Five years ago when they started the agency, Kartik Iyer and Praveen Das could never have imagined that they would hit the national spotlight in quite this way. Today, when you ask them where they see their agency 10 years from now, comes the instant response: 'Happier!'
The early years
Happy was set up in June 2007 at a time when major events were taking place in both the founders' lives. Iyer and Das were associate creative directors with Ogilvy Bangalore when they first started toyed with the idea of setting up their own agency. Starting an agency wasn't the only thing on Das' mind: he was simultaneously toying with the notion of launching a pickle business, one which he thankfully didn't pursue.
When they quit the agency together, Iyer's wife was eight months' pregnant while Das was about to get married. The timing couldn't have been worse at a personal level. In fact, Das ended up postponing his wedding by six months.
Their first office was a room above Das's mother's home. The division of work: Das on art and Iyer on copy, plus they got in an employee to man the studio. Their first account win, came within 2 weeks of setting shop: it was the lifestyle brand, Lee. In fact, the agency launched Lee's first multimedia campaign in India. It was the Lee account that took them to being a 10-person firm.
After Lee, the agency managed to win the Diesel account and later conceptualised a campaign for Incredible India.
Happy went through the usual struggle that is the lot of start-ups: clients were sceptical about working with the agency; potential employees shared that feeling. "We were nobodies when we started this agency. No one beyond Ogilvy's Bangalore office knew us. We were not big brands like Aggie (Agnello Dias) or Paddy (Santosh Padhi) or Raj Kurup when we started Happy Creative Services," says Iyer, the agency CEO (Das is Director).
The big break came in December 2010 when the agency won two accounts, both for e-commerce portals, within a span of 10 days beating other agencies in multi-agency pitches in Bengaluru. One was Myntra and the other, Flipkart. Though they lost the former, Flipkart continues to grow from strength to strength.
The rest of the ads including 'No Kidding', 'Shopping ka Naya Address' and the most recent one, 'Flipkart it', have been etched in TV viewers' minds owing to the unique approach of using child actors to communicate the ease of shopping on Flipkart. "The commercials have everything that they want to say -'here is a problem', 'this is the solution'. It is old school advertising. Only the treatment is new," says Iyer.
Today, this client contributes to almost 30 per cent of the agency's revenue. The agency in turn, with a strength of around 48 people (including Mumbai) has about a dozen of them dedicated to the Flipkart account. "We are judicious with the kind of accounts that we sign. It is never about the money, it is about opportunity to do good work. After Flipkart, its other two large accounts are innerwear brand Amante and Maiya's, a processed and packaged foods business.
Flipkart and Happy share at least two coincidences. The e-retailer was also founded by two men, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal. Second, both the client and the agency came into existence in 2007.
As far as advertising is concerned, one of the most important aspects highlighted in the earlier ads of Flipkart is the 'cash-on-delivery' model which has helped the e-retailer get around the issue of low credit card and net banking market penetration in India. Several other portals have since followed suit.
Flipkart's advertising communication became more focused after Ravi Vora took over the marketing function in March 2011. Iyer says that Vora brought a perspective on how the brand should be built and was clear-headed about what he wanted and how to achieve it.
It has been an exciting year for Flipkart, too. It raised $150 million earlier in 2012 thus securing its finances for the next couple of years. The e-commerce site has spread itself into a host of product categories and the advertising has helped establish it as the first place to shop online for most people. Flipkart, it is estimated, will end 2012-13 with sales of about Rs 2,000 crore and is currently valued at about $1 billion.
The future, from Bengaluru
Is their being based in Bengaluru a big disadvantage? Would they ever think of shifting Happy's base to Mumbai? No chance, respond the founders, saying that they'd love to be a globally recognised agency while continuing to be based in Bengaluru. "We draw inspiration from Nirvana Films, who, in spite of staying in Bangalore are one of the top three production houses in the country," explains Iyer.
Today, Happy has set up a three-person branch in Mumbai with Pallavi Nayak at the helm. The idea is to be close to the clients based in the city. There is no one from the creative department, though. Iyer is of the opinion that in order to understand the creative philosophy of the agency it is important for the creative person to be in the vicinity of Das and Iyer. Today, the Mumbai branch of the agency has accounts such as Ola Cabs, KyaZoonga.com and Eros International. The creative work emerges from the Bangalore office.
The founders also have a different point of view about getting new business. By getting too competitive, believes Iyer, you can "limit your world. We do not even participate in pitches unless invited by a client. We have never made a single cold call and wait for an invitation."
This year, the agency roped in Siddhartha Roy for the newly created post of chief operating officer. Roy has 16 years' experience including a decade at Ogilvy and the rest at Publicis Ambience and Everest. "We need the bandwidth and wanted someone to look after the operations for the agency. Roy came in at the right time," says Iyer.
Happy as of today wants to grow with the philosophy- keep it simple, keep it refreshing and connect with people. It wants to launch many more brands, something that the agency has been doing since its inception.
The agency is independent but that does not mean that it always intends to stay one. Iyer confesses how there haven't been any formal talks of any deal with any network, but they might be open to one at a later stage, if not immediately. "As of today, we are a debt free, organically invested agency," he adds.
And presumably, happy that way.