Just the other day I was interviewed by a researcher for a study on successful entrepreneur CEOs and their strengths and weaknesses. While an entrepreneur needs to have many strengths, one of the key ones I chose to focus on was the fact that by the time we launched Naukri, I had had a hundred different kinds of experiences—big and small—all of which helped when it came to launching Naukri and bringing it to where it is today.
After working first in advertising and then in consumer marketing, I decided to quit my job and become an entrepreneur. And then for the first seven years as an entrepreneur I drifted. During this period I tried my hand at many small things. We did salary surveys, market studies, consumer research, training, teaching, feasibility studies, some database management and small-time software programming. I co-authored two books—I did whatever came my way. I even tried my hand at journalism. I helped a friend take over a newspaper and ran the finance function for a couple of years. I then helped the newspaper raise capital from financial institutions. There were frequent ups and downs. For years on end I could not take a salary from my company. We ran the home on my wife’s salary.
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Yet right through this period we were looking for the big idea. And we stumbled upon it in Naukri.
Did we waste these seven years drifting and achieving nothing much? I don’t think so. The diverse experience actually helped us when we launched Naukri.
My first job in advertising taught me humility and the importance and ability to deal with people. As a trainee in the client servicing department of a large advertising agency I was at the bottom of the food chain where I was responsible and accountable for getting work done from people who did not report to me, who threw attitude in my face and often rubbed my nose in dirt. If ever a young man needed a lesson in how to get people to want to work with him, Lintas was the best place to learn. And if we have been able to put together a great team and retain it over the years, it is because I like to believe we are good with people. What advertising also taught me was to always think about what was going on inside the consumer’s head and what it would take to persuade the consumer to buy.
Both these lessons, learnt early in my career, stood me in good stead when I quit my job and did my own thing. The years of financial struggle after becoming an entrepreneur taught us the value of money and so when we raised venture capital, we used it very efficiently. It was this fiscal prudence which, by then, was a part of our DNA that helped Naukri sail through the dot-com bust.
The experience in raising money and dealing with financial institutions for The Pioneer newspaper helped a lot when we were raising capital for ourselves. I had done it before, so I could navigate the process.
My experience in journalism helps me even today while interfacing with the media—we get more than our fair share of press coverage. Doing feasibility studies for others meant that we could write our own business plan with ease when we were raising our first round of funding. Managing a trademarks database and writing the software to search it was extremely useful experience when it came to developing websites. Standing in front of a class and teaching every weekend for over seven years meant that I improved my presentation and public speaking skills. I also became a better salesman—selling management concepts to a curious bunch of young sceptics. Doing salary surveys and selling them to hundreds of companies over the years meant that we were in touch with HR managers who were going to be our key constituency when we launched Naukri.
The list sounds impressive. However, many of these were very small things—done while operating out of an office in the servant quarter above the garage at home. And they were done without making a lot of money.
Nevertheless they were great learning experiences.
The point I am trying to make is that diversity of past experience helps an entrepreneur.
As a society, middle-class India abhors drifters. We crave security and certainty. There is a feeling of uncertainty in drift. However, after the first couple of years you learn to enjoy the ride and go with the flow.
It was while pottering around at an IT expo in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan with nothing much to do that I first got the idea of Naukri. There is learning in everything you do—no matter how small.
The question is, do you want to learn?
The author is co-founder and chief executive officer, InfoEdge (India) Ltd, which runs the Naukri.com website. If you have any questions for Sanjeev or would like him to address a specific topic, write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org