For a tech company, 30 years of sustained growth is a happy milestone to celebrate. At Harbinger, my colleagues and I feel a deep sense of gratitude for everybody who has made this success possible – our customers, partners, advisors, well-wishers, alums, employees, and their families. Reflecting on this journey evokes interesting questions: How did we get here? What sets us apart? And what is the road ahead?
When my co-founder Swati and I started Harbinger in 1990 in Pune, India, we had an IBM desktop PC shared between us, and more importantly, a paying customer who wanted to develop computer-based training programs. Fast forward to 1996, we had built an award-winning eLearning development tool and won over a dozen customers. By 1998, Harbinger’s growing product development skills found takers in the Silicon Valley. In 2000, Harbinger set up its US offices in Redmond, WA. We celebrated employee #100 soon after and started growing two lines of business: product engineering and eLearning development.
As of 2020, Harbinger’s 750+ team has been serving over a hundred and fifty global organizations. From startups to Fortune 500, our customers share one thing in common – they aspire to build some of the best software products and rely on Harbinger to play a part in that mission. In over 60 countries, thousands of professionals use Harbinger’s software products to enhance the quality of online learning.
And it feels like the journey has just begun.
Every organization is unique in some way or the other. When I think about Harbinger, four differences stand out: a sharp focus, customer centricity, product mindset, and inclusive culture. Each has its own importance, and they complement each other in interesting ways to unlock strategic value. Over the years, every challenge we have encountered – the dotcom bust, the great recession, and the pandemic – has only strengthened our resolve to do more.
If you have spent any length of time growing a business, you know how tempting it is to go after the next new bright shiny object. Every now and then, someone comes up and says: This other company is doing X, why don’t we do that? And then, everyone starts nodding. That is the time to ask the key question: Who are we, and what are we all about?
Harbinger’s focus on its key capability (product engineering) and key application area (work tech) has allowed us to develop niche practices in product engineering services for enterprise SaaS vendors, human capital development, software development, eLearning development, and learning technology. When you think of Harbinger, you think of software for the workplace, transforming how individuals learn and work.
Long before the term ‘customer centricity’ was coined, we knew one thing intuitively: The reason for our existence is the customer. Robert Simons, economist and professor of organization design at Harvard Business School, once told us in class: Get this right. Every organization must decide how its values prioritize shareholders, customers, and employees. It does not matter what the priority order is. What is important is, there is one, and everyone knows what it is.
At Harbinger, customer comes first, and employee comes second. Shhh! Don’t tell that to our HR (just kidding). Our processes and policies are organized around our primary customer’s needs. That is why customer after customer is pleasantly surprised with how much we bend over backwards to make them successful.
From tech giants like Microsoft and other multi-billion corporations to fast-growing tech gazelles and startups, the Harbinger experience is unique. That is by design. Our longest customer relationship, a startup now part of a multi-billion software firm, turned 22 this year. Many others have been with us for a decade and longer. In the fast-moving tech world, it takes a nimble company to maintain and grow such relationships.
We all know the story about three workers cutting stone for a building whom a passerby asks what they are doing. The first person says – Can’t you see, I am cutting stone here. The next one says – I am getting this section of wall done. The third one says – I am building a mansion.
It’s about knowing how your work fits into the end product.
Harbinger developed its product DNA early, so that every line of code was written with an eye to the final user experience and business benefit. We were among the very few companies rooted in India that conceptualized, built, and successfully marketed their own software products worldwide. Our product business did it all – getting patents for our innovations, designing great user experiences, managing roadmaps successfully, and winning dozens of awards including the Red Herring Global 100. When we work with tech companies, a strong product mindset makes our product design, product management, and user experience very different from other providers of engineering services.
Diversity is about having people with different backgrounds in one place. Inclusion is about each one of them feeling they belong there. Harbinger’s corporate culture emphasizes both diversity and inclusion. At all levels in the company, you will find a healthy mix of people of different gender, language, religion, and background. And everyone knows they have an opportunity to perform, shine, and feel a sense of belonging. This too is borne out by numerous awards and recognition we have received for our people practices.
The Meaning of It All
When you put it all together, Harbinger presents a picture of a company that is firmly on its path to scale greater heights. The times in which we live provide an interesting backdrop for this onward march. We are amid an economic slump in which Harbinger shows how niche tech firms create value for customers and jobs for employees. We live in a world of rising intolerance and polarization of views in which Harbinger shows how people can come together and work together. Finally, we live in a new normal of remote working and remote learning in which Harbinger shows how people can transform themselves by using better technology for work and learning.
And yes, as we pursue the Harbinger vision to transform lives at every workplace, we employees feel the transformation within ourselves. Harbinger pushes each one of us to learn continuously. Whether it is an executive, a technical expert, or a new joiner, everyone has a chance to feel renewed from new learning. Harbinger’s stable leadership, long-term employee base, and stellar customer satisfaction attest to an organization that has, happily, something to show for its first 30 years.