“A lot of people think India is not going to pay for data. We have found that to be untrue. I think they pay for actionable insights. They won’t pay you for mere data,” says Shalini Banerjee.

This assertion is the bedrock on which her business is built. Shalini, a BSc in Computer Science from Ethiraj College for Women in Chennai and a management graduate of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, worked in Coca-Cola before co-founding Brand Idea, along with her father, Suresh Pillai, an advertising professional.

Brand Idea has developed a tool that helps put together and analyse data which help companies understand their markets and sales right down to the last mile.

For instance, says Shalini, a person buying a product in Bandra behaves differently from a person buying the same product in another Mumbai suburb like Andheri. Similarly, a person staying in Velacheri in Chennai is different from a person staying just miles away in Adyar, even if the income groups and consumption patterns are similar. Brand Idea’s business intelligence enterprise tool offered on the cloud gives its clients these kind of insights and helps them analyse how they are performing in each micro-market, how an area is going to be important from a product placement point of view and the marketing insight that helps them find out whether their investment is giving them the desired returns.

Shalini, Vice-President – Sales & Marketing, Brand Idea, says the idea for the venture came about thanks to the different assignments she handled at Coke, combined with her father’s experience in the advertising industry. “We felt there was an opportunity or the white space in helping companies analyse their information. The buzzwords of big data hadn’t even hit the Indian markets then, in 2008.”

Angel funding

While they had built the principles of what they wanted to do in 2008 itself, the venture took off in 2011 when it got angel funding from Mumbai Angels, a network of wealthy individuals who invest in and mentor start-ups. “We used the funding money to develop the product,” says Shalini.

Brand Idea decided to build a platform for analysis that will integrate the client’s internal data and combine it with the external data that it will provide. It brings in a whole lot of external data from a variety of sources and makes it relevant to that particular industry.

At present, its tool is available for three verticals – consumer goods, building materials and agri-business.

It chose these three sectors because the data sets are similar in terms of needs. For instance, how Brand Idea would evaluate a village would be the same way a company hoping to sell its products there would do it. Hence, the systems and the analytical process would be similar, she points out.

Brand Idea launched a commercial product in early 2013 and has clients such as ITC, Hindustan Unilever, Cadbury’s and Himalaya Drug Company. It gets its income from an annual subscription it charges its clients. The product is licensed and there is the income from data subscription. The clients can buy the data for the whole country or a specific region or just a city. “We have a different data product for urban areas, a different one for rural and a different data product based on trade. It’s almost like a Lego set. You can take the blocks that you want and create it the way you want to create it,” says Shalini.

Brand Idea has a 45-member team, with a majority involved in product development and data mining, as all the external data that go into the platform are mined by the company.

Way ahead According to Shalini, the data mining has been done for India, but Brand Idea is evolving products for the emerging markets. “We are looking at how quickly it can be adapted, whatever be the similar data sources that we would be looking at.”

The company is looking at whether it should offer its product for the developed markets first or tackle the emerging markets and then go to the developed ones. The issue being which market size will be more attractive; emerging markets have no competition, but low adoption, whereas in a developed market, the adoption will be good, but the market will be crowded.

Brand Idea, according to her, is generating enough cash to keep it going, at the current level of spending. But it has started looking at raising the next round of funds. Discussions with venture capital firms have helped it figure out its growth plans and put a roadmap in place. “We are looking to raise $4-5 million (₹20-30 crore) to fuel our expansion plans globally,” says Shalini .

By the time it raises the money, Brand Idea will also have decided which of the global markets – developed or emerging – it will tackle first. “We are going to work with a couple of our current clients, to test it out so that it gives us a sense of usability.”