Interview with Vinay Bhartia, India Head at Lark

Lark aims to be an all-in-one platform for all the enterprise needs, right from communication to collaboration, and integration with other software suites

Alongside the video conferencing software, another category that has grown exponentially amid the COVID-19 crisis is the collaboration software. Employees working remotely need an effective way to connect with their coworkers to exchange ideas, share project status, collaborate, or just have a sense of a community, among others. While the clear leaders in this space are Microsoft Teams and Slack, there are newer-age rivals as well who are focusing on additional features to attract users. Last week, we interviewed Sam Mallikarjun to ask about Flock, and today, we have Vinay Bhartia who’s the India head for the Singapore-based Lark.

PS: the interview has been edited for the sake of brevity.

1) Before we begin talking about Lark, our readers would love to know your journey into the world of SaaS.

With over 20 years of experience in the industry, Mr Bhartia has been in the industry for a long time. He replied “in my previous role also, I was working with two divisions in Alibaba, one was focused on B2B-focused, while the other was an enterprise communication app, DingTalk. I think a book that really influenced me was called ‘Subscribed: Why the Subscription Model Will Be Your Company’s Future—and What to Do About It’ by Tien Tzuo, which speaks about the subscription or SaaS economy. And the book was very influential for me, and should be going forward to all, as how to reshape their business. It offers a great perspective about the future, where you don’t need to necessarily own, build, or buy products or services. Instead, you will have SaaS-based solutions, both from consumer and enterprise, which can meet your requirements and keep your IT costs and product ownership costs extremely low.

I’m a big advocate of how SaaS will change the way, and in a way, it has already changed the way in mature markets. But even in India, we’re seeing a shift in how businesses operate,” he added.

2) What’s the best way to define Lark as it offers quite a few different things, right from messaging to document collaboration and more?

He states “the simplest and best way to define Lark is truly an all-in-one application or platform that helps you stay connected, collaborate, or create and work with your teams across. If you look at the key three or four things that any enterprise needs; number one, it needs a proper communication between team members, number two, continue to collaborate with team members. Obviously, all these requirements are amplified when teams are spread across different locations, multiple projects / departments, and even during such special times, when working from home is becoming prevalent. The third thing an enterprise need is how does it maintain its business continuity and get things done like approvals and attendance reports. Lastly, its concern is how it can stay connected or integrated with the existing systems, because different departments or different sectors use different applications at the back end, be it ERP in case of manufacturing, while a service-oriented organization will have a lot of dependency on HRMS or other such applications. So Lark brings all this into one single platform by offering communications (chat, video conferencing, and live streaming announcements), collaboration (Calendar, Drive, Docs, and Sheets), and then there’s business continuity (attendance, approvals, and reports). Most importantly, Lark offers an open platform, which helps enterprises connect with any application. In sum, it’s truly an all-in-one experience where you use one app, instead of what we’ve seen is enterprises using several different applications.

3) Can you walk us through Lark’s growth in the Indian market since its launch last year?

To this, Mr Vinay Bhartia answered “we’ve been doing fairly well over the last months since we launched in 2019. We’ve gone about approaching different segments. Along with working directly with customers, we are building a robust channel partner ecosystem, which we are actively growing. We are now servicing customers across three key categories: number one being SMBs, startups, and large enterprises, another one is customers in the enterprise-side, both in the education and social verticals. The third category is of customers cutting across verticals like retail, manufacturing services, FinTech, logistics, schools, and coaching classes.

4) What’s the current user base of Lark in the country?

For any enterprise application provider, India is always going to be a primary market due to the sheer size as well as the opportunity of the number of enterprises. So, similarly for Lark, India is a key strategic market and we have committed a lot of resources across you know various verticals to support this market. In terms of the userbase, we currently have over 200 customers,” he replied.

5) Since you are focusing on the free version of Lark, what’s the business model?

He mentioned “Lark does have a sustainable business model. We have a freemium model, with our Business Edition being available for free. Anyone can start using the free edition and grow to thousands of users free of charge. We do have value added services, which are also customizable for larger or customers with specific requirements, and they are paid offerings as part of the Enterprise Edition.

6) When it comes to the collaboration software category, there’s a lot of competition. How does Lark stand out?

When we engage with startups as well as large enterprises, what we’ve seen is they’re using six to eight applications. While startups will typically end up using the free part of three to four apps, enterprises will pay application fees for multiple solutions to bring the broader team along. What differentiates Lark is that it brings the entire team onto one platform. So whether it’s knowledge workers, frontline workers, factory workers, or service team, you can bring your entire organization to one application. I’ll give an example of a pharma company with a multiple thousand users, and they’re using Lark to stay connected to the entire organization. There’s a logistics company with over 5,000 users, and instead of having multiple licenses for different applications, i.e. 1,000 licenses for one service provider, PC capability for 200 users, and the Drive capability for another 1,000 users, Lark has actually come in and made their life simple, where the entire organization can use one application with the same amount of capabilities throughout. So that’s the key differentiator where the entire organization can use Lark. Then there’s a standard set of features, as it’s easy to use, has a plug and play format, and it can be up and running from the day one itself,” he told us.

7) How’s Lark planning to reach out to consumers, i.e. what’s your go-to-market strategy?

Mr Bhartia told us that “Lark is an enterprise offering, and we’re focused across various offline and online activities that our team does on an ongoing basis. These include sharing what the product is, its benefits, and other such things. Due to the ongoing pandemic, a lot of that is being done digitally. But yes, we have a mix of both offline and online activities that we do and are focused on knowledge sharing, customer support, and customer success that can help in the market to know about Lark as well as helping customers to better Lark.

8) There’s no denying that we’re living in challenging times due to COVID-19 pandemic. How has it changed things for Lark and what’s it doing for itself as well as consumers?

He said “it’s a tough time for all of us. While the government is doing its best, we all are playing our part. For us, at Lark, in some sense, it’s business as usual. We were using Lark internally to communicate and work and that’s why the importance of the single platform comes in, where we were able to transit smoothly, at least during the special times and maintain business continuity and conversations and collaboration with all our teams. Same thing stands true for our enterprise customers; some that were already using Lark prior to the situation and some that were in the discussion. We’ve seen a huge adoption and impact on the usage of Lark, and there are a lot of customers coming back and appreciating the ease at which they were able to maintain and continue business during this remote working period. I mean, most companies have had to transform themselves overnight, which includes tackling cultural and technological issues. But I think one of the key things and also a popular saying is that technology can be the greatest leveler, and Lark has been at the forefront of that to enable this transition for all sizes of companies by giving them a simple, easy-to-use solution, which they were able to adapt and use.

9) One of the biggest concerns when it comes to chat or video conferencing is privacy. Can you provide us some details on what is Lark doing to ensure the same?

Per Mr Vinay Bhartia “for any enterprise offering, user privacy and data privacy, as well as data management, is the most important. Lark is committed to that, and I’ll share some three key aspects of lark. First is we’ve three ISO certificates: ISO 27001, 27018, and ISO 27701, which emphasize the importance we place on user management and privacy. The second point is AWS infrastructure security, whereas the third is being SOC 2 and SOC 3 compliant. Another thing is encryption in transit and encryption in rest, especially the AES-256 is being followed.

10) What does the future look like for Lark?

He answered “we continue to focus on product improvement and product offerings, growth of our users, adding more capabilities, and enhancing the user experience. And obviously, one of the key things that I want to highlight is channel partnerships, because for any solution that you offer, you want to be able to service the customer and be close to servicing the customer. So we’re empowering our channel partners. We already have 5 partners and we’re in active discussions with another 10 as we keep adding them and empowering them to further service and support customers. So the network of distributors and partners will be critical to reaching all professionals who require an all-in-one platform.

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