“I could be a jerk and get a lot more publicity, but that’s not who I am.”
– Pete Sampras, on his rivalry with Andre Agassi (1990)
Among the vicinities of the start-up world, and venture capital power corridors, there is a famous saying that a capitalist doesn’t invest in ideas, as there are dozens of them right across the road. They invest in people, who are behind the idea.
Venture capitalists having pumped in $140 million into Housing.com till now, finally exhausted their patience: Not with the money which they had invested, but with the person on whom they trusted their beliefs.
Probably, for the first time in the nascent Indian startup field, a co-founder of a startup was publicly fired by his VCs. The relations between Rahul and the VCs had certainly deteriorated at this point of time, because if we believe the reports, then he was immediately asked to vacate the premises of the company, and police was called in the office as the VCs were scared that Rahul may create a scene.
Thankfully, nothing eventful happened.
Certainly this was one of those unfortunate days for the industry, when a promising, maverick and young entrepreneur’s assent was abruptly terminated, and he was asked to leave a venture which he himself co-founded.
The disturbing thing here is that, this rather unceremonious firing had nothing to do with revenues or product of the startup – it was the behavioral issues which took the toll, and forced VCs to take the extreme decision.
As we can see in the official statement released by Housing.com, they have said, ” The Housing Board, unanimously agreed to bring Yadav’s tenure to a close, with reference to his behaviour towards investors, ecosystem and the media … The Board believed that his behavior is not befitting of a CEO and is detrimental to the company..”
For new entrepreneurs, this incident throws several interesting viewpoints, and a case study which can be actually used to know what a VC funded entrepreneur should NOT do.
There is a major difference between a VC funded entrepreneur and an entrepreneur: the same as a bachelor and a married man. Trust, understanding, compassion and love are the foundation on which this relation is based. Remove one, and the whole structure falls apart.
Based on the publicly available data, and the facts shared by Housing.com, Rahul Yadav and various media outlets, we tried to decipher the reasons, which may have prompted the VCs for this hard decision.
There can several more, including the product and the revenue aspect; but that doesn’t matter anymore.
a) Publicly abusing VCs and Ridiculing Entrepreneurs
Venture capitalists and entrepreneurs form a close knit ecosystem of likeminded people having lots of money, and lots of ideas. Compared to Silicon Valley (which is the biggest of such ecosystems, globally), India is still trying to develop it’s reputation and form the foundation.
Yes, there is always competition, and there is always a rivalry (considering thousands of crores of rupees are at stake); but that doesn’t grant anyone the permission to publicly abuse and threaten other participants.
In March this year, Indian startup ecosystem was shocked to read the views shared by Rahul Yadav, when he sent an email to Shailendra Singh, MD of Sequoia Capital India. Here is a quote, which was widely condemned:
“If you don’t stop messing around with me, directly or even indirectly, I will vacate the best of your firm. Also, this marks the beginning of the end of Sequoia Cap in India”
In another instance, when veteran entrepreneur Alok Kejriwal, founder of Games2Win and other startups, offered an opinion on the outdoor advertisement campaign initiated by Housing.com, he called him dumb. Housing.com had spent Rs 120 crore in a month acquiring insane number of outdoor hoardings, in some cases multiple hoarding at the same location, creating a kind of visual spamming.
A startup making 60 crore loss every month doesn’t normally resort to such visual spamming, and rather concentrate on the product and the customers.
Last month, when we offered his resignation, he wrote: “I don’t think you guys are intellectually capable enough to have any sensible discussion anymore.” (He forgot that the same intellectual capability of investors ensured that they invest in Housing.com)
There was actually no necessity to go to such extreme level of option sharing, within a ecosystem. Yes, people will talk about you, but certainly not admire you, respect you.
b) Set a bad example for Employees; Create chaos
Whom should an employee look up to inside an organization? The CEO, the co-founder is the leader of their cult, the person who is responsible for inspiring and motivating them. But when their leader resorts to cheap gimmicks to garner attention and share his aggressive stand, then chaos ensure.
The abusive, threatening conversation with Shailendra Singh was sent to all the employees of his company. When such things happen, then employee’s belief about leadership is shattered, and they become confused between right or wrong, moral or immoral.
After Rahul called Alok Kejriwal as dumb on Facebook, it was found that Alok’s Wikipedia pages are being tampered with, and inserted with damaging information, which can ruin a person’s reputation.
One employee of Housing.com admitted doing it, and Rahul Yadav justified it to Alok this way:
Here is the acceptance of the deed by a Housing.com employee:
Intentionally maligning the reputation of any person, is a criminal offense. But as we see from the replies of Rahul, he is making it a casual affair.
This is wrong and evil on so many counts, unfair to the employees, who are of-course influenced by their ‘leader’ and totally wrong on the ethical side of conducting a business and running a company.
c) Deliberately lying to the media
When media personals and journalists asked Rahul Yadav about possible acquisition talks with Quikr, he decided to play a little game. He said yes to some, and no to some, I suppose just for fun.
But he forgot here that he not running a college fest here but a Rs 1500 crore company having 2500 employees, whose very existence depends on the reporting coverage.
In one blog, Indian Express said that after this incident, it would be very hard to believe in what Housing.com, as a brand is saying. If they announce that they are going to expand in Sri Lanka tomorrow, what shall media believe in?
Again, he shared his ‘funny antics’ with the whole team, and it must have created further confusion and uncertainty. In another instance, he called World’s largest English newspaper, Times of India as a ‘bunch of jokers’.
Media, which forms the third pillar of this ecosystem, certainly deserves better treatment from an upcoming, maverick entrepreneur.
Bonus: Erratic, absurd social media behavior
Social Media behavior, again, is a subjective issue. Some treat it as a personal courtyard where they vomit away their feelings, and some treat it as a professional channel to bridge the gaps and to inspire people.
Here is the image Rahul posted, just before the crucial Board meeting:
And one another profile pic, which was posted during the peak of abusive email controversy:
If interviewers can derive a wealth of knowledge about a person from this Facebook account, then there is no reason not to believe that VCs, entrepreneurs and employees would be immune from that.
Social media behavior has not been included in the main three reasons, as I consider as a personal choice. But yes, as a CEO of an upcoming startup which is being talked about everywhere, some responsibility is expected. I don’t think a 56 year old NRI from USA will even open Housing.com to search a new 3 BHK flat in Mumbai, after realizing that it’s CEO has posted this image on his Facebook account.
A 26 year old IIT dropout, from a remote city in Rajasthan, who didn’t attend school before class 8th certainly sound very inspirational. He set a new example when he gifted all his shares (4.5% stake) to his employees, although no confirmation came from VCs, as its not that easy process.
But the above three reasons, (and the bonus one), kind of dilutes the whole effect.
This is certainly not the end of Rahul Yadav, but a beginning. He has that imagination, that fire which any entrepreneur needs to create the next billion dollar company, but as of now, it seems that the missile is misguided.
Steve Jobs was also fired from Apple, which he co-founded. But then he created Pixar to silence his critics.
Can we expect that from Rahul Yadav now?