Flipkart, India’s largest e-commerce site founded by two former Amazonians, has hired three top executives, including one from Amazon, to continue building an online retailing powerhouse in the world’s second-most populous country.
Punit Soni, the company’s chief product officer, who joined Flipkart six months ago from Google, confirmed the three hires by phone late last night with GeekWire.
The new executives include Dan Rawson of Amazon, who is joining as Flipkart’s Head of Customer Logistics and Supply Chain Ecosystems; Ravi Byakod of Google, who is joining as Director of Engineering, Accounting; and Anand Lakshminarayanan, formerly of Microsoft and eBay, who will be Flipkart’s Head of Product Management for Digital Goods and Services.
The three executives will be relocating to Flipkart’s headquarters in Bangalore, Soni confirmed.
While Flipkart was founded in 2007 and enjoys an early lead in the country (by some estimates it owns half of the market), other companies, like Amazon and Alibaba are working hard to get a foothold in the country before e-commerce truly takes off there.
Last yearm Amazon said it planned to invest $2 billion in India, a day after Flipkart announced $1 billion in fresh funding. More recently, China’s Alibaba invested in Snapdeal, the country’s second-largest online retailer. By some estimates, Amazon is in third, with roughly a 15 percent share.
“It’s why we have to be on our toes and work really hard,” Soni said. “We are market leader, but you can lose that. That’s why it’s important to hire really great product talent and bring them in and build things of real value. It’s easier said than done, but once you do it, it’s hard to beat.”
Most recently, Soni was VP at Motorola when it was owned by Google, but he was also lead product manager of Google+ Games when the search giant was struggling to go after Facebook’s lead in social gaming.
Today’s three hires follows a string of other high-profile announcements by Flipkart, including various other executives from Google and Yahoo. Besides Soni, another notable hire was Eric Lange, a Yahoo VP who managed analytics and publisher products for its ad business.
Rawson joins Flipkart from Amazon in Seattle, where he was General Manager of Fulfillment in North America. In that role he led a team responsible for managing all aspects of an operation that annually moves tens of billions of dollars’ worth of goods from third-party sellers to Amazon customers.
“The infrastructure is so underdeveloped in India,” Soni said. “Not all the venture capital in the world could build it up.”
As a result, he wants Flipkart to build a platform that will allow other companies to plug into it — one that can handle the logistics for a particular region or product. That will be Rawson’s main job.
Flipkart’s two founders, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal — who are not related — did not know Rawson while at Amazon.
Like Amazon in the U.S., Flipkart sells directly to consumers by sourcing its own products and by operating a third-party marketplace, allowing other retailers to sell directly to customers. Soni said Flipkart is a leader in selling mobile phones online.
Prior to joining Flipkart, Lakshminarayanan spent a year working for Microsoft in Hyderabad, India, as Principal Group Program Manager of Applications and Services, leading the product team responsible for MSN Sports, MSN Money and MSN Health & Fitness for mobile devices and the web worldwide. Prior to that, he served as a Group Product Manager at eBay in Seattle.
At Flipkart, he will create digital services, like selling warranties, insurance and gift cards. Further down the road, digital services could include more traditional definitions, like music or video services, but Soni said it’s early days.
Finally, prior to joining Flipkart, Byakod spent more than nine years at Google, most recently serving as Head of Engineering for Google for Work’s Technology and Solutions team.
In that position, he developed data warehouses, customer relationship management programs and partner engineering solutions from its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters.
“Flipkart is an interesting place right now,” said Soni, mentioning the company’s “unicorn” status, which values it at an estimated $15 billion after raising $3 billion in venture capital. “You are talking about infinite growth in front of you.”
He said more of India’s population is owning low cost phones that are used for messaging, sharing and buying, with the “default way to buy” being Flipkart.
In recent months, Flipkart made headlines when it said it was considering shutting down its website in favor of being mobile only. Soni said it already is a mobile-only company, with 70 percent of its sales occurring on phones. It’s that kind of opportunity that’s fascinating to potential employees.
“There is an attraction to being part of the rocket ship,” he said.