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We want to be a differentiated platform first company: Wondrlab’s Saurabh Varma

The merger with WYP is a first step in that direction; other acquisitions will follow.

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NEW DELHI: Saurabh Varma along with two other co-founders – Rakesh Hinduja and Vandana Verma – launched his own martech agency Wondrlab in November this year. Within no time, the firm announced a slew of appointments in leadership roles, and registered some account wins. However, the biggest surprise came when Varma announced the acquisition of Amit Akali’s What’s Your Problem. Akali, an old hand in the agency business, became the co-founder of Wondrlab. The development clearly stated that Varma, a hardened marketing professional with over two decades of experience, has a vision beyond just starting another agency.

Indiantelevision.com’s Devesh Gupta got into a conversation with Varma and Akali to understand more about how their synergies matched, what led to the acquisition, plans for the Indian market, and the way forward in the near future. Excerpts from the interview:-

On the reason what's Your Problem (WYP) partnered with Wondrlab.

Amit: I have been analysing the developments before and after the acquisition and I don’t think that WYP could have partnered with anybody else. The kind of work we do, our partner also needed to have the same vision and hunger for great work. We are five years old, a completely flat structure team, entrepreneurial in nature and with a mindset of a startup.

We have always focused on integrated solutions and Wondrlab from day one had the same vision. It is the only agency that has everything. In terms of vision, the future is in technology, creating products, and platforms. Currently, all the networks are servicing clients but they are not creating products, platforms, and that is our intention here at Wondrlab. I obviously went for the vision and there was a certain vibe and chemistry between the co-founders.

On how, why and when the acquisition talks began.

Saurabh: Amit and I have been friends. The discussion started at a pitch where I was representing a client. We had invited various agencies and got the opportunity to see the WYP team in action. When my turn came to comment on which agency to select, I said that the best understanding for this problem is with WYP and I made a casual comment: "I should buy them out." I had no intention of doing so at that point of time, but it bothered me -- I made a statement like that and I could do nothing about it. So, the next day, I called up Amit and told him, "Let's do something together." I shared with him our vision and we found common ground.

On who designed the logo and crafted the name of the agency.

Saurabh: After I decided to go on my own, several industry friends offered their help. The brand name was courtesy of former Leo Burnett executive chairman Mark Tutssel. I wanted the name to reflect a combination of magic and technology because that is what we are. When I told Mark about Wondrlab, he said this is it. So, the name and the tagline are a gift from Mark. And the logo and identity came from Amit (WYP).

On the skillsets that WYP bring to the table for Wondrlab.

Saurabh: We were very clear that we did not want a traditional set up and the great thing was that WYP was not traditional. Their frame of reference has always been problem-solving. I have always mentioned that your solution is only as big as your problem. So, first we agreed on that philosophy of problem-solving. It was built in a way that I would have built a content agency. It had in-house production. We did not want to be glorified scriptwriters but content creators and own our production house.

Also, there is a huge component of new age and digital in WYP. The structure of WYP was design integrated. If you look at the mid-level start-ups and some of the agencies, none of them are structured for the new age apart from WYP. Or they are not good with the understanding of branding. WYP has both.

On how WYP will operate under the Wondrlab umbrella.

Saurabh: WYP would be a separate entity within Wondrlab. It's become a Wondrlab company and we retain it in totality. Amit becomes a part of the co-founding team and he comes on board to shape our future and will be at the helm irrespective of what we acquire. So, between WYP and Wondrlab, there are close to 80-85 people and then there are another 15 people making the total strength of 100.

It is high time that somebody builds an Indian network that exists in India. There is so much talent here but why can nobody build a network? Somebody has to make that effort.

Amit: There has never been an Indian network. There is a French, British but never been an Indian network in India or anywhere. Indians typically founded agencies and that is what even I did. Our intention is to create a network and grow it by acquisition.

On the size of the acquisition.

Saurabh: As an industry practice, it is difficult to talk about the acquisition because these are multi-layered and multiyear deals. 

On whether Wondrlab will take the merger and acquisition route for growth.

Saurabh: It is one tool that is available and we can use it as and when it fits in the strategic framework. There is a lot of organic growth and key leaders are driving that growth for the various pillars we have. There are a lot of tools available that help in creating what we call a platform-first company.

On the investors in Wondrlab,.

Saurabh: There has been lots of gossip and rumours in the industry around who our investors are. Let that come out over a period of time. We need to take specific approval from investors before commenting anything about them.

On whether Amit’s roles and responsibilities will expand.

I am the chief creative officer at Wondrlab, of which WYP is a part.

On how the team will ensure that technology remains at the core of integrated solutions?

Amit: It is our vision from day one. The first credential we wrote – the agency that offers strategy like a traditional set-up basis technology will be the agency of the future. We are very used to thinking integrated and offer tech solutions. This partnership has helped us create an inhouse technology production platform. We have always thought of ourselves as people who integrate technology with creativity and strategy, and with Wondrlab, we can now go out and put this into practice.

On whether Wondrlab plans to get on the media side of the business?

Saurabh: Of course. We have already started with digital media, which is simpler and efficient. There are many components of digital media done in-house that are already offered to our clients.

On the targets, you have set for the next fiscal year?

Saurabh: The ambition is to set ourselves as a platform-first company and that essentially means a differentiated offering. The acquisition of WYP is a great first move but over the next 12-18 months, a lot of the tech platforms that we have been working on will start to reveal themselves and that distinction in the market place – which adds a very different kind of value to the client – is what we want to establish in the first year of business.

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