We don’t want to be the ‘agency of a brand’ but instead we want to be the storytellers of brands: Founders of Django Di...
- Due to the pandemic, as brands tightened their purse strings in 2020, advertising agencies had to resort to salary cuts and/or worse, layoffs.
- In the midst of it all, the two-year-old Django Digital, a part of the Schbang Network, hit its $1 million revenue mark despite the pandemic and economic slowdown.
- Django Digital is currently serving a wide range of clients across different categories, including FMCG, lifestyle, health and skincare, amongst others.
- It has associated with brands such as Society Tea, Imagine Meats, skinnsi, toothsi, Bblunt, Nykaa, Jio Fiber, BookMyShow, Storia Foods, among others.
- We speak to
Aashay Shahand Shivang Shah, Founders of Django Digitalon their journey so far, find out more about the factors that led to this quick growth during a global pandemic, and discuss their larger vision for the agency.
Shortly after its inception, the digital agency had to face its biggest challenge -- sail through a pandemic when the biggest advertising agencies of India were laying off their employees and cutting their salaries to half because brands had curtailed their marketing budgets. Django Digital not only survived the pandemic but also grew tenfold and has now hit the $1 million revenue mark.
COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital marketing and pushed brands to reconsider their strategies and shift monnies where consumers are -- be it OTT or social media, screen time has increased and clients are following them. Digital marketing finally received its due recognition and credit last year, which worked well in Django Digital’s favour.
We spoke to the founders, Shivang Shah and Aashay Shah, to find out their secret sauce, discuss the challenges that lie ahead and vision for the agency.
Q. Can you walk us through your journey so far and share a few key milestones?
The two of us have always been passionate about becoming entrepreneurs. So our dream venture Django Digital started off right in our living room as we both brainstormed nights on end. Within two months we started working out of a mezzanine floored office that used to be a repair shop. At this point, we were merely a team of five-to-six but creatively skilled individuals. Today, we are working out of a 2400 sq ft office in Lower Parel, Mumbai with a workforce of 60 people. We have a dedicated studio in the office for our photo and video-led content work.
Our journey has been long and aspirational but let me tell you, we achieved so many of those aspirations. Since day one, we wanted to sign Society Tea as a client and exactly a year later, we got them onboard. As founders of a startup, both of us wore multiple hats and took up responsibilities of handling finance, accounts, recruitment, IT and administration. It was only after a year that we managed to hire an HR manager and an accountant. We learnt new skills, made quite a few mistakes but it was always a step in the right direction. Vivek Shah, our performance media lead, was working out of New York during the first year but still continued to work with Django, steadily managing around different time zones.
Q. What does your clientele look like today?
We remember when we started out, one of the conversations we had was we wanted to be known as 'two young kids around the block’, which did materialise. Within a year of Django being operational, we were sitting at the same table as all the other renowned agencies, managing a roster of 45+ clients.
Over two years in, Django Digital is currently serving a wide range of clients across industries, including FMCG, lifestyle, health and skincare, amongst others. We’ve associated with both, young as well as well-established brands such as Society Tea, Imagine Meats, skinnsi, toothsi, Bblunt, Nykaa, Jio Fiber, BookMyShow, Storia Foods, and others. Catering to a multitude of clients across industries has expanded our portfolio, making us a 360-degree digital solutions provider.
Q. Django started in 2019 and shortly in 2020, the business world had to face its biggest crisis ever of modern times. And you have not only survived through it but also grown tenfold! Tell us what kind of challenges you faced as a new business?
In literal terms, Django Digital is a Covid baby. While others were adapting to the virtual ecosystem, we had to start from scratch in this environment. However, we managed to use this as an opportunity to meet rising demand for digital solutions. Certain challenges we faced across the way were creating and building virtual teams, coordinating and functioning in the entire work-from-home setup, pitching new ideas to clients and most importantly - providing our team members with necessary infrastructural essentials at their homes, especially the design team that is the backbone of our creative work.
In spite of these challenges, we have successfully arrived at where we are today. This is just a learning for us that growth can happen in any environment, if you are dedicated and motivated enough.
Q. You have hit the one million mark during a global pandemic. Just a few months ago, the advertising industry was struggling to survive. What has worked in your favour?
Looking back, the two years of the pandemic have been the defining years for our agency. We quickly set in place a plan and we have stuck to it ever since - that of making difficult decisions early on and then accelerating out hard to take a rightful seat at the table with the bigger agencies in the industry.
While mainline advertising was hit badly, we witnessed a surge in digital requirements. Traditional players rapidly adopted it without much knowledge, and as a desperate move to get business back on track. Many didn't see digital as a key channel earlier, but necessity drove them into it. They had to provide for their customers so as to retain them. But we started out purely as a digital agency with the experience to validate us and our work. Being part of this digital age and using it to our advantage is precisely what has worked best for us.
Q. What do you think sets you apart?
An industry that is booming with new agencies every day, what sets us apart is our approach towards business. We make it a point to associate with brands where we get to work directly with leadership teams so that our strategy and thoughts aren’t diluted in the process. The trifecta of social, influencers and performance media has enabled us to provide a holistic digital solution to all our clients.
We’re a thriving agency with a young and dynamic workforce that is hungry for growth. We’re very specific about the talent we get aboard at Django. More than expertise, we value determination and that’s what sets us apart. As an organization, we believe in fostering a culture of creative freedom and minimal hierarchy.
Q. You mentioned that you work with brands where the leadership team is equally involved. Can you tell me more about this approach? How different is this experience? How open are clients to being involved with their agency?
We consciously make an effort to stay directly in touch with the founders of brands that we’re serving. The innovative ideas we have are not filtered in this route. Our expertise combined with our collective experience is the approach we have seen founders love and have in turn, grown to become more involved in the decision making process. By adapting this route, we get to deep dive into the brand and in return, brands get a better understanding of the digital marketing approach we suggest. We build a personal connection and a long-lasting relationship with brands that is beyond business.
Q. Clients' needs are evolving rapidly. How are you keeping up with the pace?
As a young digital agency, staying on our toes comes as second nature to us. We are constantly adapting to the latest trends. At times, we are the ones to notify the clients about the disrupting trends in the industry and how to leverage those. We cater to our clients’ needs and expectations, but we also put forth our informed opinion when the need arises. Our common objective is our clients’ growth and we do not shy away from stating our thoughts, even when they might contradict with the clients.’
Q. Which cities are you present in? Do you plan to expand further?
At the moment, we are based out of Mumbai but we do handle clients pan India and in the USA as well as in Antwerp.
We’re currently seeing the economy booming combined with changing demographic sentiments. We see a lot of potential within India for now, especially with the startup boom and therefore want to exploit that further. As years pass by, we will look at expanding outside India, however operations will always be from India itself.
Q. You recently launched Djang-Gang, your influencer unit. What kind of response have you seen for the same?
Djang Gang is a novel ‘by-invite’ club for content creators across genres, allowing them to showcase their talent and helping them build associations with suitable brands. We offer them an in-house studio set-up, post-production perks, commitment to handle all legal aspects and the youngest creative team to back the content being created. We’ve received an incredible response from over 300 creators who wanted to be a part of this initiative. However, we thoughtfully chose 14 talented and budding creators from the applications received. We’re progressing towards building a growing environment for the onboarded community of creators and are also on the lookout for dedicated creators wanting to make a mark in the industry. We would love to support and grow with them.
Q. What are the challenges ahead and what kind of changes can we see at the agency in the next few months?
We’re a 2.5-year-old agency that is growing at a rather fast rate for a pandemic baby, however, challenges are still an eminent part of what we do. The biggest challenge we are facing is scaling up at a sustainable pace. We’re learning how to drive our growth by building a resilient business model which balances sustainability with economic development and equitable growth.
Apart from that, we face the challenges that every agency does - ensuring we work with the right clients, convincing them to execute out-of-box ideas with no past references and doing work that is worthy of the effort we put into it.
While these challenges are constant, the most crucial one is hiring the right talent. At Django, we believe in hiring leadership talent that will shape the organization so finding the right people, especially virtually, and building our teams is a challenge we are working towards every day.
Q. Finding good talent is something that people in our industry always complain about. Are you also facing a similar issue?
The ongoing pandemic has made the process of finding great talent tougher but at the same time, allowed us to find innovative ways to get them onboard. As an agency that started out a little over 2 years ago with us two founders in our living rooms, we have scaled up and have grown our family to 60 young-blooded individuals. I can already tell you that you will see us grow to 100+ employees by August ‘22 and I’ll also explain how Django is doing this.
We have got a very strong referral system within Django itself. I would say 50% of our hires are built through these referrals. Every employee here is helping the agency grow so they actively help spread the word and bring in like-minded people to us.
Another fact is that hiring has been difficult across the industry, but what we realised early on is that this has opened several doors for us. As a Bombay-based agency, we aren’t limited to employees around us. The work-from-home virtual setup had us scouting great talent from across the country as well, leading us to grow to the strength we have today.
Q. What is your larger vision for the agency?
At Django Digital, we believe in awakening brands digitally - our larger vision is to inculcate this for a lot more brands. We don’t want to be the ‘agency of a brand’ but instead we want to be the storytellers of brands. We are on a strong mission to build Django Digital and its employees along with our clients. You can say that our larger vision is to do good work, inspiring work and work that impacts the world and businesses in a positive way.
Q. What is your revenue goal for next fiscal? What do you think will be the main forces helping you reach there?
Now that we have hit the $1 Million revenue mark, we are motivated to achieve a $1.5 M annual target. We’re expecting Django to progress at an even quicker rate now and our strategic imperatives will result in a stronger financial structure for us. We want to ensure a sustainable and profitable growth while increasing our revenue at higher gross margins over time. As a new-age digital startup agency, we bring the right edge to the table as well as a strong core team that will help us dominate the industry. We are focusing on segments that will allow profitable growth and at the same time staying engaged with our trusted existing clients that will help drive us towards our goal.