Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution which began ten to twelve thousand years ago and continued in several regions of the world simultaneously right up till the throes of the industrial revolution, a majority of humanity was concerned about the same things: famine, disease, war, food, shelter and clothing. In order to give meaning to our existence we professed community bonds and religion with a keen sense of the arts, inspired by the nature around us. We began to learn how nature worked and in due course, sought to understand how humanity itself came into existence.
We saw the emergence of material based economies, whose foundations were built on conquest and exploration, which went hand in hand with science and intellectual progress. Cheap energy would become the root of all progress. From wood to coal to steam to oil to nuclear powered electricity, we saw them all. Now, it would be the turn of the telecommunications revolution to sweep across the world by connecting human beings and information to each other, accessible from anywhere to anyone.
Today, we live in a knowledge-based economy.
We seek to become more independent, increasingly in control of our lives. The old ways of living seem redundant and aren’t they?
Today at Bangalore Insider, we spoke to the founder of FlexiBees, a company championing the cause of flexible, high quality work while being focused on the well-being of their talented folks.
Give a brief info about your startup?
We at FlexiBees provide part-time and project-based talent to businesses via women working flexibly. It helps businesses hire high-quality folks quickly and cost-effectively and women do great work while being able to balance their professional and personal priorities
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
We are trying to solve two big problems. Firstly, with shorter product cycles, faster speed to market, heightened competition, businesses today need expert talent, quickly and cost-effectively. They struggle to find it. For example, you could be a startup wanting to hire good talent but either cannot afford full-time ones, or do not want to commit to full-time talent, or you could be a large company wanting to hire specialised skills for short duration projects, or do quick vacancy filling. Both these cases need non-traditional hiring models where you are able to hire quickly, not spend too much time in training the talent, be able to downsize when needed as per business contingency, and all within a certain budget. They need access to a talent pool that is available and willing to work in this way. Businesses today do not have access to these models or talent pools.
The second big problem is that there is expert talent looking for flexible work options but unable to find them. India’s Female Labour Force participation is amongst the lowest in the World at 23% and 48% of Women who return from maternity leave quit within the first 4 months, a key reason being lack of flexible work options. It is, in fact, a global problem with workforce participation among educated women having dropped even in high-income countries across North America & Europe over the last decade. Additionally, increasingly even women in the workforce currently, and juggling over-stretched schedules, are looking for flexibility and balance. These are talent pools that are highly-qualified, experienced and committed, and want to work flexibly. However, they do not have many options as ‘work’ continues to follow the same old paradigm of clocking fixed hours and working only from the office location.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
I have done quite a number of things. Got an engineering degree, worked at Infosys, then did an MBA from IIM Bangalore, worked at Unilever at 8 years, and then left my job there to co-found FlexiBees with my friends & batchmates from B-school, Rashmi and Deepa.
My run at Unilever was awesome, I did two big stints in Sales and Marketing, each teaching me new skills that have been instrumental in my role at FlexiBees, where I lead Business Development and Marketing.
Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
There is actually a very interesting story behind this. So while our startup is HQed in Mumbai, we are a completely remote company, with all of our 24 team members working from different cities across India; in fact, my co-founders are in Singapore. Being fully remote has had several advantages for us – it has allowed us to hire without having any geographical boundaries and with good talent being the only criteria, it has allowed us to hire from our pool, and keep a lean team given only 5 of our 24-member team work full-time. The rest work part-time which suits their life-stage as well as our resource requirement. And finally, it helps us have a real flavor of our own offering: we understand how to make flexible talent models work, how to recruit for it, how to manage, and we have built that intelligence into our processes for our clients as well.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
I wouldn’t call it paranoia, but as a bootstrapped startup that is simultaneously growing the business as well as conceptualising & executing leapfrog approaches like integrating technology in a big way into our processes, both these work-streams have to be managed. Our time had to be spent on running the company, that includes reviews, process setting, monthly and quarterly plans, as well as strategy discussions, 3 and 5 year roadmaps, fund-raising, building out the tech, etc.
Who are your competitors and how are you better than them?
Our competition landscape has gig marketplaces like Upwork that provide flexible talent for largely standard roles like coding, graphics, content writing, etc. Our competitive advantage is that first that we provide talent for all roles, including non-standard operational ones like Marketing, Sales, Investment Banking etc. And secondly, that we take on the onus of finding the best-match talent via an end-to-end process that includes understanding the client’s requirement in-depth and breaking it into sub-roles and skill-sets, and doing a deep selection to evaluate each candidate for fitment to the role not just on skills but also on factors like commitment, drive, time availability, support systems, etc. This ensures businesses save 90% of the time they would have spent hiring from other sources, with them having to look at only 1.75 resumes on average to close any role vs an industry average of 36 resumes. Moreover the match is significantly better than what most job-boards and talent marketplaces are able to provide, which manifests in the fact that 66% of our business comes from repeat clients. Our key differentiation for the women wanting to return to work or work flexibly is that we provide career relevant roles that do justice to their past experience and education.
How hard is it to have a work-life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
It is hard. I have a 2 year old son, and I went back to work 2 months after delivery given it was my own company I had to return to. I could do it because I have a huge amount of support from multiple entities, like family, nanny, daycare. My parents have been living with us for almost all of the time since my son’s birth. That is a gigantic enabler, and I am very lucky to have it. Adding to it, the fact that I have the flexibility to work from home is a huge factor in me being able to cut out all the non-productive commute time (except for meetings etc) and manage both professional and personal priorities to the best of my ability. Sometimes it does get tough, as both are demanding and require stretch, but they are choices I made knowing full well the trade-offs, and I would not change anything about them.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
We have been bootstrapped so far. However, now that we have got the service mix and models right, we want to scale within India and internationally. We are already building the technology prototype that will unlock this scale for us, and are looking to raise funding to build that tech and for growth capital.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
Well, I don’t know. As one gets older, one gets more aware of who they are and if there is a difference in how they come across, they correct for it.
But if I had to zero in on one thing, it would be that I might come across as very serious because I go quickly to a space of eloquent passion about the things I care about, even if I am meeting people for the first time. No small talk for me. But as they get to know me better, they know that while I am big on passion, I also enjoy shooting the breeze talking about everything from celebrity gossip to bad movies.
What gets you excited about this company?
Our vision is to change the way ‘work’ today is. Today work is still structured the same way that it was in the 100-year-old industrial era, with the need to go to a physical location and work the same hours as everyone else. Imagine how far technology, lifestyles and most importantly, the actual work has come in this time. We are in a knowledge based economy, with technology that spans continents at the click of a button and with people who are increasingly wanting to live more balanced and autonomous lives. We want to bring work to reflect this zeitgeist, making it a lot more flexible, introducing options like flexi-time, part-time, remote, differential time shifts, etc that give businesses new talent hiring models and give people a new way of living.
The realisation of this vision is what excites me most about my work and about FlexiBees.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
I wake up early around 730 am and start working immediately. Usually, we, the three of us co-founders, use this time to do more strategic discussions before the operational hustle-bustle of the day begins. After that it’s a full day of work, out of which I take out around 1.5 hours to spend with my son, helping him get ready, doing the daycare pick-ups and drops, etc. I try and wrap up around 7/730 and spend the next few hours with him and with my family. I am trying to integrate some sort of exercise schedule during this slot but so far progress has been spotty. Finally, once my son goes to bed, is when I spend another hour or so at work, watch something on Netflix, and go to bed at 130 am.
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
Like I mentioned, the three of us in the co-founding team, myself, Deepa and Rashmi, are friends & batchmates from B-school. On campus, we were in the same section, lived in the same hostel wing for a while, and did various things together, both work and not-work related. Had a ball overall. After campus too, we stayed in touch, went to each others’ weddings, and were part of the ups and downs of each others’ lives. That is why when Deepa found it difficult to find relevant flexible work options after a career break of 2 years, we knew about it and it struck a chord. It started us on our journey of understanding the space of flexibility, and here we are now.
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