WATCONSULT AND RAJIV DINGRA, both are known names in the Indian social and digital marketing industry. Born in January 2007, the agency headquartered in the heart of Mumbai, today employs 280 plus young minds. Like any other startup it also had humble beginnings in the confines of his Colaba home. Over the years it has grown to become a strong competitor in the business. From winning awards to building brands on digital, WATConsult has had a significant journey. In January 2015 the agency got acquired by one of the largest networks – Dentsu Aegis Network. (Read: Inside Story Of How WAT Consult Got Acquired By Dentsu Aegis Network)
Come January 2017, WATConsult will celebrate 10 years of its existence. The agency has streamlined quite a few things so that the celebrations are heard wide and long. I am also told that it is the celebration of a new WATConsult – a new thinking and vision.
But what is the new WATConsult? Sitting right in front of Rajiv in his cabin that screams of just one color – white, I asked him. (From his laptop, to the chair to the table and to the walls, everything is sparkling white.) Before I could say anything more, I was told that to know the new, I need to know the old WATConsult and its earlier vision. “We were born in the early stage of the social media era, even before the Facebook. For the first year we were more of an Orkut agency.”
He further added that social was the big part to drive engagement but the agency was never a SEO or SEM or performance agency. “The genesis of WAT (web, advertising and technology) Consult has always been of a conversation agency to engage, create buzz and build brands,” informed the 31-year-old CEO.
“Old philosophy of WAT – how do we build value through quality engagement and thereby build a brand.”
From 2007-2013, the agency focused on the entire social stack to build engagement. The philosophy at that time was to build value through quality engagement and thereby build a brand. However Rajiv accepts that at that point of time building brands through social media was not an evolved conversation. “We were not trying to be intelligent and we were doing the business of now.”
Post 2013 and especially after the acquisition as the team started talking with Dentsu Aegis, the philosophy got evolved. “Around 2013 we realized that the business is about integration. So our goal was to become an integrated solutions provider, it didn’t happen overnight. We started from social but over a period we entered into all different client offerings from search to video to media.”
So how different is 2016’s WAT from 2013? Business wise there has been a huge growth but for Rajiv the biggest differentiation is how the outlook of the company has changed over time within its people. “We have been able to change the outlook for the people within the company. They look at themselves as a solution provider for brand problems using digital.”
It is a big change for the agency but he distances himself from the change and gives entire credit to his team. He considers that his only role is to light the match and the fire is spread by the rest of his people who have the gunpowder in them to light it all up. “I just tell them that this looks interesting, let’s do it. Rest is taken care by the teams.”
“My job today is to put on the torch and point it in the right direction.”
One of the prominent names in the agency, also seen it evolving is its very first employee – Sahil Shah (AVP Operations). He has been with the agency for the last eight years and believes that the agency had a first mover advantage due to its vision to predict future and act upon it. “WATConsult moved faster than the pace of the industry, stayed agile and that has kept us alive and kicking. Looking forward, I see the company continuing to disrupt and scale while being thought leaders in the digital world.”
On being asked the reason that has convinced him to stay so long, at a time when people jump from one agency to another in just six months, this is what he had to say: “From a startup to a growing agency to a challenger brand to now one of the top digital agencies in the country, I am fortunate to have the rare experience of working in multiple agencies while working at only one.”
NEW WATCONSULT IS ABOUT NEW THINGS. One of them is the lavish and elegantly designed Mumbai office. Before I asked more about the new office, Rajiv took me down memory lanes of WATConsult’s first office. It was a home office, in a building that was being renovated. The furniture was nothing great, home computers, table and everything was just messed up. In one word, he described it as a dump yard in a very posh location in Colaba. “We were four people working in a place which didn’t have a proper ventilation. So every one-hour we had a windbreak. There was so much heat in the place that we used to remove the modem, put it near the wall fan to cool it down and then put it back to work. Business was slow but going on.”
In 2008, Rajiv had to restart WATConsult and it happened in a very small office in Bazargate. The office could force fit 12 people but this time the infrastructure was decent enough. From water cooler to air conditioner to proper furniture the office had all the necessary furnishing. However, the modem problem carried on here too. It was Rajiv’s job to remove it, get it cooled and get it back working.
Post this, the agency always had a better office but in his own words he had never had the luxury to build his own office with a philosophy to it. “Never had an office that talks about our company’s philosophy. We never had the money to afford a lavish office in Mumbai.”
“I am not building WATConsult to build my personal wealth, I am building it so that people can say it is a great agency. It is a creation.”
Things changed when the agency became a part of Dentsu Aegis Network. For the first time the agency had money to build its own office. “When we looked at our present office space for the first time. I was very sure that I want to make an office that even global counterparts find impressive.”
Definitely the new office catches your attention the moment you enter it. White does stands out but beyond that a lot of thought process has gone into making the office. For instance the office has vinyl flooring which is more delicate than tiles. The interesting fact is that if you drag your feet on vinyl there is a chance that it might rip off. So the underlying message to the employees was: don’t drag yourself to office, carry your weight and responsibility on your shoulders!
The primary colour of the office is white. As we know that it is easy to have white but it is very difficult to maintain it much like greatness. “The philosophy here is that it is easy to achieve but very difficult to maintain greatness. Whenever you see a black mark on white, you got to clean it. That is the same amount of hard work required when you want to maintain greatness.”
Besides the agency has used pop colours to showcase its diversity. Diversity is not just in male or female but also across religions, backgrounds and skill sets. “Individual colours are okay but when I put them altogether it looks pretty that is the beauty of pop colours. The philosophy here is that you may come from any background we don’t care. As long as you’re working together that’s what looks pretty and matters.”
“I despise ‘A’ people as they are very full of themselves. I need ‘A’ people who have the right attitude and some amount of aptitude.”
The other big part of the design is the use of super heroes. Apart from Rajiv’s liking for super heroes, he thinks that every super hero story starts with attitude, falls into trouble and then starts with self-realization. “I see a lot of similarity in WATConsult and a super hero’s journey. We were a very young company, with little bit of arrogance competing with the Goliaths in the market. Then there was the humbling experience that motivated us to do real good work and not just rely on ability and arrogance.”
“Most people have the potential to realize whatever in their life. The difference is not capability but conviction.”
THE NEW WAT CONSULT IS ALSO ABOUT INNOVATIONS. One of the recent examples is its very own innovation lab, INNOWAT. According to the company, the lab is designed to use new-age technology, invent and craft innovative products to transform brand experiences and engagement. With the use of a motion capture camera from a gaming console, they have programmed software that detects gestures to control a video display interface. Using Electroencephalography (EEG) technology they developed a game that monitors the eye blink and finishes a virtual bottle of beer with the sensors.
INNOWAT developed a racetrack to slot cars controlled by eye/mind focus with a lap counter to the track that would display on a monitor. Currently, they are developing a robot that uses Artificial Intelligence to talk to humans. Besides developing such projects, the team has also made use of gadgets like Drones, Augmented Reality Marker software to display 3D models, Virtual Reality Goggles and even a 3D printer that can create models up to 6 inches tall.
Along with the lab the agency has identified 4 new avenues of growth, informed Heeru Dingra, Director – HR & Finance, WATConsult, via an email conversation. “4 new real time solutions – eCommencify, Audientise, Recogn and SocialCRM247 for clients. We firmly believed that all the needs of our clients should be met under one umbrella to deliver faster and economical solutions as compared to other partners.”
Heeru, who also happens to be Rajiv’s sister, has been with the agency for more than five years. Her role involves building framework and processes and focus on business transformation to come up with innovative ideas to identify new candidates across the industry. Some of the campaigns for hiring were ‘Snapplication‘ – hiring through Snapchat, WAT’s Your Big Idea – a powerful initiative that gave the next generation a unique platform to pursue their dreams and live their passion, among others.
For her the new WAT is all about new services, global clients, larger teams and new innovations along with bigger challenges. “The new WAT is a team of ambitious, passionate and creative people who have set their eyes on winning Cannes next year. From 3 to 22 services, 4 to 140 clients, 2 to 280+ team members across locations, survive to thrive – we have managed to build a strong foundation for the company to scale – including our team, processes and strategies.”
THE NEW WAT IS ABOUT CREATING LIFE AT WORK. Agency life sucks up your entire day. On good days it is 8-9 hours, which could become 12-14 hours and more depending on work and client deliverables. In other words, as an employee you spend 70-80 percent of your wakeful life at work.
The question then – is that work or life? So, you need to love what you are doing. One of them is taken care by the kind of work you are doing but beyond that it is about the people whom you are working with. To make this happen, the agency has carried out lot of activities that classically fall under HR activities.
But Rajiv prefers to call them people activities. “These are those activities that sort of make people find life at work.” One such example that he highlighted was Be Right Back (BRB) – a 15 minute break, where an employee is supposed to disconnect from the digital world and spend time with other people in the organization in the offline world.
While people get to know each other and their comfort level increases, for the agency this drives coordination among its employees.
“It’s the protocol and not the rapport that drives coordination.”
Apart from the BRB activity, the agency has organized activities like Pokemon Meets to bring completely different people together. The agency has also got parents involved in its culture. Heeru shared that since parents don’t have much understanding on what digital agencies do, they arranged a walk-in for parents on Valentine’s Day. “On the day we invited parents to see the office and understand what their child is doing. Today we have a philosophy of connecting entire families to the agency and be like one large family.”
Here is how the agency celebrated a very special day – International Dog’s Day.
The new WATConsult is already present in the day-to-day dna of the agency’s performance. It is also enriching the culture of the agency. For Rajiv, culture is a mix of the unwritten protocols that are evident the moment you enter the space.
Talking more about the culture with which the agency was built, he quotes an HR system called CLASS that Subroto Bagchi talks about in one of his books. “I looked at the CLASS (caring, learning, achieving, sharing and social responsibility) model and I thought it was a brilliant model. Since we were really a very small agency we thought: to do social responsibility we need to first do good business. So we tweaked the last ‘S’ to scaling.”
With time CLASS got tweaked further and got ‘I’ attached to it, which reflected the thought, ‘did I share enough ideas’. This suggestion came forward from one of the team members. “CLASSI model formed the building blocks of the culture of WATConsult. But later on as the agency grew beyond 150, we have put it as a valuation matrix. And I have always believed that we should do it every six months.”
“Culture is a value system and people who have worked here for some time do get it.” While it is heartening for Rajiv, he also doesn’t shy away from admitting that at times it was his team members who have have corrected him.
“There are no leaders and followers, we are all explorers and discoverers.”
Cheers to the new WATConsult!
Lighthouse Insights in association with WATConsult, will share two more articles celebrating the 10 years of the agency.