Athena Infonomics - India's home grown consulting story eyeing to make it big
“If you spend 10000 hours in a subject, you’re an expert in it” – with this philosophy, Deepa Karthykeyan and her colleague Vijay Bhalaki, both having Master's in Economics from Loyola College, decided not to continue their studies (by pursuing a Ph.D.) in public policy domain, and rather laid the foundation of Athena Infonomics in year 2010. Based out of Chennai, Athena Infonomics is a policy consulting and market research firm eyeing to make it big, and challenge the monopoly of the established consulting groups in India. Deepa and Vijay consider themselves quite fortunate to have S. Narayan, former economic adviser to the PM, as their mentor and adviser since the inception.
Describing the beginning of Athena Infonomics, Deepa said, “We started nimble, but it was clear in our mind that we do not want to look back at 40 yrs of age and think ‘what if’. The rising emphasis on skill development created a strong market fr policy research in the space and helped Athena create research capabilities in the sector. But on the other side it was equally challenging to get projects because of our lack of accountability in public sector”.
Athena Infonomics works in energy, urban infrastructure and education sectors primarily. They have successfully delivered over 60 projects in last three years of operations. Some of the pioneering projects include the evaluation of PPP (Public Private Partnership) schemes for the Prime Minister’s Advisory Board (India), calculating Customer Satisfaction Index of the sovereign services (like tourism & water supply) for Rwanda Development Board and similar ones in Japan & Korea. Recollecting the memory of the very first project, Deepa mentioned, “Research Consulting is about getting your methodology right. The ability to crack problems through the formulation of appropriate and empirically robust methodologies is the key. In our very first assignment from a very large client (name can’t be disclosed), while we were assigned the task to figure out the headroom for lending, this ability among ourselves took us through eventually.”
Starting as a market research firm, Athena Infonomics has strategically combined the skill set of a consulting agency on other end now. While this industry still runs with the misconception that one needs to be grey haired to contribute, Deepa & Vijay have been bold and generous enough in welcoming young talent in the organization. They make it a point to tell the candidates during recruitment that it’s going to be challenging. The company has maintained a flat structure throughout in last three years though it does have a functional hierarchy. Clearly hiring was never a pain point for Athena Infonomics; nevertheless company had its own share of challenges which can highlighted as following:
- Working capital: It took some time for the company to stabilize after initial hiccups. Now, the revenue is doubling every year and financially the road ahead looks smooth.
- Organizational process: Streamlining processes in a flat structure has taken a lot and it’s still evolving.
- Public policy space: One needs to acquaint himself/herself with patience as it’s required to make way into the system and click right partnerships.
Deepa had a lot to share from what she has learnt from her experience in this company and public policy domain:
- People matter: Shortsightedness of business leads to the ignorance of people who’ve trusted your abilities and led you to success. One should make sure to acknowledge such sincere contributions.
- Discovery is the key: Things like RTI change the complete ecosystem. All of a sudden people now demand to know the impact of policies affecting them. This has in turn given a boost and importance to our work on one hand whereas motivated us to experiment with new engagements beyond traditional consulting & market research.
- Age doesn’t matter: Athena Infonomics has broken this myth with the fact that right kind of talent and efforts can do all the needful.
- Project management is partially over-rated: One need to focus on managing money, quality and people in a project, that's all it requires to deliver.
Speaking about the inspirations to come this far and keep on moving in the journey, Deepa said, “What I do is something I find very interesting and hence I'm self-driven. Also, I have this deep-seated desire and ambition to take our home-grown policy consulting firm to stand among the league of biggies.” Surely, Athena Infonomics has come a long way and seems to follow its dreams even more intensely. As a parting thought, Deepa shared her balanced approach to take the organization ahead –
“We want to continue with the openness with which we’re working to the next level. We have crossed the chasm now and sustenance & organic growth are no more a challenge. The tough task ahead is to make Athena Infonomics an institution and a place where people want to work. This will define and shape the road ahead.”
Website: Athena Infonomics