As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Suresh Sambandam.
Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single, unified platform. Kissflow is used by over 10,000 customers across 160 countries, including more than fifty Fortune 500 companies.
Suresh is an expert and renowned entrepreneur on a mission to democratize cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises seamlessly orchestrate their work through an intuitive blend of collaboration, coordination and control. He has three US patents to his credit.
Suresh is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology startups and spends a significant amount of time in the startup ecosystem mentoring young companies. He co-founded SaaSBoomi, Asia’s №1 & largest SaaS Conference.
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 share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I made a ton of mistakes when starting up. Whether it is funny or not is for you or the readers to decide. One example is: between 2005–2006, we created a category called do-it-yourself software and we named it DIY Software without understanding what category creation in marketing entails and how difficult it actually is. Although we were naive at that time, the lessons we learnt from that experience have helped us a lot in going after the category we are building now around “Digital Workplace”. We now know that though this is a tough journey we are embarking on, it is not impossible, given how digital marketing has evolved today.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I read a lot…I mean really a lot. I switched fully to Audible a few years ago. On an average, I read about 10 hours a week. I have a lot of favourite books in each segment. When it comes to organizational building, I consider Peter Senge’s ‘Fifth Discipline’ as the bible and ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins comes right after that. Currently, I am reading this book called ‘Leadership and Self Deception’ by Arbinger Institute. It is a must-read book for everyone, not just leaders. It is a life-changing book that makes you reflect on how you approach your life across personal, social and professional dimensions. Currently, we are running this as a group reading and discussion program for all employees at Kissflow.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Almost a decade ago, it was our pursuit to democratize application development that got us to start Kissflow. Our vision was to empower business users or people with no technical knowledge to create and develop simple applications that can be used to solve primary business use cases. Though we knew this vision wasn’t easy to achieve, we didn’t know it would take two failed attempts and more than 50,000 hours of unrelenting focus and work to taste mentionable success. Today, Kissflow is a global company with 10,000+ customers in over 160 countries.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
“Do the right thing!” Whether it is at work or with family or in a social sphere, it is not always black and white. We have to deal with shades of grey. I generally fall back on “do the right thing” given everything that I know at that point in time, in making any decisions. “Do the right thing” is what makes me fall asleep as soon as I hit the bed at night every single day. No regrets.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When we adopted WFH in March, I must admit we were more than skeptical and expected at least a 30% dip in productivity. We are now pleasantly surprised that there is a 30% increase in productivity, contrary to what we thought. We learnt that the heavy investment we had made in building the culture at the workplace and the robust technology platforms we were already using, paid off. We are now looking for ways to sustain the productivity hike while ensuring that employees don’t burnout.
Secondly, we had expected some impact on deal closures and customer cancellations. But on the contrary, we have started seeing significantly positive behaviour, like more product evaluations and very few cancellations, which is a big relief. Deal closures have however taken a bit of a hit.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
For Kissflow, we expect the post covid economic impact to be very favourable because we offer a Digital Workplace platform that helps companies bring together all their work in a single unified platform. Kissflow Digital Workplace is a complete platform built around collaboration and workflow. It helps keep the work in context so that we can have conversations and manage tasks from the same place we do the rest of our work.
With remote work becoming the new norm and the paradigm shift that’s bound to happen, there is a huge demand for such platforms. Business leaders are now realising the value of digitising workflows and automating all manual processes, so that ‘work from anywhere’ is truly possible.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
In the knowledge industry, it is now proven beyond doubt that the bulk of the work can be done from home in an effective manner. It would save a lot of time and money in terms of commute, while also have positive effects on the environment. A vast majority of teams in the knowledge industry would choose to adopt remote work models permanently. It will also bring down the operational cost of running a physical office premises by at least 50%, if not more.
On the personal front, investing in one’s own health will become a priority and immunity building within communities will be talked about for at least a few years. Many will start eating healthy and make a conscious switch to a good diet, and even the occasional junk food eaters might ask the question “Is it healthy?”. Businesses in the food industry need to adapt to this new behaviour and re-invent themselves.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Just before we went into lockdown, we had re-organised our company into business units under each product line, so it became much easier for us to manage. This strategic move has now helped us tremendously, to address any challenges around employee engagement and productivity.
During the lockdown period, we undertook an org-wide exercise where we internalised the real meaning and value of OKRs, so that everything we do is based on objectives rather than initiatives. This pretty much made us rethink the way we define productivity.
We have launched a new hybrid work model called ‘REMOTE+’ for our employees. The new work model enables employees to enjoy the benefits of both remote work as well as co-located, in-office work. We strongly believe it’s a quantum shift in mindset and the workplace as we know it.
Employees who are not from the city are encouraged to move back to their hometowns to reduce expenses, strengthen family/social bonds and contribute to the local community. The REMOTE+ work model could very well be an answer to lop-sided development that unfairly favoured urban geographies until now.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Most of our professional work is showcased at kissflow.com On the personal front, I am pretty active on LinkedIn and Twitter just in case someone wants to connect with me.