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Business News/ Companies / People/  It’s hard work to be diplomatic:’s Rahul Yadav

Mumbai: It’s 15 minutes to 10pm on Thursday, 7 May. Rahul Yadav, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of property listing website, is back at his apartment in Powai after a long day at work. It is almost 48 hours after a board meeting, where his fate as CEO of the company was at the top of the agenda. On 30 April, Yadav, 26, offered his resignation in a scathing email to investors where he questioned their intellectual ability. That followed public spats with Sequoia Capital and media company Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd, and differences over cash burn. In the event, the board meeting was an anti-climax, with Yadav withdrawing his resignation and apologizing for his “unacceptable comments" about board members. Now, at his apartment, away from the media hoopla, Yadav is calm and seems at ease. He puts his phone away and is keen to talk—about everything. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Yadav: So what are people saying?

As if you don’t know already. That you are an a*****e.

Yes. People seem to have a lot of time. To gossip and to give advice, I don’t know. You know, on the day of the board meeting, someone from a company actually started calling people from my design team, saying that the Housing story is over, jump ship. They have such a good design already, how much more does he want? Anyway, I don’t know…

That picture on Facebook where you are showing the middle finger. Dude, seriously?

I posted that just to have some fun. Just to spite my friends. It is an old picture. What’s wrong with it?


Well… I don’t know how such things get leaked to the media...

Whatever triggered that email?

Why, what, how and all that…

Ha ha. Yes. what triggered it?

Logic. Efficiency. It was the best shot. You know, everything has the one thing which is the best solution. In this case, this was the best solution. The email was short, crisp and efficient. There was some disagreement on certain companies that we were planning to acquire, all the detail and rationale was there, and we had prepared a complete deck to show that; and over time other things like attitude and I don’t want to talk about that. So there was a disagreement and I said it will be either this or this. Brahmastra. (In ancient Sanskrit writings, the Brahmastra was a weapon created by Brahma and considered the deadliest of weapons.) That’s what happened.

People have been speculating that you’ve resigned before too…

No. Never. This was the first time. And people will always say something, let them. I have lost count, you know; they have so much to say, those people.

But I think what people are saying is, how can somebody in his right mind write an email like that? In those words?

The person is me. It was a true feeling and I have never been diplomatic. It is hard work to be diplomatic. You know, you have to convert your thoughts into something else. No. I have better things to do. We work so hard. There are so many things to think about. Now for something like this, if we start thinking and twisting saying that no, I will say it like this and this. No, man. Straight and simple. You will see that in my communication, there will always be clarity. Crystal clear and it will not be polished.

You think that in the real world, doing this works? Because people like diplomatic answers, you know.

I think the world is changing. I am the same person in my organization also. I always give true feedback. Harsh. And sometimes people don’t like it. They feel crushed when you give true feedback on, let’s say, their design. So I am in a position to fix and not misguide them. If something is bad, I actually say that it is very, very bad. Others might say okay, work harder. I don’t like to do that. And it is not like I don’t have good things to say. I do. It is rare because the bar is very high, but I do whenever something crosses that. I believe it is very important to convey the right message.

So, are your investors unhappy with you?

Yes, so this got discussed at the meeting. They said that they liked the innovation, the passion and that smart people are running it. But at the same time, they didn’t like the attitude. So, strong positives and negative. So they said, I should be more softer and polite. And they asked me to work on that.

How was the meeting?

First professional board meeting, I can say. I learnt how to do a board meeting. So you are sitting and there are papers and if people agree on something, they say we agree. Just like it happens in a marriage thing, you know.

It was long?

Yes. So first I had a chat with SoftBank. It was long and really, really good. You know I had heard from people that SoftBank is good, the people are really good. Only this time, I understood that.

Why do you say that?

Because they don’t care about small stuff. And they have vision and we could connect on that. Like if you see, Masayoshi Son (founder of Softbank), he has a 300-year vision. Also, they run large companies, so they know how to manage them and run it. So you can connect on that, on how to run a company. They are not just a pure venture capital firm. They understand the intricacies of business and how much effort it takes to build something. So I would say that I really respect them.

But it wasn’t evident in that email?

That was for all. That I don’t agree and yeah, it was broadcast to all.

Were you expecting the reply accepting your resignation?

It was not an acceptance. It was an acknowledgement. And I was surprised because I was like, I have sent a mail so it must have been delivered, no? Why bother sending an acknowledgement?

What if they had accepted your resignation and you had to go?

So be it. I would have. You know, I have confidence in myself. Of what I am capable of. And I don’t carry baggage. I am not emotionally attached to something. If it doesn’t work, then I can easily walk away and say it is just sunk cost. And the example is what starts at college. You know, to crack JEE (Joint Entrance Examination for the Indian Institutes of Technology), you work so hard. And then you have to spend four years, but I didn’t complete it, I dropped out in the last year. And people will say, what’s the harm, it is just a few months. I won’t waste a day. So I can write off easily. Generally people are insecure. They think if they can do it again. They believe in luck, not themselves. They think you can only make it big once. I don’t think like that. I believe in my hard work and my intelligence. Call it arrogance, but that’s who I am. That plus good relations with the people you work with, that is magic.

Okay. How much importance do you attach to people’s perception of you? And they are saying a lot of things.

It is funny to read. I am like what the... But I just had fun over the last few days. I don’t care about these people. They are losers. Those who are commenting, the kind of companies they have created, the kind of colleges they have been to, the kind of work they do, it is all shit. Same is true of the kind of products and brands they make. I don’t have anything more to say.

Okay. Product and brands. How’s the marketing going? So much talk about it.

Product is important. But it is not a substitute for marketing. You know, marketing matters in India. Unlike Silicon Valley. That’s why you will see that most companies here are marketing successes rather than product success. And one reason for that is that for most categories, be it e-commerce or taxi, these are all US models, which have been copied. Unlike our category, which has not been cracked there. In e-commerce, product has been copied.

Flipkart did cash-on-delivery. That’s product innovation right?

Yes. It is, but what else? And I am not saying that it is not a good company. It is a really good company. I don’t respect many companies, but relatively speaking, I do respect them. Not a lot. But I do.

Okay, let’s get down to the point of differences. First, the huge advertising campaign. Housing spent almost 100 crore; do you think it has delivered results?

So I won’t comment on the number except say that you are close. But yes, it worked out very well. In just two months, from being very small we are now 2x of our competition. In April, we’ve beaten eight-nine year old companies like MagicBricks and 99acres. Housing’s traffic in April was 11 million+ compared to 6 million of MagicBricks and 4.5 million of 99acres. And this does not include Housing’s traffic of IREF, the real estate forum company we acquired. Housing’s app download is now at 1 million-plus with 4.2 rating, while MagicBricks and 99acres both are 500k-plus with lower ratings. So we are almost 2x of these players and we are going to be the 10x player by the year-end. Starting so late in such a hyper-competitive space and still winning in such a short time is a big deal.

But there is a concern around revenue…

No. Product, demand, supply and then sales. We’ve decided to focus only on three, and for the next one year also we will do that. I don’t want my team to make any revenue for the next 12 months. We keep doing experiments and all, but that is just that. I want to say it again; we are not in the revenue mode. The day we will come, we will make 10x. That is my style. Marketing is going on. Because of which supply has gone up. So earlier we would get supply of 1,000 houses (for both resale + rent); that has now gone up to 5,500 houses every day. You will see that whatever we are doing is differentiated. Product was different than competition. Marketing is different. So will be sales.

Okay. But the company is still looking for a CEO right? The investors have given a mandate to Spencer Stuart.

Ha ha! I started that. I have given that mandate. Even my investors were not aware of it initially.

You? Why?

Because we are now becoming a group of companies. So we acquired IREF. There are other acquisitions in the pipeline, for instance a data analytics company. We are working on land, office spaces—so this is everything real estate. So right now, it is Housing, you will see us becoming everything real estate. So we need CEOs to manage these strategic business units. So we are hiring CEOs…

But I was talking about a CEO who will be your replacement

Sure. Why not? We need an India CEO too. I need a CEO; investors were opposed to it, but I need one. I think that is the best structure in line with the way we are growing. And I don’t want to divulge a lot, but you know, we have plans to go international. Become a global company. So we need CEOs for all those markets. I actually have a number for how many, but I can’t share it with you right now. And I am calling them CEOs because I prefer CEOs than calling them country manager or business head. I have a plan to become the largest real estate group in the world. I can’t talk about it right now, but we will at the right time.

Sure. So if you have so many CEOs, then what will you become?

Group CEO, chairman, something, I don’t know anything. How many CEOs are there in the Tata group? Many, right? Now think of Housing like that in the next few years. Okay. More simple. Think of Housing like Facebook. In a few years.

I am still trying to digest this.

Okay. So I am looking at 40+ markets. All developing markets. Not now, but that is the plan. Once the app is ready, which means once all the bugs are fixed. So that’s why I am hiring. I need a lot of people. And seriously, you have no idea.

Yeah. I can see that. So when does this happen?

A lot needs to be done here in India, for now. And I want to say this, that India will be our biggest market. But here alone, the app has to perform, the whole process of demand and supply has to match. Home loans and insurance have to be tightly integrated in the experience. So it is a question of bandwidth. So people, product and money. Once that is in place, there is no stopping us.

Okay. There’s another concern that I’ve heard. Is there any cash left at Housing? There have been rumours that you have almost run out.

We still have more than $50 million left. I think that’s a shit load of cash for my business. You know, you don’t need money to do Housing classifieds business. You need money for innovation and expansion. And that’s what you will see. Wait.

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Updated: 10 May 2015, 11:21 AM IST
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