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Our aim is to become India’s No.1 agency: Rohan Mehta and Chandni Shah of Kinnect

In an interaction with in the backdrop of the agency completing 10 years, founders Rohan Mehta and Chandni Shah speak about their journey so far and the goals ahead

(L) Rohan Mehta and Chandni Shah (R)

Rohan Mehta and Chandni Shah founded Kinnect in 2011 at a time when marketers had just started exploring social media and digital. Mehta had left a lucrative IT job to explore the entrepreneurial side while Shah was working with JWT at that time.

Mehta and Shah say they merged their skill sets to create the new-age digital marketing agency, which today has nearly 350 employees across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.

Very recently, FCB acquired a stake in Kinnect, which has completed a decade in the business. Kinnect will partner with FCB Group India and continue to operate under its management.

Speaking on their journey so far and the challenges along the way, Mehta said it has been a rewarding space with the people they got to work with and what the industry has given them.

“It's the people that make this job and this business really rewarding. While building it, of course, there are several challenges. When you start a business, you often overestimate the speed at which the business will grow. Then you underestimate the speed that is going to grow. Later on, you almost have the imposter syndrome kicking in at the start because you are not making money, you barely have clients, you're still figuring out your craft,” he said.

“As a young person, you're learning people management for the first time and then you have the problem of cash flow, and of managing profitability. While all of this is happening, you have to stay on top of service and an industry that is changing so rapidly. You have to learn very, very fast while doing this. There are not that many hands in the start while doing this, so you're playing with multiple hats then. You're almost the business guy, IT guy, HR person; everything rolled into one. I think I would have shut down the agency at least a couple of times because, for the first few years, it took us about four years to break even. We were bleeding money for the first four years; it has a big impact on your self-respect at that point in time and your ability to pay for things, for yourself. However, it was the people and the ego that made us stick to this. Sometimes that ego and that anger drive you to a level where you keep pushing through and you just stay gritty and come out on the other side,” he added.

Shah said Kinnect has an aspiration to be the most contemporary agency at any point in time. She said if digital is the flavour of the moment, that's what they want to provide and as the market evolves, they will keep providing the solutions that are contemporary for that time.

“Our aim at the end of 10 years is to become the number one agency in India. Not a creative agency, not a digital agency, not a media agency, just the number one agency in India. In terms of our solutions, we will keep evolving and growing based on client needs and the needs of the market as time passes,” they said.

What’s next for Kinnect?

According to Shah, Kinnect has always enjoyed a great position in the industry and other than a small bump at the start of Covid, there has been a constant growth in the kind of work, the quality of clients and the size of the agency. However, with FCB coming in, it puts them in a whole new realm together. “Now we have the benefits of a network, benefits of global learnings, national learnings of many years, and the experience of very good partners such as Rohit and Nitin, who get in their experience into an agency like Kinnect,” she added.

Shah said Covid accelerated the shift towards digital—which was already happening—and the opportunities in the market today are manifold. She said they are now in one of the best positions to take full advantage of that opportunity and maximise both the quality of work and the scale of the agency. “I think it puts us in a very good position in terms of taking advantage of this situation while having the kind of resources that the network will provide.”

Mehta said they had big aspirations when they started in 2011 but for them to come to fruition in 10 years and to be associated with a very cultured and very well-reputed network like IPG and FCB is a very good feeling. “It's a validation of the work we've been doing. It is a matching of cultures; it's a matching of a great combination of two sides. On one end, there is a lot of experience of 50 years in India and 150 years internationally. At the other end, you've got so much youth and enthusiasm, and new-age platforms that we work on. So it has been a great partnership.”

The agency has had various growth phases in the past 10 years, they explained. In the first five years in Kinnect 1.0, the entire focus was very inward; they were focusing on learning the craft while building new capabilities within the organisation. It was about building the first team that becomes a core team and stays with you through thick and thin. During this time, the world did not realise what was going on at Kinect.

“We didn't spend a lot of time marketing ourselves very aggressively. Most of the time was spent just practising our craft and trying out new things and sharpening the tools. Kinect 2.0 was from 2016 to 2021, which is when we were more confident of ourselves. We said this is the right time for us to press the accelerator and to start attacking the market,” Mehta said.

“Post-2016 is when we first started realising that it's becoming something significant; we started going more aggressively to pitches and we won a large majority of them. In most cases, it was with organisations that are much larger and more experienced than us. Now with this partnership, (FCB) we enter into Kinnect 3.0, which is going and capturing the larger market,” Shah said.

Mehta said he was a complete outsider to the advertising world but he realised the need for a space that provides ‘media’ and ‘creative’ under one roof, and that is what Kinnect provides to its clients.

“My first interaction with an agency was when I started building out one; I am a complete outsider in the market. The way I have been approaching this market is by common sense and what makes sense for today. I believe the biggest thing that Kinect is bringing back into the advertising market is the integration of creativity and media under one roof. These were separated sometime in the ’80s before that they were under one roof. But with digital, I believe creative and media cannot be separated because this is the only medium in which the quality of the creative impacts the price at which media is being bought,” he said.    

Mehta always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur but he didn’t have the know-how or the confidence of building an agency. He gives credit to his first digital workplace, Allied Digital Services, and the CEO and CTO there, who mentored him and gave him the exposure and confidence in making him think that he can have his own business.

While in the US, he noticed social media booming there, and was looking to start a business in an industry that was younger than the IT industry. “Social media and digital became the hunting ground at that time. Along with Chandni, who used to work at JWT, it made perfect sense to start up a digital marketing organisation in 2011. Little did we know that it will grow at this pace, but we surely had big aspirations when we started it,” he said.

He jokingly said he conned Shah into this when she had a nice job with JWT but added that when they spoke about it, they realised they could utilise their skill sets and have an even bigger impact.

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