actually Covid was good as well as bad for us, both the things, bad as well as good for us. Bad obviously because it disrupted the way we were thinking about building the business. The problem of parking exists mostly for corporate parking. Every day you go to the office you can’t figure out the parking, so you try to park somewhere and suddenly with Covid the parkings are out because offices are out. So what are the problems we’re solving, so that became like an existential question. 

But what was good about all this was if you look at malls, if you look at all these places where people go there the manual purchase and cash was getting a change. In fact parking is probably the only ecosystem in India where digital payments were still less than 5 percent of the business. Now with Covid coming in and everybody getting out of that, everybody wanting the contactless touchless solutions suddenly we started seeing the digital parking adoption not only at the mall sites but also at the consumer site significantly. And at the same time Fastag etcetra also came in with a government push so suddenly the whole thing can be made as single as when you get out of Uber and the payments happen automatically without you to stop. 

Avnish:            

Or Ola?

Amit:   

Yeah. [Laughs] So I didn’t integrate, I wasn’t able to integrate Paytm at Ola so my loyalties lie -- [Laughs]

Avnish:            

No, so I think for the broader audience it has been actually amazing to see the kind of hustle that happened in that 9–12-month period including launching contact tracing for malls, maps for malls, Fastag, car wash, car sanitization. And I think the general I mean I was inspired by the amount of hustle that was happening. 

Amit:   

Actually the good thing was also about vaccination. So drive through vaccinations we would have vaccinated close to about 30,000 people in Gurgaon in our camps. So I think that helped us create a lot of not only one, obviously at a company level good brand and everything but at a consumer level like you were able to demonstrate that parking could be used for multiple use cases. And if we were able to work -- like the time when vaccinations started happening that is the time when people weren’t ready to go out and get themselves vaccinated. So I think that was fairly useful from our point of view. 

Anindya:         

I think in April, May, June was still okay for us because we were very student heavy at that point of business and your money is collected for the entire semester. So it was not that painful for us to begin with. But I think July, August, September, October were kind of significantly low revenue months for us because the colleges didn’t open, work places didn’t open, so our consumers were not coming back. 

I think the three broad themes which I think stood out for us, one, was that we soon realized that there is no one size fits all answer. I think I remember in April-May all of you were kind of being on overdrive with every company kind of talk to them figure out what’s happening, exchange learnings and all of that. And we were hearing a lot of what other companies were doing and there was a lot of talk around pivots and how do you pivot and what do you do. We took a contrarian approach and I know it’s contrarian but I think that’s where I leant that not every answer suits every company or every ecosystem. 

We said double down your core, we said don’t pivot, don’t try to look at short term revenue opportunities, just focus on what you can do, what has come has come and will be around for the next 12, 18, 24 months but we don’t know where it will end but you know what you’re building so let’s focus on that. So we took the view that this works for us, may not work for others, what we’re doing may not work for them but this works for us. 

Secondly, over communicate with everybody. All stakeholders we over communicated sometimes to the extent of being vulnerable and telling people that this is not good and let’s accept it. I think the biggest thing which I learnt through and we saw this in the company, parts where we over communicated there are no issues and parts where we didn’t communicate as well clearly there were issues and we ended up paying more or I’ve had to do more to kind of to recover that. 

And everyone was going through uncertainty, by not communicating the only thing which we could have done was just aggravate that even more. Whether it’s employees and people you work with or whether it’s landlords, stakeholders, whoever it is, over communication was the key. 

Asish:  

What exactly did you communicate?

Anindya:         

Everything, right from telling that look, I don’t think business is coming back in the next six months and telling the landlords we’ll not pay you in the next six months, that’s the reality. I’m not going to tell you that, agle mahine dete hain, fir agle mahine dete hain. You know, that approach of kind of kicking the can down the road and then again sitting down with him was going to mean that you’re creating more heartburn for your partners. And we said let’s day 1 tell them that we don’t know when this is going to end but this looks bad at this point of time. But what can we do, so let’s take, you know, there were contractual obligations, we had force majeure in all our contracts.

And yet we didn’t bring up the force majeure with the landlords, we said what can I do to ensure that you don’t fix mate, and I don’t fix mate. Let’s figure out together, very often it used to be can you make sure you pay me enough to cover my EMI, things like that. Which suddenly when you try to make the landlord part of that conversation or a partner for that conversation I felt like you’ve got a lot more buy in to long term solution. Rather than saying, ki sir ies mahine nahe, agle mahine dete hain, that kind of approach. And I think that worked very, very well for us.

And I think the third thing is building as much optionality and I think a lot of us tend to build a lot of optionality into a lot of our contracts. But optionality is zero value because you don’t exercise that option. When the time has come to exercise the option do it, you know, there’s no point saying that oh, I have an optionality in my contract to not take deliveries of particular thing but we should not -- we should probably take eggs or take while if you got an optionality make value of that and then keep building that optionality into future contracts and agreements with partners. There is value to that because you don’t know what will happen next. 

Today, you know, the point Avnish is that today this was a health crisis which impacted Amit’s business and our business more, tomorrow it will be something else which will impact some other business tomorrow and suddenly you will find tailwinds for another business. The reality is we don’t know what kind of crisis are going to come in the future, having optionality in all our agreements is of tremendous value and I think at this point of time and we should not shy away from spending time on that today. Because there will come a rainy day when that will become important. So I think these were the kind of three broad thoughts for us. 

Avnish:            

Those were very good. So I would say one thing I would like to emphasize for everybody is what you said about authenticity in terms of communication you know, even within Matrix when April, May when all of that stuff was happening with oxygen it was depressing. And in the all hands instead of trying to always be this is the answer we just said we’re depressed, it’s a bad situation, right? How do you get over it? And I think almost being able to share that uncertainty together was communication itself as opposed to everybody kind of sitting in their home and trying to process it. 

Asish:  

In fact we did something actually just the very opposite in terms of communication. What we said is let’s figure out a series to run across social media as well as newsletters wherein each single day you find out what is good happening in the world even if it’s a tiny blip or so and communicate it to the rest of your ecosystem. And it was in a closed ecosystem largely to people who we knew and stuff like that. It got a lot of hits, lot of people wrote back as they were free anyways, they weren’t shaving. 

So I think just communication and using it as a strategic tool in very many ways during Covid and you’ll find lots of us having done that in very many ways. All of us actually found out a very different way of doing it, we did that. 

Anindya:         

I think what Asish is saying is important, it’s not whether you communicate positive or negative and no communication is the worst thing which you can do and I think that’s what you need to avoid. This kind of being static in terms of not saying anything because then people are making up their own minds and that’s worse. 

Amit:   

And we did an Anthakshari for an hour and it went to two and a half hours, people were just not ready to give up, people said yahe kartein hain dinhar, kyunki bohot depressed chal ra hai, that went to two and a half hours. 

Avnish:            

Picking up that thread about cultures -- I was going to go a different direction but since we’re talking about this, Chirag, you’re building a fully remote company so I just asked him how many employees are in, you have 55 employees now?

Chirag

Yeah.

Avnish:            

How many are in Delhi he said actually we don’t recognize. 

Chirag

25 percent are in Delhi but at least that’s not our metric, which I don’t keep a tab. 

Asish:  

I offered him three office space, he didn’t take it, he said he didn’t need it. 

Avnish:            

Because he has free office space instead of three. And I know everybody here has a different opinion, I was in Amit’s office this morning so I would love your thoughts on -- you’re our new company, people have not really met each other, how do you create this culture, how do you create a binding culture as a fully remote company because I think if you can pull it off it’s going to be very special. But how do you think about that and what do you guys think, I’m sure everybody is dealing with tech guys who don’t want to come back to the office, hybrid karna hai. Earlier people used to wonder Bangalore mein office kholein, yahaan kholein, so I think it will be a good interesting discussion. 

Chirag

I think we’re in a -- you can say we’re in a unique position that way that for us because the company was born during the pandemic, so the default mode became ki hum tou remote he kaam kartein hain. Right, so I’ll tell you an instance that we called people last week to office just to get to know each other. People spent four days here and everybody, I took a poll of it, and everybody said that, ke ase kaam tou nahe ho sakta, kaam tou wase he hota hai. Right, so imagine in the ninth month and there are people who are fresher also and experienced also. Experienced people also are saying the same thing that you know, this is the way we work. 

So maybe now as it is from our more strategic point of view what I believe is at least for our set of companies agility is a very, very important thing. You know, at least I believe that in a world where capital is abundant if companies which are tech, data science driven if they’re not agile they’ll get disrupted. And I use that remote working as a tool to remain agile because remote working pushes you to remain agile. So for example documentation, coming prepared for meetings. In a offline world I’ll call anyone and say let’s have a meeting. But in this world you can’t do, so it pushes you in that direction to remain agile, be very conscious of your time. 

But of course I’m not saying that there is no value to meeting. So the answer probably is somewhere lies in between. We’re also figuring out that can we get all people to meet once in a month or in 45 days. Or at least there is some sanctity to what culture you are or what is the mission alignment, that tends to become a little off. But from a individual working point of view this is probably the best. 

Asish:  

We did just the opposite. 

Avnish:            

I was going to say I’m sure you’re -- just for everybody’s benefit probably one of the most culture focused companies I know including lot of management training programs and stuff. So could you do it remotely?

Asish:  

We did not even attempt to do it remotely. What we said is you have to be back in office on day 1 and you figure out how, pretty much that. So we were essential services to begin with, so financial services were allowed during Covid but you had to get licenses for it. The big stigma I think was to actually get the first hundred people to office or on the field, right. So we said what we’ll do is the following, we will actually run buses in all our major cities in a predetermined route wherein you come in and you come in the bus.

The moment they come in the bus three or four things happen, the first thing that happens is that they see their colleagues coming in the bus, they hop on to the bus. Second is the office hours get extended because you add probably two hours more to the office time. The third thing that happens is that the fear of Covid with just people coming in probably playing anthakshari on the way or just whizzing through bright sunny roads which are a rarity in Delhi itself actually makes you feel happier, stronger and stuff like that. 

So I think for us who are more field oriented, who actually have a big offline arm along with technology it was very important to inculcate the culture that nothing has changed. For us we believe that in Covid we saw the watershed moments of our life, we thought that this is the time when we have to double down and really squash all kinds of micro competition that we had. And hence we all had to be back at work, we all had to see each other, feel each other. 

Avnish:            

But, Asish, ultimately you can’t wish away Covid, it is a serious health crisis, right? 

Asish:  

Yes.

Avnish:            

So how do you balance the safety and security of your employees with this objective?

Asish:  

To be honest with you, Avnish, everybody becausethey were all on media as well as they used to talk to everybody around there was fear all around. There wasn’t enough hope. What we did is we balanced them by giving them hope. Most of the people actually were abundant with bad news from reading it in the newspaper, seeing it on televisions. Actually the argument is the other side. 

Avnish:            

So I know you also did a lot on making sure that they were secure in their health also, so you should talk about that.

Asish:  

Yes. So I’ll tell you what we did. What we did is we told them that see, very basic things of what you need to do is something that we will provide for free. So whether it is mask, whether it is sanitizers, whether it’s people sitting away from each other, whether it is temperature screening all that, that we’ll do. But beyond that we left it to the people to in their micro ecosystems to actually innovate on how they would be safe.

For example a lot of people came back and said like the technology guys came back and said, hey, we don’t need this. Why don’t you make some little bit of more infrastructure environment and we will actually create a virtual network wherein we interact with each other even on an informal basis during the course of the day. So what we did is, we said okay, there are some basic things which we need to take care of but beyond that we leave it to the people, they’re smart enough, they’re I would say they have their own coteries, they would have their own value systems and let them figure out what is right for them. 

I personally think that if you prescribe rules which are don’ts, if you say dos, great, but if you prescribe rules which are don’ts naturally as a human being you have the tendency to do it. So hence we said dos are basics, you will anyway get taken care of it like for example in the office there were half chairs that we removed. So you just can’t have the other half, right, so that’s what we did.

Avnish:            

I would say what Asish is not saying is if anybody contracted Covid or needed oxygen he was personally on the phone, there was a full SOP setup. So it wasn’t as if the company is just forcing you to do it without providing the absolute every resource that you got. 

Asish:  

12 cars dedicated during the time of Covid which were fully armed with oxygen cylinders, with basic essential medicines, with people in case there were people who were like living in isolated places they just needed a caretaker and all that my own car as well. So 12 cars completely dedicated to this, but we did that during the second wave, it was a very basic thing to do. I don’t think that was a real innovation from anybody’s side to be honest. 

Anindya:         

I’ll just add one thing to what Asish said and true with our business as well. We had even at the peak of the second wave roughly 4000 people living in Stanza facilities which were being served on a daily basis by our own teams. It felt very hypocritical for a ground team member to be on ground serving people with the risk of Covid all around him. And for the people to talk to them saying I’m sitting at my home because I need to be safe. That somehow felt absolutely wrong from our perspective and so we were out and about the moment we could. So unlike Chirag we actually and like Asish we were back to office the moment we could first thing.

And I honestly I don’t know how Chirag is doing this, I honestly think work from home is the biggest, is going to be in the long term the biggest productivity dampener in my opinion. 

Avnish:            

Unless you decide to create a data science company. No, but by the way we were debating this, I do believe that you know, thin stack versus full stack is very different. If it’s ops heavy, three businesses you’re ops heavy one is not as much. You can actually pull it off, I believe. 

Anindya:         

Maybe and honestly because I don’t know but my only view is there’s a lot more to ability and skill which makes a company which I think happens from meeting people and being part of that same tribe and I think that’s very tough to have. 

Asish:  

Paise sir ops saving mein hai, ops se bhi banjaiga.

Chirag

You’re right. That’s why I said that you know, the answer is not that it has to be hundred percent remote. So there is definite value to meeting, getting this culture going. 

Amit:   

10% log remote ho sakte hain, baki 90% aye office.

Avnish:            

Amit, I know you’ve been leading by example by going to the office and all of that. Any other thoughts?

Amit:   

Yeah. Pressing accelerator of the car on an empty NH8 is amazing, it’s a stress buster. Obviously there are cameras around but there are stretches where you can do 100, 120, 140 and like I think there is no better stress buster for me than just empty roads.

Avnish:            

And being there.

Anindya:         

And parking a car in a Park+ facility.

Asish:  

The commonest joke around in Delhi was could you see the Qutub Minar and people said that after Asian Games, 1982 this was the first time they could see Qutub Minar from Gurgaon. 

Avnish:            

Picking up this thread a little bit further on to culture would love for you guys, each of you, I think it’ll be very interesting for everybody listening, what is the culture of your organization and how do you think about it. What have you done right and what do you think you could do differently?

Asish:  

Hamare tou sir simple hai, ate he samay chaat do, what we do is we make sure that they’re homogenous at the time of entry. So typically at the entry point if you’re looking for some shared common values which we believe are for Hs, I borrowed the first two Hs from Matrix and then added a couple of Hs of my own. Hunger and hustle, humility and honesty. Humility and honesty, we added because ours was a B2B kind of an environment. 

Avnish:            

Excuse me. So you meant at Matrix we didn’t have humility and honesty. 

Asish:  

So there are two I borrowed from Matrix and the two I lent out to Matrix, let me put it this way. 

Avnish:            

Okay, thank you. Fair enough. 

Asish:  

Interest to be charged per day. So we believe that these four Hs are important but apart from that the ability to just talk, communication flair for example. The ability to actually be commercial, the ability to actually put everything aside and be company first. These are very basic things that you can actually look for and have very proxys in both your interactions as well as what they’ve done in the past. If you kind of get these kind of people and hence we hire only freshers and largely our organization is mostly 80 percent is freshers, 85 percent is freshers actually.

So at the time of entry if you take homogenuity then I think whatever culture you want to make will always last forever. So that’s the approach we’ve taken, I’m sure others -- I know Stanza is very different because the first time I said it out to them they were, no, no, no, this can’t happen. So I think Andy should -- 

Anindya:         

No, we had a slightly different view on this. We encourage friction and the more friction the more excited I get. And people who can wait through that friction are people who do well at Stanza. So we see this, because there are multiple ways of looking at the same consumer, the same problem and I would like to have that friction. Humility and honesty is a very good point with Asish. But the more maturity and more years, I think we have seen that the ability to navigate some of that friction points, make you better fit in the Stanza ecosystem. And so we encourage a lot of friction. Every time we trying to create maker- checker ecosystems in such a way that there is always this ongoing friction, which you deal with and kind of push through. 

Avnish:

Interesting, so that doesn’t result in employee dissatisfaction?

Anindya:

I think its over debracing it, and I think, you know, you asked what have you done right, I think what we’ve done right is I don’t think people buy into this on day 1. But I think over time the people we’ve hired I think we’ve got that idea of making sure they embrace that as a philosophy and I think that’s where -- so it’s hard work but I think it’s something which at least we feel kind of serves us well. 

Chirag

Doesn’t it happen thatpeople come to you for resolutions?

Anindya:         

It used to happen. I think that’s where I think one of the things which we realized that when we were not hiring enough mature people in the leadership level everything was coming all the way to us. And suddenly when we got a little bit of grey hair, a little bit of maturity in we realized that people were willing to resolve that.

Asish:                                                 

But you know what we realized that the moment you’re okay to wait after 2-3 years you’ll actually have 40-50 people with relatively very fast and deep grey hairs. 

Anindya:         

I think that’s a good point and we’ve considered that. I think we’ve probably not had the patience to having kind of seen that through but it’s a point which we’ve thought about significantly that do you want to groom that person into that role and give yourself that route. 

Amit:   

I just heard thereare 40-30 people available with some grey hair. 

Asish:  

Every single year we make Delhi based. No, I’ll tell you every single year our first batch of management trainees are the oldest batch of management trainees actually that’s defunct, they’re jobless. Because every single year they get promoted so the last batch is always jobless. So they will all do the new things to drive growth, efficiency, all the new stuff. In fact most of the Covid stuff these 12 cars that we mentioned were the second batch of MT guys who had just gotten jobless. In what we promised them is that four years you’ll have a great journey and after four years you’ll have to find a new one. 

So to that point around grey hair my sense is that if you have to hire from the market it’s going to be expensive and much more difficult to drill culture. I know it’s separate from yours but different. 

Amit:   

In your business do people have to invent a lot of stuff or do people have a some level of understanding on how to push this. Like for example in my case it’s about category creation, so what we also do is throw a lot of darts and see which one sticks. Obviously against everyone there is an hypothesis but we try to throw a lot of this and somebody has to make it work. And we have seen in some cases we’ve been able to make it work. Like for example the gate business which we started today we have now 2000 gates across India, meaning the boom barriers and they work very, very seamlessly.

But like if you would have asked me this about say 12 months back, I don’t think so this business would have been that big. 

Avnish:            

So you’re saying emphasis on strategic thinking versus execution if there is strategic clarity maybe the model that you’re talking about you get away with but if it isn’t can you and I know that actually there is a lot of strategic stuff that happens but if you have to think more than 2 percent of your time you’re in the wrong business. 

Asish:  

And think first, maybe think for the first two months, execute for the next 20 months. 

Avnish:            

Par ye jo 40, 50, 60, I think the way Asish is building the company if you ask me wasn’t intuitive to me. If he can -- I think he’s pulling it off. If you can pull it off then it becomes very, very large because you have 40, 50, 60 people who are ready to take on stuff. And as the ambition of the company expands the people who can take it on. 

Asish:  

But in my opinion there’s no other way. You look at Goldman Saks, you look at McKinsey, all the great businesses of the world, Hindustan Lever, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble they were all exactly built the same way which is that you take people at the entry level, homogenize them and then let them grow. 

Amit:   

I agree a bit with him in terms of my experience also we’ve found that if you take people with more than 5-6 years of work ex typically what happens is first six months there is so much of friction because they come from a specific background. Ounka tareeks wohi hai, soch ne ka, for example in my kind of business you have to be very, very merit driven and very, very customer centered and very open cultured. Like I sit on an open table, we don’t have a cabin or anything of that sort. 

For a lot of people that is shocking. Like for a lot of people it is very, very annoying that anybody can walk up to them and ask a question without setting a meeting but that is how our culture is and I’m sitting and anybody can walk in and, Amit, I need to ask you something. And like if I’m really busy I can tell him, ki nahe abhi nahe jawab de sakta, but everybody can just walk in. and that is very, very hard for a lot of people who are accustomed to, ke nahe phele tou meeting invite iga, ouske baad baat hogi. 

Asish:  

Delhi me wase he, log puch tey nahe hain, they would prefer to just walk in and barge in. So it’s customized to Delhi like that. 

Chirag

I’m surprised it’s true for their business also, I used to think that in our kind of business experience is a depreciating asset. So technology and data science changes very frequently. 

Avnish:            

Yeah, yeah. Experience is in disruptive businesses its baggage. 

Amit:   

Experience works only in investing businesses. 

Avnish:            

I will move on from this topic before -- one last topic on culture and life. You know, Asish is building the business with his wife.

Asish:  

She is building it with her husband.

Avnish:            

Okay. You were almost partners with one of our other founders Revant, you guys are going off on an offside together thinking about stuff. Andy is building it with his buddy. You’ve been through multiple businesses, you know, people sometimes ask about work life balance, kase karna hai, you tou life has become, wife, life, work, everything how do you guys even think about this and specifically for founders who’re looking to start out what is the thought process on some of this?

Asish:  

I think Andy should go first. 

Anindya:         

I don’t know what to say here, I mean honestly I don’t. Work-life balance is overrated, I just find this is a concept. How can a founder even have -- by the way I do this and it’s probably a trick I’m giving away but I count the number of times work-life balance is mentioned to me by a person I’m interviewing. And for me that’s a conversation that is not -- 

Amit:   

Asish is smart, wife ke saath hain, tou wife ye bhi nahe puchti ke tum din bhar karte kya ho, itne busy kyun ho, and din mein 3 4 baar phone bhi nahe atey honge.

Avnish:            

Nahe ye log tou kaam he McKinsey ke saath karte honge, what about both of you. 

Amit:   

See, you have to be ready to take a stressful life. Like I’ve seen the category creation happening earlier in my life twice, thrice at Paytm, at Makemytrip. I’ve seen founders doing long stuff at least at Makemytrip because of the nature of business he was in the hospitality business so you will have to go to certain locations which today we treat as leisure but for him it was work. But it is hard like unfortunately, fortunately it is hard. 

Asish:  

You get paid for taking stress, the more stress you take the better paid you are in all respects. So my stern belief is that you have to have a very strong personal ecosystem if you want to go far in life in any kind of life, professional, academic, any kind of pursuit of excellence you need to have that whether it is your wife, whether it is your kids, whether it is your parents, whether it is your friends, they all need to tag along and if you have them at work even better, they find it easier. 

Anindya:         

I think particularly through Covid becauseat least I felt that, I don’t know how others felt about it, it was a pretty dark period in many ways. You know, and when you’re going through that if you don’t have someone around you who can understand that, doesn’t need to empathize necessarily, just understand that and know when the back off when to come in. I think that’s going to be a problem so I think for new MTs that was very, very good. I think Asish, it’s very important having an ecosystem. Amit:   

Casual things that as simple as like for example having a driver. Like I used to drive myself, I have been driving all my life myself but in the last 6-8 months I’ve taken a driver. And it has just reduced my stress levels like say 30, 40 percent. So every time like I don’t have to bother over, once in a while I tell him tu side hoja, main chalounga, but otherwise like a lot of that is being taken care by him so I don’t need to bother over kahhan ppark karn ahain, kase karna hain, gadi kahaan lejane hain. And a lot of times you can send the car back home, parents’ healthcare and all that kind of stuff. 

Avnish:            

Now so my two cents on this is I agree, violent agreement but the question does come up, I think it’s work-life harmony. I’m very impressed by how you’ve integrated your life completely. You know, this weekend my wife, my kids, we were all at one of the factories, Ola Electric Factory. I think there’s no getting around that if you’re going to create a very large business those have to integrate. If you’re trying -- I think to Andy’s point from embracing conflict if you’re trying to create balance you would create conflict. Don’t even attempt to integrate it and I think that’s the best way. 

Asish:  

Aur wo phele he bechad jate  hain sir, jinka balance nahe hota, wo wase bhi entrepreneur nahe banenge ya fail hojate hain. 

Avnish:            

I thought you’re saying family bechad jati hain, for him everything is homogenization at entry. And for him its embracing conflict, I’ve understood the difference. 

Asish:  

Hence we’re separated by Chirag. 

Avnish:            

Any other thoughts, guys, on culture. I’m going to move on to a different topic but anything else you would want to share with budding entrepreneurs on culture building?

Chirag

I have been personally helped by a lot of my angels in terms of being very, very at least it’s a no risk environment for me. So I’m at least fully vulnerable in front of them, 41:22 khub marte bhi hain meri, but I think I get the right feedback.

Asish:  

I’ll say what I always say which is solve for it first. The problem can be solved later, your investments can come later, your team can come later but solve for it first. 

Avnish:            

Superb. And I think for everybody this is of course based in Delhi, we’re calling it the Delhi Belly series so we’re digesting the wisdom from you guys. But I think it’s in every city now but just look at this is in a small eco system, look at the quality that’s available in terms of thinking and digest that upfront when you’re starting a business. 

Amit:   

Actually ye stress ke liye bohot achcha hai, mere saath bhi bohot hota hai, you have your group of 3, 4, 5 people where you can go and just talk. Meko ye problem hai life mein ya--

Chirag

Without getting a feeling that you’re being judged. 

Avnish:            

Yeah, yeah. 

Amit:   

Like 4-5 people if you’re able to build your network of that kind where you can talk then I think -- which a lot of people will not even understand. Sometimes your family will not even understand, meaning they will say hojaiga, once in a while they will also say itna kyun stress lena hai, zindagi thoda aaram se bhi nikal sakte hain na apni. They can’t even understand what you’re going through so then they can’t even understand. 

Avnish:            

And I think that’s key, so many times when you’re talking to somebody they’re like but why are you taking stress for this. That person you can’t communicate with, you want to communicate with somebody whose saying I understand, they may not even have a solution but -- so Asish what about this bubble, you’re rumored to be turning down offers at 5 billion plus one of the most stable most valuable companies in the NCR ecosystem, full bubble?

Asish:  

I think so it is a bubble for somebody who’s already created something. It’s a massive flight to quality, I don’t think it’s -- a bubble would burst, right, this bubble if at all you can call that term came in about 9-12 months back and I can bet on it that it’s going to last a lot more. And what we’re seeing is a humongous flight to quality because I will tell you that we have not only attracted the most amount of equity we’ve also attracted the most amount of debt in the ecosystem. 

We’ve not only attracted the most amount of investors but the most amount of employees as well. I think there’s a huge flight to quality, it’s just that there’s a huge demand supply mismatch. And this demand supply mismatch is going to stay. For quality businesses whether they had tailwinds or headwinds or not if there are quality businesses there’s a lot more money. Because some parts of the world have dried up and they will remain dried up hopefully.

Avnish:            

So you know, hum log sab jab wo ek famous chart aya tha between the first wave of US e-commerce penetration where they said in three weeks you’ve gone decades or whatever, 10 percentage points increase. 

Asish:  

India 5 saal mein pohoch gaya, asa kuch tha.

Avnish:            

No, that was for US that over ten years it went to 16 percent and in three weeks it went to 27 percent. 

Asish:                                                                     

You’re right. And it’s kind of stuck. 

Avnish:            

And for the longest time, let’s say the following six months we all thought we had missed that. Right, India pechay rehgaya, as usual we’ve missed it again. And the world has really changed over the last 6-12 months for us in India. So I know you’re seeing some serious ground level tailwinds, I think everybody will benefit and feel inspired by what all is going on at the macro level, you should talk a little bit about it.

Asish:  

Hamera so we’re more B2B so it will be more tailored to what I see on the ground. I think there are fundamentally three things that are changing. One is the demand, I wouldn’t say enhancement, there is a demand explosion. Wo iesliye horai, I don’t know kisleye horai, but I can tell you that demand for core sectors of the economy whether it’s infrastructure or whether it is manufacturing, engineering, capital goods, it’s just going through the roof. And people who used to be borrowers, SMBs and mid tier corporates typically used to talk about 10-20 percent growth. Now they’re talking about 10-20 percent growth monthly. 

Amit:   

Ase kyun horai --

Asish:  

I’ll tell you what I believe. One is there is definitely an import substitution that is happening from Southeast Asia and China. And second there is in my belief all these companies, okay, had conserved money. They just never saw that opportunity. I think a lot of SMBs today, founders or their progenies, are actually seeing an opportunity and just that mindset changed to say that okay, we can grow. Sab Shewag banrai hai aur dusra kya horai, agar aap palika bazaar wale hai, tou wahaan par aapko evident dekhey ga, palika bazaar, gafar market, all these small household consumer goods basic electrical appliances, toys and all that used to be dumped from all our neighboring countries, it’s all changed. 

It’s all coming from the Indian manufacturing ecosystem and the third is I would say the acceptance of new age companies like ours has gone through the roof, agar mail call karke kisiko bolta hu ke main ofBusiness se hu, tou wo bolta he, kya yaar,adhalog soch te the OFF business hain, to shut down their business,  but now they recognize and the reason they recognize is because all the good news came from us. He raised a bid, he became profitable, those are the guys who the Prime Minister wants to meet. He set up some committee where all of us were invited and stuff like that. Just the acceptance, very basic level of, you know, it’s a very muscular hierarchy se bohot nechay hain, ke yaar mujhe new age company se call aya tha, they look forward to it. 

In fact the number of inbounds we get without doing any kind of marketing, jase ofBusiness mein sir ies ke liye sunatha ye kiya, aap mere liye kuch kardo, these kind of messages are proliferating. I think just the very basic level of saying new age companies don’t stand for valuations and stuff that we don’t understand, technology and all that is changing. 

Amit:   

Ye jo growth hai, ye new age company ke liye hain, ya ye overall economy mein horai? 

Asish:  

No, this is what I’m seeing. I think the first one is more an economic phenomenon, okay, the second one is also more an economic phenomenon I don’t know whether it’s temporary or permanent. The first one is going to stay for some time. 

Avnish:            

Whereas digital penetration is definitely – so, ek reset hua hain, so I think when I listened to him when he was telling me 3-4 months ago all of this stuff that was happening it was actually very exciting because, ek theory thi, theory thi ke ye ek digital inflaction hui hai, ye dheere dheere compound karegi. Unlike the US where the base was so big so immediately you saw that this will compound with time and then when he adds these macro factors of import substitution, manufacturing -- 

Asish:  

Main ek aur aapko batata hu sir, one of my big gurus was Narayanamurthy. Narayanamurthy I think sometime in the early 2000s came and said that Infosys is solving for a very big global trend which was localization was becoming globalization. And Infosys was standing in the center of it. I think today the reverse is happening which is global supply chains have been disrupted so much, kisi ko pata he nahe hai ke kya karna hain, China se maal kharaid liye hain, fir mane maal Isreal se mangva liye, pata he nahe hain ke iga ya nahe iga, so globalization has now moved to localization because of which people who essentially are intermediaries of large scale and you could be intermediary of large scale only if you’re a technology guy. Those are the ones who are seeing a massive tailwind. 

So globalization leading to localization, imports substitution, household consumer goods and appliances, I think a lot of them are seeing I would say very basic tailwinds which we haven’t seen in the last couple of decades that at least we’ve had our senses up to. 

Amit:   

For example now the shipment cost from China like our barriers etcetra some part of them comes from China. 

Asish:  

Koi aeroplaneaati nahe hai, apko ship se lekar aana padega, pura ghum ke jana padega. 

Amit:   

Hann wahe, phele jo cheez hafte mein aati thi, wo ab do mahine ki baad aati hain. Cost has gone up, uncertainty. My business is continuously running, if there is an uncertainty at the supply level I’ll have to figure out something in India and I’m assuming somebody in India is taking this, building this as an opportunity to build it. 

Chirag

So are you saying that the trend looks secular to you?

Asish:  

Million dollar question but if you ask me 100 percent. Because if you get locked into these supply chains which are of a longer tenure what happens is, dekheye apne kisiko maal dediya, aur wo maal ka paise apko, matlab maal he do mahine baad anew ala hai, aur fir ouske 1 mahene baad aap paise doge, continuously you’ll do business with the same guy. If supposing it was an instant you could still flip but once you’re locked into a working capital angle either because of goods, services or payments you’re locked in forever. 

Amit:   

In fact aj oulta bhi hogaya haina, aj destress hogaya hai, iga nahe iga, jo phele credit pe kaam karta tha, wo kehrai advance do, so suddenly you’re thinking ke main isko advance du ya nahe du, kyun ki advance dediya aur fir saaman nahe iga tou main fas jounga. so then you’re looking at maybe more closer could be slightly more expensive but reliable guaranteed supplies. 

Avnish:            

But some of it, Chirag, will depend on entrepreneurs have to step up if you ask me not just digital, I’m seeing this with some of my friends they’re seeing clear substitution, they’re getting a lot more business but they have been really ramping up their quality and their reliability and all of that. So you have to do that, it’s not a free lunch. 

Chirag

Is it a short gap arrangement or as an when let’s say Covid subsides. 

Avnish:            

And I think that depends on how well do the entrepreneurs scale up. 

Chirag

Because they already have economies to scale. So how does that come back maybe -- 

Asish:  

Dekheye dhande mein 3 cheez chaheye, demand chaheye? Demand tou aari hai, pase chaheye, we all are there, pase chaheye, log chaheye, so I think Indian ecosystems of both products and services, manufacturing and services have never had it that big. We still need some policy support. I know that people are working on it on close quarters and hopefully we’ll see some of them. But phele teen cheez tou solve hogai.  

Avnish:            

Before we come to the money, so my view by the way and coming to these two businesses if you look at my wife, March 20 versus July 21 didn’t know UPI, wasn’t on Amazon, wasn’t on Swiggy, Zomato, whatever. I think you’ll see it in your business, like a lot of that behavioral change that you were saying effectively whether we call it student super app or whatever it is that behavior and that expectation is coming now. And I think it will rapidly come now. 

I was reading today’s ET I think said Flipkart for example growing 50 percent year over year whatever be that number at that scale. 

Asish:  

At that scale. 

Avnish:            

At that scale. Acceleration at scale. That’s what the beauty is. 

Amit:   

Not for Swiggy, Zomato, people are buying cars online, even if you would have asked me last year I would have said, ke ase kase kharedi jaigi, like but now people are buying things like cars online like without even like touching, feeling, just looking at a report and saying, haan gadi tou thik lagrai hai, score thik lagra hai, its like your cibil score, ke isko loan dena hain, kyun ki iska cibil score 800 hai. Sddenly its like gadi ka score ye hai, lelo. 

Avnish:            

So no surprise but founders and VC conclude there’s no bubble. This is all normal. 

Anindya:         

I think there’s only one kind of headwind to all of this in my head is I still feel and just as Asish made the point about flight to quality. I also feel that the growth is not as broadbased as it should be and I think there’s still a lot of distress out there generally. I’m not saying specifically to any of our eco systems. And I don’t know whether that will play itself out in a meaningful headwinds in the future or not. Don’t think that everyone is seeing this wealth creation and that might be also.

Avnish:            

You know, one of our investors is a -- I think he’s quite a celebrated economist and this was his point. And I think this is something we all have to be aware of because if the pyramid concentrates too much then this growth will slow down. 

Asish:  

But if you look at massive wealth creations across countries, whether it’s Japan in the ‘60s, Korea in the ‘80s and China in the ‘90s it’s always been like that. First there was wealth creation at the top of the pyramid, the bottom really went away and the top over a period of time actually disseminated. 

Anindya:         

I think that trickling down has to happen

Asish:  

Has to happen. We’re probably at that period wherein the top is happening right now.

Avnish:            

Yeah. So concluding on this bubblish environment I think within the last six to nine months I don’t know how many rounds you have raised, I lost track, I know everybody has raised money. So advice to founders how shouldyou be navigating this kind of an environment?

Asish:  

Lelo.

Avnish:            

See ball, hit ball, I think that summarizes it. 

Anindya:         

I think the importance of a strong balance sheet has been proven through Covid. So if you’re getting the capital take it. 

Asish:  

Debt or equity. Nivesh bhi nahe karza bhi nahe. 

Avnish:            

To thatpoint by the way because you made this point earlier that internet businesses cannot make money. I just want to be clear this is a 30 percent PBT business, 20 percent PBT?

Asish:  

24.

Avnish:            

24 percent PBT business. And growing what?

Asish:  

3.5x year over year. 

Avnish:            

So you can make money while doing this.

Salonie:

Thanks for tuning in. For more Matrix Moments episodes, you can head to www.matrixpartners.in/blog. You can also follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube for more updates.