Sanjay Mehta and Hareesh Tibrewala
Marketing

"We were not a big account like a Coke or a Pepsi and did not have crores of rupees to spend on advertising..."

That's a line from the book 'If I Had To Do It Again - Internet Entrepreneurs' Wisdom In Hindsight' by Sanjay Mehta and Hareesh Tibrewala, joint CEOs of WPP's Mirum - formerly Social Wavelength, digital agency founded by the authors. The book is about their journey and the headline, about HomeIndia.com, a website they launched in 1997. An excerpt.

For the logistics role, we appointed Deepankar Sen, who was holding a senior operations position in a multinational company. To ensure the website had quality content, we hired a fairly senior journalist, Ramprasad Sahu. To lead advertising sales, Harmeet Singh Arora was brought in.

"We were not a big account like a Coke or a Pepsi and did not have crores of rupees to spend on advertising..."

If I Had To Do It Again - Internet Entrepreneurs'
Wisdom In Hindsight

Along with the three key people, we also hired a few designers, software developers and some support staff for the operations team. Now, we had the complete team ready.

Beyond the new office and the hiring of the team, we were still not spending the money that we had with us. One day, one of the investors walked in to see how we were doing. He was happy with what he saw - that we had a new office teeming with an enthusiastic team. However, he was concerned that we were yet not into big-time marketing. After all, the growth that we needed to bring in quickly was not going to come through a new office or new hires. We had to spend the marketing money. We realized that we had to come out of our 'small-business' approach, and really push the pedal hard on our marketing efforts.

"We were not a big account like a Coke or a Pepsi and did not have crores of rupees to spend on advertising..."

L to R: Sanjay Mehta and Hareesh Tibrewala

For the first time, we went around looking for an advertising and Public Relations agency. No sooner had we sent the brief out, that we had a stream of people pitching to us, some even very senior. We were amazed. We were not a big account like a Coke or a Pepsi and did not have crores of rupees to spend on advertising, yet people were interested in us. That was the dot-com flavor working its magic. Like everyone else, even the big agencies wanted their share of the dot-com pie, and came to pitch for our business.

Another interesting phenomenon was that there were companies who were willing to offer us their services in return for equity in our company. As stories of huge valuations of dot-com businesses in the US were doing rounds, they also wanted to ride the dot-com boom, while themselves not being a dot-com business. We could possibly get services, without paying any cash, as long as we were willing to give some equity instead. That was the kind of madness that prevailed at that time - a bubble that everyone was riding. Neither did they see anything wrong in this, nor did we.

We were tempted to give away shares, but reckoned that if the agencies were willing to take our shares instead of their compensation, our shares had to be very valuable. We decided not to give our shares. We were clear that we would pay only cash, and not give out any equity for such services.

We finally appointed an advertising agency. As a startup, it was an interesting exercise that we went through, in deciding which agency to choose. What really appealed to us was that the advertising agency we hired exhibited a personal touch. In the team was a key person, who was very creative and exuded a huge amount of enthusiasm, and he was willing to handle our account. We immediately concurred that this was the person we should work with. Aside from the ideas, he seemed to share the same passion that we had, for our business. The bigger agencies had big clients, so we were unsure of their involvement - they might just put some juniors to service our account. Hence, we zeroed in on a mid-sized advertising agency, with an extremely passionate person to handle our account.

The agency was called Dart Advertising and the key person was Naren Belliapa. Over time, they became an important partner for us. They helped create a new logo for HomeIndia.com. They came up with stationery designs and also designs for our packaging materials, which were used to ship the e-commerce orders. And of course, they created some out-of-the-box print advertisements, which were published in the international editions of India Today, Stardust, and even into several Indian newspapers in the US, and other kinds of magazines and newspapers, which were popular among the NRIs. Most of the advertisements were full-page colored ones, while a few were black and white, and others were strips in newspapers and magazines. As time went by, we did a lot of experiments with our print advertising.

We also decided to create a Television Commercial (TVC) for Indian TV channels in North America. While Dart was involved in the storyboarding and scripting of the TVC, we needed someone to actually make the commercial for us. This called for a production house. Dart introduced us to a couple of TVC makers. Finally, we ended up selecting a very reputed filmmaker, Kailash Surendranath. He created our first TV advertisement, which was an experience in itself. It was fascinating to watch the gamut of emotions of shooting, editing and viewing the final cuts, before the advertisement was finalized, and ready to go on air.

Next, we had to find the TV channels which would air our advertisement. There were Indian TV programmes being telecast in the US. Interestingly, they were mainly shows and episodes already broadcasted in India. Today, a satellite channel beams TV programmes all over the world. However, during those times, things were different. Apart from the Indian TV programmes, there were some local Indian channels catering to NRIs such as Namaste Asia. We hunted for such popular channels and booked our slots. We finally aired our advertisement, and our marketing activity started taking shape in the true sense.

(The book has 223 pages and is published by TV Broadcast Ltd)