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How 24Grey is Optimizing Media Management and Evaluation

Fraud is a major problem in South East Asia. Research suggests that 18% of budgets dedicated towards outdoor of home (OOH) advertising is wasted due to fraud in the form of weak monitoring systems. The task of solving this has prompted the emergence and growth of many start-ups, notably Online Aggregated Analytics. In 2015 it’s founder, Rafi Hasan, secured a channel partnership with Ipsos for Pakistan.

Still, OOH buying and planning is highly opaque and based entirely on perception. Najiyeh Akbar, the former CMO of Samsung Pakistan, has a solution. She and four colleagues came together in December 2014 to form 24Grey and recently launched their first product, a cloud based platform called Outnet. The platform integrates contextual and quantitative analytics to dramatically improve OOH efficiency. While there is no concrete data on the value of the fraud or losses in efficiency, anonymous estimates that 70% of OOH marketers admitted to being offered a kickback, while 90% of OOH vendors admitted to paying an off the books incentive in the last three years. Since being launched, Outnet has delivered up to 72% improvements in CPM and 48% improvement in cost per square foot in test scenarios.

I reached out to Najiyeh Akbar to learn about the team, product and growth strategy.

24Grey

Who are your co-founders and how much have you raised?
We are a team of 5 right now. Outsourced partners and consultants number over 50 and are not included in the YOE figure. This includes myself, Hameed Kashan (LSE; Yum brands, United Nations), Amir Khan (Greenwich; JWT, Interflow) and Amber Rana (NYU; Geo, WPP). We are privately held and fully funded for the next two years.

What type of companies are your target customer?
We are reaching out to small and mid sized OOH advertisers through direct marketing. Our SaaS business model is based on a non-binding monthly subscription.

Given your scope, which companies would you classify as competition in Pakistan?
Existing outdoor advertising vendors, including agencies, could be considered legacy competition. There is also some direct competition in terms of services offered, but our business models and target markets are far removed.

What are you doing that is unique and cannot be replicated?
Existing solutions are standalone technology products that do not relate to each other or legacy agencies using electronic media processes to evaluate OOH. Our platform allows for planning, buying, evaluation, monitoring and auditing from one single screen using industry specific analytics and evaluation algorithms. All at a cost that is affordable for most OOH advertisers in Pakistan.

What has been the most successful client success case for Outnet?
A foreign airline could not justify continuing their OOH campaign to their principal due to lack of ROI data and buying transparency. They utilized our platform to conduct a like for like double blind RFQ and improved the reach of their Karachi focused OOH plan by 63% and increased budget efficiency (after platform costs) by 42% compared to their previous campaign with identical scope. This measurable planning performance was approved by their HQ and said client currently has an active campaign implemented via Outnet.

Further reading:

From Loss to Profit – Turning Around Domino’s in Pakistan

It’s the classic story of supply meets demand. On the one hand, Domino’s was losing its grip and brand recall among Pakistani consumers. And on the other, Pizza Hut’s GM of Operations, Ahsan Ahmed, wanted to be the Jack Welch of retail industry.

In May 2012, he signed a 3 year deal and joined Domino’s as its CEO in Pakistan with the goal for helping the company achieve its first ever month of positive P&L in 9 years. Not only did he manage that, but also 70% growth over the previous year. The question is how.

What did this experience teach you?
Domino’s grew because talented people got together. I just stumbled to their presence.

What was wrong at the point you took over?
International brands use our people, facilities, ingredients, our brains – yet sell under their own brand – leaving a fraction of the income and take another fraction back. Domino’s was struggling for 9 years – no one knew who was running the company or growing it. We can easily create good concepts, have a lot of creative people that can create kick ass brands.

How do you identify talent with leadership potential?
Anyone who has to make a decision is a leader. At times, the rider is a leader. You reached the customers house and showed them the order and you realize the order is damaged. Rider has to make a call and say “Please have this and I will get you another one.”

But people don’t do this because brands are wary of employee theft.
Are you happy when the competition steals the customer? When you don’t change the product, you will lose the customer. If you haven’t put in a monitoring setup that prevents people from stealing, its the HQ’s fault. People in the head office don’t know what happens in the field. They have never filled the forms.

So how many riders are now at HQ, calling the shots?
A lot of decisions are being made by operators. They are strategic and tactical. Not 100%, but certainly a higher % than our competitors. Our goal is to fill every department with an operator. Food companies think that riders are replaceable. But the customer interacts with this so called lowest denominators.

Can local brand achieve similar success?
There is money to be made. I better be ready to take it. In Pakistan people eat out or order in at max 3 times a week. In Dubai, its at max 6 times a week. When Pakistan transitions to this, the market will explode. You better have that inverted triangle.

What sets a good operator apart from the rest?
I want a group of people who have handled (and retained) irate customers. Brands mistakenly send their weakest team member to handle irate customers when in fact the strongest must go and create a long lasting bond. Every complaint is a gift, its a great chance to connect with people.

How do you operate?
We introduced a system wherein hiring focused on operators with successful backgrounds. We taught them time and people management. We created a decision making unit. Its the group that runs business for Domino’s. They set the goals to chase. We hand them projects and P&L management. They make their own budgets and gain approvals by BCM (Budget Control Members) and me. Its made in the 3rd week of the month to prepare and execute.

Why the third week?
It leaves ample time for planning. In the fourth week, they need to translate this into KPI which is linked to the budget. In the first week of the month, you need to sit and review your people side – how strong is your bench? Are you covered for the growth that is anticipated? Also see customer complaints, who has to be trained, hired or fired. Only then will people side be strong.

In the second week, we sit and review the marketing plan. If things are working, what is working? This is where we decide what stays and what is removed. Then comes to process of budgeting for the next month. Its an easy four step approach for meeting financial goals.

Why not quarterly like the MNC’s do it?
The mantra of the food business is ‘expect the unexpected.’ If you set financial goals every quarter. you only get 90 days to reach it. With our monthly approach, you are giving 12 chances. If you can improve the planning process and make it simple. Our growth is 45-50% growth, index to last year, most of which is thanks to the teams own planning.

Doesn’t that set up the team for feeling overwhelmed with the targets?
You have to make sure you’re setting the right kinds of targets. Then break it down – baby steps – into small achievable steps. People wait for exit interviews to ask people why they’re leaving. People miss the budget because its the case of wishful thinking.

Why did you close the North Nazimabad outlet?
There is no way to predict problem child’s. What works today may not work tomorrow. Irrespective of whose brain child it was, if it hurts the P&L, you must shut the facility. We’re looking at a third facility for DHA, ideally in Phase 2 extension. In order to service Karachites in 30 minutes of less, you need 70 locations.

Is this turnaround an outlier?
Turnarounds are possible in Pakistan. Because we have a fantastic bunch of human resource. Anyone who says otherwise should look in the mirror. Domino’s was able to make a come-back because the customers were very forgiving. The key is that you fill the HQ with operators. And give them a simple mechanism to do their jobs. It Alhamdulillah worked in our case. If it can turnaround for Domino’s, then it can for anyone.

What would you like the future applicants of the QSR industry to know?
My boss from Pizza Hut used to say that every problem has two legs. I have learnt that every success has two legs too. The problem is that we find the problem legs and shoot them, and forget to recognize the legs doing a good job. I hire people for their body language. You can teach them QSR and customer service, you cannot teach body language. I’m going to hire people on their ability to handle politics. QSR industry aspirants should

  • Have the decency to inform the customer if an order will be late.
  • Remember that somewhere in the system, a boss does not care how you get the job done, but wants it done.
  • Finding a coping mechanism to help them take stress positively.

Why do you think most people shy away from QSR?
High stakes players in the country are coming in for some economic interest. Making money legally is the easiest thing to do. If you are making a lot of money and someone’s wants a cut in an illegal manner, you can find a way to be proactive and find a way of co-existing.

You and I can’t change Pakistan overnight, but in the mean time, we have to be practical people. When a food authority seals a premises, its because impractical and idealistic people have rubbed them the wrong way. Look at the other side. Batha earnings are far less than what QSR’s steal in evading taxes. So when you don’t ethically feed the regulators, they will eventually strike back. Business owners are bigger thieves for tax non payment. They think of this as the chicken and egg problem. Fix the paradox, you have the brains and resources to ensure accountability and make public those that steal.

What’s your key advice for QSR industry CEO’s?
Don’t manage people, lead them. Managing people makes them unhappy. Unhappy people get your store closed.

The Evolution of Pakistani Real Estate Marketing

If housing bubble’s have taught us anything, its that real estate has a direct impact not only on home valuations, but also on a nation’s mortgage markets, home builders, real estate, home supply retail outlets and foreign banks.

According to The State Bank’s Quarterly Housing Finance Review, Pakistan’s “housing units’ shortage can be estimated more than 9 million units” in a nation where property prices average USD 480,000 and buyers have weighed down by a GDP per capita that barely brushes the USD 2,000 line.

Local and international players have convened on Pakistan to solve this problem, the first of which was Zeeshan Khan and his brother in 2006 with their online property portal Zameen.com, a site that educates, informs and empowers nearly 1.3 million visitors every month. The brothers have dominated the property portal market place in Pakistan ever since.

Rocket Internet’s entered Pakistan in 2012 with eCommerce start-up funding for electronics, fashion and apparel verticals, and further invested a year later with Lamudi.pk, a property portal with strong brand recall, footing & trust in northern regions.

But Pakistani’s don’t just live in Pakistan.

Overseas citizens send around $10 billion back home each year and most of that money goes into real estate. Sadly, they are often misguided about property prices by real estate agents and at times by their own relatives. While Zameen.com and Lamudi.pk fill this need for locals, the nation needs a property evaluation and consultancy service to help the millions of Pakistanis abroad as well.

Enter Arazi.pk, a property portal (founded by business magnate Umair Sheikh) that aims to revolutionize the user experience for real estate customers in Pakistan. It’s the first (and so far the only) Pakistani startup to be recognized as a disruptive startup by WebSummit and was also selected for the upcoming RISE Conference.

Apart from having similar features and services to Lamudi.pk and Zameen.comArazi.pk is the first property portal to introduce virtual tours, panoramic views and floor plans. To ensure a much safer experience, advanced security features include the automated account verification system (activated via a short messaging service).

Property evaluation services for Pakistani diaspora can help settle family disputes that are often caused by misunderstandings rather than bad intentions. The only components of this missing is a a value assessment service for foreign embassies (immigration services) and commercial banks as well. Corporate customers of real estate demand access to a map showing the recent value assessments in a particular area, ensuring transparency and accuracy. Time will tell which new player will bring this to the fold, or whether existing players will add it on.

In Conversation with the Director of Engro Eximp

The 2008 meltdown is a difficult point for investors who are stuck in the past, because it will serve to remind them of the trouble they lived through rather than focusing on what has happened since.While the population of scared investors has dwindled as the bull market has gone on, plenty of people have overcome their fears only to a point of dipping a toe back in to test the water temperature; seven years later, the anniversary will remind them of why they won’t believe experts who say “Come on in, the water’s fine”.

I sat down with the Isfandiyar Shaheen of Engro Eximp to learn his take-away’s from the crisis and ideas for prevention of another.

What did the crisis teach you?
Varies for most of us. It has taught me that we need practical wisdom. I engage daily with the world of financial models, KPIs, rules, performance management, deals and board reporting materials. The crisis has taught me we don’t need more rules, we need deeper discussions about the merits of doing the right thing. Because smart people will always figure a way around more rules.

Is there anything that we’re still doing that we should stop?
In completely nerd language, we need to stop adding an IF statement on top of an IF statement to get a model to “balance”. What we need are elegant solutions. The thing with elegant solutions is that they require us to internalize many guiding principles which aren’t necessarily found in the world of economics. By economics I mean the study of resource allocation popularized during the mid 1700’s post industrial revolution. It would be naive to think that more rules will get the job done. Just to drive this point further. In the 1970’s, wild fire fighters in California used 4 guiding principles. This was changed to 48 well defined rules by mid 1990’s. End result was more deaths and poorer performance.

What did the crisis boil down to in your opinion?
In my view, it was a crisis of information asymmetry that was consciously propagated by a few members in the real estate finance value chain. Today the same asymmetry exists around valuation of tech companies. They quote big headline valuation numbers. Which gets used by retail investors to justify pricing when such companies go public. But rarely people talk about the terms of a subscription agreement in private deals. Whether it’s what’s app getting 19 billion or slack getting 1 billion in valuation, no one is talking about the actual terms and protections built in. This asymmetry might hurt some people.

So we’re on the verge of a second dot com bubble?
I’m not saying that, just saying that the crisis has taught us that we need to kill information asymmetry. We must do it because capital allocation should not be the privilege of the few. By engaging more minds in the process of making capital allocation decisions I think we can make better choices and hence access some practical wisdom.

So what needs to be done today?
In the end I think people get pissed off when they feel misled or taken for granted. All financial crises misled someone and someone got hurt. I don’t think we’ve learned how not to do that. We haven’t because we are still thinking rules and regulation. We need to give guiding principles a chance. We need to give practical wisdom a chance. I think more money going into the world of big data will solve that issue though. So overall I’m optimistic.


Further reading:

CEO of Cosmopolitan: “Digital Is The Best Medium”

After food forums exploded with chatter on their diverse breakfast menu, I reached out to Mohsin Ihsan and Danish Ishtiaq, the co-founders of Cosmopolitan , to learn about their quick success.

Of all the names, why Cosmopolitan?
It was a well thought of name. We witnessed a generation exposed to cultures all over the world, be it London, Tokyo, Paris etc. Cosmopolitan is a culture choice, commonly adapted by the fashion centric audiences. The name was suggested by Ahmed Ali Shah, CFO of L’Oreal.

So you’re from well off families. Why did you start the business?
Initially it was the economics. The demand was high of this concept. We haven’t had much entertainment in Karachi. All you can do is go out and eat. In the middle of the project there were major challenges. As of now, we can call it passion and true love. We started the concept in June 2013, with talks with Realtor. This business is people oriented.

What can you cook now?
I can make breakfast, eggs and all 🙂

Doesn’t that backfire?
It has once or twice, but our focus is always on professionalism. We have not compromised on anything in between.

If you could go back to the day you started, what would you do differently?
We always believe in developing the team. We would have done more training sessions for ourselves and the staff. We assumed the staff were versed in team building and its an avenue we would have worked. We would want this to be stable right now then slowly fix our work schedule. We’re balancing between this and our family businesses.

How is this unique?
We want to be the epitome of hospitality. It’s lacking in Pakistan. When we opened up there was just Xanders in this lane. The quality and variations go out the window when you’re hospitable. From back end to front end staff, they should have the guest on their mind.

How many guests do you serve per day?
We average 215 guests per day. Our model was 3 course meals. We started breakfast 3 weeks ago. We planned for breakfast for 30th August, fifteen days after launch. We realized that the market needed something unheard of. So we changed the concept of breakfast completely.

How did you market the business, and what was the logic behind the mediums utilized?
We capitalized on social media, primarily Twitter and Facebook. As three partners, we belong to different backgrounds on affluence, so that helped too. It was mostly digital. For the first 15 days of run, we invited people from various social settings, for a pilot test run and that created a positive buzz. We are currently purely digital and its the best medium.

From a brand strategy perspective, how do you think people feel when they hear the name of your business?
Honestly it was supposed to an upscale eatery, a sort of boutique rest. We want people to feel elevated when they come here. We want them to leave with the experience. We want customers to experience international cuisines, as if they are enjoying them abroad.

There are some food business that use non verbal cues to pressure customers to leave early. Why don’t you use them?
Sure, it hurts our top line, but we want people to experience comfort and ease. We belong to the same social setting that expects an extraordinary dining experience. If people are craving for such experiences, they can always go to BBQ players.

You may have seen the maids issue on KFD. What’s your take on it?
It’s very sad on both parts. Not just by the people dragging their maids along, but also by the eateries that stand by and do nothing. I think its the eateries job to at least ask the customers if they would like to order for the help.

What do you think food businesses can do to ensure traffic law obedience by delivery teams?
Honestly, the food business should but the impact will come to the customers. Then again 35,000 people on KFD bash you for a 20 minute delay.

What is that balance between penalizing for late and rewarding on time?
The right balance is the motivation and encouragement of the staff. We penalize the staff on punctuality. We make sure that if a guest complains about not being looked after. We do not tolerate the idea of a customer leaving unhappy.

What’s your top performing food item?

Breakfast as a whole and the all time favorite is the pamasan chicken since day one. Everyone has it and its normally fried with crumbs because its run of mill. We do it, how it should be – baked and topped with crumbs and pamasan cheese differently. We have greater portions.

A recent post of KFD alleged that food business owners should play a role in improving the area surrounding their outlets. What’s your take on this?
We fixed our road ourselves. The authorities that were supposed to do it were delaying it. We payed a private contractor to get it done. The general issue is the disposal of trash. When you go to the back, you’ll see the area cleared of waste. We have a contract with someone that ensures safe transit of the trash.

What do you think about businesses that opt for positioning under Shariah compliance?
Positioning for the heck of it is something anyone can do. If they follow through with it, then it matters. I think they are doing it just for conversions on that segment. This is Islam of convenience. Music are okay but movies are bad. It’s easy for us to play music but not to serve alcohol. We say no to 45-50 people only because of booze. We want to be focused on our core business.

What’s the most absurd reason someone has given your food a bad review?
Couple of months ago: a group of 35 ladies and their host wanted us to lie to 32 other households about what was and what was not on the menu. Our slogan is “House of Yes”. She threatened to write a negative review on KFD and SWOT if they didn’t comply with her demands.

Any plans for an eCommerce focus or loyalty system?
We’re currently considering a mobile app that allows for ease in transactions and serves as a reservation system.

What’s the growth plan for the next quarter?
Consistency. We would like to retain our guests and provide consistency. We now have ramps for the elderly customers, who are now frequent customers.


Further reading:

In Conversation with the CEO of BeautyHooked.com

At the third Startup Weekend event held in Lahore, Sahr Said‘s idea was crowned the winner. Within a week, she secured an incubation with the LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship and has embarked on a mission to make it incredibly easy for every woman to be beautiful.

We reached out to her to learn about what the company will look like in a year, from the perspectives of  product, people, team, revenue and number of customers added.

How has your mission evolved?
Who doesn’t want to be beautiful? BeautyHooked.com’s mission is to provide ease of discovering and booking the ideal beauty service or beauty product with very personalized product recommendations. To that end, we aim to constantly evaluate our product market fit and refine our offering to best fit the market and its requirement.

Where do you see the venture a year from now?
Within a year, the company’s goal is to bring the very segmented beauty salon and spa industry online, making it more accessible and transparent to the end users. It will provide a simplified online booking process, so members can schedule their monthly maintenance, discover new beauty services and destinations or find a last minute appointment, 24/7.

Team-Picture-712x540

What’s the big picture goal?
We envision to be the search tool for all things beauty; where customers can discover vetted beauty spots, read expert editorial reviews, and book appointments instantly with just the touch of a button. The product will allow women to seamlessly search, discover, review and book beauty services in close proximity, saving time and enabling them to make more informed decisions about their beauty needs and choices. At the same time, it will serve as a tool for the beauty services industry to connect with customers, generate traffic, get market feedback and promote their products and services to those women who need and want them the most.

How much are you charging users?
We’ll launch the MVP in mid-July 2015 and it will be free to use for all users so that they will be able to maximize this service at no cost to them. We are in the business of Beauty made easy, and within a year, our goal is to connect our customers with the beauty services they need, anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

Further reading:

Bridging the Agency-Client Relationship

For whatever reason, there is – and has always been – a massive divide between clients and agencies. Creatives and brand managers don’t just sit on the opposite sides of the table in boardrooms, they sit miles apart in terms of expectations, ideologies and understanding of each other’s roles.

Brand managers are unable to harness and direct creative efforts just as creatives are unable to understand the many practicalities, restrictions and real-world risks that come with managing a brand. The solution is teamwork. The best results come when the lines between the agency and client are blurred; when an agency becomes as involved in brand management as a client becomes in brainstorming and ideation.

Brand managers should be as involved in the creative process just as creatives should involved in understanding the dynamics of budget allocation, marketing strategies, and target audiences.

Agencies should spend less time working in isolation and more time working alongside brand managers to understand the brand from its core instead of from a brief – that is of course, when time and resources allow that to happen.

Further reading:

 

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