With a user base of over 37 million, India is a market LinkedIn cannot ignore. With its recent India-specific product launches, the platform has firmly set its sights on the long term, says CEO Jeff Weiner
In June this year, technology giant Microsoft Corp announced the acquisition of professional networking platform LinkedIn in an all-cash deal valued at $26.2 billion (around Rs 175,000 crore), which is expected to close by the end of this calendar year. While analysts feel the acquisition is a smart move by Microsoft to ramp up its enterprise business, LinkedIn views it as an opportunity to expand its platform to over a billion Microsoft customers.
In an interview with Forbes India, Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn, says he is confident about product integration between the two companies and that each can leverage the other’s core strengths. During a recent visit to India—LinkedIn’s fastest growing market since it began its journey in the country in November 2009 with over 3.4 million members—Weiner talked about the synergies with Microsoft, LinkedIn’s plans for India and what makes the country one of its key research and development (R&D) bases driving innovation globally. Edited excerpts:
Q. LinkedIn launched three new products in September [LinkedIn Lite for mobile browsing, LinkedIn Placements to help students find job placements and the LinkedIn Starter Pack for startups and small- and mid-sized businesses], for the Indian market. What made you develop such country-specific products?
India is one of the two markets, outside the US, where we do local development [the other being China]. In India, right now, we are focussed on ‘Made in India, for India, by India’. This is something we are increasingly investing in and it is evident from the products that we have launched. We have increased our focus on making our platform more relevant by creating localised products and solutions. India continues to be one of our most important markets as our business continues to grow. I think there is a big opportunity here for learning and development, which is going to be one of our largest businesses going forward. There are a lot of opportunities for us in this country.Q. How important is India as a market for LinkedIn? Give us some idea in terms of business growth and user base.
India is the second largest market [behind the US] in the world for LinkedIn, with a membership base of over 37 million [the US has 130 million-plus members]. We are seeing some of our fastest growth rates in terms of adding new members, engaged feeds sessions, unique job applicants and job applications here. India is also one of our fastest growing markets in terms of messages sent through our newly redesigned messaging capability. India is one of our best-performing markets globally across a whole host of important consumer metrics. It is a unique market and of strategic importance to us. In 2011, we set up our first technology centre outside the US [Mountain View, California] in Bengaluru. We have more than 650 employees in India.Q. The R&D team in India has been among the major contributors to LinkedIn’s global initiatives. What kind of work does the R&D team undertake here?
The work has been evolving over time. When we built our Bengaluru office, we started to recruit some people to our engineering team and they were focussed on quality assurance. That evolved into network operations support; so, we had 24x7 support that was extremely valuable. But over the last several years, we have started to invest aggressively in our software engineering capability in our Bengaluru centre. And that has enabled us to develop products in India for the Indian market that can potentially be leveraged globally. It has been an important evolution for us. The kind of talent that we recruit here is similar to what we do in Silicon Valley. The bar is set very high and Bengaluru has an incredibly capable, high-quality pool of talent; and that is going to grow further.Q. Could you share some specific examples of work done at the R&D centre in Bengaluru for the global platform?
We do a lot of work here with regard to ensuring that the feed on our platform provides great quality experience. And that includes filtering out irrelevant content that members have been flagging off. Our team in India does an amazing job of ensuring that the feed continues to be of the highest quality. And then of course there is the work that we have been doing here on LinkedIn Placements and LinkedIn Lite [which the company claims provides a faster browsing experience even in areas of patchy connectivity]. Initially, LinkedIn Lite will be available only in India but, with success, we are looking forward to taking it to other emerging markets.
__PAGEBREAK__Q. Apart from India, LinkedIn also has country-specific initiatives in China. Give us some details about that.
The motivation behind local innovation efforts is the same—to become even more responsive to opportunities to meet the needs of our members. LinkedIn’s Chitu app in China (in simplified Chinese language) was made in China, for China. The Chitu app was launched in 2015 to better serve the needs of broader segments of professionals living and working in Tier 1 to Tier 4 cities in China. These include career starters or young professionals who may be more comfortable communicating in Chinese, and prefer a more casual approach to professional networking and learning.Q. Currently, India is seen as one of the burgeoning startup markets in the world. How do you see LinkedIn tapping into this rapidly growing space?
One of the products that we launched recently for the Indian market is the LinkedIn Starter Package, which is customised for startups to facilitate the way in which they hire and brand themselves. We will continue to figure out ways in which we can package the right content for startups cost-effectively.
Q. It is now three months since the acquisition [by Microsoft] was announced. Tell us about the integration and some of the things that you’re looking to do together.
With regard to Microsoft, one of the things that we are most excited about is the ability to expand our platform to over a billion Microsoft customers. There is a lot that can be achieved through product integration with Microsoft Office, Windows and their other platforms. And the way in which we can leverage some of Microsoft’s infrastructure and advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Conversational Computing, etc. We can also leverage on the work Microsoft is doing with voice recognition, video infrastructure and the cloud.Q. In the long term, how aligned is LinkedIn’s mission with Microsoft’s?
When I first sat down with Satya [Nadella, Microsoft CEO], we were struck by the alignment and sheer sense of purpose and how similar our missions were. And, I think that makes a very strong foundation as we go forward. The next thing that caught my attention was the possibilities in terms of product integration. There were a lot of things that we talked about even in our first meeting. And ever since we signed that definitive agreement, we continue to build on all those ideas. We are even more excited today than we were then.Q. You met Prime Minister Narendra Modi during your recent visit to India. What are the key takeaways from the meeting?
There’s a lot of alignment in our vision in terms of stimulating and reinforcing the spirit of entrepreneurship, skills development and creating economic opportunities at scale. We particularly talked about developing skills that can help professionals get the jobs of today and the future. We also discussed areas like skills matching and certification where we can work together. Prime Minister Modi also discussed an interesting idea about connecting people in the rural areas with entrepreneurs that can help them further their professional goals.
Q. What advice would you give to India’s new breed of startup entrepreneurs?
My first advice is to be specific in terms of what you are trying to accomplish. Have a clearly defined sense of purpose and focus. Keep an eye on the competitive landscape, but don’t get too consumed with the competition and start playing their game as opposed to playing your own game. Stay focussed. Always come back to the question: ‘If you could do only one thing, what would it be?’ And make sure that you execute and scale that extremely well.