Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Vikas Chawla - founder of Social Beat - a digital growth partner for hyperscaling startups & top brands.
In 2012, we realized that there was a gap and a mismatch in expectations when it came to digital and social media marketing solutions.
While there were several global creative and digital agencies, the numbers of homegrown digital agencies were only a handful. Since then, our mission has always been designing and delivering ROI-driven digital marketing with a singular aim to build brands, acquire customers and retain customers for our clients.
In the last 9 years, we have had an amazing journey. We now have a 300+ member team of growth experts and partner with top brands in India and Asia to offer integrated digital marketing solutions. We manage 3% of the digital media investment in the country and have an MRR of $400,000.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was working at a bicycle company as head of digital and product when the idea first started brewing. My last corporate role was at TI Cycles, where I was managing turnovers to the tune of $7M. I launched Montra, India’s first performance bicycle brand, and managed the digital marketing initiative.
We had partnered with a digital marketing company for our bicycle brands and the learnings made me realize the gap in the market where marketing agencies were focused on digital metrics rather than on business outcomes and business metrics.
The lack of an ROI-driven approach made us start Social Beat in the early days of digital in India. There were less than 100 million internet users back in India at that point and we have seen it grow 6 fold in the last decade.
We started the business on a pay-for-performance fee model with our first client - which was a chain of dental clinics. The founder of these dental clinics met us at an event where we were speaking on the future of social media marketing. We initiated a discussion to see how we can add value. We went to work with them for many years and it led to a lot of learnings for us as a team. From there on there was no looking back.
Take us through the process of designing your initial service.
Our initial focus was to partner with brands that wanted to deliver business outcomes via digital marketing. Over time our decision to focus on an integrated digital approach has helped us become one of the fastest-growing digital agencies in the region with more than 3% market share on the media side. We came up with the name of the company by heading to GoDaddy and finding out some relevant available website domains - and that's how Social Beat was born. We initially started as a Sole Proprietorship company and soon shifted to an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership) basis inputs from our advisors. Hiring talent was and is still a key challenge for companies in the digital ecosystem.
We were one of the first few organized agencies in influencer marketing and building our product and app has helped us grow our product business. We decided to build strong expertise around media and customer acquisition and the ROI focus has helped us grow our clients and businesses with many clients continuing to work with us for over 5 years. Our decision to be headquartered in Chennai has given us strong expertise in the south with the capability to create and conceptualize campaigns and brands in multiple vernacular languages.
Gain some experience before starting up, as it gives you an understanding of how to build a team, how to build and scale culture, how to achieve product-market fit etc
Our decision to practice what we preach has immensely helped brand Social Beat - right from leveraging video, voice, and vernacular to having an active youtube channel with weekly knowledge videos, to having an active blog to leveraging all the latest trends - we practice what we recommend to clients.
We held the 6th edition of our Digital Leadership Summit in 2021, which covered a variety of topics including digital for the next billion users, how to be disruptive in your industry as well as vernacular marketing. This has helped us get more clients and scale up too.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since it was a service business it didn’t require much effort to get it going. We started with some initial business development while we built our basic WordPress website. And with that we were live.
We found it hard to get the initial few clients as the digital medium was not a proven marketing channel yet and we had to sell the power of the internet apart from showcasing our capabilities as a team. We did realize that word of mouth works well to get clients - this also means you need to continue delighting clients so that they can refer others in their network. Conducting conferences and seminars turned out to be a great way to also build the brand of Social Beat.
We also had a challenge of attracting top talent and while it’s gotten better over time, this remains our number one challenge.
Services is a cash flow positive business so we have grown organically. Our initial investment from our savings was the base for the venture and we continue to remain bootstrapped. Since it's a cash flow positive business it took less than $10,000 to get started.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Our top marketing channels include referrals, outbound marketing, and our organic search and social media efforts.
Referrals from our client and professional network are our primary source of clients. While we dont have a formal referral program for clients, we do actively ask them to refer others in their network who require digital marketing services. We also continue to create thought leadership content - in the form of our published book, our digital leadership summits, our active social media channels and these help us increase inbound leads too.
Our organic and direct traffic on the website has massively scaled up in the last year (up by 151%) and this has been a key reason for our inbound leads. We relied heavily on pillar content and key blogs to drive this impact - we used multiple tools like Moz & Ahrefs and eventually added SEMRush and SimilarWeb to the mix to help with this.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We have had a fantastic 8 years and have scaled up the team to 250+ members across 4 offices. We have strengthened our portfolio of services as well as the leadership team. In the process, we have got on board top brands in India as well as many funded startups. Our consistent efforts and drive to innovate led us to win the Google Premier Partner Award for the two years it was awarded (in 2017 and 2018). We have also set a new benchmark for managing 3% of the digital investments that happen in India.
Ensure you manage cashflows well - very often we see many entrepreneurs not focussing on finance and regulatory compliance - leading to challenges across the board.
Our current margins are at 20% and we launched our multilingual content platform in late 2018 (22 Languages). Through our innovative platform, brands can create content in multiple languages that resonate with diverse audience segments. 22 Languages create a user experience designed specifically for India’s growing internet audience through a large network of native content strategists and creators. In Dec 2019, we also launched our training arm, DigiGrad which will be a chain of training institutes offering classroom training around all things digital. With the first center in Bengaluru, it will be a unique opportunity for agency-style training for digital marketing. We continued our growth rate in terms of our revenue, team, clients, and offices - having launched our Gurgaon office in 2019.
The next step for us is to strengthen our new service lines like marketing automation (via Salesforce and other partners) as well as scale up our influencer marketing product. We are also actively looking at leveraging technology and ML to improve our data and analytics division.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In terms of what has worked for us, the first one would be our core team and the culture we have built around it. We have also had a very strong partnership with platforms like Google, Facebook, Linkedin, and Amazon thanks to our focus on media and scaling that up significantly over the years.
In terms of misses, we could have focussed more on technology and automation earlier on. While we are building some products and services around it now - we could have got onto it earlier.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use a mix of tools to achieve our objectives. Our base is Google Suite and we use that for most of our work. On the productivity side, we use Calendly and Clockify. For collaboration, we use a mix of G Suite, Trello, and Gira. We use Mailchimp for marketing automation due to its simplicity of use.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My number one tip would be to gain some experience before starting up - as it gives you an understanding of how to build a team, how to build and scale culture, how to achieve product-market fit etc
My second tip would be to ensure you manage cashflows well - very often we see many entrepreneurs not focussing on finance and regulatory compliance - leading to challenges across the board.
Finally, select your initial core team members very carefully as they impact the culture and success of the venture.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We continue to scale our team and there are multiple opportunities listed here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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