Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Renjith Rajan, and I am the founder of O3M Directional Marketing Private Limited. O3M offers performance-oriented digital marketing solutions to clients around the world. We are proud to support both direct clients as well as fulfilling campaigns via a bpo/kpo outsourcing model.
At the core, at O3M, we work to understand our clients’ customers’ digital journeys, and then apply the tools, concepts, ideas, and expertise needed to ensure that our clients are present during said journeys. When this started, that largely meant just Google Ads, which was our first industry relationship. These partnerships have since grown to include platforms (e.g. Amazon and Shopify), other Ad Networks (Amazon, Meta, etc), and other networks. A mix of best practices, relationships, expertise, and hard work enables us to offer effective digital marketing solutions to clients around the world.
While each campaign is unique, they typically include a mix of:
- Ad networks: Google Ads, Meta Ads, Amazon Ads
- Content: Text, image, and video
- Measurement: Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and custom Data Studio reports
Having gotten started in Search, that remains my favorite online marketing channel.
All told, at O3M I’m delighted to employ 45+ team members who are passionate about what they do and get to work on a diverse range of businesses, from small mom and pops to large enterprises.
Not every agency is a competitor. Work to understand the full ecosystem you are operating in and don’t be afraid to connect with other businesses that can help enable your client’s growth.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I come from an agricultural background. While that remains a passion (when not at my desk, you can often find me at my fig and areca plots), from a young age, I knew I wanted to land in the technology space.
With that in mind, I studied Commerce and got my first job as a computer lab assistant at a training institute in my hometown of Thrissur, Kerala. As I progressed professionally, I joined a US-based startup as a Java and Perl programmer. This was before the days of APIs; thus my first great project was developing one of the initial open-source database management tools which were compatible with multiple databases.
Next, in 2000 I moved to Chennai and took a position as a Linux admin. That is where I first got meaningful exposure to the digital marketing space, as my main role was providing support to an ad exchange technology company. I haven’t looked back since.
In 2005 I began my entrepreneurial journey when I founded Boonze Media Solutions. At Boonze, the focus is on outsourced clients. Growing a skilled team of process-oriented digital marketers, Boonze grew to touch 150,000+ Google Ads campaigns in a month.
Launching O3M in 2010 began with a literal knock on the door. It was Google India knocking! Just as we began looking to sell to direct clients in the Indian market, Google was launching the Premier Partner Program for India. Seizing on this remarkable timing, we joined the Google program and began offering our services to direct clients. I believe this provides a unique mix of skills for us; the Boonze work is very process-oriented and equips us to deliver work at scale, whereas O3M enables us to offer unique solutions and approaches to each client.
Looking towards the present time, O3M and Boonze continue to operate side by side.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
At the time, India was a very nascent market for digital marketing. On the business side, educating clients on how digital marketing works differently than traditional advertising took a tremendous amount of time, effort, and energy. Through a mix of on-ground events, direct sales, content marketing, and webinars, we worked tirelessly to explain how digital works and what KPIs businesses should look towards when stepping into digital.
On the consumer side, data plans were quite expensive, smartphone adoption was limited, and e-commerce was largely limited to only the largest cities.
Leveraging our core skill set and the market needs, our initial solutions focused purely on Search advertising. From there, we took a logical and holistic approach to expand. Considering the rest of the search engine results page, we expanded into organic and local SEO. Then, focused on users around the web with Display and video ads. Finally, as social media began to boom in India, we included both social advertising and organic social in our marketing mix.
All along the way, automation has been key. We continue to look towards automating rote processes, enabling O3M’s analysts to focus on strategy and apply our expertise to more valuable work.
Describe the process of launching the business.
My journey was a little atypical, as I had already founded Boonze Media Solutions. Thus, it was more about pivoting into direct clients and the domestic market rather than the general concerns of opening a new business.
Our first clients were won via old-school, direct sales. This involved the typical mix of telesales/appointment setting, meetings, and pitches. Since that time, direct sales continue to play a key role but, of course, we see a meaningful level of inbound leads via our own, in-house digital marketing activities.
One key journey in growing the business was balancing the volume of clients with client sizes. Initially, it was about the acquisition, taking on clients with all sorts of budgets, goals, and demands. With that approach, we did see high churn, as not every client was fully ready to go online.
Next, we pivoted to the other extreme, only focusing on high-value clients. The challenge there is, of course, a limited number of businesses to sell to as well as a very long time to close new accounts. Now, I hope we have struck the right balance of quantity and quality of clients.
Lessons learned along the way include the following:
Partnerships can go a long way: Not every agency is a competitor. Work to understand the full ecosystem you are operating in and don’t be afraid to connect with other businesses that can help enable your client’s growth.
Making the right sale: Client churn is quite high in the digital marketing industry. One key method to reducing it is offering transparency. Clients must have a clear picture of what they are buying, what each party’s responsibilities are, and how budgeting works.
Don’t compromise on pricing to win a client: While that doesn’t mean charging exorbitant fees, it does mean valuing your work and your products.
Instead of straying from what we know and do best, we find the ideal partner company and transparently let our clients know who is working on what. Speaking about partnerships, they continue to be an asset to us. They enable us to access resources, training, and data that other agencies may not enjoy.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As a digital marketing agency we, of course, focus on digital to attract customers. This includes:
- The Search Results page: A meaningful presence across paid, organic, and local listings.
- Social media: Going beyond “Buy now!” posts by including content and messaging that positions us as skilled experts who remain current on the latest tools, trends, and technologies.
- Webinars and events: Showcasing thought leadership to new audiences via participating in 3rd party events.
- Email, WhatsApp, and SMS: Creating thoughtful outreach and new client journeys.
With that said, tried and trusted techniques go a long way, and we continue to see success with direct sales and traditional referrals.
One piece of advice for new founders is to bring SEO along the way into your everyday marketing tasks. Don’t think, “I need to publish a blog for SEO!” and start writing. Instead, identify an area where you have a unique and meaningful opinion, write about it, and then bring SEO along via keyword research, structured data, links, etc.
For those in retail, work to balance direct and marketplace sales. With sales on your website, you enjoy control but must bring your audiences. With marketplace (e.g. Amazon) sales, the audience is there, but your product must stand out from the crowd. Test both, see what works, and then do the math to determine the optimal direct vs marketplace mix.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The future continues to look bright for digital marketing in general, and O3M in particular. Specific to our Indian client base, we are in unique times; more affordable data and devices coupled with increased purchasing power and shipping coverage enable advertisers to offer their products and services to more and more people in the nation.
For a truly starting data point, there are nearly 10X the internet users in India that there were when I founded O3M.
Specific to O3M, I’m delighted to see a continually growing client base and an eager team continuing to upskill themselves to take on larger, more complex, and more holistic campaigns. We’ve expanded from one office to three offices alongside a growing roster of full-time, remote employees.
On the profitability side, we work hard to address three core pain points that most agencies face. This includes:
Client churn: It’s no secret that digital advertising campaigns often require three months of activity for the agency to turn a profit. Typically, month one revenue is eaten by the cost of sales and marketing efforts, month two works to break even, but needs to consider the significant start-up time spent during month one, and then in month three, the agency should begin seeing profits. With this in mind, iclients must renewtheir campaigns. Via a mix of making the right sale/expectation setting, transparency, and results, I’m delighted that many of our clients stick with us for years.
Profitability: In line with the above, we must turn a profit to keep the wheels turning. Here we continually look towards automating rote or well-defined tasks. We follow a general process of doing things manually, defining our playbook and best practices, and then looking to automate.
Employee churn: I’m reminded of the adage, “The CEO of a company and his CFO are talking about training. The CFO says, "What if we train our people and they leave? The CEO responds, "What if we don’t and they stay?" With this in mind, O3M places a serious focus on employee upskilling, both via formal training as well as self-learning. A very simple “always a next step” mindset works to ensure that, from an entry-level employee up to senior management, there is always a next goal in their career progression at O3M.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Every day offers an opportunity to learn something new. During the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, we learned to never consider business as “safe.” We often thought, due to having clients in both India and the US, that we would be insulated from things like natural disasters. However, when a global pandemic hit clients, and team members, everywhere were impacted.
Next would be, not being afraid to partner with other companies when a requirement is beyond our core skill set. Instead of straying from what we know and do best, we find the ideal partner company and transparently let our clients know who is working on what. Speaking about partnerships, they continue to be an asset to us. They enable us to access resources, training, and data that other agencies may not enjoy.
On a more philosophical level, it’s important to find meaning in the work which we do. While most of our time is spent in front of charts and graphs, ultimately our campaigns connect people with the products or services which they need. There is meaning in that.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
By the nature of being a digital marketing company, we use a great number of tools and platforms. A small sample of them include:
- For e-commerce, we look towards Shopify or WordPress + WooCommerce.
- For services, publishers, or informational sites, we most commonly leverage WordPress or Wix.
Design: While our designers prefer Photoshop, non-design team members dip their toes into the design world via Canva.
SEO Management: Semrush is our preferred platform for both research and workflow.
Reporting: With multichannel campaigns becoming more ubiquitous, client reporting has generally moved away from platform-specific reports and towards combined dashboards in Google Sheets or Data Studio (Now called Looker Studio).
With that said, client requirements change by the day, so we are always looking toward new options which drive efficiency and productivity.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
A few of my favorite books include:
- Unaruvin by Swami Vivekananda
- The Story of my Experiments with Truth by Gandhi Ji
- The Servant by James C Hunter
- Measure What Matters
- So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
For those just starting out, I’d encourage them to reflect on a few statements I keep in mind:
- Never think that you have acquired all, or even most of, the knowledge which exists in the world.
- Make doing your duty, be it study, work, or entrepreneurship, an ingrained habit just the same as you brush your teeth each morning.
- Always study the basics and the fundamentals.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are generally always hiring when we encounter someone who may be a good fit to join the O3M team. This encompasses all roles, but currently, we have our eyes on new team members in design, link building, and PPC campaign management. If you think you may be a good fit, send a mail to [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
Let’s stay connected! I, and the O3M team, can be reached at:
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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