Zomato And The Perils Of A High-Growth Work Culture

The internet is a strange, scary place. When Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal scheduled an AMA on Reddit, he’d hoped for some constructive feedback, some fawning praise, and a chance to promote his company’s latest foray into the food delivery business. Instead, what happened was this.

 

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An AMA, or Ask Me Anything, is a Reddit  post in which users ask famous people questions about their work and life. Redditors did not take kindly to Goyal’s answers however, finding them flippant and condescending. Soon, there was talk that the CEO’s attitude was symptomatic of the culture at the company.

Zomato, which started in 2010, quickly brushed aside established competitors like burrrp.com to rise to the top of the Indian online restaurants listings pile. It started its overseas expansion in 2012, and now present in 19 countries. Its rise has been meteoric, and it is widely touted to be a shining example of the burgeoning Indian startup scene.

Zomato’s approach to its expansion has been aggressive. Its ad campaigns have been creative, albeit a little brash and cocky. Its campaign to move its tech team from Bangalore to New Delhi was heavily panned after it compared the city unfavourably to the national capital. Another hiring ad cheekily took a dig at the Kingfisher airlines fiasco.

A Zomato Ad that attempted to poach employees from Kingfisher, a struggling Indian airline
A Zomato Ad that attempted to poach employees from Kingfisher, a struggling Indian airline

The owners take fierce pride in their company’s employees. The CEO himself tweeted an email that an employee sent to a potential recruiter. The Zomato employee had laughed off the offer to join a rival company, and had offered that they hold a job fair at Zomato instead.zomato“We don’t want employees at Zomato. We want owners”, says Deepinder Goyal, CEO. This entails that the employees are held up to a higher standard than at other established companies. The management expects that the employees devote their life and soul to the company. This can mean unrealistic working hours. “People are expected to come in at 8:30 am, and leaving at 5 is frowned upon. This means that people end up staying late into the night”, says a former Zomato employee. “If you are brave enough to reach the office at 8 and work nonstop for 12 hours, you will be doing just fine!”, exclaims another. There is often a countdown running at the office, and employees are expected to finish a designated number of tasks before it hits the ominous zero. The CEO personally stands by to supervise. Employees end up having little lives outside Zomato. 

The company deems it appropriate to infringe on employee time after work as well. On New Years Eve, full time employees were stationed at parties across Bangalore, to ensure that Zomato customers had a hassle free experience. This meant missing their own personal parties and celebrations. Goyal remains unapologetic. “(Doing well) involves a lot of sacrifice, selfless work, and night-outs and literally, little life outside of Zomato. In our opinion, that is how you build fast-moving, legendary companies“, he says. The interference in employees’ personal lives extends to the digital sphere as well. Employees are made to change their Facebook cover pictures to those promoting Zomato. They get reminder emails directly from the CEO if they don’t comply. “We believe that our people who create Zomato on an everyday basis, should be our biggest brand evangelists. If they are ashamed to put their work in front of their names within their personal networks, well, they should not be doing that work“, says Goyal in response. 

Employees also are under a constant threat of being fired. Zomato believes in a Hire Fast, Fire Fast policy. “It is not unusual to see faces suddenly go missing”, says a Quora poster. Goyal justifies this saying they are a young company, and have no room for mediocrity. “Every 3-6 months, we look at people’s performances objectively and ask some under-performers to leave“, he says. In addition, Zomato does not believe in bonuses. “I was so proud of our people at that moment, that we gave them healthy regular pay package raises and told them that there will be no bonuses. Everybody was so happy that they do not have to deal with the negative pressure of being evaluated on a 5 point scale to calculate their bonuses.”  Goyal seems very assured of the company’s policies and prospects, but the vast majority of Zomato employees on the internet seem to vehemently disagree.

 

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