afaqs!

We have changed the business of recruitment: Arvind Rajan, MD and VP, LinkedIn

By Prajjal Saha and Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | March 19, 2012
In a chat with afaqs!, LinkedIn's Rajan talks about its latest products, competition, what the brand attempts to change in a market like India, why Facebook and LinkedIn are anything but potential clones and why people prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate.

Arvind Rajan

Management generalist Arvind Rajan, managing director and vice-president, Asia Pacific and Japan, LinkedIn, has worked across industries, from hybrid/electric transportation to wireless data networks and internet start ups. Earlier, Rajan was at technology and services firm Grassroots Enterprise, where he spent five of his nine years as the firm's chief executive officer.

Before Grassroots Enterprise, Rajan worked at Warpspeed Communications, BCN Data Systems, CellNet Data Systems, Solectria Corporation and Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Interestingly, in his own LinkedIn profile, Rajan begins the description of his time at BCG as "My first real job."

In a candid chat with afaqs!, Rajan talks about LinkedIn's latest products, its competition, what the brand attempts to change in a market like India, why Facebook and LinkedIn are anything but potential clones and why people prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate these days.

Excerpts:

afaqs! : Currently, LinkedIn has three revenue streams -- market solutions, recruitment solutions and premium subscriptions. The third one seems to be on a slower road than the other two. Why?

Rajan: Though we don't give our data on revenue at country level, I can say that we're seeing growth across all lines of business and all sectors.

However, in India, we started with the hiring solutions team so this part got a bit of a head start.

Besides, the premium subscriptions business is not driven locally; rather, it is driven centrally and is delivered online. That's why it's more present for people; people hear about that because we have a sales team talking about it.

But then again, our whole team here is new (though it seems like we've been here forever); we hired our first person at LinkedIn in India two years ago. So it has only been two years. Everything here in India is relatively new.

afaqs!: Does being niche in the social networking space make it difficult to convince the advertiser?

Rajan: Frankly, with 14 million members, who include high-end to young earning professionals, I don't think we're niche anymore.

But you're right - I think advertisers need to continue to understand how to use LinkedIn. We have to first convince them that it's time to spend money online versus offline, and then educate them on how to use LinkedIn more effectively.

It's true that in India, the online advertising market is still relatively small but there are advantages of being in a less matured market.
Even in the online space, brands tend to go for B2C advertising. And there isn't much happening in the online B2B space in India - so we are really pioneering in that area.

afaqs!: You may not like to call it niche, but if we compare LinkedIn with other recruitment websites like Naukri.com and Monster.com, there is still catching up to be done.

& #VIDEO1 & #Rajan: Yes, so I treat that as the other business - recruitment solutions. Even though LinkedIn is very small, we have changed and continue to change recruiting styles across the world.

LinkedIn helps reach a much broader segment of users. On recruitment sites, mostly you will find people who're actively looking for a job, which is a very small subset of the overall population that is potential talent for the organisation. In fact, often the best talent in the world has probably never actually applied for jobs online in their lives.

Every company will tell you that their best source of talent is employee referrals. But employees often are lazy to take a step or are not fully informed about the opportunities within their organisation.

We've now automated that process, where we can match people from your networks with those jobs.

afaqs!: So what has been the biggest driver for LinkedIn's growth?

Rajan: As a company our philosophy is to begin small with accounts - they understand the value - and then grow the accounts. This has proved successful for us all over the world - as soon as people start using LinkedIn they understand the value. They realise that they get the highest ROI from investing on LinkedIn.

It's interesting how during the global financial crisis around the world many companies completely constrained the number of people they were hiring. But a lot of those companies then spent more money with us, not less.

It's all about telling our story, building a team and having an increasingly bigger sales team to spread our story.

afaqs!: One school of thought says that five-10 years down the line, all social media pillars will become clones of one another. Do you think that the distinction between sites will get blurred?

Rajan: No we definitely don't believe that. Let's take an example - right now on Facebook, users can't actually segregate their personal and professional networks. It's kind of hard to do that and the fact is that users just don't do it. We'll see where Google Plus goes - it creates circles - and I believe that most users may create those circles but never use them.

On LinkedIn, it's all professional. So one of the things we did last year was to build a partnership with Twitter. One apprehension, though, was that non-professional content would start showing up on LinkedIn - such as 'I saw this really great movie last night' or 'I had a really good sandwich'. However, more than 90 per cent of the users realised the difference and used their discretion on what was professionally appropriate.

afaqs!: In social media, it's also about how much time one spends on the site. Facebook has an advantage...

Rajan: It's interesting. For us, we think about engagement in different ways. We don't really care much about maximising the amount of time one spends on LinkedIn in a visit.

Our mission is to connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful. People use LinkedIn for work. That means if I'm trying to find something about someone and that takes me five minutes, that's a very good interaction. So I care less about you spending a lot of time on LinkedIn - I care more about you coming back and getting value.

afaqs!: What's the way ahead in India?

Rajan: I think the way ahead is to continue to grow. We started building a team here in November, 2009. Then, we had 3.5 million members. We're now up to 14 million members. It's been a really nice growth curve. We're building not only our sales teams but also our marketing teams here and we're going to continue to invest in India, which is part of an overall investment across APAC. We now have offices in seven cities across APAC. Our first local development team in Japan is already up and running, while we have also launched an engineering centre in Bangalore, both beings firsts outside the US.

afaqs!: Will there be anything on LinkedIn in regional languages in the APAC region or in India?

Rajan: We've talked about it and we've always decided not to. The language of business in India is English. So this is not a priority for us. We don't see a lot of demand for this from our members. If that changes, we're not opposed to it.

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