Chris George, chairman and group chief executive, EBS Worldwide (EBS), is a black belter in Taekwondo and is currently pursuing his passion for mixed martial arts. “The sport certainly helps you take hits a lot better. It teaches you discipline, focus and the ability to compartmentalise problems,” he says. These are skills that have played a role in shaping up George, the businessman and his ability to wade through the wonderful journey that is entrepreneurship.
Right from its early days of 2004, the focus was on the use of technology to make the marketing process more efficient. At a broad level, the company has two business units – a services business that acts as a consulting arm for marketers, helping them with formulating their digital strategies, execution of these strategies online and then performing analytics to make sense of the data. The other unit, a products division that licenses out software products that makes the marketing process more efficient. “We think there is potential to build out several tools, which could come together and become the enterprise resource planning toolkit for marketers and chief marketing officers,” says George.
Adapting to growth
In the last seven years, the company has grown at a steady pace. The fundamentals of the business and the revenue model – services revenue and licensing revenue – have shaped up the company. Going global became a core focus and EBS now serves customers across the U.S., Europe and Asia. In the growth phase, the company didn’t shy away from making acquisitions, especially to enter newer geographies and expand its client base.
It is being ahead of the curve – especially in such a dynamic industry – that can make the big difference.
Over the years, George says, his role has almost become all strategic and financial – he still meets face-to-face with critical clients, but scouting around for mergers and acquisitions opportunities has become a core part of his job responsibility. A senior management team was structured to manage day-to-day operations. Today, George’s primary challenge remains staying ahead of the curve – both in technology and marketing domains – to position itself as a thought leader in this industry. To reach his target of Rs. 100 crore in annual revenue by FY2014, the company is looking to invest in newer technologies, be ahead of the curve and be ready to capitalise on the demand once customers are there.
Decoding the sector
In typical marketing guru style, George says, “The sector as a whole can be divided into three segments – a relatively younger brand that is figuring out the whys of digital marketing, another category that is figuring out the hows, and the final brand category that just needs the technology tools to implement its own digital strategy without help from a consulting services team.” Then, he balances his strategic quote with another one: “Sometimes, we just make decisions based on common sense and then when it all works out – we declare that it was our grand strategy.”
Founders: Chris George and Suveen Sahib
Current revenue: Rs. 70 crore expected for FY 2012
USP: Position itself as a thought leader in the technology-driven marketing segment
Funding: Several angel investors, IL&FS Investment Managers
Top clients: HSBC, HP, Disney
But there is a strategy that he strictly follows at EBS. In a country like India, the marketing process is in its nascent stages. Brands want to understand the whys and hows of online branding. However, these brands use ad hoc tools and are not yet ready to automate their marketing process. It is probably very different in the U.S. and other developed markets. Brands come to companies like EBS to buy the software tools, but prefer to execute on the campaigns themselves.
As in any other B2B (business to business) setup, the client acquisition strategy revolves around the quality of offering, references from other clients, and building relationships in the ecosystem. The company works closely with people in the venture capital and private equity industry to win their portfolio companies as clients.
In terms of people operations, today, the 260-person company has a mix of software developers, marketers and business development personnel. There is a client solutions team, which specialises in various technology platforms – mobile, social, web – and the goal is to hire and groom specialists here. The second category is the delivery team that executes a particular digital marketing campaign for a brand. This services arm works with a client company to help build a brand and spread the word online. It operates like any other consulting firm servicing a client.
George believes that, with the use of technology, their revenue growth has nothing to do with the number of people in the company. They have been in the ballpark of 250 people for over three years now, and the reason, according to George, is the ability to leverage technology to implement its brand building strategies.
The company counts several prominent individuals and institutions among its investors. Mahesh Murthy of SeedFund (when he invested in EBS, it was through his previous fund, Passion Fund), Sunil Alagh, past CEO of Britannia Industries and Ranjan Kapur, country head of WPP India, the world leader in advertising and marketing services, are all investors in EBS. On the institutional side, IL&FS Investment Managers invested about Rs. 25 crore in 2006, when it acquired the stake previously held by ICICI Ventures.
On the company’s future growth strategies, EBS is looking at expanding globally – both through organic and inorganic routes – and is looking to touch revenues of Rs. 100 crore in the next 24 months. The key skill, according to George, to make this happen will be in EBS’ ability to build skills and teams around the latest technologies in digital marketing and be ready and raring to go before their prospective clients get there. “It is being ahead of the curve – especially in such a dynamic industry – that can make the big difference,” ends George. With his 12-year strong entrepreneurial journey and the ability to fend off hits through his Taekwondo experience, we’re sure George is up to the task at hand.
- Achieve the Rs. 100 crore revenue target for FY 2014
- Growth – both organic and inorganic, the company is scouting around for potential acquisitions
- Staying ahead of the curve and keeping a tight leash on the latest technologies relevant to marketers
- In mature markets like the U.S., focus on selling technology products relevant to chief marketing officers
- In emerging markets, help create brands by aiding clients through the whys and hows of digital marketing