In India, A Chauffeur Trumps Michelin-Starred Chef In List Of Startup Perks

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In a bid to relieve the staff from one of the most stressful and lengthy parts of an Indian employee’s day — the commute — fast-growing e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal has hired drivers to chauffeur busy executives between their homes and the office.

Silicon Valley firms such as Google and Facebook, and more recently Yahoo!, spend big on their perks (sometimes to excess) to attract and retain the best talent. While the practice has been cautiously adopted in India, with many large technology firms offering modest facilities such as free food, gym and playing facilities, some indulgences — such as Michelin-starred chefs — are just can seem extravagant, especially when it can be a mission just to get from A to B.

The perks in India scratch a different kind of itch, according to Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl.

“At the end of the day we’re a retail business, a marketplace, we don’t have the margins of Google and Facebook to justify things like gourmet chefs, and free iPhones and iPads as a joining bonus. Here the most basic desires and needs need to be addressed WAY before you get to the gourmet free food,” Bahl said.

Indian cities are generally hobbled by poorly planned and maintained roads carrying traffic flows that often seem to be working at cross purposes. Executives, unlike most rank-and-file workers who travel by motorbike, bus or the metrorail, usually drive themselves to work, which shields them from the assaultive Indian traffic but not the driving tension of avoiding constant collisions while sporadically bursting into the next gap.

Bahl said that execs were sitting in stressful traffic for two hours a day, equating to ten hours — or a full working day — every week, so it made sense to outlay the 12,000 rupee (~$200) per driver for their 15 most senior executives. The benefits have been more than financial.

“Everyone has told me their lifestyle changed the day that they got a driver. Their wives are happier because they don’t get home all stressed and frustrated. It’s not about just working an extra two hours a day from the back seat, but you can call your friends and your parents who aren’t in Delhi,” said Bahl.

“It significantly enhances your quality of life. Conversely, sitting in traffic significantly depreciates your quality of life. Indian traffic is very frustrating as it’s non-linear.”

The perk will be limited to the executive team at this stage, he said, as the majority of the firm’s 500 employees don’t own a car and use public transport to get to work. For a company that has raised about $52 million in three separate tranches, it’s an affordable way to make a big difference in the lives of their employees.