Gifted with a fabulous sense of humour, this young lad finds a reason or two in the most serious of conversations. When questioned about his inclination towards entrepreneurship, he quips, “No particular reason; show me a Sindhi who doesn’t nurture the dream of becoming an entrepreneur. The Sindhis who are employees, no matter at what position, are always on a lookout for an entrepreneurial opportunity. I am no exception.”
Nikhil always idolised entrepreneurs. He recalls how he sought to emulate thoughts and actions of noted entrepreneurs which he imbibed by reading their biographies. Despite his entrepreneurial ambition, his family had made it very clear that there was no compromising with his education. So Nikhil did not even try to mess with it. He waited to complete his education before taking up an entrepreneurial career. During his mechanical engineering, which he had joined on someone’s advice that Mechanical plus MBA would be the killing combination before starting a business, he realised that machines did not interest him. He could not bring himself to like machines and, therefore, dropped the idea of venturing into this area. Unclear, Nikhil started preparing for MBA entrance exams and scored more than 90 percentile in all the competitive exams, including CAT, XAT and MAT.
He appeared for interviews in one of the most prominent B-schools of India and everywhere, and faced the same question – “Why MBA?” – to which he answered “I want to learn about business and start a venture of my own”. It was during these interviews that Nikhil came to know about EDII, found it in sync with his objective and decided to join EDII’s Post Graduate Diploma in Management – Business Entrepreneurship course.
Unlike mechanical engineering, his decision of studying at EDII was a fairly informed choice. As he says, “In the two years of my stay at EDII, I clarified all the doubts that I had about entrepreneurship, probed into its various aspects and with each passing day, became more confident about my decision. Interaction with successful entrepreneurs, industry experts and faculty members readied me to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.” Nikhil gloriously graduated from EDII in 2010 with a Silver medal in Services Management specialisation.
Nikhil was working on a couple of ideas and the idea of starting a classified service got him interested. It was an era when mobile penetration in India had crossed over 70% while the internet penetration was hardly inching at a pace of 10%. He joined hands with two partners, one being an IIM graduate and another, an investor in his business, an experienced professional working in the US. They started “KuchBhiBikega” – a tele-classified platform that allowed people to post and access classified information through a phone call in addition to the internet. They got appreciation for the problem being solved by the business and got initial traction of early adopters along with recognition by getting covered in various media. However, the cash flow was negative and they could not sustain themselves for a longer time. They had to close down the business in a span of 18 months of operations. A learning that Nikhil drew was that raising funds on time and have a technical co-founder could have saved the venture and scale could have been achieved.
Nikhil now, once again, started scanning the environment for opportunities. As he says, “I was never in a state of anxiety. I knew I would make it. At every step and in assessing every opportunity, I was getting mentored by EDII faculty. That immensely boosted my confidence.” During a chance meeting with Nitin Jain who had just ventured into the business of digital marketing, Nikhil found his grounding. He gelled well with Nitin and partnered with him in the organisation ‘Digital Upstarts’, a start-up, with the aim of making digital marketing his primary preoccupation. Their roles were clear. Nikhil focused on work from the roots and at every stage, evaluated and implemented his understanding of business management. He concentrated on managing operations, finance and business strategy.
Challenges, of course, were many. As Nikhil says, “Those were the days when people were just beginning to get familiar with social media and clients were hesitant about harnessing its potential. At times, they simply refused to go online with their details.” Nikhil also found it difficult to contend with self-proclaimed online social media experts who offered their services at one fourth of his price. Nikhil had to ensure that the clients learnt as well as unlearnt a lot of things to reach appropriate decisions.
The company which started as social media agency has now evolved into a full-fledged digital marketing agency that provides services like SEO, SEM, website development, Mobile App marketing, video production & marketing, etc. to its clients. In a period of more than six years, Digital Upstarts has come to service more than 100 clients including several reputed regional, national and international brands from varied sectors like retail, education, entertainment, hospitality, etc. Nikhil recalls how he and his partner, Nitin, played a major role as online marketing partners of three blockbuster Gujarati films, namely Bey Yaar, Wrong Side Raju (National Award winning film) and Shubh Aarambh and the recent film, Love Ni Bhavai.
The company is growing from strength to strength and recently adopted a private limited company structure under the nomenclature of Clever Buds Digital Marketing Private Limited.
The brand name, however, remains the same as Digital Upstarts. With a turnover of close to ₹ 1Cr, today the company employs 10 people including copywriters, graphic designers, website developer, SEO executive, media planner, cinematographer and video editor. The company’s target is to double the current team size to 20 people in next one year and strengthen their presence in metro cities.
Nikhil is an active alumnus of the institute and has been in the Board of EDI Alumni Association as Secretary since 2015.
With Sam Walton, Founder of Walmart and Steve Jobs as his inspiration, Nikhil Talreja, COO, Digital Upstarts & Director, Clever Buds Digital Marketing Private Limited, looks ahead with a focused vision. He concludes, “There are miles to go before I sleep.”