AAKRIT VAISH
Co-Founder & CEO, Haptik

Haptik pioneered conversational AI in 2013. Reliance Jio acquired a majority stake in the startup in 2019. It is now one of highest valued AI companies in the world.

At a recent WorkBoard Accelerate event, Haptik CEO and co-founder Aakrit Vaish shared how clarity on outcomes, results focus, and a culture of empowerment fuel the company’s growth and impact. Aakrit’s story is below and his full talk is available here.

Aakrit Vaish, CEO and co-founder, Haptik: We started with the fundamental problem statement that it is difficult for consumers to get help from businesses. The reason you remember the most amazing conversational experiences you have had with brands is because they are so few. A total of 80% of companies believe they provide a superior customer experience but only 8% of customers believe they are getting a superior experience.

We think conversational AI can solve this problem. All of us are now using conversational interfaces to talk to people. In India, for example, WhatsApp is used more than all other phone apps combined. People are messaging and chatting with each other through apps daily; They should be able to do that with businesses too.

The convenience economy has accelerated over the last 18 months. In a pandemic world where I’m more inclined not to step out of my home and I want everything at my fingertips, convenience is all that matters.

Haptik has processed more than four billion voice and chat interactions. 8% of the world at some point has interacted with a solution powered by the Haptik platform.

During the pandemic, we built the world’s largest COVID helpline on WhatsApp, with over 35 million conversations processed in the first month of launch. As founders and CEOs, you often start a company thinking that one day you’ll create some meaningful impact in the world. This helpline was one of those moments and we had a lot of fun doing it.

All that we have accomplished has happened because we rely heavily on the OKR methodology and WorkBoard at Haptik.

“All that we have accomplished has happened because we rely heavily on the OKR methodology and WorkBoard at Haptik.”

Finding Focus, Meaningful Metrics and Aspirational Outcomes

As a CEO, three things are extremely important to me, and these are the reasons the OKR framework is right for us:

  • Focus At tech startups there tends to be a desire to do everything. It is very difficult for us to say “no” to things. With our scale and complexity, we can handle a lot, but you can do only a few things really well. Putting the OKR framework in place enables us to focus as a company. If it’s not an OKR, then we seriously debate whether we need to do it at all.
  • Measurement I used to struggle to a great degree to measure the company’s progress. Client feedback, revenue, usage and number of clients – all that is good, but those are outside-in metrics. We needed inside-out metrics to measure want we want to achieve over the longer term. By using OKRs we can effectively measure where we are against our smaller and medium-term initiatives as well.
  • Aspirational outcomes I love that the OKR methodology views 80% achievement as a good outcome, and 100% as a fantastic outcome. In our company, the 100% is considered an aspirational outcome. We reward people if they achieve 80% and we want our OKRs to be significantly aspirational.

The cultural impact on our company has been phenomenal. People think big and beyond what they think they are capable of. This really has helped us move forward.

“The cultural impact on our company has been phenomenal. People think big and beyond what they think they are capable of.”

The Nightmare of Manual Processes Meets the Dream of a Digital Operating Cadence

Before using WorkBoard, we used a spreadsheet to document objectives and key results. We had a primary owner and we would assign a secondary owner, which is a terrible idea. We measured using a manual process against each KR and averaged them out.

As you can imagine this was just a management nightmare for everybody in the company. We had a dedicated OKR management person who focused solely on updating the spreadsheet and all the problems transparency, tracking and disconnect problems that arise when you’re trying to do things manually.

Pre-WorkBoard

  • Google Sheets used to manage OKRs
  • Neither scalable nor efficient
  • Difficult to align company-wide dependencies
  • Lack of clarity on the progress & subsequent business impact
  • Updation done through manual follow ups

Post-WorkBoard

  • Better alignment on OKR settings & updation cycle across the company
  • Leadership team has finer visibility on team performance
  • Ease of operations on closures with features like:
    • Monthly reminders sent to OKR owners
    • Notifications & various view options like Daily Digest help to keep a track for Managers
    • Integrations with tools like Jira & Hubspot assist with real time update

We implemented WorkBoard and it solved all those problems. We took everything on the spreadsheet and moved it to a great dashboard where we now track and measure things across the board.

One reason we decided to go with WorkBoard specifically was the amazing integrations. The fact that we could bring all our data from HubSpot, Jira, Slack, and Teams into one place means that everything is genuinely automated.

Facts & Status Delivered Daily

As a CEO, the best part of WorkBoard for me is the Daily Digest. Things get updated automatically; I get an end of day summary automatically. Now instead of me asking everybody where things are, what is working and what is not working, it is all there and delivered to me. It makes it super simple to focus on the right work daily because you know exactly what is going on. If I find that something is off track, I can immediately ping somebody and find out what they need to fast track it.

My co-founder and I now look at OKRs in WorkBoard’s Business Reviews weekly to review progress across the company. The line "Hey, let's go into WorkBoard and see what's happening," is used at Haptik multiple times a day. It has become a core reference point.

As a culture and company, we are extremely transparent. WorkBoard provides the transparency that was difficult using spreadsheets. Alignment has been great among different teams who need to know what everybody else is working on.

“The line ‘Hey, let's go into WorkBoard and see what's happening,’ is used at Haptik multiple times a day. It has become a core reference point.”

We even share WorkBoard access with some of our investors. We feel that our investors should know everything that's going on, and WorkBoard is the best place to know what is going on. If they have questions about the business, instead of waiting for the board meeting they often just log into WorkBoard.

Building OKRs into the Company Culture

Culturally, it's very important that this becomes a singular framework and the single source of truth. We set OKRs as a cultural practice in the company, and as with most things this always starts with the leadership, so leadership needs to move first. If it starts there, ultimately everybody will start sharing and talking about OKRs regularly.

As a best practice, we do OKRs before the start of each quarter. Every OKR for us needs to be quantifiable and aligned to long-term objectives. Objectives are qualitative and ambitious, and the key results are always quantitative.

We measure our OKRs at a weekly level. This ensures that people are aligned to shorter-term goals towards achieving the longer-term quarterly goal. Then, at the end of every quarter, we hold company-wide reviews. Every key team opens up WorkBoard, goes to their OKRs and reviews them across their team. Startups by design are a continuous learning organization and we are learning every day. Having these systems in place makes the feedback cycles a lot faster.

OKRs are ultimately a great framework to define, in simple terms, the key objectives that you want to achieve.

WorkBoard accelerates that journey.

  Click here to download a transcript.

About Aakrit Vaish
Aakrit Vaish is the Co-Founder & CEO of Haptik, one of the world’s largest conversational AI companies. Aakrit started the company in 2013 and lead it to a successful strategic investment with Reliance Industries in 2019 in a $100 million transaction. Haptik today processes close to 100 million users annually, has presence across 7 global locations, and counts Oyo Rooms, KFC, Samsung, Coca-Cola amongst its marquee clients. Aakrit invests in start-ups in the areas of Consumer Internet, SaaS and Direct to Consumer brands. He has been a part of the Entrepreneur 35 Under 35 and Business World 40 Under 40 Lists.

Aakrit started his career in San Francisco as the 12th employee at a mobile analytics start-up Flurry (exited to Yahoo! in a $280 million deal), after having finished his B.S. in Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

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