How BigTrunk leveraged the smartphone explosion to launch its digital agency


The touch of a little screen connects people to the world. News, information, trade, music, movies, romance. Anything, anywhere, anytime. It takes prescience and chutzpah to realise that the mobile phone is a key marketing tool and this is exactly what two long-time buddies foresaw in 2013.

At the time, digital marketing a buzzword being bandied about in the wake of falling internet access costs, better connectivity and affordable smartphones. Akhil Nair had worked in diverse roles such as strategy, planning, product development and marketing for the likes of SBI Life, IDBI Federal and Future Group. His college batchmate Bharat Subramaniam was handling strategic initiatives for Times Business Solutions. The two keenly watched how more and more people were consuming content digitally. Video and messenger services were all the rage. Armed with their observations, research and the will to do something cutting edge in advertising, they decided the time was right to take the plunge and go all in. The result was BigTrunk, an agency that offers a comprehensive suite of digital media services specialising on the mobile platform, catering to clients from a wide spectrum of industries.

BigTrunk founders (L) Bharat Subramaniam and (R) Akhil Nair

"When we decided to set up BigTrunk, [it] was just opening up. More people were beginning to use digital content, video and messenger services and social media in a big way. All that told us that digital media was the future,” says Akhil. “This was crucial for us because digital advertising as a percentage of the overall advertising spend in India was beginning to grow as well."

At the time, one of India’s first unicorns, InMobi, had burst on the scene, inspiring the two, convincing them that the mobile phone would shape the future of advertising in a big way. With inspiration from InMobi and the belief that they were heading in the right direction, BigTrunk bet big on the future of digital, a calculated risk that has paid off. In the first year, it doubled its revenue base, and since then has been growing at over 35 percent every year. Today, the company has 60 clients across the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), entertainment, FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), education and retail sectors and geographically spread across India, Sri Lanka and the Middle East. The team itself has grown from just two to 20.

So how did BigTrunk pull it off in such a cutthroat space? The founders planned their strategy intelligently, ensuring that BigTrunk was not in direct competition with the few big players in the market. As Akhil explains, “Our focus is to do quality work and make ourselves relevant by focusing on consumer behaviour, understanding patterns of digital consumption and relentlessly focusing on execution efficiencies. The rest we knew will follow.”

The science, the art, and a whole lot more for clients

In the early days, they pitched to clients asking them to try out their services, backed with the assurance of flawless execution. “We knew that our understanding of the medium, consumer behaviour (on the digital medium) and our buying capabilities were competitive,” reveals Akhil. What made them stand apart from the crowd was that they offered a 360-degree solution platform so clients could get their digital media such as websites, apps, high-end creatives for mobile and the web, as well as managed social media, all in one place, along with core media planning and buying services.

What the founders knew from day one was that digital advertising was a completely different beast, and planning for it was nothing like planning for traditional media. “We built a science into the entire planning process. It’s driven by insights drawn from data, and helps us create and deliver robust plans for our clients. When we approach clients with a solution, we use a mix of latest tools and a scientific approach. Once we had case studies, we grew from strength to strength,” explains Bharat.

Client first, every single time

When first they set out, they knew they were in a crowded field, competing against established players with whom some of their prospective clients were already working. “We have always been competitive in terms of pricing and retainer rates. We knew we weren’t the biggest, but we’ve built very strong publisher relationships,” says Bharat. “An agency is expected to understand the client’s requirements and offer the most appropriate solution. At BigTrunk, we intend to stay focused on this core belief. No solution, however popular, will ever be part of the media mix if it does not meet client objective.”

Today, their clients know exactly what is being proposed and why. Every element of planning is spelt out so they can see the value they will derive. A big plus point for clients is immediate accessibility to BigTrunk’s nimble team, which reassures them that their campaigns are well taken care of. “We take pride in that we have been close to Six Sigma in terms of our execution,” the co-founders say.

Entrepreneurs, not employees

No company can succeed without the right mix of talent, and at BigTrunk, people are prized in a big way. The founders knew the importance of hiring the brightest and best right from the word go. This was a challenge for the startup as and the people they sought were mostly working for large, well-established competitors. However, the promise of working in an exciting new space and a great degree of autonomy did it. “Each of our resources operates like an entrepreneur and not an employee,” says Akhil.

BigTrunk’s business team is split into eight functions, each working on different campaigns. But the working arrangement is fluid and these departments are neither tightly coupled nor working in independent silos. These teams create a synergy, functioning as a cohesive unit to ensure maximum effectiveness.

“We are confident of our team’s capabilities to keep coming up with innovative solutions, and this will help us become more and more relevant in an extremely competitive space,” says Bharat

On to bigger things in the future

Akhil and Bharat have big plans to expand BigTrunk’s suite of services to provide content, including articles, blogs, and videos, all in great demand as people increasingly consume digital content.

Always bootstrapped, they have no plans of raising funding and are set to remain self-funded as they aggressively pursue growth. The goal is to be a Rs 100-crore turnover company by 2021 by growing 40 percent year-on-year. The founders envision this on their ability to retain existing clients, add new ones, develop new verticals like content creation to their portfolio and expand geographically to more locations

While the target may seem optimistic, the growth of the industry itself is an encouraging factor. According to a CII-KPMG report, digital advertising in India is set to grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) or 33.5 percent over 2015-2020. And with a successful track record that has boosted BigTrunk’s client presence in the digital world, the company is fast speeding towards its place in the sun.

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