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Road to Rishtaa

Updated: Dec 26, 2022

It was 8:30 pm. I had just put my laptop to sleep and stood up to stretch. Just then my phone rang. It was Keshav.

“Hey Zakki... sorry to call you this late –” he started and then put me on hold. I was anxious to know what the call was about.

“Sorry, Bhaskar was calling; I’ve added him to the call as well,” he continued. “Bhaskar, Zakki is on the line too.”

“Hi, Bhaskar,” I said.

“Hey, bro,” he said with the usual warmth in his voice.

“Guys, we have our 7th-year anniversary celebrations a month from now, and the leadership team was thinking it would be great to solidify our core values before the grand event,” Keshav said, revealing to Bhaskar and me the agenda of this call.

“What about our current core values?” Bhaskar asked, trying to understand the context behind the new initiative.

“We will do an exercise to gain fresh perspectives from the leadership team to understand if new values should be added as it has been 7 years since the current values were first drafted,” Keshav clarified.

“So, the current values could remain and new ones could be added?” I asked.

“Yes. The idea is to collaboratively and systematically arrive at a set of values that can define us as an organisation,” Keshav explained.

“Ok, got it,” I said, feeling excited to be a part of this discussion with the leadership team to arrive at the core values of SmartQ.

“Understood, Keshav,” Bhaskar said with resounding clarity in his voice. “How do we plan this out?”

“We should do a session with all 8 leaders and have them answer a set of questions, which could potentially guide us to common answers that could be key in defining our values,” Keshav shared his thought process.

“What kind of questions?” I asked, trying to connect questions to values.

“‘What are the strengths of the leaders’, ‘Why do leaders consider these as their strengths with anecdotes’, ‘What is SmartQ good at’ and ‘Why is SmartQ good at it with real life examples’.”

Keshav had clearly thought of these thought provoking questions from a Co-founder and leadership point of view and the answers to them would undoubtedly reveal the core characteristics of people and the core philosophy of the firm – and a concoction of both would blend to form the core values of SmartQ.

“Keshav, how about we start with a personality test before we present these questions – it will help the leaders understand themselves better before starting,” Bhaskar suggested, using his HR experience to effect.

“Good thought Bhaskar,” Keshav agreed. “Can we meet up early tomorrow and plan this out? – I want you both to conduct the meeting and explain the process to the leadership team.”

“Sure, Keshav, this is exciting” I said. Bhaskar echoed my thoughts.

I hung up the phone and I was excited for the next day. Ting, my phone displayed a notification.

Keshav Meda has invited you to ‘CORE VALUES of SmartQ’ tomorrow at 12pm, the notification read.

I immediately accepted and looked forward to the meeting with the 8 leaders: Krishna, Abhishek, Hardhik, Keshav, Rakesh, Bhupendra, Manikandan and Pranay.

I reached office at 10am the next day. Bhaskar and Keshav soon joined and we entered a meeting room.

Bhaskar took out his laptop and suggested that we use a MIRO board with shared access to all 8 members. Bhaskar knew about every possible work tool there was. And his hands moved like magic when working on them.

He showed Keshav and me the MIRO board template that we could use and framed the questions in separate sections with post it notes of eight different colours in each section for the leaders to work on separately but on the same board.

“Zakki, you can communicate to the leaders about the objective of each question and Bhaskar, you can demonstrate the MIRO board for them to navigate at ease,” Keshav said, giving us an approach on how could conduct the meeting.

Keshav left the room to wrap up some calls. Bhaksar and I discussed our approach and ironed out grey areas. I planned examples for each question type and Bhaskar worked on setting up the MIRO board.

The MIRO board was ready just on time and at noon, Bhaskar and I entered the conference room and joined the leadership team who looked as excited us about this exercise.

“Good afternoon, all,” Krishna said. “This a very important meeting for us. Let us spend the day in cracking the core values of SmartQ. Over to you, Keshav.”

“Rightly said, Krishna; Bhaskar, Zakki and I have planned an approach to help us arrive at our core values. We will run you through the plan and you can ask us if there are any questions,” Keshav said.

Bhaskar casted his screen on the big TV that displayed the MIRO board. He explained how it works and what the post it notes were for. The leadership team listened attentively and couldn’t wait to begin answering the questions. Bhaskar ended his explanation by giving access to the leaders.

Then I explained the context behind each question and gave examples of how each question should be answered.

And 12:20, Bhaskar initiated the exercise with the personality test and the leaders began the quest to cracking SmartQ’s core values.

Ten minutes later, they started on the first question in the MIRO board. There was pin drop silence in the room. Their faces were enveloped with sheer focus. Bhaskar and I started reading through the answers and made connections and drew parallels wherever we saw them. There were myriad emotions coming through the anecdotes quoted by the leaders and here are some of the captivating answers for the question: Why are you good at what you do?

In the initial phases of my life, I couldn't understand myself and I was always drowned in the voice or beliefs of someone else... that's what set me into the journey of self-exploration and curiosity of what people are saying what they are saying... this deep curiosity and self-exploration led me to be more empathetic with people around me.

- Krishna Wage, CEO

I feel very happy when I see others happy. Especially, I am the reason for the happiness. This pushes me to work for others, improve and develop others.

- Rakesh C, Director, Tech Operations

If I involve myself into something then I give my 100% to that activity / workstream.

- Pranya Soni, Director, Finance

Persuasiveness - Love to go deeper into psychology, understand people and may be help those who need help, try to push what you believe is right in a logical way and even negotiate better where needed

- Bhupendra. CBO

Have been trained to get into details from my first job. And have always seen brilliant results when I've applied it in my personal or professional life. Have been able to negotiate a much sweeter deal just by getting into the details of each document.

- Hardhik Sheth, COO

It's important for me to understand what value addition / contribution I'm doing and don't like to be a free rider.

- Manikandan, Director, HR, Procurement & Admin

Being a DJ and a passionate collector and connoisseur of music to a dancer, I’ve developed varied interests in food and art. Understanding and appreciation of various fields, I've been able to bring in a sense of taste and judgement and a plethora of ideas on all things design, to make SmartQ a standout brand.

- Keshav Meda, CMO

Today the tech team does close to 90% of the day-to-day development without my involvement. They are quite happy working at SmartQ because of the freedom and culture within the team.

- Abhishek, CTO

We were through two questions by 2pm. We broke for lunch and resumed the meeting at 3PM . Two more questions to go and the leaders were at it for another whole hour. The leadership team had poured their hearts out expressing their vulnerabilities and innate emotions.

Bhaskar and I had the privilege to read all the answers and highlight keywords that displayed the essence of individual and company values. The highlighted keywords from each story were used to form a word cloud of most repeating answers. Each highlighted word or phrase was dragged from the post it notes to a blank canvas and formed clues of what the seven core values might be.

The seven common answers were: Help and nurture people, be honest even when nobody is watching, balance all stakeholder’s interests, quickly adapting to new situations, data-driven problem solving, owning your duties and doing things differently however small it is.

Now it was time to coin each phrase into a strong value that would define SmartQ for years to come.

“Being honest when nobody is watching is ‘Integrity,” Hardhik suggested. The leaders were in total consensus about this. And Integrity was the first core value.

“Balance all stakeholder’s interests – harmony with all?” Captain Manikandan put forward his thoughts. After a round of discussion, the leaders approved with a slight edit:

Harmonious Relationships with All was coined the second core value.

“Having an analytical mindset is pivotal in our industry,” Rakesh opined. It was no surprise as Rakesh had a data-driven mindset that helped him make practical decisions.

“I agree, analytics is crucial in building our technology as well,” Abhishek resonated.

“How about ‘analytical mindset’ as a core value? "Rakesh presented. After a considerable debate between gut-driven and data-driven decision making, the consensus was to cement Analytical Mindset as the third core value.

Krishna revealed the fourth core value: Responsibility. “The buck should stop with us. We all should be responsible and accountable for everything we do.” This was a clear winner; every leader felt it should be the pioneering value.

“How about ‘Agility’ for quickly adapting to new situations?” Pranay recommended. It was also Pranay’s first day in the organisation.

“We have been swift to adapt to new situations and have been agile throughout our seven years which has made SmartQ a success,” Bhaskar said, giving his vote for agility. With more such examples from other leaders, Agility, took the spot of the fifth core value.

“I think ‘empathy’ should be our north star in managing our teams and people,” Bhupendra voiced out passionately. “We all should be humble servants to our members and put them first beyond our personal ambitions.”

Krishna backed up Bhupen’s thoughts by narrating a true story where he went for an event and the leader there washed everyone’s feet to show his gratitude for the people who had come.

“Servant leadership!” Bhupen said, his face lit up with emotion, surely thinking about his own team members.

Servant Leadership, became our 6th core value.

“I believe that innovation in the smallest things we do should be another value,” Keshav threw open a topic for discussion.

“How about we call it ‘Innovation’ itself? Krishna offered his thoughts on a potential seventh core value.

“I feel innovation is too broad a term... something like – uh – thinking differently would be more apt,” Keshav said, reflecting deeply about what it should be. There was silence again and the leaders put on their thinking hats for the last core value.

“Hatke... Thinking Hatke!” Keshav suggested.

“Great one,” the team echoed. It wasn’t surprising for the CMO to come up with a unique value like Thinking Hatke.

And with that seven core values were separated from the word cloud Bhaskar had made with a mind dump of all the leaders’ answers.


Harmonious Relationships with All

Analytical Mindset



Servant Leadership

Thinking Hatke

“Super work, guys. These seven core values should be ingrained and internalized by every family member of SmartQ,” Krishna emphasized.

“How about we come up with a word that reflect these core values?” Keshav suggested.

“That would be fantastic – an acronym of sorts would be the best way to reveal our core values and we can even theme our 7th anniversary celebrations around it,” Krishna said with joy.

Keshav, Bhaskar and I separated the core values and played around with the words.

“We are a family culture,” Bhaskar said, suggesting we find something that denotes our culture.

“RISHTAA!” Keshav screamed in excitement.

All of us looked at him confused.

“Responsibility, Integrity, Servant Leadership, Thinking Hatke, Analytical Mindset and Agility,” he read out the core values in the order that formed the word RISHTAA.

It was like an epiphany that hit all of us. There couldn’t be a better word to reflect SmartQ as a company.

RISHTAA, seven core values that bind us one.

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