One thing that you can’t accuse Sandeep Goyal of not having is ambition. And well, add to it a tendency to shoot straight, unmindful whether it’s politically correct or not. For even after striking gold in the agency business — he sold his 26 per cent stake in ad agency Dentsu India back to its Japanese parent last year for a whopping, and yet unconfirmed, Rs 200 crore — Goyal apparently has no love lost for the industry he has often derided as shallow and petty. But that hasn’t prevented him from scouring for a good deal in a business he’s known for the better part of his 28-year-old work life.
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Goyal’s Mogae Digital is the engine through which the adman-turned-entrepreneur is pushing what he terms as his next big move, the “mobile monetisation model”. Stripped of jargon, what it means is a platform that can serve ads and sell stuff, mobile operator willing, to, well, anyone with a cellphone. And that means over 800 million potential consumers of anything from colas to cars. Mogae’s recent deal with Airtel for serving ads and mobile commerce across the operator’s entire mobile network, direct-to-home television and broadband base is just the beginning, it would seem. Surely this must be exciting?
“Yes, and for that we need to invest hugely in creating an analytical engine that can convert the humongous data that mobile operators sit on into actionable data,” says Goyal, a master of professional reinvention. He did it when he moved from a small agency, Interact Vision, and earned his spurs in a big one, Rediffusion, by bagging the prestigious and lucrative Airtel account. He quit Rediffusion for Zee, as its president, in 2001. Almost two years into the broadcasting job, Goyal quit in a huff, without a job. That’s when he remodelled himself as an entrepreneur by partnering with Dentsu for its India entry.
“For me what’s critical is the timing, entry and exit from any business,” adds Goyal. Seven years with Dentsu and it was time to cash out with a booty that has become the envy of many an Indian adman. That was end 2010, and Goyal tried to dabble with many things. “I even looked at a big news television network,” shares Goyal. For a loaded Goyal, media was an obvious choice as an investment option, given that he had been the CEO at Zee and holds a minor stake in food channel Food Food along with Malaysia’s Astro and celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. “But with red written all over this news television company, it wasn’t worth investing time or money,” adds Goyal, who started his professional journey as a salesman for Nerolac Paints. Why, Goyal even looked at buying out a tottering magazine brand, but the deal stumbled on a valuation mismatch.
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Goyal has been one of the early entrants in new media — in the last couple of years he has sired a number of digital firms like ad time and space auctioneer lastminuteinventory.com, Diginatives for delivering school-course material globally, and, of course, Mogae Digital and Mogae Media — and his passion for the medium is that of an evangelist. “There are only digital agencies, and they too don’t understand the mobile medium. Traditional ad agencies simply do not understand this space,” adds Goyal.
No wonder he is busy crafting Mogae Digital as the country’s first “true” mobile agency, with its own multi-disciplinary team of 100-plus people across creative, technology, analytics, consumer behaviour et al. “No medium, not even the Internet, comes close to the potential of the mobile medium. In all others, it’s just eyeballs, but the mobile is the only true two-way communication where it can lead to a handshake.” Apart from serving ads — and Mogae is in talks with all major telcos for an Airtel-like tie-up here — what excites Goyal is the medium’s potential for commerce: from mobile couponing, location-based services to the potential of cross-selling to a database that can be sussed out in a million different ways.
But surely, building all this capacity is not rocket science and competition from ad land can catch up soon, dulling Mogae’s first-mover advantage? Goyal almost dismisses such notions. “No agency in the world, but for D2C, a joint-venture of Dentsu and DoCoMo in Japan, including all your new age digital-only ones, has got the mobile right.” Goyal says Mogae is quickly building on its strengths, investing heavily in building what he calls an “analytical engine” which sits at the core of a mobile agency. “I am paying top dollars for talent from a few big global agencies for analytics and strategic planning to man Mogae,” shares Goyal. And apart from his personal investments, Goyal is looking at raising $20 million in private-equity funding, though he won’t share names of investors he’s in talks with.
Only 49 years old, and already into his second entrepreneurial venture, Goyal admits life has been good to him. He says it’s sabbatical time after a seven-year stint with Dentsu India, where he still holds the post of founder and non-executive chairman. But with so many game-changing new steps and the deal-making frenzy that Mogae is raking up, wonder what an out of self-imposed sabbatical Goyal will get to!