It was a packed audience at the CEO panel discussion at Flipkart’s annual technology event Slashn, which was held in a Bangalore convention center on Friday. The event featured a star-studded panel with the CEOs of billion-dollar startups like Paytm, Flipkart, and InMobi. But the biggest star of the evening wasn’t any of those CEOs. Instead, it was Rahul Yadav, the maverick former CEO of Housing.com, who got fired from his own company in July.
Yadav, 26, got a thunderous clap when welcomed on stage by Flipkart’s product head Punit Soni as ”India’s jobless CEO.”
“What now, Rahul?” Soni asked as the audience burst into laughter. That’s when Yadav disclosed for the first time ever that he has started a new company, Intelligent Interfaces, and has received funding from Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal.
“This time I have decided not to take VC money,” he said, getting applause from the audience.
Intelligent Interfaces, Yadav said, will provide tech solutions to government agencies to solve India’s problems through e-governance.
Yadav, was fired from his own company Housing.com in July, this year after a series of clashes he had with the board members. “There was a clear disconnect from the beginning,“ he said.
Housing.com was founded by 12 young engineers from IIT-Bombay in 2012. The company went on to raise about US$100 million from investors such as Nexus Venture Partners, Softbank and Helion Venture Partners. It still holds the record for the largest funding in the real estate classifieds space in India, and is currently being run by Jason Kothari.
What went wrong between Yadav and his investors
Yadav talked about how a venture capitalist invested in Housing who would ask him about the page- views of the mobile app. “Now how do I explain that we were a one page mobile and desktop app with a single flow?” Yadav said. “You can’t ask Gmail its page views!” the audience burst into laughter.
Talking about dealing with investment firms, Yadav said that it was all very good at the top. “I was advised that relationship between investors and entrepreneurs is like marriage….and all that,” he said. “But when it came down to guys at third or fourth levels, they would start asking for revenues.”
“In this [smartphone] era, some of them were still using Blackberry,” he said, amusing the audience again.
Yadav also addressed some of his own alleged mistakes. On his marketing campaign called ‘LookUp’ which burnt almost 25% of the capital raised by Housing, Yadav said that the company was looking for a big bang approach.
Through LookUp campaign, Housing splashed prime roads in India’s top metro cities with its massive billboards. Similar billboards were lined up along across India’s arterial roads, making it hard for anyone to miss them. The company however burnt a lot of cash, and after turbulence at top, laid off over 400 of its 2800 staffers in the months following Yadav’s ouster.
What would you do?
The rest of the CEO panel was also asked what they’d have done differently from Yadav if placed at Housing.com’s helm.
“Clearly Rahul had too many investors to manage,” said Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma. “I always believe that if you have more than three people to talk to for key decisions, it’s always a challenge.” Sharma gave kudos to Sachin Bansal for having managed a number of investors. “A company not run by its founder is not scalable,” he said.
“If I was [Housing] CEO I would hire less people, If the investor, I would bring [Yadav] back,” Sharma said.
InMobi CEO Naveen Tewari agreed. “If I was running Housing, I would bring him back and tell him that it’s your baby, it’s your job to run it. The crux is that you can’t replace the passion which a founder brings to create something disruptive.”
Flipkart CEO Sachin Bansal offered slightly different advice: “I would focus more on customers than shareholders.”
Don’t get married
The CEOs also talked about the kind of employees that work best when living the startup lifestyle. Yadav is himself unmarried, and he said it may be best for startups to hire singles. “The difference between single techies and married ones is that married people want to go home as early as they can,” he said. “And single techies say that Sunday ko bhi kaam mil jaaye to accha hai (Life can be better if I can get to work even on Sundays!”
Paytm CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma jokingly said that ‘married’ people don’t change the world.
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