Shephali Bhatt
Feb 10, 2012

Profile: “Budgets are less, but expectations are high”

BC Webwise’s Chhaya Balachandran Aiyer talks to Shephali Bhatt about her career and experience in the digital space

Profile: “Budgets are less, but expectations are high”

On 17 July 2006 Hindustan Unilever (HUL) launched a one of its kind social networking website for girls. The members on this site, called Sunsilk Gang of Girls, crossed the half-billion mark in less than seven months. With some 30,000 gangs and more than 200-million hits, the success of this social networking portal motivated HUL to replicate the site in nine different countries where it operated. It also got their digital agency (BC Webwise) a Gold in Abbys under the digital marketing category (March 2007). Chhaya Balachandran Aiyer, CEO&MD,  BC Webwise, believes that nothing has been able to come anywhere close to that victory but she is hopeful that this year the digital outfit will be able to emulate the same success yet again.

Aiyer, who founded BC Webwise in 2000, always dreamt of becoming an entrepreneur. She graduated in Chemistry in 1990 and then dabbled with fashion designing and photography for about a year during which time she got a chance to interview Madhuri Dixit as well.  Aiyer reminisces, “At that time I used to be in awe of journalists. Little did I know that soon I would turn into one myself.” 

She continues, “After these stints with fashion designing and photography, I applied for a job at the Indian Railways and Business World and got through both of them.”  Aiyer took a call and decided to take up the job of a trainee sub-editor at Business World (1991). “That was really a life changing decision,” she asserts.

Aiyer started off with a desk job but was elevated to perform the role of a correspondent within six months of joining the media house.She recollects, “As a trainee, I used to do proof-reading and then manually correct all the typos which was harrowing. One day I went up to the editor and stated that I wanted to do interviews.” Her editor allowed her to do so if she could get Rahul
Bajaj’s interview for one of the sections. “Rahul agreed for the interview and my editor allowed me to go to Pune and interview him,” says Aiyer with a countenance reflective of an accomplishment. “It enunciated how much my seniors trusted in my capabilities even though I was just a trainee sub-editor at that time,” she adds. 

With that laurel in her fob, Aiyer moved on to join Business Today where she spent the next and the last  nine years of her journalistic career, reporting on advertising, marketing and the corporate sector. “At Business Today, I used to cover all the major corporate brands starting from HUL, P&G, Pepsi and Coca Cola. I also covered the cable and satellite market extensively during the first few years of joining the magazine,” she shares.

Come 2000 and Aiyer was ready to finally realise her dream of “doing something of her own”.  She states, “I always wanted to be on my own. So when internet happened, it opened an avenue to get into a nascent market and that’s when I launched my own web portal, (under BC Webwise).” Aiyer could manage a tie-up with VSNL in order to broaden the reach of her portal but she admitted that selling advertising space was quite a task.

Aiyer attributes the failure of her fledgling dotcom to her lack of business savviness around the time of the launch (2000). She says, “It was inevitably the wrong time for starting a dotcom. People were just going gaga over the internet; ultimately a host of startups launched around that time had to shut down.” 

What saved her from further collateral damage was the fact that she didn’t get any venture capitalist to fund her business. “In retrospect, I think I was better off without any major investments because it taught me to work the hard way, and understand the value of money,” she affirms. But she clarified that her relatives (uncles) did invest some money in her business and she continues to seek their guidance in business.

Within three years of being in the dotcom business, she was able to muster talent capable of content and design development. “I started operations from home, got a developer to work for free for 2.5 years before the business started picking up,” she informs.  In 2003, she switched to the agency model completely. 

Aiyer adds, “My experience while covering the advertising and marketing beat helped me a lot when I was handling the agency on my own.  I knew the challenges an agency and a client had to go through and therefore, I could empathise with their viewpoint. I understood that they have to justify things. They might be a Rs10,000 crore company but that doesn’t mean they can pass a Rs 10,000 bill easily. I could explain this to my young team as well.”

BC Webwise has won significant number of awards to date to prove its mettle in the digital realm. These include awards won for work on Allen Solly, Road Movie, Clinic All Clear, Ford Fusion, et al. But Aiyer maintains, “The awards don’t matter; what matters is whether the campaigns were effective and accepted or not.”

Aiyer believes that the time is ripe for digital to flourish and anticipates 100% growth in the coming year. But she simultaneously addresses the concerns one regularly faces in the digital environment. She explains, “People always look at numbers and how many people we actually reach through the medium. The client budgets are always less, but the expectations, very high. That is one challenge we always have to grapple with. This is why we went in for ISO certification. We were growing but we were not able to hire people to cope with the growth, so we got the system into place.”

With that thought, she concludes the interaction on the aspiration of growing doubly in the coming year, and then targeting 25% growth year-on-year.  In the end, she notes, “We want respect and recognition for our work from clients and customers. Neither can we let ourselves get carried away, nor can we let arrogance settle within the team.”

The Flip Side

Where do you live Bandra

What do you do to relax Play a lot of games, listen to music, love to workout, walking down Bandstand

Favourite gadget Not really a gadget person but I like touch screen gadgets

If not the CEO & MD of BC Webwise I’d be a pediatrician

Favourite hangout My home and office

Always in your fridge Cheese

Reading involves Somerset Maugham, and nice unusual books in general

Favourite Movie E.T (Extra Terrestrial)

Music Alternative Rock

Mantra for Life The only time is now!

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