Lokvani Talks To Gaugarin Oliver
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Gaugarin Oliver is the Global Head of Public Relations Services at Thomson Reuters. In this role, Gaugarin oversees global P&L responsibility for the Public Relations Services business.
Prior to joining Thomson Reuters, Gaugarin has managed to successfully take three startup companies and two new business initiatives to market. In 2008, Gaugarin co-founded and worked as CEO for MyMediaInfo (RedEgg Solutions, Inc), successfully growing the company to a clientele of 1,000 before Thomson Reuters' acquisition in 2012. Before that, he worked as the VP Channel Sales for Mobixell Networks as part of the founding US team that brought the Israeli company Mobixwell to the US Market. In 2001, he founded and served as President of Lojalis, a provider of a patent pending loyalty platform for wireless carriers incorporating location based technology and user interface through mobile media.
He has also previously held key positions where he worked as VP of Business Development for Cymfony, Inc., Vice President of Marketing and Business Development for UltiVerse Technologies, Inc., and Director of Sales Engineering at Voice Control System.
Gaugarin has B.S in Electronics & Communications from GCT, India, M.S in Industrial Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and executive training from Harvard Business school. He currently resides in Littleton, Massachusetts with his wife and two children.
Congratulations on the successful acquisition of RedEgg by Thomson Reuters. Could you tell us a little about RedEgg?
Eric Hill and I started RedEgg about 5 years ago to provide media intelligence solutions for public relations and marketing professionals. The key to our success has been our focus on doing things differently than others and on thinking beyond the basics. Though we were headquartered in the U.S., most of our employees have been based in Nagercoil, India where I am originally from. This team has been and will continue to be focused on content collection and software development. Now that we are part of Thomson Reuters, it's very exciting to see how we can further expand and differentiate our solutions in the PR space by leveraging our joint assets.
RedEgg seems to be at the cutting edge of managing traditional and social media. This seems a rather nascent field.
In the last few years, media and journalism have undergone tremendous change. Gone are the days of people getting their dose of news solely from the morning newspaper or evening local news on TV. A lot of breaking news comes from Twitter, Blogs, Facebook and other social media; however, traditional media such as newspapers still play a significant role. It is still very valuable to have articles written about your corporate milestones in key publications. So in today's market, public relations and marketing professionals have to identify all of the key influencers in their industry from both traditional and new media. They must also understand how to best reach and engage these individuals. That's where our MyMediaInfo services can help clients target the right contacts, develop tailored outreach programs and measure the impact of their programs.
With the advent of social media, what major shifts have you seen in the field of marketing and advertisement ? Do you expect continuing shifts in the future? Are there opportunities for startups in this space?
Social media is evolving as a new medium. Marketing and advertising efforts, in terms of absolute dollars spent on this medium, is still small in comparison to media such as TV commercials. Companies are still cautiously experimenting with social media. They are very eager to take full advantage of the benefits of this medium though. Marketers are grappling with issues such as privacy, messaging, measurement and legal issues around social media. That of course is an opportunity for entrepreneurs.
You have had three successful startups. In today's market what is the key to having a successful startup?
Irrespective of the market condition, for a startup to succeed, one should identify a problem that is widespread. Even though there may be many competitors, your value proposition should be quickly acceptable to at least a small segment of the market. Once you start gaining traction, you should implement your predetermined strategy to expand. This approach enables you to validate your assumptions and allows for faster course correction instead of spending a lot of time developing a comprehensive solution and then going to market. We made our first sale of the product at RedEgg within 3 months of starting the business, with just 4 employees and a product in an early stage of development. We built our products and expanded our customer base on this foundation. This is my idea of a startup and there are other approaches in industries such as pharmaceutical, where this may not apply.
Now that RedEgg has been acquired by Thomson Reuters and you have joined that company what are your plans for Thomson Reuters?
Thomson Reuters is one among the largest information companies. We have a very strong brand recognition and a high reputation in the industry. We have a solid plan in place to offer high quality data and services that address the needs of public relations and marketing professionals. My job is to leverage all the great information and assets from across the company and integrate them in an easy-to-use platform that addresses the needs and challenges that PR and marketing professionals are facing in today's markets.
It was wonderful to hear about your holding part of your operations in Nagercoil, a small town in Tamil Nadu. What motivated you to establish part of your operations in that town?
From day one, Eric Hill and I wanted to establish a model that had the bulk of its operations in India and sales operations in the US. We evaluated all our options at that time - (a) partner with another company in India, (b) establish a shop in a big city and the last option (c) to start our operations in Nagercoil. We picked Nagercoil for the high concentration of educated workforce in the region, who do not have many career opportunities there. Every year around one hundred thousand people graduate from the region and migrate to bigger cities. We saw an opportunity to get access to the cream of the crop, even though we were a startup.
Were there any special challenges to running operations in Nagercoil?
Yes of course. The talent was there, but not the infrastructure. We tackled them with the same entrepreneurial spirit one may apply to product development. For example, we had to convince wedding hall owners to let us convert it to an office space. We couldn't find a vendor who knew how to build an office space to US standards of a software company. So, we taught them how to do it. We couldn't find someone to supply dinner on a regular, consistent basis to our night shift employees. So, we encouraged a stay at home mom to start a business just doing that for us. And there were many cases early on, where to attract top talent we had to cajole and convince the parents who were skeptical about a new, small company in Nagercoil. There are many such examples.
How did your work impact that town?
I hope in a positive way. I have seen employees grow personally and financially. They started spending and thus helped the local economy. And based on our company's needs, an ecosystem of small vendors were in turn able to grow their business. Our employees participate in many social development activities in the region. And of course now having a big company such as Thomson Reuters in Nagercoil is incredible.
You moved with your family to Nagercoil for one year. How did your children react to the move from Boston to Nagercoil? How was that experience on a personal level?
We lived in India for a little more than an year, after spending two decades in the US. Our children were 12 and 10 when we moved, so I had some initial concerns about the decision but my wife convinced me it was a good idea. We decided to move to Nagercoil to stay close to work. It took our children about a month or so to adjust, but after that we all had a very enjoyable experience.. Living in a small town gave the children a real experience of India instead of the western version you see in the big cities. They connected with their cousins, uncles, aunts and grandmother. They picked up speaking Tamil, enjoyed celebrating local festivals and taking part in traditional activities. I was able to spend a lot of time with the team and also help the organization grow from 50 to 150 during my stay there. Overall it was one of the best years in my life.
Any special advice for entrepreneurs considering starting collaborations in small towns in India?
India has many such Nagercoils. I think it is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to leverage the talent and eventually help the regions grow as well. The key to success in these operations in small towns is to pick the best talent possible, train and treat them well. We paid comparable salary to our employees (adjusted for cost of living) as what they may get from a big city. The big savings come from retention and low operational costs. The other factor is to plan and resolve infrastructure problems with an open mind and out of the box thinking. After all, that is what entrepreneurship is all about!
Thank you for your time.