Jessie Paul is the founder CEO of Paul Writer, a marketing strategic advisory firm that was founded in January 2010 to provide advisory and program management services to companies. Jessie is also the author of No Money Marketing, a book on building and marketing brands on frugal budgets. She served Wipro as its high-profile Chief Marketing Officer. Jessie also happens to be a woman who is very intent on changing the B2B technology marketing scene in India for the better. K.M. Vaijayanthi of YourStory.in spoke to her recently ahead of her session on “Frugal Marketing in an Emerging Economy” at the Nasscom Emergeout Conclave at Chennai. Jessie offers her perspective on entrepreneurship apart from her own experiences in starting up.
YourStory: Hi Jessie, thanks for taking the time out to talk to YourStory. Please tell me what prompted you to startup on your own? I can imagine that it wouldn’t have been easy having worked for more than a decade at corporates.
Jessie Paul: I have been thinking of doing something on my own for quiet sometime before I actually took the plunge. Even when I used to work for Quintant Corp (which was later acquired by iGate Global solutions) and then in Wipro, I have worked on many initiatives that were very entrepreneurial in nature (for instance, a marketing ops BPO). So starting out on my own was kind of inevitable.
YS: You have worked for some of the biggest technologies companies in India and have been considered one of the most influential marketing leaders of the time. What is your opinion on the Indian marketing industry?
Jessie: I have only one thing to say while the FMCG and older industries seem to have got their acts right, the technology marketers are still struggling and are not there quiet yet.
YS: Is that why you started Paul Writer Strategic Advisory? Can you share a few details on what services does it provide and what’s your vision for it?
Jessie: Paul Writer will focus on three areas: 1. Advisory services to companies to draft their marketing plan, evaluate their current marketing activities, and provide them overall marketing guidance 2. Create and run a B2B Marketing community that will serve as the place to go to for marketers in India from finding out about vendors to sharing best practices; It will also have a job board that will focus exclusively on Marketing opportunities 3. Organize international marketing events and workshops to help the Indian marketing ecosystem grow.
YS: You started Paul Writer in January. How has the journey been so far? Have you got customers already?
Jessie: Yes, we have already signed up three customers and are working on other opportunities as well. I’m enjoying being on my own too.
YS: For a startup, the first few customers are the most difficult to get. Would you like to share any tips to other entrepreneurs on it from your experience so far?
Jessie: Definitely. If you are an entrepreneurial venture, it’s a well-known fact that your first few customers will come from your personal network – either your own friends or through references. So it’s important that you inform and work through your contacts to get the word out as much as possible. Even the big IT companies that we have today started out small and their first customers were through friends and family.
YS: Was it easy to leave Wipro? You were the Chief Marketing Officer and you were highly visible in the industry. How did you plan your exit?
Jessie: Like I mentioned earlier, I had been thinking about doing this for some time. I decided that I will need to establish credibility for myself that is separate from Wipro or iGate or Infosys (Jessie worked as a Global Brand Manager at this IT major during 1998–2003). Most often when you are at a big company, the company’s brand will be more powerful than your own. But what happens when you leave the company? You can’t leverage it forever. This prompted me to write No Money Marketing. I wanted to put down my experience and establish a repository of my knowledge; this also made me popular as an author. So once the book was out and once I saw the fantastic reception it had from people, Paul Writer was a natural step. The book also helped me transition from a marketing operations person to a thought leader and this was important especially because of what I want Paul Writer to become.
YS: How is Paul Writer funded?
Jessie: I deliberately decided not to go through the traditional VC or angel investor route. So far, I have funded it from own money – from my PF! But going forward, I hope to keep it going from revenues.
YS: Jessie, how do you manage running your own business with your family? Is being an entrepreneur any different for a woman than a man?
Jessie: The only way it will be different for a woman if is if she decided to operate out of her own home. You can then be assured that family pressures will definitely intrude and you just won’t be able to give as much time to your startup as it deserves. This is one of the reasons that I decided to have my own office space even before I got my first customer. The other being that for a startup going after its first customers credibility is important for prospects to believe in you – a nice office space makes them believe that you are serious about your venture and their business.
On the other hand, I’m very clear about my work-life balance. As I am a consulting business at the moment, I can afford to do this and mark my time clearly as personal or work –this way I ensure I’m able to satisfy both their demands.
YS: But it is well known that if you are a startup that is keen on growing fast, you just can’t make the work-life balance work. Your opinion?
Jessie: Well, it all depends on whether your money comes from the value you provide or the volume of business you service. Obviously if it is volume, you will have to dedicate a lot of time to nurturing your business, prospects, customers, and employees. But if it is value, as in the case of Paul Writer, you can afford to demarcate your time. I’m clear that I don’t want Paul Writer to get into operations where I can see most of my time will then be spent in people management rather than my area of expertise. That’s also a reason that my primary focus will be on advisory. The events and workshops can of course scale but I can let other people take care of it under my guidance.
YS: From what you say, it becomes clear to me that expertise in a particular area is very important if one intends to startup.
Jessie: Of course. You must leverage your experience and the knowledge you’ve gained in your career as much as possible. For instance, if you have been a software engineer all your life, I will have more trust in your company if you start something related to technology rather than something completely different. There are of course exceptions but generally it’s always easier and better to use the investment in your career.
I also love the concept that Jim Collins [author of best sellers Good to Great and Built to Last] outlined. Your sweet spot should be the conjunction of your passion, what you are really good at and an economically viable solution.
YS: Do you have any other tips for wannabe entrepreneurs?
Jessie: Three things are important before you decide to take the plunge:
- Financial Stability – make sure you have enough saved to take you through at least one year of simple living. And this is not just for the sake of your lifestyle but also for your startup. Many people do not realize this. If you are desperate for cash inflow in the first few months, it will make you desperate to get customers – this will in turn make you accept customers who you really don’t want to sign up and this is not good for your brand in the long run. Don’t be desperate for money.
- Start up in your area of expertise. If not, make sure at least one part of your business uses your expertise to its advantage.
- Be focused. Do not offer ten services or develop multiple products together. Do not spread yourself too thin. It is important to have multiple streams of revenue of course initially but be sure about which is your primary avenue for cash and grow that service/product over time while slowly scaling down the others.
Lastly, you must enjoy what you do and have an ecosystem of family and friends that are willing to support you.
YS: Thank you, Jessie. I have seen that you are very active on Twitter and social media. You also blog regularly on Marketing and Branding. Can you share some tips on how startups can use these media to their advantage?
Jessie: In the last one year or so, the one thing I’ve discovered about social media is that it will really help to build connections and help each other in times of need or information requirement. I would like to share a recent example – I wanted to build a platform for the B2B community that we want to start but I had no clue on how to go about it. I sent out a tweet asking for advice and within a day, I had complete strangers who offered to build it for me. At the end of the day, I’m much richer in knowledge about the various platform/tool options that will help me take an informed decision and I’ve a couple of quotes to boot.
So if you are startup, it will pay to invest some time in these media – either through building connections if your prospective customers are online or simply for enriching your knowledge to make your life easier.
YS: Finally, do you miss the coffee machines (and the other comforts that go with a corporate life)?
Jessie: No, not at all. In fact, I like the tea that the office boy delivers much better. But on a serious note, no, I don’t miss the corporate comfort at all. Also, some say that being a startup entrepreneur is a lonely job – I don’t agree. With all the social media that we have today, it only takes a minute to get online and start conversing with people if I ever feel bored. And many a times that conversation turns very productive for my business as well.
By this time, I had overstayed my time and Jessie was running late for her next appointment. With sheepish apologies and a huge thank you, I left Jessie’s neat little office at the Prestige Towers at MG Road, Bangalore. Our one hour flew by and I was left wanting to talk to her more about her experiences. Then, I remembered Jessie is just a tweet away if I wanted to ask her any questions. If you have questions for Jessie, you can ask her in the comments section or you can tweet her here too. I’m sure she’d reply.
Jessie’s session at the Nasscom Emergeout outlined some of the ways companies can use new media for their advantage. Watch out for YourStory’s exclusive coverage of that session. You can also read her book No Money Marketing – From Upstart to Big Brand on a Frugal Budget for tactical ideas.
Note: K. M. Vaijayanthi is a YourStory.in contributor and freelance writer.