Emerging Entrepreneurs

Helping companies expand in a digitally-connected world

Amrita Nair-Ghaswalla | Updated on October 15, 2018 Published on October 15, 2018

Prashant Puri and Vivek Pahwa, Founders, AdLift

AdLift provides synergy between search marketing and display ads on the web

Hard work and tenacity can get you places. That is the simple mantra that Prashant Puri has followed all his life.

Chucking up a six-figure salaried job in the US to launch a digital firm was no easy task, but Prashant happens to be one of the rare breed of entrepreneurs who landed on his feet from the word ‘go’.

With absolutely no investment till date in the firm, AdLift boasts of “35 per cent margin and a run rate of $8 million for the year, and ₹45-50 crore annual revenue.”

Within the first two years, “we were cash-flow positive. We weren’t burning money and could keep ourselves afloat. Actually by the third month, we were putting money in the bank every month,” recalls Prashant.

He doesn’t believe so much in luck, but “word of mouth helps in this business. It has got its own wheels.”

Early years

Slow at the start, the early years laid the foundation.

“I was doing my Masters in Computer Science from the Columbia University in 2003. Those were the pre-IPO days for Google. I did a bunch of papers and thesis on Google, and interned at IAC at Citysearch in Los Angeles,” he said. “When I was graduating from Columbia, all my friends were taking their place with Morgan Stanley and Bank of America. All my batchmates were getting jobs in financial services, but it didn’t excite me. I didn’t want to do something where I was the auxiliary function,” said Prashant.

“I wanted to be my own boss,” he said.

The timing was not right though, so he decided to hold on to that dream for some more time.

Whilst working with a tech company in the US in 2006, Prashant realised the importance of search marketing: how brands and companies could gain an online presence and traffic via paid and unpaid strategies on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.

“Yahoo! was the single largest search platform at that time. The space had not been taken over by Google as yet. I worked at eBay’s comparison shopping arm where I was managing three websites and was heading the search marketing efforts,” he said.

He then moved to Yahoo! in 2007, where he managed their digital marketing efforts.


“Digital advertisements were just starting up then. In 2007, Yahoo! paid $600 million for Right Media. Being part of the marketing team, I pioneered the synergy between search marketing and display advertising, which was earlier working in silos. I realised I could leverage both display and search for brands,” says Prashant.

Having learnt the tricks of the trade early, Prashant decided to step on the gas when he saw the window of opportunity. Given the significant learnings, he decided it was time to branch out on his own.

“Understanding the pain points of brands is important. We were on the other side of the table and working with brands. The trend was just starting on Google and Yahoo! at that time, and we helped build tech for them with analysis and search signals across organic and search,” he says.

New show

Prashant’s experience within the search marketing space is what he brought to the table when he started AdLift. Prashant teamed up with Vivek Pawha, another entrepreneur. As Founder and CEO of Accentium Web, Vivek handled several websites such as PriceRaja.com, a price comparison website, and SecondShaadi.com, a site for remarriages, within Accentium Web. Both sites were sold out of Accentium in 2017-18.

Vivek was also the founder of Gaadi.com, which was acquired by MIH, a part of Naspers, a South African conglomerate.

“What my partner brought to the table is the set-up that he already had,” Prashant says. Vivek had a team of 25-30 people working on several projects at Accentium Web and allocated 4-5 people to Prashant.

The duo started the digital marketing firm in 2009, primarily in the US market, “since I lived there. For the first two months, it was tough, but in 2010-11 when I bagged PayPal and Barnes & Noble, we became lucky,” says Prashant.

The duo started AdLift bootstrapped. It continued to make money as it grew organically. “The first big client was eBay Classified. The first 3-4 months we were negative, but after that were allocating monies into the bank. We got off to a pretty quick start and have never been in a tight spot,” recalls Prashant.

When the team closed some of the bigger accounts, “we realised we were providing a specific service to the market, like organic search content market and search marketing. We then decided to expand our service to India,” says Prashant.

In terms of manpower, “we were 10 people in 2009-10 and doubled by 2013-14. Currently, we have 105 across Gurgaon, Mumbai and San Francisco,” says Prashant.

Failure was never an option, says Prashant. “That pretty much shaped the belief in me, that if you put your head out without thinking of the outcome, and put in 110 per cent, chances of failure are minuscule.”

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Published on October 15, 2018
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