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How this investment banker turned entrepreneur is helping startups find the right talent

Startups are all about hustle and energy as they are generally on a rapid growth path. In such a scenario, the key pillar which makes all the difference is the human resource (HR) element.

Connexio, founded by Saurabh Jain and Aparna Jain, wants to help startups find the right talent. The Singapore and India-based executive search startup believes in having a deep engagement with the founders to understand what kind of talent they would like to hire rather than going by the CV.

An investment banker by profession with two decades experience, the DNA was very transactional for Saurabh, but it was also very relationship oriented. Saurabh felt both of these could come together for executive search or head hunting business.

Saurabh and his sister Aparna spoke to multiple stakeholders in the entire hiring ecosystem and set up their startup in 2017.

Today, Connexio generates about 75 percent of its business from the startup segment, which includes companies from the consumer tech, healthtech, and edtech, besides venture capital and private equity. The rest includes BFSI and aviation segments.

The start

Even though Saurabh comes with a background in investment banking, the entrepreneurial bug was always there given his family background. A chartered accountant with an MBA degree, he veered towards the world of finance working with global banks while holding key roles.

At Deutsche Bank, where he was the chief operating officer (COO) of investment banking for the APAC region, Saurabh found his calling as an entrepreneur and what he was passionate about.

“At my last role in Deutsche Bank, I realised that my interest lay in the people side of business — whether it was talent acquisition, management, strategy, or resource allocation,” says Saurabh.

Focus on startups

Connexio initially started focusing on the finance sector engaging with global banks as it was the strong point of Saurabh, but later expanded into the fintech side of business, which is dominated by startups.

According to Saurabh, founders are always in a hurry as they need to show results quickly, and this needs them to hire the right talent.

Saurabh realised there were gaps in how startups were recruiting talent. There are other executive search firms in the market, but they provide or scout for talent only for a certain requirement.

“The founder community does not have the facility where there are people who are really making the effort to understand what they need. We do deeper conversations to understand the client really well and explain to them what a good fit is,” says Saurabh.

Aparna Jain – co-founder, Connexio

He believes there are various small nuances which makes a difference for the startups that are on an expansion mode. He wryly remarks, “On paper (read CV) everything looks perfect.”

The relationship with startups helps Connexio to understand the ethos and plans of these companies.

“We make the effort to understand the startups and when the need arises, we know what they are looking for and help them search the right talent,” says Saurabh.

Connexio engages only with startup founders or one level below it and matches the talent at various levels — be it CXOs, tech professionals or even some bulk recruitment.

As co-founder Aparna says, “We are not in the business of downloading CVs and hoping that something sticks.”

Deep engagement

Speaking about why Connexio decided to focus on the startup segment, Saurabh says, the opportunity is much wider for them as all startups are very founder driven and they can understand the ethos of the organisation.

He says, “when it comes to startups, it is always the vision of the founders. They are very clear on what they want and we get clarity in terms of what will work or not.”

For Connexio, the ability to deliver from a value add perspective for startups is high as compared to a very large organisation.

Among the startups that Connexio has built relationships with, it is clear that it will focus on the non-unicorns. Providing a flavour of i-banking for this strategy, Saurabh says, “We are looking for P&L and not for lead tables. What we focus is on mid or early-stage startups where we have a good chance of going all the way.”

Connexio has closed positions for startups, which is valued at around $500 million and also for those who have raised $20 million.

For Saurabh, his background as an investment banker is also helping him get stronger traction with the startup community.

Saurabh says, “It is all about relationships. We are not looking to become all things to all people, but we do want to become all things to the companies that we choose to work with.”

On the role of technology in the entire executive search business, he believes there is much more to cover before it can play a very meaningful role.

He says, artificial intelligence and machine learning work best where there is standardisation in terms of data. Though human resource management is never homogenous and there is high degree of heterogeneity, which makes it difficult for these platforms to come out with accurate predictions.

The market

The executive search market globally is estimated to be around $16-18 billion in size and this is not taking into account the staffing business. Connexio, which has been self-funded largely, enters into long term contracts with its clients where it receives a certain retainer fee.

Connexio faces competition from players which includes global firms such as Stanton Chase, Eghon Zehnder, as well as from boutique firms in this segment.

The founders of Connexio say that given the funding momentum of the startups, hiring is back in pace resulting in greater demand for its services.

Today, apart from India, the startup has presence in markets like Singapore, Hong Kong as well as the Middle East.

“There is scope to go much deeper in these markets and there are many startups which are looking to expand into West, which is also an area of opportunity for us,” says Saurabh.

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