A story about how three common folks from a middle class family from Pune with a sum of 20,000/- INR build a Digital Advertising Agency with a team of 30+ along with some amazing big projects in just a time span of 4years.
Q1. What is Hats-Off?
Hats-Off, founded in autumn of 12th Oct’2011, is a full-service digital marketing agency which is trying to solve dormant problems in the world of digital marketing. Through our service, we wish to provide quality Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Wikipedia Page Creation & Maintenance, Web & Mobile App Development/ Design solutions, regardless of the scale and nature of requirements.
We have in-house capabilities for Development (Mobile & Web), Social Media Strategy and Creative & Design. We have worked with brands like Big FM 92.7, Park Avenue, Exchange4Media, Impact magazine, Raymond, Adventure Island, RBL BANK, Velvetcase to name a few, on different aspects of Digital Marketing.
• Company Size: Team of 30+
• Number of clients/ customers: 57+ Clients
• Educational Qualification:
Shabbir Hussain - BCOM Graduate,
Taher Mandiwala - BCA Graduate,
Husain Habib - IIT Passout in Management
Q2. How it all started? Who all helped you out? What is the story from ground level?
So on 12th Oct'2011, 4years from now is when 3 college going, common young folks, busy in their own lives happy with whatever they were doing, not to forget childhood buddies who came together to form something that would change their lives completely.
This was when Shabbir Hussain was busy with his focus set to be the master in telecom industry working his ass off at Nokia. Husain Habib all set to turn out as a film director & photographer while Taher Mandiwala happy with his Networking skills working with Cisco. That's when Husain one fine day realized that working as an employee would just be a 9-6 job, that too for someone else to give them a happy & wealthy lifestyle.
It was 6months before 12th Oct'11 when Husain called up Shabbir asking if he would be interested in starting a business along with him. Working at Nokia for almost 4years by then he had his focus intact on sticking with Nokia & all he did was give Husain some fake promises of working together & that's when Husain began researching on Business that would do wonders for them. Now this is when the three of them started hunting for new ideas & venture options. Few of the business ideas they dropped before getting into Digital advertising were - Cutlery, Hardware, Glass Manufacturing.
Husain, was giving his everything to find out the best business which would excite them all equally & bingoo! He found out that digital advertising was the next big thing that India would shift onto & he shared this idea with us & this is when we all mutually decided that we should now make a move from our ready-to-achieve dreams to struggle-to-achieve ones.
Q3. Being a BCOM, BCA Graduate and an IIT pass out in Management, you all three Dived into the sea of Unknown (or may be less known, Digital Marketing), why?
It was all need of the hour, at our early twenties when most of other folks who belonged to a well settled family had nothing to worry in their future & the rest had their MBA’s & PHD’s to focus on & get a degree to work in some MNC & be satisfied with their job profiles, It was then when we thought of not letting this stage of our life go in vain & take a risk with whatever we had, this was the time we could make a bigger decision in life & not look back again, we still look back & feel proud on our decision & we finally sat together figuring out what genre in digital would be the right thing to start off with & we found out SMM & SEO where the key players during those days with a very few agencies trying their hands onto it 4years back.
Q4. What was most challenging for you personally during the journey of Hats-Off? And how you tackled it?
The biggest challenge was our qualification & finance back in 12 October'2011. None of us belonged to this space, Shabbir Hussain worked as a sales & service executive in Nokia India & belonged to a telecom industry, Taher Mandiwala worked as a networking solution guy in Cisco & Husain Habib was trying his hands on short film directions & photography. Back in 2011 we wonder what SEO, SMM & Terms like SEM meant. We started up Hats-Off at mere capital of 20,000/- in a borrowed small shop space of 150sqft. having lost around 10k in paying off some wrong shop electricity bill, having 10,000/- in hand to sustain with.
Now let's get onto our qualifications while we started this digital advertising agency -
Husain Habib - Commerce Graduate with no clue about digital, marketing or sales.
Taher Mandiwala - MCA droupout, worked as networking expert but '0' at SEO, Web development.
Shabbir Hussain - Pursuing 1st year BCOM while having never heard of SMO, designing or even the tool Adobe.
Qualification now -
Husain Habib - Champ in marketing, you name the brand & he will tell you the name of the last employee of the company (we call him Wikipedia)
Taher Mandiwala - You cannot mess up with him for anything that's technical, you name the issue he has the answer, the master's in development & SEO ask him their doubts.
Shabbir Hussain - I poop designs & ideas now, they keep flooding out of my head, designing is now my favorite hobby.
Q5. What do you think, is digital marketing changing the way people look and feel products? If so how?
There is no denying that digital is now a part of the three basic necessities we knew in our schooling – Food, Clothing, Shelter & Digital. I don’t remember when was the last time I bought anything without reviewing it online or not purchasing it from the major players on digital. From news to sport to something as worst as Taher Shah’s Angel is spotted, watched & discussed not personally but on digital. We do not buy from stores any longer, physical stores work as a product trail tool, where the end consumer visits to just try their hands on onto the product they wish to buy & they later purchase it online from a portal that offers them a deal they can’t ignore.
Q6. What is your office culture? How many employees are there? Do you take interns?
We are a team of 20+ all below the age of 30years & everyone is a master at what they do. We have kept our culture simple yet sweet - work & play as much as you like, Music, Jokes, Dancing, Yelling & Screaming on top of our voice which makes our neighboring offices & residents wonder what are we upto. Yes we also hire interns & fresher’s & train them, but we always see them leave disappointed because we set them a working culture so free & high that they feel uncomfortable working anywhere else after they have to leave us.
Q7. What are the major roadblocks in this kind of startup? How you tackled them?
Roadblock for a startup which is self-funded & started by three guys who hardly knew anything about digital is the lack of knowledge about the stream & capital limitations, While we had 20,000/- INR in total to begin with Hats-Off in 2011, we lost around 10k while we ended up paying some wrong electricity bill assuming that was ours & which never was refunded by the MSEB. With a sum of 10,000/- we managed to sustain ourselves for a year with 1-2projects in hand for the entire year without any employee hired. This 1 year worked as a learning session for us in terms of understanding the clients, their needs, what we had to offer, what were we missing out from our end & a benchmark plan. From 2012 we bagged in some amazing projects like Nokia Priority, Toonz Animation & hired employees & shifted to a better workspace & things kept changing ever since.
Q8. Some of your learnings/Mistakes from Journey of Hats-Off?
1- Do not hesitate.
2- Worry less about how & more about why, that’s where you will have your answers.
3- Never over deliver, most of them do not like it.
4- Don’t take them as your client, take it as your brand, and you will work on it as yours.
5- Great service is all it is about.
6- Take your own decisions & be firm at it.
Q9. Quotes that have inspired us.
1- Love. Live. Life. - #Myquote
2- Jo kuch nahi karte woh kamaal karte hai - SRK
3- Degree se sirf certificate milta hai, akal nahin – SRK