Amarjit Singh Batra, former CEO of OLX, believes smart strategies, and smarter learning is the key to success
Curious, says Amarjit Singh Batra is the word that best describes him. And it’s perhaps insatiable curiosity and thirst for learning and a winning mindset that are the reasons behind his success as a founder, pioneer, and a leader, from the day of entering the Internet space in 2000 to heading OLX India and now moving to a new journey.
Batra, who pioneered Consumer-to-Consumer trade with buying and selling of used goods in the country, through OLX, joined the company in 2009, and under his leadership, helped it emerge as the number one online classifieds site in India. He was also responsible for spearheading the company’s growth in other emerging markets of South Asia. Starting out as the first employee of OLX India, Batra is credited with having built the business from scratch to a 550-strong-team, and a brand that is loved and respected in even the remote corners of India. He has now announced that he is planning to move to a global role within the South African media conglomerate Naspers (of which OLX is a subsidiary).
Batra believes it was his contrarian strategy and creative problem solving coupled with dogged focus and persistence that worked in his favour as he built OLX. Luck and Timing also helped as “we began investing in product and marketing when Internet users and User Generated Content was beginning to grow at a fast pace, driven by massive user adoption of Social Networks, Messaging Platforms, and SmartPhone penetration,” says Batra.
“In India, there was no concept of a garage sale or flea markets. When we started OLX one of our biggest challenges was to explain to people the need to sell stuff. We had to evangelise the whole idea of buying and selling and that was the success at OLX”
“In India, there was no concept of a garage sale or flea markets because of which the behaviour of buying and selling was not developed. When we started OLX one of our biggest challenges was to figure out how to educate people and create awareness about this unique concept. We looked at India as a blue ocean, and decided to evangelise the whole idea of buying and selling online, which helped position OLX as the pioneering brand and a market creator,” he says.
At OLX, Batra was known for his innovative approach, implicit understanding of the consumer needs, and a passion for building business solutions that can solve everyday challenges and make the user experience more friction-free. A visionary, he built the company with a mobile-first approach at a time when many other businesses were still focused on desktop. This helped in laying strong foundations for business growth at an early stage. He was also the first in his space to take the decision of experimenting with customised colloquial regional-language television advertising to reach out to a new consumer base, rather than using dubbed ads for all markets.
Batra believes that the biggest lesson he has learned over the years is why ‘learning’ is critical to leadership.
Batra says for instance, that whenever an induction happened at OLX, all employees were encouraged to learn and apply those learnings to the business and organisation. “If they make mistakes in the process, we are fine with it as one learns through mistakes. It is also important to take time to understand employees. Great learning happens when people themselves introspect to figure out what learning means to them,” says Batra, who adds that as he takes on his new challenge at Naspers, the learning will continue as it is critical to leadership.
“It’s important to make a conscious commitment to learning,” says Batra, who is well-known for having started a library for employees at OLX simply because he wanted them to learn to enjoy reading as much as he did. The library at OLX, say employees, is filled with books on various genres, with regular reading sessions taking place as well.
Batra terms his OLX journey as “fulfilling”. “Rarely does one get an opportunity as an entrepreneur and a leader to build a brand like OLX and take it from obscurity to a household name. In the almost nine years that I have spent at OLX, I feel I have done the whole nine yards. I started out alone in India for almost three years but today I have a team of great leaders who are poised to take the business to even greater heights. Naspers has a wide footprint and several exciting opportunities in emerging markets that I am exploring at the moment,” he says. “The only way to succeed is to be like a ‘PANDA’—Proactive, Ambitious, Nimble, Determined, and Action-Oriented.”
My father was in Army, so I lived in various parts of India, with majority of time spent in Jabalpur. Went back to my hometown Ludhiana to do Engineering from GNEC, and then did MBA from UBS,Chandigarh.
Following the dots
I entered the internet scene in 2000, the year the internet went bust. I began my journey by building marketplaces in the B2B space, and then I worked for Baszee (which was acquired by eBay). In 2009, I joined OLX, and from 2018, I will be taking up a new role.
Can’t live without…
- OLX, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube are my most frequently visited sites
- Books and videos; I always have my kindle with me
- My squash racquet
In 2005, Steve Jobs delivered the commencement speech for the 114th graduating class at Stanford University, in which he said “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. I listened to this speech more than ten times. My challenge every day is to be hungry, to do more. Staying foolish comes from never allowing yourself to settle with a feeling that you have mastered it all and are now certain about things.
New things emerge often and it is very important to continuously learn and grow, even if you falter at times. Steve Jobs’ advice in his speech was the best advice one can ever get.