7-month-old PagarBook aims for 10 million active users by FY2021 after its first mass campaign with brand ambassador Akshay Kumar
PagarBook launches its first TVC with Akshay Kumar PagarBook
Here is how a 7-month-old start-up manage to rope an ambassador as big as Akshay Kumar

7-month-old PagarBook aims for 10 million active users by FY2021 after its first mass campaign with brand ambassador Akshay Kumar

Here is how a 7-month-old start-up manage to rope an ambassador as big as Akshay Kumar
  • PagarBook, a 7-months-old start-up, recently roped in Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador and announced its goal to gain 10 million users by the end of FY2021.
  • The company has now launched its maiden mass campaign with Akshay Kumar to increase its visibility and gain user trust.
  • Siva Prasad, the Senior Vice President - Marketing & Sales, PagarBook talks about the company's latest ad, some of the factors that helped PagarBook drive its growth and rope in a big name like Akshay Kumar in its 7 months of existence.
PagarBook, a payroll and attendance management app for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), has launched its maiden mass campaign with brand ambassador Akshay Kumar and veteran actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda.

While PagarBook launched a year ago in October, it was only in February 2020 that it went live officially. It decided to softly launch its product into the market with small digital campaigns and it attracted thousands of downloads and an active user base in a few weeks. Over the last 6 months, PagarBook has increased its user base to 5 million and launched its User Interface (UI) in 13 different languages.

And now, in less than a year of its existence, it is all set to roll out its first TVC with Akshay Kumar, who is known to charge an endorsement fee of around Rs 2-3 crore per day and as per Duff & Phelps’ Celebrity Brand Valuation Study 2019, he is worth Rs 742 crore.

PagarBook has released four advertisements; each extolling a particular offering: staff attendance, advance payment and overtime payment. The tagline, “Pagarbook Lagao, Business Badhao,” is also pretty direct and convincing like its brand name. Conceptualised by BBDO India, the campaign aims to target Hindi and English speaking entrepreneurs across the country.

Kumar was roped in for his boy-next-door image. With this ambassadorship deal of two years with Kumar, PagarBook is aiming to expand its user base and reach 10 million registered users by FY2021 and establish itself as a trust-worthy, easy-to-use app that empowers SMBs.

In a virtual brainstorming meeting, Kumar was the first name to pop in the teams’ heads. They were looking for a face who would speak to an audience that toils all day to make ends meet and takes no break. It was an easy choice for PagarBook, who trusted Kumar’s consumer and media perception and their guts to go-ahead without any market research.

Telling us why Kumar was a perfect match for the PagarBook, Siva Prasad, the Senior Vice President - Marketing & Sales, PagarBook, said, “It was pretty easy for us once we decided we wanted to build trust through our campaign. And Akshay is someone who's a very disciplined man. He has a strong value system and has never been a part of any controversy. Secondly, we're not talking to a page-3 kind of audience. We are talking to someone in Bihar, Ahmedabad, Surat or Kerala. These are small businessmen who can never relate to a fashionista.”

At the same time, PagarBook was also looking for an A-list celebrity who would help them reach out to a wider audience at a huge scale.

“We wanted one of the top celebrities to build trust. Akshay was very relatable to our kind of an audience that way. He had that next door, my friend kind of perception. And if you look at the SMEs of our country, they are really hard working. They don't work like us: walk in, attend and walk out at five. They work day in and day out. Even if they're at home, they think of their business. So that was a third parameter. And again, Akshay was an organic fit because he is considered to be a very hardworking guy -- he wakes up at 5 am to diligently work out. We didn't have to do research because it drives by perception and that's the kind of position he has created out in the country. And lastly, most of our business owners are self-made businessmen and very grounded to the roots of our country. They are rooted because they are self-made and so is Akshay,” shared Prasad.

But how did a 7-month-old start-up manage to rope an ambassador as big as Akshay Kumar?

Prasad and his team believed in their product and its growth trajectory. They thought it was the perfect time to scale the start-up and become a brand.

“It's too risky a proposition -- to launch a big campaign, bring in a Bollywood celebrity like Akshay Kumar. But we had enough confidence in the way the brand was growing -- our active user base and the way they were engaging with the product. So we wanted to scale up as soon as possible. At the same time, scaling responsibility. The objective was not to just burn a lot of money by hiring some celebrity because we were pretty confident that we could achieve unit economics somewhere down the line and the growth was pretty fast that way. Without even having a celebrity phase, we could grow this fast,” said Prasad.

After deciding that PagarBook wanted to position itself as a trust-worthy app, the team was pretty clear that they wanted to keep their ads informative and functional because it fills an important gap in the market and would organically attract users after that.

Prasad said, “A few important parameters we thought we should talk about in our campaign: employee attendance, advanced payments, overtime and special payments and how all of these records can be done on the app so that we could relate or rather, our users could relate to their problems very easily. We don't have to really sell the product after that because it was a typical problem-solution approach. Also, we wanted to tell them to go digital and it's time to change. Once all this pain is taken out of your life, you get more time to focus on your business. That is why the campaign's entire theme is ‘Pagarbook Lagao, Business Badhao’. At the same time, we didn't make it very mundane; it has the right elements of drama and relationship between the father and the son.”

At the same, it did come up with a creative way to announce the launch of its campaign on social media. PagarBook decided to drop a creative that looked like Kumar’s upcoming film poster. It had his fans hooked and helped them garner more than a million conversations in two days before the final campaign’s launch.

Taking us behind the poster’s execution plan, Prasad said, “It was just a random thought in one a casual conversation we had internally with our team. The poster was a novel idea but the magic was added because Akshay tweeted it. So the entire world thought that it's a new film by Akshay and Kulbhushan. So, it triggered a lot of conversations and since we sent out a press release a week before talking about roping in Akshay, people started really speculating and because of that, we got lots of mentions on social media. And that was intentional. We were pretty confident that people would start speculating and that’s why we put the word ‘pagar’ as a hint on the poster. And when we released the film yesterday, we were trending on Twitter for three-four hours. Just like that, we got more than a million conversations across two days and I think that’s magic.”

From 1000 to 5 million users in 3 months

The idea behind PagarBook was simple. While an increasing number of MSMEs are adopting digital ways of managing their business operations, many still continue to use pen and paper to keep track of employees’ attendance and manage payroll. PagarBook offers them a simple-to-use alternative that also saves a lot of time and paper.

“We definitely knew that there is a problem with the way people manage their staff and employees and the payroll management, but we didn't expect that it's such a big problem that people would really accept our product this fast and at this scale,” said Prasad.

When it started out on a small-scale, PagarBook made sure it responded to every query that came in their way to empower SMB entrepreneurs.

Telling us how PagarBook identified product loopholes by interacting with users, Prasad said, “What we did from day one is that we had a live WhatsApp support, so we didn't have call center agents or you know, anything as such, anyone who knew the product really well, right from the founders and all the core team members and the growth team, all of us used to personally respond to the support questions which used to come through WhatsApp to us. In the last four months, whatever new features we have added, we didn't have to sit in a conference room and decide on a product roadmap. In fact, our users told us what to do. So we knew their problems in and out.”

PagarBook focused all its efforts on the product-side for the first three months. It thought of new ways of updating its app and growth followed. Initially, the team wanted to launch the app in just 2-3 languages and today, they have 13 options. It also rolled out a paid desktop version to make managing business easier for its users.

Talking about growth trajectory, Prasad shared, “So because the product was on the fly, things were changing everyday, we were gradually releasing updates but the growth numbers gave us the confidence that this has huge potential. And after three months, on a weekly average, we were onboarding at least 200k active users, not random installs. We are currently available in 12 to 13 languages, which helped us grow much faster and build a truly made-for-India kind of a product that people resonated with really well. So, from 200K to 5 million i.e., 15 lakh active user base, is the growth story which we have seen in the last couple of months, not even in a year's time in the last six, seven months.”

Vision for the app

Having built the category, Prasad is confident that new emerging competition won’t affect its goals. He considers the competition as a blessing that would help the industry grow.

Its focus in 2021 would be on becoming the human capital app for the country and gain 10 million users. However, in our country, small-business owners still struggle to avail a bank loan due to lack of awareness. PagarBook is, therefore, working towards empowering these businessmen with one app update and marketing campaign at a time.

“A small business owner will have to walk in maybe a 100 times to get a loan because there is no record how much salary he earns and we are giving him a salary slip for the first time and we cannot blame the financial institution because there is no record how much this guy has been making every month. So the kind of vision that we have is that we would definitely make them able and be instrumental in getting these guys their due and making them credit-worthy. And from the employer side, the story would remain the same -- we will make them more organized, take them digital and give them more time to focus on their business. So, the product we see today is just the basic version but our actual mission is to create a human capital platform for the country. Pagarbook should work like a swiss knife for the Indian businessmen. With this, we are confident about getting to a 10 million active user base in the next one year’s time,” concluded Prasad.