In a conversation with All Things Talent, Meenakshi Priyam, Group CHRO, udaan, speaks about the B2B e-commerce company’s talent-first approach, the upcoming IPO in 2023, and why hiring from everywhere is an obvious talent sourcing channel.
Last year udaan hired 1500 employees. What were the key challenges in remote hiring and how did the talent acquisition strategy evolve over the years?
In the past 19 months, our scale of operations has grown manifold – from 50 to 1000 cities. This is a rapid pace of expansion for any organisation, especially during the pandemic. Despite the challenges, we have been successful in attracting talent across levels. Our talent acquisition strategy is built on the foundations of ‘who we are’; and ‘what we have set out to build’ – institution-building that serves millions of small kiranas/retailers across ‘Bharat’.
To keep up with the pace of growth our recruiting team had to be scaled up significantly to support the business. We had to quickly adapt to making a very personalized reach out, onboarding, recruitment experience despite people not seeing and feeling the brand physically. We are not a 100-year-old brand, so it is very important for us as an organisation to ensure and make people feel and be a part of our journey with an aim to create an institution that would outlast us all.
For us at udaan, hiring is not just the recruitment team’s job but a leader’s as well. We’ve leveraged that a lot in this remote set-up to enable connections and our talent pool strategy has been fairly diversified. We are focused on early talent and hire a lot from campus- engineering, MBA and now agri campuses too. We are focusing more on hiring from a grassroots level like graduate campuses across the country.
As an organisation, our employees are our biggest brand ambassadors, and they create a voice that enables us to attract the right talent from the inside out. We encourage people to talk about us, share experiences, feedback, and this ‘culture of openness’ is what sets us apart and, in the process, also enables us in formulating and executing the right people strategy.
“To keep up with the pace of growth our recruiting team had to be scaled up significantly to support the business. We had to quickly adapt to making a very personalized reach out, onboarding, recruitment experience despite people not feeling the brand physically and seeing the brand.”
As an e-commerce company, which is operation heavy, what was your remote working strategy?
The safety & well-being of our employees while leveraging technology to maintain productivity have been our key focus areas as the nation battled the pandemic. During the midst of the pandemic, we successfully evolved various processes and adapted to the new ways of working like any other organisation impacted.
As a first step, we introduced flexible and core working hours options based on rostering and work priority for our employees. Our embedded technology initiatives for hybrid groups greatly helped us to overcome the challenges and seamlessly enabled our employees to collaborate and connect with each other, to deliver for our customers, with the desired pace and agility.
On the people front, we continue to innovate and experiment with the hybrid working model as we believe that this is the new normal even in a post-pandemic world.
How big is the HR team now compared to when you joined?
We’ve doubled in size given our scale of operations and geographical presence.
udaan is aiming for an IPO in 2023. Will you be making any specific hiring in this regard?
For us, an initial public offering (IPO) is just another milestone in the company’s growth journey. Over the last 12-18 months, we have hired top people/industry leaders from diverse industry verticals – FMCGs / Pharma / Aviation / Retail etc. to create a strong leadership pipeline to steer the company’s growth. We believe with a diverse talent mix along with strong governance, we are not only IPO ready but on our way to building a sustainable and profitable business.
From the branding point of view, do you attract talent by showcasing the employee experience or does it happen through referrals?
We have a good digital presence across media, job portals and LinkedIn. It is a matter of great pride for a young organisation like ours which has been consecutively ranked on LinkedIn. Last year udaan was ranked second in LinkedIn’s ‘Top Startups List’ for the year 2021.
For us at udaan, the biggest trigger for attracting talent is by providing an opportunity to be part of the journey to build and transform the Kirana commerce in this country which is currently very fragmented. We believe the career growth and the kind of learning opportunity that a company like ours provide are unmatched given our diverse operations across finance, marketing, sales, warehousing, delivery, tech and category building capability.
From an organisation perspective, our intent is to attract people and talent who have the same passion and are aligned to the larger organisational vision and goals. From an action point of view, we recently announced our Employee ESOP policy where every employee at udaan, regardless of their tenure or job profile will be allotted ESOPs under their annual performance cycle. Further, these ESOPs will vest at a quarterly frequency and be completely vested within a two-year period – twice as fast as the industry norm of four years.
IPO is considered a facet of employer branding that can help attract more talent. What is your understanding of this trend? Do you think it adds to udaan’s branding initiative?
As I mentioned earlier, an IPO is just another milestone towards building a company. In my opinion, IPO is not the only trigger or a reason that employees join a company. I think being public ready or going to public markets shows the maturity of the model, sustainability of a company and organization. We are building the organization towards the milestone of becoming IPO ready.
If you see large scale sustained organizations (J&J, Apple, Google) I don’t think they became great employers, and their employer value proposition was better because they became public. I think it was because they have been inherently strong companies with culture, ethos, business model and institution building thinking.
“We have talent-first thinking. What we are building- B2B e-commerce, there is no industry like that where we can go and hire from. It is not a mature industry like FMCG, IT services, large technology etc.”
What is your take on hiring people from other allied industries?
We have talent first thinking. What we are building- B2B e-commerce, there is no industry like that where we can go and hire from. It is not a mature industry like FMCG, IT services, large technology etc. We have hired from startups, e-commerce, non-e-commerce, pharma, FMCG, airlines, telecom etc.
We could have pools of talent sitting in different companies that could bring the capability to us. Then we would add context to them, enable them and set them up for success. Remote working has further strengthened our talent first mindset.
How have you handled talent shortage, if any?
If you were to really raise your bar, good talent is always in shortage which is why you have to inherently build a company that delivers on talent experiences.
What the pandemic did was that it made talent think about whether they are in the right place. Every company went through a little bit of churn because the pandemic created disconnection. But luckily, we are not in that position where we are saying that we are not able to find the right talent. Thankfully, we are still able to attract great people.
What kind of hiring ambitions do you have for this year?
There are pockets where we will see significant expansion. We will continue to hire across segments, e.g., from campuses and early talent. This year we have hired twice the number as compared to last year. So, the organization will continue to scale up and grow.
In early talent, mid-levels, technology, logistics, delivery, warehousing, as we expand our footprint, we will continue to hire people.
Year of Incorporation: 2016
Name of the Founders: Sujeet Kumar, Vaibhav Gupta, Amod Malviya
Business Line: udaan is India’s largest business-to-business (b2b) eCommerce Platform.