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Enabling women's workforce participation | HerKey
What happens when a highly driven, intelligent and ambitious woman is forced to leave the workforce to look after her family?
She becomes an entrepreneur and a force for good!
After graduating from The Wharton School, Neha embarked on her entrepreneurial journey. However, it was when she became a mother and found herself at home that her perspective shifted.
This experience compelled her to dedicate her life's mission to tackling the issue of low female workforce participation rates in India.
HerKey is boosting female participation in the workforce by providing women with access to job opportunities, mentorship, reskilling programs, networking opportunities etc.
Neha Bagaria shares how she started HerKey as a platform to help women get back to the workforce and bootstrapped it to scale!
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Neha: Hi, I'm Neha Bagaria, the founder and CEO of HerKey, formerly JobsForHer.
Akshay: Congratulations on the 4 million fundraise. You're coming fresh out of a fundraise. Let me start with this question. What's your elevator pitch for HerKey formerly JobsForHer to a VC investor?
Neha: Well, it's actually about building India's largest career engagement platform for women, so that we make sure that women stay engaged with their careers and they unlock their true economic potential.
Akshay: If I were a VC, I would want to know, the question which every VC has is show me the money. How do you monetize?
Neha: The monetization possibilities when you are unlocking the economic potential of women are tremendous.
In fact, we are already a profitable, scalable business model. Where a predominant revenue comes from corporates who are looking at recruiting women talent and increasing the number of women in the workplace. But now with the move to HerKey, we are also looking at how do we work with corporates, not just for the recruitment strategies, but as well for the retention and advancement strategies for the women talent.
Also as we go forward there are huge monetization possibilities when it comes to learning opportunities for women during their career stages.
Akshay: I understand the recruitment as a revenue source. Fairly straightforward well proven model.
Though, I would wonder that how much value are you able to capture here? Because a typical job portal doesn't capture much value which are like discovery platforms. Let's say if it starts from a discovery platform, like a job portal on the one hand and on the other hand a recruitment firm like say, MichaelPageAbc.
So Michael Page ABC would get anywhere from 10 to 15% of the salary as the value they capture. Whereas for a job portal, it might be 0.1% or 1% something in that range. So how much value are you able to capture?
Neha: We are definitely closer to a recruitment platform versus a recruitment agency.
In fact, recruitment agencies like ABC use our platform to be able to reach out to the candidates. And the idea is again, if you think about the model, it'll be similar to a LinkedIn sort of a model where you create the platform and you make sure that the value you carry, the value you bring.
It's from the volume of business that'll happen on it. By creating a global platform. Yes, absolutely per transaction. In fact, we want to make it as cost effective and efficient for our companies to hire huge volumes of women from the platform. But the monetization actually comes from ensuring the scale happens in the volume.
Akshay: And are there functional areas that are like more prevalent. For example, like tech hiring or sales hiring or customer support or operations.
Neha: We see a general trend towards our top industries, top function areas where companies want to hire women in huge numbers and that would of course include industries like tech, education, BPO call centres, manufacturing, pharma, retail. But then again, we also see industries like electronics and semiconductors et cetera, where there are less women currently or the automotive industry where because there are less women, companies are putting in more effort to hire more women.
Akshay: And how do you acquire the supply of talent here? For a company to pay you to post a job would only make sense if there is a good supply of talent which is applying for the job. So what's the way in which you are acquiring supply?
Neha: We have a database of three and a half million women on the platform already, and this was in a bootstrapped manner over a period of time.
And that was one of the big things that we were able to crack. Because this is a database of three and a half million women who are interested in their careers in India. And for that we actually run a lot of different kind of marketing strategies. We employ, for example, social media extremely effectively. In which it's not just about here is a job, apply for it.
It's a lot about also converting passive job seekers into active job seekers. Women who are not sure they can and should work, to get them over the fence, to have the desire to work. Plus we work a lot with a lot of different partners in the women space in order to get them to reach out to their women databases and start inspiring them for their careers.
And thirdly, we have a very strong ambassador program. Where we actually have women on the ground working with their local communities to get them over their roadblocks and obstacles.
Akshay: Which of these is getting launched first between communities and learning?
Neha: We have a version of opportunities, learning and communities all three on the current platform even today. But we are doing a much deeper dive into communities in the new version of the product.
Akshay: What does that look like? What are you building for communities?
Neha: Well, when it comes to communities, we actually want to give women a safe space for them to be able to share from their career point of view.
So it's not just about actually showcasing, which will of course be a small part of it where you put yourself out there and you gain followers like the way you do on social media platforms. But the community on HerKey is gonna be more of a supportive community where if you have any challenges that you're facing in your career, you will find your tribe of women over here.
You will be able to reach out to women who are going through similar challenges or who have gone through it and help you through it. So the community will actually consist of three types of people. There will be employers who are there to give you the jobs that you need. There will be experts who will be there to give you the learning that you need, but the most important is each other, who will be able to give you the support that you need.
Akshay: Would this be in the way? I'm just trying to visualize what it would look like. Would it look like the way LinkedIn does, where I post something and people comment or like. So if I am stuck somewhere, I post about it and other women will comment and so on. Is this what it would look like?
Neha: There are lots of different options right now that we are considering and we are all in the drawing board. You'll be able to see more by the end of the year?
Akshay: I'm just wondering, you want employers also to be on the platform. Wouldn't you need to let men in? A lot of the employers would be men.
Neha: Of course. Absolutely. And men are not the enemy.
They've never ever been the enemy. In fact, one of the core values of JobsForHer has always been that "Be pro women but not anti-men". And the reason is because, this is not an anti-male crusade at all. If we get more women into the workplace, the people who will benefit the most will be the men, as employers, as husbands, as fathers, as brothers and as allies.
So on the platform we see men playing a very important part. They will come in as employers, they will come in as experts, and when it comes to each other, they will come in as allies and mentors. And we will of course figure out how to tread this fine balance in terms of what men can do on the platform and what they can't.
Because at the end of the day, the platform is for career advancement of women. So the men will be on the platform in terms of aiding that journey of advancing women's careers.
Akshay: So, the account of a man will have a slightly different user interface and different permissions and actions. So essentially what you're trying to do is a LinkedIn for women? In a way.
Neha: In many ways yes. And in many ways no. So in many ways, absolutely. We need to figure out how can we use the strengths of LinkedIn to leverage it for women.
Because today, if you look, usual statistics are about 20% of users on LinkedIn are women. I imagine a platform like that, where a hundred percent of the users are women, what can that do for the women community? And in that same breath, then how is it not LinkedIn for women as well?
Because, LinkedIn was not built for the kind of challenges and problems that women go through in their journeys, especially the fact that LinkedIn was built for a currently working professional. And which is why you see such low participation rates from women, because women have such low participation rates in the workplace.
So the HerKey platform will be built not just for women who are currently working, but for women who aspire to work. For that bulk of women talent, which is 85% of the women graduates in India, which is outside the workplace. How do we also cater to them and their needs?
Akshay: In terms of as a product manager, I'm guessing the product itself would be very similar to a LinkedIn kind of a product. Just that the content would be different.
Neha: The content and the context as well, which means that there are different layers of sensibilities that we need to build in, which will be very different.
I mean, those will be nuanced approaches. Like, for example, LinkedIn versus the Facebook. The premise is the same. They're both social network platforms, but the context is completely different. And because the context is different, there are lots of different features that you need to build out for it.
Akshay: Is it proven that something like this can succeed, a woman centric social network or career network? Is there some global example of this.
Neha: Luckily, we have some good comps playing out in the US.
And the US is maybe a couple of decades ahead of us when it comes to the D&I journey and when it comes to increasing women's participation rates. They also started off very low a couple of generations ago, and they've managed to boost that up to now they're at 55% of women participation rates.
And over there we actually have a unicorn in the women's career space in terms of chief, which is women's network only for extremely senior women professionals. There's also a company called Mom Project which is, as the name suggests, it's for mom's careers. There's a company called Fairygodboss, which is also a network for women and was recently acquired by The Muse.
Akshay: These are all like digital products.
Neha: These are all online platforms.
Akshay: I had no idea this space had so many large established companies.
Neha: Its still very, very small number compared to the general career space and usually the general career space was built by men for men of men, which means there's a lot of work still to be done in the women's career space.
And I think with this funding, we are gonna be able to start building that kind of interest and attention to the space that is required to first grow the space and get more players in.
Akshay: You said 85% of women in India are out of the workforce. Why is this number so high?
Neha: So that's the number in urban India, by the way.
Overall women participation rates in India, 20%. But in urban India it's only 15%, which means as a family becomes more affluent in India, the chances of that woman working becomes low. And the reason is really social. Because first of all, the woman is brought up in a way to think that her one and only priority is family and caretaking. Families expect that from that woman. And then employers have a lot of biases as well. If you look at the numbers, out of 100 college grads, 40 of them are women today, which is incredible. That is the work that was done by our mother's generation.
Out of those 40, only eight even start their careers. The rest of them, usually they get married after they graduate or they move to another city and the career never takes off. Out of those eight, four of them drop out within three years, which is usually when motherhood strikes and then they never return.
And that is why our women participation reads as follow.
Akshay: So how do you change this then? This is more about changing the mindset of the families more than the women. I'm assuming that there would be a desire inside the woman to work, but the environment around her doesn't support.
Neha: Frankly for the last eight years, I always say that I feel our biggest job has been in changing mindset. We do need to change the mindsets of the entire ecosystem. But I do think that it needs to start with changing the mindset of that woman.
We don't need to wait for any knights and shining armours to come and save us, and rescue us. I feel like if you give women the right narrative, the right tools, the right resources, then they'll be able to stand up and state that, "hey, I do want to work and this is why I want to work."
Also, once we start showcasing these women's stories instead of portraying women as either goddesses or abla naari, and we start showcasing women as a woman who is juggling between her career and her family and still managing just fine. Once we start showcasing these kind of narratives, families will realize that not only should they support their women's careers, but also be proud of it.
It's a lot about changing narratives, which is something that a strong community like this can do.
Akshay: I was reading somewhere that the paid maternity leave used to be three months, and then it was increased to six months. And that actually caused a dip in women participation because corporates are reluctant to hire women because they know that in case of pregnancy there is a six-month payout.
Which they will be on the hook for it. What do you think about that?
Neha: I know of enough companies where they have actually reduced hiring of women who are at a marriageable/childbearing age because when they're interviewing those candidates, all they can think about is six months maternity leave.
And it has become a big detriment to hiring women. So we've actually made it worse. And also think about the message that we're sending out to parents. We are saying that, oh yeah absolutely a child has been born. That woman should take six months off from her career. But the father doesn't need to take any paternity leave.
No mandated paternity leave. And that's so sad for everybody involved. It's sad for that woman because those companies who wanna hire her, it’s sad for the man too, because those companies don't feel that the man has had a baby, and they should give leave to them too. So if we did want to go in the direction of giving more support to parents, first of all, we have to change again, the narrative and the way we're thinking about it.
We need to provide more support to working parents. If you want to provide a support to working parents, then have a six-month parental leave policy instead. Where let the couple decide that maybe that woman takes three months off and then the father takes three months off.
Akshay: I think there's no country in the world which has implemented this yet.
Neha: There are lots of Scandinavian countries where women participation rates are very high, about 80%. Those are very good to study in terms of what they're doing to really support women's careers. And a lot of them look at it like this. It's working parents. How do you make sure that there's parental leave? How do you make sure that the government is also supporting companies to provide that kind of relief? And how do you even look at, for example companies in Scandinavia, they usually work during school hours.
So their timings at work coincide with the timings of schools so that parents can drop their kids to school, get to work, and then be done with the workday. Pick up the kids, spend time with them. It feels like a really ideal world, if Scandinavia could get there, one day India can too.
Akshay: Tell me about how, you've been through a similar journey where you left the workforce before you started HerKey. Tell me about your own journey.
Neha: I graduated from Wharton. And of course when I graduated, I felt like there was no difference between a man or a woman.
Applied for the same jobs, decided to take the entrepreneurship path instead. Started my first company while I was still in my last semester at college. It was called Paragon. That was my first baby, and it was an educational company. I actually became the college board representative for India.
At the age of 21, came back and started this educational centre to bring the advanced placement program back to India because when we had all gone abroad to study, we never got any credit for the work that we had done in Indian high schools. And that's a huge waste of time, money, and effort.
So I brought the AP's back to India, set that centre up. High school kids in India started taking AP credits. Did that for two years.
Akshay: What is this thing of AP credits, advanced Placement. This sounds very foreign to me. I've never studied abroad, so I'm not familiar with this.
Neha: I don't know if in Japan they have the AP's. It's the American system of education, the way you have IB or A Levels or HSC in India. In America, the honours program is called AP's. And if you have APs in your high school, you actually don't need to repeat those classes when you go to an American university.
Otherwise, when from an Indian high school system, when you go to America, you have to repeat a lot of the stuff that you've already done. In the 11th and 12th grade and that's a pretty big waste of time, money, and effort.
Akshay: And how do you prove it to the college that you have already studied this in India.
Neha: So the college board, which gives the AP exams, that's the same board that gives the SAT exams.
So these are standardized global tests. But India did not offer the AP's. No Indian schools offered the AP's. There was nowhere to take the AP's. So during my last semester at college, I actually convinced the college board that we need to offer this in India. Convinced a school in India to become an AP testing centre, and thus brought the advanced placement program back to India and got Indian high school students to prepare for the AP's and give those tests.
Akshay: So, if you wanna prove that you already studied biology, then you give the biology AP test at centre and earn the credit for it.
Neha: And IB students and A level students can get that credit. But at that time, we are talking about 2003. There were no IB level.
So I did that for two years and for me, that's when the first life stage hit, which was marriage. And I moved from Bombay to Bangalore and Paragon was a very physical, offline educational centre. And I couldn't keep that going. And at that point I made the very difficult decision of closing that down and joining my husband's family business. So my husband's family business was in pharmaceutical manufacturing.
In a completely different area that I've been working on before. But frankly as a business student, same business principles apply no matter the industry. And it was also at a very interesting stage of growth at the company. So I jumped on board. We were acquiring facilities in Sweden and the US.
So got very involved in that. As a former finance student, it was very interesting to be a M&A deals on the buy side. And then did that for five years. Never thought I'd stop, frankly. Even when I got pregnant, I worked till my nine months. I told everyone I'll be back in 40 days.
Famous last words. And 40 days later, I said no, maybe three months. Three months later, I said maybe a year. And a year later I was a raging full-time mom and I said, forget it. I'm going to be a full-time mom. Just the way my mom was and my mother-in-law was, and frankly all the other women I knew around me, they had all quit working to really be there for the children.
And I felt I needed to do that too. And yeah, I quit. That break ended up being for three and a half years, during which time I had a second baby. And when that second child came into my life, things changed again because it was the first time that I had to shift my attention from my first born.
And I realized that the heavens did fall down. It was actually good for him. And also by then a lot of frustration had seeped in. So I started looking at all the careers of all my peers. My former classmates and mainly the men, who took their careers zooming ahead and started wondering what the hell?
I didn't work so hard and study so hard to finally be in the same place that my mother was in. And one day, I realized that if I wanna be a happy mother, I have to be a happy person. And for that I needed to get back to work. So it was really for the sanity of all those around me.
I decided to jump back and for me it was easy because I had a family business that I could jump back to. So I literally twisted my husband into giving me a job back and got back, did that for one year and that one year of getting back to work was the eye-opening year for me because it was just a great experience to restart my career.
It was good for me, it was good for the kids, it was good for my husband, and it was great for the company. And that made me start questioning and interrogating every woman I knew that Why aren't you getting back to work? And the kind of challenges I started hearing, I was like, this is crazy.
Like we have to figure out, if we lose out on this talent pool, we are losing out on a talent pool of qualified, experienced, capable, ambitious women. So we need to figure out how do we get them back to work? And that's really where the idea of JobsForHer came about.
Akshay: And you were not from a tech background, but you wanted to build this as an online business.
How did you actually go about building it up? You had not done marketing before. To build an online business, you need tech and you need marketing to acquire customers. How did you learn these skills? Tell me about building it up.
Neha: That was a pretty critical decision. The decision to build it up as a tech platform. It was definitely not my first choice and first course of action. But when I started looking at the numbers that we needed to solve for. By one statistic, there were 20 million women who needed to restart their careers in India.
I finally had to take that hard call that look, either I can build it as an offline business, which is something that I was comfortable with and I had worked with and I knew how to do, but then I would be able to impact the lives of thousands. Or I can build this, I can leverage technology and build this as an online platform, and then I can impact the lives of millions.
And finally, if the idea was to change that diversity needle, to push that diversity needle in India and get more women in the workplace, we had to build it for millions. So frankly it was my younger brother who was also running a tech startup at that time. He's the one who really convinced me that I had to build it as a tech startup.
And over the years, many times I definitely cursed him, several times. But I do see why it was extremely important that we look at leveraging technology, and I think it's extremely important to realize also that look, that same technology that feels so alien to a woman who's been on a break. That same technology has made it so easy to pick up the skills that you need in order to learn.
So when it comes to marketing, by the way, I graduated from Wharton in finance, marketing and management of information system. All which are coming to use now. But there was no digital marketing at that time. I use that technology to learn, the kind of online upskilling that is available for anyone who wants to learn is immense.
So I just upskilled myself in marketing. The other thing that I really needed to understand was from an HR point of view to really figure out what is it that is lacking and how do we bridge those gaps. So I also had very strong mentors and advisors in place. And that really helped as well in not just filling the gaps of knowledge and expertise, but also identifying the gaps and knowledge and expertise, which I could then upskill myself in.
Akshay: How did you build three and a half million users?
Neha: By working on it every single day. I think it's really the premise.
Akshay: How did you build the first 10,000 users? Let's just start with that.
Neha: The first 10,000 users’ story was completely organic first of all.
We didn't do any paid marketing in the whole first year. And because we first wanted to make sure that our value proposition is working. There is that actual need out there that women want and they will come to us for. Our big thing that we pushed out was content marketing.
Because we had to use very strong narratives to shake up the ecosystem and get those women to get up and realize that this is for them. Also, what really helped was our laser sharp focus in terms of, in the beginning, the first year, the platform was only for women who are on a career break in Bangalore.
And because we did that, the kind of content that we put in place, the kind of marketing that we put in place was so personal and customized to that woman that we saw huge organic growth. In our user base.
Akshay: And by content here are you talking of blogs on your side or also other social media platform posting?
Neha: Blogs of course, but more importantly a lot of social media campaigns that we ran. For example, one of the campaigns that we ran was on difficult conversations and we got women to share what kind of difficult conversations they've had to have to restart their careers. And those difficult conversations could have been with their husbands, with their kids, with their mother-in-laws, with themselves, with employers, so that also gets women to realize what kind of difficult conversations they can and should have.
In order to get back. So there was a huge virality that came about in these different campaigns and that helped really push the needle.
Akshay: And you were using your personal network and all to get the jobs which were getting listed there.
Neha: So luckily being from the entrepreneurial space. We are also in touch with huge number of entrepreneurs and huge number of business people, and the business side of it, that was my forte. The tech not really. And you pick up those skills and you hire those skills.
The business was my forte. So I completely tapped every network of mine to just get companies to come and hire women returnees on the platform. We started off with 20 companies. Today we have 10,000 companies on the platform. But in the beginning, that was a bigger challenge.
Because again, this was only for women returnees. The whole first year we didn't. For us, our sales, and by the way, the person who heads my sales department today is that person who is employee number two at JobsForHer. And the first full year, her version of sales was just calling her companies and convincing them to come and list the jobs for free on the platform, but for the fact that this is for women returnees only.
And that took a lot of convincing to get companies to realize why they should hire women returnee. And over there, the reason is also because a lot of the platforms that had come before us, they had taken a very social angle to the space. But that's where the business degree helped, where I recognize the fact that look, businesses are there for the bottom line and we need to make them see how this would help the bottom line.
So once we started projecting this database as a talent pool of women who are qualified, experienced, capable, they have a desire to prove themselves again and they can join companies with no notice period. That's when we really got their interest and they started posting the jobs in the beginning for free, and then by the end of the year, they were paying us for it.
Akshay: And by when did you break even?
Neha: The pandemic is what really helped us to break even. Because with the pandemic for the first time, we saw this huge wave of women hiring that happened. Because for the first time, the biggest barrier to women's careers was gone.
And that's flexibility. Just the flexible mindset. Until then, if a woman asked for flexibility companies used to take that very negatively. And companies were not at all okay with any sort of remote work or part-time work or freelance work. Very few opportunities over there, but the pandemic forced every company to figure out how to work remotely.
And companies started seeing the benefits of remote work. Frankly, if you already look at future of work now it's hybrid. I don't think it's full-time in the office or it's full-time from home. The future is actually hybrid and that is really what women needed and wanted all these years.
So just for the company to have the flexible mindset, which said that, okay, fine if my child is sick today, can I work from home? Say during summer holidays, can I work part-time from the office and part-time from home? Different flexible work arrangements like that.
And once that flexibility was removed from being a barrier to women's success, that suddenly opened up the floodgates. And we turned profitable because of the huge demand that we saw. Also we saw that women were now ready. Because in so many families the sole breadwinner was a man. So many people lost their jobs and suddenly families and that women are realizing that, look, there's this qualified, experienced talent lying at home.
Why don't we support her career as well and get her into the workplace too? So all around it was actually a watershed moment for women's careers.
Akshay: A lot of founders I speak to have pretty much gone back to work from office now. While during pandemic everyone used to talk about the new normal but it seems to me that it was a little overhyped.
The new normal. People mostly seem to be going back to office. What have you seen, are you seeing that flexibility?
Neha: So people are definitely going back into the office, but they're going back into the office with a very different mindset. Again, it's a much more flexible mindset with which they're going back into the office.
So many companies, for example, are using hybrid working arrangements very effectively in a way to attract better talent, to reduce infrastructure costs and to increase employee satisfaction. Most companies have figured out, for example, one day a week, can we work from home or an emergency basis, you can work from home. The work from home piece of a work arrangement is here to stay. It won't be a hundred percent work from home, but it'll be a varying degree of what a company allows, but it's not going away.
Akshay: Okay. Have you seen the flexibility dropping, because you probably have that data when people post jobs, they would indicate how flexible they are. Have you seen that?
Neha: So what we've seen dropping is the jobs that were completely remote. Which had of course skyrocketed during the pandemic. And what we've seen is dropping is the fact that earlier companies were open to hiring talent from anywhere, any city.
Now they're back to at least hiring talent from their own cities. But that being said, the kind of opportunities that did create, which were remote opportunities, that's still much larger. Even though overall that number, that growth has reduced. In an absolute sense, the kind of opportunities that are available for remote working is much larger than it was pre pandemic.
Akshay: Because that mindset change has happened at a fundamental level.
Neha: And many businesses are looking at it as a great cost saving method.
Akshay: You've raised this 4 million what do you want to use it for? Is it for product? Is it for marketing?
What is it for?
Neha: The money that we've raised is really to build the platform that will take us from the three and a half million to 30 million. And the chunk of that investment will go into building the tech and product. In fact, the first thing that we did was get our CTO on board.
Come home with the investment. And he comes with 20 plus years of experience in building global products, global technology teams, and we're very excited about what we can build with him. And of course the second thing that we will use the funding for is to build a database. Itself.
Plus we will also use the funding for starting to develop a lot of the other strategic initiatives. Like the different learning programs that are required for women.
Akshay: You'll create the content in-house, or is it gonna be like user generated, crowdsourced learning content?
Neha: We've always built the platform as a marketplace model.
We don't believe in the fact that we need to do everything ourselves. We've always feel that, let's leverage what is out there. Contextualize it, curate it for women, and then scale that. Because if we build it ourselves it'll be limited in terms of our own imagination and our own expertise.
We want to open up huge learning opportunities for women. Today also on the platform, we have about 800 plus learning partners. So we are working with a lot of them to curate these programs and offer them to women.
Akshay: How do you monetize this? You take a percentage of sales or you charge them a fee for advertising on the platform or what?
Neha: Both. So both models work? Where we work or again, promoting these learning partners during which time they have. We have subscription models for putting them out there. Plus whenever we are curating these programs with them, we'll take a percentage of sales and the sales could be either to that woman.
Also, we work a lot with different corporates for their learning needs, for their women talent.
Akshay: How does your sales happen? I'm taking an example of let's say SaaS companies. In SaaS companies, there are two ways in which they sell. One is a more self-serve model where people come in for a free trial and then they swipe a card and they start paying, which typically works when you are more SME focused, and then you have companies with sell largely through an account executive who will give a demo and onboard you and you will have a client success team and all that.
How does the sales work for you?
Neha: So we have both we have our online offerings by which any company can come by. Something that we call hot jobs. Get their jobs boosted and priority listed so that they can get more applicants for those jobs. We also have much larger subscription models for which we have a field sales team.
We call them our bear plans its branding, engagement and recruitment. And our field sales team actually works in selling that to our large enterprises where they can opt for different subscription models. In terms of. How much they want to be branded, how much they wanna engage with the talent pool and what kind of recruitment requirements that they have.
Akshay: So I'm assuming the sales happening through the sales team would be like a major chunk of your sales. The self-service sales would be a pretty small chunk, I'm guessing.
Neha: Currently, but the self-service sales is growing pretty significantly.
Akshay: And self-services largely like an SME product who just wants to quickly hire somebody and be done with. What do you see as your role in HerKey? There're some founders who say that I'm the product guy, I'm the custodian of the product.
Then there're some people who are like sales first who are out there leading the sales team from the front, talking to the customers. So different founders have different type of focus areas. What kind of a founder are, what's your focus area? What is your role in HerKey?
Neha: I guess as a founder and CEO; you're used to wearing so many different hats. In fact at some point or the other, you have worn every hat in the organization. That it's difficult to choose which baby belongs to you in the organization. But I do feel that overall, I think being the culture custodian is the most important.
Because finally nothing scales as much as culture. We need to make sure that as we scale, as we grow, as we have more offerings, more product lines, bigger team, et cetera. The culture of the organization is key of why do we do what we do. So I think if my biggest role in the organization is constantly keeping a focus on the why, in every little thing that we do. In fact, we are constantly encouraging every team member, no matter what level and what designation every team member to constantly question why. Why are we doing what we are doing. For everything that we put out there. Because otherwise at the end of the day it just becomes actions.
So, when it comes to culture, goal setting, visioning, strategy. Those sit only with me. I have a very, very strong core team and they are masters in product and in tech and in marketing and in sales and in customer service and in operations and in HR and finance.
But I think the overall "why" sits with me.
Akshay: So you wanna make sure that you remain a mission-driven organization. And that mission resonates throughout the organisation.
Neha: That is why it was so important to also get the right investors in. Because we also made that very, very clear in the pitch.
That absolutely this is about making money and huge money and all of that, but it's tech for good. It's a whole premise of doing well by doing good. And we wanted those investors who believe in that as well. I finally look at that. We got Vani Kola to come in. Who has been through the journey of being the most ferocious female VC in India.
And even in 360 ONE finally we have a woman board member from 360 ONE. So in fact, on our new board we have the man who's the diversity on our board.
Akshay: What's your headcount now?
Neha: We are about hundred plus.
Akshay: So what are some of the things you're doing to maintain the culture? As the company grows beyond, let's say 50 people it's no longer possible for you to personally make sure that everyone is aligned with the mission and stuff like that.
Neha: So when it comes to the hiring process, one of the assessment criteria for every hiring process is alignment to our values and our culture. Part of every hiring process, part of every evaluation, every review, every appraisal. It is always about also how aligned is that person to the overall vision and values of the company.
My induction training for every new joinee. I just focus on the why that entire induction, every town hall that we have and when we talk about our quarterly reviews or we talk about our annual plan, where we talk about important announcements, we constantly bring it to the why and we constantly talk about the culture behind the company.
So it is a lot of constant and consistent messaging that we employ.
Akshay: What are some of the tools you use to manage people? Like some people use like OKRs as a tool?
Neha: We use OKRs as well. And they've been very effective because with OKRs and we keep telling people that this is about finally achieving the objectives.
It's not about driving actions. The actions have to give you the objectives. So the OKRs are superb in that. Because you're forced to think from an objective manner. So every team has their different OKRs. And then we have overall company OKRs as well.
Akshay: What do you do for inspiration?
Do you read books? Do you listen to podcasts or do you talk to people, or where do you get your own inspiration from?
Neha: Frankly, when you run a platform like HerKey, it's incredible the kind of inspiration that you get on a daily basis. The kind of stories every week we run stories of women who are getting back to work and that is extremely inspirational to hear the stories.
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Until the next founder's thesis📕,
Your host, AD