Yash Chavan, Founder, SARAL, Interview On Building SARAL – An Influencer Marketing Tool for DTC Brands

Meet Yash Chavan, Founder of SARAL, a leading influencer marketing platform.Β 

With a strong background in marketing and entrepreneurship, Yash founded SARAL to help businesses leverage the power of social media influencers to connect with and engage their target audiences. Since its inception, SARAL has worked with various clients across industries and achieved impressive results through its unique and effective marketing strategies.

In this interview, we will delve into Yash’s journey as an entrepreneur, get a deeper understanding of the vision behind SARAL, and gain insights into the constantly evolving world of influencer marketing. Without further ado, let’s get started!

YC- Yash, Welcome to the Yellow Chapter! It’s great to have you here. Our goal today is to understand better who you are as a person, your life experiences and choices, and learn more about SARAL. Please tell us a bit about your upbringing, family, and education.

Yash-  I was born and raised in Mumbai, India. I was an only child in a loving family. My father works for a private logistics company, and my mother is a paramedic. They were supportive and never stopped me from pursuing my interests.

I was an outstanding student and scored 94% in 10th grade. As is typical for many high-achieving students, I had two main career options: engineering and medicine. My mother wanted me to become a doctor, but I wasn’t interested. I was more of a tinkerer, always trying to fix or build things with whatever materials were available. I had always been curious about engineering, so I decided to prepare for the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) after completing my 12th grade.

YC- How was your experience preparing for the JEE?

Yash- As I mentioned earlier, I was a good student and had a lot of support from my teachers and peers. Many people, including my junior college lecturers and the faculty at my coaching institute, believed that I had a good chance of getting into an NIT (National Institute of Technology), if not an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). However, I fell seriously ill during my JEE preparations in December 2015.

I was pushing myself very hard, sleeping only 3-4 hours a night, and my body couldn’t handle the strain. πŸ™πŸ™As a result, I became severely ill, and half my body was paralysed. I spent two months in the hospital and lost much of the knowledge and skills I had acquired over the previous two years. In February 2016, I was able to return home.

It’s unclear whether the memory loss I experienced was due to the medical condition or the traumatic experience of being bedridden for two months. At the time, I remember fearing that I might end up like Stephen Hawking, unable to move. As you might expect, I didn’t do well on the exam due to setbacks.

Never stress so much in life. It can be excruciating if you cannot perform to the best of your ability on the final day. If you have put in the effort, have faith in yourself. Maintaining a balance between studies and overall well-being is essential.

2016-  Bachelor of Information Technology @ VIT Mumbai πŸŽ“πŸŽ“πŸŽ“

Unfortunately, I was not able to crack the IIT-JEE. As a result, I ended up attending VIT Mumbai for my Bachelor’s degree. The college was fine, but I had different expectations for myself. I was hoping to get into an IIT or an NIT. I had done well on mock exams, and everyone around me had high expectations for me, but it all came crashing down. πŸ™πŸ™

As a result, I entered VIT with a defeated attitude. I tried to pretend to be interested in the classes for a year, but the curriculum was outdated, and I struggled to find motivation. After my first year, I stopped attending classes and started learning online from the library. My laptop became my lab. I was probably one of the worst students in my college, with an attendance rate of around 7%

During my first two years of college, I freelanced and did small internships in coding, development, and software. I taught myself how to be a developer, but I realised that if I wanted to start my own business someday, I would need to be strong in sales and marketing. 

Engineers often assume that having a good product is enough, but that is a fallacy. I have always been a multifaceted individual with a knack for sales. Additionally, I noticed that many successful founders are skilled in marketing. For example, Elon Musk is known for his marketing strategies and technical expertise. This realisation led me to focus on improving my sales and marketing skills.

I realised there was a skill gap that needed to be addressed. 

In 2019, during my third year of college, I decided to drop out!

After dropping out of college, I took on various ad-hoc sales jobs to gain experience. When I started applying for jobs in sales and marketing, I realised that it was my true calling. Starting my company has always been a dream of mine.

YC- What are your suggestions for engineering students? How can they get the most out of college life?

Yash- It depends on your individual goals and interests. However, here are a few suggestions:

1. Don’t get too worked up over grades: Many students who excel in academics choose to study engineering or medicine as it is prestigious. However, if something other than college is right for you, it’s okay to do the minimum necessary to pass your exams and complete your course. Remember, grades and GPA are not everything.

2. You don’t need a degree to be successful: Many successful people don’t have a degree. Focus on finding a career or path that aligns with your passions and interests, even if it may not be the traditional route.

3. Explore your interests through experimentation: Don’t be afraid to try it out if you feel drawn to a particular field or activity. College is a time to experiment and discover what you enjoy and are good at. It’s okay if you don’t succeed at everything you try – you have a safety net during these years. 

For example, I taught myself how to code, build, and sell. Through this exploration, I discovered that sales and marketing were my strengths, so I focused on those areas. 

4. Don’t do dumb shit: It’s common for college students to get distracted from their goals and hang out with friends who may not have similar aspirations or values. While it’s important to socialise and have a support system, be mindful of the company you keep. Surround yourself with people working towards common goals and build something together. Remember to prioritise your goals and values and avoid making decisions that could have negative consequences.

YC – Can we please discuss your professional roadmap and learnings along the way?

Yash- During my college years, I started a few businesses independently. One was an e-commerce company, and the other was a marketing agency where I worked with small US-based local businesses.

E-commerce store: Store Next Block – An e-commerce store that sold miscellaneous consumer goods to the United States.

This involved identifying trends in the US, finding cheap and high-quality products in Chinese markets, managing bulk orders, running test launches, driving traffic through Facebook ads, and fulfilling the orders- confirming and ensuring it’s shipped from China.

It was a good experience, as I learned many aspects of entrepreneurship – legal, tax, marketing, advertising, inventory mgmt., customer support and so on. 

A marketing agency: ImportGrowth – At Import Growth, we provided full-funnel marketing services to Edtech, SaaS, and eCommerce companies. We gained most of our clients through referrals. The name Import Growth reflects our mission to bring our expertise in sales and marketing to help businesses grow. Eventually, I decided to scale down the agency to focus on SARAL.

Now I know how marketing works. I became comfortable making cold calls, sending emails, and dealing with vendors. 

2020- Growth @Kodo CardA powerful all-in-one expense management platform built for fast-growing companies trying to simplify their payments. 

My first job was at Kodo, a Mumbai-based startup that has since become a YCombinator-backed company. 

Learnings from Kodo Card πŸ“šπŸ“šπŸ“š

1. At Kodo, I developed my sales skills as the company’s first marketing hire. Through this experience, I learned a lot about sales and impacted the company by scaling its acquisition systems and attracting many new Indian clients.

2. The working environment and energy at Kodo were excellent. They provided a refreshing change from the remote work I was used to as a freelancer, where I primarily communicated with clients through Zoom calls. πŸ’»πŸ’»πŸ’»

3. Good work matters – I was hired by Kodo due to my prior marketing experience and the determination I demonstrated during the interview process. I shared with them my efforts to manually send 800 emails to secure my first client, which showed my tenacity and grit. These qualities and the value of good work played a role in Kodo choosing me for the position.

In 2020, I left Kodo. The pandemic struck. The world was moving towards remote working. I’d always wanted to start a business that sold to companies based in the US. I decided to gain some market experience. I went back to doing what I knew best: freelancing. I worked at a couple of FinTech businesses in the US. 

Nov 2020: I Founded Import Growth – A growth consulting firm to help product/tech-oriented founders who want to grow fast. My goal was to create a repeatable process for growth and create loops that compound into predictable revenue πŸ“ˆπŸ“ˆπŸ“ˆ.

Why  Import Growth? – Most marketers are one-dimensional. They specialise in a particular area, such as performance, email, or content marketing. However, my extensive freelancing background in sales and marketing gave me a more well-rounded understanding of the various channels that can be used to grow a business. As a result, I prefer to refer to myself as a “growth consultant” rather than a marketer.

In my pitch to companies, I assisted tech-savvy SaaS founders in building their firms. My engineering background gave me an advantage in this area, as I understood marketing and technology.

I have helped companies grow their monthly recurring revenue (MRR) from 20-30k to over 100k while only taking on a few clients at a time πŸ’ΉπŸ’Ή. I also provided consulting services to a few e-commerce companies.

However, Facebook experienced a significant drop in ad revenue following Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, referred to as the “adpocalypse.” 

Let me explain it better for your readers: The “ask app not to track” option introduced with the iOS 14.5 update significantly impacted the Facebook ad platform, as many users opted not to be tracked. This led to a decline in revenue for FacebookπŸ“‰πŸ“‰. 

You might have noticed this option when you installed a new app if you have an iPhone. Many people are concerned about their privacy and do not want to be tracked, so they opt out of tracking.

As a result of the decline in the effectiveness of the Facebook ad platform, many brands and SaaS companies that were heavily reliant on Facebook marketing saw their growth slow down. This led to a difficult situation for everyone, including Facebook, which saw a drop in profitability.

 In response, my agency, which now has 2-3 employees, had to consider our options. We decided to explore influencer marketing as a way to help businesses thrive. This approach made sense to us as a way to continue supporting our client’s growth.

We implemented influencer marketing for a few companies, which was a success. We grew the influencer programs from zero to over 300+ influencers promoting brands. 

We managed everything from tracking numbers, generating reports etc., on Google Sheets + some old-school CRM software. 

As the influencer programs grew and became more complex, we found it challenging to manage everything manually on Google Sheets. We began searching for software that could help streamline the process, but we found that most of the vendors were based in the US and their prices were quite steep, ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 per year just for the software.

Early- or mid-stage firms don’t want to spend $2000 monthly on a single software. With that money, you could hire someone and get the job done. 

This led me to create a software solution designed explicitly for early-stage brands that are more affordable and easier to use than the available options. Many of the software products we looked at were quite complex and required much effort to learn, so we wanted to create something more user-friendly.

We decided to develop a self-service software that would handle all aspects of influencer marketing but would be easier to use and more affordable than the options available. 

Before building the product – I created the landing page, purchased the name, and began sending emails to folks: β€œHello, I’m the founder of SARAL. We’re looking to build an Influencer Relationship Management software; would you be available to talk about it.?” I also made 50+ calls. 

It paid off! I got a good response! πŸ˜‡πŸ˜‡

SARAL was developed in response to a clear market need. I identified a problem and had a basic concept, but the input and ideas of our target audience helped shape the final product. 

After consulting with potential users, we have offered a monthly subscription for $99. As a special offer for early adopters, we offer a discounted rate of $99 for two months of access to the product once it is released.

We were fortunate to receive payments from five individuals, even though we still needed to get a product available. This served as solid market validation of our idea, and we decided to move forward with building the product. 

I hired a team of developers to bring the project to fruition –  SARAL – Influencer Relationship Management.

SARAL helps users locate influencers, contact them, track and manage campaigns, and send tracking links. SARAL handles everything except for payments, making it a comprehensive and convenient tool for influencer marketing.

YC- Can we talk about some numbers, ICP and competition?

Yash – Initial Market Size: In 2022, it was estimated to be around $16 billion. The creative economy, which includes influencer marketing, is a larger market worth about $100 billion

Currently, the creator economy is experiencing significant growth, with predictions that by 2030-35, one of every seven people will identify as a content creator. However, it is essential to note that the market is constantly evolving and staying updated on the latest trends and data is critical.

Since launching SARAL a few months ago, we have acquired ten paying customers. The monthly recurring revenue (MRR) for the software is approximately $1,000. In addition to the software, we also offer services like creating influencer campaigns and managing them on your behalf. These services come with a higher price, and the MRR for the overall business is currently around $7,000. We are excited to continue growing our customer base along with our MRR through the sale of both our software and services.

CAC: Our marketing efforts are ad hoc, so it is difficult to provide a specific customer acquisition cost (CAC) number now. However, based on our current approach, our CAC is around $200. We typically recover costs within the first month of a customer’s subscription. 

We have had 11 customers, but one left due to a mismatch with our target customer profile (ICP). Our remaining customers are a good fit for our ICP and have remained with us. In the future, we hope to implement a more scalable marketing strategy to better track and optimise our CAC

Target Market –  Our primary market is the US and North America. We do not sell in India.

ICP: Direct-to-consumer (DTC) e-commerce brands with annual revenues of less than $5 million. 

While larger companies may prefer enterprise SaaS tools, we focus on small to emerging markets. We have found that investing in influencer marketing is particularly effective for companies with revenues between $1 and $3 million.

Mission statement: To become an operating system for influencer marketing. 

Target: We understand the top of the funnel, but we are still figuring out the bottom. We aim to reach a solid 50K MRR by next year. We will be able to scale quickly after integrating with Shopify + MVP for down-the-funnel features. 

YC- SaaS founders have basically three big problemsβ€” Product Market Fit, Marketing and Sales. What is your take on each?

Yash – Product-Market Fit: Some people argue that the term “product-market fit” should be reversed to “market-product fit” to reflect better the process of developing a successful product. 

This perspective suggests that the market should come first, followed by the product. This approach involves researching and understanding the market before designing and launching a product, rather than creating a product and then trying to fit it into a market. 

Ultimately, the most crucial factor is to thoroughly understand the needs and desires of your target market and design a product that meets those needs.

Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of Twitter is a prime example of successful business leaders prioritising their target market. Even before he purchased the platform, Musk actively used Twitter to connect with his audience and gather feedback. He made informed decisions about his business ventures by asking questions and listening to the market. 

It is important to note that starting with the market first and building a product or service that meets the needs of that market is a crucial strategy for achieving success.

One Indian entrepreneur who exemplifies the importance of understanding the market is Ashneer Grover. I like him and his philosophy of building a β€œDhanda” instead of a startup. He gained valuable insights into the needs and desires of small business owners and vendors through his professional experience.

Understanding the needs and perspectives of your target market is crucial for building a successful business.

Sales and marketing: 

1. Focus on developing the product and don’t bother about marketing for the first six to eight months. Simply create an excellent product. As long as you have proof of work, everything is fine.

2. If you are not skilled in sales or marketing, it is essential to consider partnering with someone who is. This could be a co-founder with complementary skills or a hired professional. Focusing on your strengths and delegating tasks outside your expertise can help you build a more effective and efficient team. 

Finding a co-founder with sales and marketing expertise may be easier than finding someone with strong technical skills. Don’t be afraid to seek help and collaborate with others to build a successful business.

3. SEO is a long-term strategy that requires patience and dedication. As a tech founder, you may want immediate results and visibility for your product. While SEO can bring long-term benefits, you may need more immediate results. In this case, it may be better to consider other marketing tactics that can help drive traffic and visibility to your product in the short term. 

4.#Buildinpublic – Consider hiring a marketing intern to assist with some marketing responsibilities. Twitter/LinkedIn are valuable platforms for building your brand + reaching potential clients, + finding qualified candidates for hire. Utilising Twitter as part of your marketing strategy can help drive traffic and visibility to your business.

5. Simply write about your activities over the past week; it need not be incredibly complicated. You must engage in conversation about your product. Don’t sit quietly in a room coding all day – get out and spread the word about what you’re working on!

6. Look for the best marketing channel for your product – Many businesses continue using Facebook but are wasting their money. The ROAS is just about 1.3 to 1.5x. However, with other channels like TikTok, YouTube or Instagram, the ROAS is 5x to even 8x. 

Therefore, if you run a coffee firm, you can use SARAL to contact coffee influencers on TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram, locate their emails, and track their activity.

YC- In your experience, what do you believe is the key to successful sales?

Yash- To be successful in sales, it is vital to offer the customer what they want – This requires a thorough understanding of the market and the product you are selling. One way to gain this understanding is to listen to recordings of past sales calls to gather data, understand what customers are looking for, and identify the β€œaha moment” that leads to a successful sale. This can help you realise the customer’s perspective and better meet their needs.

Focusing on the product or service’s benefits is crucial rather than just listing its features. Once you understand what the customer is looking for, you can tailor your pitch to their needs and interests. Instead of just talking about the product’s features, try to paint a picture of how it will enhance their life or solve their problems. 

For example, instead of just selling a vacation package based on the logistics of booking accommodations and flights, try to sell the experience of enjoying beautiful beaches and stunning views that can be shared on social media.

YC- What motivates you to keep going? Let’s delve into the philosophical side of things.

Yash- My goal is to become a billionaire before I turn 40, and I believe this can be achieved through my business ventures. I am 24 years old, meaning I have 16 more years to work towards this goal. I can meet my dream if I keep doing what I’m doing.

Even during my engineering days, I was driven by self-improvement and a desire to accomplish more. I am never content with where I am and am always seeking the next challenge. While I am unsure where this drive comes from, it has always been a part of me. My royal ancestry might have had an influence – my ancestors ruled over Kholapur πŸ‘‘πŸ‘‘.  

I am inspired by other successful individuals, particularly those who have built successful businesses. 

Let me tell you a childhood memory – When I was younger, my father and I attended a wedding where his boss arrived in a luxury car. As a child, I was fascinated by cars and couldn’t understand why my father didn’t have one. I realised that it was because his boss was running a business and had likely achieved financial success through his efforts. This experience sparked my interest in entrepreneurship and the potential for personal and economic growth through hard work and dedication.

Since that experience, I have come to admire individuals who have achieved success in all aspects of their lives, not just in business. 

As an avid UFC fan and someone trained in mixed martial arts, I understand the dedication and hard work it takes to excel in a particular skill or activity. It requires perseverance and willingness to practice the same moves repeatedly until they are perfected. I have always had the drive to improve and excel, which has helped in shaping my ambitions and goals.

Suggestions for fellow founders:

  1. Start with the market. 
  2. It’s important to talk about your product and only remain in stealth mode if you are working on something that requires a patent. While it may be tempting to keep your product development a secret, it is essential to communicate about it to build buzz and attract potential customers. If you don’t share information about your company and product, it will be difficult for people to learn about it and make informed purchasing decisions. Make sure to promote your product and keep the conversation going actively.
  3. Go all in on your strengths. 
  4. Work with people who have complementary skills.

Book Recommendations πŸ“–πŸ“–

While I don’t often read books, I enjoy learning about historical events, particularly war-related topics and organised crime. While these subjects may not appeal to everyone, I find them fascinating. For those looking for more practical, applicable knowledge, I recommend starting with self-improvement books like “The Power of Habit” and “Atomic Habits.”

Jordan Peterson is an excellent writer, and his lectures on YouTube are worth checking out. While business books can be helpful, they may also be overrated. According to Peter Thiel in “Zero to One,” competition is for losers. However, it is important to note that many businesses still compete with each other and are worth millions of dollars. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which books you want to read, but it is important not to get too caught up in reading. Instead, focus on implementing what you have learned to achieve success.

Yash, it was a great conversation. Thank you for your time. Yellow Chapter wishes you the best in your future endeavours.

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