Employer Branding for Indian Startups Part 1

Employer Branding for Indian Startups Part 1

This is part one of a three-part series on employer branding for Indian startups.

  1. In Part 1: We discuss why employer branding is crucial for Indian startups to attract top talent.
  2. In Part 2: Discover the unique advantages startups possess and how investing in employer branding helps them attract top talent.
  3. In Part 3: Learn how to get started with employer branding using a practical framework that startups can implement today.

Part 1: Why do you need employer branding for your startup now?

Forget unicorns, the real mythical creature in the Indian startup scene is the “rockstar” employee.  In this cutthroat environment, average talent isn’t an option.  Your next hire could be the difference between disruption and dissolution.

Whether you are bootstrapped and hustling your way up or a well-funded machine, attracting top talent is the oxygen that fuels your startup’s growth.  But once you’ve exhausted your network (and maybe even your family!). How do you convince A-players to join your ambitious journey?

Sure, you might have a killer business idea and a team fueled by ambition, but there’s more to the story. The Indian job market throws some unique curveballs your way when searching for those rockstar employees. How do I know these? Having spent 20+ years building and navigating exciting startups in India, I’ve worn many hats. From building teams at my own startups, hiring at my angel-funded companies, and building teams ground up, I’ve seen firsthand the unique challenges and considerations involved in attracting top talent in this dynamic market.

Let’s explore these challenges before we dive into the art of attracting them.

The Profoundly Unique Indian Talent Landscape

While there are common global factors influencing how talent chooses their employer, several aspects of the Indian job market are profoundly unique and deeply ingrained in the social fabric. Understanding these nuances can be a game-changer for startups, allowing them to build a truly compelling employer brand that resonates with Indian talent.

Straight from College to Your Startup? Brand Matters More Than You Think

Employer brand marketing and Talent Marketing Platform to attract talent to companies

In my quest to understand what makes a startup truly attractive to Indian talent, I discovered a fascinating interplay between brand recognition and salary expectations.  

During a recruitment drive for 45 fresh graduates at my company, I partnered with 12 top engineering colleges across 4 Indian cities. This experience revealed a key factor influencing their decisions: brand recognition. Fresh graduates often prioritize a company’s reputation when making their first career move. Here’s the kicker:  While a strong brand can attract talent, a less-established startup might encounter unreasonable (and often unaffordable) salary expectations during negotiations. Recognizing this interplay can help startups craft compelling counter-offers that go beyond just a paycheck.

The Family Factor: A Unique Consideration for Indian Startups

Employer Branding For Indian Startups - The Family Factor

In my experience building and scaling startups in India, I’ve come to appreciate the unique role families play in career decisions here. Unlike some other cultures, a candidate’s family can be a major influence, offering guidance and sometimes even participating in the final decision.


I vividly remember interviewing this exceptionally talented software engineer with two years of experience. He aced all the technical rounds and came with a glowing reference. But at the very end, he threw me a curveball. “I have a bunch of questions about the company that my brother (who is in the USA) wants to know,” he explained. This isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve had parents accompanying their children to interviews, waiting patiently at reception, and grilling anyone who walks by about the company culture.  Candidates often ask, “Sir, can you please speak to my father once?”


This unique dynamic presents an opportunity for startups to broaden their messaging that resonates with not just the candidate, but also provides comfort to their families and friends. Startups can build trust and establish themselves as an attractive career choice within the understanding of the Indian social fabric.

The Global Dream: Opportunities to Work with Global Teams

Employer Branding for Indian Startups - Global Opportunities

After brand recognition and compensation, there’s another question that almost every candidate in India asks: “Sir, do you send people onsite?” It’s not a mere curiosity; it’s a decisive factor for many talented professionals. The allure of onsite opportunities isn’t just about the chance to travel—it’s about the prestige and the professional growth that comes with working on international projects.

Take, for instance, a healthcare startup I invested in. During interviews, one of the most frequent assurances they have to give is, “All our clients are in the USA.” This simple statement makes a world of difference. It signals that there are opportunities to collaborate with global teams, engage with cutting-edge projects, and gain exposure to international standards and practices. It’s an attractive proposition that can tip the scales in favor of joining your startup.

Even if your company is firmly rooted in India, the desire for modern, global standards remains strong among candidates. They want to know that your processes, policies, and management styles are on par with international benchmarks. This preference reflects a broader aspiration to be part of a professional environment that is forward-thinking and globally competitive.

Stability Matters

While trendy perks might grab headlines, Indian tech talent often prioritizes a more fundamental need: stability. This became clear during my experience hiring for a well-established 14-year-old, boutique engineering company with 20 engineers. The interview focus shifted from just technical skills to practical concerns – “How long has the company been around?” “Are payslips provided regularly?” “Are salaries always paid on time?”,  “Do you provide PF?”  These weren’t random questions; they were a candidate gauging the company’s stability, particularly relevant for smaller or younger startups. People connotate stability with building a secure future, long-term career growth and risk aversion. 


By understanding the importance of stability, startups can develop strategies to address these concerns and project a sense of security for potential hires, even if they are a smaller or younger company.

Job influence on social status

Employer Branding for Indian Startups - Social Status

Let’s face it, the Indian job market isn’t just about salaries and perks.  For many a top talent, a new position can significantly impact their social standing, marriage prospects and where they sit on the dinner table.  This isn’t a small consideration – factors like brand recognition, salary level, opportunities for international exposure (onsite travel), even the laptop brand play a role in how someone is perceived within the social fabric. 


Let me share a personal anecdote that highlights the significance of these factors. At one startup I was involved with, providing Mac laptops to employees became more than just a practical decision—it became a symbol of status and validation for candidates. Those who received Macs felt recognized and valued, which positively influenced their decision to join the company. However, when some employees didn’t receive Mac machines, accusations of favoritism arose, highlighting how even seemingly small details can impact social standing and validation in the workplace.


Startups must recognize that in India, a job is more than just work; it’s a significant part of one’s social identity. By aligning your company outreach with these cultural nuances, you can better attract and retain top talent who are not only looking for professional growth but also for social recognition and status.

Of Course, Dot the I’s and Cross the T’s

Top talent expects a strong foundation from their employers. This means having clear policies and benefits in place, such as medical insurance, PF contributions, travel and expense policies, and well-defined company guidelines.  A professional and organized approach to these essentials shows you’re serious about your employees’ well-being. Don’t underestimate the power of a solid foundation – it allows you to compete with any large brand when attracting the best and brightest.

Coming up next

So, how can you equip yourself to attract these A-players despite the unique challenges of the Indian market?

Lets examine this in our next part of the series.

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