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Indian marketing and ad heavyweights combine forces to form Spring Marketing Capital

Former Sequoia India chief marketing officer Raja Ganapathy, former chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe Lintas Arun Iyer and former CEO of DDB Mudra Group Vineet Gupta have combined forces to start Spring Marketing Capital in India.

The firm will be a marketing capital and consulting firm, which the trio say represents an entirely new model.

The consulting side of the business will provide marketing and creative services to companies predominantly in the startup space.

The marketing capital side intends creating a fund in association with venture capitalists to partner founders who have raised a Series A or B round of funding from VC firms.

The consulting services of Spring Marketing Capital will be bundled in along with a US $1 million investment. The firm will retain the option of exiting at the next liquidity round, ensuring a quick investment to returns cycle.

The founders have a great track record of building businesses in the Indian marketing and advertising space.

Raja Ganapathy

Raja Ganapathy at Sequoia has worked on brands like fintech company Freecharge, snack food manufacturer Yellow Diamond, online tutoring firm Byju’s and Healthkart, a vendor and producer of health and nutrition supplements.

Arun Iyer has worked extensively on Unilever, Indian accessories brand Tanishq and telecom operator Idea during his stint at Lowe Lintas, creating some of India’s most successful campaigns.

Vineet Gupta was managing partner at digital specialist agency 22feet which was acquired by DDB. He was group CEO at DDB Mudra Group in India, besides previously having worked at Microsoft and Star TV.

Elaborating on the business model in conversation with Mumbrella, Ganapathy said: “What brought us together is a shared realisation that a strong marketing intervention at the right time can help a company scale exponentially. We saw that on the companies we worked with.

“The model has three or four components. The first is a marketing and brand intervention that can help change the company’s trajectory.

“The second is the philosophy of skin in the game. When the goals are the same, all of us benefit.

“We will co-invest with other VC firms – we are not a VC firm ourselves – and offer our expertise as part of the investment.”

The “skin in the game” philosophy will also inform the marketing consultancy practice, added Ganapathy.

Spring Marketing Capital is currently working with 10 brands on the consulting side of the business according to the team including Byju’s, yoghurt brand Epigamia, mattress company Wakefit and Cars24.

Ganapathy said: “We don’t even have one assignment where we are called in to do a campaign.

It’s all about understanding the business, identifying the core value proposition and working closely with the founder and his team to build the brand and bring it to life.

“Everything from recruitment to internal communication to crisis response should stem from the same values. Which is why our assignments require a lot of involvement from the founders — almost 50% of effort, thinking and ideas come from them.”

Arun Iyer

Iyer added: “What we are attempting is not just communication or campaigns but creating worlds for brands.

“For Cars 24, we redesigned the logo but we are also closely working on the training module for people at their showrooms and the videos they put up online and on television.”

The consulting business on the other hand is still a work in progress, with no investments so far.

Speaking about what they were looking for in companies that Spring Marketing Capital was likely to invest in, Ganapathy said: “We will obviously be a lot more selective. These will be portfolio companies of a bunch of VCs we are working with closely. We will pick companies where the product-market fit has already been proven.

“There are some key aspects to consider: Will marketing be the key intervention at that point of time?

“The second is our own faith in the founder and the management team, and working towards a common goal.

“It is very important that there is a strong belief in each other, before we come in with an investment.”

According to Ganapathy, several founders of startups had evinced an interest in becoming potential investors in the fund.

While Spring Marketing Capital will primarily cater to Indian businesses, it intends expanding its scope, working with companies based in India looking to expand to foreign markets to start with.

The remuneration will be on a consulting model with a retainer. Ganapathy added: “Potentially some of the consulting assignments could end up becoming investments.

“There are also investments that could keep us on as consultants. The two parts of our business are very complementary.”

Speaking of how the trio got together, Iyer said: “Raja and me worked on a bunch of companies in the Sequoia folio. Vineet and me overlapped a lot on many brands.

“I secretly wished to work with Vineet one day, but Raja was the central force in this.

“We started conversations, and then, at some stage decided we need to get Vineet on board. It made so much sense that we it would be naïve to let this go.”

Vineet Gupta

Gupta added: “There’s a lot of mutual respect and a genuine passion to help the next set of companies unlock equity value through marketing.

“We are trying to seamlessly offer the difference in experience that each of us brings.”

The founders will be joined by 15-member team, many of whom volunteered to join as soon as rumours began to circulate about Ganapathy, Iyer and Gupta teaming up.

Sticking with the consulting model, the company will do away with traditional agency roles with everyone being either a partner or an associate.

Ganapathy said: “Many of those who first joined had no visibility on remuneration and we didn’t even have a name at the time.

“It’s a bit of an inside joke, that most of them got to know their salary only once they were well into the work.”

Asked why they picked the name Spring, Iyer said: “The obvious reason is wanting to be the springboard for startups.

“Secondly there’s a positivity to the season itself. That is the company we want to create.”

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