16 Jun 2017, 10:21 — 6 min read
Customer loyalty is a key ingredient for success in any form of business. In fact, with crowded marketplaces filled with competing companies offering similar goods and services, customer retention is the only way to succeed. Akhil Saraf, disappointed by the fact that his favourite cafe had a coupon deal that gave him no incentive, did some research. He found that physical businesses find it very difficult to track their customers and decided to make a difference in that market.
In 2015, in Kolkata, Akhil launched Loyalie IT-Solutions Pvt Ltd, a software provider that helps its clients, mainly corporate entities, create loyalty and referral programs. He is the CEO of this company. A step-up from the usual coupon schemes, these programs enable these companies to gain a higher share of their target markets and hold onto their piece of the pie.
In conversation with GlobalLinker (GL) Akhil Saraf (AS) shares the journey of his company and his plans for the future.
GL: Tell us about your business.
AS: Loyalie is a SaaS (software as a service) provider for business loyalty and referral management. Loyalty started because I fell cheated when my favourite cafe had a coupon deal running whereas I was regular there and I was not getting any incentive. After getting into the industry and realising in depth as to how businesses engage with and market to customers, I found that online businesses had an upper hand in this. They had managed to organise word of mouth marketing in the form of referral programs. Physical businesses found it extremely hard to organise a referral program because tracking who referred whom was an unbelievable task.
GL: What are the challenges you have faced in establishing your business?
AS: We started our business initially in Kolkata where the "startup" culture was just setting in. It was very hard to find the right talent to work for a new company. However that changed with scale. We were still left with a large problem that our target customers (independent restaurants or store owners) would find it hard to differentiate a loyalty program against a coupon platform or a search and discovery platform. Eventually, being a bootstrapped business, we didn't have the resources to educate market on the benefits of loyalty and therefore moved to larger corporates where we had a ready market.
GL: Do you believe that the ‘ease of doing business’ in India has improved?
AS: Now a little about me will help you understand my answer to the question. I'm currently 24 years old, I've worked for the last six years of my life. The first four of which was in direct tax consultancy. It was one thing to work for an established company and a whole other challenge to set up a business of my own. Even today, I'm finding more and more regulations that I'm subject to.
GST is said to start the reform process but honestly for a services firm, it barely matters. Our liability was only Service Tax to begin with and the set off from VAT products was negligible. Today I believe business has gotten harder. GST alone has 38 filings a year (3 a month and semi annual return and full year return). Then we have TDS, Professional Tax, Income-tax, MCA, RoC, state and local government compliance to name a few. Then there is industry specific compliance that we have to undertake. Its hard for a first time entrepreneur like myself to say whether ease of business has improved, but I can definitely say that we have a long way to go.
GL: What is the USP of your business?
AS: The USP of my business is our AER platform - Acquire, Engage & Retain. These are the 3 core elements of a customer's life cycle and we have a seamlessly-integrated product that allows them to work together. Now we have opened up our platforms for other companies to integrate with. One specific partnership we will be having ECommerce-ERP-CRM-AER-EDM integrated on a very deep level where businesses will save hundreds of man hours a week across all departments.
GL: What are some of the milestones of your business?
AS: We’ve believed in evolving on a daily basis. Our referral platform is truly game-changing and we believe its one of the largest milestones we've reached. Forging partnerships with companies of repute globally was the other milestone we just achieved last month. Taking the product to international markets is another milestone which should be done by June itself.
GL: What role do you feel GlobalLinker plays in connecting & assisting SMEs?
AS: I'm part of the GlobalLinker platform. I use it extensively and I believe it could truly be a powerful way of doing business.
GL: What is your Big Business Dream?
AS: My office knows that the day I hit 1000+ clients, I would like to start a GlobalLinker-style platform for Loyalie's clients.
GL: What is your message to aspiring entrepreneurs?
AS: With a lot of tech companies coming up around me and an almost equal number going bust, I'd just like to say, don't chase the funding, chase the bottom line. It's the only way you can be local and build a global company.
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Posted byGlobalLinker Staff
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