Srinivas Gattamneni is the Chief Executive Officer at ada. He is also the Chief Portfolio Officer of AXIATA Digital Group and is responsible for heading investments and portfolio management for the company. He spearheaded Axiata’s entry into the digital services sectors such as advertising, commerce, entertainment, and payments through investments in over 20 companies and brands.
In addition to direct investing, he also set up corporate venture capital funds in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Cambodia to develop local digital economies. Prior to Axiata, he served as Head of Ecosystem Development at ARM and led ARM’s developer ecosystem.
Recently, Bangladesh Brand Forum (BBF) sat with an interview with Srinivas Gattamneni. During the conversation, he shared some valuable insights, excerpts of which are as follows.
BBF: You have worked mostly with digital industries throughout your career. What were the key learnings over the course of your shifts within this industry?
Srinivas Gattamneni: My experience has been in avenues such as advertising technology and how that disrupts the whole old agency world or e-commerce and how that has disrupted retail. If you look at each of these services, you will see a lack of value delivery in these industries or that they have an old business model whereby a shift in the model can bring in more value or where technology can deliver ten times the value. Usually, it is a business model innovation or a technology-driven innovation that has resulted in digital startups to come up and disrupt the industries.
You claimed to have broken new grounds in analytics, data and automation in the advertising value chain with ada. Can you elaborate a bit more on this?
A lot of focus is on understanding the deep customer insight. We use data to paint a customer profile and thus understand the customer’s journey from a technological perspective: what are they browsing, what offline shops are they visiting, and what does their journey look like before purchase. The next step is assessing that journey and developing campaigns that can reach out to the customer effectively at specific touchpoints of the journey in order to shift consumer behavior towards a product.
It is our job to identify what psychographic profile the consumer fits into, and thus which aspect of the product should we highlight when targeting our campaign in order to make it most effective.
What’s the main reason behind running the operation of ada mainly in Southeast and South Asia region?
Firstly, we see it as a huge opportunity that is untapped. The amount of digital penetration and media use is less than 20% at this point in the region where we operate compared to the more developed regions which have moved on to 50%. Therefore, there is an opportunity for 2.5 times growth within the next three years in the use of digital media.
Secondly, our parent group, Axiata, owns a lot of mobile operators across these markets and so we have the ability to leverage their deep consumer insights and access to their customers. This gives us an edge and allows us to drive data use for better targeting and altogether creating a better experience for marketers.
We are seeing that brands are now increasingly getting interested in data analytics. What is your take on that?
The first reason why brands are getting interested in data analytics is that it gives them deep audience insight. In order to understand your audience, you need to understand data and analytics and eventually drive targeting. Another use of data analytics is in achieving operational efficiency. For example, we help retail or fast food joint in identifying where they should set up their next outlet. In order to do that, a lot of data analysis is used in understanding people’s offline customer journeys using their location data, where the hotspots are and where they should set up their outlet.
What are the key challenges in terms of corporate venture capital and new venture development?
Some of the challenges with new venture development is embracing ambiguity, risk, and identifying talent that can work with this sort of ambiguity. It is also harnessing and hiring talent that can have a different take on an industry and are usually outsiders to that industry. It is about having the right shareholder support to see through the full development of the venture.
In corporate venturing, the challenge mostly has to do with people and the cultural belief system. The culture is built around making it very well-oiled machinery and hence when you are taking a lot of risks, it may clash with the corporate culture built around risk minimization. So, the challenge becomes recruiting talent who can push the boundaries of the corporate and making corporates believe that they are capable of doing something completely new.
Can you enlighten us a bit more about your journey with China’s mobile industry and its operations?
China has been through a huge revolution in terms of digital adoption. I was in the early part of it when smartphone penetration was just increasing in the early 2000s. My role was around building a mobile handset industry there from a software development point-of-view. China is one of the markets with the highest penetration in terms of e-commerce and retail due to having an extremely good logistics network and the enablement of a lot of payment options, including mobile payment, leading to trust in the people. I think the whole mobile industry is years ahead of any other market out there.
How is ada planning for the next phase of its customer experience?
Today, customers are mostly looking at ways to improve the ROI on digital media. The next phase for us is helping our clients with their data, technology, and analytics, and driving more measurement, attribution across online and offline channels.
Firstly, we believe that online digital media spending should be responsible for offline and we need to prove how that is happening. So, we’ll work on a lot of data and attribution models for our clients to track that. Secondly, a data management platform for our clients for collecting a lot of customer information engaged with that brand. Thirdly, helping our clients digitize their customer journey and drive through digital as much as possible. That is where the latest generation is, whilst many markets in South Asia, the customer funnel still remains very offline.
In your opinion, what makes a great growth strategy?
We believe that there is no upfront growth strategy in our networks. The new market is all about experimentation, with different data sets and creatives. You keep experimenting in an agile manner and keep improving the algorithms, creatives, the right data segments, etc. and that is a strategy in itself. The strategy is rapid experimentation in an agile way which gives you results from a growth hacking point of view.
Gone are the days where you make an annual marketing and creative plan. You need a creative plan every week because there is creative fatigue that kicks in. A challenge to overcome in that strategy is having the right data literacy and being able to use data to drive business decisions.
Do you have any message for the budding data enthusiasts of our country?
Data is the new oil and everything in the future will be driven by data. So, you are on the right track if you are a data enthusiast. The most important thing that many forget is that it is ultimately the use of data that drives business impact. People are so fixated on the data that they forget their business. The winners will be people who can blend the data insight back into the business end and if you can straddle the two domains, then that is the best position.
Interviewed by Fariha Binte Anwar
Transcribed by Khondker Faraz Shafiq