A chat with ex-Dentsu CEO, and co-founder and chairman of RD&X Network.
Ashish Bhasin has joined the global advertising and marketing transformation startup RD&X Network as co-founder and chairman. Bhasin moved on from Dentsu, where he had spent 13 years, and was APAC CEO and India chairman, about six months back.
Founded by Rajiv Dingra, former CEO at WATConsult, RD&X Network is headquartered in Dubai. It has technology teams based in Bengaluru and Mumbai, catering to a global market, with special focus on the US, Middle East and APAC regions.
RD&X Network recently launched ReBid, a unified marketing and advertising automation platform. It uses AI-based algorithms to provide end-to-end unified workflow, data harmonisation and real-time reporting. It covers over 98% of the relevant global digital ad spends, helping marketers regain control and prepare for a cookie-less world.
afaqs! spoke to Bhasin recently. Below are the edited excerpts:
Q: What made you to take up this entrepreneurial venture?
A: After 34 years of working, this will be my first entrepreneurial venture. I feel that the future of advertising is going to more platform-driven. That’s where growth is going to come from - areas of adtech, martech, with the use of AI and ML.
India is in a good position to become globally dominant in this area. The reason is that we have a great understanding of the markets, brands and high quality talent - especially tech talent, which the rest of the world lacks. It may take time, but the potential to do it, is there.
So far, in the ad world, our thinking (mindset) has been aligned to a service-driven agency model. When you want to scale it up, you need to have a platform-driven approach.
To give you some global context, the entire digital advertising market is worth around $550 billion and by 2026 or 2027, that number will hit $1 trillion. When you have a trillion dollar market, which is generating a lot of data, unless it is automated or AI-enabled, you can’t analyse it at scale.
Q: You have a wealth of experience - nearly three decades - in the advertising and marketing world. How will your experience help in the growth of RD&X Network?
A: The only area I have expertise in, is advertising, given that I’ve worked in the space for almost 34 years. The key thing is to understand what your clients need and have a vision of where the market is going. You can’t set up a company for where the market is, you have to set up a company for where you think the market is going to move.
You also have to have the capability to put together a team that can help you deliver your vision. What attracted me to the RD&X team is that Rajiv (Dingra) and his team have already put together a platform - ReBid, which has all the ingredients to create exponential growth in this market.
The most important thing is you can’t only have tech or marketing orientation without business orientation. I want to bring it all together and mentor this journey. That’s what excites me the most about the team, and that’s where I hope to add value.
Q: Can you tell us how this new role is going to be different from your last stint at Dentsu?
A: Being a part of a startup is very different from being part of a large, established network. When you run a startup, you’re responsible for everything - from maintaining the balance sheets to the cleanliness of toilets. You have to roll up your sleeves to do anything that the business may need.
In an established setup, there are systems, departments and many resources. Startups, by comparison, have relatively fewer resources. For example, our startup currently has around 50 employees, whereas in my previous assignment, I handled a team 10,000-plus people.
The business principles stay the same at both types of companies, but there’s a huge difference in approach, scale, agility, speed, etc.
Q: If you wanted to, you could have a job at any network in the world. Why choose the entrepreneurial route now?
A: I’ve been in the corporate world for 34 years, but I only had two jobs until now - 20 years at Lintas and 14 years at Dentsu. A lot of my professional life has been spent at some very senior positions. If I don’t take this entrepreneurial step now - I don’t know when I’ll be able to. I’m 57, heading towards 58, if I don’t do this now, I don’t think I’ll be able to take this step at all.
Q: The RD&X Network website claims that the company is a meeting point for adtech, martech and deep tech. These are areas with a lot of growth potential, but how do you plan to bring them all together?
A: That’s where the challenge and difficulty lies - in providing a unified solution based on our client’s needs. The problem right now is that marketing is functioning in different walled gardens. With data and privacy laws, it is becoming harder and harder, especially since we’re moving to a cookie-less world now.
We’re building a platform of platforms, which unifies all aspects of digital marketing in one place. If a client wants to plan, buy, activate or look at data, they are able to do so across platforms. Not just platforms, but people who can get you various inventories from different setups. In this way, over 90% of the entire global inventory is available on one platform of platforms.
That’s the unique and hard bit - how to unify it. If you have large campaigns, you want to see by audience, by geography, by brands, whatever data you need, in real time. It doesn’t work to pull up a performance report one week after running the campaign.
In the digital world, you can gauge a performance in minutes. This platform will enable different digital marketing and advertising aspects to work in real time.
I’m convinced that the future of advertising is going to be platform-led and one needs to have a tech approach.
Q: What’s a challenge you’re most looking forward to tackling in your new role?
A: The biggest challenge for any startup, is scaling up. We have global ambitions - the company is going to be headquartered in Dubai, and we’re also looking at capturing markets such as the US, Middle East, Europe, etc. Our key focus is going to be in getting new clients, and making sure as many of them can see and use the product.