Chaaya Baradhwaaj was among the early adopters of the digital wave in India in 2000, just five years after the first internet service was launched in the country by Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited.
An assistant editor at Business Today at the time, she saw the promise the digital world held for the advertising and marketing industry, which was then largely governed by television and radio commercials.
So, at a time when smartphones were a thing of the future and Indian consumers were only just waking up to using internet on computers, Chaaya took the entrepreneurial plunge and started digital marketing platform BC Web Wise.
“I was aware of brands’ focus on Return on Investment (ROI), measurement, narrowcasting, etc. It was evident that huge money was being invested in Above The Line (ATL) advertising. Soon, I identified a gap in innovative talent available in the digital space and the opportunity to create communities, and the interactive nature of digital marketing and advertising that was not unidimensional. That was all I started with,” she says, as matter-of-factly.
The entrepreneur is now part of the digital advertising and marketing industry that has witnessed only an upward trend. In the financial year 2019, the market was valued at Rs 160 billion, up from just Rs 47 billion in FY 2015 and is further expected to reach Rs 539 billion 2024.
Entry into the digital world
Based in Mumbai, the company offers end-to-end digital marketing solutions that includes creating websites and social media profiles, content marketing, media buying and planning, video production, reputation management, analytics, ecommerce solutions, and regional content creation.
From initial projects like conceptualising a weekly music e-magazine for the toothpaste company, Close Up to Sunsilk Gang of Girls campaign in 2006, which was launched in 9 countries gave BC Web Wise global visibility.
Over the years, its biggest clients include Hindustan Unilever, Microsoft, ITC Foods, Hero Motocorp, Godrej, TATA, Maruti Suzuki, UNICEF, and Park Avenue, among others.
Starting with an initial investment of Rs 2.5 lakh of her savings that quickly depleted, Chaaya had approached her uncles who offered her office space and sustained on her ex-husband’s salary as a journalist.
In the initial two years, she received monthly capital to meet expenses which roughly amounts to Rs 36 lakh and is now converted to equity.
Chaaya states that digital agencies were a new “species” in the market in early 2000s to whom dominate ATL and BTL advertising giants would outsource their digital-related work.
She recalls that there were only a handful of digital agencies such as Hungama Digital, Web Chutney, Indigo, and Dzine Garage who started around the same time. “While most of them eventually were bought by larger networks, I think only Dzine and BC Web Wise continue to be independent.”
Despite having been approached by several larger companies, the entrepreneur was firm on remaining independent, and have flexibility and complete ownership.
Commenting on how the digital world has evolved, she says, “Digital was a nice to have as a medium at one time, and then it became heavily performance-led, to now becoming the mainstay, and more so with the COVID-19 pandemic. The medium facilitates full-funnel marketing where one can communicate to the consumer from pre-buying to buying and post-buying journey, thanks to advanced analytics, programmatic, and platform specific targeting and remarketing.”
The late 1990s and 2000 were tricky years for the internet business which was over-estimated that led to the dotcom bubble and many including Chaaya faced its wrath.
She recounts, “In April 2000, the newspaper headlines all declared that the dotcom bubble had burst globally and I had just jumped into the deep sea barely learning to swim and was now without a lifebuoy. I cried many nights, praying for a miracle, for the first two years. As a journalist, I was used to being ushered in for a meeting without much ado, but then found myself waiting in the lobby for an hour or two to get one meeting in the hope of something turning up.”
While Chaaya has weathered many challenges, one that has remained is being treated differently as a ‘woman’ entrepreneur. “I still do, just that I have learnt to leave it with “their problem and their loss” philosophy. Then somehow work happens and things work out your way, and their problem continues to be just that, their problem.”
Nearly two decades into the business, the entrepreneur states clearly, the goal and agenda to scale her startup 10x in the coming years. “Focus on value added services, accounts with a digital focus, and agenda, brands that have warmed up to digital as a mainstay medium, are some of the things that we are doing currently.”
Regardless of market health, Chaaya believes, “We are all in it together – creativity, innovation, and hard work always pays off, sooner or later.”
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