A People-led Innovation company
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There has to be a cultural underlining in a company’s innovation system. To innovate, its people must be provided with a culture that becomes the way of life like a philosophy rather than a process-oriented archaic policy framework. InMobi is probably the first such ‘culture company’ in India.
An hour before my scheduled meeting with Abhay Singhal, one of the four co-founders and Chief Revenue Officer at InMobi, world’s largest independent mobile ad network, as it claims, I’m being given a tour of the three-story Bengaluru office that reminds me of anything but an office of a $2.5 billion valuation company which is just eight year old. More than cool by which we typically mean nice interiors, it looks strangely awesome, something like a well manicured garden or a slightly evolved version of a kindergarten with graffiti and paintings drawn by employees, balloons festooned with “InMobi” placard, etc.
Five minutes before the scheduled time, I am introduced to Singhal, dressed in a formal black shirt and blue jeans. The entire InMobi office is quite intriguing which resembles much of a Google-like workspace, but “not exactly,” says Singhal who has been to Google’s office. “What everybody sees on the Internet are doctored pictures. Their offices are extremely messy and not a well-manicured garden. They are like labs,” adds Singhal.
InMobi’s work culture has been the cultural buzzword for quite some time now, and why it shouldn’t be, with out of the box employee benefit programmes it has in place to foster innovation, collaboration, vision and fun. It scrapped archaic HR policies for manpower control such as fixed working hours, dress code, attendance tracking or sign-in sign-out and introduced flexible working hours where employees could just walk-in and walkout any time to give them freedom in work, leading to better productivity.
“Working at InMobi doesn’t make me feel that I’m even working. Every day I feel like I’m going to some interesting activity area. While everybody has to perform but there is no baggage of policies attached to us. It is fun working here,” says an InMobi employee.
Among around a dozen of such programmes are “Bridge Assignment” programme where any employee can volunteer to work in any team for three months over and above their actual job. “This helps us avoid building up of silo culture,” says Singhal. About 100 employees have so far done this programme.
Similarly in terms of hiring, InMobi’s HR team has a referral policy which offers experiences like shark cage diving in South Africa or one week extra off, etc, instead of money and that costs almost the same to the company for referring for director or above profile. “This got us so many referrals,” says Singhal.
Moreover, there’s a pool, table tennis, cricket and carom for employees to get off work. “Everyone here works on MacBook, which is the best in technology to work on. Also, though we have designated desk, one can work from any corner even from staircase.
There is a lot to do here as I play table tennis for at least an hour in between work. I don’t have to worry about lunch because company serves that without cost. Since there is also unlimited tea and coffee, you might find me mostly in the open cafeteria space,” says another employee.
For its new mothers or expected ones, InMobi offers up to six months paid leave and work from-home facility. This kind of work culture as InMobi calls it “YaWiO” Singhal believes is fundamental to InMobi’s existence that breeds innovation. Hence, there is no Chief Innovation Officer or a person responsible to innovate for the company. “Innovation is led by people not by processes, policies and products. At InMobi, the correlation between people’s work and their compensation doesn’t exist. Hence they are fearless in how they operate and think about future,” says Singhal.
This has been out of InMobi’s learning on the hiring front. During 2011-12, the company scaled from 200 to around 700 people but in hindsight realised that the pace of innovation slowed down, its people lost the connection with the overall ambition completely lacking in energy and enthusiasm.
“In terms of culture, this wasn’t the company we had thought of,” says Singhal. To establish that culture, InMobi opted to become people-centric. “We could have either been process centric by deploying extensive processes to control execution like Microsoft or people-centric by taking control of the culture like Google; but we chose the latter one because our philosophy is that people are most productive when they are let loose, and we expect they will continue to be so as this culture will always be the DNA of our future growth,” concludes Singhal.
(This article first appeared in the Indian edition of Entrepreneur magazine (October, 2015 Issue).