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Small tech firms open to moonlighting

Say employees can have a second job as long as there is transparency

Small tech firms open to moonlighting
Many of these startups were created by these executives under stealth mode, and they have also gone on to raise multi-million dollar rounds in the recent past.

By Ayushman Baruah & Salman SH

Startups and smaller tech firms are open to employees having a second job or moonlighting as long as they are transparent about it and the nature of work does not come in direct conflict with the employment terms.

Happiest Minds Technologies, a mid-sized IT services firm, believes moonlighting has to be seen in the light of the employment contract or association that an individual has with the employer. “If the contract terms have an exclusivity clause, moonlighting is patently wrong. However, it is not an issue if the arrangement is not exclusive,” said Venkatraman Narayanan, MD and CFO, Happiest Minds.

Some IT firms also believe companies can set up moonlighting policies to utilise remote talent while preventing conflict of interest. “Employments should be converted into contract and one should maintain transparency, and make the best use of their time; this will grow in days to come. Better for companies and people to adapt, and benefit from it, than denounce it. We will embrace it and build the new way of working,” said Abhishek Rungta, founder and CEO, Indus Net Technologies.

Foodtech startup Swiggy was the first company to announce an official policy allowing its employees to take up gigs or projects outside of their regular employment at the company during the hours away from work. However, side projects at startups have been a common practice.

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In recent times, multiple startups launched by former Flipkart, Swiggy, Zomato, Ola and Delhivery executives were possible due to unofficial moonlighting policies that allowed employees to run side projects. Many of these startups were created by these executives under stealth mode, and they have also gone on to raise multi-million dollar rounds in the recent past.

For instance, Rahul Jaimini, who originally co-founded Swiggy alongside Sriharsha Majety and Nandan Reddy in 2014, went on to join as co-founder of edtech startup Pesto Tech in May 2020. Jaimini has also been an investor in Pesto since May 2019. To date, Pesto Tech has raised around $8 million in seed funding.

Similarly, Pankaj Chaddah, who co-founded Zomato along with Deepinder Goyal in 2008, went on to launch healthtech platform Mindhouse in November 2019. Mindhouse was later rebranded as Shyft in January and had raised $6 million in seed funding in November 2019.

Ankit Jain, a senior executive at Ola Cabs, left the cab aggregator in September 2020 to launch his own startup in stealth mode. Jain worked with Ola for more than five years across several roles and was also elevated to the position of co-founder of Ola Electric in April 2019.

Yogita Tulsiani, director and co-founder of tech recruitment provider iXceed Solutions, said that moonlighting reflects the changing nature of white-collar jobs and could be a great way for individuals to earn additional income.

“If it is not conflicting with the business, competition or individual employment agreement and internal norms of the company, it is accepted. But once it breaches the code of conduct, they are responsible for strict action to be taken against them. Organisations just need to sincerely communicate more effectively to employees what is acceptable and what is off-limits. Moonlighting cannot be eradicated but it can be curbed with clear policies drafted around the same,” Tulsiani said.

Regulated companies need to be more cautious on the issue. Ajit Yadwadkar, SVP of Human Strategy at lending startup LoanTap, pointed out that they are yet to find a conclusion on moonlighting as it is an RBI-regulated entity. “However, moonlighting should fundamentally benefit in attracting potential talent for institutions with larger tech ecosystems, especially in segments that are unregulated and consumer-facing,” said Yadwadkar.

Raj Tanwar, chief strategy officer and HR head at employee engagement and rewards platform Advantage Club, said that their company does not have a called-out policy on moonlighting but they also do not hold back their employees from pursuing their “passion and hobbies”. Advantage Club, however, doesn’t allow second employment as a policy.

Co-living startup Isthara believes in defining clear policies on moonlighting. “We believe moonlighting will only be a more acceptable working norm when it is defined more clearly from an ethical standpoint. As monitoring a moonlight policy could be challenging, it is important for employees to be transparent to their employers about pursuing more than one job at a time…We have a strict policy on employees not being allowed to work in commercial businesses that are in the same line of work as ours, as it leads to a conflict of interest,” said Gilbert James, co-founder and managing director at Isthara.

Corporate health insurance startup Nova Benefits believes in trying new options and exploring different paths to achieve career agility. “We strongly support this culture and several of our employees are presently pursuing their lines of passion and interest outside of work,” said Saransh Garg, co-founder and CEO of Nova Benefits.

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