Lockdown Economy Nepal in a Brand Consulting Firm with Kashyap Shakya

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Sujan Lal Manandhar

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Kashyap Shakya, the Co-Founder of Pycus Holdings, which is a brand consulting firm in Nepal. We talked about how the lockdown impacted the marketing industry and Pycus Holdings. A lot of their clients are startups and Pycus itself is a very young company. Some people had to shut their business and the first costs that got pushed aside was the marketing and human resource budget. It was difficult finding new clients. Communication was a challenge. They had to invest in upgrading the equipment and vehicles to adapt to the restrictions due by the lockdown. It was difficult getting ideas across in an online setting. They could not simply close their doors because their clients relied on them. They had to learn how to do business online. Some of their employees took online digital marketing courses to provide better value to their clients. They are optimistic about the present situation because some good organizations have approached them because of the work they did during the lockdown.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Could you introduce us to Pycus Holdings?

Kashyap: Pycus is a brand consulting firm. My cousin, Rahul and I founded this company three years ago. After working in the marketing field for 15 years in Nepal in different sectors ranging from beverages to life insurance companies, we thought of opening a company with our expertise. We work with clients in a different manner than an ad agency firm because we play a strategic and advisory role. Primarily, clients look for ideas and suggestions about how to create a brand. Some clients come with the requirement to refurbish their brand and some require rebranding. It revolves around branding but to only say that would be very shallow and incomplete because we are involved with their entire marketing and even business strategies. Many people might only see the work we do on digital and other mainstream media but we provide a lot of strategic input as well. Presently we have a team of around 9 people if we exclude freelancers and outsourced employees.

What problems did your organization face during the lockdown?

Kashyap: I must say, initially we were very sceptical. We are a very young company. We practically deal with many small entrepreneurs. These startups were very enthusiastic but the pandemic hit in an unexpected manner. These businesses do not have deep pockets. Some of them were unique theme-based restaurants. But some of them had to close down because their employees were not present and people themselves were restricted to go to restaurants. They cut down on their marketing and human resource budget. If you look at it from that perspective, it was a big hit for our clients and for us as well. Four or five of our clients stopped their promotions. The physical operation part was a challenge. We were not sure if we would get a subsidy on our rent from the house-owner. We were practising work from home for the first time. Communication was a problem. Communicating online has now become a habit but initially, it was very difficult because it was hard to get the ideas across. It is still not as rich as face to face communication. Things changed in due course of time. The idea of digital marketing started making sense because mainstream media was not very well received by the people, even operationally. It has definitely picked up a little bit. We have learned a lot during this time.

What strategies did you adopt to solve these problems?

Kashyap: We were not in a situation where we could simply close because some of our bigger clients had to keep promoting their business. For example, it was very important for the life insurance company we work with to keep promoting during such a time. It made sense from their CSR (corporate social responsibility) point of view. During that time, the only thing we could do was learn our way out. We had to invest in some infrastructure. We had to upgrade the internet in every team member’s home. We had to invest in separate screens, webcams, microphone and television (for the meeting room) for meetings. We had to learn the mannerisms of online meetings. When the public vehicles were not allowed to operate and there was the odd/even rule (traffic rule where vehicles with odd license plate numbers could drive only on odd dates and even plates on even dates), some of our employees had to buy a two-wheeler vehicle. It was a very dilemmatic situation because on one hand, we were losing out on revenue but on the other hand, we had to invest to keep working for our clients. It was a chicken or the egg kind of question.

Were there any strategies that you tried that did not work?

Kashyap: We were under a strict lockdown which was almost like a curfew. We tried to come to the office a couple of times a week but we would be stopped by the traffic police. Our vehicles got seized and our employees got held on the road for hours. Some of our employees contracted COVID, thankfully their symptoms were not severe and they could work from home. A few of our clients did insist on having physical meetings but even some of them got infected and the work kept getting delayed. Hence it also did not make sense to work physically from the office as we all also have families.

How were your strategies different from your competitors?

Kashyap: In Nepal, specifically in Kathmandu, if you go through social media and the internet you will see a lot of companies trying to promote themselves digitally. We even saw many companies enter into digital marketing during that time. Some of the competitors were giving huge price cuts as it was becoming difficult to sustain for small and big companies. This seemed a little threatening in the beginning but we understood the difference in the value we were providing as compared to our competitors. Finding new clients was a very big task because those who were spending on marketing were spending less and those who were thinking of spending, postponed it. However, we did not copy our competitors. But on the positive side, the overall population started using digital platforms for payment systems, information search, transactions, interactions and more. I think that is here to stay.

What kind of interactions did you have with your clients?

Kashyap: This pandemic may stay for another two years in a country like Nepal. Yes, vaccines may shorten this duration. But there were so many brands at Pycus that we created with a lot of love and emotion. We did not want to lose those clients. We tried to provide them value and run their digital campaigns for a few months on a subsidized rate (or even free). It was not just from a monetary business standpoint but also attachment. The clients accepted and appreciated this a lot. The clients were also in a dilemmatic position because on one hand they had to promote their business but on the other hand, they were also losing out on revenues. You cannot work from home for a long time in sectors like banks and life insurance because they have to send their agents to people, sell the insurance, get the premium amount and have it deposited in a bank. Since these clients had to promote, we had to give them value in terms of optimizing their cost as well as maximizing the output. Some of our team members even took some online courses on digital marketing. I would say we had some positive learning.

Now that the lockdown has been eased, how is your business performing and what is the outlook for your company for the next three months?

Kashyap: We have been very positive immediately after the lockdown because we realized there were some businesses that were trying to do something before the lockdown but they could not. It was not a complete shutdown, they had just postponed it. We have had quite a few valuable clients who approached us because of the kind of work we did and the value we provided during the lockdown. We are glad and we will most likely be working with them and we will be increasing the number of clients. I think this has grown in the general digital marketing sphere. More businesses have realized digital presence makes a lot of sense.

What are the three things in your business that you need help with?

Kashyap: Presently, it is not at all related to COVID. I have been talking about this for a long time. Firstly, the government policies regarding small businesses are very poor, and that has to change. For example, now the government is telling people that we are allowed to pay for international transactions of a certain amount. The general people simply talk about maybe paying for Netflix and buying things from Amazon but for us (digital marketers) it is about how we pay for international advertisements like Facebook, Instagram or Google ads. This was a challenge and a lot of businesses were transacting these things unofficially. The amount that has been allowed to be transacted internationally per individual is very small. But even before this if you asked why paying internationally was not allowed, the answer was that a lot of money would be expatriated. This seemed to be very irrational because if you look at it logically businesses can get very good results even if they only spend $500 on social media promotions which would not be possible in mainstream media. Before this, it was either you spend a huge amount on mainstream media or you do not advertise at all. Now social media has become very popular. Even smaller local businesses are promoting themselves. We are looking at the value addition to the GDP of the nation. The policymakers are not looking at the bigger picture. It is a very myopic thought that if you open foreign transactions, the money will flow out of the nation. We are a country that levied taxes on electric vehicles and did not promote them and we are still spending a lot on petrol. The business and the political environment is also very bad. Talking more about the political situation, we were very glad that the government was going to be stable for at least five years irrespective of which kind of government came into power. But we never expected that the government which won with 2/3 majority would actually dissolve itself. I think the foreign direct investors would be very unhappy with that which would leave bad precedence for FDIs in the future. They might not trust even a stable government in Nepal. Secondly, there is a very ironic situation where you can see a lot of unemployment but you cannot find skilled human resources when you look for them. Hence in my business; strategists, graphic designers, copywriters, movie producers, animators, illustrators, content writers, web developers, app developers and more are needed. This sector can provide a lot of employment for the young crowd. Students who are in college can get part-time jobs. Three or four of my employees are such students. By the time they graduate, they will have developed some skills. Finally, in my sector, we need to see an evolution in the industry itself. The clean feed is a good example. In the beginning, we were very happy about clean feed as it could help the local media and advertisement businesses to grow. Till now it seems like clean feed was implemented without any infrastructural development. Hence, instead of having local ads on international television channels, these channels themselves have not come. And if they do not come, there is no local ad. We are among a very few brand consulting firms. This concept had just entered Nepal in 2017. The industry is definitely growing, but it is very slow. We would want the clients and the business environment to understand the importance of these services for the growth of their company. There are many other things but these three are the primary ones.

About the Guest

Kashyap Shakya is a marketer with 15 years of experience in marketing, dealing with products ranging from beer to juice to life insurance.

Pycus Holdings is a brand consultancy firm involved in brand-related strategic execution at the advisory level with the clients.

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