Growing a business is never easy. The nearly insurmountable number of variables within each venture makes a one-size-fits-all solution impossible. Instead, business owners need to have a deep understanding of their company in order to make it work.
However, sometimes growth opportunities can be right in front of you. Just ask 1105 Media President and CEO Rajeev Kapur who, after a long career in the computer hardware business, found himself on the precipice of a new line of work. “I’d been a tech guy for my whole career,” he shares. “I was at Dell for 12 years, and actually worked directly for Michael Dell for a little while.”
Upon leaving Dell, Rajeev entered the world of small business. “It was a very, very small business in the Internet of Things ecommerce space,” he says. “It was a sub-US$20 million business when I joined. Together with the team we restructured away from being primarily a catalogue marketer to a digital and ecommerce player that allowed us to double the business in a short period of time, and in the process we received the award for the Best Place To Work.”
From there, he was recruited to become CEO of Swiss audio technology company Sonic Emotion. When Rajeev arrived, the business was in a tough place, but within three years he’d turned its fortunes around. “Ultimately, that business sold to the headphone company Sennheiser,” he says. “It was an amazing experience.”
A pattern was emerging. Slowly but surely, Rajeev had transitioned from the hardware business to specializing in growing businesses. “A good friend of mine who happened to be on the board at 1105 Media reached out to let me know they were looking for a new CEO,” he remembers.
Though its Southern California locale couldn’t be more different from Zurich, it was the opportunity Rajeev had been waiting for. A business-to-business marketing and media services provider in the tech space, 1105 Media had a strong stable of brands and, as luck would have it, an office just five minutes from his house.
“I was familiar with some of its brands, but I was an outsider to this world,” he recalls. “But I came in with new and fresh ideas, and that’s how I ended up joining.”
Eager to put these ideas to the test, Rajeev hit the ground running. “When I first started, 1105 Media was very heavily in the print market,” he says. “Obviously a big opportunity was reducing our print exposure because not many people were buying print anymore.”
What may be a solution for one company may not work for another.
The solution was to beef up the company’s digital offerings. “So we expanded our email marketing, webinars, summits, all those different types of products to drive more digital engagement. In turn, that drives more leads and prospects for the brand and our vendors. So that’s the first big step.”
His outsider’s eyes also noticed inefficiencies in the company’s structure. Rajeev was now CEO of 1105 Media’s holding company, beneath which were six other companies. “Organizationally, it was fairly siloed,” he explains. “Those six companies each operated in their own silo, so no-one really ever communicated with each other. If they did, it was fairly rare.”
Rajeev’s next point of order was to remove those silos and create a more cross-functional team. “At a corporate level, we offered shared services from human resources, IT, finance and all those things, and each division had its own business unit head,” he shares. “We decentralized that decision-making and reduced the size of the corporate overhead at the same time. It pushed decision-making as close to the customer as possible and really empowered our teams to transform their business.”
All in all, these initial efforts took three-and-a-half years to put in place. The execution stage had just gotten underway when COVID-19 hit. “That was probably the biggest challenge we faced,” he admits. “But it actually helped accelerate some of our digital initiatives because all our face-to-face events went away. Our gross margins went up and we became a very strong cash-generating machine.”
With that safety net in place, building 1105 Media’s culture became a strong strategic imperative not only for Rajeev, but also the entire team. “But then we continued to modify the plan, so instead of one major strategic initiative, we probably had dozens of small- to mid-size initiatives because we knew we had an audience.”
It was an audience Rajeev knew had to grow, and to do that meant increasing the amount of content the company produced. “It’s basic marketing, the four Ps: price, product, placement, promotion. But in the digital world, I see the four Cs: content that drives the community that drives commerce and that drives cash. It all starts with content, content, content.”
And it was content that would set it apart. “We believe we’re an industry leader in terms of being able to deliver content, and that’s down to our team,” he points out. “We have an incredible team; I probably spend six-to-eight hours a week trying to improve our culture and make this an amazing place for our employees to work.” It must be working: the company’s turnover rate is below two per cent.”
With a clear vision of how to achieve success, 1105 Media branched off into new areas including data analytics, data science, a content-based artificial intelligence platform and cloud technologies. During COVID-19, it became one of the first companies to offer virtual events. “We have a very strong virtual event offering now, and a very strong summit model that handles virtual summits and roundtables for brands to connect with buyers one on one,” Rajeev says.
At the same time, the company shed some of its excess baggage. The six companies within the group were scaled back to four: Converge360, which provides editorial content for the IT industry; data analytics and management department TDWI; Infrastructure Solutions Group, which concentrates on workplace and industry content; and [email protected], a fully-fledged marketing agency.
“Even though there’s some overlap, those four business units are essentially different companies,” Rajeev explains. “And rather than treat everybody as one 1105, we treat them as four parts that make up 1105. It ensures you have key initiative opportunities customized for each individual unit, because what may be a solution for one company may not work for another.”
Our goal is to grow and to help our companies and our partners grow. if we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.
The improvements made to the organisation – and the philosophies behind them – have extended beyond the company and to its clients. Through [email protected], clients can access a whole suite of marketing solutions and decades of experience. “If you’re a business and you’re looking to go beyond email or digital marketing, we can do that,” he enthuses. “So social media, custom design, infographics, video production, managing ad spending, whatever the case may be. We’re a one-stop shop.”
In the midst of the pandemic, Rajeev took the opportunity to put his leadership philosophies down on paper. “I have actually caught COVID-19, a mild case, and my sons would sit and talk to me through the door,” he recalls. “They’d tell me how they wanted to learn everything they could from me, and it made me think. I couldn’t teach them how to play basketball; I suck at basketball. But I know how to lead, so I decided to write a book.”
That book, Chase Greatness: Enlightened Leadership for the Next Generation of Disruption, was a hit upon its release last year. “It was the most downloaded leadership and culture book on Amazon in late 2021,” he confirms. “It’s been an amazing calling card for 1105 Media and me personally, but above all it’s a legacy I’m leaving for my sons, my way of teaching them and giving them something to learn about.”
Rajeev’s galvanization of 1105 Media into an agent of growth is exemplified by the company’s tagline: ‘Your growth. Our business’. “Ultimately, our goal is to grow and to help our companies and our partners grow,” he says. “If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job.”