Startup founders like Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Oyo Rooms’ Ritesh Agarwal becoming new-age India Inc gurus.
New Delhi | By Anumeha Chaturvedi & Divya Sathyanarayanan, ET Bureau | 19 Dec, 2015 03:09 PM IST.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma is in demand these days. The founder of Paytm, an electronic payments firm-cum-internet retailer and one of India’s startup posterboys, besides fielding calls from investors and pesky journalists keen to find out his next deal or fund raising finds himself having to handle a different kind of request these days: invitations from companies to speak at their senior management gatherings.
Around the Diwali time, he was invited to the headquarters of an Internet giant in California to interact with its leadership team. He also recently visited a fast moving consumer goods giant in India to share insights on his business with their CXOs.
“Companies want to understand the startups space and how it is changing the way business is done,” said Sharma, who, besides running his own company, also invests in other startups to gain insights into new disruptive technologies and along the way, with luck, also make money.
And Sharma is not alone in being courted this way.
Some two weeks ago Paavan Nanda and Tarun Tiwari, the 20 something co-founders of Zostel, a budget backpackers’ hostel chain, were invited to speak at a training summit conducted for leaders at Indian Oil Corp. on innovation and entrepreneurship.
Likewise, when Sarovar Hotels and Resorts was thinking of who to invite as a guest speaker for its annual general manager and sales meeting last September, it turned toRitesh Agarwal, the 22-year-old founder of hotel rooms aggregator Oyo Rooms.
Older, established companies, long used to inviting corporate grandees, management gurus and other assorted inspirational figures to speak at corporate gatherings or leadership meet-ups, are increasingly turning to these spunky entrepreneurs to learn about change, pace, disruption, scaling up and surviving in a fast changing business landscape. An environment in which internet-powered businesses are cutting a swathe of destruction through traditional so-called ‘old economy’ businesses, forcing them to sit up, take notice, adapt or risk being devoured.
For industry watchers, the reasons are not that difficult to see,
“The startup ecosystem has met with success that is unparalleled and unprecedented. Startups and their young successful founders stand for innovation and disruption, which is relevant for every business to stay competitive,” said Sandeep Chaudhary, CEO, Aon Hewitt Consulting. “So, more and more companies are reaching out to start up founders to see how they can include disruption and innovation in their management style.”
From a business sociology point, this trend is akin to men turning to boys to learn a trick or two from them, a reversal of the earlier paradigm when young entrepreneurs often sought the counsel of industry veterans.
At the ONGC meeting, Zostel’s Nanda says he found himself being quizzed on tips to transform the workplace.
“We spoke about how to the mindset can be made more entrepreneurial,” said the 28-year-old, adding that he also shared tips on infusing more energy at the workplace and building a fast paced startup-like culture at another company. Nanda was also invited by HR consulting firms Hay Group and Mercer this year to talk about ‘smooth organisation building’ and how startups have affected compensation and benefit practices in India.
Companies inviting startup founders feel they bring fresh perspectives and ideas.
“The idea was to think out of the box. At the end of the day, he is a young 22-year old boy who has got million dollar investments for a concept that aims at changing the entire paradigm of how people use hotel rooms…It’ss a completely different paradigm,” said Ajay Bakaya, executive director of Sarovar Hotels and Resorts, a homegrown hotel management company that manages around 70 properties and which invited Oyo founder Agarwal.
Bakaya plans to take this approach of inviting startup founders beyond his own company and has invited Agarwal for the Global Hospitality Enclave, an annual Oberoi Group alumni meet, which will be attended by a host of hospitality sector CEOs.
While Agarwal’s presence being sought by Sarovar was understandable given the alignment of their businesses, less so was the invitation extended to him by telecom gear maker Ericsson, which invited him to speak to its sales team.
“As we look at the dynamic telecom environment within which we work and our own plans to strengthen our presence in new areas like TV and media…, we are looking at adopting new ways of working , taking on innovative approaches and building our competence,” said an Ericsson spokesperson. “His (Agarwal’s) entrepreneurial mindset as well as the totally new, and, I would say, disruptive approach that he adopted, was indeed inspiring for the team.” Agarwal declined to comment for this story.
Ambarish Gupta, CEO and founder of Knowlarity Communications and a speaker at many such talkshops, says large corporations have been long used to operating in mostly stable environments, but that’s changing now.
“It is a very chaotic environment for corporates. In this context, an entrepreneurial management style becomes extremely relevant as these are the people who are used to operating in a very fluid environment,” said Gupta, adding that startup founders are good at finding people who wear two to three hats, are intrinsically motivated and possess traits that corporate leaders can learn from.
Companies such as SAP Labs, Vodafone, Pepsico, and Bajaj Allianz have all looked at engaging with startup founders at internal forums. While SAP hosted a delegation of six startups from a Canadian technology accelerator programme last October and expects “potential synergies through cross pollination”, PepsiCo invited the founders of grocery e-retailer Big Basket to interact with its management team.
“Today, no organisation can ignore the startup ecosystem in the country… It’s beneficial to interact, leverage and learn from them,” said Sourabh Chatterjee, head of IT, digital marketing and websales at Bajaj Allianz General Insurance.