Tell us about yourself & how your career shaped up –
My name is Sanjai Velayudhan. I am a marketer with specialisation in loyalty programs in general & frequent flyer programs in particular. With 23 years of global experience under my belt, I have had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest brands. I have mostly worked & lived in cosmopolitan cities across the world.
I was particularly lucky to have been part of the leadership team that launched the first loyalty program powered with an EMV chip in the Middle East. ‘Points’, which was rebranded as ‘CompanionPoints’ after its merger with DNATA was a pioneer. It was the first instant earn & burn program that could be seamlessly used across a wide coalition of heterogenous merchants. In many ways, it changed the marketing landscape of United Arab Emirates.
I played a salient role in designing & implementing a loyalty program for the city of Dubai with the support & participation of government agencies. We were able to meet multiple objectives with this seminal program.
My greatest strength is my ability to focus on the customer-psychology & fabricate alternative marketing initiatives. Having been part of many loyalty programs, I have always tried to make marketing customer-friendly. I always wondered why major brands only run campaigns targeting the customers but never ask them what they really want. Incoming customer information can help shape better campaigns. As a consultant, I have cautioned brand owners not to overwhelm customers with marketing promotions & communications. I believe that simple solutions can often become catalysts for major changes. ‘Gamification’ is one of the simplest but powerful strategies that I have been fascinated with because, its applications are many.
I always wanted to create a ‘unique’ solution that can be rolled out to the masses in large numbers. Changes can only be ushered in with participation from the masses-be it political, social, cultural…I believed in the concept & with the support of my daughter Nakshatra, designed a working blue print for noo-gah!
In order to maintain concept & marketing autonomy, we took the risk of funding the MVP entirely on our own. Our demonstrated confidence in our own product should translate into the trust of the people.
What were the challenges you faced in your start-up/entrepreneurship journey?
The biggest challenge was to identify an experienced & motivated technology team. Midway through the process, we had to change a team that was not delivering quality processes. This did slow down the project by about 4-5 months. We had to then find & re-train another tech-team. We understand & accept that delays are always part of a challenging journey.
What is the biggest factor that has helped you to be successful?
The support of my family especially my wife, Latha. Together, we have been able to keep the costs down substantially without compromising on quality. These range from app-process creation, digital strategy & campaign execution. We estimate a savings of just about Rs. 1.5 Cr.
What was the hardest decision you ever had to make and when?
The hardest decision was to underwrite the risk & entirely fund noo-gah! This helped us demonstrate that we believe in the concept.
What is the current structure of your start-up?
noo-gah! is managed by a small leadership team. We have chosen strategic outsourcing for larger, specialised teams that include-technology, public relations, finance & accounting, legal etc
Who is your target audience and why?
Our primary target segment is the young people belonging to the 14-25 years. The secondary target would include people between 26-35.
We chose these segments because, history is witness that all major changes have been ushered in by the young. Be it the Jasmine Revolution or the Arab Spring. We also see the young people taking enormous risks & advocating for change in Iran, Saudi Arabia & other countries. Now it is they who are boldly challenging the Taliban.
noo-gah! does not advocate or encourage physical revolts but we do believe in the saying ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’. It means the ‘voice of the people’ is the ‘voice of God’. We want to leverage the power of thoughts & opinions by making them available to a wide audience. Opinions can usher in change; Unity can bring about paradigm shifts.
What motivates you?
I am motivated by the prospect of becoming the catalyst that facilitates change-both small & large. I believe that organisations can make profits while also becoming harbingers of positive disruption in societies. Every small change adds up. I am not a romantic nor an activist. I am a pragmatic person who wants to bring together the energy of the masses for creating dents in existing societal structure.
Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
I don’t think so. The only formula(s) I know is to lead by example, lead from the front. By risking everything that I have for noo-gah!, I am earning the trust of people.
What piece of advice would you give to college graduates who want to become entrepreneurs?
I personally believe that some work experience is necessary to become an entrepreneur. It helps in mature decision making & calculated risk taking.
Who is your role model?
Dashrath Manjhi, widely known as the “Mountain Man”. He carved 30 feet wide by 360 feet long path through a 25 feet high hill. He executed this massive task by using just a hammer & chisel. He proved that an ordinary man with extraordinary motivation & is willing to relentlessly chase his dreams can win against the biggest obstacles. There is nobody in the recent history who has done something so motivational.