December 18, 2020

Attract the Best Candidates and Build Killer Teams: Lessons From India’s Fastest-Growing Self-Publishing Firm

Naveen and his two friends borrowed roughly $67 (INR 3,000) from his then girlfriend to set up the domain for their newly founded venture, which aimed to help authors self-publish their books. That was all the investment that went into setting up Notion Press, India’s fastest-growing self-publishing platform, in the early stages.

The launch of its self-publishing platform product in April 2019 has had a massively positive influence on Notion Press’s success. From publishing an average of 150 books per month prior to the product launch, the company is now publishing around 1,200 books — or roughly one book every 36 minutes! Notion Press now manages half a million titles for authors and publishers.

As Naveen shared with us the story of Notion Press’s journey to becoming one of the pioneers of self-publishing in India, we picked up on some important lessons on hiring and team-building.

Hire Your Friends or Their Friends

The initial team of three behind Notion Press handled all the functions of the startup for three years. In 2015, they began adding a second layer of leadership. Naveen says they did not really have any trouble spotting talent. The three cofounders tapped their vast networks and hired mainly from among their school and college friends.

Naveen recognizes that hiring your friends can be both a boon and a bane for the same reason: You know almost everything about the person. For Notion, however, it has definitely worked out to be an advantage. With a friend, Naveen says, you can always go up and say: “Hey, this is what is happening. What do we do?” That said, Naveen also notes: “Whether it is an old acquaintance or somebody you’ve just met, what it boils down to is how transparent you are and how you manage your relationship with them.”

One of the most effective ways to attract talent to your company is via referrals: Existing employees refer suitable candidates to vacant positions in the company and, in return, the referring employees receive rewards and incentives.

Build a Killer Team to Build a Killer Company

The self-publishing house has been extremely conscientious about creating its workplace culture from the beginning. Notion Press’s definition of its culture is clear, distinct, and quite striking: “We’re not a team, we’re not friends. We’re a tribe. We work together, hunt together, eat together, and always look out for each other. When someone needs help, we jump in — no questions asked.” This close-knit feeling among Notion Press’s employees is one of the main reasons for the team’s ability to push for and achieve ambitious goals.

If you’re wondering why an early-stage startup needs to focus on culture, read this.

Interestingly, a lot of companies are starting to prioritize the concept of “culture-add” in the hiring process. Under this paradigm, interview panels focus on what a potential candidate would bring to the organization’s culture, rather than on how the candidate would fit into the culture that is already in place.

Be Dynamic, Audacious, and Enterprising — but Cautious, Too

Pursuing aggressive growth is in the very DNA of Notion Press, and the company tries its best to hire people who thrive in such a culture. Of course, there have been a couple instances of people leaving when they realized the match wasn’t quite right.

“If you’re not aggressive enough, you might feel out of place here,” Naveen says. “This is communicated very well when we screen candidates and onboard them.” Naveen explains that, in Notion Press’s culture, if you set a comfortable target of X and achieve X+10, you don’t win a prize. On the other hand, if you set a target of 10X and achieve 7X, you do win one. “This pursuit of seemingly impossible numbers allows us to constantly pressure-test our product and processes, and [it] forces us to innovate and rebuild things from the ground up,” he says.

Innovate, but Keep Profitability Your Base

Naveen points out that Notion Press has been profitable from its first year. From a humble revenue of more than $70,000 in 2012-2013 and a profit of nearly $5,500, the firm has grown organically and was set to end the 2019-2020 financial year with a revenue of $10 million and profits of around half a million. In 2016, Notion Press raised $1 million in seed funding from high-net worth individuals.

Tapping into the world of fellow publishers has been a major driver of Notion Press’s fast growth in recent years. About four years ago, it partnered with a publisher to print on demand and distribute its titles, which took off in a big way. Now, it earns around 80-85 percent of its revenues from its partnerships with publishers. In fact, even the company’s smaller competitors rely on Notion Press for printing and distribution services.

Trust Your Team Completely

In his eight-year journey as a startup founder, Naveen says he has learned three key pieces of advice that he would share with other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

  1. Your time is the most valuable. There are always too many things to do and never enough time. Your success depends on what you prioritize and how much you prioritize it.
  2. It’s vital that you, as a founder, know how to effectively communicate your vision to your team.
  3. Learn to hire people and trust them.

In case you’re wondering, Naveen ended up marrying the girlfriend from whom he borrowed that initial money for a domain. “I’m still repaying it,” he says. “It’s a lifelong deal!”

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This article by Freshteam is built on the original article that first appeared on the Freshteam blog.

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