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India: Startups loosen purse strings to hire top talent again, but with caution

Indian internet companies have loosened their purse strings to hire senior technology leaders after a gap of almost two years. However, the recruitment process has become much longer, given that the companies are wary of the 2015 debacle, when most tech executives from the Silicon Valley failed to find their feet at Indian startups.

This time, the compensation packages, too, have been structured differently, comprising more stock options and less cash to boost retention chances, said headhunters and executives.

Fast-growing startups, such as Swiggy and Rivigo, have led the hiring of senior technology executives, splurging big money to get experienced leaders in key functions. Startups are not blindly looking at Silicon Valley for talent, but hiring tech executives who have spent at least some time working in Indian internet companies. Their goal is to conduct a more rigourous assessment of whether the tech leaders will fit into the working environment of the startups, which is far removed from that of Silicon Valley companies.

“Startups are realizing that tech is going to be a key differentiator for them over the next 5-10 years so there is a lot more seriousness and focus on hiring the right tech leader,” said Deepak Singh Ahlawat, chief executive officer, Purple Quarter, a tech specialist recruitment firm. “Now startups are taking more time to hire CTOs and product leaders and are ready to give them more stock in the company. By giving more stock you ensure that the person you’re hiring has skin in the game,” said Ahlawat. The revival in hiring comes after two years of lull caused by a general slowdown in startup funding and scepticism about hiring expensive hands.

In 2015, the then rising startups, such as Flipkart, Snapdeal, Zomato and Ola, had all spent big money to hire executives from the Silicon Valley. However, many, including Punit Soni and Peeyush Ranjan at Flipkart, and Tanmay Saksena at Zomato, did not last long.

“In 2015, there was a mismatch of expectations, vision and culture between tech leaders who were hired and startup CEOs. The new startups have learnt from that mistake. Now, CEOs are an integral part of the hiring process so there is a better informed assessment of whether there is a culture and vision fit between the tech leaders and CEOs they will be working for. This increases the chances that the hires will work out,” said Ahlawat.

In 2014-15, senior management hiring was driven by massive capital infusions into a handful of startups, said Anshuman Das, founder of search consultancy Longhouse Consulting.

“A lot of talent was hired into senior management roles, but it did not lead to anything much. Today, there has been consolidation in every sector and things are a lot more sorted out. So the focus is more on talent that is capable, and on quality rather than numbers,” Das said.

“Companies are loosening their purse strings a bit to attract senior hires, but not in a reckless, ‘we will pay whatever’ way. Senior management also have real jobs to do now and their purpose in the company is a lot more solid than it was in the past,” he added.

This article was first published on


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