Interview with Dr. Moorthy K Uppaluri

Interview with Dr. Moorthy K Uppaluri

Owing to the lockdown, leading organisations like Uber have laid off its employees, and hence, the much talked out "Uber Business Model" is definitely being viewed with scepticism. What according to you are the positives that start ups can derive from such a disruption?


The "Uber business model" is a bold and disruptive business model that enabled a marketplace for the service providers and the service seekers to connect on a widely prevalent and reliable mobile phone platform, thus making the service available anytime, anywhere in a consistent and carefully governed environment. This also created employment for several thousands of young and skilled people across the world. It fostered a new ecosystem that was enjoyed by customers worldover. It is not appropriate to blame the "Uber business model" for the challenges imposed on the business due to the lockdown.


If one would take a closer look at the current business challenges, it is not too difficult to trace social distancing and the associated restrictions around ensuring personal hygiene to be the root-causes. These necessitate changes on multiple fronts like infrastructure, operations, transactions, and regulation, along with relevant training to the workforce to institutionalise those changes, and adapt to the market expectations rather quickly. This is evidently over and above the challenges imposed on the business, like variance in demand due to impacted customer sentiment and the bleak economic outlook. As mentioned previously, the "Uber business model" is a powerful tool that can be applied easily to create marketplaces across the globe to connect supply and demand in an effective and efficient way without the need for serious investment. Also, I passionately believe that every new disruption, like the ongoing lockdown, provides tremendous potential to challenge the status quo and innovate to offer unprecedented solutions that the market will welcome. It is just that one must have the eye for such opportunities and the wherewithal to pursue the same in a timely manner.


While the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for the Start-up Founders, it has been even more stressful for the HR Managers and the employees. Speaking from experience, what would be your advice for the HR Managers and employees to ensure that the spirits remain high?


True, it has been stressful to all the stakeholders as everyone is at the receiving end and were subjected to an extremely turbulent, vague, and difficult situation that was unprecedented in this century. It left millions of people worrying about lives, families, livelihood, and survival. The aftermath of COVID-19 is no less than that of any world war, with so many countries, people, economies, and businesses severely affected and left wondering where to begin, when and how to go about it! In tough situations like this, one has to conserve the resources available, be mindful of the ecosystem, environment, and the way forward, and seek the much-required courage and inspiration from within, so that s/he can be a dependable support for the people around. Unprecedented problems call for unprecedented and innovative solutions. Competencies like being enterprising, empathetic, and inclusive will be more in demand and constitute the core of leadership going forward. Employees will have to be dynamic change agents with an open mind and quick learners adapting to the disruption, leading the transformation, and accelerating the change for the revival and growth of the business. HR leaders, being the conscience of the company and culture, must take a proactive role in rebuilding the enterprise and employee policies to enable business transformation in a seamless and painless manner. It is a proven fact that people converge and coalesce under distress. And the Leadership must capitalise this rare and historic moment to galvanise the organisation together and rally them towards the business mission.


Do you believe that the financial package announced by the Prime Minister works as a life saver for start-ups? How do you believe that the start-ups can use the fillip provided for better talent management practices?


The stimulus package is certainly a step in the right direction. Several MSMEs will benefit from this package. While capital is a critical and core ingredient for the success of the business, there are other key elements like strategy, talent, and execution that are vital in determining the success of a Startup, provided there is unmet demand for such products and/or services in the market. The stimulus package enables friction-free access to the capital and helps with the muchrequired liquidity in the business.


Start-ups will have to be mindful over the extent to which they can bear the burden of debt, and how such leverage can help the business accelerate the growth plans. With reference to the current situation due to COVID-19, Start-ups will need to weigh in the impact it has on their customers and the changes in demand. It is also prudent to revisit the business assumptions and revalidate their strategy and execution plans. Start-ups single-mindedly apply all their passion and available resources towards growing their business revenues and profits as planned. Talent in the Start-ups is usually paid incentives that are tied with business achievements/ performance, and in some cases, employees have equity that gets vested over a prolonged period of time to ensure retention of such performing talent. Most elements of the stimulus package are intended to help the business in the immediate to short-term, hence it is unlikely that they will be applied towards the talent management per se, beyond hiring to meet the needs of the organisation in the immediate future.


While people can shrug and claim that the millennial and Gen Z workforce knew the risks when they opted to work for a Start-up, do the lay-offs actually turn the tide in favour of the Gig Economy, a term that has been coined basis the work preference of the millennial workforce?


Gig economy alludes to the job market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. Gig economy was made possible with the advent of uber-like business models, willingness of employers to convert jobs into manageable gigs, and a growing workforce that could not secure conventional jobs due to the prevailing skill gap or otherwise, more than just the preference of the millennial workforce. Surely, the layoffs and right-sizing decisions of the businesses result in a surplus of talent that will eventually settle for gigs and alternate staffing models, provided the future business demand supports such engagements. In my opinion, the post-COVID market will be ripe and fertile for some structured and well-designed experiments to figure out the right proportion of jobs/gigs, and accordingly, the talent mix basis the revised demand-supply. Gig economy will continue to evolve and will remain a key constituent of the job market and workforce, albeit gradually.


With WHO claiming that COVID-19 is here to stay and that organisations will need to work around this very premise, what according to you is the road ahead for start-ups in terms of sustaining their business model as also ensuring that they hold on to their talent?


Agility and the ability to Adapt quickly are critical factors for success of the business in such turbulent and traumatic times. Acquiring the right talent for the right jobs at the right time at the best cost and retaining them productively continues to be a business priority and critical for both the short-term and long-term success of the business. Identifying the talent that can navigate the business in turbulent and unchartered waters remains the top priority of the leadership. Equally important is the ability to engage with customers, build lasting relationships, have deep insights, and provide effective solutions to customer's problems and acquire sustainable business growth. Start-ups must make technology their ally, create solutions to customer's problems with a differentiated value proposition that is not only compelling but also competitive. Start ups must remain bold to challenge the status quo, innovate, try new things, take risk, fail fast, and emerge with differentiated offerings that are relevant, effective, scalable and sustainable. Success breeds success! Typically, high performance of the business fosters a healthy and winning culture that by itself inspires and retains employees. Inspirational and empathetic leadership will remain the critical need for organisations to execute tirelessly and stay on the course of success.


While Venture Capital activity has declined in China following the COVID-19 pandemic, several Start-ups in Japan have opted to provide automated services and have thereby excelled. According to you, how will the start-up scenario in India look like once we emerge out of the lockdown?


I see excellent opportunities for synergistic consolidation of select potential start-ups that are conceptually great, but are either not yet very competent individually or are yet to build the stamina required to sustain on their own. Such consolidation of select businesses enhances the economies of scope and scale. Venture Capital firms can offer funding to support such consolidation and bold execution of such broad and deep solutions. This implies that the deals will be fewer, but of substantial size. I believe technology will continue to play a particularly important role in the disruption and rebuilding of the new economy postCOVID. I believe there will be an emphasis on personal hygiene and personal protection due to COVID-19 that will create new opportunities and market for creative solutions in this domain. There is clearly room for innovation that offers the muchrequired assurance in personal and public transportation, logistics, delivery, healthcare, and hospitality domains to cite a few. Technology assisted, low-touch solutions and service-offerings could be in increased demand. We are already experiencing a high demand for productivity tools and platforms that will enable remote engagement in scenarios like WFH.


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