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Social networking on the job: How a start-up redefined employee engagement

May 14 2013, 20:19   |   By SME Mentor

Sonali Chowdhury

Imagine an in-house Facebook - a site where employees can engage, communicate, publicly congratulate each other for a job well done, upload and share material relevant to the workplace, and where the company can motivate employees with incentives. Add to that, a library of books that can be accessed with no pressure or penalties and you've got a winning proposition.

Making Work 'Social'

In a word, it's called Kwench, the brainchild of four IIM-Ahmedabad grads, who in 2008 set out to root out the monotony at the workplace and replace it with a social atmosphere. Today, the Mumbai-based start-up claims to be associated with over 350 companies, reaching out to 2 lakh employees, with an intranet-based service that 'redefines employee engagement'.
"But it took some time before we evolved our platform to become the one it is today. We started with an ingenious library service," reveals Sunder Nookala, who chucked a cushy job as an investment banker to create India's first corporate library solution. Nookala discussed his idea with his batchmates - Krishnan Madhabhushi, Mitesh Damania and Prashant John - who were more than willing to leave their jobs in companies like McKinsey and TCS and the shipping sector to start up.

Initial Investment

Together, the foursome pooled their personal resources for the initial capital investment. Later, they received Rs 1 crore in funding from the Indian Angel Network in 2009 and another Rs 1 crore as debt from the Small Industries Development Bank of India (Sidbi) in 2010.

All About Books

Nookala realised there was a need for a good library service across the corporate spectrum but there was no organised player offering a systematic solution. Corporate firms had to therefore divert both money and attention to creating in-house libraries to address the professional and personal needs of their employees.
However, books soon got outdated and lay idle, defeating the purpose. Nookala and his batchmates conducted a survey of 112 employees from seven companies across different industries before they launched Kwench as an online library service.

Virtual Corporate Library

With Kwench's virtual corporate library, employees could order books from the portal's online bookstore. It offered a wide variety of books, magazines, audio books and video lessons. The start-up tied up with chains of bookstores across India to meet these needs and offered employees the option of either purchasing or just borrow titles.
The service is remarkably easy to use, with Kwench being responsible for delivering and collecting the books from employees' desks. Next, the start-up added DVDs, mobile phones, mobile accessories and gift coupons to their repertoire. Client companies were thrilled as the service helped corporate firms enhance their employee value proposition with no capital expenditure, no administrative effort and no physical space.

Social Networking At Work

As with all winning ideas, Kwench too was refined and forayed into the employee engagement space in November 2011. "Over several months of detailed discussions, we evolved to cover the entire employee engagement aspect since this function is critical for a company to thrive," Nookala points out.
So the start-up created a platform that mimicked hugely popular social media sites and customised its portal to their clients' individual vision and requirements. They called this social recognition and collaboration platform myPerks, and features included a corporate directory, private messages and communities that help employees get to know each other and drive engagement.
 
Why HR Teams Love It
Kwench has also turned out to be a powerful tool in the hands of corporate HR teams. Profiles are created for every employee on the platform and features like announcements, budgets, polls and analytics encourage greater employee participation. Not surprisingly, employee reward programmes are a big hit. The points earned can be redeemed on Kwench's online store, which currently boasts over one crore products.

"Employees use the platform not only to give and receive awards but also for peer-to-peer recognition and to congratulate winners. The portal helps breaks down departmental and geographic boundaries and builds a community," explains Vivek Punekar, Chief Human Resources Officer, HCL Infosystems Ltd, and a client of Kwench.

Revenue Model

The firm currently follows an annual subscription model, where companies can pick and choose the services and products they want and are charged for them accordingly. Subscription rates are based on the services the client chooses and other factors such as size of the employee base and geographical spread.
If a company subscribes to all core services, the average subscription fee per employee per month would work out to around Rs 25. Kwench also earns a commission from vendor partners whenever employees purchase from the redemption portal. The commission depends on the category of product and the sourcing / logisitics agreement.

Brainstorming Platform

According to the start-up, Kwench has grown 16.6 times growth in FY13 since FY10. "With Kwench, there has been an increase in the information flow within the organisation. Employees at different locations, who cannot interact face-to-face, have discussion forums and blogs to use. Also, issues that don't emerge at meetings are brought up on this platform as do solutions and small innovations," says Binoj, Chief Learning Officer, YES Bank, another Kwench client.
By helping break down barriers that divide the workplace, Kwench is clearly the darling of HR teams. And employees love it too. Now, team work is so much fun!

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