Building an Indian office with a Paris culture: a look back at our first year in Bangalore!
Sumit Jasoria has had quite an interesting year. Heading a French unicorn’s fast-expanding South-Asian branch is challenging enough… Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a whirlwind of a journey, ripe with new experiences and learnings.
When Sumit was appointed head of Meero’s Indian office, in August of last year, the team was small but motivated. Around 20 employees (both French and Indian) were determined to take the Bangalore tech scene by storm. Fast-forward to May 2020, and you’ve got a bustling office where 80 plus talented professionals work together to help brands in sectors as diverse as real estate, travel, food, and eCommerce source high-quality visuals.
So what makes a French tech company expand successfully to the APAC region while building a loyal customer base and a dedicated community of partners in the process?
We’re not just talking about respecting cultural differences. Every entrepreneur knows the specific thrills of bringing your business abroad. While internationalization is an important lever of growth, things can rapidly go wrong if your business model is not fit for your new market.
Judging by the results of the Indian office, Sumit and his team must be doing something right. So we sat down (over video call…) with him to pick his brain about doing business across geographical and cultural boundaries.
Letting the numbers do the talking: the thrill of start-up life
Sumit caught the start-up bug over five years ago when he moved out of his comfort zone (a marketing job in a big corporation) and his country (India) to help a Rocket Internet venture expand in emerging markets like Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Before this, he says, his mindset was very Indian. His start-up experience changed that. It gave him the opportunity to explore the world through the various people he met on the job: each carrying with them the influence of their particular culture and origins. Admittedly, working with an international crowd carries its own set of challenges. But for Sumit, respect is the simple answer to this complex problem.
Respect: this tells us a lot about Sumit’s particular management style. He’s a relentless problem-solver who needs enough leeway to do his job properly. And he leaves his teams a lot of freedom too, as long as they deliver.
This is what he likes about start-ups in general. This is what he loves about Meero. The no-nonsense approach that does away with office politics. Performance is key: if he shows excellent results, he is left free to work in his own style. And he leaves the same freedom to his teams.
This simple principle has allowed him to work harmoniously with the diverse crowd he has met at Meero. The blend of different cultures and nationalities teaches him something new every day. His straight-forward approach allows him to lead a diverse team on the path to excellence.
It’s a fantastic place for technological companies: people understand tech better than anywhere else in India, and we’re lucky to be immersed in this startup ecosystem
Adapting to the Indian Silicon Valley
Sumit understands why Meero chose Bangalore to establish its south-Asian presence. He calls the city the Indian Silicon Valley, a place where the bright minds of tech and the most promising young talents of the region can mingle: “It’s a fantastic place for technological companies: people understand tech better than anywhere else in India, and we’re lucky to be immersed in this startup ecosystem.”
As a country, India is unique and has a huge potential for doing business in the whole APAC region, with access to a fantastic pool of future leaders. On top of the geographical advantages, India offers political stability that fosters a business-friendly environment.
However, foreign companies who wish to reap the benefit of this fantastic environment must adapt. From the moment he was interviewed for the role, it seemed clear to Sumit that Meero couldn’t just be a French company implemented in India. It needed to integrate the various influences of its multinational teams while keeping its “core openness and willingness to be challenged.”
This process of adaptation was made possible thanks to the local team’s excellent understanding of the specificities of the Indian market. For Sumit, India is a market that requires close follow-ups with the clients and operational excellence: “You have to be there to help the client create or redefine their image-sourcing processes and hold yourself to very high operational standards. This hands-on operational approach is a key quality for those wishing to make it in India.”
Another important part of Meero’s implementation in India is the relationship with photographers: “Photographers are happy working with us because they can trust us. They know we will pay them on time and this allows them to trust Meero”. The company has also stood by their side during the pandemic, offering them remote webinars allowing them to practice their craft.
We are solving a problem that no one else is solving in India right now
Accompanying clients before and after the pandemic
Adaptation is important, sure. But only one thing can fully explain Meero’s success in the Indian market: the effectiveness of their solution. “We are solving a problem that no one else is solving in India right now”, says Sumit. This particular blend of technology, availability, and photographic expertise is unique in the region. The start-up’s mastery of AI gives it an undeniable edge, but most importantly, algorithms are used to answer each and every client’s particular needs.
And the clients are satisfied! Whether in the sectors of food, travel, or real estate, they all acknowledge the professionalism of the company. Just hear it from Goibibo, a MakeMyTrip subsidiary, leader of the travel sector in India: “Meero served us with the Interior photography services of hotels across various locations in India and we are really happy with their work. The professionals of Meero are very creative and talented and know their job well.”
Sumit’s team was able to onboard MakeMyTrip in a very quick time, which was a first big win for the Indian branch after the team started operations with Swiggy as its first client. And after that, the production team was able to create a process to take a new type of shoot (real estate) in under a month.
The agility with which the team has been able to adapt to unforeseen events allows Sumit to stay confident about the future of Meero in a post-covid-19 world: “The challenges of the post-covid-19 world will be immense. It will be about mindset: having to adapt to a new normal. We will have to put new solutions in place, such as contactless shoots, and invent new ways of doing our jobs. In the midst of the crisis, technology has and will continue to play a huge role. In the long run, using innovative technologies to enhance our logistics will make Meero stronger in the region.”
I am a big believer in transparency and in giving my collaborators enough leeway to fully own their own projects. In little less than a year, the team has grown from 10 collaborators to 80 full-time employees, but more importantly, I have seen a lot of personal growth and individual progress.
Managing with transparency and trust
When asked about what sets Meero apart as an employer, Sumit emphasizes the openness of the company: “we like to be challenged every day, other companies may not have this open culture”.
Perhaps the best materialization of this open mindset is the architecture of the office itself: an open floor with no pre-assigned seats. This encourages team members to interact with each other as frequently as possible. Because teams working in separate silos is Sumit’s number one managerial pet peeve. Upon taking his role as General Manager, he worked hard to build a transparent work environment where different roles collaborate harmoniously in the client’s best interest. Sumit knows that transparency also brings mutual trust. This is why he insists on sharing every win, big or small, with the whole team: “giving people the bigger picture is the best way to keep them motivated in the long run.”
But how do you successfully grow a team 4 times in less than a year? Processes! Sumit is adamant about the importance of setting up clear processes to help the business scale-up faster. This is how you create the ground for your collaborators to step up and take on new responsibilities: “I am a big believer in transparency and in giving my collaborators enough leeway to fully own their own projects. In little less than a year, the team has grown from 10 collaborators to 80 full-time employees, but more importantly, I have seen a lot of personal growth and individual progress.”
Sumit encourages the growth of his collaborators and enjoys learning from them. Before working at Meero, he had very limited knowledge of the art of photography. He has learned a lot from the Meero experts who have kindly shared their deep knowledge of their field with him: “People are sometimes surprised when I ask them to teach me things about photography, but my aim is to hire people I can learn from!”