LBB Founder Suchita Salwan On Managing Diversity And Employee Well-Being At The Workplace
“Sometimes, the problem statement you’re trying to solve creates a system where you have no alternative but to be diverse because that’s actually the best way to deliver excellence for both your customers and your merchants," shares Suchita Salwan. The founder of Little Black Book joined us for the second episode of our podcast, Inside The Bored Room. Little Black Book is an information marketplace that helps its users to find, advertise and sell for various customer needs ranging from food, fashion to lifestyle and travel.
A video interview and podcast series, Inside The Bored Room, catches up with founders and leaders involved in building the workplaces of tomorrow. We tap into various aspects of their business, personality, and values through these conversations to understand what it takes to develop happier and more productive workplaces.
While most people are well acquainted with the LBB’s wide ranging services, we dug a little deeper into understanding Suchita's thought process as a founder that is responsible for shaping the culture, workforce, and employee well-being at the organization.
Over 22 million members use LBB to discover and ship over 100,000 unique and special products. As a founder, what would you tell us about LBB?
What we're really proud of LBB is the way in which we're evolving how customers shop online. Instead of always pushing products or brands down the customers' throats, I think a lot of what we've been able to do is recreate the experience of going to a market, having fun with the content, videos, playing games as you go about it. Most importantly, discovering something different and something awesome.
How does LBB manage diversity within the organization?
I think, as an organization, if you genuinely care about being diverse and have different opinions on the table, you will do whatever it takes. If you look at the verticals at LBB, it has equal parts — left brain and right brain. It has creative content, community, etc. It also has technology operations, processes, and merchant onboarding. When you're building an organization that has these two, you end up as a byproduct of doing the best job possible.
We have never solicited being diverse. For us, it's more about doing a really good job of connecting unique brands and businesses with our millennial customers. The thing that makes both parts of these veins coexist is that you end up pulling from very different walks of life, from a very different cultural context because that's actually what your customer wants from you.
How do you look at company culture in general? How would you describe the culture at LBB?
Culture is the outcome of everything from your organization's values to the efforts you put into honing talent and retaining talent. Culture is what culture does. We have all read Netflix's culture manual, and there are multiple different points of inspiration. But at the end of the day, culture is the best manifestation and representation of how people in an organization treat its customers, users and merchants. If I had to look at that in the context of LBB, one thing that I love about our company is that we go out of our way to make all of them very happy.
Recently, there was an order placed on LBB for a merchant who wasn't delivering to the location where the customer was based. Typically what any average customer support person would do is cancel the order. Not LBB's customer support. My colleague got in touch with the merchant, figured out that they have a warehouse in the city where the customer was located, and then sent the order. For me, that is our culture and action. Not taking no for an answer and doing whatever it takes to make both your merchant as well as your customer happy.
The gender pay gap is very much a part of company culture, how do you address it? How can companies design better policies to attract and retain women?
You should want to talk to a female founder, not because she is female, but because she is very good at her job. I remember that someone once reached out to me saying, "Hey, can you come for this? Because we don't have enough women." No self-respecting person will go on to engage in a narrative or a conversation like that.
Your reason to want diversity shouldn't be that ‘I need to prove to my management that I have 30%-40% female participation’. It should come from an inherent need in your organization to have more diverse opinions. Your reason for wanting diversity should be because you will build a better product if you have more voices in the room.
So I think somewhere, the conversation needs to change from ‘let's talk about the gender pay gap because it's fashionable’ to ‘think about how we create more interesting organizations that can solve more problem statements’.
What are you doing for employees' well-being at LBB?
The pandemic brought about the realization that everyone's contexts are very different, and it's important to give people relief within their context.
So, for example, mental health was a large and significant area of conversation for us, especially during both [COVID-19] first and second wave. My colleagues and the HR team worked very closely in tying up with an organization and helping a few folks get access to therapists. We also focus a lot on physical health. So in the middle, we organized a bunch of fitness workshops and games.
Wellness for a few people means having a work-life balance, having Saturdays and Sundays to themselves. For other people, it means I want to learn more.
So I'm trying to optimize as much as I can internalize and learn. We recently announced this initiative where LBB will foot the bill for any book you want to buy. The only thing that you have to do is share a summary of that book with folks across our organization. Very recently, another colleague of mine wanted to sign up for a couple of courses on Udemy, for which we paid the bill.
If you look at any of our initiatives around health, wellness, or happiness, they usually tie in with some amount of learning.
How does LBB hire and retain talent? How can early-stage startups do the same?
One of the foundational elements for any founder should be that not all of your talent is going to stay, and the second is not all of your talent needs to stay. There are some cases where a natural churn is actually great. In our content team, when people leave, it's good because you need that freshness in content and perspective coming in.
Versus in our client-facing and ad revenue teams, stability is paramount. That's because our enterprise clients would be our large-scale clients — the businesses where many transactions come through multiple rounds of conversations and touchpoints, and that [relieves] the relationship game.
Not everyone in an organization is, or even needs to be irreplaceable. As a founder, you need to figure out which part of my organization [needs] consistency; I want the same talent, where churn comes at a higher cost later. Also, what teams within my organization for which churn is a good thing.
Even as you grow and develop, there are parts of your organization that will change. There was a point in time when the most important team in our organization was our content team. But now, what's extremely important in our organization is our recommendations team, which is a mix of our visual merchandising , technology, product , UI , and data teams. What matters to an organization changes over a period of time and those are one of the fundamental truths of organization reading that not enough people speak candidly about. Now, tying that back to your hiring question, what you need to ask yourself is — on a scale of zero to 10, how important this candidate is within my ecosystem and how much time I am willing to give this candidate to grow within my organization?
This perspective is not just a chef's kiss for the first time founders but also can turn out to be a significant mindset shift for those who may be feeling a little lost with their people management role.
As we bring in founders, CEOs, and leaders from diverse backgrounds on our podcast every week, the myth about having 'one success formula' keeps getting blurrier. The only way it seems to have a happier and a motivated team is by providing them personalized solutions and meaningful perks that genuinely contribute to their growth and well-being.
If you found this piece truly worth your time, the podcast will be even more fruitful.
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