Raviteja Dodda of MoEngage: “Success is absolutely a team effort”

In great companies (and even good companies), customers should always come first. Customers are at the heart of our business, from building products that solve customers’ problems, to supporting them throughout their digital transformation. We are building the customer engagement platform of tomorrow, and we continue to invest in our product roadmap to deliver value […]

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In great companies (and even good companies), customers should always come first. Customers are at the heart of our business, from building products that solve customers’ problems, to supporting them throughout their digital transformation. We are building the customer engagement platform of tomorrow, and we continue to invest in our product roadmap to deliver value to our customers and help them stay one step ahead in their customer engagement strategies.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Raviteja Dodda, CEO & Founder of MoEngage, an insights-led customer engagement platform built for the customer-obsessed marketers and product owners. He is an alumnus of IIT-Kharagpur. Ravi has more than ten years of experience in leading global teams and managing successful products. Prior to MoEngage, he co-founded and built DelightCircle, a local offers mobile app. Ravi has been recognized in the BW Disrupt 40 under 40 and Forbes 30 under 30 lists.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Yashwanth Kumar (MoEngage’s CTO) and I co-founded MoEngage in 2014, but it took us some time to get there. We had completed our undergrad degrees together at Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. When we graduated, we both went our separate ways, but still stayed in close contact. After working in the corporate world, we soon realized that we wanted to build our own products, to make a real impact. We started DelightCircle in 2011 — a mobile-first local offers and coupons network. There were few mobile companies in India (and globally), at the time. While growing DelightCircle, we figured out how to acquire users optimally. However, we realized that it was much harder to generate adoption, retain acquired users, and continue to drive growth and conversions. Even though third-party analytics tools provided the data on what wasn’t working, they didn’t provide the ability to act on that information.

We felt this pain was big enough — and global enough — across companies, and that is how MoEngage came to be. We wanted to start MoEngage so we could make a difference in how brands engage with their customers. Today, we have offices in nine countries and our insights-led customer engagement platform serves more than 1,000 customers worldwide. We’ve also been named a highest-rated private cloud computing company to work for during the Covid crisis by Battery Ventures, and recognized for our innovation by industry analysts such as Gartner and Forrester.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

As most founders do, we faced multiple challenges starting our MoEngage journey. I’ll talk about two examples in particular.

When starting a new business, one of the most important aspects is to establish a product-market fit so you can determine your target customers and how to solve their problems. When we founded MoEngage in 2014, we focused on establishing a product-market fit in India, first, as that was where we lived and knew the market best. It’s important to be honest with yourself about product-market fit and the problem(s) you’re solving for customers. We continued to ask ourselves, “Is what we’re building at MoEngage valuable?” We didn’t want to go back to square one. We leveraged a lean startup approach, and continued to get feedback from the market along the way, confirming that our solution was worth the cost. While this exercise took time, it helped us establish the ideal product-market fit from day one.

India is a large market, but we knew we’d have to expand to continue our growth; this proved challenging. We moved into Southeast Asia and North America first, around 2016. This required us to establish product-market fits in multiple geographies and establish ourselves as an enterprise-SaaS company, which was challenging in the early days. We had to learn several different aspects of business, make the right hires, and position our product to solve the right pain points. We were able to replicate our playbook to a large extent, but adoption levels, technology proficiency, and use cases varied by market. We had a strong mentorship in place with Alchemist Accelerator, a program that helped us in multiple areas, including B2B selling, fundraising, and customer development. It was difficult to get into the program, and there was a high bar for selection. Having a strong problem statement and product-market fit really helped us during the selection process. I’d suggest for any first-time entrepreneurs to consider these types of investment/mentor programs, as they can provide a lot of support in growing and scaling your business.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

This wasn’t exactly a mistake (okay, maybe in a way, it was), but it is a funny story. Getting started, I was the lead salesperson at MoEngage. When we started our expansion into the U.S., I moved to San Francisco to gain experience in the local market and be available for networking as opportunities came up. When I moved to The States, I was, still selling to our India market and working in India’s time zone. There were a lot of sleepless nights. Looking back, I could have spent those first 18 months differently — maybe training and coaching someone locally in India — so I could focus 100 percent of my time on the U.S.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At MoEngage, we believe “moments-based” customer engagement is the future of marketing. Today’s consumers demand a consistent, personalized experience across channels, with content in context. To meet these expectations, brands need to understand the series of “moments” that make up each individual’s journey and create a frictionless and personalized experience just for them. This is much easier said than done. Brands need the right technology partner to make this possible, and that’s where we feel that MoEngage stands out.

MoEngage is an insights-led customer engagement platform, built for customer-obsessed marketers and product owners. Our platform enables hyper-personalization, at scale, across multiple channels — like mobile push, email, SMS, web push, on-site messaging, Facebook audiences, in-app messaging, app inbox cards, and connectors to other technologies. MoEngage brings together native and third-party data sources to help marketers create a comprehensive, unified customer profile. Powered by our intelligent AI-engine, Sherpa, our customers can leverage AI-powered automation and optimization to make orchestrating moments-based journeys a reality. Our customers can analyze data and get insights at their fingertips — such as customer behavior, funnel analysis, customer journey path, and cohort analysis — and then act on these insights to engage and retain customers throughout their lifecycle.

We’re also invested in our customers’ successes. Our dedicated customer success managers and solution engineers are responsible for onboarding, training, and supporting clients. We provide proactive advice and consultancy and deliver white-glove service to help them succeed. We also launched a #GROWTH platform to facilitate peer learning and introduced our #GROWTH Academy, an e-portal and knowledge hub that covers all aspects of delighting your customers — from onboarding to engagement and long-term retention.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

At MoEngage, we strive to foster a people-centric, value-driven culture that is built on ownership and trust. Creating a transparent and collaborative environment helps employees thrive. Our company focuses on knowledge sharing, teamwork, and challenging the status quo, all while ensuring the overall health and wellbeing of our employees. We also provide an “Office Hours with Founders” forum where employees are encouraged to have a direct conversation with our founders about experiences with the organization, receive advice on their career progression and success areas, or even suggest new product features. This has proven to be very motivating for our employees, as well as our founders.

We hold frequent, virtual town halls with leadership, taking our employees through company updates and goals. These developments have proven to be extremely effective when it comes to transparency and motivating employees. We moved to a quarterly goal setting approach to help us maintain a cadence, and drive clarity and alignment across the organization. This has provided our team with visibility and focus, guiding them to work toward the right goals. This ultimately makes their job more rewarding because they know how they are contributing to the big picture, and they are empowered to drive action.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Success is absolutely a team effort. It’s hard for me to choose just one person, as there are multiple people who have helped us get to where we are today. The founding leadership team at MoEngage has been instrumental in helping us grow and scale the business. Staying focused on the right things was key. I’m also especially grateful to the team at Alchemist Accelerator, as they provided us with access to invaluable resources, global markets, mentors, and expertise. With their support, we were able to expand our business in the early stages of our founding to attain a global presence with operations around the world.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

This is a question that brings a great deal of debate in the tech community. Anyone who has read the “Good to Great” series of business books is familiar with these terms. A “good” company has built a viable product, understands the problem they solve, and delivers on the promises they make to their customers. But, a “great” company goes beyond that. A great company pushes boundaries, takes strategic risks, and asks the tough questions. We did this early on in the development of MoEngage when we asked ourselves, “Are we really helping people? Is this product useful?”

A good company assumes that their customers are happy; a great company will ask for feedback from customers about how to make the product better. A great company has the vision to think beyond the immediate needs of the market. What will your customers need in five or even 10 years? How can we create the roadmap to get there first?

I aspire, every day, to bring MoEngage into the “great” category in everything we do, whether that means constantly innovating our customer engagement platform to add more functionality or building out a world-class team of curious problem-solvers that challenge the status quo. Our people make a huge impact. In my opinion, strong leadership, the right team, and innovation make a company great.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Based on my own experience, a great company has a strong mission, a clear sense of purpose, and a set of principles and values to follow. These will guide you in terms of how you build and operate your business, both in the present, and future. The fifth ingredient is the right product fit. This one is critical. Building a great culture is important to helping your business thrive; I suggest coming up with a set of values that your company stands for to help initiate culture change in the organization. Refer back to it often. Make sure every employee understands the “Why.” For example, at MoEngage, we encourage our team to embrace our core values, which consist of having the freedom to execute on goals and ideas that bring us closer to our mission. We also focus on adding people who share our values of being data-driven, being open and transparent, driving ownership, thinking of the customer first, and most importantly, having fun.

In great companies (and even good companies), customers should always come first. Customers are at the heart of our business, from building products that solve customers’ problems, to supporting them throughout their digital transformation. We are building the customer engagement platform of tomorrow, and we continue to invest in our product roadmap to deliver value to our customers and help them stay one step ahead in their customer engagement strategies.

Great companies have the courage to challenge the status quo. For example, in 2015/16, it was the status quo to forge a startup in North America, and then build a large, global busines from there. But we didn’t do that. We trusted our gut and chose not to follow that path. At the time, few were looking at the Indian and Southeast Asia markets in our space. We felt that ours was the right strategy, to stay local and build our brand there first, and it has contributed to our success. Continue to ask yourself, “How can we make change happen versus being a follower of the change?” Continuing to challenge the status quo helps you become a pioneer and differentiate.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Every company should have a purpose beyond profit. Doing good and making a social impact ties you back to the community, while fostering a stronger culture and motivating your team as a result. In the end, this will only help your business. Teams are motivated by the impact the company is making for the community, end users, customers, etc. Sometimes, this is driven by philanthropic efforts, how a product/company is improving the lives of its customers, or by having an impact on the community at large. At MoEngage, we’ve provided a complimentary version of our solution to certain community organizations, such as GrowthHackers, to support their growth. As mentioned above, we’ve also created a #GROWTH community and academy, an exclusive portal for growth marketers and product owners that covers all aspects of delighting their customers — giving them the tools and expertise to fuel their success.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

We’ve been through this before at MoEngage, back in 2016, when we were starting to expand to other markets. Every business has some rough quarters and periods during growth stages. My advice would be to understand the causes of standstill. For example, is it a market problem (i.e., too saturated?) or a product problem (not the right offering or fit for that market)? Or, is it an internal problem (day-to-day operations, culture)? It’s important to be honest and explore all areas.

The important thing to remember is that there is no one way to build and grow a company. Have patience, stay the course, and focus on the fundamental areas of improvement and the tactics that will move the needle.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

This is especially relevant right now during COVID-19, as many industries have been affected by the pandemic. There are three key areas I’d suggest focusing on to keep forging ahead. First, continue to focus on the customer; make sure you can maintain that relationship and your existing business. Secondly, continue to focus on proven tactics and strategies that generate growth versus investing in something new. Third, use this time to improve the efficiency of your company; try to do more with fewer resources.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Personal growth and development as a leader are very underestimated. Being involved in all aspects of the business provides me with an advantage. I’m continuously learning — from my own experiences, from our team, from my peers, our customers, and from our external ecosystem. Learning and focusing on my personal development helps uplift my own knowledge and leadership skills, which in turn helps the company continue to grow.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

While conversion strategies can differ, depending on the industry and business, I’ll share some examples of how MoEngage helps our customers convert and retain business. MoEngage provides companies with both deep insights and the tools to communicate with their audiences across multiple channels.

If a consumer adds a product to their cart, but doesn’t purchase it, brands can leverage our smart triggers capability to re-engage the consumer and complete the transaction. Smart triggers enable your brand to have a one-on-one conversation with your customers, providing an in-context message that’s timed, based on their journey. Customers can use our smart trigger interactions in the form of a push notification, in-app message, email or even a web push channel. We’ve seen smart trigger campaigns drive four times as many conversions for our customers.

Testing and experimentation can also lead to conversions. For example, experimenting with multiple variants of a message in small control groups allows you to pinpoint the message that outperforms, so you can communicate it to a wider audience. Our platform makes it easy for marketers to test and experiment, and it provides recommendations on the best path. This way, our users can engage their consumers with the most relevant messaging to lead to conversions.

Focusing on micro conversions to move consumers along the path to a macro conversion is also a good strategy. Micro-conversions can be small but powerful actions, like opting into your SMS campaign, signing up for your email newsletter, or reading your content. Tracking micro conversions will help you understand what’s resonating with consumers so you can tailor your strategy accordingly and re-engage your audiences to the point of conversion down the road.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

The key to creating a trusted, beloved brand is continuing to put your customers first in everything that you do. I talked about this previously when I touched on building a great company; customers are at the forefront of our business. Their success is our success. We welcome our customers’ feedback and ideas to help drive our product roadmap. Establishing trust with them means delivering what we say we’ll deliver and helping them achieve success. We have a robust customer success program that focuses on onboarding, training, and supporting clients throughout our relationship. We provide services, consultancy, and #GROWTH resources to help them succeed.

Furthermore, establishing a team that believes in your brand will contribute to your company’s success. As mentioned above, we strive for a culture that is built on ownership and trust. Creating a transparent environment helps employees thrive while motivating and empowering them to drive success.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Customer experience encompasses all aspects of the business — sales, marketing, product, customer success, support, etc. To create a “Wow!” customer experience, brands need to focus on putting the customer first in all functions — pre-sale, during-sale and post-sale. It’s key to deliver a great experience no matter what stage of the customer lifecycle they’re in. The experience should be seamless — whether consumers are engaging with an employee directly, speaking with an employee virtually (i.e., through chat or email), or choosing to self-educate by browsing the website or mobile app for resources. Being proactive and providing personalized outreach, resources, and support to your customers throughout their lifecycle (even before they need it) will help wow your customers and reassure them that they made the right choice in choosing your business.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Social media is a great channel for our customers to engage with us as a brand, as well as communicate with our employees and the leadership team, directly. When used effectively, brands can create a strong positive reputation with their audiences — one that establishes trust and credibility. The world is becoming increasingly more digital and mobile, and brands will need to leverage digital channels such as social media to engage their audiences and establish loyalty. When communicating on social media, it’s important for brands to provide timely and authentic communication to foster brand loyalty and customer relationships. Our MoEngage platform provides insights to help brand marketers better understand their consumers attributes, behaviors, and interests so they can take the best appropriate action on the consumers’ preferred channel at the right time.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

A common mistake I see when starting a company is to experiment for only a short period of time (less than one year) and not planning for additional experimentation time that it would take to figure out the right business plan. Another mistake is over-engineering and striving for perfection, before establishing the right product-market fit. Re-inventing the wheel on areas where there are playbooks already available is another missed opportunity and will only slow you down. I suggest finding good resources, mentors, and advisors early on who can provide guidance and help you avoid these pitfalls. One other mistake CEOs and founders make is not investing enough time on personal growth, and brand storytelling and positioning. These are critical, often overlooked areas that help grow and scale the business and should be a priority.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Starting a company isn’t easy, and many early-stage founders face challenges, like we did, along the way. I’m always looking for ways to help others grow and develop in their career, so that they too can prosper and impact change. I actually started free Office Hours for early-stage founders. I host these on Saturdays so I can spend time with early-stage founders who reach out to me for advice and guidance. It’s a way for me to give back to the community and follow in the footsteps of the people who have helped me in my early days. If every founder of a growing or established company can spare a few hours of time, it can unlock many more successful businesses and teams.

How can our readers further follow you online?

They can follow or connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter, or read my blogs on MoEngage.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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