In our series of interviews with Entrepreneurs, Marketers, Bloggers we share the thoughts of real Influencers about the market and how it will evolve in next few years. Today, we are sharing an interview with an Entrepreneur, Ms. Srishty Chawla, Co-founder, One Source.
Being one of the founders of One Source, the Integrated Marketing Consultancy in India, Srishty is the young millennial entrepreneur taking the lead in driving business strategy for the company, along with taking care of digital and content marketing vertical
She joined hands with Sandeep Rao, and Kunal Rao in 2014 to create One Source, and now dabbles across one clientele to another, domestic and international, in consulting them with their content requirements while simultaneously establishing creative strategies for different firms, individuals, CorpComm professionals and even journalists!
Let’s read about her journey and her thoughts in a detailed manner.
How did One Source come about to be the reputable marketing consultancy that it is?
In a nutshell, One Source became what it is today, and aims to be that much more, due to one reason – we filled in a gap that existed in a very crowded market. That of ‘a marketing firm that could be a revenue centre’, not a cost centre. One that could provide measurable positive business impact on a client’s revenues, which no one else was providing. The rest to be honest, has been our people, our partners, our practices, our principles, something I believe will be part of every answer.
Let me elucidate, but as always, allow me to start the explanation with the outcome. At One Source, we have almost doubled our client base, increased our headcount by 25%, and awarded appraisals to the tune of 30%, in 2020. How did we do it? By ensuring that we put our people first. We walk into pitches and say that we put our people at the heart of everything we do. It is, as we internally call it, ‘The One Source Way’.
We have signed off clientele who have been abusive in nature. We have spent man-years on training each of our people. We pay salaries on the last day of the month (something others consider simple, but allow me to say that when EMIs hit an employee’s account on the 5th of the month, and their salaries come in on the 7th, that’s a pain the Founding Partners have felt). We did not cut a single person’s salary, we did not lay off anyone, and we continued to grow by leaps and bounds during COVID. Why? Because our teams ensured we did not lose a single client.
Our reputation rests on our people. And each of them, is One Source.
What role do you play in the organisation, and what has been your journey so far?
My designation is that of Founding Partner who heads Digital Marketing & Content Marketing. My KRAs are those of the CCBWO – the Chief Chef Bottle Washing Officer. As an entrepreneur, if I had to sum up my role – for the first year, I built the product. That involves creating it, recreating it, working out of co-working spaces, buying coffee for the entire team, and then taking turns to wash the mugs. Now, I focus on building the organisation. Other than the last KRA of washing mugs which I still take up by turn, I am part of a very proud team that now focuses on doing some great work for clientele, bringing some great returns to our partners, ensures each and every one of our people and partners goes home happy, and which makes sure that whichever client we work for, our ethos of #OneTeam and Quality over Quantity are never lost sight of. I cook the food, I serve it too. And when we are all done eating, I wash the dishes too. More that designations, I think of myself as an entrepreneur. I hope that the journey so far is only amplified in the years to come – one where we continue to build an organisation we can feel proud of, more importantly one that people are partners are proud to work with.
Which is the biggest challenge the company has faced to date?
In February 2020, when COVID-19 was a whisper in the winds of the Indian economy, we foresaw the challenges it would bring with it. We knew that unless we prepared, we would be battered, our people would suffer, and in the face of challenges, our principle of standing by our clientele would have to face some very rough weather.
The Founding Partners – Kunal Rao, Sandeep Rao and me – decided we would go pull back on personal goals if the need arose, but the practices we had put in place would never suffer. We have seen a few toxic environments and organisations down the years, and the reason we started One Source was to ensure that what we faced would not be faced by our personnel – no toxicity, no sniping, no office politics, no suffering due to the insecurities of others.
During those days, and more nights than days, the Partner Board spent time recalibrating growth figures, runways, corpus, and more.
Courtesy of course midnight oil (more like very high electricity bills) that flowed thick and fast, we ensured that each client of the 50+ on our roster signed us on again this year. We ensured that the average appraisal percentage across all four verticals – Branding & Films, Content Marketing, Corporate Communication, and Digital Marketing – was 25+%. And we ensured that our quarterly performance targets were hiked during COVID. The decisions we took then have helped us hurdle (as yet) the black swan we find ourselves amidst.
Where do you see One Source in the next five years?
This question reminds me of a question that was once asked to Kunal, my Co-founding Partner, when we launched – everyone says they are integrated, how are you any different? The answer to that question and this one are the same.
Having 300 corporate communicators and 30 digital marketers with 3 films people does not make a firm an integrated marketing agency. That’s a PR firm with a digital arm and film editing capabilities.
In the next 5 years, we intend to continue expanding on our goal of always being the first choice of integrated marketing consultancy that India has. Not the largest (David beat Goliath), but the best. One that continues to keep people and partners at the heart of every conversation, one that does not say yes to a client just because they pay retainers but because it means counselling them.
We intend to double our headcount by EoCY2021, and more than double our client base in the same tenure.
How has the pandemic impacted your business?
The first month of the pandemic really hurt. We had a pipeline of INR two+ crore, which dwindled to somewhere around INR 60 lakh for the AMJ quarter. We knew that the worst was yet to come, yet given smaller consultancies are (thankfully) bereft of the operational hazards of larger firms such as the lack of agility, we knew that if we kept our focus on retention of clientele and people, we would emerge stronger. Some big wins that mattered for us then were the fact that we assured our people that we had a strong runway, that our clientele told us they would stand by us no matter what, and that our management said when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Would we have been even bigger in scale had the pandemic not hit? Of course!
But then scale is not the metric One Source measures itself with. That metric, is being exceptional. Here is me putting on record that we do not wish to be the consultancy that grows the fastest. We want to be the consultancy that does the best work.
We don’t advertise, more than 80% of our incoming business is referrals, and we like ensuring that if we partner with someone, they grow leaps and bounds. As we tell our clientele – our growth depends on theirs, so ‘their growth is our selfish motive’.
What is your primary focus in terms of developing steadfast relationships with your clients?
Here again, I think a single hashtag can answer the question – #OneTeam. Our clientele are not our clientele. They are us, we are them. So when we say one team, proof of pudding is the fact that we have so many partners who call Kunal, Sandeep and me up saying, “Could you please help ensure your team does not follow up with me as many times?”. We flipped the general agency-client relationship on its head and said – we are the client. Which means, if we can’t meet business targets, it needs to really hurt us. No more ‘chase your agency for results’ business. We rubbished it then. We do the same now.
Our people’s appraisals are decided basis how their AuMs (in our case, our clients are our assets) perform. If your work does not improve business for client, why do you deserve a hike? And that’s a question we encourage each of our team members to ask themselves and each other!
Another aspect that means a lot to us is the fact that we are transparent. We say no more often than we say yes. Why? Because we may not know manufacturing, as well as a client in the space, does, we may not know Edtech, as well as a client in the space, does, but in our space, we are the final word. We don’t say ‘YesSir’ to win clients. If expectations are unrealistic, we set them right. Our clients trust us because they see that we may sometimes say ‘Why this, why not that?’, but our work always yields results. That is what drives our relationships. Our partners know that their consultancy puts them before they put bottom lines.
What are some marketing strategies you believe work best for your brand?
This might sound a bit funny, but this is one of those places where we do not practice what we preach. We do not have targets of one-interview-per-founder-per-month, we do not as a matter of principle advertise, and we have let our work do the talking for us.
We get approached by a brand a day at best, one every two days at worst, and these are all brands similar to the ones we work with, in vision, scale and more. This happens because we believe that advocacy is truly the final word in a buyer’s journey. Our clientele refer us, and our organic word of mouth (by internal metrics) has improved by close to 600% this calendar year.
Here’s how we know we are getting it right. We meet with 75+ candidates for each hire. Yes, it slows us down. Yes, we are fine with it. Our clients (partners) deserve the best people. Our people deserve the best clientele & partners.
So for now, our marketing mantra is mind-blowing work, and people who give that metric competition.
What makes your brand stand unique among competitors?
Well there are several reasons I have stated above, but allow me to sum them up in a nutshell.
For our people:
- We know how to say no. We know how to say yes. The difference between the two is as stark as the difference between success and failure.
- We never put them in the line of fire. Until they have erred. And then we roast (read: char) them. Before we start the teaching process.
- We consider their woes our own – financial, family or otherwise. #TheyAreUs.
For our partners:
- We are selfish. And we know the only way we can grow is our partners growing. We are cognisant.
- We are transparent. Which means if we have two options – earning 10% in administration of media spends for a client, and telling them a better way which does not involve spending – we will choose the latter. Because we count our age (as an organisation), in partners, not in years.
- We stand by our partners. Whether it be turning up in Delhi winters outside a hospital. Or working on incessant cups of coffee to close last-minute changes before a campaign goes live.
For our peers:
- We are honest. We call out unethical poaching, of both people and partners/clientele.
- We are supportive. We actually share more business leads with peers in a month, than most do in a quarter. And we love it.
- We believe we can change the industry. But we need our peers’ to work with us on that!