The AliveNow Journey: from a social media agency to a tech innovation lab

Adhvith Dhuddu shares how AliveNow has evolved into a tech innovation lab with patented product Newsfeed SmartApps and more

Adhvith Dhuddu

“Companies don’t fail for lack of cash or attitude, companies fail for lack of brains and effort,” Mark Cuban, serial entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

November 2012 – I was in Bangalore meeting my parents. I also happened to meet Adhvith Dhuddu – an ambitious young serial entrepreneur. An engineer who got interested in options trading that led him to set up his own asset management company. In 2009 after returning from the US, he set up a social media agency AliveNow – one of the first few agencies to work on social media.

Before winding up my conversation with him, I had asked about his future plans and where was he heading. “Now for the established agencies like ours and few more who have been in the market for two to three years, for them the next step is moving ahead to one market that is unconquered – social media outsourcing.”

Five years later when I meet him again at his office in Bangalore, he tells me his focus for the next couple of years would be the continued push of tech innovations. AliveNow is no more a social media agency only; products and tech innovations are its new identity. The shift wasn’t planned or happened overnight. “It was a gradual realization that being a services company focused purely on social media marketing/digital marketing wasn’t going to fly and we’d eventually be just another company offering a plain vanilla service. There was an opportunity and an immense vacuum in a space where social media and technology intersected.”

Another key reason for the transition was the acceptance that scaling creativity business is tough, than to scale technology. “The only way we could achieve reasonable scale without linear expansion in resources was to expand into technology innovations.”

I have observed AliveNow’s continued focus on tech innovations over the last few years. It was imperative that I meet him and understand how the journey so far has been. He was happy to invite me to his office – big open space for the employees to work from, and the CEO has a big see-through cabin, rarely used by him. The office has a minimal setup with no fancy glitter. It has all the required amenities for a startup to function properly, along with a small library in the CEO’s cabin.

After finishing a quick meeting with his team, Adhvith (dressed in smart formals) joins me in his cabin to talk more about the slow process of product building – a process that takes a lot of time, patience and money.

“We’re now known for some of our innovative products, but no one knows how many products/platforms we’ve tried to build and failed.”

Talking about failures, the first product the agency built was for Instragram called InstaPow, it helped brands show moderated, content related to their hashtags. This failure was followed by a second one where the team created a portal that tried to curates all contests happening across social platforms. The third failure was about a portal where deals from malls across the country were available and integrated with social incentives. “There were more but these were the big failures,” Adhvith says with a smile.

All these failures happened in the span of 2-3 years, but simultaneously the agency built products that tasted success too. Before the CEO talked more about his biggest success, he shares one valuable lesson from failure – “Build quick and launch the product fast. And you’ll know very soon if the product will work or not.”

“Don’t cry over the failure of a product, don’t get emotionally attached and move on quickly!”

ALIVENOW TASTES SUCCESS IN NEWSFEED SMARTAPPS. In 2014, the agency finds early success in Newsfeed SmartApps – an app that could create interactive posts or status updates in the Facebook Newsfeed itself. The success of the app lies in Facebook’s gradual evolution and how content consumption moved from web to mobile. “In 2012-13 few paradigm shifts happened in Facebook. The percentage of users accessing the social network from their mobile overtook desktop users and by 2015-16 the mobile vs desktop usage on Facebook was skewed to almost 70/30 (mobile/desktop), and nowadays I’d say 85/15 (mobile/desktop).”

By this time organic reach on Facebook was dying, users ignored conversations from brand and brands had no choice other than investing on Facebook ads to reach to their target audience. “Almost 90-95% of all branded Facebook content, whether it’s videos, GIFs, links, promoted ads, etc. were being consumed in the Newsfeed. Newsfeed became more relevant, more important and all the action was in it.”

AliveNow saw opportunity in these problems, which led to the development of Newsfeed SmartApps. The product not only solved the engagement problem but it was making it possible in the user Newsfeed. Interestingly the genesis of the product lies in the Facebook apps that had tabs and were quite popular in 2010-12. The various types of engagement modules that brands were executing in Facebook tabs, the product managed to have that in a regular post itself. Additionally the new app worked directly in the Newsfeed and there was no need to redirect users to a microsite or another Page, and the user experience was amazing.

Gradually, the app became device and browser agnostic resulting in much higher engagements and reach.

Adhvith isn’t just a passionate entrepreneur but a smart businessman too – he decided to patent his product. “There was quite a bit of R&D that went into developing Newsfeed SmartApps to the product it is now. For an outsider now it might look easy seeing what the finished product is, but we wanted to protect our IP.”

The decision to go ahead with a patent was a fruitful one according to the founder. The company recently got its US patent file number and was published as well (patent link). If you look at the patent closely, it doesn’t mention Facebook anywhere because you can’t technically patent a product or technology for an existing platform, the patent essentially defines what is a social network, what is a Newsfeed, what are the existing types of content in it (as on the patent filing date) and how the content being built by the agency is different.

This also means the product can be applied to other social networks. I am informed that the agency is already looking into other possibilities beyond Facebook.

Talking about the interesting work the agency has done this year with the app, the list is a long one – Idea cellular had a 360-game for their Look Look campaign, Star World did something addictive for Game of Thrones where users had to build the family trees of different families in GoT, Greenpeace built an electronics footprint calculator in the newsfeed, Wrangler used interactive videos for their Sun Vs Shade campaign. (To know more details click on the Newsfeed SmartApps Facebook page)

Work done with the luxury car INFINITI on the launch of the new QX60 is one that tops Adhvith’s list of favorite campaigns. “Built a 360-game where users had 45 seconds to look for 4 tokens in the interiors of the QX60 and simultaneously learn about car features.”

INFINITI Newsfeed SmartApps Case Study: Innovative Content Mar…

VIDEO: A highly engaging Newsfeed SmartApps for INFINITI where users look around a 360-environment of the QX60 interiors to find hidden tokens. For every token found, the user learns something new about the car! View the newsfeed app here: https://www.fb.com/NewsfeedSmartApps/posts/785032458331381

โพสต์โดย Newsfeed SmartApps บน 20 พฤษภาคม 2017

Another was the app developed for Nike where users could customize their shoe by picking a color for their upper, a color for their swoosh and then entering some text to customize the shoe.

ALIVENOW EVOLVES INTO A TECH LAB. Innovation is a continuous process and if you don’t, your competitor is waiting to do it. Adhvith and his team have been working on chatbots. “We think there’s amazing potential in chatbots. It has the possibility to impact marketing campaigns massively. We feel chatbots will give marketers the ability to deliver ‘customization and personalization at scale’ in ways never before possible.”

He further explains the potential of chatbots by quoting one of his recent works for Pepsi. “Users at a specific event could order their special Pepsi beverage using a chatbot, and within 15 to 20 minutes as your customized beverage is ready, the bot notifies you to pick up your beverage at the Pepsi booth.”

Another example, Mercedes-Benz, the company engaged with the agency to build a chatbot for celebrating its 50-year anniversary of AMG. “It’s only because of a chatbot that users could seamlessly view a video with their name in it. I am not saying that it wasn’t possible before, but with a messenger bot, it becomes easier, more seamless, highly engaging and interactive.”

Interactive video and enabling commerce are the two other major areas that the agency is working on. With video consumption touching the roof, the agency is integrating interactive videos that allow commerce in the Newsfeed SmartApps. “The response for this has been incredible and we’re already working with leading retailers and e-commerce players for this solution. Giving them the ability on mobile to deeplink interactive videos to their apps has also helped greatly. In video itself, we’re seeing a shift to higher consumption in vertical video formats on mobile, so we’re building the interactive video capability for vertical videos as well.”

NEWS: Our latest innovation using Newsfeed SmartApps is mind blowing! Say hello to Interactive Videos playable in the…

โพสต์โดย Newsfeed SmartApps บน 4 กรกฎาคม 2017

ALIVENOW GOES GLOBAL. With a continuous shift towards technology innovations, the agency has increased its focus from India to Middle East market. “Our focus from 2012/13 shifted to the Middle East and now almost 50% of our business is from that region.” He recollects that the move was a simple one. “In 2012-13, we saw a plethora of new agencies opening shop and the normal social media digital marketing retainer model was becoming a price war and race to the bottom. While we were innovating internally in terms of tech-centric products, we also thought it might make sense to explore international markets.”

As of now the agency has a very good working relationship in the Middle East and South East Asia. “Overall this strategic shift has worked very well for us as we can proudly say we’re one of the very few independent digital/social agencies who have worked with brands and partner agencies in almost 20 countries. It’s helped expand our reach and helped in top-line revenue growth. ”

For the next two to three years, the agency is focusing to continue partnering with more agencies in new geographies. On innovation front, the agency plans to strengthen the Newsfeed SmartApps and explore possibilities of building a product in the chatbot system. “We are waiting for the WhatsApp API to open up, we’re keen to build some cool products on the WhatsApp platform. Similarly, we haven’t seen anything unique or big on LinkedIn. We are also looking at the LinkedIn API and their platform to see what we can build for B2B brands. Other interest areas would be in Snapchat filers, Messenger filters and AR solutions, so we’re strengthening our team for that.”

Adhvith Dhuddu AliveNow

The shift from agency business to focusing on technology innovations has started giving results. “The new innovations and strategically moving away from core services has only helped our top-line, increased margins and opened up new opportunities. ”

AliveNow has reinvented itself and in it’s new avatar, I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow it is acquired by a larger agency that is enabling creativity with technology. Right now there isn’t any such possibility, he confirms.

In my 2012 meeting, he had talked about the second book written by Robert Kiyosaki in his series Cash Flow Quadrant. The book states that every individual falls under four categories – he is either an employer or employee or an investor or a business owner. Anyone you take in this world falls under one of the four categories. He also adds quadrants to this. On the left hand side he has employer and employee. On the right hand side he has the business owner and investor. The author in the book says that everyone starts from the left side but the aim to be wealthy and rich drives them from the left to the right side.

Adhvith has very well moved from left to the right and now he is going higher on the right side. He is no more just a serial entrepreneur and employer but also an early stage investor in California Burrito. After our long and extensive conversation the investor buys me a healthy Mexican lunch at one of the outlets near AliveNow Bangalore office.