LinkedIn is not a trend and is not something which a teenager uses for a couple of years and then moves to a shinier new product. LinkedIn takes care of professionals’ perpetual need to be successful and that is what our value proposition is.
You have recently taken over the ‘Managing Director – APAC and Japan’ role for LinkedIn. Tell us about it.
I have been with LinkedIn for over 3.5 years now; late last year I moved to Singapore to transition into my new role as Managing Director-APAC and Japan. I manage the operations in this part of the region which comprises of countries from Pakistan and India in the West to Korea and Japan in the East and regions from the North East to Australia and New Zealand in the South East. We have a wonderfully talented team in this region including the new Country Manager for India, Nishant Rao and then we have the Country managers of all countries and the leadership teams across all functions such as Sales, Marketing, HR and Finance which support our businesses. We currently have more than 350 employees across 10 offices in the region who are constantly thinking of ways to serve our members and clients with innovative solutions.
How do you think India has evolved over the years in terms of Social Media?
I have been fortunate to have been associated with the social media space for a while and I believe that this space has evolved both in terms of the depth and breadth. Social media is quite a broad term and includes everything from video platforms to social broadcast platforms to photography sharing apps, social networks and of course the professional networks. This specialization has been driven by a need of the consumers to directly engage with each other in various contexts, and to be able to leverage the evolutions in technology. For example, mobile technology blends very well with the concept of networking and both social and professional networking platforms have benefitted greatly from it. The evolution in general has led to the development of specialized platforms of various kinds.
Talking about India in particular, we have skipped several generations of technology to come at pace with the rest of the world. LinkedIn in India has over 19 million members, which is over six times the number of around 3.4 million when I started in 2009. India is the second largest number base in terms of members for us after the US and so it is clear that Indians are taking the concept of professional networking on social platforms very well.
How do you see the social media/professional networking space shaping up in the next 5 years?
A lot of exciting things will happen. From a LinkedIn point of view, the fact that today we are fundamentally transforming the way Indian companies hire, market and sell is fascinating. Several years ago, before we came to the market, consumers would go onto social networking sites to do a range of things including entertaining themselves, passing time and keeping up with friends and families. It’s quite a different picture today. We find that consumers go onto social and professional networking sites for very specific reasons. The context clearly matters. They are investing time on professional networking sites to make themselves more productive and successful. With these types of specializations happening, we see more brands wanting to build their engagement platforms on sites like LinkedIn. We have retail setups like Woodland Shoes who worked with us using sophisticated technologies like our APIs to build out solutions with their idea of a greener product. We also have brands like American Express credit cards, Volkswagen India and several others wanting to leverage the advantages of LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions. In addition to this, there have been Indian recruiters who benefit through our product. HCL Technologies for example believe that 90% of their key hires and 25% of their total hires happen through LinkedIn. HCL hires at a massive scale. While they have all the latest services and technologies at their disposal, the fact that they still believe that LinkedIn is increasing the productivity of their sourcing and hiring is a great testament to the value we are adding. The point is that people are now turning to social technologies to improve the productivity of their workforce and for LinkedIn to be at the centre of this revolution is something that is very exciting for us.
How easy was it to convince the Indian professionals to adopt this concept of professional networking?
The numbers speak for themselves, but I think our approach made all the difference. When we started our operations in India, we decided to focus on the members who were already on our platform rather than focusing on getting more sign ups. We believe that fundamentally, if we could help members better understand how they can benefit from using LinkedIn and get the most value out of the platform, they would themselves invite their colleagues and network to join. That is exactly the way we have grown. We do not go out to do conventional marketing as such because that is not the way social media should grow. I believe this approach is working as we are adding 2 new members to LinkedIn every second across our global platform.
Professional platforms like LinkedIn have grown primarily because of two reasons. India’s economy at this point has been in a period of growth, and Indians are more expansive and want to connect with the world like never before. Secondly, the fact that people can now connect and do trade across borders is also something that people find incredibly empowering and exciting. For example, there is a boutique private equity firm started by a couple of IIM graduates in Bangalore who wanted to raise capital for their media company in Mumbai. They were able to raise funds by connecting and engaging with VC firms in Europe through LinkedIn. While the element of building and maintaining your professional profile is certainly compelling, it is the productivity gains and insights that people have been able to gain by leveraging LinkedIn that has really driven our growth.
A noticeable trend with most social media sites is that the number of subscribers’ decreases over time as observed with MySpace, Orkut and now more recently with reports coming in that people now do not find Facebook as trendy as before. Is this a cause of worry for you? How does a professional networking site like yours negate the risk of people moving over to newer sites?
LinkedIn was founded almost ten years ago in 2003 and our strongest periods of growth have really been in the last 3-4 years. We are growing faster than ever before, beating Wall Street’s expectations for 7 consecutive quarters since our IPO, something which clearly indicates that our business fundamentals are strong. Businesses can only continue to succeed if the consumers feel they are being valued and if customers are seeing success. Ours is a free website for members and marketers and recruiters these days have more than many options on where to spend their money. Yet they choose to constantly invest in LinkedIn and therefore I have to believe that our value proposition is compelling and perpetual. We are succeeding in India, which is a growth market, we are also succeeding in Europe, which is mired in economic uncertainties and at the same time, we are also succeeding in all the other markets which are somewhere in between.
Finding jobs and being more productive in the jobs that we are in today are perpetual needs for professionals, regardless of economic scenarios. LinkedIn is not a trend and is not something which a teenager uses for a couple of years and then moves to a shinier new product. LinkedIn takes care of professionals’ perpetual need to be successful and that is what our value proposition is. We believe we have a scalable business model, and there is a long runway for growth.
With regards to competition in general, our philosophy is to focus on our customers, and all 200 million+ members who are with us today. We have a service orientation as a company and each one of our employees treats all of our members as customers and as long as we are able to service them well and are able to grow at a rate at which we have, I am not concerned. But having said that, as a Business Manager, I definitely keep an eye on what is happening in the market. There are many talented people out in the market and many of them do not work for LinkedIn and we humbly accept that but again I have great confidence in our team to innovate and come up with things to stay ahead of the competition. I believe that it is difficult for a professional network in India to hit 19 million members and we are constantly growing, so it is going to be difficult to follow our playbook and compete with us.
What percentage of the total professionals are on LinkedIn in India?
We estimate that roughly around 80-100 million people fall into the professional space. However, when we place such estimates, we also need to keep in mind students who have a professional orientation and are using us. We partnered with IIM last year so we have a lot of activities which are not necessarily just for professionals but also for people who are about to join the professional workforce. Today, we have 19 million members which is roughly 20% of the total workforce in India. But as I mentioned, our focus is not on who is there in the world, but on who is signed up on our site, and how we can constantly enrich the experience they have with us.
What are your expansion plans in the APAC region? How is India as a market for LinkedIn compared to other APAC countries? Do you have any specific mandate with regards to India?
In the last 3.5 years, we have grown from one office in the region in Mumbai to Australia, New Zealand, Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong and through these offices; we are serving the entire Asia Pacific region. This year, we are looking to concentrate on places where we have existing offices in order to ensure that our customers fully understand how to leverage LinkedIn to the best of their advantage. Globally, about 40% of all professionals are in the APAC region and as our mission goes, our aim is to connect all these professionals and make them even more successful.
We don’t have any India specific mandate but our focus is on larger aspects like how our members can get more out of LinkedIn or how to enhance the level of understanding of our products amongst our customers. When we started, there were many people who viewed us simply as a powerful job portal, but now most professionals know we are a lot more than that. A lot of members use us purely because of our content. We regularly poll our members and the top reasons for professionals being on LinkedIn are maintaining a professional profile, keeping track of the professional network, keeping track of the market and trends and building their insights. So I am more interested in observing this evolution rather than keeping track of how many clients are using us today. We have a wide range of clients which range from large MNCs to small companies across sectors. IIM-A, inarguably India’s top B-School chose to keep their alumni platform only on LinkedIn, which is a huge vote of confidence from a brand that has the financial capabilities and the options to choose something else.
My expectations of the Indian team are to further deepen the relationships we have with customers and members.
How have talent and Marketing solutions fared in India?
We are doing very well. We have seen brands like ING Vysya bank using us for everything from employer branding to recruitment. We also have players who do very innovative things in the marketing space. For example, a company created an entire community of thought leadership on LinkedIn which enabled them to reach out to a more focused audience for their products and services. We have companies like the Aditya Birla Group, Tatas, L&T as well as MNCs who use our services. Woodland for example is a brand that does not spend a lot on digital media, but yet they invested in a very sophisticated marketing campaign involving LinkedIn APIs to fuel their growth.
What type of innovations are you planning on the mobile side of the business?
In the fourth quarter of 2011, about 15% of unique visits to LinkedIn globally came through our mobile platforms and as of the fourth quarter last year, the percentage rose to 27%. So mobile is easily our fastest growing consumer service and is very important for us. Last year we came out with the much acclaimed LinkedIn app for Ipad users, which was designed keeping in mind the way a professional would use a tablet. People primarily use tablets to access news and to manage their calendars so the app was designed keeping these two parameters in mind rather than just importing the website to a new platform. The thing that I personally am very excited about is the area of content marketing. People can now come to LinkedIn using their mobile devices to gain insights.
How is the acquisition of Slideshare adding value to LinkedIn? What is your acquisition strategy?
Slideshare fits snugly into the concept of content publishing and marketing. We have over the last couple of years understood that our customers are coming to our site to gain insights, one of our core consumer value propositions. They can either follow people and discover content or they can follow content and discover people. This is a wonderful ecosystem of discovery which people had taken to even before we acquired Slideshare.
Today there are 3 kinds of content that professionals consume on LinkedIn; the first is through publishers like TOI, HT etc. which have LinkedIn share buttons on their pages. There are about 1.3 million professional news sites that have LinkedIn share buttons on them. The second type of content that people consume is what is generated by companies. There are 2.7 million companies that have active company profiles on LinkedIn and they share content regularly. Companies like Jet Airways India regularly update their products and service on their LinkedIn page and communicate with their followers. HP recently became the first company to cross the 1 million followers mark globally on LinkedIn. The third and the newest space that we have entered is what we call the Influencer Program, where people learn from each other and more importantly from thought leaders. We have about 200 influencers who are eminent thought leaders like Jack Welch, Richard Branson and Deepak Chopra who are sharing their thoughts on LinkedIn today. People are consuming various forms of content from their mobile devices and are being more productive at work. This is where Slideshare adds more value to our members and clients.
We have always been on the lookout for acquisitions that makes sense to our business. When we look at companies to acquire, we largely look at companies who have a top quality team who are comfortable with our culture and who could be a value addition to us. We look at talent and core technological skills. There has to be a great fit – LinkedIn has always been and will always be a player that caters to a professional audience and hence we will never try to go on a “something for everyone” approach.
Is availability of quality Human capital a concern area for you or is talent readily available?
Human capital is, and should be, a concern for every manager. APAC has a very competitive job market. We are in a phase of growth and I believe that our current pool of talent is a magnet which attracts future talent. If at all I am worried, I am worried about our ability to recruit at the pace which we need to service our customers given how quickly we are growing. We have not had any problems, but I am conservative that way. Our hiring plans in India continue to be strong and we have grown from being a small team to a large team in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi where we also have the Slideshare team. We are also looking to grow in the Singapore market as it is a regional hub for us, so that we are able to service the APAC region better. The Australian business is also doing extremely well and we are growing our offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Finally on an informal note, how does your average day look like? How is Mr. Krishnan when he is not at work?
My average day involves meeting a lot of our stakeholders. I am constantly motivated by conversations I have with our team members. Through them, I get a great understanding of what we are doing right, and where we can do better. I also focus on clients and members and go out to meet a lot of people who can help us get our message out in the market. I lead a balanced life where I give my undivided attention to my wife and kids when I am not at work.
On weekends, I am very active and play a lot of competitive sports like tennis and also go out swimming. LinkedIn has a lot of active athletes in the Singapore office, which is a reason why the energy level is so high! I cannot wait to join them in the coming months.