As e-commerce companies scale up their businesses dramatically, they’re being forced to look overseas — Silicon Valley in particular — for people with the skills needed to fill top positions. Flipkart, Quikr, Ibibo-Group, PolicyBazaar, Urban Ladder, CBazaar, Jabong and Caratlane among others are looking to persuade highly qualified Indians and even some expats to shift base and are prepared to pay to get them on board.
Online retail in India is expected to grow to $6 billion in size next year, according to research firm Gartner. “We do believe that expats and Indians working abroad bring a different perspective in conducting and scaling the business,” said Manu Midha, V-P of planning and strategy at Infibeam. “We are also recruiting for overseas expansion of the platform
E-commerce in India is witnessing phenomenal growth and has become an attractive option for many techies at senior level with rich experience and knowledge to return (to India) and join the bandwagon.”
Flipkart has people with international experience in key positions across technology, retail, marketing, supply chain, corporate development and other departments.
“If we find people that match the job profile and have a passion to succeed, we hire across boundaries as well. For an organization like Flipkart that is looking to create a world-class experience in the Indian market, this kind of talent adds value,” said Mekin Maheshwari, chief people officer at Flipkart.Most such hires are in their late 30s or 40s and are attracted to the prospect of coming home.
While pay packets vary, annual salaries are typically pegged at Rs 1.5 crore along with stock options. If there was one event that brought home to e-commerce companies that they needed to get serious about hiring the right people, it was the $1-billion investment in Flipkart. Suddenly, they were about to move out of the shallows and into the deep ocean with such leviathans as Amazon and would need to swim or sink. The advent of the Narendra Modi government with a substantial majority also acted as a tonic, said Mayank Pande, a partner at Amrop India.
Arch rivals Flipkart and Amazon have accumulated huge investments to power their growth. Flipkart has raised more than $1.2 billion this year, while Snapdeal has received about $850 million, including the funding from SoftBank this week. Amazon India got a commitment of $2 billion from its parent in July. Naturally, staffing is surging: By the end of the fiscal year, Flipkart will increase employee count to an estimated 26,000 and Snapdeal to 3,600. Flipkart’s numbers include hiring for its logistics arm.
Much of the talent pool available locally is not as evolved as those found overseas. “We are compelled to look at Silicon Valley and are in the process of shortlisting a few names for our clients,” said Pande. “Most ecommerce companies (with sound funding) as well as brick and mortar companies looking at building/strengthening their e-commerce business are looking at Silicon Valley for experienced, evolved cutting-edge talent.” Vikram Chhachhi of Heidrick and Struggles agreed with this.
“Niche talent required for the e-commerce space lies globally as the existing domestic pool of talent in technology and supply chain relevant for these companies is scarce,” said Chhachhi, a principal at its Mumbai office and a member of the global consumer markets practice.
He pointed out that e-commerce companies themselves weren’t prepared for this kind of growth. Having people with the requisite knowledge has become even more critical to sustain rising volume and cope with competition. “Else many companies will soon go bust if they fail to attract best talent,” Chhachhi said.CBazaar, formerly Chennaibazaar, gets close to 90% of its revenue from overseas. It’s looking for a chief financial officer and a marketing head.
We have not come across anyone (locally) who can understand our business and help us to grow it. We are now exploring talent in the US through headhunters and our network,” said CBazaar chief executive officer and co-founder Rajesh Nahar. The company, which is funded by Inventus Capital Partners and Ojas Venture Partners, is eyeing another round of funding.
Infibeam, which is heading for an initial public offering, recently hired Soumya Banerjee to head its digital initiatives. The company intends to gain from his experience in the new technologies space, said Midha. The company has also hired Parag Raval, who is currently working in the CEO’s office at Infibeam. Before this, Raval was the founder of ConsulTeam, a California based strategy, financial and management consulting firm.
Flipkart hires include Indians with exposure to global markets, especially the US, coupled with e-commerce and technology experience. The list includes Michael Adnani, currently vice-president of retail and head, brand alliances; Vaibahv Gupta, senior vice-president, business finance; Saran Chatterjee, vice-president customer platform; Sameer Nigam, senior vice-president, engineering; Prasad Menon, senior director, human resources and corporate social responsibility.Quikr is also looking overseas, primarily in the areas of product management, technology, analytics, sales and operations.
“In a smaller set-up, one resource is expected to play multiple roles while as the organization grows in scale, roles get specialized,” said Dhruv Dubey, vice-president, human resources, at Quikr.com. “We are looking for specialists from traditional companies and from established internet companies outside India.”But it’s not all pull—there’s also push.
He said overseas workers are keen on exploring opportunities in India. “We have been in touch with several such professionals,” Dubey said. Avdesh Mittal of Korn Ferry said, “E-commerce players are open to hiring foreigners and foreigners too are willing to join the e-commerce story in India. India is the future of e-commerce and foreigners are only too delighted to have India on their resume.” Mittal is regional sector leader, digital, Asia-Pacific.
Jabong’s HR head Ashu Malhotra said the company will explore talent outside India as and when the need arises.
Urban Ladder is scouting for talent at senior levels. “We have mandated headhunters for finding the right fit from overseas for online marketing, design and product management. At present, these functions are handled by the co-founders including myself,” said Urban Ladder co-founder and CEO Ashish Goel. Nasscom, the grouping of IT and IT enabled services companies in India, relates today’s e-commerce story to the IT services industry of the early 2000s.
“Clearly this is what happened in the IT services space in India over a decade back where many Indians overseas sensing opportunities returned to join the software wave, just this time the industry has changed to e-commerce,” said Sangeeta Gupta, senior vice-president at Nasscom.
“The roles of venture capitalists will be crucial in selecting the right talent as they have bet big in this game.”