Original interview published on https://newsnationals.com/shantanu-saha-ceo-the-recruiters-member-of-startupangelsnetwork-com/ by Kaushal Gupta on Aug 12, 2020.
Where did the idea to start something like this come from? Please also talk us through your background and your journey as an entrepreneur;
When I had joined my MBA I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur maybe 5 years into my career but I had not yet decided in what area. I did my MBA in HR and was lucky to get placed in a Fortune 500 Electrical Engineering MNC from Campus as a Management Trainee. I had got placed in the same company where I had done my summer training after my 1st year of MBA. After one year of On the Job Training I was directly posted as a Deputy to the Head of HR and had 20 people reporting in all of whom were in mid 40s and above while I was just 22. By the third year in the same firm I had proved myself enough to be considered and then chosen to Head HR for a joint venture company of our MNC with an Indian Company. I headed HR successfully for the next 2 years and then left after completing a 5 year stint to join a large hospitality Brand as HR Head for one of their hotels. Post that I joined a start-up third party ITES firm when the sector was new in 2001 and took the company from 200 employees to 2000 in 6 months with the help of a very small team. That’s when I first got a lot of exposure into Recruitments.I thought this was an area where I could venture in as there was a shortage of good vendors then. My founders reposed a lot of confidence in me and wanted me to take final interviews of every single person who joined the company no matter how senior or junior. I did more than 10,000 final interviews and I signed all the appointment letters too. The next company was also a start-up and I joined as a Head HR and again took the company as from 100 to 1500 in two years and my last firm which was my third start-up I joined as a Vice President HR, but I quit soon enough as I was putting a huge number of hours in every start-up and I realised finally that I should now probably put in that effort in my own entrepreneurial venture. I also realised that with the expertise I had, I could command a premium in the market if I set up my own Executive Search & HR Consulting Firm.
Why did you choose entrepreneurship over a job?
I quit a job in the 9th year of my career and from the 3rd to the 9th year I was lucky to get independent roles to Head HR and report to founders and CEOs and take part in business decisions not just related to HR. I wanted to take on the CEO role and in a corporation that would have taken longer. Also as an entrepreneur, you have a lot of freedom to seize any opportunity to grow exponentially or change the course of your destiny. In a corporate no matter how well you do, you can’t really change your role or salary until the next appraisal and you can’t implement radical changes in a large system. Routine of corporate life as a Head HR was getting boring for me and I wanted to move out of my comfort zone.
What was your key driving force to become an entrepreneur?
Freedom to shape the company the way I wanted it and not really report to a boss.
What’s your source of motivation?
I have always been self-motivated and have never given up even in the face of adversity. I always exceeded the expectations of my bosses and delivered much beyond my KRAs. That helped me rise very fast in the Corporate Sector and win many accolades which in turn fuelled my motivation further. Also, I achieved much at a young age and it earned me a lot of praise from people all around which also motivated me to exceed my own expectations.
How many hours a day do you work on average?
I am a workaholic by nature. In the peak of my career, I have done 16 hours or even more sometimes non-stop for 14 days. I have learnt to take it easier in my own firm but I am involved in many activities apart from my business and I still do 10 hours easily and sometimes even on weekends.
What is the uniqueness of your startup?
I tried to incorporate all my learnings as an HR head across sectors and also of dealing with vendors to create systems and processes to ensure that the HR services that we offer like Executive Search are a value add to potential clients by ensuring metrices like minimal dropouts, the longevity of the employee in the company and a happy employee working for a role they clearly understood even before they appeared for the interview.
My experience of working across different sectors has also helped me pick the best practices from each sector when I advise clients.
How do you handle the pressure and manage stress?
During my Corporate career, I was quite ambitious and enjoyed the work I did. Most of the work I did was much beyond what was expected of me so I never faced pressure from superiors. In fact, they tried to tell me most of the time to take it easy. The success I achieved further made me more driven and frankly I never did much apart from work during my 9-year corporate life. But one thing that did help me was that I learned to delegate early in my career and trust my team.
During my business, I worked smart and not really hard. We focused on higher-value clients and business rather than higher volume and I hired a team that was the best in terms of intelligence and ability. Combination of choosing good clients and a good team and the value addition that our clients perceived helped me work on my own terms without any pressure again.
I also went thru a major health issue in 2011 due to a genetic issue, and I almost lost my life. I was lucky to recover and literally lived to tell the tale in the form of a book called Fight for Life available on Amazon globally. That helped me realize that there is more to life than work. Since then I do more things outside of just work.
How do you generate new ideas?
Since I delegate a lot, I get a lot of time to think and innovate. In fact, innovative ideas and not following existing laid down paths was my hallmark even in Corporate. I guess it might be because I used to read a lot and I am always open to new ideas. I have never been rigid and always encouraged my team to also question the status quo or my own ideas.
How did you come up with the name for your company??
My last company where I was a Vice President HR was run by an American. When I told him we had to empanel placement agencies to help us with the huge hiring that we were planning he did not understand and finally, he said – you mean “Recruiters”. So I thought that one word had a clear meaning and so I kept the name of my firm “The Recruiters”, and did not change it even after 16 years although we do much more in terms of HR Advisory and Consulting than just Recruiting.
What piece of advice would you give to college graduates who want to become entrepreneurs?
I would suggest the following:-
# either go for a completely new idea and create a business around it or go for an existing business idea and deliver it innovatively.
# When you go for entrepreneurship don’t have a plan B or a backup of a job in case this fails. Take up something only when you are 100% convinced and confident that you can deliver and then dive in. There is no such thing as failure, there’s just giving up too soon.
# Prepare about the domain as much as possible. Best would be if you choose entrepreneurship in an area of your expertise. And expertise is typical If I quote from the book Outliers – 10,000 hours of practice in that area.
# Even if you get external funding, be judicious in using those funds, but don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. It always makes sense to pay more and get better quality people and vendors and infrastructure than pay less and get below par stuff that will compromise the output of your final product or service.