BACK IN 2004, AS VICE CHAIRMAN OF WIPRO in Bangalore, Vivek Paul first met brand consultant Meeta Malhotra to create Channel W, an intranet platform for collaboration among Wipro employees. In those days, e-mail was hot—hardly anyone had heard of Facebook, and Twitter didn’t exist.
Paul met Malhotra next in January 2008, when they revisited the social media question. The duo founded KineticGlue Online Communities that September. Three months later, Paul quit his job at Texas Pacific Group, a private equity fund, to be a full-time head of KineticGlue. His own private fund, Akansa Capital, owns a majority stake in the company. Its eponymous flagship product, a Facebook-like platform, has been developed by a team of about 20 in Bangalore. These days, Paul is pitching it to companies.
There are three ideas behind enterprise social networking, he says. One, it makes processes shorter and people more productive. Two, it’s a low-cost, informal innovation engine for workers across geographies. And three, it empowers employees. If, say, an engineering design is uploaded to the private chatroom of a car maker, feedback from engineers could be instant, simultaneous, and in one place. This would reduce phone time and make future searches easier. A social network could make a firm more democratic. Hierarchies blur in virtual communication; people are more uninhibited. E-mail can get cluttered and is often a monologue, but a social network is more direct and conversational.
“Social media can change the clock rate of an organisation,” says Paul. “It’s not about fun alone. It’s a business application.” Since founding KineticGlue, he has refreshed his connections to promote his concept. He hasn’t lost the persuasion skills that helped him—and India’s IT industry—weather the anti-offshoring storm in the U.S. in 2004. But this time he’s training his sights on India Inc. Typically, tech ideas are pitched to the chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO), but Paul reaches out to C-level executives. At Bharti Airtel, a meeting with chairman and group CEO Sunil Mittal helped Paul get the nod from the enterprise services division. At ICICI Bank, a meeting with group CTO Pravir Vohra led to another one with MD Chanda Kochhar and executive director K. Ramkumar. Paul is now working with Ushir Bhatt, CEO of Future Knowledge Services, a part of the Kishore Biyani-owned Future Group. The CEOs were not available for comment.
Connecting with people is in Paul’s blood. In September 2010, he met with Jagdish Vasishtha and Srinivas Seshadri, former Infosys employees who founded Injoos, a social media start-up, in 2008. “Paul is this big guy in the industry. We thought he’d turn up in formals. He came in jeans and a jacket,” recalls Seshadri. “He made us feel comfortable.” They discussed how Injoos had taken social media to more than 200 small and medium enterprises (SMEs). On December 9, 2010, KineticGlue acquired Injoos for an undisclosed sum, with Vasishtha as COO and Seshadri as CTO. This has given it the prowess of Injoos’s tools, as well as a growth engine in the SME space.
While Paul focusses on large clients such as Yes Bank and BITS Pilani, Injoos will beef up the SME base.
KineticGlue customises its platform. “An organisation must pick relevant applications,” says Fortis Global Healthcare CEO Vishal Bali, referring to tools such as a CEO blog and private chatrooms. He himself loves the idea of real-time status updates from his top management peers between meetings. Access can, of course, be restricted.
In the U.S., enterprise social media have caught on, with Yammer, and Salesforce.com’s Chatter providing products and services. India’s market is tiny, but KineticGlue is making inroads. Paul is enthused by the valuations that enterprise social media products attract. In May 2010, SuccessFactors acquired CubeTree, a social business software company, for $50 million (Rs 227.55 crore). “In an illiquid market, CubeTree, whose revenue is roughly $5 million, sold for 10 times as much,” he says. He’s tight-lipped, though, about the value of KineticGlue and Injoos. “In India, capital availability is rising as the risk penalty associated with start-ups is falling,” he says. So KineticGlue would interest both the business and investing communities.
SOCIAL NETWORKING MAY not sound radical in this age of Facebook, but although Indian Net users network happily online, enterprises are a harder nut to crack. “Social media are where enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management were 10 years ago,”
“The era of productivity through computing has been there for the last two or three decades,” adds Vasishtha. “With more hardware, companies managed to raise the productivity of their processes. Now, productivity has to come down to an individual.”
Senior management must have ways to connect with star performers lower in the company hierarchy. “The value of labour is rising,” says Paul. Employees, he says, don’t want to miss out on economic growth, and retaining talent is a major concern. Perhaps for the first time capital is abundant, and talent scarce. “Corporates are focussing on labour. We’re offering a way to maximise what they get out of their talent pool,” he explains.
Malcolm Frank, senior vice president for marketing and strategy, Cognizant Technology Services, notes: “Earlier, there was a physical environment. You couldn’t be everywhere. In a virtual setup, you see people all the time. Collaborative skills are essential. A domineering manager is counterproductive.” A large chunk of the 100,000-odd employees of tech firms such as Cognizant and TCS are networked on media developed in-house.
Between 60% and 80% of the workforce in companies is aged 21 to 32—the Twitter and Facebook generation. The question is: Do companies want to harness those habits to an intra-organisation network? The character of Net entrepreneur Sean Parker says presciently in David Fincher’s The Social Network: “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re gonna live on the Internet.” That’s what Paul is betting his business will do.