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Small outfits offer big opportunities

Small outfits offer big opportunities
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First Published: Thu, Mar 13 2008. 12 06 AM IST

Updated: Thu, Mar 13 2008. 12 06 AM IST
Mumbai: Kalpesh Khivasara, a student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) here, knows he can get a job at a major company.
But faced with being a small fish in a big ocean, Khivasara passed on all the big names at campus placements earlier this year. He chose working for a start-up, where a mix of adrenaline, growth and coffee will likely keep him working past midnight.
In a few months, as his batchmates begin drawing eye-popping salaries, Khivasara will go to work for INI Consulting Pvt. Ltd, a company focusing on commercializing new technologies from academic and research institutions. He knows he will work crazy hours and many different jobs—that’s the point. “You may end up doing everything, but that’s the great thing about it,” he says.
To target students like Khivasara, IIT Bombay plans a start-up job fair at the end of the month. The event is recognition of two nationwide trends: More youth want to begin their careers with risks and feel like they are a vital part of an organization. And start-ups are formalizing their own human resources (HR) and hiring practices as they seek candidates who, more than the right skill set, have the right mindset.
“Freshers are the best people for a start-up because they are economical, loyalty is high and can be trained for any task efficiently,” says Vijay Anand, chief organizer, Proto.in.
Proto.in, which showcases start-ups to venture capitalists (VCs) and industry members, plans to start a forum called Start-up Alliance along with the National Entrepreneurship Network. This forum will arrange interactions with start-ups for students while they are still in college with hopes of recruitment upon graduation. So far, 15 start-ups have signed up and trial runs will start in April.
Besides students, start-ups also look to recruit from large, established enterprises. The main draw for most is that start-ups offer wide scope and lots of exposure, even as they offer great flexibility. Santrupta Bhatia, for example, quit her job as software engineer at a large multinational two years ago and never went back. Today, she leaves her start-up employer at 1pm every day, picks up her two-year-old from playschool and writes code from home as he naps.
Her colleague, Amoghavarsha, works three days a week and devotes the rest of his time to his passion—photography. Both work for Bangalore-based start-up Four Interactive Pvt. Ltd, which runs local information search site Asklaila.com.
At another start-up DimDim Inc., Sundar Subramanian’s official designation says head (business development), but his responsibilities include product management, developing reseller partnerships and building a global sales team.
Start-ups concede that attracting good people in a talent-scarce market is arduous for a no-name company, especially considering that many cannot match market pay scales. Thus, stock options and equity stakes take on greater importance. They are also widening the net and involving other stakeholders in the start-up ecosystem—entrepreneurship organizations, academic institutes and VCs.
Most start-ups increase their headcount after funding from VCs. Bangalore-based firm Helion Venture Partners recently hired an HR manager with more than a decade’s experience solely to help its portfolio companies recruit talent. By having a single-point representative for its 11 portfolio companies, Helion wants to consolidate its approach towards HR firms and also cut costs by sharing resources. “Not only is there a challenge of availability of right people, but attrition levels are also higher with start-ups,” says Dhruv Prakash, director (HR), Helion Venture Partners.
“Selling an unheard of brand to a potential employee is tough,” says Nirupama V.G., managing director, Ad Astra Consultants Pvt. Ltd, a Bangalore-based HR consultancy firm that earns about 40% of its revenues from this segment. Many large recruitment agencies, however, do not deal with young companies that hire in small numbers.
Subodh Khandelwal, client manager at headhunting firm ABC Consultants Pvt. Ltd, says it takes a certain type of personality to fit in. “People that have a high risk-taking appetite and are fine with the vagaries of a start-up environment make the best fit with start-ups. But they are not easy to find,” he says.
Still, it will take some time for start-up jobs to permeate a market that is still cash-oriented and brand conscious. “Unlike in the Valley, the start-up culture is not fully there yet,” admits Promod Haque, managing partner, Norwest Venture Partners. He recalls talking about entrepreneurship to a group of engineers in Bangalore, only to have a 20-something audience member quip, “If I join a no-name company, how will I get a good marriage alliance?” Of course, once that life partner is found, entrepreneurs assure, a lot of start-ups do offer generous leaves for the wedding and honeymoon.
1) Check the background of the promoters. Also find out if it is a one-man show or a team effort.
2) Does the company have adequate funding? What is the background of the funders?
3) What is the product that the firm is developing and how far has the development work gone?
4) What is the role and responsibility that the company is offering?
5) What is the career plan that they have for you?
6) What is the compensation?
7) What is the company’s Esop policy?
Compiled by Nirupama V.G., managing director, Ad Astra Consultants Pvt. Ltd
Start-up concerns
Pay cut: If you’re considering joining a start-up, you must be prepared to settle for a smaller package. Some companies may compensate with stock options.
Stock options: Each start-up has its own policy on employee stock options (Esops). While some are willing to share financial gains with all their employees, in some firms Esops are only offered to a select few. Even if you are eligible, companies have clauses that determine the proportion of equity one is eligible for—someone who is a vice-president will probably get more than someone who writes code. Companies also have policies on staggered disbursement of Esops and lock-in periods, which need to be discussed.
Work-life balance: Some start-ups offer a great deal of flexibility and may even be the answer for those looking for a breather from a regular job. But for most people, especially in core functions such as product development or marketing, the job will mean long hours and sacrificing personal time.
Where entrepreneurs post options
The website that profiles and reviews technology start-ups has a useful sub-section on jobs, where registered members post their people requirements. But the listing—which currently has 30-odd postings—is only a part of the attraction. The site offers a range of information and news about the start-ups space for anyone interested in joining such entrepreneurial set-ups. Of particular interest to them are the five rather unconventional tips for a job hunt.
You can showcase your talent here
This rather well-frequented venture capital and start-up blog has a section where start-ups list their talent requirements. Running into 17 pages, Venturejobs claims to have received 160 -odd responses. The accompanying section, Venturetalent, comes close with 120 entries from job seekers in start-ups. The site allows non-registered users to pitch in as well, and promises to adopt a more elaborate job system at a future date. From engineering students to management veterans, Venturetalent showcases a range of people who are able to detail their specific areas of interest. The postings on Venturejobs, too, are informal and detailed. A good place to explore the options in this space.
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First Published: Thu, Mar 13 2008. 12 06 AM IST