In late 2012, an unassuming media company had one of its co-founders camp out in Mumbai way out of comfort zone, Bangalore, just to make an out-of-the-box idea a success. The result – over 2 lakh dabbawalas, delivering an advertising message, to over 2 lakh office goers, about an alternate to eating food brought by them.
How did they do it? That’s just one of the many tricks that The Media Ant, a media company which connects advertisers and offline media owners has accomplished. The Bangalore-based startup that had launched at Unpluggd in 2012, is one that has over the past year and a half of operations powered ahead in terms of growth and operations.
The Media Ant was co-founded by Mayank Bidawatka, one of the core team members at redBus, Samir Chaudhary who led offline marketing in Britannia and Mukesh Agrawal of Ernst & Young. Along with their team of 8, they led the Media Ant to a turnover of Rs 5 crore between January and December 2013.
Their journey, had humble beginnings.
The idea behind Media Ant came about in 2010 after media agencies were not ready to share information to the duo who had at that time, a marketing budget of Rs 4-5 lakhs for an offline marketing campaign. Media buying agencies refused to give the information on media options available, without an initial payment of Rs 23-25 lakhs. This irked co-founders Mayank and Samir who were in charge of the offline marketing campaign.
“Agencies have this information and they require you to commit to them and pay just for the information, which is not done. The intention is – first give me the information and then depending on whether I want it or not I’ll put in the money. So that’s when we realised that there’s a gap,” says Samir, co-founder and CEO at the Media Ant.
Along with their third co-founder Mukesh Agrawal, they decided to pursue the idea, giving birth to the Media Ant which was incorporated in June 2012. The Media Ant’s objective was to democratise information related to media options in India, thereby allowing just about anyone with any budget to advertise through various cost-effective media.
While it gave advertisers a chance to discover media options, it also helps media owners list media for free.
Cutting Costs for The Bigger Picture
To make the company a success, the trio started off with heavy cost-cutting both at the company, and on the personal front. Co-founder Mukesh Agrawal’s house doubled up as an office space, with the three splitting the rent. The other opportunity cost that came through was the sacrifice of the five digit assured salaries that they used to make.
“Within the first 5-6 months, we were not back on the normal salary, but we were at sustenance level. So yes we did dip into our savings, which was painful, and we’re still dipping into our savings, but, it’s for a dream to come true,” Samir says.
Scaling: An Uphill Task
However, while the idea was there, the execution was not as simple. The company had an ambitious target of getting a 5% share of the market within a year in a Rs 30,000 crore market. But it did not work out as planned.
They had their first client in Flipkart, a pitch that they had organised through a contact but that they struck entirely on the virtue of their product, and things seemed as if they would go smoothly.
“It was a good beginning, and within 2 months, the product was ready, the information was there but we hardly had any people visiting our website, and no calls coming in. Even if they did, it never really went beyond seeking information. We started wondering whether we were onto the right thing,” narrates Samir.
Dejected, the trio took a few weeks off of their business, to see what went wrong and whether to quit and go back to their run-of-the-mill careers.
And Then There Was Light
A few weeks later, when they began receiving calls and serious enquiries, they realised that they were on the right track and got back to business.
“After 2.5 months, the business started coming in, and we realized is that this is a B2B business where there is a lean time of 2.5 months between enquiry and conversion,” says Samir. Coming from redBus and an FMCG background, he says that both Mayank and he had to get used to the mindset that in media, there was no instant gratification.
Team-building was the toughest part for Media Ant says Samir, who believes that the initial team is the one that helps any company scale. Their first employee Priya Darshani was hired after many deliberations and rejections by candidates due to unfamiliarity with the company.
“One thing we made clear is that, even if it takes time, we aren’t compromising on the quality of people we are getting. It’s very simple, they should have a spike in life. We don’t want guys who are average in everything. It’s fine if you aren’t in IIT, IIM , but if you are a state level cricket player, why not? Come join us. Because it is something you have pursued and taken to the next level,” says Samir about the hiring process.
The Media Ant currently has a 11 member strong team and are looking to hire tech employees.
The bootstrapped company that started out slowly, soon saw an exponential boost to its growth. From 300 media options that were listed in the first six months of operations, they reached over 3,400 in a year says Samir.
“Initially when we started we used to get one or two calls, Mayank would say start preparing for 30 calls a day. He would say – don’t worry about the 1000s, worry about the crores, and there we were making 100s at that time. He had that advantage of having worked in a startup seen it grow,” says Samir, crediting co-founder Mayank for helping gain the crucial first 15-20 clients for the company.
The Media Ant is currently host to over 20,000 people a month who seek information on media options. The company that used to rely mainly on Google for half their traffic in the first year of operations, now has referrals bringing in 20% of their business. With a total of 300 people having done business with them, Media Ant seeks to grow organically in the future says Samir.
The two key lessons they learned from their journey so far – everyone has apprehensions, you just have to overcome it, and that there is no such thing as an overnight success, persistence is key.