Housing.com – Smoke Signals and a Smoke Screen

Housing.com has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. To really understand what’s going on though, one has to look beyond the reportage and read the smoke signals sent out a few weeks ago and the smoke screen being put up now.

Some weeks ago, Housing.com began trending in the media because a mail written by the CEO, Rahul Yadav, to the Chief of Sequoia Capital India, Shailendra Singh, was leaked and went public. That was Round One of the Housing.com saga that has been unfolding in public. A real life Big Boss drama!
Questions such as who leaked the email and why are less important. To my mind, what is more important is to wonder if the outburst (see Twitter screenshot below) by the twenty something CEO, Rahul Yadav, was really a smoke signal of distress.
Mahesh Murthy on Housing.com on Twitter (Screenshot)
Mahesh Murthy on Housing.com on Twitter (Screenshot)
At first, when I read about the public spat, my reaction was, “What arrogance. And, how immature.” The basis for my reaction was that, whatever your issue, and no matter how valid, you need to maintain your cool and tackle it quietly. Even if it means biding your time.
We live in a codependent world. We also live in a world where perception is often everything. Especially in high power circles where egos ride high and there are certain rules of corporate decorum. Rahul Yadav seemed to have forgotten or worse, was perhaps ignorant of these facts. Maybe he had valid grounds for his outburst. I wouldn’t know. But whatever the facts, his method of handling it displayed his youth and immaturity to the whole world.
It also displayed a total lack of humility. After all, no matter how brilliant a business model Housing might have (it doesn’t and any advantage the portal’s user interface or services may have are all too easily copied), Yadav should have remembered that it was someone else’s financial backing that allowed Housing to even get where it has. Not to mention the backing to fund the recently run, expensive advertising campaign. Which, by the way, does nothing to highlight anything unique about Housing and is a total waste of advertising rupees (said to be to the tune of Rs. 500 million plus)! Mahesh Murthy has, in his usual eloquent way, summed up the egoistic advertising campaign beautifully in his tweet (refer screenshot above). In this connection, I would also urge you to read Dipti Gore’s piece in techstory.in (see link at the end of this post).
So, why am I wondering if Rahul Yadav’s outburst was really a smoke signal of distress? I am wondering because I have seen something similar happen once before with another twenty-something founder of an Internet portal. This was back in the days of the dot.com boom and then bust at the turn of the last millennium. It was around then that I happened to witness the meltdown of a young man cracking under the enormous responsibility that being a CEO entails. There was a difference though. The young man in question heeded the advice of grey haired family elders and made a quiet exit. No one was ever the wiser. I am now wondering whether success had gone to Rahul Yadav’s head so much that he failed to turn to older, more experienced mentors. Or, maybe, he had no mentors to turn to. Then again, maybe it is more a question of the role models young kids have these days. No prizes for guessing who I am referring to. You got it in one! Yes, of course, I am talking about the poster boys for bad ass role models – Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. If I am right about the last, young entrepreneurs would do well to remember that Zuckerberg and Jobs won their accolades after they made a runaway success of Facebook and Apple. Till then, they were mostly just seen as bad asses. Jobs was even thrown out of Apple at one time.

Yadav may not have been thrown out like Jobs. But he might have read the smoke signals emanating from Softbank and his other investors correctly, panicked and sent in what Sriram Sharma has aptly termed the “most bad ass resignation letter” in his article in The Huffington Post (link available at the end of this post).
Housing.com CEO Text of Resignation Letter - extracted from Sriram Sharma's post "Housing.com CEO Rahul Yadav Quits; Pens The Most Badass Resignation letter" in The Huffington Post
Housing.com CEO Text of Resignation Letter – extracted from Sriram Sharma’s post “Housing.com CEO Rahul Yadav Quits; Pens The Most Badass Resignation letter” in The Huffington Post
Yadav’s resignation, sent in a couple of days ago to his Board, can be said to be effectively Round Two of the Housing.com Big Boss saga.
Unlike Round One, where I said who leaked the mail was less important, this time I wonder how Yadav’s mail accusing the Housing.com Board and Investors of being intellectually diminished was leaked. Was it Rahul Yadav himself? If so, he is certainly on a self-destructive spree. Let me quote Morgen Witzel here from his recently published, wonderful book Managing for Success – Spotting Danger Signals – And Fixing Problems Before They Happen:
Australians have a useful term for anyone who seems to be too full of themselves: FIGJAM, an acronym for ”F**k, I’m Good – Just Ask Me.’
News reports now have it that Yadav has withdrawn his resignation letter and has issued a public apology to the Board.
I don’t believe it. This is a typical Corporate Smoke Screen and I predict that Round Three of the Housing.com Saga will take place a few months from now. In that round, an announcement will be made that Rahul Yadav, after successfully establishing Housing.com, wishes to move on to his next venture.
Time, precious time has been bought. For the Investors, time has been bought for the brouhaha to die down and find a new management team. As for Rahul Yadav? I am sure he has negotiated a golden handshake but it’s going to take a long time for the business world to forgive him, if ever.
Author’s Note: The views in this post are my own. The views expressed here are also purely speculative based on three and a half decades of observing corporate life. I have no connection with Housing.com, Softbank or any other entity connected to Housing.com and its investors, employees or service providers.

#BigBoss #tech #startup

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Featured Image Credit: Discrepant by Dawn Ellner (Flickr.com CC BY 2.0)

Related Links:

Mahesh Murthy on Housing.com on Twitter

Dipti Gore. TECHSTORY. March 13, 2015. Lessons the Indian Startup Industry can learn from the Housing.com drama!

Sriram Sharma. Huffington Post. May 5, 2015. Housing.Com CEO Rahul Yadav Quits; Pens The Most Badass Resignation Letter


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