CEO Q&A: a conversation with Sriharsha Majety from Swiggy

Every once in a while, we sit down with the CEO of a Prosus-backed company and ask them ten big questions about their work, their career, and the challenges they faced along the way. Read our Q&A with Sriharsha Majety, CEO at Swiggy.

  • Q. What were you doing before Swiggy, how did this all start?

A. "Before Swiggy, my journey was recognizable to anyone from India. I came from a family who ran a business, I did an engineering degree and then an MBA, and then I went to work for a bank in London. However, I got bored very quickly and when I did not have a Plan B I thought if I can't find interesting things to do here, let me go back home and figure out more exciting opportunities there. I did a lot of travel on the way home and got excited about the hospitality category, so I came back to India with the vision of building a backpacker hostel chain. I tinkered around with that for four to five months, almost leased a place in Pushkar, but then got cold feet at the last minute. After another two to three months with things going nowhere, I started collaborating on ideas with an old school friend I had known for 15 years, Nandan. He was on his third startup at the time and it did not look like it was going to make it, so we started discussing what other opportunities existed and everything flowed from there."

  • Q. What was the first business idea you had? Did you always want to start a food delivery company?

A. "Not at first – we had to travel the classic start-up journey to get to where we are today. Once Nandan and I started chatting, we were excited about e-commerce. It seemed to be hitting a point of no return. Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal - all of them were just coming up, and it was clear that this wave was here to stay. We decided the opportunity for getting into e-commerce ourselves was taken, so thought we should develop an enabler for e-commerce as our starting point. At the time, logistics was an unsolved problem for small and medium sellers and so we set out to build our first product. We called it Bundl, and it wasn't a logistics company itself, but it helped small and medium sellers manage their shipping. We worked on it for about 10 months and while it was going somewhere, it didn’t look like it could become large enough to be what we wanted to build. Finally, we went back to the drawing board and said we must find something with a larger opportunity – and that turned into Swiggy."

  • Q. Team building is essential to a start-up’s success. What would you suggest are the qualities entrepreneurs should look for when building their first team, and does that change as you scale?

A. "In the beginning, when things are small and chaotic, a lot more hinges on the ownership levels that people come with. It is a given that whoever you hire must have a minimum amount of aptitude and generally be sharp, but on top of that, the focus should be on ownership and action. Everyone is figuring out so many things at the same time, so comfort with ambiguity and ownership are super important in the early days. As a company scales, often those skillsets, while still essential, are not enough and the need arises for more functional expertise. As they become larger, companies have growing pains and gain complexity. So, if you grow fast, then you must very quickly adapt to the new normal and be able to execute even with that increasing complexity. The need for everyone to have a sense of ownership and the ability to learn every day doesn't go away, but it has to get balanced with other skills."

  • Q. Hiring can be challenging when you are starting out. How do you sell a prospective hire on joining?

A. "At the start, all you really have to offer is your own mission and vision and ideas on how big the opportunity can be. But that does not make it easy. Additionally, we had a couple of other factors that helped us along our journey. The first was that we closed our first seed round before we needed to hire beyond the core team. The second was my network. I leveraged my college networks for all they were worth. People who knew me knew I was building this company, so when I asked them to reach out or connect me with friends of theirs, they immediately connected me to some of their friends who were looking for something exciting. I had a decent reputation so when they heard the big plan, and with the funding in place, it enabled people to say, ‘this seems interesting, let’s do it’. So, a combination of those three things made it possible – having a strong mission and vision; the funding closing; and working your connections – that helped us hire quickly."

  • Q. At what point did you start thinking about culture?

A. "Starting out, I didn't really understand what company culture meant except that work should generally be fun and the company should be a healthy place to come to work every day. My simple test was ‘would I enjoy working at this place’. Once we really started to grow and had hired the first few hundred people, I realized that was not enough. We started to have different subcultures within the company and there wasn’t clear agreement on how we operate as a workplace. We also started getting feedback by asking questions like ‘what is our culture?’ and ‘what are the ways that we do things here?’. It was obvious that we needed to be very clear on the qualities that we look for and the qualities we absolutely do not want anymore. So, we got the core team together and went through a long brainstorming exercise to define the company culture and company values and that has been the core framework for everyone since then. What we also found was that just developing the ideas isn’t enough, you also have to drive them through the company. In our case, most of the culture dissipation happens through leaders instilling values with their reports and then in turn with their reports. If you are hiring your immediate line with the highest values quotient and they are hiring decently, it’s generally going to be okay. The top three to four layers for a company of our size will set the tone for the entire company. "

  • Q. Capital is also essential for start-ups. What were you looking for when raising capital and how has that changed over time?

A. "Every company goes through different stages and for us, in the initial stage, our focus was on whether our investors were truly focused on our best interests beyond just offering ‘founder friendly’ terms. We looked at their reputation and their ability to be supportive for at least a couple of rounds or even more. Beyond that, we looked to see if they were doing well – as that would more likely allow us to have breathing room. Finally, we looked for added value, in terms of how involved they are, how helpful they are, and will they always be there in the trenches when I need their help."

  • Q. Does sector experience matter when looking for funding?

A. "It is helpful to have global backers as they already see the big picture trends and are familiar with the performance of different companies in your sector across the globe. They also provide connections into those interesting companies, to enable us to share knowledge and learn from people who are doing different things in the same business. This goes a long way towards helping us be a better operator."

  • Q. Looking at the future, what is next for Swiggy? What's next when it comes to food delivery? 

A. "Our mission revolves around elevating the quality of life for urban consumers by delivering unparalleled convenience. We're obsessed with the idea of giving convenience to this large section of urban consumers and making their lives better and a lot more delightful. So, that is what we are chipping away over the next 20 years. In terms of food delivery, I guess the category has gotten a certain amount of penetration already. But if we trace the path of China over the last few years, the next ten-plus years in this market are going to be huge. We are always looking to see if we can give better service than we did yesterday. Can we improve the selection and improve speed? Beyond that, it's going to be about building new service offerings based on the changing needs of consumers and identifying even more efficiencies. You must keep thinking about where the puck is going and start adjusting for it in terms of new service offerings and new needs in the realm of food delivery itself."

  • Q. Final question – Does that mean there is space for Swiggy beyond food delivery?

A. "Absolutely. We have a user base that is both very large and possibly the stickiest in India in product commerce and that's something that we see as a huge asset. Another asset is having India's largest delivery fleet and being able to ship out millions of orders per month in close to 30 minutes. The two together make a serious superpower and our focus is on how we can offer a lot more convenience to our consumers based on their needs, using the capabilities that we've built. We have already launched Instamart, a service that gets you convenience store items in 30 minutes. On top of that, we have Genie, where you can use the Swiggy service to buy, pick up and drop off from any store in the city. Beyond that, there are other new initiatives we are looking at, including the newer models of grocery delivery. Over the next 20 years, we are going to continually identify our users wants, needs and issues and then determine how we can take a stab at solving them." 


About Prosus:

Prosus is a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. Operating and investing globally in markets with long-term growth potential, Prosus builds leading consumer internet companies that empower people and enrich communities.

The group is focused on building meaningful businesses in the online classifieds, food delivery, payments and fintech, and education technology sectors in markets including India, Russia, and Brazil. Through its ventures team, Prosus invests in areas including health, logistics, blockchain, and social commerce. Prosus actively seeks new opportunities to partner with exceptional entrepreneurs who are using technology to improve people’s everyday lives.

Every day, billions of customers use the products and services of companies that Prosus has invested in, acquired or built, including 99minutos,  Airmeet, Aruna, AutoTrader, Autovit.ro, Azos, BandLab, Bibit, Biome Makers, Borneo, Brainly, BUX, BYJU'S, Bykea, Captain Fresh, Codecademy, Collective Benefits, Creditas, DappRadar, DeHaat, Domofond.ru, dott, EduMe, ElasticRun, eMAG, Endowus, Eruditus, EVERY, Facily, Flink, Foodics, Good Glamm Group, GoodHabitz, GoStudent, Honor, iFood, Imovirtual, Klar, Kovi, LazyPay, letgo, Luno, Mensa Brands, Meesho, merXu, Movile, Oda, OLX, Otodom, OTOMOTO, PaySense, PayU, Pharmeasy, Platzi, Property24, Quick Ride, Red Dot Payment, Republic, Shipper, ShopUp, SoloLearn, Stack Overflow, Standvirtual, Superside, Swiggy, Thndr, Tonik, Ula, Urban Company, Wayflyer, and Wolt.

Hundreds of millions of people have made the platforms of Prosus’s associates a part of their daily lives. For listed companies where we have an interest, please see: Tencent, Delivery Hero, Remitly, Trip.com, Udemy, Skillsoft, Sinch, and SimilarWeb.

Today, Prosus companies and associates help improve the lives of more than two billion people around the world.

Prosus has a primary listing on Euronext Amsterdam (AEX:PRX) and secondary listings on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (XJSE:PRX) and a2X Markets (PRX.AJ). Prosus is majority-owned by Naspers.

For more information, please visit www.prosus.com.

About Prosus

Prosus is a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. Operating and investing globally in markets with long-term growth potential, Prosus builds leading consumer internet companies that empower people and enrich communities.

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