Around the same time when Amazon was spending top dollars for online ad management alone, three company staffers who were key members of the paid marketing, product management and technology teams came up with an 'evenings and weekend' project.
"Amazon was spending $180-190 million a year on online ad management alone at that time. The idea to do something similar but better germinated there only," said Ashish Mehta, co-founder and CEO of Sokrati, which he founded in 2009 along with Anubhav Sonthalia and Santosh Gannavarapu.
That idea was to redefine the management of online adspend and RoI better than various technology platforms and solutions available in the industry.
While Mehta was part of the paid marketing team at Amazon.com, where he managed channels like comparison shopping, search and affiliate networks, Sonthalia was employed in the programme and product management division and Gannavarapu worked on software that powered Amazon's affiliate marketing.
"We wanted to start something of our own and had many ideas. Then we started Sokrati as a weekends project and and it clicked. That gave us the confidence to move forward with the project," said Mehta.
At that point of time, the founders had spent about seven years in the US and were looking to join a startup. But when Sokrati happened, the Desi urge came into play.
"That is when we decided to head back to India. We wanted to give India a chance," Mehta recalled.
Presently, Sokrati is managing about 50 clients across sectors with majority of them being e-commerce players. Its automated platform for search and paid marketing claims to give three million clicks to the client on any given day. Its clientele includes the likes of Fashion and You, Yebhi and MagicBricks.com.
Run by Bogolik Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, Sokrati started as a pure play digital marketing agency that managed paid search marketing campaigns for advertisers in online retail and travel segments. It expanded and added more services later on to become an integrated platform to manage paid search marketing across multiple channels like search, social networks and display networks.
Sokrati raised an undisclosed amount in Series A in March last year from Inventus Capital. At that time, the company had said the capital raised would be used for international expansion. Mehta says international expansion is on the cards only early next year.
"We are in a comfortable position right now, very close to break even. We are doing well in terms of burn rate viz money in bank.," Mehta informed.
Sokrati charges a percentage of advertising spend of their client. As of now, this is the only revenue channel and besides this the SaaS model that the company is looking to launch soon is also expected to be another revenue source.
The key differentiator
What sets Sokrati apart then in the mad jungle of online ad management world? Technology, they say. "The technology that we use improves performance by 40 percent within six weeks when compared to other search marketing platforms and tools available in the industry," he added. Sokrati also offers a free audit programme that provide "missed opportunities" and data on improvement factors on existing search campaigns. "No other ad affiliate has the same technology backend that we have," he said.
The coming year looks very optimistic for Sokrati. Many new services are going to be added in their kitty. Along with a couple of product launches, the company is working on a SaaS-based model to tap into the SMB market as well. Also Sokrati is looking to add another channel to its offerings. Currently providing ad analytics for Google, Youtube, LinkedIn, Facebook and Yahoo, Sokrati is now looking to do the same for mobile platform as well.
Products and services apart, what really drives innovation is its office culture. Sokrati, which began operations with 14 people, is now a 70-strong team. "We have really strived and focused to build the right culture at Sokrati which has helped us to attract the right talent. Our right values have helped us get and retain the right talent in spite of being in a city like Pune, which is not an IT or marketing hub," Mehta says. Sokrati also has an office in Seattle, US.
"We are trying to bring Amazon kind of culture here. We really care about our employees. We are decentralised in our approach. For instance appraisals happen round the year at Sokrati and if one is performing well he/she can expect a promotion even thrice a year," he added.
Sokrati is in a sector that is much competitive now, with online businesses growing at a rapid pace. Other ad affiliates with which it competes include Resultrix, Komli Media, Group M, and Interactive Avenues. Sokrati was selected as one of the 20 Techcircle Fastrack companies early this year.
(Edited by Prem Udayabhanu)