Not every good idea comes into fruition. But if you are able to turn your original idea into tangible products and services that are highly valuable and helpful to others, then you should be proud of yourself. Mithun Soni is one such entrepreneur who turned his ideas into service that is fresh and effective in the market. He is the Founder & Managing Director of Saachi Partners, a successful Tokyo-based executive search firm. He believes that listening and building relationships is a key to success. Today he shares his interesting entrepreneur journey and his ideas in recruiting.
Let’s start with your company. What prompted you to start Saachi Partners? How is the journey so far?
I had been in the recruitment industry for 9 years, and saw many key elements missing from the recruitment industry. I had a vision to create a new kind of recruitment, which was less focused on short term KPI’s, but more focused on building long-term relationships, taking time to understand the people we worked with, and listening to their stories. We would build long-standing partnerships with our clients, candidates, and our people. This is where the idea to begin Saachi came from. It was daunting, but I had a real drive to build something new, with the values we shared and be innovative in a new approach which is rarely seen in recruitment.
It has been a roller coaster ride, some really stressful, long, intense days in the beginning, but that’s all part of the start-up journey. What I cherished from the beginning was the support I received from clients and candidates from the outset. They were genuinely happy that I had decided to start a new business, and were very excited that I was taking steps to ensure there are more recruiters who are driven by the candidates and clients attaining their mid-long term goal, and not being driven by what short term revenue the recruiter can gain.
It’s been exciting, we went from a tiny 2-person office in Shibuya to having operations in 3 countries now, working with new people and seeing such improvement and evolution of our team members and company. It feels like we are in a good position for growth and have laid a strong foundation for the future.
Can you briefly describe core expertise and service of Saachi Partners, and what makes the company stand out?
Saachi’s core expertise is in headhunting and recruitment for industries such as technology, healthcare, financial services, and consulting. What makes Saachi stand out is our people; who adhere to our value relationship driven approach.
Our people really care about what they do and the quality they offer to clients. We build relationships rather than networks. Meaning we take the time to get to know you, your motivation for working, why you work, what’s important to you and talk about how you would like to build your career and life. We’re able to navigate and guide people through their career. Many times, people know the destination, but can’t find the route. We help to build that roadmap for them. The amount of times our candidates have said they wished they met us earlier in their careers! The amount of time they had wasted! TIME, that’s something you can’t put a value on. However, we do value your time and ours. We genuinely care about our candidate’s career aspirations, in ensuring that they reach them. That means that we are their cheerleader, of course, and understand the environment they would exert their strengths the most, but it also means to ask tough questions and give advice that hits a sore spot. No one likes to hear criticism, or be gently nudged that their idea may not be the best next step. Even more so when it is unsolicited. Without the candidate’s full trust in us that we genuinely care, he or she could take offense and decide to never work with us again.
Our people are also located in Japan, India, and the Philippines too. We are a truly diverse group of people from different places around the world. This is something unique about Saachi in an industry typically dominated by white males, I am the son of an Indian immigrant and our Co-Founder is a Japanese woman. Headhunting can be a male dominated profession, and I am proud to say that Saachi is currently 50:50 male female ratio.
Time and the relationships we build, make us stand out.
As a leader of a company, what values or principles are important to you? How do they translate in your services?
Saachi has a double-edged meaning. In ancient Sanskrit, it means “truth”. There is also a Japanese kanji which means “happiness”. The reason we chose Saachi as a name is becauase we wanted to have this value as a true business partner. Many recruitment partners will just tell you what you want to hear, it’s not easy to deliver difficult messages to people, especially in a corporate setting. “The truth hurts” as the saying goes, but it’s better to be hurt by the truth, than be comforted with a lie. Of course, I’m not saying people will intentionally lie, rather appease and not say anything which might cause a reaction.
However, it’s our role to provide people with the constructive critism which will likely help them in their careers. This is not just true of candidates, but clients in our industry. We’ve been told by many clients that they value our transparent approach because this will help them improve their hiring and business. The truth can be a process though, and many times, people do not know exactly what they want in their careers, or have trouble expressing it. This is where listening is the most important value. We listen to your story, then offer our market insights based on years of experience, success, and failure.
What is the best part about running a business in Japan? Also, what would you like to see improve in Japan’s business ecosystem?
Definitely the integrity, trust and relationships which you build. It’s difficult in the beginning to gain that trust, it takes time, patience and most importantly, results to gain confidence from business partners. However, once you’ve built that, the bond can become like a friendship and people will go out of their way to help you.
Japan could do with more advancement when it comes to red tape and administrative tasks for a company’s set up and business operations. The digital ground needs to be made up and Japan is far too behind in this area.
The ecosystem could also encourage more entrepreneurs to start and implement their ideas. There’s too much talent and innovation in this country for there not to be more entrepreneurial spirit. It stems from years of large corporations picking up new graduates from college and people working in the same company for life. This is changing now though, and we’re seeing more advancement being made and the younger generation are ambitious, more individualistic, and more interested in the stories behind a business rather than just the corporate brand.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in your career? What did you learn from the experience?
My career has been one big challenge, nothing really came naturally to me and I’ve always had to learn, work harder and constantly be uncomfortable. I started out doing door to door sales, I sold to all different kinds of businesses and people, offices, pubs, restaurants, beauty salons, factories, you name it, I probably sold to them. I had to quickly learn how to communicate with different communities, people and learn how to relate to them. Sometimes, you’d catch someone on a bad day, it meant they might be rude to you, (sales guys can be easy targets!), I learnt about empathy, approaching people with different personalities in different ways, one size doesn’t fit all. It was 100% commission, so if I didn’t sell, I didn’t eat. There was a steep learning curve.
Cold calling at the beginning of my recruitment career was really tough, but I learned about phone manner, how to become engaging without having the in person contact and deliver your elevator pitch. How to turn negatives into positives, even with my terrible phone voice! I learned that the harder we work, the luckier we get. I learned to be resilient, stay positive and never give up.
And here is a short but big question: What is success to you?
Simple answer to a big question, happiness.
I have never measured success in terms of monetary value, social standing or even innovation. I just measure it by the smile I see on someone’s face or the happiness I see people have with their lives.
The common trait I do see in the most successful people is the evolution they go through in their lives which brings them to that point of happiness. Whether they have overcome uncertainty, weakness, instability, discrimination, racism, sexism, or financial worries in their lives. They have come out of hardships stronger, become stronger through training, come through emotional relationships with more empathy, broken through uncertainty with clarity of vision, fought discrimination with compassion. In turn, they are content and happy about the human being they are because they have learned, grown, and always evolving, that is success to me.
What do you look forward to in the future as an individual and as a leader of a company?
Well, I’m really looking forward to seeing my family in the UK again once the travel restrictions have been lifted! As an individual and leader, I am always trying to innovate, evolve and improve myself, the people around me and contribute positively to society. I look forward to growing, seeing our team at Saachi achieve their personal and professional goals and most importantly, having fun along the way, creating memories and lifelong relationships.