In this episode of The Ball of Steel Show, our host Sarthak Varshney gets in a conversation with Mr Sanjay Kaul of Impact Communication. As for how he started his journey with a minimalistic amount and strategically stood against the competition.
Through this conversation, Sanjay Kaul explains how the holistic growth of an employee can make him confident and prepare them for the future. As put out in the conversation, Sanjay believes in creating entrepreneurial leaders in the company, eventually leading to growth. This gives the world a glimpse of his ‘Dhandho Ni Soch’.
WHAT BUSINESS THAT YOU ARE DOING HAVE US SAY THAT YOU GOT THE BALLS OF STEEL?
This is an interesting question. I would say, any entrepreneur would have the balls of steel. As the journey has a struggle, risks, failures, success during the journey. And in my case, I’m into rural marketing. We are a rural consulting agency where we advise branch on how to go about with rural markets. They’re a list of services we offer to our clients. For a start, we advise brands on how to go to rural markets.
I started these services when there were companies like WPP, JWT, Lintas, etc. While then I had the only private company. As I took the step in rural marketing. Secondly, I started with nothing. When I say nothing, I had only 40,000 rupees left with me. Apart from the money I gave my wife to run the daily expenses for a year. These 40,000 were the decision-maker for the start of my company. This is how I would answer your question.
SANJAY SIR WHY DON’T YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE KIND OF JOURNEY THAT YOU HAVE HAD TILL NOW THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION?
I started my career with Tata Economic Consultancy. Later, went back to Kashmir, came back during the migration period. It had been a very tough time. I had to start from scratch. As I came back, I worked for a while with Mudra. At Mudra, I was a Profit Centre Head. I always had this idea in my head to create something of my own. In the year 1999, I started with a company named IMPACT COMMUNICATION with a small team.
As that was the time I realized the buzz that was going around in the market. Also, the growth was in the rural market. I started the company with a tiny team, and a few from Mudra joined me as well. Our basic premise of startup was that if you are earning salaries that we get today, we are ready to slog it out. Otherwise, we know we will have our jobs to get, anyway. We had brief-term goals, even as we knew we had to do something big.
But we had limitations. Our short-term goals included finance and long term including equity. So on one side, we had enormous companies like JWT, WPP etc and on the other side were us. The only thing we had was confidence and passion that would make it happen. And today the company one among the leading companies.
WITH THE 40,000 AND THE REST OF THE MONEY TO YOUR WIFE. HOW WAS THE KIND OF SUPPORT SHE GAVE YOU?
My wife had confidence that I would do something. She didn’t crib much. But I could not take this into negligence because I wasn’t a bachelor when I was starting. I had two kids and her whom I had to take care of. That is why taking a decision and that point was much tough. I requested her I could do it. So give me a year. If I won’t further be able to do it, I will continue with the job. But I had strong confidence that I will do it. First, as I started, I was a bit conscious of my strength and my weakness.
Meanwhile, I strengthened the areas which I was not much good at so I could work well on that too. Essentially, to gain a position with the client that we can operate Pan India.
Though we had no offices. We travelled for almost ten months in a year, in the initial phase. This gave us an understanding of work and consumer. We gained certain properties. We had a brief-term goal and a long-term vision. I would not chase long-term goals by looking at the milestone pass by me. This would ensure my cash flow, my relation with clients.
HOW DID YOU AND TEAM TACKLE THE LACK OF TIME AND EQUITIES? ALSO WHAT KIND OF QUITY DO WE TALK ABOUT?
Here we talk about brand equity. On one side have the huge companies who already had strong relationships with clients. But, for us, the fishing of clients was very difficult. It was easier for them than for us. We gained a model that helped us attract clients. Maybe on a very short-term project basis. But that built a foundation for a long-term relationship. We continued this for one or two years.
Post that we encountered a major challenge. Our Competitors would say to our customer, that for Mela’s marketing you go to Impact Communications. But, if you want to do rural solutions, you come to us. Here my position came to a challenge for me. So facing this, I told my team we are not doing Mela’s or Mela marketing. This was because of our relationship with clients was at stake. We built our network with geography. So we took a few steps ahead. Also, as we wanted to do something that our others could not do.
MUDRA BEING MARKETING AGENCY, HOW DID YOU GET CLIENT? YOU USED OLD CLIENTS OR APPROACHED NEW ONES?
Obviously, I had a few old clients, a small team. But we used only a greater differentiation in our business was that our idea was different. Brands used to foray these Mela. Participation was really high. As the competitors would approach a client for a mela and take them to work. And understand the working of all the cost, land, erecting, engagement cost was all to one client.
Now, I created a series of events called the great country fairs. Here I pitched at 1/10th of the cost to multiple brands rather than working at multiple brands. So when you have 40 brands, the need is very different. This helps you sharpen your ideas, provides a great value as well. For example: if a brand individually takes part they would have to spend 8-10 lakh rupees I got it to 15000-20000 rupees. Then the brand would not need much thinking in terms of participation.
MOVING FORWARD WITH THE CONVERSATION SANJAY, WHAT WAS IT YOU DID WITH WHICH YOU COULD BRING THE COSTING DOWN SO WELL?
Well, I created a Mela within a Mela. As we also had the audience coming in the Mela. I would basically create an environment within that Mela itself. I would negotiate with authority. Like take land there, fabricate where our teams would look at individual brands. People would find it nice and interesting. Because there were different brands in one Mela. Rather than having one brand in a Mela. From an experience point of view, it is great for consumers to know different brands.
AS WE KNOW YOUR WIFE HAD SUPPORTED YOU, BUT HOW WAS SUPPORT FROM YOUR FAMILY SIDE?
Well, you are taking me back to my times. I lost many relationships in terms of relatives. As I could not attend weddings as I had to compromise family time. Mainly because I could not balance work and family.
The reason being I was too passionate to make it happen. There was also a reason that there were too many advisers advising me on my work. Half of the time I could not explain to my parents much about it. Now, this is when I proved myself. Also, as I am the first generation in such a kind of work field from those times.
TAKING THE CONVERSATION FORWARD SANJAY SIR WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WITH MONEY MANAGEMENT?
Well, when we see today’s times we always have investors coming in. But, in those times we would hardly have investors taking part. I was highly motivated and passionate about making it happen. Thus, it was too early for me to disinvest. And so I thought to build capital within the organization. I was living in a small flat, had a compact car. For 5-6 years, I did not know what luxury life was. That how the capital was built within Impact Communication.
I invested in talent. I believed by investing in talent than taking a sizeable amount of money home. If I had better talent, I knew the business would grow. Thus, I hire a leadership person. Who obviously knew more things than me. I always invested in outstanding talent. Leadership quality was obviously important. And now I have people working for over one or two decades. Starting from Mudra, having been part of the entire journey.
HOW DID YOU MOTIVATE YOUR TEAMMATES AND HOLD THE TEAM TOGETHER WHEN THINGS WERE NOT GOING VERY WELL?
I think I am inherently a person who does not give up easily. We have had multiple hiccups on this journey. Working in a rural market involves many people. I started working inclusively and led the teams from the front. If any of my teams faced a difficult situation, I would put myself in the forefront and deal with it alongside my colleagues. I thought it was my responsibility as the head to not let my people down before the clients. I think that attitude of mine helped my team trust that they could bank on someone. This enabled them to take more risks too.
We are one of the leading agencies of Rural India and have won many awards. I never go on stage to collect an award, instead, I send my team. I think these gestures made them stick with us. People do not seek only monetary gains from an organization. They also seek independence to decide and truly be a part of it. I have created multiple levels of entrepreneurship within our company. The employees can be entrepreneurs and leaders themselves. I don’t want my name to become my name bigger than the organization itself. I want the work by us to be the face of our organization.
CAN YOU ELABORATE ON THE CONCEPT OF MULTIPLE LEVELS OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP WITHIN THE ORGANISATION?
I think the idea of assigning a part of a project to a person and giving them a specific business target to chase is deeply flawed. My approach instead is to create an entire business plan for them without interfering in the specifics. It is completely up to them how they will work out the plan. It is okay if they mistake too. I think it is necessary to give employees the liberty to decide and do things their way. It gives them a sense of ownership of the target at hand and makes the team more transparent.
Our entire leadership team is aware of the finances of the company. It strengthens their trust in the company and helps us justify the payouts. We delegate maximum tasks to the employees, and it empowers them to function on their own terms. I think this has helped us scale up. We work with 50 brands from different sectors. Giving them complete assignments makes them think about the different facets of the task. They learn to delegate and manage things better. This creates a great sense of leadership and entrepreneurship in them.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED RELATED TO KUMBH MELA?
A few years ago we got the marketing rights for the Haridwar Kumbh Mela. We handled all the branding, stalls, engagements, etc. The local vendors and businessmen were handling the outdoor arenas of the Mela. We did not want to meddle with them and let it carry on as usual. However, that year the local vendors and the administration body of the Kumbh Mela got into a dispute. The matter then escalated and eventually, the High Court got involved and ordered a stay on all the marketing activities in the Mela.
About 60 brands were participating in the Kumbh Mela and other Melas in the vicinity. About 10-15 crore rupees of revenue was at stake. The brands had already paid the Kumbh Mela administration to set up stalls. We would lose face in front of all of our clients there because of the fiasco. We could have endured losses in revenue, but losing clients would have been impossible to bear.
The operation team informed me of the situation. We did not know what step we must take next. We had to hire a lawyer to represent us at the court. Thankfully, there were a few holidays before the hearing and I could brief the lawyer. I went to Nainital and met the lawyer. He had no experience or even knowledge of handling cases of advertising agencies. We had to give him pointers on exactly how he had to plead the case.
I told him to emphasize that we handled some of the most essential services for pilgrims like the sale of pooja items, etc. He had to highlight that the decision could not delay as the Mela would go on for the next 45 days and if they adjourned the case for a month, the pilgrims would have to suffer.
He followed my pointers exactly while presenting our case in the court. They revoked the stay order in a single hearing. My belief that anything can be achieved if one is strong-willed. I was extremely worried, but I had to handle the case with calmness and strategical thinking.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF BEING THE FACE OF THE COMPANY AND ARE YOU A MONEY MINDED PERSON? IF SO HOW DO YOU FACE IT?
I am very media-shy and I do two things very consciously. I would do things very openly. Like my competitors would do things and show off about it very openly. And I don’t want to wake them up. Or even let them know what I am doing. All who should know about what I am doing is are my clients. As they are important to me.
But for the work I did, I automatically became the face of the industry body. I am the President of the Rural Marketing Essential of India. I am cheering for the board. It is only because they liked my work.
It was only because of the work I did. Also, the word of mouth played a significant role for us. I did not seek any recognition from the fraternity here. I got it automatically. From being a member, I was the youngest president of the industry. I’m yet on the advisory board and recognized only for the job I have done on the board. And as I mentioned I’m shy in terms of media, we only provide impact work than subject work.
As I mentioned as we get money just as much as the salary, it was enough. That was our first goal. But as we grow, we have pressure. And so to sustain, we need to chase money. But that does not make me a money-minded person. For example: Given this structure, we haven’t laid off a single employee in this lockdown period.
As we haven’t cut off salaries other than pay cuts. That too in collaboration and understanding with our team. And I am taking a salary for the entire year. I am assuming we will get a six-month window to get profits. If we do, we will release this as a bonus to them, as they have had salary cuts. So money is something that comes and goes. So if we work and as we know, work is going on. Also, as we know quite of things are hampered because of the pandemic, the money will come. The reason being, we have talent and team. And we make quite an amount of money in the year.
WHAT WOULD BE THE KIND OF ADVICE SANJAY SIR THAT YOU WOULD GIVE TO THE LISTENERS THROUGH THIS CONVERSATION?
I would advise the entrepreneurs that if they have the passion, they’ll come back without regret. They will be happy. But if there is regret, then they won’t be happy. You should accept the challenges and have the passion quotient. You should create an idea. Scale it up but chase not only money. Only if you create value, the money will follow. Well, then it is for all stakeholders, then it is for everyone, not only for the organization. Also, for employees or clients.
TOWARDS THE END OF THE CONVERSATION SANJAY SIR, WHAT IS YOUR EVEN BIGGER GOAL?
Charity begins at home. And I am no Bill Gates, Ambani that I could set a social goal. But I see who is at the bottom of my pyramid, in terms of employees. We fund most of the education to their children. This is from the personal expenses from the organizations. I have had such challenges; I have tried helping. Helping people building homes and so.
This conversation with Mr Sanjay Kaul has been one of its kind. The perception that Sanjay has put in the public sphere in this conversation makes him different and set him apart in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.