Rajan Anandan is the Managing Director of Sequoia Capital India, Asia’s most well-known and premier scale-up program for young startups. He also acts as an investment advisor and mentor to the program’s founders.
Prior to Sequoia, as head of Google India & Southeast Asia, he played a key role in expanding the internet ecosystem in the region, increasing adoption among consumers and businesses and accelerating innovation while building a multi-billion dollar business that continues to grow rapidly. He is also a prolific angel investor who has backed a large number of successful start-ups at the very early stages. Rajan has also led Microsoft and Dell in India, and was earlier a Partner at McKinsey & Co in Chicago.
It was a great privilege for the Bright Leadership team to interact with Rajan, who gave us valuable insights on how as an organization, we should gear ourselves up for the fast-growth phase which Bright is now in. We’ve shared some highlights below.
Three key themes were explored:
1) Product-market fit
2) Hiring the right talent
3) User obsession
On product-market fit
“Over the last year, Bright has pushed to get the product-market fit, to establish how it works and to recognize who its market is. This gear-change has happened for the company and there are a couple of different outcomes to expect.”
“The first mistake companies make when they are trying to get product-market fit is that they start off by building big teams.That is generally a bad idea and thankfully, with Bright, this was not the case. What you want is to be laser focused on your users, your ‘North Star’ metric and rapid experimentation so you can figure out what works.”
“You take the absolute best teams today, you’ll see that only about 20% of the companies get to their product-market fit. Others assume that they’ve got it and start scaling and that’s why they fail. This can be the case for many emerging companies in India.”
“It is important to genuinely ask yourself if you have found that product-market fit and guess what? It can get better and better over time depending on the business you are in. For Bright, it is retention and unit economics. How quickly you scale is a function of that, so keep testing your product-market fit always.”
Scaling up - All hail hiring!
“Once you find this fit, everything changes. You go from a small team to a larger team. Bright started out with 10-12 people, and now you are a team of 60 and growing! You are going to now be planning to triple that count.”
“The hardest part of scaling is doing it well. Initially focusing on retention, users and your ‘North Star’ metric is important, but this shouldn’t be the sole focus when scaling comes to the frontline. You have to shift focus on revenue, customer success, building a team and OKRs (objectives and key results). This is when your company becomes a real business.”
“Continue to experiment because experimentation is the backbone of scale. Scalability is about replicable processes. Build an execution machine with rigour. Entrepreneurs I see today, especially in Bright, have the benefit of having ‘grown up’ in big companies.”
“People and processes have to be aligned. Different businesses hit this stage at different times. You want to build an enduring company with fundamentals in place. ‘Fast’ and ‘scale’ are not synonymous, it’s important to remember that. You need to find the right speed of growth for your company.”
“Bright has been very good with setting the bar high while hiring. We want quality, not quantity. So, ensure it remains so. All it takes is for you to drop the ball once, one wrong hire and it will have a ripple effect. Very important to remember this while scaling.”
“Find the best talent, not the talent you know best. There is a HUGE difference. If this means you have 50 people less than your target, then so be it. More often than not, the talent you know best might not be the best talent out there.”
“There needs to be 10x focus on onboarding. Even if you hire the perfect-fitting person for that role, remember that they come from a different context. The Bright culture is very different and you need to be specific about who you want joining the team.”
“When you scale fast without people processes in place, your culture will deteriorate fast. Productivity gets hit. So, keep in mind that more is not always better. Focus on hiring the right kind of talent and onboarding them well into your company and culture.”
“User-focused thinking, and even obsession, is important throughout your journey. Especially for a consumer-based organization like Bright;, you have to always do right by your users. But go from that one hero-metric to OKRs.”
“Bright is obsessed with Data Science which is fantastic because you can’t rely on intuition for everything. This gives you the ability to have the right objectives and OKRs, especially when you have a high-caliber team like the one you have at Bright.”
“Keep in mind that the ‘Power-user wall’ is real because you will eventually hit it. You are playing in a market with a unique product, something that others haven’t done, but keep in mind that companies who have hit their product-market fit and feel they have nailed it suddenly realize that it has become difficult to attract the next set of 10,000 or 20,000 users and there growth can be suddenly stunted.”
“Monitor your user channels. You will max out on a channel and you need to have other channels to bank on. Run experiments on other channels while working with your primary channel. Bright has been realistic and has deeply understood its user group. Your pitch and the reality are different and that awareness must always be present for any company to succeed.”
“If you want to build an enduring company, don’t do things that are easy!”