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John KuruvillaWisest and bravest decisions of entrepreneurial journey Published On: Thursday, February 05, 2015 Views 3916

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About John Kuruvilla

“John Kuruvilla” is that name tag that associates with prestigious names like Air Deccan, Oberoi Group of hotels, J Walter Thomson and Lintas (Lowe); a visionary, innovator and out of the box thinker who has successfully launched some of the most popular campaigns till date like Humara Bajaj, Maruti Omni, Toyota Qualis, Air Deccan and has also been the brain behind bringing big brands to India.

Born in Jamshedpur & studied from the University of Singapore; john has seen every thick and thin in life and has come out as a winner. From battling Steven Johnson’s syndrome to finding his entrepreneurial venture taggle.com; john is a zenith of 24 years of rigorous experience of courage, strength, will power, and also sales, marketing, brand building, revenue management, customer relations and pricing.

Achievements

John being the shy guy prefers to hide away from the limelight but when we last checked; apart from being the best and most heard speakers in TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) – a non-profit organization which fosters entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking, education, incubating, and funding; John has achieved a lot that many can learn from.

The best example of this is: years back Air Deccan airlines was on the verge of shutting down, a bunch of business enthusiasts who had fondness for innovation came up with an idea to sell airline tickets for INR 500. Many called them fools and criticized their idea to no limits but their idea gave wings to the dream of flying for Indians located in small town and villages. Within no time; the Air Deccan server crashed with the number of bookings and the airline became the front page story of every newspaper of the country. To add to that; in the next three years from nobody, Air Deccan became the 2 largest airlines in the country! And no prizes for guessing, who headed those bunch of enthusiasts? John Kuruvilla!!!

Other than that; I’m sure most us remember that catchy “Humara Bajaj” tune from the advertisement of Bajaj motorbikes. Yeah, well – John Kuruvilla! He was the mind behind the advertisement to save the dying Kawasaki brand by focusing pan Indian appeal instead of their technical expertise. Result: Kawasaki is one of the most loved brands in India and the commercial is one of the most popular commercials of all time!

Employment

John holds a diversified work experience ranging from accounts, finance, dot com, real estate and marketing but more than anything he holds a vast experience of 14 years in the field of advertising alone & has been praised by many for his unique out-of-the-box advertising techniques!

He began his career in the year ’89, 5 years after completing his Bachelors in Science. His first job was with ‘Ammirati Puris Lintas’ as a group accounts manager and managed accounts like Bajaj Auto and Bajaj Electric for roughly 2 years. Although the job was pretty mediocre and was nothing compared to what his capabilities were but then it perfectly helped him build the base.

Soon after when he felt he was ready; john moved to one of the best companies of his life to gain the much needed experience – Contract Advertising in 1992. Contract Advertising is a subsidiary of J Walter Thomson, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world and the biggest in India.

Contract was spread across many cities in India and their Bangalore branch was constantly making losses since a long time. John was hired with a primary but a difficult task of turning the tables around in Bangalore. Hence without much delay, john with his team began the dirty work. Within a span of less than 5 years john got this branch to make profits. But things didn’t end there! His agency went on to become the first agency to start a retainer based model and not only that but for the first time an advertising agency started a Consulting wing to provide brand advisory services to the companies who could not afford the high prices otherwise.

Some of the brands they provided advisory services to, were Reva (electric car), Carbon (branded jewelry), BPL US West (telecom), Oberoi Group (Hospitality), etc. and to do so they received many awards for creativity and strategic thinking.

After 5 years of tremendous hardwork & acclaim it was time for john to use his talents for the benefit of another firm; hence in 1998 he joined Leo Burnett as a Sr. VP. Leo Burnett was a Chicago headquartered advertising agency at a respectable position across the world.

This time his talents and experience were put to test! Why? Because it was Bangalore again and again turning losses into profits. And he nailed it! He successfully did so in just about 20 months and at the same time also created a subsidiary in partnership with one of the world’s most renowned and biggest private agency – Dentsu of Japan thus launching Orchard advertising! More than that, what was even more commendable was that during that phase they also launched India’s leading brands Toyota and Hitachi in our country and won a bronze at Cannes for a TV film.

In 2003; john took the biggest leap of his life by joining Air Deccan as their new Chief Revenue Officer & Head Marketing. Under his mentorship & guidance; Air Deccan which was on the verge of dying, became the 2nd largest airlines of India in just a period of 3 years. Apart from his aforementioned achievements with the airlines, the airlines also reinvented Commercial aviation in the country. He achieved all this with a team of young but inexperienced enthusiasts to create aviation history in India. Although, the company got bought over by kingfisher airlines but their achievements were so commendable that they were carved in ‘Simplifly’, the Biography of Capt. Gopinath – founder of Air Deccan.

After leaving Air Deccan; john joined The Oberoi Group as an Executive Vice President –Marketing in 2006. The Oberoi Group is a dream company for many and is considered to be one of the most respected brands in the world with 3 of their hotels being listed amongst the top 10 hotels in the world by travel & leisure magazines. Goes without saying the group reached to greater heights with the presence of the man himself but due to unavoidable reasons, he had to quit the job in just 2 years.

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TRIVIA

For a year, John also served as a COO – Commercial & Revenue for Deccan Charters during 2008-09 where he successfully helped the company grow by over 30% during the recession phase and turned it profitable.

During that phase; john was also going through a fatal illness called Steven Johnson Syndrome which happened because of wrong diagnosis by the Doctor & incorrect medication and at the same time was also handling United Restaurants (US Pizza) & 20 North Pvt. Ltd. (www.20north.com) for which he was a Director on the Board.

Nevertheless; being the fighter he is, john succeeded in all!

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Moving on; the second last company that john worked with was the very famous via.com as their new CMO. Via a part of Bangalore-based Flightraja Travels Pvt. Ltd, is an online travel and deals site. It has a network of 20,000 travel partners across 2,400 cities and towns in India with 4 crore customers and 20 lakh footfalls at its 50,000 offline outlets. And who made most of it possible, none other than our very own Mr. Kuruvilla!

But to everyone’s surprise; john left the job in 5 months itself and as per Techcircle.in, john stated that he had joined the company for an assignment-specific & time-bound contract and was hired to broaden and upscale the B2C section of the Via.com which also involved branding, marketing and customer acquisition. So as he had delivered what he was asked to, he decided to move on to the next step.

Lastly and presently; john is working with GenNext Ventures – a Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) backed venture capital firm which invests in innovation driven start-ups and growth stage companies. RIL holds a 50% stake in GenNext Ventures.

At GenNext Ventures, John heads the early stage investment initiative and under his leadership the company has launched the GenNext Innovation Hub which is an accelerator program in partnership with Microsoft ventures.

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TRIVIA

John has been an Angel Investor since more than five years!

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Entrepreneurship

John-Kuruvilla
Image credit: spreaddesign.co.in

Soon after Leo Burnett ended, john took the entrepreneurial route! And this path began with his first ever venture Propmart Technologies Ltd. in the year 2000. Propmart was basically an idea to revolutionize the way Real estate services were being offered in India and to professionalize the same. It was a combination of both leverage and technology.

The business model was so great that within a very short span it became the largest provider in its space. This was also the first time Propmart brought together big brands like Leo Burnett, Wrigleys, HSBC, ICICI and many other real estate companies under one roof. And in 3 years the company had offices in 6 cities and also operated in 5 Middle East countries – Bahrain, Dubai, Muscat, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

But john took everybody with complete surprise when it was disclosed in 2003 that they are selling the company to an unknown real estate developer in India for mysterious reasons.

And there onwards, he moved back to employment for a while!

The next time he took a U-turn to entrepreneurship was in the year 2010 when he started one of his most ambitious ventures – taggle.com with USD 1 Million in funding from Battery Ventures and Greylock Partners.

This was just after he recovered from his illness. Taggle.com was a venture, way ahead of its times as it dealt with online group buying and was one of the earliest group buying start-ups in India.

Initially, their website offered deals related to services and products but as they realized that the service deals were not proving to be fruitful, they quickly diverted their focus to deals related to only products and this change reflected in their revenues too! In a matter of 3 months, their revenues grew 10 times.

In August 2011, john with a heavy heart shifted to the role of an advisor and hired a new CEO for the company -. This decision was taken primarily due to differences with the management in relations with the company’s strategy.

Apart from Taggle, there were at least a dozen other daily aggregators in the market such as Snapdeal.com, Mydala.com, Koovs.com, Groupon India (Crazeal.com) and many more. Now the only way to survive in the market was to sell products at below-cost price thus ending up in a price war with the rest! This was like the Last Man Standing game!

Although, eventually there would be a winner but then that winning wouldn’t matter so much because by then they would have lost a lot of money.

Hence, in 2012 the company collectively decided not to get into the war and pulling the shutter down would be a better option.

Lessons to learn from John

– India is a marketer’s nightmare and is one of the most complex markets. What may work in one market, may not work in the other one. Not everyone eats a burger; some prefer a Vada Pav or a Samosa too!

– Innovation is the key to success, otherwise it’s just existence.

– Referral is the best form of advertising. A content customer will bring 10 more customers.

– In today’s business world; Revenue management is the bridge between success and failure!

– Keep it simple! When taking a decision never complicate things for yourself.

– While working; stick around for at least 2 years to understand the basics of the trade.

– Keep your growth second and your company’s first. Company grows -> automatically you grow!

End Note

Now going by his entrepreneurial journey many may feel john isn’t a successful businessman; but we think otherwise. According to us, he is one of the most brilliant minds!

If you look at it; both his ventures were born out of an out-of-the-box idea, extravagant advertising & marketing techniques, the intelligence and most importantly the experience. And shutting a shop or selling off a company is not always the destination to failure; in fact, those were the wisest and bravest decisions one could take to avoid un-repairable future damages.

Ultimately, it’s not where you reach that defines your success but what decisions you take during the most difficult times defines it.

Author:

YoChef puts the spotlight on emerging businesses and reputed personalities to help young entrepreneurs learn from their experiences. Watch out for posts published under YoChef to discover entrepreneurial journeys and life lessons.

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