Brand news

Flipkart story shows why a startup and its ad partner need common genes

19 Nov 2017

Circa 2010, oblivious to the advertising industry, which was limping back to normalcy following the recession, a new dawn broke into a cracking new day. Just when we thought advertising had settled down to another year of caution, a bunch of precocious kids acting like adults took television by storm.

Even as the country waited with eager anticipation for the next ad, a disruptive idea was gathering momentum. It would later be compared to the all-time great icons, like the wise and shrewd homemaker Lalita Ji of Surf fame, Vodafone's Zoozoos, the famous MRF man, the Amul girl, Gattu of Asian Paints, and so on.

That TV commercial was 'Flipkart Kids', for the brand Flipkart (then a startup), and Happy was the creative agency behind it. Both Flipkart and Happy were just three years old at the time. Flipkart was a startup fully loaded and raring to go, Happy a willing partner to guide them to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The rest, as they say, is history.

But, how do you take a startup and get it going? How do you hand-hold a bunch of audacious entrepreneurs eager to break all rules and make it big? How do you transform a startup into a brand and a company? How can you be a partner and not just a vendor to the startup? And how do you match the entrepreneurs' sense of urgency, turnaround time and infectious enthusiasm?

According to Bill Gross, founder of Idealab, the California-based studio that incubated more than 400 companies, there are five criteria for startup success — ideas, team, business model, funding and timing.

After researching more than 400 companies to find out why they were successful, Gross discovered, to everyone's surprise, that 'timing' was the most important parameter. Take Airbnb, for example. Initially, many had refused to fund the online hospitality service. Their thinking was, 'Why would anyone rent out their free space to a stranger?' But after the recession, people were ready to engage with new ideas to increase revenue. Result: Airbnb took off.

'Team' came in second on the list, followed by 'ideas', 'Business model' and 'funding'. One would have thought that 'idea' would be the most critical (the more innovative the idea, the better). But Gross's research showed that focusing on understanding what customers were ready for ('timing') was far more important.

For instance, Uber succeeded at a time when the public transport system was weak and drivers were looking for more money.

So, let's take Flipkart. It had to focus on getting people to buy things rather than buying a single product, online. This subtle distinction made all the difference. At the time, Flipkart had to tackle the negative experience of shopping online, and to build trust. Why kids, you may ask? It's because we wanted to show the simplicity of it all. How it was just 'child's play'. What ensued was an overwhelming success.

Startups, then, need agencies to understand their vision and translate it into action. They need less jargon and more clarity and transparency, and a smaller number of creative strategy slides and more action thrillers. Sometimes, they need the briefs, and the marketing and business plans, to be written and executed by the agency. They need agencies to connect with their passion and sense of urgency, to take risks even though there are only slim chances of survival. They need them to connect strongly with the founders and believe in their dream.


Startups need agencies to mirror them. In other words, to be agile and decisive, and to have the courage to go where no one has gone before. They also need them to be flexible, to work like partners and deliver at odd hours. In short, they expect agencies to have their own set of 'crazy ones' and 'misfits' who will help transform the world. Who knows, you may end up buying them a stairway to start-up heaven.


(The author is MD and Chief Creative Officer, Happy mcgarrybowen)