The Indian tech industry and startups have been championed as the biggest crutch in the current economic goal of $5 Tn GDP. But the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that while job creation may be a strong point for startups, sustaining those jobs in times of crisis is not the strongest suit.
Even in sectors that haven’t been significantly impacted by the pandemic, startups have been forced to take measures such as layoffs, salary cuts and putting a freeze on salary hikes and bonuses. Surprisingly, the layoffs were not only limited to early-stage startups but celebrated game-changers such as Ola, Swiggy, Curefit, Zomato have all shed employees in chunks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as, except Ola, these companies’ losses have expanded over the past fiscal year (FY 2018 to FY2019) by 7.3x for Zomato, 6.1x for Swiggy and 2.5x for Curefit.
As per DataLabs estimates, the average percentage of layoffs in the total workforce in Indian startups is 22% for the past three months. On the positive side, the wrath of the pandemic on the startup ecosystem is not only being unleashed on employees and managers but in most cases, the founders are also carrying the cross.
The negative sentiment around hiring and job security combined with remote workforce challenges has increased the need for better employee engagement and physical and mental wellbeing management. Making employees feel more passionate about their work and committed to the organisation is one of the toughest tasks for any startup, especially at a time when employees have had to put more discretionary effort to manage things at home and for work.
And the need is to focus on activities beyond team meetings, group calls or virtual celebrations — it’s also about managing the talent and their pressures at this time. To tap into this niche, Superhumans is envisioning to create an integrated talent management platform.
Founded in 2019 by Gaurav Bhawnani, Kunal Mishra and Yasharth Mishra, Superhumans has launched a beta version of its HRtech product in June with a few companies. Talking to Inc42, Bhawnani said that the idea began with the cofounders trying to gauge what gets people to work? The team had itself noticed that they had performed really well in certain companies and not at their true potential in others. Hence, they wanted to solve employee wellbeing and engagement.
This began with months of research with industry experts to narrow down on the problem statement. Here the team realised that the one-stakeholder approach can’t be the solution, so they needed an integrated platform to solve for each employee, manager and the organisation in a visible horizontal and vertical manner.
“But where we are starting at is solving for engagement and wellbeing for companies and what we help them do today is help them measure, innovate, understand and act upon their employee engagement,” Bhawnani said.
Essentially, being a month-old product still being iterated, Superhumans is still in its beta phase. Currently, the product is divided into two parts: employee wellbeing measurement and manager guidance.
Superhumans’ 48-Point Engagement Platform
Under employee wellbeing measurement, Superhumans is integrated into several workflow management products— ranging from Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and others. The startup has built a platform-agnostic measurement tool, which uses a chatbot which gauges employee engagement on the basis of 48 organisational parameters. “We believe that the future is in being part of the workflow rather than building a standalone app or a bot or anything separately. So while the tech at the backend is common, we are integrating it further into employee engagement needs,” he explained.
Addressing the privacy concerns around conversations that may involve off-work details, Bhawnani said on the company level the product is GDPR compliant. Further in terms of risks to peer-to-peer communication on these workflow chat messaging apps, Bhawnani says that risk is controlled by making the bot conversation one-on-one.
But it is not just a pure-play survey product. The 48 organisational parameters tracked are aggregated into key top-level indexes for organisations and managers which help them understand things like employee engagement, manager satisfaction, job satisfaction and emotional wellbeing.
“For example, job satisfaction would include parameters like ‘Is there enough autonomy in the role? What is the role clarity, etc.’ With this, we help companies focus on what should be the top priority in various functions/teams or organisations to empower and unlock the true potential of their talent and close the loop by coaching the managers through nudges and relevant actions,” he added.
On being questioned about the frequency of these questions and the timing, which may vary depending on the employee’s mood during the day, Bhawnani explained that the chatbot asks just one question every day and the information is aggregated over a period of time. This helps derive aggregate level metrics for organisations.
Further, the firm says that the bot is intelligent enough to know when an employee would respond, based on the employee’s activity time and ensure it only activates itself when the employee has free time or when the platform is in use. Further, to identify any aberrations, the platform is intelligent enough to weed it out and not impact the overall results.
It would only be shown as an insight or an action item to the organisation when it becomes a trend. If it’s just a one-off thing or pertains to just one employee, the system understands that this could not be a problem yet, added the cofounder. The platform uses a combination of clustering and distance algorithms to identify top focus areas and relevant recommendations. Apart from this, there are a couple of other algorithms which are used on the measurement side for normalisation and outlier identification.
Managers can view trends and analytics on a dashboard and get insights and recommendations on their immediate reportees and how they can improve the work environment and culture of their organisation. The dashboard is also available for HR leaders and CXOs for an extended organisation-level view as well.
The insights for the managers would be based on the scores across 48 parameters. Further, the product uses psychometric data in combination with the scores to suggest insights and recommendations.
Building The Managers To Use Actionable Insights
Beyond employee engagement, Superhumans is also working on a manager-training product. The idea is to help managers to understand key drivers of their teams. The leadership coaching is based on behavioural science and positive psychology principles, which basically nudges the managers and tells them what they could do if certain scores are low in their team.
“And we see this evolving into a full-stack talent management platform where the future of the talent management stack is kind of an integrated one. Eventually, we would use this information to build and get into other markets as well,” he added.
This intelligence is crucial at a time when organizations have moved remote, and the already non-existent feedback loop is further challenged with the distributed asynchronous teams. Managers and teams need to know what exactly drives each individual and how they could do or what they could do to solve the issues. to build a more productive and conducive work culture for the organisation.
Selling In India Is Tough Cookie
Superhumans is essentially targeting mid-level market size companies to enterprises. Under startups, it is only looking at the ones that have scaled up with a large team. For Superhumans, the benchmark is companies with 150-200 employees to start drawing insights, but it claims the models, predictions and the insights mature and improve over time.
Currently, the pilot is deployed at less than 10 companies, across small and large companies with up to 1000 employees, the company is now looking to scale up. The company is currently fine-tuning the product with their feedback.
With a team of eight, the company has focussed mostly on building a technology team. In this quarter, the company now wants to start going to other geographies outside India, while building its India pipeline. The company wants to go after the US, Europe and Australian markets because those are the developed markets for a product like this, Bhawnani added.
He believes many companies in India are still getting used to basic HRtech operations and even though Covid-19 has driven up the need for such products, the adoption is just not there yet. The company’s product typically ranges from $7-$10 per employee per month.
The price is also a factor and the company believes that not many Indian companies can pay for the same, even as the attention on employee wellbeing slowly increases. He also noted that while building SaaS products in India is great, selling it in India is still a challenge.
“With terms of selling in India, one of the challenges is that it is a low-value market in a way relatively, if you compare it to the US, so, the $7-$10 pricing, there is a limited set of audience in India which would pay that kind of a price,” he added.
How can this improve? Companies need to start looking for Indian products, especially considering they have found great adoption outside. Further, companies need to start adopting more technology for efficiency sake as talent costs in India come at par with global standards.
“Now that efficiency is going to take over companies, my sense is that it would automatically happen, but if it does not happen for efficiency sake, also, the adoption of these products should go up,” he added.