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Sahaj Software a Niche Technology Start-up, Gets 100% of their Clients through References from Past Clients

In an Interview with BW Businessworld, Akash Aggarwal CEO and Co Founder, Sahaj Software talks about the company’s journey and more

You’re a bootstrapped startup and quite successful from all appearances; tell us about the journey.
The journey has been pretty interesting. We started off from a point where we believed that there could be a different and unique company which could be created to reduce the exploitation of people in the IT industry.
Funny story, when we decided to incorporate the company, we had more than 40 people in our network who said they would join us and there were at least 8 clients who said they would work with us. You can probably guess what happened next; the day we reached out to them after incorporating the company, there were no responses. It was an important lesson we learned on the first day - prepare for everything! But we persevered, mainly because we had a strong belief that a company that focuses on the wellbeing of people, and trusts the employees can never go wrong.
Finally, we had some very courageous people who helped us through our journey. We were lucky to be in touch with some courageous business leaders who wanted to try a new but nimble services company. From there on, we agreed on a simple strategy: that our clients will be our best salespeople and if we do projects well and deliver as per our promises, then there will be no dearth of business. This strategy worked. Today 100% of our clients are through references from past clients. 90% of the people who join Sahaj are reference from existing folks at Sahaj, who believe in the vision and culture of Sahaj and want their friends to join us. It has been 5 years, and we now have 5 offices across 3 continents and still run the company with the same strategy and vision. We are a disruptive and innovative IP creation / IT services company and we believe we are and will continue to inspire others to set a culture like us!

Keeping in mind that there are a lot of peers around, how is Sahaj doing things differently?
Sahaj's differentiation is its belief in its people and the culture of openness, honesty and simplicity. We have removed the barriers of roles, grades, hierarchies, performance appraisals etc. This has not only lead us to an empowered but also an extremely innovative environment. We have discovered a new way of delivering software projects which reduces wastage by at least 40 - 50% - we call it Simple Agile. Our assets, our intellectual property and our differentiators are our people. Our passion to solve complex problems, our ability to challenge the status quo and our ability to simplify things put us in a different league altogether.

The work culture at Sahaj is quite different from other IT companies; tell us a little about that? Has it helped you increase productivity? Are there any drawbacks of opting this culture model?
Sahaj practices a culture of openness, empowerment, and transparency - we have removed the barriers of roles, grades, hierarchies, performance appraisals etc. No role, no grades. Pretty much everyone plays a role in the particular assignment and then goes back to the common pool. So in one project, one person might assume a leadership role, but in the next project, that person might end up playing a developer role. This leads to more of a time-boxed or event-boxed role and avoids entitlement.
We also follow a radical open salary structure - which facilitates a cycle of free, candid communication between teams. This helps in prompting people to reach out, seek feedback, and get better at their work, and also get paid better.  Such a structure completely eliminates nepotism, and allows the leaders to be a lot more diligent while deciding salaries. The wall between the management and the employees breaks, as people can not only question their salary, but seek a revision in salary, too, if they are performing well.
One other advantage of an open salary system is that it forces a feedback conversation, because now people if they are paid less or more compared to their peers. In fact, why only do open salaries alone, and why not let the people decide the salaries of the management too? This helps them appreciate what people do at all levels and really act like CEOs.
Yes, nothing comes easy. All of this comes with extreme responsibility and accountability. Like other companies, at Sahaj, we don't have managers who define the career progression for people. Here, people own their destiny and define their own career paths. They decide what they like and what they want to do. They learn as much as they want and can grasp. So, in Sahaj, the responsibility shifts from a manager to the person themselves. Another thing is that with everything being open (salaries, client rates, proposals, SOWs etc) - there is a lot of responsibility that everyone at Sahaj carries. We can't be casual about what we share as it could be catastrophic for the company. Also, everyone is expected to be a CEO - which means they end up stretching way beyond a normal role, thereby learning a lot more and much faster. Also, the freedom on unlimited leaves or no manager makes one much more accountable than other companies.
But we believe that things like these challenge the status quo and provide a trustful and empowering environment to people. If done right, the pros far outweigh the cons.

What's your take on the future for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship, especially with re-election?
We believe a stable government will spur a lot of growth. If you look back, even after the last election the whole startup system welcomed the current government with open arms. We saw tremendous growth in funding and new ideas with new startups coming up. In fact, I would say it was one of the best periods we had in the last 20 years. We expect nothing less this time. We expect the government to work on ease of doing business, and make the environment much more conducive for startups. I am confident that the next 5 years will see another big wave of startups and entrepreneurship.

Vision: 5 Years down the line for Sahaj Software?
Sahaj as a company is creating a paradigm shift in the way software and IP creation services are being provided in the world today. We have a very strong focus on simplifying client problems, with a minimal team size and in the fastest way possible, is an anti-pattern to the typical IT services companies. We believe we are going to be a global role model company and will inspire everyone who interacts with us. We believe companies could still exist by simplifying their internal structures and challenging a lot of prevailing industry practices.

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