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Understanding Media & Business

Amol Ghemud | Published: June 17, 2022
Host: Amol Ghemud | Guest: Mukesh Agrawal
Understanding Media & Business

Today we’ll talk about creativity, business development and inspiration with Mr. Mukesh Agarwal, who is the co founder of the MediaANT. The MediaANT is a media buying platform. 

The MediaANT was launched in 2012 and has served more than 1000 customers so far with about 300k plus media options to choose from. They help marketers discover media outlets and channels across the country, from TV to digital to outdoor, influencer and beyond. You can do all this on a single platform within a matter of minutes. 

Mukesh Agarwal, the co founder of the MediaANT completed MBA in finance from IBM in 2008. He specialized in development and acquisition, strategy marketing, business development, commercial due diligence, and strategic alliances. 

Let’s speak with Mukesh about his rollercoaster ride so far, and the evolving media landscape.

Amol: Hey! Mukesh. So this is the first question of the podcast. Now, whenever you create a marketplace, there is always a balanced view of the key between your supply and demand side. What are the problems that you encountered while adding a new media sources on the platform such as newspaper, digital, non traditional or TV? And how did you solve those problems on the go?

Mukesh: So when when various marketplaces were built, for example, Flipkart, there was an Amazon for Ola, there was an Uber personal auto, there was Yelp, and then there was food app at DoorDash. So most of these platforms had some one in the global market, which has done really well, which which they could either get inspiration or copy from.

In our case, it was extremely difficult, because we had to build from ground up and had no idea or in terms of what others have done, and has there have been any success stories. So for us, it also while there is a blue ocean market, but there were equal amount of challenges. So for example, for us, it was very difficult to convince the media houses that hey, if there was a global example, it could make that explanation much easy. For example, a I’m X of that, which we did not have.

So that was, that was something which which made things really difficult. Second was, most of the media houses have been run by people who’ve been in this system for decades or so. And they are not very open to the idea of online. And everyone, when we would say that, hey, building on and marketplace, they would say that we try to cannibalize their business, or maybe we are looking at ways we would be selling their ad space on our platform.

So it took quite a bit of effort in terms of convincing them. And third, for us, there was a challenge that how do we ourselves understand media. So for example, today, we have over seven to eight media verticals, which is digital radio, newspaper, airport, outdoor, etc. Now, each media vertical functions in a different way. Radio has different attributes than newspaper, newspaper functions, extremely different, different compared to television.

Television has completely different dynamics compared to outdoor. So we asked as we were not from media background. So we took a lot of time in understanding media, and figuring out on how do we showcase the information about each media on our platform, so that it makes it very, very used, easy for the users. So I think those will be three challenges which we face, while scaling up and onboarding media houses. 

Amol: Alright, so when you started, I believe you must have started with somewhere around 100, 500 or 1000 media options. And right now in 2021 22, I believe you’re sitting on about 300k plus reactions on your platform. 

Mukesh: Absolutely. 

Amol: Do you have any special reference or do you have any favorite form of media Mukesh? And if that, why is that your favorite? 

Mukesh: Sure. I’ll answer your question. And just to add one more data point, so you said that we have 300,000 media options and other data which I would like to share is we also worked with almost 10,000 vendors across India, vendors these are media houses, publishers, etc. So, and all of this is direct. So we have our team has direct relationship with 10,000 Plus members across India. So that’s the kind of scale we’ve been able to build over the years.

Now coming to your question, what’s my favorite media? So media, obviously every medium serves a different purpose and hasfor different situations, etc. But still to answer this question, I think my favorite is outdoor. Outdoor, you know, you see those billboards on the road. So, as a as a child, I’ve always, you know, I’ve got inspired by these billboards, by seeing ads of, you know, various brands, whether it is automobiles, whether it is mobile phones, you know, Apple, Apple takes up really amazing billboards and have great creatives that sort of gives you inspiration that, hey, what it could be an inspiration from various angles, you could inspire to become a brand like that, you can inspire to have a voting for yourself, one day, you might want to sell the largest voting in the country, things like that.

So I think this has inspired me, it has made me understand various things in the market, what’s happening, understanding various products, brands, etc. And also always being humble, so humble, meaning if there are.

Mukesh: So we still have a lot of growth opportunities. So there are various factors. And according to that, my favorite is billboards. 

Amol: Okay, if that’s the case, let’s consider if you get a chance to put a sentence on a billboard, to describe the media and what would it be and why

Mukesh: I think I’ll go with that tagline, which is ad buying made easy. I think it’s a very empowering line. And it always gives me clarity that hey, you know, what do we do we do this? So that’s gonna be one tagline which we will put on a billboard

Amol: Okay, interesting. Mukesh. Now, if you look at the future, right, the web sea is coming in picture. The media, the online media itself is getting transformed through various channels and in different dimensions, do you bet on any particular form of a platform or a media which could be become very big in the future? Do you do you foresee anything like that happening? at a at a level, you know, where we are right now, this could be from a national perspective, this could be from an international perspective. 

Mukesh: Yep. Yes. So, I think one of the lines, which has been spoken quite a lot of late is the more we change, the more will remain the same. And I can take inference on this line that in the last, you know, 15 years or so, the digital has has come in a big way, it has sort of become the largest advertising mediums, not only in India, globally. And if you look at digital as a medium, you know, it has transformed while it has grown, it has also transformed itself over the last 15 years. So, from Yahoo to Google to Facebook, to Amazon.

Mukesh: And forming itself. So and obviously with so many avenues available, it is also sort of becoming very, very spread out. So for brands, it will always be difficult to reach out to a larger set of audience via online and then make their presence felt. So according to me, I think one category which which has enormous scope to grow from where it is right now is outdoor, again, outdoor advertising spaces because of various factors, I think, one, it it will sort of be clutter from the whole digital space.

And if you look at outdoor as a space, it also has a lot of inefficiencies in itself. For example, today, you really don’t have a data that’s how many people are able to see a billboard there is lack of transparency. The whole operation aspects of it is is not efficient.

And I think with with digital billboards and other transformation which outdoor as an industry taking place, I think in future this will become very big. It may not touch to the amount where television or digital is. But I think from a growth story, I think it has enormous growth.

Amol: Interesting. Do you see a digitalization, maybe playing  some sort of role with the state of billboard, or right now, or do you think they will remain as it is and what you all from you know where they stand.

Mukesh: It will certainly evolve, digitization would be slow because the cost is very high. However, there will be there are two ways of digitization one is digitalization in terms of the physical property itself. And another one is bringing in the data into it the whole booking engine operational aspect of it. And I think the work is underway on both sides.

Amol: Now, Mukesh, when you started the media, and I believe, you know, you have approach SMEs and the startup community to get the engine running, can you share some of the practical tips, which can help the new business development managers that if they are, they’re supposed to go and do this job, you know, what are the things they should avoid? Or what are the things they should scale up so that they can bring in the results quite frequently, and more efficiently than what you have been done in the past? 

Mukesh: Sure Sure, I think, in order to reach out to the SMEs, I think, even today, the online adoption of SMEs is still growing, and it’s still at a very early stage. So at least for the next four or five years, if you want to onboard SMEs as your brand, as your client, one needs to have a blended approach of offline and online by just being online or by just being offline, would not, would not be advisable. So if you look at some of the leading b2b companies, where the SMEs is the core market, for example, IndiaMart, Justdial, Mobelik, like of business, all of them have offline and online presence. And that’s, that’s why they are where they are right now.

So according to me, I think and one of the few things which we have learned over the years and and when we have got inspired from these companies is do not give SEO as a second preference, I think SEO is is is undervalued. And, and you cannot ignore it at all. While in order to grow, you might, you know, throw money at the problems, but do not let go of SEO that we’ve learned in media. And also we there have been times when we were busy doing many things, we did not get a lot of importance to SEO for for a brief period of time. But we always came back and ensured that our SEO is recap.

So I think I think SEO is something which is very, very important. Second is email marketing. There are there are various ways of doing it, you can always build your own database. But nothing, nothing works better than and then email marketing. And also, it’s one of the cheapest ways of reaching out to your audiences. And if it is a third is, which is again, a long shot is content, content marketing, you have to do it constantly. And tirelessly, tirelessly, it will take time, but content marketing is extremely important. Over the years, I think we’ve used a lot of hacks, and one interesting tidbit I would like to share is when we started in in the first couple of months what we did one of the I think it was a great hack, I would say so our our audiences what you know, marketing managers, founders, etc.

So so what we did was, you know, we we took, we put a job posting and that to a page of post posting on imz for a marketing manager. And obviously, we did not need a marketing manager because we were just started. And we did a paid job. So I am talking about like, who are you guys you just started and you’re like paying for a job posting this idea we wanted and our intent was for this job posting, we’ll reach out to a lot of marketing managers came to realize it later and they said, you know, you cannot do this, but it was a good hack. We were able to reach out to the right audience.

Amol: No, I believe every startup need some sort of had to begin with they want to impression at a low cost.

Mukesh: Right and saying few things will work, few things will fail. So keep trying.

Amol: So, like an out, you must be meeting like many many clients throughout your day or you must have met a lot of people any any particular or memorable interaction, especially the client interaction, which you have Mukesh and why why that’s memorable.

Mukesh: Yeah, I think over the years, I’ve had many interactions, they were many which was happy, they were meaningful. They were sad. They were bad meetings, etc. But other meeting, which I always remember is, I was in Bombay meeting this client. And you know, after a point, we explained to them what we do, and we had a good 15-20 minutes meeting. And then he said, Hey, why don’t you come to my personal chamber? So I said, Okay, fine. I went there. And he’s like, I would like to invest in media. 

Amol: Okay. 

Mukesh: I was like, Oh, shit, where is this coming from? And, and we were not raising funds back then. And they are even still today, we have not raised any funds. So I politely told him that it’s really nice of you to, you know, show that face on us. But unfortunately, we are not raising funds right now.

And it’s not that we don’t want to take money from you. The problem is, we don’t know what to do with the money. So. So with that thought we said, you know, whenever we do it, we surely will reach out to you.

Amol: so, so this is what like, 2016 15 14. 

Mukesh: Yeah, so this meeting up? I don’t know how you got it, but it was 2016. 

Amol: Okay. So, so now, 2022, right, and you said you haven’t raised it so far? 

Mukesh: Yeah. 

Amol: Any particular reason Mukesh? Why that philosophy? When the whole world is moving towards the valuation and you know, raising money like crazy. You’re on another spectrum, saying that I don’t need my I don’t need your money. I don’t want to read any any particular philosophy are falling over here. 

Mukesh: It could be not worthy enough, or we were lazy, not go out and raise. But yeah, I think I think we reached out in 2014, or 15. We had, we met 10, top 10 investors in the country. And they were really good meetings. And what we realized is that, you know, there’s so much to do at our end, and all of all of that, for us to do actually doesn’t require money.

So we said, you know, let’s build to a certain stage, and then probably, let’s hit the market again. And since then, we’ve been just busy in building. So yeah, I think both of us may in some ways. We do not have you know, flamboyant, to probably, you know, raise money and spend money on things, which I’m sure a lot of people are. But I think for us, we’ve never figured out on on why should we raise the money?

Amol: If you’re if you’re a positive, and you’re able to still build 100 growth company, I don’t think there’s a reason why you why you wouldn’t need to raise? 

Mukesh: Yeah, absolutely. I think as long as we’re able to, you know, run our ship, I think, we’re not going in that way.

Amol: Do you see a change in the way you’re doing business? Pre and Post? COVID? I’m not sure we are in the post COVID area. But you know, just for the sake of conversation, I’m just calling just phases a post COVID. And if there is a change, you know, how did you cope with that change? Specially, how did you manage yourself at a personal level? If there was a downside on the business side? How did you manage the business brand?

Mukesh: I think COVID was difficult. COVID was extremely difficult. I remember, in the month of March, I think 23rd 24th. March 2020 is when the lockdown happened in India. And overnight, you know, we had 80% cancellations of our business. When we entered the month of April, we were like What 10% 20% of our business numbers. So it was it was a huge hit. But thankfully, we were able to manage our show in some other way. We did not do any salary cut.

We did not lay off anyone. And and that’s when I realized the importance of saving money. Saving money, having great relationship with your partners. I think it just made the whole issue of COVID much less an issue for us. So I would I think we have lovely partners when we were we worked with and they have supported us enormously in terms of you know, giving us credit, not pushing for payments.

And we have a lovely team, though with non salary cards, but then the team decided that hey, you know what, let’s reduce the salary for some time. And once we come back, you can pay off the remaining amount. So in that wedding, the team supported the partner support it, it was it was a great, great time and made us more humble and precise.

And we realized that how important it is to have some runway of money today when the whole world and especially Startups are talking about having 24 to 30 months of money. We’ve always followed that without crippling us. So we’ve always maintained that that, you know, we should always have to use our money in your bank account, so that anything if anything happens, 

Mukesh: people. So that’s, that’s a first priority for us at media and that, you know, whatever we do, you should have so much of money that tomorrow, if you have, if you’re at zero, you can still pay off. So that’s, that’s what we maintain. Another issue, which came up during COVID was, obviously, when you have idle funds, you invest in some of the liquid funds.

So we also invested in and unfortunately, that liquid funds shut in the in the month of I think, April or April, April, or May, I guess, and, and there is no way that you could take money out there was there was nothing you could do it was beyond our control. But thanks to government banks, too, I think savvy, they took charge, and it took time. But yeah, we got the money back. So it was it was quite a nightmarish time at that time. But thankfully, we survived and post COVID I think the growth has been enormous.

We’ve been showered with with with good growth, I think we’ve built a great team. And COVID has taught us that how do you always remain relevant? How do you remain, you know, do not build sat around, be efficient? And things like that. So today, I think we’re able to do things at a much lesser time, in a more efficient manner. So So post COVID I think it’s pretty good.

Amol: Did this affect you anyhow, at a personal level Mukesh? Because, you know, the way you just said, right, losing money through liquid funds shutting down 90-95% of your business, you know, in a flash of September, in front of your eyes, where you have poured the sweat and energy, and you know, what, not for years to build it.

And, and the next second, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you know, I will be with you come to the normal with this, how long this will remain as it is. How do you cope up at a personal level Mukesh.

Mukesh: Honestly, you know, I was fortunate that they did not impacted me much. And I think I’ll give you three reasons for that. One is, I think, the safety net, which we always had, and grateful to have a co founder, like Sameer Chaudhry, who always, always maintained that we should have so much of money.

But I think, you know, having that much of money in the bank account always gave me that comfort that, you know, we can always survive for the next two years. And if, and I’m sure in two years COVID will go, even if it doesn’t, if it remains that way, pretty much all businesses will shut, and probably all of us will go back to farming or do something else.

So that that gave me a great comfort. Second was, thankfully, I stay very close to again, my co founder Sameer so we would, we would constantly meet every day morning while he was locked down. But we would still step out to have a run. And we would we would meet so that that kept me motivated. And it’s very important.

A lot of people say that solo founders is difficult, I can totally relate on why they say that. So it’s always good to have a co founder, where you can you can always discuss such issues, and then be comfortable with. The third and the most is obviously the family support. So so with the with the with the support, which I’ve got from the family and constantly. 

Amol: Do you see any change in the customer behavior engage, like pre and post COVID? Like how they consume? Or how they’re perceiving the media? Is there any particular media source which is performing better than others? You know, pre post COVID area? 

Mukesh: Yeah, I think again, I would go back to the same line, which I said, in our early part of the conversation, where the more we change, the more will remain the same. So yes, clients have changed a lot during COVID Pretty much everyone moves towards digital advertising.

And an offline I can clearly see that you know, a lot of brands are saying that hey, you know what we want to try or we want to do offline again, because digital is giving us only so much and and as as the cost of advertising on digital mediums is going sky high. They’re coming back to various offline mediums. So people have changed, they’ve moved online, but I can clearly see that the inquiries for offline is growing very, very fast.

And I think one of the another example which I can give is, if you look at today travel, you know people are just traveling, everywhere you look at any airport today. You look at any any train station, you look at flight tickets, it’s it’s all around when people are so much outside. That creates an amazing avenue for brands to reach out to those audiences.

Amol: It’s been a decade, building, the media, and how do you see the future for media? And like, where you will go? Do you have any moonshots? Or do you will you be, you know, go based on how the media is going? What are your plans for the future?

Mukesh: So we would want to ride the wave of media and advertising, I think there are a lot of things which are growing like, as I said, digital is growing, outdoor is growing pretty much all 2020s Everyone’s pace is low. So for next three, four years, there’s growth naturally, and then there are new avenues coming up like web three, etc. So, we will write that growth as well.

So, for us, I think we have a good task set out next couple of years, we want to continue to build what we are building bring more efficiency bring more business become much closer and pro company. And as I said, again, one of the points that we do not have any global platform like media and so we have a huge in the global market. So once we have a certain scale in media and certain deficiencies in media, or in India, we will certainly would like to fly me down or expand media and to global geographies. 

Amol: Interesting few questions on the personal level Mukesh? Who are your ideas? And you know, who do you look up to on a daily basis?

Mukesh: I think for various things, I look at various people. And I don’t know how but I have a mental map, which, you know, makes me look at the ideal for difficult situations. Sorry for different situations. So I’m, I’m hugely inspired by our prime minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, and I take the inspiration of hard work from him. Then our MS Dhoni, I think I take the inspiration of being humbled through him.

My co founders, Sameer, for clarity, my father for the optimism. So at any point, any one of the good question one of our friend asked me once is, how do you take a decision? At that time, I thought, What a silly question this is, but I when I went deeper into it, I realized that actually isn’t. It’s an it’s a very deep question, how do you take decision? So I think these four idols helped me in in taking decisions I take in daily life.

Amol: Are there any systems processes, you know, for example, a daily morning routine that you follow, okay, to keep your productivity high throughout the day, or, you know, just get the things, important things, you know done are the difficult things, done, in the first half of the day, any sort of routine which you follow? No, which can can help the audience.

Mukesh: So I think I am into fitness. So I run I play. So everyday morning, I do something, either I go for a long run, or I do I play some sort of sports or I hit the gym. So I think that that keeps me energized all the time. And even in during COVID times.

Mukesh: That keeps me motivated. It helps me in clearing a lot of my thoughts. It helps me in, in creating a mental map of my to do list for the day. For for for the long, for certain situations where I don’t have immediate answers, but during my rounds are these physical exercises that help gives me clarity, to think through it and take a decision. So I think gap sports and fitness is something which which helps me out in being in an easy way. Okay. Okay.

Amol: And do you have any? Like, I’m not I’m, I’m pretty sure you must be reading lots of newspapers to stay relevant and to ensure you are on the top of the media. But do you have any favorite, you know, newspaper that that you cannot miss in a day or a TV show? Or a blog that you can recommend to the audience or any particular movies? You know, that’s the inspiration.

Mukesh: I think I’m a daily newspaper reader. So if I don’t get a newspaper, I have something missing in my day. So that’s the kind of person I am so Mint is my favorite newspaper, because they variety of news it give me in terms of yes, there are times when I when I don’t have much time in hand or other, it’s from the priority.

So I don’t watch many TV shows or movies, but whatever I do, I think I recently I’ve seen we crashed super bummed. And fungi, and I loved all of them. We crash and Super bummed because of the startup stories. Ico. I got to know about Wework and Uber. Sometimes. For for the for, for the simplicity, basically. So yeah, these TV shows in terms of movies.

I like Django Unchained because because the way I watched it with my friend, Gangs of Wasseypur Godfather, I think most of these movies is something which is like a stress buster for me. For inspirations I think I am more towards reading books or the newspaper.

Amol: Any favorite book Mukesh?

Mukesh: I think, for me, the favorite will be Lee Iacocca, the autobiography of Lee Iacocca. I think that’s that’s one of the early one of the books which I read at my early stage of life. That still remains my favorite.

Amol: And then the last question we would like to ask this question to all our guests. So we’ll be asking the same to you. What’s your favorite productivity hack, you know, which you want to share with entrepreneurs and startup founders out there? So that they just they just become better at what they’re doing?

Mukesh: Just to confirm your question is, what is my daily sort of hack something which helps me in completing tasks right? 

Amol: To stay productive.

Mukesh: Stay productive? I think obviously, there are times when you know, you think nothing has moved to the whole day has gone by or weeks have gone by, I also get that kind of feeling many times. So what I try and do that, you know, I break the task into smaller pieces, and try to finish those smaller pieces. As soon as I can.

That gives me or some sort of sort I get in my body that hey, you know what, I’ve achieved something. And then I pick up a medium sized task for a large desktop. So that whole small, small task, completion of that gives me good motivation and I get to do it basically builds my productivity.

Amol: Now, okay, so if the listeners would want to reach out to you or get in touch with you online, where they should go.

Mukesh: So I’m not much of a talker or creator, I’m more of a consumer on the social media. But anyways, I’m available on Twitter @Mukeshag30 and as Mukesh Agarwal on LinkedIn

Amol: Thank you very much for your time. Okay. It’s been pleasure talking to you,

Amol: Thanks Amol. Thanks a lot.

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