Startup founders, who face long hours, huge workloads and a relentless pursuit of revenue and profitability, have another Key Responsibility Area of sorts — coming up with policies that keep young employees engaged and on their toes.
Young CEOs at startups are getting as involved as their HR teams in rolling out initiatives as diverse as ESOP repurchase plans that unlock value to letting employees design their own work hours/places and learning allowances to nap rooms, to keep the workforce hooked and happy
“A startup by design calls for innovation, agility, and dynamism, and to manage a workforce in such a culture, the HR practices need to be one step ahead in these attributes,” says Rajesh Yabaji, CEO of logistics tech startup BlackBuck, which is nearing unicorn status after its latest Series D fundraising round last month.
Right from inception, says Yabaji, he and co-founders have worked closely with HR team to build a work environment of openness and high energy.
In four years, BlackBuck has twice bought back some ESOPs. The first was in 2017 and the second happened recently, when about 100 employees liquidated a certain portion of their ESOPs.
The total ESOP transaction was close to ₹37 crore in the round, generating a lot of excitement among the employees who exercised the opportunity to unlock value — even as some others chose to hold on. “We strongly believe in creating programmes which can spur fast growth and long-term value creation for employees,” said Yabaji, who also leads several fitness initiatives internally.
Hiring and retaining the right people can make or break a business — and founders are doing what it takes to create a productive work culture.
Cashback website Cashkaro offers flexible working hours to all employees with dependents, while Wingify has complete flexibility around office timings and leaves.
“Ours is a very flexible culture. There are people who don’t come in four days a week. We need to be available for our customers 24/7, and as long as people are delivering, that’s all that matters,” says Sparsh Gupta, CEO, Wingify.
The company is equally flexible about giving sabbaticals to employees who may want to take time off to pursue their own ideas. Alternatively, there is an option to come in and use the company resources to work on their own ideas for a few hours every day.
When it comes to dealing with a young, dynamic workforce, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
Some founders are, therefore, experimenting with more radical ideas.
Deepinder Goyal, CEO of Zomato, is talking about 26-week parental leave for both men and women, while online mattress company Wakefit has created nap rooms at its office, starting this month.
“After a lot of research and consumer surveys, we figured that workplace wellness and naps for productivity are high on employees’ radar,” says Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, co-founder, Wakefit. “They are especially useful for employees who need a quick shut-eye to be more productive; even for women employees who may be pregnant or have cramps.”
Other companies such as Rentomojo and Cloud Nine Hospitals too wanted to set up nap rooms, with help from Wakefit, he says.
The co-founders of Razorpay, Harshil Mathur and Shashank Kumar, implemented an opendoor policy to make old and new employees feel it was a mission in which they are in together.
All meeting rooms in Razorpay are glass partitioned, to promote and practise a transparent work culture.
With more than 60% of its employees under the age of 30, Mathur believes millennials “like to interact with brands that are open, transparent and stand for more than just their bottom line”.
Several startups are playing to their strengths and ensuring that employees also get the advantage.
At ed-tech platform Great Learning, for instance, other than a learning allowance for all employees, the company also sponsors those employees who want to take up courses to upskill themselves. Employees have to pay a fraction of the cost of the programme upfront, depending on the number of years spent at Great Learning, and the balance is reimbursed over time, says co-founder Hari Krishnan Nair.
“Any startup is less about the idea and the funding, and more about people. Bright young people have more options today. If you want to get the best out of them, it’s important that companies adapt to their needs rather than asking them to adapt to traditional corporate culture. And here, founders have a key role to play,” says Wingify’s Gupta.