The story behind India’s fastest growing HR Tech company:Darwinbox4 years ago Ramya Sayaboni
Darwinbox, a Hyderabad based company that has ushered a wave of revolution in the HR Tech market owing to their path-breaking approach towards enterprise technology.
A cloud-based, end-to-end HRMS platform, it serves enterprise clients like Dr. Reddy’s, Paytm, Myntra, Delhivery, Nivea, Greaves Cotton, Swiggy, PurpleTalk, etc.
Darwinbox Founders: Chaitanya Peddi, Jayant Paleti, Rohit Chennamaneni
Year it was founded: 2015
Where it is based: Hyderabad
Funding: Series A
Darwinbox is a technology company that provides cloud-based integrated HR management and analytics platform for businesses.
Startup Hyderabad had a candid chat with Rohit Chennamaneni, co-founder, Darwinbox to understand their entrepreneurial journey.Prior to Darwinbox, he was an engagement manager at McKinsey and consulted traditional organizations across the globe on digitization and technology transformation. He is an alumnus of IIM Lucknow (MBA) and has worked for Google for their India and Ireland offices. At Darwinbox, he handles Operations, Investment, Customer Success and Expansion Strategy.
Rohit is joined by two other co-founders who’ve come together to give shape to Darwinbox: Jayant Paleti and Chaitanya Peddi.“Jayant and I were friends since our school days, and Chaitanya was his colleague at EY. Before Darwinbox, Jayant was an investment banker at Ernst & Young. He is an IIT Madras and IIM Lucknow alumnus. He has advised several large corporates on big investment and strategic decisions. Jayant currently heads all sales and marketing activities at Darwinbox”, says Rohit.
“Chaitanya Peddi is an XLRI alumnus and ex HR consultant with Ernst & Young. He has previously consulted global firms on Organization Design and Performance Management. He has also worked for product development at Verizon.Currently, Chaitanya heads product development at Darwinbox. He is a true subject matter expert of both technology and HR. And it is due to his expertise that our team has built, and continues to upgrade the product so as to match top standards in the industry”, he adds.
Back to the start
In November 2014, when working for a corporate consulting firm, Jayant realized that the companies he was advising for takeover could have known the HR functions of the company they were merging with much better. In addition to that, the founders had no idea about attrition in their own company and believed that it was less than what it actually was.
“In one such casual discussion Jayant, Chaitanya, and I got together to discuss our experiences with difficult to use HR software and set out to study the HR tech market in India by looking at various available products that focussed on one or two key specifics of the HR’s job”, recalls Rohit.
They found that what was lacking was a comprehensive, integrated product that could provide a one-stop solution to all the technical aspects of the HR department. There was a huge gap in terms of the demand and supply of quality in end-to-end HR Technology for enterprises. Their aim was to build a platform which can make the HR department intelligent and strategic rather than a tactical function.
That leap of faith
When asked about the reaction of their families and friends Rohit revealed some interesting details from the beginning of their startup journey. “Well, it came like a shock for most of my family and friends! And I am pretty sure it was same for the other co-founders too. At least I was never a person with any entrepreneurial ambition. Therefore, it took everyone in our respective families and friend circles some time to come to terms with the fact that we’d be leaving our stable jobs and venture into business. In fact, if someone came to me with a prospect of entrepreneurship even 6 months before the idea for Darwinbox happened, I too would have been shocked or would have downright rejected it. But then this was a concept in which we saw a lot of scope and merit and excited each one of us to take the plunge! Hence, we decided to go for it”, he says.
As far as quitting the job was concerned, they were all involved with certain projects and had some professional commitments at our respective organizations. “We ensured that we delivered on our commitments to our employers even while working on building Darwinbox, the team and the product over our weekend-time for a few months before we finally quit our jobs”.
Investors on board!
Team Darwinbox got their investors on board only after they had some clients for the product initially. As you can see, this is not the standard or widely followed practice. When asked about this, Rohit tells us how some of their peers had raised funding even before they had an MVP based on the idea! “However, we wanted to validate our proposition with a paying client before we bring on investors. Our biggest trigger for fund-raising was to build credibility amongst the clients that we are in it for the long run”
“Having seasoned entrepreneurs like Sateesh Andra and Mohandas Pai believe in us and back our journey was the highlight of the entire fundraising journey. There was no particular moment of raising funding that I can elaborate on, but it was an exciting feeling, to say the least” he adds.
Good work that speaks for itself
Having on-boarded a considerable number of enterprise clients in a short duration, we were very curious to know what drove Darwinbox’s exponential expansion into the market? When asked the same, Rohit mentioned how they were always supported by extremely strong and positive referrals from within this ecosystem. “Be it, our investors or early customers, everyone has had great reviews and recommendations for our team and products right from day 1! This is what got us into the fray and the consideration set of large enterprises alongside an established competition like SAP SF and Oracle. Once we were a part of the evaluation, the product and team’s merit truly took us to the winning side.”
Even today, the positive referrals & reviews from their customers are something that keeps them motivated and we have many of them to cherish. He mentioned how Swiggy, for example, were extremely vocal about how Darwinbox has transformed their HR function and how their employees loved the ease-of-use of the system right from their early days. GVK Bio, one of their latest addition to the list of clients advocates for the potential value that an organization can drive through their product as they have witnessed it on their own.
What sets them apart?
HRMS market in India is heavily populated by vendors, both Indian and International. In a crowded market as it is, how does a product like Darwinbox stand out?
“At Darwinbox we make sure that our clients get nothing short of the absolute best of HR Technology whether it is our product, or the team that implements it, or the adoption and follow up that happens thereafter. As for what differentiates us in the market, I have a few points to highlight here. While Oracle HCM, SAP SuccessFactors are products that have been around for much longer and carry great legacies, Darwinbox is a product built keeping the Indian context and its inherent complexities in mind. Unlike the traditional ERP HCMs, our UI/UX is at par with what an employee would experience while interacting with consumer applications every day. This also plays a critical role in driving adoption. Our platform is also open to integration with third-party applications if that can optimize its functionalities for our clients”, says Rohit.
He also highlighted how outsourcing implementation has been the norm followed by global players in HR tech, often resulting in unwanted roadblocks and delays. At Darwinbox, from the first point of contact to the last, it is one organization and ideology that touches the clients. Insights gained during the sales process are carried forward to implementation stage by the same team to drive results in shortest possible time. It also ensures that what is promised is ultimately delivered. Moreover, technology vendors have often struggled to bring desired process alignment within targeted time as they lack the much needed functional expertise to engage with the business user. “Hence we are a team of not just technical specialists but people with a strategic understanding of the HR function. This brings the much-needed foresight & agility to both our product and the process of implementing it while reducing the time to value for the client. And last but definitely not the least, it is our strong post-sales support that has helped us establish ourselves among respected and leading names of the industry”.
Hiring mantra for a wonderful team
Apart from having a world-class product, the focus also needs to be on the team that ultimately becomes the face of the organization.
Rohit shared with us the need to hire for specific roles which they identified early on. The focus was always to hire for specific roles rather than having a generic approach. They were extremely particular about identifying the gaps that existed and narrowing down on the needed skill set for filling them right from day one. After that, it has just been the transparency of their system and works culture that helped them retain the talent they gained. “The added advantage of working with us is that you get to do your thing with complete ownership and authority while delivering results! We do not believe in monitoring and controlling everything”.
Expansion of international markets and innovation for product betterment are two broad parallels of the team’s future plans.
Currently, the product caters to 200,000+ end users across major enterprise clients in India. As of now, their operations are limited to domestic markets but within few months, Darwinbox is all set to go global. The reach and impact of the overseas business expansion will be clear only after a few months of operations.
They are also making active intellectual and monetary investment in R&D on the AI front. The aim is to make interaction with Darwinbox a far more convenient and engaging experience for the end user. “We want to revolutionize how people have been interacting with enterprise software through all this time by introducing path-breaking developments that’ll be out in the market very soon. Apart from this, we are expanding into more functional modules as well”.
Setting examples with values
I’ll put it in Rohit’s own words, “Our values are the pillars of strength on which both our org structure and function rest. At Darwinbox, we have defined 5 core values that have a significant impact on all that we do!
Customer centricity, Ownership, Meritocracy, Action orientation, Innovation, and simplification are our 5 key values. We believe that real values can only be defined when we see them as traits we would like to have in our colleagues rather than plain theory. Moreover, values are valid only when they are valued. And the true value of any value or any concept for that matter rises from its scope of application. Therefore, the values that were chosen for Darwinbox are highly adaptable and relevant in business context.”
Either you succeed or you learn
At each step in any journey, one either succeeds at what they planned or takes a lesson and rises again stronger. We asked Rohit for some advice for budding entrepreneurs out there who could use this learning to their advantage. “Based on our learnings through this wonderful entrepreneurial journey we had at Darwinbox, what I’ll emphasize here is that focus on taking your product to the market ASAP. There’s no better marketing and validation than your work. Let it speak for itself.
Next, put tremendous focus on hiring. Your initial hiring will dictate the culture and roadmap of the Org. While you should always be particular about hiring right skill and cultural fit for the organization, be extra cautious and sure at this stage”, he replied.
Rohit also states the need to do frequent self-analysis as the founding team. “This will help you better understand your shortcomings and also invest in the organization to build capabilities that you’d like to see!”
Congratulations to team Darwinbox for being one of the most promising startups from Hyderabad! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.