Wednesday 5 February 2020

20 yrs and counting! Snapdeal co-founders shared a decade-old friendship, before becoming biz partners

20 yrs and counting! Snapdeal co-founders shared a decade-old friendship, before becoming biz partnersIt’s a rare entrepreneur who hasn’t seen his share of ups and downs. The story of Snapdeal and its co-founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal is no different. During a business conference in Mumbai on reinventing unicorns, the two co-founders spoke at length about how their ethos and approach towards doing business has evolved. Also discussed was the evolution of their partnership.

What keeps them together
“I have to think long and hard about all the nice things I have to say about Rohit now,” Bahl joked, as the conversation on the subject started.

He said that he can’t imagine a day of the Snapdeal story since the past 12+ years without Bansal by his side. “I don’t think I would have made it a single day if I didn’t have Rohit there,” he said. And what did his wife have to say about this? “Well, for a good part of those 12 years, she wasn’t around, so Rohit gets first preference,” the Snapdeal CEO said.

Bahl and Bansal were friends before they became business partners. “We were friends for 11 years even before that [becoming business partners]. So, now we have known each other for 20+ years,” Bansal said. “At the core of everything, what has really kept us together is an incredible amount of trust and respect for each other...And that is something that hasn’t been breached in all these years as both friends and co-founders,” Bahl said.

On a lighter note, Bansal said, “I got married after we started the business. I feel the learnings of this relationship have given me a happier marriage also. I learnt how to build a great relationship.”

When the going gets tough…
“In our case, we have seen so many tests along the way that at each one of those times, it is very easy to unleash your frustrations, your anger, your disappointment on the other person and start pointing fingers. But we have never done that,” Bahl said.

People often ask them how they deal with disagreements. “Well, we don’t pull each other’s hair and tear each other’s throats out but often we have discussions on particular topics. The way we deal with it is probably very different from the way others deal with it,” Bahl said, laying out the process the two have adopted for conflict resolution.

For instance, if they don’t agree on a particular topic, they go into a room (transparent glass cabin, chimed in Bansal) and talk it out. “We will hear each other’s views. And at the end of that discussion, whether it takes one day, two or 10 days, we will come up with one point of view. It doesn’t matter whose it was. Now it is our point of view and we will follow it [as a team]. And nobody can say this was Rohit’s point of view or this was Kunal’s point of view,” Bahl said.

Secret sauce to a great partnership20 yrs and counting! Snapdeal co-founders shared a decade-old friendship, before becoming biz partners
Differences between founders can lead to serious value destruction in companies and is an issue many contend with. So, what has worked for Bahl and Bansal — was it just having the right chemistry in terms of personality traits or explicitly charting out how to address disagreements?

“I think it’s more of the latter. Entrepreneurs by definition are always opinionated. Both of us are,” Bansal said, adding that sometimes one can go “nuts” in their thought process as an entrepreneur. At such times, having a dialogue with your co-founder can bring immense value to the table. “It can seem tempering for you as an entrepreneur that not all of my opinions will go forward but a partnership like this adds value to that dialogue,” he said.

“Over time, as we’ve gone through the ups and downs, sorted our disagreements and made many judgments that worked out right, that trust of being able to openly discuss any disagreements has actually grown. Now, in fact, contrary to earlier when we had different points of view and we thought, ‘Hey, we are going to have a debate’, we look forward to bouncing thoughts off each other so that our own thought process gets richer as a result,” Bansal said.

Bahl added his bit, “Thokre kha ke sab mein humility aa jati hain [Everyone learns humility after rejections]. That’s what we have also seen. We are not married to opinions. It doesn’t matter whose opinion created the outcome. What matters is did you get the [desired] outcome? The moment you zone out of wanting to be right, it liberates you.”

Us versus them syndrome
Do those outside their friendship feel walled off? Potentially, a “minor negative,” admitted Bahl. “But the positives of that bonhomie, alignment, mutual trust and respect are so high, that if there is some negative about people seeing us as one unit always, I think it’s okay. But we are also quite self-conscious of that. We don’t let our united front come in the way of us listening to non-conforming opinions of our colleagues. Often, we are of the view that our collective opinion is wrong. That’s also okay,” Bahl said.

“We’ve matured as people. What you are mentioning probably happened some years back. But we have also learnt how to leverage the positives of a good co-founder relationship,” said Bansal.

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