The biggest complaint most businesses across the world have are the hurdles they face when dealing with government and its regulations. So, it comes as a big pat on the back for the Narendra Modi government, when LinkedIn India Head says that his company has struck the “fastest partnership” with it. In a post made on LinkedIn (obviously!), Akshay Kothari says, “The whole experience of working with the government has come as a pleasant surprise. I’ve done deals with other companies, including content syndication deals with news publishers and app preload deals with phone manufacturers. None of them moved as quickly as the Indian government. Truth be told, I couldn’t have even dreamed of saying something like this a few years ago.”
In an interesting account, Kothari explains the ease with which he was able to approach HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, the swiftness with which the proposals moved, meeting with PM Narendra Modi, and the subsequent MoU with All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Kothari also highlights his three biggest learnings of dealing with the Modi government. Here’s what Kothari wrote:
Up until a few months ago, I had never met anyone from the Indian government. Not a minister, not a secretary, not even an employee. I felt the government was out of reach – you needed to know someone who knows someone in the government to even have a meeting. And because I didn’t know anyone, I always dismissed the government as “too bureaucratic.” Many people probably still think so, but I’m going to tell you a story about the current government that will likely change this thinking.
About 3 months ago, I wanted to connect with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to talk about the work LinkedIn was doing in India. We took a chance and requested a meeting with the Honorable Minister. To my surprise, Shri Prakash Javadekar agreed to meet first thing the next morning. I got on a flight to Delhi and was at his residence at 9AM. On the dot, he walked into his mini-office, close to his residence entrance holding a folder that included many documents and clippings from the day’s newspapers.
Initially he seemed quite immersed in his own thoughts. Expectedly, as a Cabinet Minister, there was a lot on his mind. He looked up and said “Acha, tell me.” I went ahead and gave him a 2-minute introduction to LinkedIn, something I had rehearsed a few times in my head. He nodded, listening intently, all while juggling a phone call and staffers bringing him more folders. After I finished, he said, “That sounds great. How can I help?” Taken aback by the welcoming nature of his question, I went ahead and talked about all the incredible data LinkedIn has and how it can help transform education and employment in India. I also showcased some of this data by sharing with him a printout of LinkedIn City Insights, which provided a snapshot of professionals in Bengaluru. He nodded, taking in everything. Then, on the back of the printout, he wrote my name in pencil and took down my phone number. He also added me as a contact on his phone and called me “LinkedIn”.
At this time, his secretary came in to tell us that folks from the next meeting had arrived. He wished me well and told me that he looks forward to working together. Now, all of this happened in such a compressed time frame that I really didn’t know what to tell him and how to chart our “working together.” I thanked him for his time and took off. As I was leaving his residence, I couldn’t help but feel slightly dejected.
I realized this might have been the shortest meeting I have ever been part of. And because it was so short, I didn’t think anything would come out of it.
A few weeks later, I received a phone call from a Delhi landline number. When the number begins with 011-23, as I’ve now learned, there is a high probability that it is a phone call from the government. At that moment I was visiting our headquarters in California, so my phone rang in the middle of the night. I instantly woke up and picked up the call. The caller said that he was speaking from MHRD and that the Additional Secretary R. Subrahmanyam would like to meet with LinkedIn. Elated, I committed to reaching out and meeting with him on my next visit to Delhi.
As soon as I got back to India, I headed to the capital to meet him. This time, I prepared better. I took my colleague and our newest hire, Sehraj Singh, with me. He helped make our story a lot crisper, and our potential collaboration areas, a lot clearer. We also prepared to showcase our new Placements platform, and how this could be a potential game changer for all colleges in India.
When we sat down for the meeting with Shri Subrahmanyam, I noticed the printout which I had handed to Minister, on his table. The phone number in pencil was still on it. He looked up to me and said “The Minister told me about your meeting. He mentioned that we can do something together to improve employability for college students. Can you please share details?”
We went straight into our demo, showing him how Placements worked. In a matter of seconds, he sensed the potential of the platform, and even started quizzing us on product improvements and enhancements that could increase scale and have an even greater impact. He showed a keen interest in learning about our testing partners and soon after said, “This makes sense. Let’s work with All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), and put together an MoU that pushes this product to Indian colleges.” Boom! In less than 10 minutes, he completely understood the product, realized how it could benefit Indian colleges and already charted the path forward.
Few days later, our CEO Jeff Weiner came to India to launch several products that were made in India, including Placements. We got an opportunity to discuss and share these products with Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Subsequently, we also met with MHRD and AICTE to finalize the details of the MoU. Teams on both sides moved incredibly fast, and I’m excited to share that the agreement to push Placements to every AICTE affiliated college in India was recently signed.
The early numbers of the Placements product are staggering. Over 200K students have now already registered for the product (in less than 8 weeks) and we have received over 1.2 million job applications. What started off as a simple idea of democratizing opportunity for every college student in India, is now quickly becoming a reality
If you were to ask me my top three learning moments from this partnership, I would capture them as follows:
Align to the government’s priorities: The products we launched in September are closely aligned to StartUp India, Digital India and Skills India. This helped us have a meaningful conversation with the government officials
Make your asks clear and succinct: It is far easier to chart the course of your partnership with the government if you let them know which part you need action on and exactly how they can help. In our case, we wanted all AICTE affiliated colleges and their students to have access to the Placements product. Signing the MoU was the next step!
Invest in public policy: You need a person that understands how to work with the government, and aligns with some of the key initiatives you are driving for your company. Investing in a public policy professional helped us get meaningful meetings, which drove tangible results.
The whole experience of working with the government has come as a pleasant surprise. I’ve done deals with other companies, including content syndication deals with news publishers and app preload deals with phone manufacturers. None of them moved as quickly as the Indian government. Truth be told, I couldn’t have even dreamed of saying something like this a few years ago.