Connect the dots of the challenges of your prospects and marry your product to demonstrate value
Naidu Darapaneni, Founder of MeraEvents.com was in the US till 2007 and came back to India. He had founded Versant Technologies and he was doing software services business(B2B) in various countries for more than a decade and wanted to do some business which will impact millions of users. The Internet boom was also happening in India at that time with companies such as Redbus, Flipkart and a few others that were growing well. With no background in B2C, Naidu was not sure what to do and hence began attending various conferences and events and find out the trending areas. After attending a few, he found out that when he goes to a conference, there are a lot of people who are available at one location and it was easy to talk to them.
But he personally had an issue on what conferences were available and the agenda to choose he wanted to go. The other issue he found was that the promotion for these events came by newspapers and mailers to a select few and the payment options were difficult, as the attendees had to make cheque payments in advance or would have to pay it at the venue. It was difficult for the organizers to predict the number of attendees because of last-minute decisions to cancel. As the prospective attendees have not paid the money, they cause dent to the coffers of the organisers. Naidu decided to work on solving these two problems and thus MeraEvents was born.
He decided to make it easy for the event organizers to publish their events on a Do-it-yourself platform, which will have lots of captive users. He wanted to make the process of finding the information about the events, and making payments easy for the participants. He conceived the idea in 2007, but launched the platform in 2009.
Since he personally felt the pain by himself, he was sure about the need. However, he did one full year of research while his product was getting developed. He continued to attend different events and the first question he would ask others was how did they come to know about that event and found out that the method was an unstructured one. At some point in time, he realized that the pain point was the same for a lot of people. He also began telling them that this will no longer be a problem within one year, without worrying about his idea getting leaked, because he knew that this was his pre-marketing strategy.
He also checked if these people will pay for it. This was the time when people began giving ideas on similar platforms that were available in the global market and also gave their perspectives, which helped him give a good shape to his platform. To validate with the organizers, Naidu knew that they always have a shortage of delegates and his value proposition to them was that he can get more people and would they be happy if he could do so and the answer was always a yes. He asked questions on how they are managing their events, reach-outs and the occupancy ratio of the events and told them that he will give a platform and will also promote their events and asked if they would be interested and got their consent. He also did some structured research involving ISB students and got a validation that there is a market. A delegate, on an average, attends 6 to 10 events a year and this will be a scalable business as well. With this, he continued product development and kept checking at multiple points and validated the idea.
Naidu recollects that there were no players in the domain of his business then, but he had to create a market from the scratch. To build the event organizer side of the two-sided market, he approached them with a value proposition of no charges and they can host their events and use the payment gateway and the tracking engine in place to track the customers.
When the event organizers advertised that this event is also posted on MeraEvents, this built some traffic to their website and Naidu also ran ads on Google, Facebook and utilized the paid channels to build additional traffic. When the volume started building on both the sides, he found that the transactions also began increasing as he was anyway charging money for the transactions and his idea to make revenue.
On the product, Naidu says that the product is conceptually almost the same since it was launched. This is a Do-It-Yourself website, for the event organizer can post their events on their own almost instantly and the delegate can search on multiple tag words, buy, print the ticket and attend the event.
From day one, he only focused on solving the problems for the event organizers and did not talk about the money. This was an automated platform. Once the event organizer signs up and posts an event, MeraEvent sales team will call the customer and ask if they would like to sell more tickets and would like MeraEvent to do some promotion and also talk about the event coming on top of the other 1,000 free events that are listed on the platform.
MeraEvents teams also began to quote the 5 lakh email database or 8 lakh facebook likes and started charging the customer based on their interest and showed value for their money. Naidu also has built some unique technology apps for event check-in, badge printing, mobile agenda and he developed lots of tools over the few years which customer pays for and uses those services.
Naidu says that 70% of the signed users don’t pay for signing up, posting events and taking additional services but they still produce value by using the payment gateway (transactional revenue) and pulls in traffic into MeraEvent’s website and there will be seven touch points with the new customers such as payment confirmation, email confirmations, email alerts two days and one day before the event and also an email the next day for feedback and the automated continuous touch-points create a bond between the new users and MeraEvents and builds lots of brand recall.
Naidu also has implemented viral ticketing where MeraEvents incentivizes people to get additional people in an automated manner and makes revenue out of a cross platform selling. They use all possible methods to reach out such as Social Media, e-mail, SMS, Banner space, Cross Events Marketing to monetize on the users. Naidu also talks about some joint marketing initiatives, which got them lots of visitors. To quote a few, he talks about a small joint promotion with PayTM, where the users get INR 10 worth of vouchers for an INR 5 ticket purchase and they got 50,000 people liking the page and buying tickets that day. They did another one with Uber where the user gets an INR 1,000 free voucher that they can utilize. There is a dedicated team of sales persons in every city to interact with the event organizers and support their events.
Naidu says that his team does not sell the product. They understand what the customer is doing and listen to the problems the customers are facing and then explain about the platform from a value addition perspective. Sales is about connecting the dots of challenges and how you can add value. With a one-liner introduction, he understands the challenges and tunes his product and talks about how he can add value.
When he visits an event organizer, he would do some research and try finding out as much as he can on how they are promoting their events. If he observes that they are using a specific payment gateway to sell he then goes on to articulate solving the payment problems and also giving additional business using a Do-It-Yourself platform and approaches the customer. At the end of the day, he makes sure that he delivers value to his customers rather than counting how much money he has made out of them, be it the first or the last customer and that has helped them grow very fast.
Naidu’s advise – In marketing, the world is moving towards ROI-based approach and no one wants effort-based approach. Customers only care for how many tickets are sold and the 5,000 likes on social media without one sale happening does not mean anything to them. There is no point in talking about the efforts but one has to give assurance to the customers, which will be sustainable and then you build a model based on the learning that gives value for every penny that the customer is spending on you.
MeraEvents.com is currently having 70 employees and has around half-a-million users and does 100,000 transactions per year selling an average of 200,000 tickets. Naidu has invested close to USD 1Mn and has also raised USD 1.2 Mn from private investors and is going for the next round of funding. They received an award for being the best software product in late stage enterprise category from Hyderabad Software Exporters Association (HYSEA).