In Depth

The Wharton graduate with a One stop Advertising solution for startups

Small and medium enterprises and startups rarely have dedicated marketing teams, and most of the employees have their hands full with day-to-day operations. It is also difficult for them to find partners who can help them market their businesses effectively within their budget constraints. Wharton School of Business grad Sharad Lunia’s startup releaseMyAd seeks to fill this gap with an advertising network catering to such companies.

The releaseMyAd strategy is be a web-based advertising agency, tackling both online and offline spaces. After all, offline media still enjoys strong reach and impact in India. “We offer a One-Stop Advertising Solution enabling Media Planning and Buying, Jingle Production and Reporting Services, tailored for varied business categories and budget sizes,” Sharad says.

rmalogoFor example, if an education startup wants to launch a branding campaign on radio, the releaseMyAd platform will suggest to them the appropriate ad duration, the number of spots to play daily, campaign duration, preferred time bands and the programmatic content playing across stations. This level of media planning is essential to launch a successful FM campaign, Sharad says.

“We keep evaluating media avenues with a view to their effectiveness and affordability for businesses,” Sharad says. “Our objective remains to identify the unique inefficiencies within each medium, and improve the customer experience by harnessing technology and the Internet to remove these inefficiencies.”

Learnt in Microsoft, applied in India

Sharad was part of the Digital Advertising Solutions Group of Microsoft in the US. Starting up was on his mind but he was unsure about the timing. “Before starting up, it was important to learn how work gets conducted. Hence Microsoft was perfect in helping me understand and appreciate how large organisations function and grow. However, with every passing year, the pay-check grew bigger and bigger, and the odds of quitting it all to follow your passion became harder and harder. Further, I felt one's risk-taking capacity diminished with age as one shoulders additional responsibilities of marriage, family, etc.”

But in his heart, he wanted to acquire deep knowledge and skills in advertising and marketing while working in the US and apply it to an Indian context. He wanted to create something big by taking advantage of his Western education and work experience, and marrying that with the Indian promise of growth and opportunity.

His first-hand exposure into planning and executing digital marketing campaigns came at Microsoft. There, he had to work for premium clients like eBay, Intuit, Priceline, etc. “My initial idea in 2008 was to setup a Digital Marketing Agency in India, along with two other Microsoft colleagues, catering to large spends.”

On surveying the Indian market, however, they realized that companies themselves had a very poor internet presence. Therefore, running digital marketing campaigns were not in their scheme of things. The plan felt more like an idea ahead of its time.

On further research, Sharad realized that India was a unique market where traditional media (Print, Radio, TV) was still flourishing and controlled the maximum share of advertising budget. “Given that internet advertising was quite nascent, it was more sensible to build your own consumer internet brand vs convincing other companies to build theirs,” Sharad recalls. So, he decided to startup releaseMyAd.com – “a brand leveraging the marketing reach of traditional media combined with the simplicity of the Internet”.

Serviced over 115,000 advertisers

Sharad Lunia and Anup Ostwal, business development head of releaseMyAd
Sharad Lunia and Anup Ostwal, business development head of releaseMyAd

ReleaseMyAd started in 2009 with a team of six in Kolkata, servicing only newspaper classifieds ad bookings via their online platform. Over the years, they expanded their product offerings and the team grew to 75.

The company now powers booking systems for some of India’s largest newspapers in English, Hindi and other languages. Starting with classifieds, they acquired a number of local businesses as customers, who now place regular print advertisements through the releaseMyAd platform. At last count, they had serviced over 115,000 advertisers. “As part of our growth plans, we just introduced our FM Radio Advertising Solution, releaseMyAd.fm," says Sharad.

The radio advertising market is currently around Rs. 1500 crore in India, growing at a CAGR of 14% annually, according to the PWC, India Entertainment and Media Outlook Report. Of this, around 40% is by regional advertisers and local in nature. “We aim to target this local advertiser market through our online platform,” says Sharad.

Learning from mistakes

The releaseMyAd.fm solution, Sharad says, is a first for the industry. “Given our customers are online, we repeatedly iterated on our user interface after gathering beta feedback. This was critical and took multiple rounds to finally settle towards a solution, which was both comprehensive in its offerings yet simple to use,” he says.

“Our initial inclination was towards providing an instant booking platform similar to our Newspaper Ad Platform.” However, on engaging with the customers, they realized that the time taken from intent to sale for radio was around a month for the B2B segment. So they re-modelled the site structure and processes to accommodate servicing their clients’ needs better.

So far, with no external capital, releaseMyAd is cash-flow positive. They intend to continue their growth through internal accruals. “It is through our revenues that we have managed to scale our team to 75 people profitably.”

Their radio ad booking service has been running in beta for the last few months. It has already generated revenues above Rs 28 lakh, Sharad says.

Their clients include well-known startups like Knowlarity Communications, Craftsvilla.com, Housing.com, and 3sIndia. “Servicing them has provided us with valuable feedback to help improve our systems towards building a scalable solution available to every SME.”

Sharad sees the releaseMyAd vision in Mark Twain's words: “Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising." He is sure that by identifying the right media and executing the right ad campaign effectively, they will be able to grow their clients’ business and their own.

What do you think of releaseMyAd's one stop advertising solution? Tell us in the comments below.

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