Varun Olimattel Talks About E-Learning, SEO and Content Generation

June 16, 2023 | Interview

Welcome to Marketing Lego Thought Leader Interview. Today we will have a word with Varun Olimattel, Co-Founder at White Rabbit Content, about his journey and how he came up with his agency. We will also talk about the valuable insights on E-Learning, SEO, Content Generation and more.

 

Hi, everyone, and welcome to today’s marketing legos thought leader interview. My name is Harshit and I’m the Director of Business Alliances of two amazing marketing SaaS tools, RankWatch and WebSignals. And today’s special guest is Co-Founder of an amazing Bangalore based company called White Rabbit Content, dedicated to creating innovative, E-learning solutions. A big welcome and so happy to host you today.


Thanks, Harshit. Happy to be here. Thanks for reaching out and getting this organized. I am looking forward to this exchange and having some ideas put on the table and going through this with you. Thanks a lot.

Thank you. Thank you Varun. Varun, let’s talk about your journey first. How are you like as a kid and how did you get to where you are today?


That’s a very interesting question. Not very many meetings and interviews and discussions like this start with that. Well, my name is Varun Olimattel, and I come from a small town called Jamshedpur. So, actually, from an SEO point of view, this may be a nice plug because tomorrow is the founder’s birthday. JRD tata. Tata Nagar is what Jamshedpur is colloquially known as.

They celebrated very well in Tatanagar, I think, Jubilee Park. They have phenomenal decorations.


Absolutely I mean, the city transforms itself almost overnight. The guys from the headquarters send teams down to the town to sort of paint murals and just touch things up. Lots of fireworks, lots of decorations, lots of lovely things are installed for the third March. Some of the schools also get involved in celebrating this event, so they do things like a drill or a fire show. I remember when I was in school, we had a fire drill and we went to a stadium in the city where the whole sort of field, the football field, was used to sort of showcase the drill. And it’s a pretty big deal and the city looks really pretty. So, yeah, that’s happening tomorrow. I went to school there and as a kid, I think I was a bit of a nerd. I was sort of obsessed with mathematics. So, most of my time was spent cracking that difficult calculus problem or trigonometry problem. And in maths, it doesn’t matter, right? You can take several approaches and still arrive at the right answer and you could do it in half a page. You could take several pages. But I think I enjoyed the process more than just getting to the answer.
So, yeah, I was a bit of a nerd, but I also dabbled in a lot of extracurricular activities and I would like to thank my parents for that because both my parents are teachers. I say are because teaching is a profession you don’t really retire from. So, they are still active and they’re still healthy. I was involved in public speaking, in sports, even represented my school and my state in a couple of those things. And I guess I was the typical guy when in class crack maths problems outside of class. You know, do naughty things, play as many sports as possible. So, but then the school I went to, which was Loyola School, is a Jesuit run institution. And one of the things they do is and it sort of trickles down from the top right down to the bottom at the classroom level, is they sort of allow the students to expand horizons. And it’s not just chasing the marks. And back in the day, I think you’ll be familiar with this concept of six points right in your boards. If you got 90 plus in your subjects, and if you had like a five points or a six points, then you were considered God, or that’s a badge you took throughout your academic journey.
I think the word that we used to use on campus was toph, woh toph hai maths mai or something in that ilk. But I think the school gave us everything we needed to sort of really dabble into any interest. If you wanted to know more about journalism, and that sort of tickled you at a young age, we had a press club that would, at that level, get you introduced to conducting interviews, asking questions, asking the right type of questions, organizing a team, people, management, and putting all that together into the editorial, into the publication, and then releasing it too. So, another thing that we had, something great that our school offered was every professor, every teacher, every member of the faculty was a moderator of a club, and that faculty member was typically the head of the department. So, the History teacher was the moderator and head of the History Club. So they would do a bunch of things. They would meet on weekends, talk about historical events, do discussions, conduct quizzes, and you had similar things for all other faculties. So, the Geography faculty ran the Geography Club, you had the Computer Science teacher run the Computer Club, and so on and so forth.
So really, I mean, after I finished school, I just want to finish up with this segment, I think everyone who graduated from Loyola, including me, was able to sort of really figure out the vast dashboard of things that interested them, not just academically, but also in the extracurricular.

I think, very reputed school. My mother is from Tatanagar.


Okay.

And my aunt actually went to the same school as yours.


Wow. Yeah. Whoever went there, whoever finished there had very good things to say about really opened the mind up and some very good, long lasting relationships with the teachers. Yeah. So, I finished school there and then, like I said, I was in love with Maths. So, unfortunately, in Jamshedpur, once you finish school, you have to look outside the state for opportunities such as the case over there. So, I landed up in Xaviers, St. Xavier’s Bombay. I graduated there. I did my maths majors from there, and soon after this was back in 2002. So, I graduated from Sanjivas with my maths majors in 2002, and somehow I belong towards the end of senior college or third year college, as they call it. Your bachelor’s. Right. You see a very distinct grouping, and what I’m referring to is essentially the guys who have B-School on their mind. So, there’s a very large group of people towards the end of third year who know, yes, I want to go to B-School. There’s absolute clarity. So they go through the grind of the CAT and the XAT and all the entrance exams, and that’s a very big group, almost 80%.
And that breakup was sort of also to be found in my batch. You had a relatively smaller group, about 10%, who sort of were some of us. You don’t really know what you want to do, but because the majority is leading the pack, okay, I will also do it. So, the 10% ended up going in for that as well. And then there’s a small group, a very small group. I would say the earlier group is actually more like 15%. I think this group is more like 5% or even lesser where you know you don’t want to do B-School right away, and you also know that you don’t want to follow the crowd. I belong, and I was not alone. I belonged to a group of people who fell in that third bucket. I have older siblings who went to B-School, finished their masters, so maybe I had some learnings from that in terms of getting clarity first on where your strengths and weaknesses truly lie and what you really want to do. Maybe it came in from there also a lot of conversations I was having with my batchmates. But I belong to that third group, and as a result, I found myself actually wanting some real live experience in the workspace.
I didn’t have to wait too long. Fortunately, an opportunity came by, and it happened to be in the financial services space, and I grabbed it, and it was sort of an extension of numbers and the world of numbers that I love. So I said, okay, let’s go see what it has to offer and whether or not I can do well at that time, you’re not really looking for the big fat paycheck, and monetary payoff is the last thing on your mind. Obviously you need something to pay your bills. But I think at that time, all of us want to just fill our cup with knowledge and learn. And if that’s something that you can keep going till, I would say you breathe your last, that’s a fabulous life link. But I went to work with one of the leading financial institutions in the country today, and I was part of their sales team, sales and relationship marketing team. So, I started my career there. I started my career in sales, in a manner of speaking. So, right from the cold calls and cold emails, when it was the fad to more sort of refined, more subtle, more less intrusive, rather ways of reaching out.
So, I was in financial services for about twelve years after that, 12, 13 years after that. And I moved around from where I started off, which was in equities and portfolio management and mutual fund selling to other markets like Commodities and Forex. And then I also hopped on across the banking side where I was part of a company that was started by Merrill Lynch, DSP Merrill Lynch in partnership with India Infoline, where it was in the consumer lending space. And funnily, this was 2007, early, very early 2007, one year before the subprime crisis hit the world as such. But the point I want to make here is whatever is happening predominantly in the fintech space today, which is essentially consumer lending, lending and loan dispersal, is something that I was actually involved with in 2007. I mean, it’s an idea before its time and I think even the tech has evolved compared to what was available at that time. So, I think today is where it is primed to see more growth. And it already has a manner of speaking. And that actually was my first startup. I was the first employee there and part of the core team.
And we did set up a decent structure, we had great processes, but again, bad timing, I guess in hindsight, no one saw it coming. And after that I sort of took a break for a bit to pursue my higher studies. So, that’s actually when I went to business school. This was 2010, so I worked from 2002 till about 2010. And then I had sort of developed my faculties and my strengths and my personality as such. So, I just want to link it back to what I said earlier. I went to the Asian Institute of Management in the Philippines. I was there till December of the following year, 2011. And during that time and a little while after, I sort of took a step back and sort of wanted to see because I was out of the market. Despite being a program meant for working professionals, like the one year program that ISP has where you want to get back out there as quickly as possible. I sort of felt that there was a change happening in the industry and everything was moving to the online space. So, digital was the trend, the new trend.
So, I found myself actually in a bit of a spot because I had very traditional skills in the offline space and the old way of doing things. And that’s essentially what I came out of B-School with, but armed with a new sort of perspective on things, as it were. I remember at the very beginning of digital, the stuff people were doing, the early movers were actually Facebook ads and just managing a Facebook account or a Facebook page or setting up a website and doing some very basic stuff in the AdWord space compared to what it is now. It had very humble beginnings, and like you rightly said, there was nothing dedicated, not even like an elective or some expert to come in from the outside to give you a talk on it. So, that’s something that there were a lot of conferences that were being organized in the industry. I remember I attended a few by CMS Asia, and that was great, actually. That brought the folks together under one roof in a room, you know, the early movers, guys who wanted to be part of it, guys who are already part of it in some small way, to have conversations about what’s happening and what should we expect, and other conversations.
So, like with any new trend, it’s the initial set of discussions that are actually worth attending. The rest of it then becomes more repetitive, and the incremental benefit is minuscule. So, I think most of the learning actually came from that and conversations with people who are in the space. And again, how you network and how you reach out to someone also has matured. Right? You take LinkedIn, for example. Today, I can reach out to somebody without knowing them, with a small introduction. But back in the day, ten years ago, how would you do that? Right. You would have to have these connections online, sorry, offline, and then via get somebody’s email, and then cold email that person because you couldn’t cold call that person because they would get upset and it would be intrusive. A lot has happened in space. And that’s when I decided to actually… I was sort of convinced that digital is the space to be because everybody is moving there. It’s an industry wide, organization wide movement, as it were. I had some conversations with some folks who are doing some very interesting stuff in the training space. On the digital side, I conducted my own sort of analysis on who’s doing what and pricing and all of that, and I finally decided, okay, let’s take the plunge.
So, I actually took the plunge into digital in 2013, 2014. I was part of a small boutique agency based out of bombay, and we were doing digital media, digital marketing, and again, in 2014, you had very little, again, to sort of get busy with and execute. And what I mean by that is essentially, on the supply side, you had a lot of stuff to do, but on the demand side and on the demand side, I mean, when you talk to clients and have conversations with them, the offtake was very slow. I found that conversations around just having an online presence and keeping that live and keeping that constant was a difficult conversation to have in 2014, you know? Yeah. So, you know, even if we were talking to somebody about starting their own property and not just saying, okay, hey, we are so and so we do this, this not just doing that, but actually doing something more, which is community building, solving problems, starting conversations. It was a very long cycle. We had some successes, and again, some of the larger successes involved doing some very basic stuff for companies who had seen the light and who had turned the corner with the decision on digital.
But then again, we weren’t doing broad based stuff for them, we were doing very basic stuff. And then it was more about managing resources, which is again a very important aspect of running an agency at a company, managing people. So, resources could be people, could be budgets, operations, quality, etc, etc. Right? So, I was involved with that. And then of course, I found myself in Bangalore two years later, where I was part of a consumer electronics company based out of China. They had a setup here in Bangalore and I sort of went in there and headed up their social media strategy as part of their larger digital Markom operations. And soon after that, I think I was part of a two decade old agency known very well for their public relations practice, but they had fledgling digital media and social media operations. And then again, this was 2018, 2017, 2018, four years after I had taken the plunge into digital. And now is when more clients are saying, okay, I want to be online. So, I went in there to head up their digital and social media practice.
It was a short stint, but relatively successful because there was a lot of demand and there was a lot of interest and we had a pretty good team to execute on these strategies. And our clients were sort of varied. We had guys from the education space, we had guys from the outsourcing space. So, that was a good stretch of time along the journey to sort of be part of a team, set up, build up and scale the business. And then what happened was I was sort of also toying with the idea of going back to doing something on my own because before B-School, I was part of my first startup. That was back in seven and now we are in 2018. This was a time when I also got married. And my wife is very important, sort of has important skills in the E-Learning space. She is an instructional designer. So, we were having conversations about what we could possibly do. And both my parents I mentioned earlier were teachers. So, from a pedigree point of view, I felt okay, education and E-Learning is an interesting space to be in. So, we decided to take the plunge and start White Rabbit Content that happened in January of 2019.
Just quickly, if I could just touch upon White Rabbit. I think both of us were sort of taken by the story in Alice in Wonderland. And of course that is the source of the name. And basically there’s this plot in the movie where Alice thinks she’s hallucinating and is she seeing the rabbit, is she not seeing the rabbit? But then she finally sort of gives in to her gut and then what she discovers is a world of humour and these creative creatures and magic. So, that’s essentially what our ethos is, where we want to create something magical, we want to create something great for our customers. We are creatively inclined, we love connecting with people, creating relatable content, making it more human. And that’s essentially the ethos and what we wanted to bring into our culture. So, we launched the company and the first year we sort of went broad. We did a combination of purely digital media offerings as well as E-Learning. But then towards the end of the first year, we realized that the E-Learning business is showing signs of success relative to the digital media, digital marketing vertical. And come 2020, which is when the Pandemic hit, we were anyway sort of taking a decision in Q4 of 2019 FY 20 to sort of pivot on E-Learning and dig deeper in that space.
And actually 2020 was a blessing in disguise for us because of the sudden nature of the Pandemic. There was this mass demand for moving learning content from existing platforms to platforms that could manage a large traffic as well as move offline content online as quickly as possible. So, 2020 was a good year for us, actually a great year for us. We doubled our revenues year on year and we also were able to grow the team. So, that was great. We also had some interesting conversations with folks in the E-Learning space and we’re hoping that; that can continue. And of course, over the last six months or so, we have been involved with developing education products because all this while and we’ll come to this, I guess in your following questions. We were in the services space, but we wanted to be in the product space as well. So, the last half a year or so has been dedicated to setting up and developing educational products. So, we enter the B2C space and sort of run that as well.

Perfect. What is the typical client journey in your company? How exactly are those first 30 days to be precise, like and what processes do you have in place?


Right, I would say, see, before I talk about the first 30 days, let me actually say that the pandemic has also refreshed every way we do business, right? Initially, let’s say if you look at the contract tenure, for instance, even something as basic as that, if you’re running an agency, you will prefer to get into, let’s say retainers, annual retainers, because there are world of benefits, right? There’s visibility of earnings. You can grow your team without, let’s say, taking on a lot of risk. Also, hiring people is a challenge. Hiring good people is a challenge. And you don’t want to be churning out mediocre, quality stuff to clients because reputation is at stake. Now, finding those people who can really do great work is not easy, and they don’t come cheap. And why should they come cheap, right? If you’re great at your work, why should you undersell yourself? Or why should the company discount that? Now, why I’m mentioning all of this is the pandemic sort of reset all of this. So, while pre-pandemic, we were signing retainers for a year, even two years, the contract tenure now came down to a quarter.
So, we were literally running retainers that were as long as, let’s say, a project, and then every quarter we would have conversations on whether you want to extend, etc, etc. So, those were some underlying challenges that were increased.

Right. So, the new business that was coming in also must be helping you with the cash flows.


Oh, yes. It was important to have your BD engine running almost at its best, because this was also a time when folks took their time to evaluate budgets and deployment. And some of the companies, some of the organizations, let’s say a large number of organizations, dealt with it differently. I’m digressing here. But typically, some of them ended up selling a lot of office space, freeing up cash flows from there. Again, work from home was brought in to free up some cash flows. But, yeah, the BD engine had to be running almost at breakneck speed to ensure that, given the risk that came from reduction in retainer tenures, you could still sort of sustain. But coming back to your question, I want to just put that in perspective so that there’s some context here. So, the first 30 days typically would involve investigation right at the very beginning, because when we would start conversations with clients, they would be in a separate position or a separate point in their chain of activities. So, it was very important to decipher as to where they were and what they needed help with. Some were sitting at the very start of the journey where they had a load of raw data, but they didn’t know what to do with it.
Some guys had some raw data and some finished data. They had the tech teams for it, and these were guys slightly higher up the chain, but they didn’t know or they sort of needed help with analyzing the raw data and sort of formatting it and presenting it and packaging. It is in a format that the end user could consume in a way that you saw some of the metrics also come through, which is engagement, learning and all of that. So, the first step always involved investigation and interacting with the folks who were, you know, the, the owners of that point. And then, of course, once we figured out what the problem was, we would ideally do a gap analysis and understand, okay, this is where you are, this is where you need to be, or this is where you would like to be. So, let’s figure out what are the things that we need to deploy to sort of bridge those gaps? Is it a system that we need to build out for you? Is it already made off the market thing that we need to purchase? Is it a person or a team that we need to train?
If you have an in-house team of writers, then should we train them in instructional design or how to assimilate the information so that would happen next? And then of course, we would figure out what the problem statement or what the objectives are or what we call learning objectives in the industry, right? So, let’s say you create a program. What is the objective of this program? Right at the end of this program, the learner or the end user should be able to do XYZ things or they should be able to comfortably, let’s say, liaise with a client and depending on the industry or in the objectives would vary. And then of course, this is where the next space is where we would say, okay, these are a few things you can do. But one thing that would be part of this phase, this step is understanding what the client’s budgets are. Because honestly speaking, that drives everything, right? Because in the E-Learning space you can make something as dry as a code of conduct booklet, which is very dry content. It’s just pages, page after page of just text right into a very interesting learning module, which is a project that we did, in fact with animations and gamification and all of that.
But that is on the higher side of the pricing spectrum. It does cost much higher than, let’s say if you were just creating a static file, like an animated PPT for instance. So, that would be on the lower end of the pricing spectrum. So, depending on the client’s budget, we would say, hey, this is what you can do, but this is also what you can do with a higher budget. So, we need to understand where your comfort level lies. And those were discussions that took the longest because we met clients who genuinely didn’t have the budget, in which case we just sort of helped them out with the best value that we could give them within their constraints. Some clients were apprehensive about exhausting larger budgets. But then the value is that you have a demo run, which we used to do to give them a sense of what the actual product will look like should they sort of loosen their purse strings a little more. And once they were impressed with that, once all the stakeholders had some sort of a buy-in, then we would sort of roll out the project and then it would be smooth sailing after that in the nature of the project.

I’m curious, is it more or less like a one time thing or the clients were actually in a recurring cycle, right?


So, let’s say when you’re with an agency and a client comes along and says, hey, I want social media or ads or paid media, now that’s something you can say, okay, let’s look at it from a year. Let’s have a horizon of a year in the E-Learning industry. It takes on a slightly different form in the E-Learning space depending on the client’s requirement and the volume of work. It could be a project which would last 45 days or it could be something that could keep you busy for let’s say, a year or even more. Now it all depends on the quantum of work, the volume of work and the stuff that the scope of work entails. And where we sort of positioned ourselves was in the content arena. We said we are specialists in the E-Learning space because we understand how to assimilate raw content, cull the usable content from there and build an engaging platform with that culled content to really give out to your end user. And the rest of the content you can feed to them as, let’s say, good to know, or something that you can give it to them, give them in another form, either a PDF, downloadable or whatever.

Varun Olimattel
Now we had a combination of things. So, we had clients who we would work with just to sort of recreate the content and hand over the stuff to them. And those were relatively shorter engagements because, let’s say they would have a tech team or an animation team that would bring the content to life and then we would sort of initially handle them and work with their teams. To ensure all the QC is intact, they would deploy it at their end and move to other types of engagements where clients needed help from start to finish. So, it was a turnkey thing where we did not only content creation, but also building panels, animating, building out the design if there were characters involved and running that slew of activities. And then of course deploying it on a platform, on a tech platform to actually breathe life into the end user or sort of building out that software. So, those projects sort of took us longer. And like I said, in 2020 we had projects, large volume projects. I say projects because they were one client or two client bases, but a huge volume of work to do in the scope which actually kept us busy throughout the year.
Those projects are challenging to come by, but if you have conversations with, let’s say, specific folks in the B2B space, which are your educational institutions, even the government has certain projects that involve building training programs for folks in the government, bureaucrats, etc, etc. Those tend to be very high in volume. So, those will keep you busy for longer periods of time. So, we had a combination of both of short projects which would be, let’s say 45 days to a quarter long, as well as work that we would be doing for a client for over a year and a half or so.

And since when you’re involved with HubSpot, you understand inbound and practise it, right? So, let’s talk a bit more about the core USP of the company content generation. How do you go about planning and executing content for your clients, what that process looks like, and keeping that SEO angle in mind, how do you go about that?


Right, one quick comment here. Hashit I would like to do is, see, the content that we create for our clients is not your typical, let’s say, stuff that you would do, let’s say, for a client who wants to create a digital presence and maintain that digital presence. Now, our clients are organizations, educational companies, etc. Companies in the B2B space who are creating products for their end consumers. Now their end consumer could be again an organization or someone like you and me who let’s say goes to a HubSpot and does something from their HubSpot academy, or we go to a Udemy and buy a course over there and quickly upskill. Now, that content vastly differs from the content that you would do, let’s say, as part of a scope as a digital media agency, right? The content there is essentially called learning content. So, when we work with clients on the content side, we are looking at a variety of types and formats. We are looking at technical content or non technical content, hard skill, soft skill, etc, etc. Now, for instance, if you’re teaching somebody how to play squash, the shot is a forehand.
Now that content is going to be vastly different to when you’re, let’s say, writing a blog for somebody saying hey, these are the top five or a top ten mobile apps to manage your finances, right? So, the SEO element is a lot more, let’s say, intertwined strongly with that listicle bucket than it is with dealing with this technical form of content. That being said, and of course you can extrapolate if you take this to the manufacturing space, you can take this to the banking and financial sector, you can take this to the automation sector. So, it will take on a completely different shape in terms of SEO. But that being said, there are of course very specific things that are common to what you would do for both. So, for instance, there are certain terminologies that you have to use which are well known. That is how it is accepted in the industry in those circles. So, you have to use that when you’re building out these programs. And it’s a bit of a tricky situation because at the end of the day, if your learner, see, ultimately it’s like a classroom, right?
In school the teacher has to cater to the lowest common denominator, right? There is probably going to be somebody in that class who is very, very sharp and is in the medium segment and is, let’s say, taking his or her time to understand the concept. That’s absolutely fine. But the true test is whether that third guy or that third student gets your concept and therefore simplifies. It is something that is really the challenge there. But in terms of deploying some of the content that we used for our own marketing, we sort of straddled between both because we had to use certain terminology that is of course used in the industry but also qualify for certain terms that drive search. So, some of the stuff that we would do is of course we like to keep things simple and then sort of build on that as we went along. So, it all start, I mean, we did a combination of things, for instance, building out keywords, so short tail, long tail keywords, looking at what the competition is, what our competitors are ranking for and being able to sort of dovetail that and incorporate some of those learnings and findings into our content creation strategies.
We were able to sort of put out some of the content in a variety of buckets. So, we did evergreen content which is something that you can just repurpose every year. We did some original content. We did stuff that we felt based on our conversations with industry and folks from our space were real problems. So, we did some mailer activities based on that and that actually sort of led to some business soon after that campaign was run. So, a variety of things sort of help us drive it via the SEO, the SEO parameter.

And what are the main KPIs that you keep track of? I would like to know in both the spaces when you’re working for an E-Learning point of view as well as when you do it for your agency as well.


Right? So, one important aspect for judging whether something has worked or not for some of the stuff that we do for our clients is now it falls in the qualitative as well as the quantitative. Now on the quantitative side, you can do a bunch of things and some of the stuff that we did was build in assessments and quizzes and tests where we were able to build, where budgets allowed us to build more high end projects for more high end products. We were able to gamify things and bring in elements that would indicate that someone is learning. There is a learning curve, the engagement is happening. So, there would be things like a leaderboard embedded in the system that would automatically almost instantly tell you the performance of the test taker. On the qualitative side, of course, that’s on the quantitative side for customer engagements and of course on the qualitative side once we would sort of turn over the quantum of work and content that we have created to the client. They would of course run their own internal appraisals and performance meetings where they would understand whether someone has gone through the program.
This is what, you know, what they were at before the program and after the program. This is where they are. So, that is something that they would run internally and we would see a market sort of change and increase in terms of the learning curve. Again, depending on the format that was used to drive that program and many times that data would be used to tweak what we had done to sort of tweak it for engagement, for increase in engagement. On the internal front, as far as we’re concerned, I think what we would really work on is what we would really consider great criteria was comments and discussions started based on the content that we published from time to time and some of the things that you would do on social, for instance, either an infographic or an industry piece of data. So, for instance, we would look at, let’s say on Instagram, we would look at the number of shares or saves rather even if, let’s say the comments were few or the discussions were few, the save criteria is something we looked at. So, depending on what the content was and what the engagement or what the engagement type was rather we would say okay, this is what is doing.
Well, this has been relatively higher for this sort of content. So, let’s do more infographics, let’s do more of how to content. This blog is generating a lot of discussions and comments. Someone is saying that, okay, we did a, let’s say a listicle on how AI could help E-Learning and that space is again maturing and evolving every day. So, someone from that space has written to us and said hey, what do you think about this? So, it would start there and of course those discussions would then move offline at some point and go into a space where we’re talking about potential engagements at times. So, it would have an online component but it also would have an offline component. So, that would be another criteria or another KPI that we would look at and track which would eventually again flow into, let’s say the funnel, the sales and marketing funnel as it were, or the BD engine as it were. So, those are some of the things that we would look at.

What’s the process of keeping the content fresh? Say for example, how do you say from your KPIs you derived that this particular content piece is not that engaging. How do you go about improving that few tips related to that?


Right, see, I think I would borrow and I’ve been saying this also to everyone I meet. The concept of design thinking is I don’t think it only is something that you can apply to UI UX design. I feel the concept of design thinking it might be a crazy, weird, creative way of looking at it, but so be it. I love the fact that when you design UI UX platforms and work and projects, you keep the customer pain point at the centre, right? And in fact, most of the firms, most of the startups, most of the companies doing really well today and who will continue to do well are our guys who keep the customer at the centre and their problems at the centre. That’s something I borrowed, we borrowed from the UI UX world and applied it to what we do. And that’s essentially what helps us with even content strategy discussions. We look at what are the problems that the industry is facing, what are the problems that a learner is facing, and not just from an not just from an industry or an organization point of view, but also from an individual point of view, because it’s very democratic.
Now, you and I want to learn something that we have never, ever believed that we would. Sometimes we don’t even know what we want, but we surf and we browse and then this looks interesting. We read an article there. I mean, now lots of stuff going around NFDS now an artist or a musician or someone in the creative space can actually get in on that. But how do you do that? How do you monetize something that you’ve created, especially if it’s an original piece of content? Now that’s something you and I can learn today. So, the individual has become very important, and the individual has a lot of information to give you. If you just ask, how can I help? Right? If you just ask, tell me what’s bugging you? Tell me what’s bothering you, what are your problems? So, I think internally, we of course keep having these discussions. Some of them will come through from clients, from customer engagements, right? It will be so apparent because it’ll just stare at you while you’re doing a project, and then you’ll start having larger discussions, macro level discussions about really, I mean, this is something that should be considered.
For instance, I’ll give you an example. While we were doing a project for a client, we realized that because of the scale of the engagement, it was a multi vendor, multi team, multilocation, multi everything project. It was a mess to begin with. So, the actual first step was, like I said, investigation. The very first step was just understanding what the teams have to do. Because if there’s no congruence, if Team A doesn’t know what Team B is doing, or if Team B is not talking to another team, it’s going to crumble and fall. And that essentially was one of the initial problems that we had to solve. So, we asked the questions, okay? We asked the question, what’s wrong with this structure? And we realized that it all boiled down to the absence of one singular training manual that caters to all stakeholders, right? And that was missing. So, we created that. We offered to create that for our client and they were happy to allow us to do it. We did it purely pro bono. It was something that we did because we felt that it could really enhance the efficiency of the project and just reduce the stress levels of the team because that was again playing its own part in creating sort of further complicating things.
So, we created a training manual that cut across all teams. Now, that’s part of content strategy, right? When you’re doing a piece of work and then you realize that, okay, hey, this is a problem you created. Now, it may not have been something that made you laugh or say, yeah, I get that, but it solved problems. It solved a problem. So, of course internal discussions were part of it, but we also had discussions and conversations with people who were in this space, not just in India, but also overseas, and found out what’s happening there, what are the trends, where is the market looking? And of course, some of it also was driven by research. There’s a lot of information and insight that comes from secondary research. HubSpot was able to sort of help there as well for a time. And we sort of put it all together and we just say, okay, this is the content bank we have now. What’s the best way to sort of put this out right? And to make it relatable? Because again, you’re coming up against attention spans and other challenges. So, again, we wanted to make things relatable to humans and of course, build a community around our problems and then bring people together to help solve these problems and derive user generated content through and understand what people are saying and what people are suggesting as well.

Because a lot of marketers actually make this mistake. And sometimes the problem is so simple when you talk to the people using that particular piece of content and just check with them instead of just barely looking into the analytics matrix or just taking the time spent is so low and according to just talking to people just opens your eyes so much, you can actually diagnose deep down and solve that problem.


Yeah, absolutely. One point I forgot to mention was one very important group of people that we had conversations with were learning and development executives in the training space, in educational firms and E-tech firms. Pretty much like what you’re doing here, right? What are we doing here? You reached out to me, we’re talking, you’re understanding what I do, I’m understanding what you do. I’m talking about my problems in space and possible solutions. So, like I said, it’s so easy to do that today, provided you’re open to that and that collaboration and that exchange. It’s so easy to just reach out to someone and say, hey, can I just talk to you and understand what your top three problems are, right? What are you facing in terms of the problems you’re facing in terms of engagement, in terms of content, in terms of systems, in terms of tech? Let’s just talk about that. It can be an open ended discussion. It doesn’t have to be, you know, that it doesn’t have to have an incentive or anything to it because I think that’s something that a lot of us also missed in 2020 and also in 2021.
Right? So, I think that came back in a different avatar, as it were. But yeah, what you will learn from a human cannot be replicated through a face to face, cannot be replicated if it’s done through a face to face, etc. You can always automate and build out for some of the more menial, repetitive tasks, but what you will learn from a human is irreplaceable. So, that’s something that we sort of impressed a lot of importance on.

Got you. Next question is a bit out of context here, but have you used AI for content generation and what was your experience at that?


I have actually. So, HubSpot has a few. Then I think we use some tools from this company called Co-Schedule and there’s a bunch of other things that are also there, I think form content.

Or just because I know in my experience AI produces good content pieces. If you need a small paragraph or bit of intro, you’re just saying hard copies, etc.


Right?

But I never really had a very pleasant experience creating a long form content.


Using I would agree, I agree completely with you. I think the efficacy of AI driven tools is limited at the moment and I’m sure the creators of these tools are working on that to make it a lot more efficient and a lot more usable and a lot more error free, rather. But I agree with you in that let’s say if I need a headline with, let’s say, the right keywords for a specific topic, I found that if it’s just that specific task, it is small relative to, let’s say, a 300 worder, a 500 word or 700 worder blog, it does okay on that front. Also because of the sheer number of possibilities it throws up. So, it sort of alleviates the headache of iterating on that headline. But again, like you said, in terms of generating error free cohesive content in the long form, I don’t think the tools are there yet. I’ve used a few, but I think you will still need manual intervention at this stage. So, I hope they evolve and become more mature. But then again, some things are meant to be the way they are. I just feel that just because you have the tech for it, you need not solve every problem that exists out there.
With tech. Certain things are meant to be the way they are, right? When it comes to creating content, I’d like to say this. Reading is something that I don’t think people do as much or as often as let’s say we used to when we were back in school, for instance, we would go to the school library and borrow a book or go to a library and borrow a book. I mean, yeah, people are reading online. But I think what’s happened is I think that the people who read a book from COVID to cover, I think that group has shrunk in some way because I find that vocabulary and tone and style stuff skills that you need to write with. I mean, it could be a letter that you write to your parents or your siblings or your spouse or a college. Even a letter, if written well, can spur so much emotion and feeling right now. That’s a skill you can take anywhere. You can write a book, you can write a blog, you can write a one line copy. But I think everyone who has seen the benefit of reading would say that I wish people read more.
I wish guys who are in the content space and I’m not saying, you know, I’m not I’m not I’m not dissing anyone out there. I’m just saying that, I mean, I for one, you know, if you look at my table right now, I’ve got these two books here that I’ve been meaning to read. But I’ve come to a point where I’ll read a little bit of both because given the time, I’m not able to actually finish one book from COVID to cover. So I’m guilty of that too. But I think that is something that will continue to be manually driven because the human brain and emotions and stories and words, etc, find the right word to express the right emotion, I don’t know if a robot can do that, but let’s see. I may be wrong.

I’m sure in the next few years, this problem again will be solved and definitely the outcome will be much more refined.


Yeah, absolutely. I’m sure these problems are going to be I mean, I may not even be around there, but who knows where the world is headed, right?

Let’s be positive about that.


Absolutely.

So, let’s talk about one of the most successful case studies I know. The duration, the time when you started the agency hasn’t been long, but still, any useful case study I would like to share with us.


Sure. Without going into numbers, I would like to mention this one engagement we had. Actually, I would say there are two, but I’ll just quickly spend some time on both. The first one was actually funny, just part of an email campaign that we ran. And it’s funny because when we started off, we were having conversations with our potential customers and there was a company that was doing some work in the K-Twelve segment. They were developing some content for, for schools and they had, you know, they, they had some interesting products, they had an interesting platform. But I think the conversation that we had with them was a little too early to have at that time. And a year later we ran an email campaign and somehow I think the mail went to maybe, I think, 5000 people in a staggered manner and this was the one that got away right in a manner of speaking. So, I think we struck a chord with the recipient of the email who turned out to be a senior executive not only in the E-Learning space but also in the company. And it was sort of just what they needed to hear because it was very specifically keyword driven and keyword very relevant to keywords very relevant to the E-Learning space.
Now, one of the big challenges that the E-Learning industry faces today is dealing with dry content, dealing with very boring content. Because if you take boring content and put it in a boring format there’s going to be zero engagement. You have to take boring content and make it non boring. Now how do you do that? One option is gamifying it. One option is the gamification part of its angle and that’s essentially what we essentially were talking about. And a year later they were actually at a point where they were in a place to sort of have this conversation with us. So, if you talk about it from a point of view of the moment the client is on your Excel call sheet till when the client actually signs your contract and engages with you, that’s a win that is worth celebrating. And especially if it comes from something as regular as a mailing activity, but very structured and using keywords that appeal to your audience, appeal to your customers and match their pain points as well. And we were able to then work on a very interesting project that involved one of the larger players in the eCommerce space.
One of the first movers actually in the space, which again was great for us because we were able to be exposed to larger organizations, practices, processes, et cetera, et cetera. We were honoured to execute the project for them and it was a fairly large project in terms of commercial value so we were happy to do that. The second engagement I would like to talk about is something that was a dream client. Honestly, if I were to say something, that one project we did for them where a lead came through, a conversation on WhatsApp in a WhatsApp group, rather turned out to be a long lasting retainer relationship with this client, with this customer and great working system.
So it was kind of one of those engagements where your customers grow, you also grow. So, I think they were very largely responsible for our initial growth given how young we were in terms of engagement. This was, of course, a scope that involved a lot of design work and there was a lot of appreciation and engagement also from the client on the stuff that we did. So, I think both these clients, both these customer engagements deserve a mention.

And any negative experience in your career so far in a lesson?


I wouldn’t say negative, but I wouldn’t use that word. But I think every experience is a learning experience. And the trick is whether you’re looking at it from a professional point of view or an individual personal point of view, the idea is always to reduce the number of bad experiences or negative experiences, if you want to call it that, because everything is a learning, it’s all part of the learning curve. And this is advice that I would give myself over and over again. And other young businesses or young guys who want to start their own venture, basically, don’t be in a hurry to start an engagement without really understanding the true scope and the true sort of length, breadth, depth of the engagement. If you’re a new company, if you’re a new firm, what tends to happen is if business comes knocking, then you’re very sort of quick to say, yes, let’s do it. Because you can get your cash flows moving. If you’re bootstrapped, then it eases some of the tension and the pressure on funds, etc. And you start moving into the green territory sooner. There’s a chance. But it’s very important to understand what it really entails because what may be discussed today may not actually be part of a scope, especially when the engagement takes off in full swing.
And I would add one more point to that, which is that this always has a period of time, initial period of time. Allow to allow all parties of the engagement to understand one another to understand one another’s working processes before you, let’s say, allow a longer term tenure to set in so that after a short period of time, if there are, let’s say, certain learning, certain outcomes that you would like to go back and discuss, you have a chance to do that. But if you say, yes, let’s do it, then let’s get started. And there’s a lot of enthusiasm because it’s your first client after just starting off, or it’s your first international client, then that initial enthusiasm can wear off quickly. And I speak from personal experience to answer your question, yes, when we started, we were bootstrapped. We are still bootstrapped and we had our own so my partner and I had our own clients that we brought to the firm. So, we were sort of well positioned. But this particular incident that I’m talking about involved an international client, an international market client, a huge player in the ERP segment, and it involved some thought leadership on social media.
So, the work was right up our alley, which is probably why we were also very sort of enthusiastic and excited to do it. But what happened was, once we sort of right off the bat, when we started executing it, we realized that, again, pretty much similar to some of the gaps we learned in our engagement in 2020, where we realized that internal teams, there’s a lot of gap over there. We realized that we said that okay, we saw some gaps that were unaddressed when we came on board, despite having, let’s say, earlier agencies being part of the engagement. So, that’s something that we brought up, and it was appreciated. But then when we sort of went in further and further along the journey, we realized that there were a lot more challenges that we really could not grapple with, which was more macro in nature. And we assumed that we could pull it off because we said, okay, we’ll try and deploy some folks, because there was a time difference. That was part of the challenges as well. But that’s something that we couldn’t really get around because with every passing day, there was a new challenge.
So, I guess it just got to.

A pile as well, right?


Yeah, it just piled up. That’s exactly it. So, we were just putting out fires from day one, and that actually continued for a good fortnight or so. So, unfortunately, we had to pull the plug and exit during the probation period. We tried sort of discussing this with the customer and looking at ways in which it could be solved, but it came to a standstill, it came to an impasse. So, we just decided that it would be best if both parties exit, and we were allowed to sort of exit the engagement. So, that was a learning that it’s a lifelong thing. So, it’s something that I would even suggest to anybody today.

That’s very nice. You understand your capabilities, your team’s capabilities, better than anyone else. Everyone knows their organization is selective and whatever you can promise and deliver.


Absolutely. But I think I’ve taken too much of your time.

Not at all.


I’m sorry if I rambled on. Trust me, I’m not one of those guys who loves the sound of his own voice. So, I’m sorry if we’re sort of overshot because I rambled on earlier on. So, yeah, just over to you.

I think it’s fine. I wanted to do a quick, rapid fire as well. It’s just one word answers.


We can do that.

I think that will make it a little bit more interesting.


Okay, sure. What’s this about?

It’s about you.


Okay, go for it.

One word that describes you the best.
Quick.


Uber creatives.

I was suggesting thoughtful.
What motivates and gives you the most hits?


Ideas

What scares you the most?


Not having enough in the bank to pay salaries for my people.

At what times in your life were you the happiest in mind?


I think two times. Right. One is when I was able to realize. A dream, whatever the dream was, and that’s pretty generic to anybody. But I think hearing good things about the work we’ve done, not just me, but also my team, and getting words of appreciation from our customers, is so great. It validates what we’re doing. It validates what we stand for. And to have to hear somebody appreciate that is great. I mean, nothing motivates more than that.

Absolutely.
Your next big goal in life could be anything personal, career.


Build something that my son can take on when he’s of age and can grow in the education space.

Thank you Varun. Thank you so much for your time and all the valuable lessons and your life experiences that you have shared. Really appreciate it.


Thank you so much. Hashit. I had a ball. Folks should do this more often. And yeah, I look forward to doing many more things of these meetups and discussions with you. Wish you the very best. Wish you the very best. And I’m sure we’ll connect online and offline and talk more. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it. Thanks, Harshit.

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