Building a team is like building a delicate ecosystem of powerful force. It needs to be crafted with strategy and care
One learns to be resourceful; every day is an interesting quest looking for pieces of a complex puzzle that needs to come together
All entrepreneurs have a vision. Vision is what drives us to take this crucifying path of starting on our own, instead of picking a more comfortable and secure option. It is a path full of sacrifices starting with oneself, followed by friends who understandably start giving up trying to integrate with your life, and family whose love is unconditional but are a constant source of guilt as you never feel you reciprocate enough. What makes these sacrifices worth it? It is the purpose, a dream if accomplished, which will make the difference to the group of people who matter.
My father was an entrepreneur, so was my mother. They were both children of the Spanish Civil War, the last of the classical European workers’ revolutions that ended in a dictatorship. My generation was brought up with tremendous respect for what one has and while we had all the comforts and opportunities of a growing economy, we were taught that one has to earn them and never take them for granted. I gained tremendous inspiration from my parents. My father had an enormous adventurous spirit—his love for travel and exploring new cultures was a reflection of his love for life. He had a great ability to connect the dots and a high appetite for risk. From my mother, I learnt to be caring, to always look for win-win, to collaborate, to be generous, to be curious and challenge oneself. These have not only been the foundation for who I am, but also are guidance for me today and always.
I have observed that I grow in chunks and not gradually. Looking back, it is these high intensity periods that have helped me evolve personally and professionally. After graduating in law, I landed in HR almost by accident while temping in a bank. I did a substitution in the HR team and that is how I found where I belonged. I worked across functions and roles in HR, but I realized that to grow in this function one needs business acumen, so I decided to do my MBA at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. That was my second & most radical growth spur. TCS hired me at a time when no company was looking at ISB for HR profiles.
How did I start thinking about People Matters? While I had several entrepreneurship opportunities earlier, it was not until the end of 2008 that I felt ready. I remember researching on several business ideas from baby food to online furniture and eventually I realized that my real passion was my profession. That is how People Matters was born. 2009 was not the most opportune time to start a business, clearly not a media business. In 2009 alone, Crain’s reported that 367 magazines in the US went out of business, while many shifted to online shutting down their print magazines. Still, against all odds, our business took off. During the initial years, one learns to be resourceful; every day is an interesting quest looking for pieces of the complex puzzle that needs to come together. The name, the logo, the design, the content, every single component needed to be perfect and we were doing everything for the first time.
There are many lessons from this last five years, both personally and professionally. This has probably been the most significant change in my life. You learn every day. As an entrepreneur, one commits many mistakes and eventually these become a source of unlimited learning.
The first real challenge I faced was to figure how to attract and hire people who will join our journey. Even though I was in the HR profession for several years,when it comes to recruiting for oneself, the story is very different. I remember connecting with headhunters, who would normally not entertain a company of our size at that time. One of the only few good things about starting a company during a recession is that competition for talent (while always fierce) is lower. I think as a hiring manager, you always know if the person will fit or not. Personal chemistry, alignment of values, the ability to work together while having fun – these are the things that I look for when hiring. Result orientation, personal drive and ambition, integrity, humbleness are very important attributes of our brand, so this should be part of the DNA of everyone who joins us.Of course, some of the hiring did not go our way. In hindsight, I feel that it happened because the person was not the right fit for our culture and we went entirely by the candidate’s resume and experience.
Building a team is like building a delicate ecosystem of powerful force. It needs to be crafted with strategy and care and every piece counts as it brings you closer to the vision. While it is great to get experts to help you craft the strategy, I have learnt the hard way that ultimately it is your brand, your team and your vision.
That takes me to the next important learning in my journey. I have realized that 'decision making' is a more of a muscle than a skill — one needs to exercise it for it to become stronger. In my HR roles, my job was to present options to business leaders instead of taking decisions. Hence, building that muscle of 'decision making' was not natural for me. The team’s feedback that delaying decisions was causing problems was a wake up call for me.
My team is my coach in many ways. Most of my journey as a leader has come from my team. It is their feedback, honesty and care that made me a better leader. People Matters was the first instance when people reported to me. For me, the shift was tremendous as in my earlier roles I had to work across teams as an individual contributor. I believe that people join your journey to do their best and perform at their peak. So, as a leader, your role is to trust them, provide them with a safety net in case they fall and be their cheerleader as they grow. The most beautiful gift of these five years for me has been seeing people who have worked in People Matters grow professionally, fulfilling their potential.
I have learned a lot from other entrepreneurs as well. One advice, in particular, has stayed with me— Keep a “Not-to-do List” instead of a “To-do” list. When you start your company from scratch, you tend to be involved in all tactical and operational work and that causes two major problems: You become a bottleneck and you don’t allow the learning curve of others to accelerate. So, the solution is to get out of the way by keeping a list of things that you will not get involved in.
As entrepreneurs, we know our purpose. It translates into every single thing we do (and we do not do), the decisions we take, the actions we perform, where we spend most of our time and where we don’t. It is the articulation of that purpose where we struggle. It is the obsession for the customer and the product that keeps you innovating, reinventing and focusing on delivering value for all stakeholders and keeps sharpening the articulation of the vision.
By 2012, we had built a relatively strong brand in the HR media space. We had partnered with many professional associations across the country and were working with big brands in the HR space. We also decided that it was the right time to invest in our digital platform, our multimedia & video capabilities and our tablet versions of the magazine. In May 2012, we raised capital and that fuelled the redesign of the print magazine, launch of our digital properties and investment in new capabilities both in multi-media and events. In just over two years, we have also brought new formats to conferences and events bringing innovation in schedule and session delivery.
The years 2012 to 2014 were periods of tremendous innovation and growth. We launched our community leagues (Talent Acquisition Leadership League and L&D Leadership League) and conceptualized the first ever awards for functional teams in recruitment and learning; we created a calendar of digital events (Radio Shows, Tweetchats, Twangouts) by marrying social media platforms with content and our innovative approach to events; we launched TechHR Conference and Exhibition (the largest scale conference in Asia on HR Technology).
As we look at 2015 onwards, we realize that we still have a lot to do. We want to reach every corner of India, touching and building relationships with every business and HR leader by inspiring, provoking and enlightening them and their teams. We also aspire to branch outside of India in the coming years.
As they say, when one desires something strong enough, the universe conspires to make it happen. There are many of our readers who have contributed to who we are today. Business and HR leaders who generously gave us their time to share insights and knowledge; the community, our readers, who kept sharing their feedback and helped us raise the bar; our partners who gave us the opportunity to dream bigger and bigger. A journey of building a brand for a community is a journey where everybody contributes.
At the core of it, lies our team. They are the key of our success and our secret sauce; they are the source from where future innovation, scale and growth will come from. A group of unconventional people who have given a part of their careers to build this beautiful brand and whether they still work with us or not, their legacy is there in everything we do. It is with their commitment and passion that the purpose can be fulfilled.
With love to everybody in the People Matters team today and always for believing in this dream and for coming onboard to make it happen.