Are senior managers abandoning India’s startups?

Turning away.
Turning away.
Image: EPA/Justin Lane
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Indian startups are hemorrhaging top talent by the dozen, and they are in no position to attract replacements given the grim business sentiment.

The following table lists senior officials who have left leading Indian startups in the last one year:

Flipkart and Snapdeal did not respond to emails asking how these exits have impacted their businesses. A Zomato spokesperson said, “We continue to be focused on building our leadership pipeline, and have had a few senior hires join us over the last quarter.”

Why the exodus?

Between 2012 and 2014, the Indian startup ecosystem had its moment in the sun—attracting global investors, raising millions of dollars, and recruiting at unprecedented rates. This was also the time when senior executives from some of India’s largest legacy brands—Tata Group, Reliance, Bharti Airtel, among others—joined startups. Often, the new company was even younger than the recruit’s work experience.

“These people were hired for the wrong reasons, they joined for the wrong reasons, and they are quitting for the wrong reasons now,” said C K Guruprasad, partner at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

Many who joined startups in the last few years were “lured by headlines” and wanted to “ride the wave,” said Guruprasad, who works with several Indian startups for leadership hiring. Startups were also in a “land grabbing” phase, where they wanted to recruit as many people as possible, without any strategy.

“I have talked to almost everyone who has left or is in the process of leaving, and I see two main reasons for these exits: first, most of them didn’t get the right ecosystem within the company, and second, many of those who came from the (San Francisco) Bay Area didn’t realise the cultural difference they would face in the new roles,” said Punit Soni, who came to Flipkart from Google last year and resigned from the Bengaluru-based company in April.

“Most people who came from Silicon Valley to work in leadership roles in India, have already moved out and I expect more of them to quit.”

Many of these high-profile business leaders have not given up on the Indian startup ecosystem yet and have launched their own companies. For example, Flipkart’s Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori are working on a new venture in the health and fitness space, and Snapdeal’s Anand Chandrasekaran is also pursuing entrepreneurship.

“I have absolutely not given up on the Indian ecosystem,” said Soni, who has not yet revealed details of his plans. “If you saw the energy in India, you would be foolish to give up on India.”

The concern

Yet, hiring is now at its lowest in five years at Indian startups, sources in the human resource industry say. The companies are no longer in a position to pay as much as they once did. Many young firms are dealing with missed growth targets and devaluation.

Last month, players like Flipkart, CarDekho, InMobi, HopScotch, and RoadRunnr, decided to postpone the joining dates of new graduates by up to six months.

Startups may, now, have to rely on their investors to increase confidence about their companies.

“They need to rope in their investors to build confidence on the business model and business sentiment, which will lower the risk perception that a lot of professionals may have,” said Kunal Sen, senior vice-president at recruitment consultancy firm TeamLease.