Leverage on your Core Competencies to build multiple businesses
Abhijit Gangoli co-founded QEDbaton, India’s first B2B Appointment Setting company for Technology firms, along with Milind Katti in the 2004. Classmates from their MBA school, both had had worked in corporate sales for almost two years before they got together to start QEDbaton. Appointment Setting was actually their second attempt to succeed at entrepreneurship. Their first one in 2001 was in the space of Customer Loyalty and Direct marketing programs, but this didn’t go very well for them. Their first technology client was Zensar Technologies- A Pune based Software Services firm belonging to the RPG group, where they got an assignment to design a welcome kit for a new batch of 200 odd employees joining the company. Post this, they continued to do odd jobs with Zensar to keep the relationship alive. In 2002, the Zensar Marketing team had a request from Sales to try and build an offshore Inside Sales Team to generate appointments for them in international markets. Considering that Technology Inside Sales from India was practically unheard of those days, Mr. L Subramanyam, their Head of Marketing suggested that QED give it an attempt, and thus Abhijit offered to pilot this initiative. After struggling to onboard a team to make the calls, Abhijit finally picked up the phones himself and began calling into the US market to fix up meetings. Coming from a sales background, fixing meetings came quite easily to him and the Zensar team was thrilled with the new initiative shaping up so well. He then went on to successfully build a 15 member Inside Sales team for Zensar, which he managed for close to 18 months. In early 2004, their CEO, Mr. Ganesh Natarajan suggested to internalize the operation. Post transferring the team and process to Zensar, which incidentally was the biggest revenue earner for QED then, Abhijit realized that this offering could be taken to other Tech companies in India ,and this became the beginning of QEDbaton’s long journey in the B2B Technology Lead Generation Services space. 2004 to date they have done appointment setting as a service for more than 200 Technology firms globally.
The recessionary phase of 2008-2011 hit QEDbaton hard. The company stagnated in terms of revenues and staff strength for 3-4 years, and for Milind and Abhijit, the future didn’t look very promising. The two of them took stock of the situation and realized if this trend were to continue, the company would die a slow death. Since they were working in a B2B environment, they had always felt that there were a lot of gaps in Marketing Technology space. In a last ditch attempt to transform their fate, Milind and Abhijit took three important calls
- To change their focus on selling their services in the US Market
- To move up the value chain by trying to build technology tools in the B2B Demand Generation space
- To divide their respective areas of responsibilities wherein, Milind would focus on Technology and Innovation, while Abhijit would drive the Services business.
Over the next few months, their Services side of business started experiencing rapid growth to give shape to what is now a 400+ man operation growing at 80% YOY for the past three consecutive years. Furthermore, their attempt to build technology tools in the Marketing Domain resulted in two products
- LeadEnrich (www.leadenrich.com)- A Marketing Data Management Platform that helps marketing teams manage and make sense of their enterprise wide marketing data
- DemandFarm ( www.demandfarm.com )- A Key Account Management platform that sit on top of a client’s existing CRM and helps manage & grow Key accounts more effectively
Having worked with Marketing teams across a number of IT services firms, they validated these ideas across many people before treading down these paths. Along the way, they happened to meet Mr. Dhiraj Rajaram- Founder & CEO- Mu Sigma, at a conference. Dhiraj had always been very passionate about Key Account Management, and could easily relate to the problem DemandFarm was attempting to address. Not only did he endorse this idea, he also offered Mu-Sigma as a Beta Customer for Milind to build and test the product prototype!
He liked Milind and Abhijit as energetic entrepreneurs with sales backgrounds and decided to support their cause. Milind seized the opportunity and over the next 12 months built a prototype on Sugar CRM which was successfully deployed across all the account managers at Mu-Sigma. Today, DemandFarm has raised a seed round of funding, built two versions of the product for Salesforce users and other CRM users, and in a few months of going live, they already have 7 paid customers across India and the US with more than 500 users.
Around the same time, QEDbaton also maintained a small but successful Data practice, where they offered Database related services to companies. With the rapid growth in Marketing Technology adoption, Marketing Data Management had become a pressing need for almost all Marketing teams globally. Abhijit, along with Santosh Abraham, a long term employee of QEDbaton- and head of their Data practice, got down to building a tool to automate and streamline the process of managing marketing data. This gave birth to LeadEnrich- A platform that pulls Marketing Data from across multiple systems, automates the process of cleansing, deduplication AND adds additional data points to the records by leveraging a large partner eco- system to make the data more effective and impactful. Here again, Santosh- who heads LeadEnrich to date, leveraged QEDbaton’s existing and past customer relationships and goodwill to win their first few clients. LeadEnrich, which was spun off as a separate entity, continues to be boot strapped to date, and is highly successful with more than 20 clients to date across US and Indian markets. The entity is operationally profitable and grew by 90%+ in FY 14-15.
Talking about a tough closure as a start-up, Abhijit talks about one of LeadEnrich’s first customers – A tier 1 IT Services Company. The QEDbaton relationship had given them an breakthrough with the company’s Marketing team. Post due diligence, when the client wanted to leverage LeadEnrich for managing their Marketing Data, Santosh and Abhijit were ecstatic!!!! But little did they know that there were many twists in the tale from thereon-They realized that getting an approval of the business users was actually winning only a small part of the battle. This was followed by unending discussions with Legal, IT, Security, and commercial to the extent that the discussions went on for more than 5 months, and the deal never closed!! In another case, they had to walk away from an extremely attractive US based logo, because the legal refused to back down on some ambiguous language around IP ownership in their contract. For Product companies, this could potentially become a serious problem in the future, and with a heavy heart, Santosh had to pull away from the deal. As product start-ups hungry to win new customers, a common challenge faced is incorporating custom changes to the product functionality based on the requests of customers. This has two angles- One where the requested changes are relevant to the product, but might not feature in the near term engineering roadmap, and two where the custom changes are not relevant at the generic product level, and would remain isolated to the customer in question. Both scenarios present extremely tough decisions! And there is really no right way to handle them. According to Abhijit, they’ve had to accommodate changes bearing in mind the strategic importance of the customer wins, and have also had to deviate from the product road map on a couple of occasions. Then again, they’ve also refused customers in some cases. Ideally, according to Abhijit, re prioritizing feature sets in the product road map is still something that should be considered, but as far as possible, one should avoid getting into the trap of customizing the product in case of isolated scenarios.
Abhijit’s advice to early stage entrepreneurs – Have perseverance . You will be tested on multiple fronts on multiple occasions, and there wouldn’t be too many entrepreneurs that haven’t considered the option of closing down business and getting back to the security of a corporate job. But in the end, only those that persist succeed.
Today, together across all their initiatives, Abhijit & Milind employ close to 450 professionals. They have been featured in Nasscom Emerge 50 awards. They also manage a Linkedin group for Sales and Marketing professionals for the last six years having more than 250000 users and they won the Linkedin Innovative Marketing Award from a sales and marketing perspective. They are Bootstrapped for all their entities except for DemandFarm for which they have raised the first round and should be raising second round anytime soon.