Welcome to the UpGrad Podcast, ‘Marketers Unite!’ In this post, Neil Roy of UpGrad talks to Sujoy Golan – current head of Marketing at Unbxd & former Global Digital Head at InMobi.
PODCAST Timeline (in minutes):
- 0-4:00 – Explore Sujoy’s Tech Background
- 4:00-8:50 – Learning at DirectI
- 8:50-10:50 – Transitioning to FlipKart
- 10:50-16:00 – Growth at Inmobi
- 16:00-21:00 – Vision at Unboxed
- 21:00-24:20 – Views as an IIM-C Faculty
- 24:20-26:27 – Parting Advice on Digital
Marketer’s Unite Series with Sujoy Golan
Neil: First of all, I’d like to thank Sujoy for speaking to us and kicking off UpGrad’s, first ever, Podcast Series. ‘Marketers Unite’ could not have asked for a better and more insightful career journey where Marketing and Digital Marketing is concerned. Sujoy was candid and completely transparent regarding the struggles, challenges and ultimately, victories that have characterized his ascent in this domain.
It goes without saying that the world of Digital, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution as some like to call it, is already here and having an impact on businesses like never before. Marketing, has been especially reformed. Sujoy helps us get a sneak-peek into this phenomenon and how it already is (and is likely to) affect how Marketers think, whom they target, how they do this targeting, the medium they use and how they track the impact on consumers, business, etc.
So here goes! Hope you enjoy it.
Engineer in the Making
Neil: I see that in terms of education, you have had a tech background and you passed out of IIM and you got into a few tech jobs after. So if you could take us a bit through your tech background and then the transition to digital or marketing that will be great to start off.
Sujoy: Sure, Neil. Thanks for having me… So, right out of college I did the regular thing – engineering – which so many students end up doing today. Essentially I knew this was going to be setting the trend for what was to come later in my career. This was also at a time when IT services hiring was really big and IT services jobs were the most coveted on campus.
Sujoy: But this did not excite me too much for a bunch of reasons, and interestingly – maybe I just got lucky with it – the first company that came on campus, was Soliton Technologies. This was before the IT guys could come and pick up a huge number of students. They said they could fit in an applications engineer. Essentially, this is somebody who would understand the system, go and make a preliminary solution, which would then get sold to the customers and they said there was some amount of sales exposure as well.
Tech Learning at Soliton Technologies
Sujoy: So I got through. I think I convinced them, came to Bangalore for the job. And again I think I was in the right place at the right time. It was a company where I was surrounded by brilliant people…
Neil: Ok, so there wasn’t any legacy kind of situation that, this is ABCDEF and this is all you need to do.
Sujoy: No, absolutely not. We were able to try out new things. In fact, I said, hey, I would like to talk to customers, have more interaction with customers.
Back to the Student Life
Sujoy: And then I said, hey, the business side looks interesting, and that is when I said OK, that’s maybe the right time for me to do an MBA.
Sujoy: B school is a time where you can get as much exposure to different fields and different verticals as possible. I interned with Castrol – so that was FMCG. Going and understanding a certain sales channel meant visiting markets across the country. 8 different cities on a bike behind a sales rep.
Sujoy: Somebody I know referred me to this company named Directi. This was one of the earliest Internet business pioneers in the country. This was also my entry into digital, I would say.
Transitioning to Digital with Directi
Neil: So Sujoy, once you have entered into the digital space, I am really interested, And probably I would want to do a bit of a deep dive in each of your roles. So at Directi, I want to understand what were you initially there for and then how did your journey there and career there evolve.
Sujoy: So Directi at that point of time was structured into two different parts. One part was the suite of web presence products. When I say that, that means web registrar. And these were products that were not India specific but played on the global stage. So these were some of the world’s largest domain registrars and some of the world’s largest web hosts on the web presence side. The other part of the business was ad-tech, (Digital Advertising Technology).
Sujoy: So the first few weeks, months, were spent learning about digital. I did not understand anything, so I spent time understanding what CPC was, what CPM was, what CTRs were, what would a high CTR mean versus a low CTR. What could it mean? Why do people even click on ads?
It seemed incomprehensible to me how companies could make money by people clicking on ads, because I personally had not clicked on ads. But we understood that companies like Directi, and also Google and Facebook much later, made billions of dollars through showing users relevant advertising and then users reacting to it. So essentially I spent the initial part learning the nuts and bolts. And then started working with customers.
I was a strategic partner manager where I managed a few large customers and was responsible for all business with them. Officially, yes. But what I ended up also doing was wearing multiple hats, working on a few special projects with the CEO and a few other people to get things done. While the strategic partner management thing continued, throughout my stint there I did multiple small projects that I worked on, that was the most interesting part of my stint.
Neil: you want to share a few lines on some of these projects and probably how it helped you learn, it would be great for our listeners as well.
Sujoy: Sure. To start off, we need to understand the business. How do ad placements impact revenue or impact performance? So we would look at heat maps and determine where on the page… Is an ad on the right side going to be very different from leader-board on the top? Is a skyscraper on the left going to be very different from what is below the fold? So these are technical terms, but essentially that is what we did.
There were multiple AB tests running for everything that we tried out. And even to the level of detail to say, ok, if I put a blue border on the ad unit, is the performance going to be different than when I put a green border on the ad unit. And, believe me, there are differences at times. Sometimes there is no difference but you only know when you test.
Neil: So what after Directi?
Dreaming with a Unicorn | The FlipKart Saga
Sujoy: So that was when e-commerce was growing. It had started taking off in the path of a hockey stick in India and I decided that it would be good to do something for the Indian market in the new industry that was making so much of a difference. I joined Flipkart as the category head for cameras and accessories in the beginning, which was the third largest category at Flipkart.
Sujoy: Anybody who has worked in e-commerce jobs will validate that e-commerce is like a job on steroids every day. So it is extremely high-pressure because you are tracking sales of tens of thousands of orders every day and anything that you do, you change a price, you change copy, you add a new product, you run a new promotion, that has direct impact on thousands of orders.
Sujoy: Most people who joined e-commerce around that time came from multiple different industries, consulting, FMCG. Again, it was the time of learning and I think this was again a new start in the sense that I had to go to warehouses, I had to go to distribution centers, look at what the picking, packaging, and shipping lines look like, where could the possible improvements be.
Sujoy: Then I moved on to a role internally – headed strategy and operations for the consumer electronics category.
Growth at InMobi | Becoming Digital Head
Sujoy: I knew somebody from Directi who had just joined this company called InMobi then. Because it was quite unknown, fairly new. And that is when I joined InMobi. Mobile, again, at this time was not the hottest thing in the market. People were still questioning if mobile devices with their small screens would even be used or would have any use for marketers.
Sujoy: This was in 2012. So pundits were still predicting if smartphones would be widely adopted. And there was still that open question about whether marketers would find this medium useful at all.
Sujoy: So that was the start. Then they pivoted to advertising as an advertising platform for smartphones actually. And that was around the time I joined. I started off in an operations role to get my hands into things. This was where I managed all ad operations and campaigns for the Indian market for InMobi.
Sujoy: So I worked with a team who would set up these campaigns. So the campaign setup happened on InMobi’s own ad platform, a known interface where these campaigns would be set up, the ad units would be set up, budgets would be put in, and campaigns would be run but that was obviously not enough. In the world of advertising you need to monitor your campaigns, figure out what is doing well, what is not doing well, and then optimize those campaigns in order to improve performance.
The entire optimization phase could then go into getting feedback from clients and from customers if whatever we are doing is working for them. There is a feedback loop – if it is working, great, if it is not working is there something we can do better? So we would report numbers and discuss these numbers with customers and then optimize campaigns again. However, I had not been in the marketing team ever. I had worked with marketers, I was running campaigns for others, I was helping others monetize, but had never run marketing myself.
Neil: Right. So in InMobi you had kind of the longest time you spent, almost close to 4 years. So, towards that tenure, I just wanted to understand, what was the importance of team structure and when it came to teams, what was it like at InMobi? Like, when you were, say, managing teams or a part of teams? Would you like to highlight some insights from there?
Sujoy: Yes I think it was extremely important because InMobi was not a small startup and it had grown out of that phase. There were people in the US, working with Seoul, Tokyo, and Singapore. So across time zones and different kinds of customers. So there was a lot of learning in terms of sensitization of how do customers behave differently in Japan vs the US.
And very, very interesting. For example, if we sent an English campaign to customers in Korea, Korea wouldn’t mind. Some of them consider English to be language of prestige and they say, ok, even though they do not understand what is written they don’t mind being communicated to, even though they do not completely understand English. But Japan; if we sent a global campaign and it also went to Japan and it was in English, there would be a heavy backlash. They would be insulted that we did not send them something in Japanese but actually sent them something in English. There would be calls to our account managers and to our sales managers saying what is happening. So it was that bad, and that we only learn from experience.
Neil: Interesting. Interesting. So, just so that our listeners connect with the timeline I have kind of jotted that in a flowchart while you were telling me all this, right? So, you initially had a tech background, you moved into an ad agency where you are managing clients, parallelly doing projects, and then you moved into a brand looking at its operations. Then you again moved back to like an agency of sorts with InMobi managing clients and then again moved back to the brand segment of it.
I wanted to highlight this to our listeners. This multilateral environment which exists and the fact that your career has taken full advantage of it. And I think that brings us to where you are right now at Unbxd. Do you want to share your opening views on that?
Thinking Out of the Box with Unbxd
Sujoy: Sure. Thanks Neil. I think some of this was planned but in most cases it wasn’t. It was just about something that came up as an opportunity and then I was in the right place at the right time. It was also moving from client facing jobs to internal marketing roles or corporate marketing roles – but I think what is important for the listeners is whatever is on the cutting edge of digital or whatever new that we as digital marketers or we as marketers can learn. It was initially basic ad tech then e-commerce with the growth of e-commerce in India. Mobile came in and then there was an opportunity to learn with mobile.
Sujoy: Unbxd is an e-commerce SaaS platform. So we work with e-commerce companies to drive product discovery for their shoppers. Essentially the flagship product is Site Search and this is Unbxd powering site search for e-commerce companies. So this is the search bar on the site on the app.
Sujoy: It’s a fascinating space because search for e-commerce, or product search, is very, very, different from the search that Google had pioneered, which is essentially document search, which works on keyword densities, which works on identifying key phrases, etc. Product search has a lot to do about understanding what your shopper’s intent is, what shoppers are likely to buy if you show them determining ranking across these search results, etc.
Sujoy: So it is a complex product but it is a product again that kind of was at the intersection of what I had done before, marketing and e-commerce and digital.
Neil: So the next question that I would want to ask is that as Head of Marketing at Unbxd, what are the kind of challenges that you are facing and what are the kind of growth trajectories that you’re looking at, at Unbxd?
Sujoy: The objective, which is also a challenge as a marketer, is how do you market something that is very, very technology-heavy and articulate it in a manner the audience understands that is not too heavy and it is just not loaded with technology details alone.
Sujoy: Something that I have realized and I have spoken about as well in B2B marketing is that even though you are talking to B2B buyers, they are, very fundamentally, they are consumers first and you also have to appeal to them emotionally, appeal to them and connect with them before just going in with a very bland B2B pitch. So that’s an interesting problem. I won’t say it is a problem that has been solved, but we’re continuously working on it.
Role of an Educator | Visiting IIM C
Neil: Also I think there is a very interesting bend here and like I know that you are a visiting professor at IIM Calcutta… How has the importance of teaching really benefited your students at IIM and why is it more important to teach digital and marketing overall now than so many trends are changing. What is your viewpoint on that?
Sujoy: Yeah, I constantly worry about material getting outdated before the next session starts, which is true. This happened by chance over the last few years. I have been loving the chance to talk to budding entrepreneurs, budding managers about marketing and digital marketing in general. And startups as well. This is a very nascent area and most institutes, Universities, in whatever form have not done this earlier. So it involved setting up, identifying what the course structure should be, what the content should be, what works, what might work, what might not, and then create that content from scratch.
Sujoy: The fundamental principles of marketing which are age-old also apply here. Nothing changes. It’s only the way that we reach, engage these consumers is what is changing, and there are a bunch of superficial things that change, but essentially marketing still needs to be relevant, needs to be enjoyable, and needs to appeal. That is what we’re all about. And this is on the same track, which is what is also my association with UpGrad. This is an opportunity to be part of a new program that was just starting up, and help create part of that course, so which is why it has been great.
Neil: Awesome, One interesting fact that you mentioned, and I think we keep on harping about it but it is never enough is the importance of constant learning and unlearning, right? Because the rate at which digital is changing and new things are adding and digital has become more and more tech influenced. So I think what you mentioned about constant learning is very important, right?
Sujoy: It is. It is. Especially since there is so much changing. So I myself make it a point to bookmark and read a few blogs regularly in the beginning of the day to stay on top of what is happening. While we learn, I think we spend time learning in college or in course that we do, we spend time learning fundamentals but there are still trends that we need to see. There are still techniques and tactics that we can learn so much from. This only comes from staying updated on the topic.
Neil: Great. So Sujoy, before we put a close to this podcast, because you have been talking a lot about different areas of your career and how different components have influenced the growth that you have seen in your career, so any piece of parting advice that you want to give to our listeners before we go from this podcast?
Any particular piece of advice — I am sure a lot of it is floating, but if you could just tell us one particular thing that we need to focus on. If I am a growing digital marketer, aspiring to expand my role towards, say, being a marketing head in 5 years or 10 years, how should I look at it, keeping the current market and industry in mind?
Sujoy: We all need to educate ourselves and have continuous education to stay on top of what’s happening, so that is just hygiene and that’s something basic that we all need to have. But I would also say marketing or digital marketing is not rocket science. There are tools and platforms and theories which we will learn as part of structured programs, but it always helps to think of it from the eyes of your audience, or as a consumer.
While we are marketers, we are usually consumers first. We watch TV, we read the newspaper in the morning, or maybe go on Facebook, we see advertising, we see promotions and some of them appeal to us, most of them don’t. So I think we have got a very innate sense of what is going to work and what is not. So I would just like marketers to think about that first and to be very consumer-first. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and think before you plan your campaign or you launch it and you might see a lot of things very differently. That’s all.