I am a tech entrepreneur based in Mumbai. I secured my Bachelor’s degree from IIT Bombay and went to the US for my Masters at Columbia University. However, my fascination for technology (and a promise made to my father) brought me back to India in 1992. After a few entrepreneurial failures, I kickstarted Asia’s early dot-com revolution in the mid-1990s by creating IndiaWorld, the country’s first Internet portal, which had the most extensive and popular collection of websites, including Samachar (news), Khel (cricket), Khoj (search), and Bawarchi (food). After launching IndiaWorld, I diversified the business to build websites for corporates. From 1995 to 1999 (till I sold the company to Sify), IndiaWorld managed websites for nearly 200 corporates, almost all the prominent names in the country.
Soon I noticed that the companies started approaching us to manage their emails and wanted me to set up a mail server for them to manage all the incoming emails from their websites. While there was Microsoft Exchange, it was an expensive affair to purchase the license. That’s when I created a small team that would set up Linux-based mail servers. We used open-source to set up mail servers on the enterprise LAN. They would use this to manage their internal and external communications via email. They could also have multiple email ids and communicate directly with the people writing in on their website.
We gradually separated the internet business and the mail server business (the tech business). Today, this tech business is known as Netcore Cloud. Since the last 25 years, Netcore Cloud, as a company, has gone through multiple pivots and evolutions to become Asia’s largest martech SaaS company. Today we are a team of 750+ globally with an annualised revenue runrate of over $85 million. We help B2C brands create exceptional digital experiences with various products that help in communications, engagement, and retention. We have been making successful strides for over 20 years and serve over 5,000 clients across 18 countries. We recently invested close to $100 million to acquire a majority in Unbxd, which is into onsite search and recommendations.
Thus, Netcore and Unbxd together are close to $100 million ARR. Netcore has been completely bootstrapped, and is what I call a “proficorn” – profitable, private, bootstrapped and highly valuable.
That’s my 30-year journey in tech: 2 big successes (IndiaWorld and Netcore) along with many failures!
What challenges did the Covid-19 pandemic pose for your team?
The covid-19 pandemic disrupted organisations across the globe. The subsequent lockdown was a primary push for many traditional businesses toward digital adoption. And amidst this, brands started working towards new strategies to reach out to existing, fresh, and prospective customers who were now increasingly online for safety measures. Email marketing has seen a significant uptick in India and global markets. Netcore Cloud’s email and martech business saw very rapid growth through the pandemic period.
The pandemic period also transformed the way we work. Pre-pandemic, we were always in office with most customer meetings happening in-person (especially in India and emerging markets). Now, we have a hybrid working model and are also able to have interactions with customers remotely.
What sets Netcore apart from the competition?
At Netcore Cloud, we constantly work towards building on our vision of delivering an “Intelligent Customer Experience” for B2C brands across all their digital touchpoints. Today, if a brand wants to create a highly personalized and consistent brand message to reach existing and potential customers, a multi-channel marketing platform is an indispensable tool. Netcore Cloud is committed to empowering brands worldwide with its AI-powered full-stack solution – encompassing CDP, automation, analytics, personalization, and product experience.
There are three primary ways Netcore is different competition: our focus on the full stack rather than just point solutions, our belief in combining product with a “progency” (product-led agency) model to ensure co-ownerships of customer KPIs, and a foundation of sustainable profitable growth.
How do you envisage Customer Engagement evolving in the years to come?
The future is about omnichannel personalisation. For this, brands need to have a unified view of their customers – which means a complete and integrated stack rather than a stack stitched together from various point solutions. Next, there is a need for an external team that extends the brand team to ensure delivery of KPIs. This needs a shift in thinking from product-only to progeny. Third, brands will need to build a hotline to their existing customers – because if customers don’t listen to brand messages, they will not come back to the brand properties. Thus, they need to shift focus upstream from transactions to attention and engagement. This is where Netcore is introducing innovations like Email 2.0, which compromise of Atomic Rewards (gamification), Interactive Emails (AMP), Informative Emails (ems) and Hooked Score.
Tomorrow’s world of customer engagement will be driven by a very important premise: To get customers to pay attention, pay them for their attention (else you will pay Google and Facebook 100X more for them).
What 3 things that business owners can do to optimize their digital outreach?
I think of this as the 3 Ps – pipe, partitioning and prospecting. The pipe is about building a hotline to existing customers (winning attention, driving engagement, creating habits). Partitioning is about using the Best-Rest-Test framework to segment customers based on CL (customer lifetime value), and then creating a separate SBU for Best Customers because these 20% customers account for 60% of revenue and 200% of profits. Prospecting is about using acquiring Next customers like the Best – via referrals and smart targeting on adtech platforms. Doing this will help brands increase revenues, reduce “adwaste” in marketing, and increase profitability.
As a business leader, what metrics do you use to define success?
I have a single metric for measuring long-term success. It is the one discussed in the book “The Outsiders” by William Thorndike. That metric is the growth in price per share of my company. It is based on the fact that one of the most important tasks for a leader is capital allocation.
Even though Netcore is a private company, I have estimated that we have had close to 30% CAGR in per share growth over the past decade. I hope we can maintain or better than going forward.
How do you see Marketing Automation impacting the traditional sales and marketing funnels?
The key to building better customer relationships is zero- and first-party data. Data is key for providing differentiated experiences to customers. Thus, what brands need to do is to collect as much customer data as possible. AI can then help them personalise online and offline experiences, especially for Best Customers. It is an idea I call “Velvet Rope Marketing” – treat the Best like royalty than just enrolling them in a loyalty program! Martech 2.0 (which goes beyond just marketing automation and ensure an AI-first full-stack platform) is the key to making this happen.
The data can then also help improve traditional sales and marketing channels. For example, can a brand identify a Best customer as soon as they enter a store rather than at the time of checkout? Can a Best customer be provided exclusivity in their experience? This is what marketers should be thinking about – with data and CLV informing these decisions.
Could you name one person from the MarTech sector, that you would like to see featured here?
Scott Brinker, who has been instrumental in popularising martech through the past years
Could you name the Top 5 apps/platforms that you use for marketing?
I will have to go with Salesforce as CRM, Pardot for automation and attribution, Linkedin for campaigns, Pathfactory for content promotion and Bombora for intent. I believe that B2B marketing requires tools and platforms that align with the buying process and ensure that we are providing relevant information at the right time on the right channel.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to be a Sales Leader?
My advice for all aspiring leaders is to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. A good sales leader should be system-driven and not target-driven. Sales leaders today are expected to be observational, ready to learn, experiment, flexible, competitive, and understanding. The main key to successful leadership in today’s time is to persuade and influence, rather than do hard sales – since the buyer is already quite informed about the product. Sales Leaders have to be able to communicate the value their product offers, rather than just a laundry list of features. For this, they have to understand customer pain points and help their buyers solve those problems and achieve success.