As a student in engineering college in Mumbai, Vishal was excited by the internet, the technology behind it and everything that went with it. While experimenting, he started an internet radio and a teens portal. Trying to popularize those websites led Vishal to his discovery of SEO. Right out of engineering college at the age of 21 in 2003, Vishal started Convonix. The first office was of Convonix was his bedroom with my co-founders Pallav and Sarfaraz and a few other friends who trusted him and his dream enough to join him.
His story is the story of Convonix and its growth. Through the last 10 years, Convonix has grown from a 3 people SEO firm to a 350+ strong integrated digital marketing solutions provider. In 2013, Convonix was acquired by the Publicis Groupe and became a part of Starcom MediaVest Group as its digital arm in India. Vishal is currently CEO of the new combined entity SMG Convonix, which has successfully integrated 3 separate units under one company. Today, SMG Convonix is the largest digital marketing company in India.
Despite this Vishal remains a complete gadget freak. You will often find him experimenting with technology and gadgets. In his spare time, he enjoys a good book or a long walk with good music to relax. He is also a keen follower of the financial markets. The Asian Entrepreneur is proud to have Vishal today in a sit-down interview, as he shares with us his incredibly inspirational and exciting startup story.
What is Convonix?
SMG Convonix is an integrated digital marketing solutions provider, offering a complete gamut of digital marketing solutions centered around search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media marketing, web analytics, online brand monitoring and online reputation management.
How did you come up for the idea for Convonix?
Convonix was born out of the need to market a teens portal that we launched during college. The only effective way to market it with virtually no marketing budget was through the early search engines that existed then. Realizing the power of effective search engine optimization, led us to explore if there was a market for this service.
And how did it all start out?
We started out as three friends working out of a bedroom in our last year of college. We have always moved with the need of the industry and grown organically from strength to strength. We wanted to grow on our own steam and have achieved that.
Tell us about managing Convonix since startup?
It has been quite a journey consisting of several ups and downs. The early years was all about getting the right offering in place, working with limited budgets and getting the business to generate positive cash flows. The second stage of growth had a separate set of challenges – We had to learn to delegate and transform the model so that it becomes scalable. It was now about getting the right systems, policies in place. This was also the phase when our bouquet of service offerings grew threefold. The third stage is about being a tangible presence in the complete Digital Solutions space. The alignment with SMG allows us to leverage the clout of the network, work in sync with offline media strategies to provide 360 degree media solutions to clients.
Did Convonix meet adequate reception?
The first million is the toughest right. Initially the challenge was to convince people at they need out services. This was 2003 and people were still coming to terms with getting a simple website created. A 21 year old telling them they need more than just a website, many-a-times came as a shock to a lot of people then. However, we believed what we were doing was going to help clients. We were just a little ahead of the time for India. We simply changed our focus. We concentrated on a more digitally forward markets like the US and UK. We also changed the way SEO was packaged. We didn’t believe in selling packages based on the number of keywords. We built our own hosted analytics platform and tracked metrics like relevant traffic and conversions, thus being able to show tangible ROI around a service that was largely believed to be a black box to most marketers.
Are there any particular strategies you guys adopt?
The name of the game is knowledge, execution and excellence. In this, there is no competition. We only look to better ourselves every time. A strong research focus, well-tailored strategy and impeccable execution is our only strategy.
Tell us about the industry.
It’s a rapidly changing industry. The only way to survive is to anticipate and accept change. Also the boundaries of this industry are widening every day to include new and exciting things.
How do you see Convonix within the industry?.
Being a part of a growth sector like digital marketing, where rules of the game change every few months, it is extremely important to stay ahead of the curve. We put a lot of emphasis on continuous research and knowledge sharing within the firm. At Convonix research, knowledge sharing and trying out out-of-the-box ideas is a way of life.
This can be seen right from the early days of Convonix. Hitstatz was our own web analytics platforms, created in 2003. Those days analytics was accessible only to a select few enterprises that could budget 1000s of dollars a month for it. Today we have custom platforms that allow us to monitor every aspect of digital marketing for our clients, be is conversions, ROI on campaigns or social chatter about them in virtual real time allowing our clients and us to stay ahead of the competition.
What are your long term plans for Convonix?
Convonix is now a part of The Starcom MediaVest Group, which is the largest global media network in the world. As a small part of the group, Convonix will continue to provide cutting edge solutions around digital marketing and analytics.
If you could start all over again, would you change your approach?
I would probably learn to delegate a lot before I did. Other than that, I think all the ups and downs we faced were a learning opportunity and I wouldn’t change any of that.
If you could start all over again, would you change your approach?
I can speak about India specifically – I think it is a very tough environment. It would help immensely if the government is able to simplify rules around setting up businesses and create an environment without red-tape and corruption – the 2 things that hamper startups. Lastly, I believe our schools need to update their curriculum more regularly and become more industry focused. Soft-skills need to be imparted in schools. Students need to be encouraged to think out of the box and good ideas need to be mentored and supported – This will lead to better start-ups that can help make a difference.Asia, compared to its western counterparts lacks in innovative product driven companies and that I believe is something that needs to change.
What do you think about startups in Asia?
I can speak about India specifically – I think it is a very tough environment. It would help immensely if the government is able to simplify rules around setting up businesses and create an environment without red-tape and corruption – the 2 things that hamper startups. Lastly, I believe our schools need to update their curriculum more regularly and become more industry focused. Soft-skills need to be imparted in schools. Students need to be encouraged to think out of the box and good ideas need to be mentored and supported – This will lead to better start-ups that can help make a difference. Asia, compared to its western counterparts lacks in innovative product driven companies and that I believe is something that needs to change.
What are some principles and values that guide you and your career as an entrepreneur?
The most important is that you need to do what is right. There are difficult decisions to make each day – decisions that are not going to make everyone happy. I ask myself each night before going to bed, if I did what was right, if I was fair today… and if the answer is yes, then however difficult the decision, I just move on. I believe in having the right people on my side and then trusting my team – They are my pillars of strength and whatever is the decision they take, I back them to the hilt because the decision may be right or wrong, but the intent was always right. Without a very capable and dependable team, it would have been impossible to scale the business up the way we have been able to.
What is your definition of success?
Personally I define success as building a self-sustainable organization built on excellence in what we do and having strong values that can survive without me. That was the dream that I always had, from the day Convonix was born… I think we have managed to fulfill it.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
India is a young country and the way to ensure that this country will continue growing is by creating opportunity and jobs. That was the aim. I didn’t know if it was going to be through Convonix or something else, I didn’t know if it was going to be just after college or later in life… I just knew that if I could I wanted to help create jobs and some wealth for others.
What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?
Getting your team right is probably the most important thing that every entrepreneur needs to get right. You need to get capable people, people who are better than you at their job and then make them believe in the goal. Finally, give them the freedom to take decisions and back them in times of crises. Remember, entrepreneurship is a highly romanticized term today. It is not easy to set something up and keep it running. So be patient and have dogged determination. There are days you may want to throw in the towel. Just take the day off. Get up the next day and keep going at it. There is absolutely no easy way to success.
In your opinion, what are the keys to successfully managing an enterprise?
Know your goal – There will be a lot of distractions along the way. Just the goal in sight and keep at it. Get the right team and trust them. A successful business is built on scale, and the only way to get scale is to get the right people and give them the freedom to do their job. Take responsibility for your actions. Things go wrong. You can be wrong. In such cases, accept it and move on. Lastly, get your support structure in place – your friends, your family, your team – These are the people who are going to stand by you and support you when things go wrong, these are the people who are going to egg you on when you want to quit and they will be the islands of strength when you need them.
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?
Just start simple. If you believe in something, go out there and do it. Most often, waiting for the perfect opportunity and creating fancy business plans with an aim to garner funding does not lead to a successful and sustainable enterprise. Lastly remember – No one is perfect. The key is to know your weaknesses. Play to your strengths and get like-minded people who are better than you at what they do to cover up for your weaknesses.
Connect with Vishal Sampat and Convonix today: