As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sanjoe Jose.
Sanjoe is the CEO of Talview, a company that is transforming the talent acquisition and testing processes for some of the largest organizations across the globe such as Adecco, Amazon, Bajaj Allianz, Cognizant, Deloitte, DigiPen, Eastern Washington University, NITIE, OCBC Bank, Sephora, and Unicef — and getting them equipped to excel in the emerging gig and remote economy.
Sanjoe Jose is a serial entrepreneur with ventures in Enterprise SaaS and Consumer Internet domains. Previously, he has worked with MNCs like National Instruments and L&T. He is an Engineer and MBA from IIT Bombay. Sanjoe is passionate about using AI to solve enterprise business problems.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for having me. I grew up in a remote village in India. I did most of my schooling there and then graduated from IIT-Bombay. I took up a regular corporate job after graduation, but I’ve always wanted to do something on my own and make an impact. Things changed for me when my son was born in 2012. I felt it would be too late if I waited further, so I launched my first proper venture — MerryWheels. This was a pre-owned car portal in India. We ran it for more than a year and had to exit the space due to stiff competition.
Then, I founded another startup called Interview Master along with the same co-founding team as Talview. This was an interviewing platform. We were trying to sell to mid-market customers across the globe and had raised two rounds of funding. We had excellent early traction but soon realized that the space is very new — building a large enough company in that space would be tough. Our goal was to build a large enterprise software business.
After talking to an investor here in the US, we shut down that company and started Talview. Since its inception in 2017, the vision for Talview has been to create a level playing field for every individual to build the best career for themselves. Growing up in rural India and spending time at my parents’ NGO helping women to stand on their feet, I was very familiar with the challenges people need to overcome to realize their true potential.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
It’s not a mistake, but one of the funniest coincidences is that another founder and I share the same last name, so people often assume that we are related. Sometimes, people have the misconception and the associated prejudice that the company is a family affair and not a professionally managed organization. This has taught us to be as proactive as possible in communicating any information to the outside world because people can have preconceived notions about many things.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many who helped us on the way to whom I am very grateful. This includes some of the early customers who trusted us, investors who wrote the first cheques, and advisors who have provided guidance. Some of them are Ankur Jain from Emergent Ventures and Prasanna of Upekkha.
At the very beginning, we were clear that we wanted Talview to be set up in the US to go after the enterprise market. However, many investors were not confident of our ability to do that since we were in India at that point in time. I met Ankur through a good friend Rajan (again from Upekkha) at an event and he agreed to back us.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
At Talview, we believe in making every professional successful in their career. That is our mission. And we felt that the best way to convey that and make it happen for our customers and candidates is by ensuring that we treat people beyond their resume. That is also how we came up with our name — Talview is short for talent view. We are enabling the customer to understand the prospective candidate from a more comprehensive perspective.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
When thinking about the effects of the current global health pandemic, one of the first concerns of recruiters and recruitment leaders these days is that hiring won’t pick up in the next 5–7 months. So what should we do? Should we wait for things to get back up and hibernate until then, or use this time to reassess our recruitment architecture from both technology and process standpoint? Should we even see what can be done differently?
But the pandemic has made everyone around the globe realize that there is a digital solution in the market for almost everything. People started working remotely, and employers began requesting employees to work from home. Given the scenario, Talview witnessed a surge in demand for our remote hiring solutions — video interviews and remote proctoring — to automate their recruitment process.
And it wasn’t just organizations: We suddenly saw a huge spike in demand from the education sector for our remote proctoring solutions as well. From March onwards, schools and certification providers were looking for proctored examinations for both final examinations as well as admissions. Education providers, especially from Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US, reached out in high numbers seeking online solutions to digitize their curriculums.
We saw this as an opportunity for us to build something which is very strongly aligned with our vision and created a new solution package, called Instacampus, for our prospects in the Education sector. It includes our online assessments platform, our AI-led remote proctoring software, and video interviewing capabilities while enabling affordable education, anytime, anywhere.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
While I have never considered giving up, during the past few years there have been some very attractive purchase offers. But we believe we have just begun our journey and there is a lot more to do. Our vision to create a level playing field for every professional to build the best career for themselves by making interviews objective.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I believe the most crucial decisions for the company are to be made during the most challenging times and many times with very limited visibility.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The most important thing is to communicate often and demonstrate intent to bring in more clarity.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I believe in being upfront and straightforward communication, and you can do this only if you are doing the right thing for the organization and for the individual/customer concerned.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Stay true to the core of your mission and don’t do or commit things that you might regret in the long run.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Change is inevitable. We should be ready to embrace it. Sometimes it could also mean a major change of course, but as long as the new direction is in line with the core of the organization, it will be okay. In an early-stage startup, it is most often what the founders believe in and are excited about.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Trying to fight change
- Not communicating enough
- Taking decisions with a short term view
- Not consulting the rest of the organization on key decisions
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Innovation is the key to growth. In the face of challenges or instability, Talview always innovates and finds a unique solution that helps us remain firm on our ground.
We have had phases similar to the current times when recruitment as a process was undergoing changes and the industry, too, was getting molded into what it is today. During such times, we have had to work with companies who invested in technology during times when hiring was at a low. We were able to successfully help such companies to use that additional bandwidth to relook and digitally transform their processes so they are better equipped in the coming 5–7 months. Our customers like Amazon, HCL, Cognizant, Aditya Birla, and ENEL are a few such examples.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
I recently wrote about something similar in an article (you can find it here) which was about Talview’s journey into the edtech space during COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit, we decided to shift our focus from being primarily on hiring to hiring and edtech. At that time, there was a high demand in the education sector for online tools that were very similar to ours. But that was not the only reason for us to make the shift. Here is what we did:
- Identify The Impact On Our Primary Industries — The very first step Talview took when the crisis hit was assessing our target industries, how they are affected by the crisis, and if their hiring would be affected by it. By doing that, we were able to quickly analyze the areas where we will lose customers and the ones where there are new opportunities to make up for the losses.
- Enter A New Space That Aligns With Your Mission And Team — Online higher education has always been somewhat similar to virtual hiring in terms of the technology and its end goals. With the trend of virtual learning environments booming due to the pandemic, there was no better time for us to take the plunge into this market.
Although, if you do plan to enter a new space (or add a new one), make sure this new direction aligns with your core values. Our mission and vision have always been to enable everyone to build the best career for themselves, regardless of their geography. Remote education solutions fit perfectly with this ethos, so it was easy to rally the troops and develop the necessary drive for this new initiative.
3. Consider How New Offerings Relate to Long-Term Market Trends — This is a very crucial step. Although the new boost to elearning products was a result of the pandemic, the growth of this sector was already underway. So, we feel, the pandemic only fast-tracked our journey into this space.
Identify if the market you want to enter was already on an upwards trajectory prior to the shift to existing circumstances and only then decide to take the plunge.
4. Leveraging Your Existing Tech Enables Agility — After you have weighed up your options and decided on which new market to venture into, you will need a product. Building a product entirely from scratch is not feasible. For a virtual hiring platform like Talview, creating a remote exam proctoring solution was a perfect choice. The product was already 90% there, technologically speaking. All we had to do was repackage the solution and launch it.
5. Team Communication Is Key — Always remember your key asset — your team. From the beginning, as CEO, I made sure to communicate frequently and clearly with my team, explaining the company’s position vis-a-vis the crisis and letting them know that they were my priority. I conducted daily (virtual) stand-ups for both the entire organization and the team working specifically on the new solution, discussing the alignment of new functions and market developments.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mediocrity begets neither great love or hate.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow me on:
LinkedIn: Sanjoe Tom Jose