With 1,53,249 followers, Ramesh Srivats is truly Twitterati. But he doesn’t spend most of his time building his stature on social media. The former adlander is busy creating digital product ideas and selling them to clients instead, for TenTenTen, founded 2010. Shining bright in the company’s portfolio is the IPL Indian Fantasy League, which Srivats, the company’s MD and CEO calls it ‘showpiece’.
@IIT, IIM, JWT, Rediffusion…
Being good at academics meant that one joined engineering for man, and Srivats was amongst them. Moving from IIT Madras to IIM Ahmedabad, he began his career at JWT Mumbai. He spent seven months in Mumbai before moving to the agency’s Bengaluru office - where he was admittedly ‘furniture’ for 10 years. But there were accomplishments to show for the time spent. Client brand Kingfisher was the only national beer when the agency got hold of the account, but was number two across States. “By the time we got done with it, it became number one everywhere. At the agency I also handled Spice, Standard Chartered Credit Cards and HUL, among others,” says Srivats, reflecting on the early part of his career.
He opted for a break when he was AVP, to move to the USA to stay with family. A year and a half later, he joined JWT Delhi to handle Pepsi, among other clients. His JWT tenure ended in 2004 when he joined Rediffusion to head the agency’s South operations, something he describes as his second ‘real job’. He quit the agency in 2008, as EVP and managing partner of the agency’s Delhi office in February 2008. That’s when he felt the need to go solo.
“I wanted to do something in digital advertising but I wasn’t quite clear what. I started a company called Hungry and Foolish Creative Products. Agencies have great creative products, but they are always sold as a service and the client owns them. What we wanted to check out was a model where we get funding and develop creative products on our own in technology and then figure ways to monetise them. It ran for two years but somewhere along the line we ran out of money and I had to shut it down,” recalls Srivats.
Hungry and Foolish had shut down, but Srivats was still hungry. He formed TenTenTen Digital Products.
“At TenTenTen, we create focussed, large creative properties for brands. The approach is like creating a product and getting a brand to take it to the market. We focus more on the idea execution and development. We don’t charge retainers. We come up with ideas that become big digital assets and then go and pitch it to brands. If they like the idea, we develop it for them with their branding and if they don’t I’m free to go and try to sell it to someone else. I’m selling ideas that I already have or in some instances I get a call from a business asking me to create an idea. I don’t take money till the idea is approved and that’s what gives me complete freedom,” explains the adlander turned digital entrepreneur.
Besides the IPL Fantasy League, TenTenTen has created work for Nivea, MakeMyTrip, Kingfisher (beer) and is in the process of creating something for Airtel. He is quick to explain that TenTenTen does not create digital advertising and does not make pitches. Even when clients want to advertise a property the company has created, they are requested to look for digital agencies.
He adds, “We’ve stayed away from creating banners or running somebody’s Facebook or Twitter account, even if asked. One specific time I handled it was during the IPL Fantasy League where we did customer service as we were the only people who knew what was happening with our product.”
Srivats attributes his knowledge of brands and how they’re built to the experience of working at JWT and Rediffusion. He also feels that digital agencies cannot achieve big things in India because of lack of interactions with CEOs or CMOs of client companies.
He explains, “For big agencies, digital has always been a second class citizen in their office. For digital you need tech understanding, otherwise the medium means nothing. On the flip side, I see digital agencies pretty strong on tech and not very strong on brands. They tend to be started by kids who know a little bit about HTML and not a lot more. When I meet clients, many times I see that they are pretty gung ho about the medium. In the beginning, CMOs meet with agencies for interactions but after sometime they downstream and people like the ‘digital brand manager’ take meetings.”
Srivats suggests that the big agencies in the country cannot handle big digital accounts even though they have the businesses. He attributes that to the emphasis an agency gives to storytelling.
He says, “Big agencies have big clients and have digital wings but the centre of gravity is still storytelling. A typical NCD will be between 40 and 50 years of age and made his or her mark by making great TVCs. The guys who joined in the last five years would have the digital knowledge, but guess who gets promoted – the guy who writes the best TVC. It’s a system that encourages TV and storytelling and that’s where the demon lies.”
Srivats believes that the acquisition route will continue in India. Add to that the different approaches to and interpretations of digital: media, creative or tech app.
“Who’s to say what is actually digital. You can’t really see a single company encompassing all of digital, so the way the large networks are doing it by way of acquisitions is the correct way forward. I honestly don’t think making videos go viral is the right thing to do in digital,” explains Srivats.
He also argues against the notion of a separate entity called ‘digital agencies’. His argument? No one said ‘TV agency’ or ‘press agency’, did they?
“The world has changed so much since but we still talk about positioning brands through one or two words. Earlier, you could do that because what the customer knew about the brand was what the brand told him or her. Now, what a person knows about a brand is an aggregate of what around 1,000 people tell him/her through various media like blogs, etc. However consistent you are with your reach, people through this media won’t say ‘those two words’ - that’s why you have to change the science of brand building,” reasons Srivats.
TenTenTen’s IPL Fantasy League for the BCCI is a piece of work Srivats is proud of for several reasons. He says, “We pitched the idea to the BCCI. We sold them the idea and even though there were more experienced players who were cheaper than us, the idea took us through. We had the best vision and implemented it in a month and a half.”
Srivats surmises that’s he has a deep personal attachment to the IPL Fantasy League. The 5,00,000 players that the League has attracted would count among reasons.