Salorix works with the world’s largest brands and agencies to simplify and scale social media engagements. The Salorix Social Marketing Platform is the industry’s first comprehensive solution to deliver listening, campaign planning and execution, analytics and optimization through a single user-interface supporting multiple social channels including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs and websites.In this conversation with YourStory.in, energetic entrepreneurs and founders of Salorix, Santanu Bhattacharya and Madhu Therani talk about their journey from IIT to Silicon Valley, the business idea behind Salorix, the market differentiators, their views on the Indian startup ecosystem as compared to Silicon Valley’s, and their recent investment roundfrom Nexus Venture Partners and Inventus Capital Partners.
YourStory.in: How is Salorix different from other social media marketing platforms?
Santanu: There are people who do the listening - those who collect information from the internet and track sentiments. And then there are companies that organize campaigns. There are also people who are into optimization of campaigns. But take a look at the volume of information and the time span on internet. It is phenomenally short. For example, look at a tweet. Tweets are on the timeline for anywhere between 40 minutes to 2 hours. Traditional campaigns that you do on TV are planned a quarter ahead. But you cannot plan ahead in social media, not even by two hours. So, the systems for managing social media campaigns should essentially be real time. You should first listen, know what kind of demographic and what kind of audience are talking about what right now and essentially engage with them real time based on the brand objectives.
At present, most brands are taking an automated approach to listening, but rely heavily on manual processes for campaign management. Let me give you an example. One of world’s largest beverage companies has about 10 million dollars worth of social media campaigns running every year. They have about 40 employees in the team that manages the campaigns. They use around 2-3 platforms for listening and then, they manually sift through the data and make a bunch of decisions based on that. So, for a 10 million dollar campaign, you are using40 people to run these campaigns. If you are planning 100 million dollar campaign and do not use automation, you may probably need a 200 people team. The reason why social media is not taking off is mainly because of the amount of manual work involved in the process, which is not scalable. We are trying to fix those issues through Salorix’ Social Media Platform.
So, that is the difference. Salorix is a real time system and is largely automated.
YourStory.in: Tell us about your academic background and your work experience prior to starting up Salorix.
I (Madhu) did my B.Tech from IIT Madras and went on to get a PhD from Carnegie Mellon in Robotics and Automation. I then worked for about three years at Honeywell and after that, I became a Professor at the University of Arizona. I taught for about six and a half years. Later, I worked with a bunch of startups like Autonomy, ZillionTV etc.
I (Santanu) did my B.Tech from IIT Bombay and went on to get a PhD in Physics, working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt, Maryland. I then moved on to start a company in Massachusetts, which was eventually sold. Then, I was at MIT for about one year. Later, I joined a management consultancy A T Kearney in New York after which I came back to India and helped AOL set up their Analytics Solution Center here. This eventually became a center of excellence, delivering cutting edge digital analytics and consulting out of India to all AOL’s properties in USA, Europe and Asia.
YourStory.in: What led you towards social media management?
Santanu: The social media volumes started growing in the past three years and I think that the global recession had something to do, as people ended up spending a lot of time at home on Facebook. Social media grew. Also, the ability to handle big data became available. But it (Social Media) didn’t grow as much as it could, and we identified what the problems were. The problem is of scale and there were so many manual processes involved in the campaign management processes, and companies were losing money and time.
When we started, we said to ourselves “if three companies in six months asked me to solve the same problem, then that was the product”. That is exactly how our social media platform was born. Three brands came one after the other, asking us to solve this problem of managing social media campaigns.
YourStory.in: We understand that most of your clients are based in the US. So, are you looking at the Indian market any time soon?
Madhu: Oh, absolutely. We have been watching this market closely and we have been trying to go and pitch to people. The tool that we propose is the way out for most people in India a few months down the line. The only way we can scale is to get technology to become inherent part of campaign management. We can’t scale just by putting more people at it. We believe that in another 3-6 months from now, the platform will have a role to play in India.
Santanu: We have been talking to a lot of brands and largely for new technologies like social media, brands tend to be managed globally and by their agencies. Typically, they test it out at their global offices. We are still nascent enough in social media space that all the experiments are being run in the US.
But India is pretty much a big market for us as the social interaction we are looking at here is huge. The second aspect is that social interaction over mobile phones is massive and is growing very fast. So, there is a play there for us.
YourStory.in: Are mobile capabilities in place?
Madhu: The users of our platform are brand managers. The features to provide analytics on iPhone, iPad etc. will come out very soon. However, as of now you can see the data on the mobile browser. But, streamlining the features for mobile will soon happen. We have three kinds of clients - advertisers, their agencies and online publishers. The third category is quite small for us. Once in a while, we work with a publisher.
YourStory.in: As someone who’s studied and lived in India and started up in the US, what do you think needs to be done to encourage more people to set up companies here in India?
Madhu: For me, it is not about infrastructure. It is about finding the right kind of people to work with. The focus to finish the job is everything. If I hand over a job to a person, I expect it to get done. That level of maturity is still not fully ingrainedhere.
And, It is not even about hiring. It is a cultural thing. I don’t think we are bad at skill sets or we are bad at anything else.
Santanu: In AOL, I used to see that all the time. People are really afraid to make mistakes here and this is what differentiates Silicon Valley from Bangalore. Probably, it’s because we’ve always had a strong hierarchical structure where mistakes are not encouraged. If you encourage people to make mistakes, it creeps into their minds that the boss wants me to make mistakes because he wants to fire me.
We are in a field where honestly no one knows how the field is going to shape up. If you ask us where this will go three years from now, I can give you scenarios. I can’t guarantee anything and that makes people very uncomfortable. People here less trained to handle unpredictability.
Madhu: The other part of it is that product innovation and product development are very different from process optimization. The fact that the process is already defined and the fact that all you are doing here is execution, it sets a mindset. Everything is bounded and you know what targets you have to achieve.When the problem is open ended, it requires a completely different mindset and the thought process involved is very hard. Here, people want a bounded problem. Even if you want to unleash them, there are very few people who enjoy that process.
YourStory.in: You have 23 out of 32people in your team here in India. How did you build the team overcoming all the challenges that are specific to startups in India?
Madhu: Basically, we have been training them. Most of them have worked with us for the past 24 months. I started working closely with them about 8 months ago. They are made to interact with the clients directly. There is no top down hierarchy at work.
Santanu: Some of our employees are from my AOL days. When I hire people, I give them a case study - for example –“ how many people are coming from the airport to Bangalore in the morning” or, “what happens to India if tomorrow the price of Petrol becomes 1 Rupee per liter”. These types of open-ended questions sometimes challenge even the best trained candidates. I sometimes tell them to go out to go back and tell me the answer in three days. So, at least, I know that he can deal with stuff he doesn’t know.. It doesn’t matter where you are from. Some IIT and IIM guys that we encounter get such a shock when they go through this.
YourStory.in: We understand that you’ve just raised a round of capital from Nexus VenturePartners and Inventus Capital. Can you throw some light on that?
Santanu: We talked to friends in the Silicon Valley while raising funds and Nexus’ and Inventus’ names cropped up. Nexus was making big bets on technology with Cloud.com, Gluster and others. They were investing in real cutting edge stuff. And, they were betting on companies that were frugal and thirsty by nature.Both Kanwal (Inventus) and Naren (Nexus) are entrepreneurs themselves. They spend a lot of time and effort on their portfolio companies. It helps that Kanwal is also the founder of TIE. Kanwal was the first Indian who took a company to NASDAQ listing and that was in 1988. He has then later on invested in many companies with very good exits. He is a very popular mentor in the Silicon Valley. Both of them (Nexus and Inventus) were very approachable and spend a lot of time with us.
YourStory.in: What are your three tips to entrepreneurs here in India?
Santanu: Take a big bet. Entrepreneurship by nature is a big bet. No one is counting on you to make incremental improvement. Unless you are taking a big bet, it is not worth the effort.
Madhu: Even now, the Indian entrepreneurs I see in the social media space are ‘me-too’ clones. The hard part is that most people see it from a techie view point. They do not think about packaging and presenting for the customers. Writing code is a very small portion of the work. Till they understand that, it is very hard to build a product. It’s very hard to convince the user that something of value is here. If you are founders, you need to talk to hundreds of users, and understand the packaging aspect of building a product.
Santanu: Learn to pivot. Unless you have done two pivots, the company is not worth selling. Entrepreneurship is all about doing the right thing at the right time. Be ready to take action and change. Inability to change is what kills a lot of companies. If you see that the market has shifted, then change accordingly. If the dynamics have changed, then act.
We at YourStory.in had a great time with Santanu and Madhu. We wish the entire team of Salorix all the best with all their future endeavors, and with credible and grounded entrepreneurs like Santanu and Madhu at the helm, we see Salorix redefining the rules in social media marketing space!
Please check out http://salorix.com for further details.