The 6 Steps from Start-ups to Thriving Company Culture

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At 27 Kanika’s JetSetGo (founded in March 2014) has contracts running into $20 million and manages assets worth $70 million. Recently, she was featured in the Forbes magazine list of ‘30under30’ achievers of Asia for making a mark in changing the face of e-commerce and shopping. Aftab who lives in London with his wife, he is responsible for driving the expansion of Growth Enabler and mentoring new/early stage businesses, with a focus on emerging markets (India, China and Middle East) as well as Europe.  Debaditya’s small 16-seater food joint in south Kolkata, Chowman, has grown leaps and bound over the years and today has a strong presence in the city with 9 outlets spread across prime locations and a home delivery fleet that caters to the smallest pockets of South Kolkata.

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They are young, they are dynamic, and they have done it! Kanika Tekriwal, is the founder of JetSetGo, which boasts of contracts running into $20 million and manages assets worth $70 million, Aftab Malhotra, is the Co – Founder, Chief Revenue Officer and the Head of Product for GrowthEnabler, a virtual networking zone and mentoring hub for entrepreneurs, and Debaditya Chaudhury, is the Managing Director, Chowman Chain of Restaurants. From fledgling start-ups the trio has created companies which boast of thriving corporate structures. The Indian start-up ecosystem can be greatly benefitted and inspired by the steps taken by these young entrepreneurs in making the transition a reality.

Here are six of them-

Share Purpose 

Kanika feels that it is important to make purpose central to all business strategies and tactics from inception. Identify your business's purpose, publish and share it. Ensure the team is driven towards achieving it. 

Aftab Malhotra is in complete agreement with Tekriwal when he says, “Purpose drives passion. “Your mission creates energy and passion in you as well as in those working with you. It electrifies the environment. What really boosts your chances of growth is the reason your business exits.” According to him 70% of New Hire Candidates (between ages, 21-28) would choose an attractive culture over an attractive salary. (Source: GrowthEnabler Webinar Poll, N=75).

Proper People Management

“People Management,” feels Debaditya, “is the most important part of a business venture. Being in a Hotel industry, I have to deal with different people at my workplace starting from my office employees to chefs, service boys and even the vendors sometimes. So, it’s very important to understand your employees because they are also contributing to your hard work. One has to know that “Your employees are your assets”.

Kanika is all for being transparent with the colleagues. “Your team needs to know what you are thinking, planning and expecting from them. Similarly a thriving culture is not about communication happening top down but also at parallel and bottom levels. Great leaders enable an open communication culture,” enthuses Kanika Tekriwal who was not only chosen as one of the 100 most inspirational women in the world by BBC but also recognized by Forbes Asia as one of the 30 under 30 leading entrepreneurs in Asia.

The Right Team  

Having been an active investor and advisor to social impact enterprises, start-ups and large businesses in both emerging and mature markets, Aftab has the understanding, first-hand knowledge and expertise in helping start-ups grow and expand across geographies. He says, “We always say “Hire on traits and train for skills”. Business is all about people, purpose and culture. Hire the best people. Don’t compromise ever. Hire talent who live and breathe your culture and values. Skills can always be taught and learned, however, traits, attitude and mindset is hard to cultivate.” He cites an interesting example:  Alex Ferguson, Coach and Manager of Manchester United FC, pioneered this practise during his 20-year term as Manager, and saw his club break numerous records and reign over premier league football for over a decade.

“Once you’ve hired the right people, treat them right. If you are a Start-up, give your early employees a meaningful incentive (like options, equity, and performance bonus) that motivates them to give their absolute best. Treat every team member as a founder. Mentorship should be mandatory for all staff. Find external mentors to help build skills for your rising stars and culture champions. Invest in your team, don't take shortcuts here. Sow and reap. Show love, care and respect for your team,” further adds Malhotra.   

Kanika strongly believes that team plays the most crucial part in taking a start-up to a thriving company culture. Integrity and passion are the two key values that she advocates to look for in every individual before hiring.

Eye for detailing 

Being a perfectionist himself, Debaditya vouches for excellence. “There is no room for any error in an industry like ours and therefore every aspect needs to be looked upon to ensure it is perfect. An eye for detailing improves efficiency and in turn helps improve customer satisfaction. This also helps in foreseeing any crisis or difficulties that may arise and therefore helps take precautionary steps, enumerates the entrepreneur and foodie who is also the founder member of the Bengali rock band Lakkhichhara, incepted in 1998.

Collaboration Not Autocracy 

Autocracy is an absolute no no. Kanika shares that dictatorship normally leads to an "I don't care" culture. Start ups are full of chaos and everyone is normally doing everything. To slowly organise this chaos into system and build a great business, working together is most crucial. Autocracy in my opinion leads to a forced culture which does not last very long.

Set Guiding principles 

“Define your values, behaviours and practices and reinforce them continuously, create a clear set of principles that provide clarity and certainty to your team. Use a list of 3-5 things that drive positive behaviours and reinforce your culture,” says Aftab who has a wide range of industry experience, working with the likes of EMEA India, Gartner Inc and Fujitsu Services.

It is also important to lead by example, feels Malhotra. “As leaders, you are the linchpins of your culture. ‘Do what you say… say what you do’. It’s not about building fancy marketing material and vision documents, or memorizing words.  A leader has to ‘walk the talk.’ Make sure to reinforce your message and on every team call. People need reminding,” opines Aftab.