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People.Pandemic.Pickyourtrail

By Hari Ganapathy - August 28, 2020

Morpheus.

At Pickyourtrail we have superhero names on slack to mimic some parts of our personality. I chose Morpheus.

Right from the time I started selling biscuits to now, the one thing that gives me the most sense of satisfaction is building teams. To work with folks to see them discover their inner Neos and Trinitys. There is no larger kick than building a team that always plays to win.

Nobody likes to lose right? Losing good people? It’s doesn’t feel good. Losing great people for no fault of yours? It’s depressing. March 2020 was exactly that.

We were growing ~100% y-o-y, the juggernaut was in full flow. COVID stuck. Things became a blur. Revenues fell off a cliff and with no real sight of revenue we had to rationalize costs. The choice was to either cherry-pick folks we want to work with or be open and share the reality with the entire team. Srinath and I decided to be transparent with the team. We laid down the bare facts — how long we had before the shutter came down in case revenue doesn’t pick up, what it meant if folks chose to fight this battle alongside. The initial response from most folks was that they wanted to stick on. We were all emotionally overwhelmed and making rational choices was quite a task at that time. For instance, some folks literally edited payslips to make their team member realize the gravity of the situation in a post COVID era. Ideally, we wanted all of them to be part of this journey but given the situation, we felt it was best people decided for themselves. It had to be feasible both financially and mentally for folks to play the long haul given travel was not going to come back for a while.

In the past too, we have had folks move on from Pickyourtrail. It was either for higher studies or starting something on their own. Unfortunately this pandemic made it emotionally draining to see good folks part ways for no fault of yours or theirs. Its not like we screwed up execution or our bets were wrong. We were hitting new revenue milestones every month! Personally it was the lowest point on this entrepreneurial roller coaster.

I took to reading, burying myself more at work, and also tried to reflect how it would have been for leaders when a bunch of us left InMobi. While it did create a temporary lacuna for the company, it has worked wonderfully well for the ecosystem in hindsight. (Meesho, Medlife, Springboard, ETMoney were all started by ex InMobi folks).

Over time I have come to not just accept it but also realize that this is also part of impact creation and building the ecosystem. Any ecosystem is only as strong as its stakeholders and one of the key stakeholders in the startup ecosystem is the people. Chennai is still an evolving ecosystem and these movements will surely help accelerate ecosystem development. The other thing is that PYT is a great place to hire from is a testament to the team and the managers who have helped build that team. The below tweet in some sense articulates why it pays to build a company that’s both culturally and structurally strong. Was slightly comforting to know that we had managed something similar.

Internally this has also led to newer opportunities for people to play larger roles and fill in shoes of folks who are moving on. I am extremely thankful to them for inspiring each one of us and keeping the fire burning, it’s not easy. It takes huge amounts of clarity + grit. As one of the troopers succinctly put it —

“To stick here is a choice I have made in my mind. And one I can afford right now. We are doing everything possible to turn things around and it’s just a matter of time before things look up”.

There is some shimmer of hope with Deals and Staycations seeing a huge uptick over July and August. I believe that there would be clarity on Vaccine success by the end of the year and by early next year there would be a significant uptick in overall leisure travel sentiments. The human need to be mobile and explore is what led us to venture out from the caves and what’s driving us to mars. Travel is here to stay, it’s just on a long pause.

The next two quarters would be the most crucial as we push forward. Rebuilding is an opportunity for us to fix things that we would have done differently if we had a shot. While it’s not easy to accept great friends and colleagues moving on, I feel that the best thing that we could do is to ensure that we continue to grow PYTV2.0 in a way that anybody who’s touched us looks back and feels happy.

Personally, I secretly dream of the day that some of the troopers, dock back into the Rocketship. Amen.

PS: If you have got till here, here is a bonus screenshot of my all-time favorite piece on Choice.

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