Sidharth Rao founded digital agency Webchutney 23 years ago when taking a bet on the internet was being done by very few. Rao built the agency from the ground up and it was acquired by Dentsu in 2013. In 2022, ‘The Unfiltered History Tour’, a campaign created by his team for media outlet VICE World News, won the biggest three Grand Prix awards at the Cannes Lions festival. Despite the scale and repute, Rao stepped down from his role as CEO of the dentsuMB Group last year to dabble with entrepreneurship once again. He has co-founded Punt Partners with Madhu Sudhan, which will build on the growing mar-tech space in India. In a conversation with Storyboard18, Rao talks about untapped potential of mar-tech segment, hiring the right talent and his legacy.
How do you see the martech space in India and what are things people are getting wrong in the space?
The end of the cookie era will throw up a lot of opportunities as brands increasingly will need to use first party data to develop their exclusive audience cohorts and targeting methodologies. In order to successfully do this, marketers will need to deal with an increasingly complex set of products in their sales and marketing stacks. Most products today are point solutions that specifically solve for analytics, attribution, communication, intelligence, automation, enablement and engagement.
Madhu, my co-founder, and I believe given how nascent the martech landscape is, marketers will need time to build inhouse skills to leverage these products to their fullest extent and ensure they work well with all the other products they are using. This will lead to a dual problem - poor outcomes for the marketer and churn for the product provider.
Punt will address this problem by building specialist skills to ensure brands can identify and implement the right products and drive outcomes with optimal utilization of the martech stack they have chosen.
What kind of resources are you hiring and what skill sets are you looking for?
Punt is a martech venture, with consulting and technology services at its core. At Punt, we’re focusing on hiring the more ‘left-brained’ talent that can comfortably sit at the intersection of marketing and technology.
Have you signed any new clients? What kind of companies are you pitching to?
We are going after a mixed bag of potential clients - new age internet companies plus the legacy brands. Now that we’ve completed our first raise, we will soon be announcing our client roster along with a few strategic partnerships that we’re aiming to close in the coming months.
Given how nascent the martech landscape is, marketers will need time to build inhouse skills to leverage products to their fullest extent and ensure they work well with all the other products, leading to a dual problem - poor outcomes for the marketer and churn for the product provider.
You built a world-class Indian digital-first agency and then chose to leave. When you look back, what are your successes and low points?
I had an extremely capable team that led the charter on most of our award winning work. For me, it was always more important to back them, back their talent and let them do what they do best - be great solution providers to leading brands. I’d like to believe that I donned the hat of Webchutney’s CHRO, and was able to not only hire some of the best talent that the advertising business has ever seen, but also retain them so they could advance and shape the agency’s thriving creative culture. Interestingly, most of Webchutney’s leadership from 2020-22 consisted of homegrown leaders that joined the agency early in their careers and grew in the system to build the legacy we’re so proud of.
About the low points, there were quite a few, both before and after the acquisition by Dentsu. However, knowing that there was always an extremely capable team to resolve the issues at hand, was always very reassuring.
Your legacy seems to be people as well. Any names that come to your mind who you have mentored or worked with that you feel are doing well?
Of course, PG and Gautam, who have gone ahead and started Talented and responsible for the spectacular run at Cannes in 2022. Talented, in less than a year, has made its mark with some great campaigns for clients. And there is a number of Webchutney alum I’m very proud of all around the world, a few of them have turned entrepreneurs themselves.