afaqs! news bureau

Sidharth Rao, Webchutney and Punt Partners’ founder passes away

He passed away Friday evening.

Sidharth Rao is no more. He was the co-founder of Webchutney, one of India’s most popular, successful, and awarded agencies, and of Punt Partners, a mar-tech firm he co-founded in 2022.

He passed away on April 21, 2023.

Rao never considered himself an adman or a marketer. He thought of himself as an internet entrepreneur.

Rao co-founded Webchutney with Sudesh Samaria 23 years ago. The first avatar of this agency was Gutterspace, a site in the same space as afaqs!. Gutterspace’s website won Rao assignments to make websites for corporates and that is how Webchutney was born.

The agency won its first Golden Abby for a MakeMyTrip campaign, and it soon bought media worth Rs 1.5 crore a month for the travel portal. Webchutney was paid the amount upfront but managed to secure a 120-day line of credit from Google for advertising.

But the agency found itself in harsh waters when MakeMyTrip decided to move media buying to one of the ad networks, and the agency did not have money to square off the accounts. Rao only had 21 days to find the money.

“I will find the money – and until that happens, I won’t change my shirt,” declared Rao to his employees. He wore the same shirt every day but did wash it every night. Viacom18’s investment arm, Capital18 would invest Rs 8 crore for a majority stake saving the agency.

Dentsu acquired Webchutney in 2013. Sreekant Khandekar, co-founder, afaqs!, asked him about the difference the change in ownership made to his life.

“Dentsu got in a CFO, Benny Augustine. To be honest, I was initially suspicious. But over time I realised that instilling financial discipline in a freak like me was game-changing,” quipped Rao.

Dentsu Webchutney (now Dentsu Creative) in 2022 won the Agency of the Year at Cannes Lions for The Unfiltered History Project for Vice Media. Rao had quit Dentsu a month before the win.

When asked if he regretted not being up on the Cannes Lions stage, said Rao, “Oh, not at all! I can take no credit for the Unfiltered History campaign except for having green-lighted the project. Webchutney has been winning major awards for years but I have never been on stage.”

Towards the end of 2022, Rao announced he had co-founded Punt Partners with Madhu Sudan. The company’s aim was to become the go-to choice for marketers looking for customer retention. 

Rao founded Webchutney 23 years ago in July 1999, and Dentsu acquired it in 2013. His agency, for The Unfiltered History Tour created for Vice Media, won the biggest awards at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2022.  

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