Flipkart is a unique Indian tech company that needs a problem-solving type of engineering, which is not readily found in India. Of the few available, even the best of IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology) graduates have to first be trained before they become innovative and disruptive in their work.
The problem is, top IIT students in India tend to gravitate towards IT services, consulting majors, global investment banks and PSUs for secure jobs. Those companies held esteemed placement slots at premier engineering institutions like the IITs and, while Flipkart offered work that could improve people's lives and make online shopping possible for millions of Indians, its startup status meant top students were often wary of a career here.
As a home-grown company, the onus was on Flipkart to attract, mould, teach and nurture the most promising students at IITs to work here and solve the Indian e-commerce challenge. And while at it, improve the future talent pool across the ecosystem in India as well.
- Build long-term relationships with IIT to improve quality of talent in India.
- Become the employer of choice for the brightest engineering minds of IIT.
- Embed Flipkart into the sub-culture of IITs with deep brand attachment.
- Collaborate on academic research with the best students and professors of IIT.
- Position Flipkart as a cutting-edge product tech company with the most disruptive work.
Execution and tactics
- The anthem: Music is integral to IIT subculture. To embed itself into this subculture, Flipkart went to IIT-Delhi and IIT-Madras early in 2016 with a simple idea. Create an exclusive, catchy campus song using their own views, words and crowdsourced lyrics. Students in both IITs were rallied to participate in large numbers to create the songs, which were produced in a studio by Flipkart and released as the anthem for that campus.
- Academic collaboration: In India, there is a general lack of connection between academics and corporates, which is a proven way, globally, to improve the learning ecosystem. Flipkart became one of the few Indian companies to collaborate with the top 5 IITs on long-term research to solve critical problems. Throughout 2016, research papers on recommendation systems to predict consumer need for products showed that predictive search optimisation helps customers zero in faster on a product, in addition to providing reviews analytics for demand forecasting, which was co-authored by an IIT student, his/her professor at IIT, and a Flipkart employee.
- Pre-placement talk. What?: To attract the best at IITs, presenting colourful slides to a passive audience could hardly work. In 2016, Flipkart changed course to disregard established procedures, and instead conducted workshops with real-life case studies that students were given a chance to work on. There were no pre-placement talks on why Flipkart is the best place to work. We left the judgement to students, who revelled in the novel concept and turned out in thousands to participate.
- The IITans themselves: Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal became much-seen faces at IIT campuses in 2016. Being IIT-Delhi alumni themselves, the duo connected with students and professors through informal chats. Often, the discussions were around the experiences and challenges of building India's largest startup. Being the poster-boys of Indian startups, Sahin and Binny stirred the interest of the brightest engineering minds of IITs, without soliciting students to work at Flipkart.
- Beyond founders: Flipkart has a vast amount of IIT alumni who actively visited their alma mater, held workshops, real-life case studies and interacted on a personal level with students in 2016. They discussed Flipkart's work in e-commerce with professors and existing business challenges, which were shared with top students.
Evaluation of success
- The rage to join Flipkart became evident when IIT Kharagpur student Aakash Neeraj Mittal made the most unique CV in India:
- A photoshopped page featuring him as a product on Flipkart, trying to sell himself.
- The news went viral reaching 20 million through print, online and social media.
- Flipkart's workshop sessions with real-life case studies ran full-house at all IITs
- 350 IIT graduates are currently Flipkart employees – more than 250 joined straight from IIT campus.
- Over 35% of total engineers at Flipkart are IIT graduates.
- 2,500 applications were received from IITs for the Associate Product Manager (APM) program.
- 11 APM offers; with a 0.0044 application-acceptance ratio, the tightest in Indian tech space.
- 14 joint academic research programs in 2016 – 3 papers published in international journals.
- Flipkart displaced consulting majors and big banks to get day 0 placement slot at IITs.