Feb 24, 2024

Chandan Mahajan

Chandan Mahajan is a seasoned entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in the retail and consumer packaged goods industry. As the co-founder of dotkonnekt, he focuses on driving organic growth for brands in the digital commerce space. Chandan’s journey began with his immigration to the United States, where he established himself in New Jersey. He values continuous learning, experimentation, and staying grounded in his roots. Outside of work, Chandan enjoys spending time with family and practicing meditation. 

Episode Highlights

  • [00:00:00]: Introduction to The Industry Show with host Nitin Bajaj and guest Chandan Mahajan.
  • [00:00:31]: Chandan Mahajan shares his background, upbringing in the mountains, immigration to the US, and professional journey leading to the founding of dotkonnekt.
  • [00:02:16]: Explanation of dotkonnekt’s mission to help brands drive organic growth in the digital commerce space through a vertical SaaS platform combining content, community,or dotkonnekt, emphasizing the importance of learning from setbacks and adjusting strategies accordingly.
  • [00:04:47]: Chandan discusses the current scale and operations of dotkonnekt, highlighting its small team of 26 members spread across various locations and the soft launch of their product “Sandria” in November 2024.
  • [00:07:21]: Chandan identifies challenges faced by startups, including market dynamics and changing beliefs of customers, while also discussing the exciting opportunity of helping people understand the value of organic growth.
  • [00:09:57]: Reflecting on past failures and successes, Chandan shares how a pivot in approach led to greater success.
  • [00:14:05]: Chandan discusses a significant success story for dotkonnekt, where their experiment with their own content demonstrated the effectiveness of their organic growth strategy, leading to page one rankings for their keywords.
  • [00:16:02]: Chandan shares his personal methods for relaxation and stress relief, including spending time with family and exploring meditation.
  • [00:18:32]: In the “One Line Life Lessons” segment, Chandan shares five valuable lessons.
  • [00:21:20]: Closing remarks and mutual congratulations between Nitin Bajaj and Chandan Mahajan.

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

Nitin Bajaj: Hey everyone. Welcome to The Industry Show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj, and joining me today is Chandan Mahajan, welcome on the show.

Chandan Mahajan: Anything good to be

Nitin Bajaj: Great to have you here. Let’s start with who is Chandan?

Chandan Mahajan: Chandan is someone who was born in the mountains of and still has his parents and younger brother there. Remember my roots almost every day came to the US around 19 plus years ago. For my professional life you call since then New Jersey has been our home.

Chandan Mahajan: Love it here and around three years back in. I felt there has to be a different or a better purpose of my life. So in middle of COVID-19, I, along with another crazy friend of mine, Raj, we both put our jobs to start. Here we are living the life and going back to a lot of learnings I’ve had from my father, from the managers I’ve worked with, from lot people that I came across in my professional career and trying to adapt adopt those learnings and those value system in what we’re doing here.

Nitin Bajaj: Fascinating. First off, love the mountains in al has spent a decent amount of time there just. Absorbing the beauty, but there is so much that you can’t take it all in. And what’s fascinating and wonderful about you bringing in all these learnings and the mentors and what they have taught us over the years as an immigrant, as, someone who’s leading, someone who’s learning is you get to bring all of this now. So tell us what is dotkonnekt, what’s the mission, the vision, and more importantly, as we come in and bring in all this experience, we could be doing so many different things. So why do this?

Chandan Mahajan: Sure. With Nitin, our big vision was. How can we help brands and retailers drive organic growth and being in the, a retail and CPG industry for the last 20 plus years, having been a partner to many of the biggest and largest or even best run brands and retailers? One thing I learned is, there is so much happening, but then there’s be done. With the, how the markets have shifted we realized that digital commerce is a space is ever changing with technology, with ai and to ate. What we wanted to do was help them drive organic growth. So we built a vertical SaaS platform that helps brands combine content, community and commerce, and brings it all together to them. So that’s what we’ve been working on for the last two, three years and that’s what we are feeling very excited about. And why this now is, especially in the two, three years with Covid, there has been a dramatic shift in this industry. ‘cause on one hand, a lot of the brand brands and marketers are. On their budgets with the spend there, they’re making on paid ads, which are not delivering the kind of results that used to. And on the other hand, with data privacy, with third party cookies going away, they feel that their ability to target the customers for promotions and campaigns the way they used to is not working as well. So it’s been a perfect storm for marketers and brands where traditional playbook stopped working. Or is not driving those kind of results. And on the other hand the funding environment has also dried down for many sectors. And they’re all going back to the whiteboard and trying to figure out how do they do more organic engagement, right? Because for any brand end of the day, their ability to attract a customer with great content and build a great community around that customer and then driving sustainable commerce growth is the right way to do, it’s just. not been possible with the means and the tools that, brands have access to. So we want to change that and that’s where the whole idea of document came to life. And that’s what we’ve been passionately working on for the last three

Nitin Bajaj: And what I love about this is not panacea. This is not a dream. This is possible. A lot of successful brands already see results. What you are bringing is. How to product this so it’s accessible to any brand out there.

Chandan Mahajan: Absolutely. No, you bring up a great point. And we have seen great examples like a go.com or a Patagonia like these brands who have actually created very unique digital experiences. And they have been a role model of how we create content and community. You can actually drive a very meaningful brand growth. But like you said, it’s not achievable for many because some of these brands have the privilege to spend a lot of time and effort and money to build what they have. And what we are doing is actually democratizing that organic growth and capability for a lot more brands that don’t have the resources and the time, like some of these bigger brands have.

Nitin Bajaj: So I know two, three years is. Microseconds in such a large industry that is also growing at a rapid pace and has even more so in the last two to three years. But give us a sense of the size, scale operations, what kind of impact you’ve already been able to create with what you guys have built at dotkonnekt.

Chandan Mahajan: Sure. So by those typical unicorn startup standards, we are a very tiny company. We are around 26 people spread across India, us, Singapore, and Australia. We are a very small team. We started completely bootstrapped, and then we had one investor, join our mission. They’ve been a great help since last year. And with this team, we built a platform. We launched it or did a soft launch of this in November in 2024. And since then, we now have five brands that have already adopted Sandria, which is our product. You see it on my equity as well. That’s the name of the product. And they’re starting to see some good results. So we are very excited about some of the early indicators that some of these brands have started to see in terms of their organic search rankings go up in their click through rates in terms of, their ability to drive a much better engagement compared to what they have been with their paid ads, right? So we see, the indicators and metrics moving in the right direction. So very excited about what the future has in in store for us these brands.

Nitin Bajaj: And congrats again going. From just a concept, a notion to being live and having five brands that are seeing success in such a short amount of time. That tells me that there is clarity of thought. There is strong leadership and a phenomenal team that is putting all of this together and bringing these things to life and seeing positive results. But still, you guys have your ears to the ground and you’re continuing to build where the market needs are and where they’re going to be. So that’s pretty amazing.

Chandan Mahajan: Thank you. Thank you. And I think for us, the team comes first ni because had it not been for the team that we have, I think we would not have been able to do what we have till now because sometimes it looks very easy on the face of it. But last three years have been a huge struggle on many fronts and I think our team has been very resilient in terms of you. every single feedback and a good impact both from the customers, from our advisors, from the market, from competition as well, and looking at how we can really create meaningful impact because it’s been about, our purpose and, the impact we want to make before profits come into play.

Nitin Bajaj: Which will come which is a natural progression. That is going to happen for you as a company, but also for the whole ecosystem. I wanna take a step back and. Take a look at the big picture. On one end, I would love for you to share the one big challenge you are facing and on the other end. What is that one most exciting opportunity that you and the rest of the team is really focused on?

Chandan Mahajan: sure. Speaking of challenges, I think challenges are part and parcel of life for any entrepreneur. So I think there’s never a dull moment on that front. think I see challenges in two fronts, Nathan. One is some of the challenges that come to startups or a founders’ life more from a market standpoint, how the market around you is behaving and how you need to pivot to that. And you all have been noticing, especially the last two, three years from a, just overall, from a macro situation, has been very stressing, uh, high stress for everyone. So it’s been about how you pivot, how you navigate through the tough times and still keep building, for when the turns around. I think the other challenge is much more prominent is do you change the belief of the people, right? And it’s not just the employees, but also customers, right? Because for any startup, are trying to shift the status quo. They’re trying to change the status quo. So every startup is all about how do I help people first understand that there’s a better unique way of solving a certain situation than what they have either known or what they have been used to. So I think there’s a lot of mind shift, mindset shift. There’s a lot of change management. So sometimes what I see is in our case organic growth has, as a topic has been around for a long time. Marketers know it. It’s just that they have unfortunately not adopted it because it’s been very painful. It’s been it takes a lot of time and effort and consistency and for every grant that is supposed to be. Delivering numbers in a quarter people go back to what they know best. It’s okay, I have all these social platforms, I have this, I wanna spend, let me just pump in that money and do it. And then you have a lot of supporters and, like a agency ecosystem that promotes that thinking as well. So I think one of the challenges for us has been helping people understand that there is a better way of doing things and if done well. Organic can do wonders for a brand in terms of their brand authority, their intimacy with their customer. Of course, their margins as well, and their strategic growth. So I think a lot of what we are doing is first changing the belief and the, the thinking process before you even get to what the product can do for them. So it’s, it is been quite exciting. So that’s been the challenge. If I have to see on the other side, what’s been the most exciting is actually doing that, right? Going through. That grunt work of helping people understand that there is a brighter side to how things can be different. And I think especially with these, some of these early results that we’re starting to see, I think that is a huge motivation for the team because one, we start to see validation of what we are building sta Second, we’re starting to see resonance from some very interesting brands and, people in the industry who are, who have acknowledged that this is a real and big enough problem to be solved. And honestly, it has not been solved, in a true way. Think that is what keeps us motivated and going to continue building.

Nitin Bajaj: And what I love about this is the little I have understood is you don’t have to rip everything out that you already have. You can just stack onto their existing platform or solution and they can still see the results. So without doing a lot of heavy lifting, which you guys have already done, you could just go to these customers and say, Hey, you can try this out. We’ve already done the heavy lifting.

Chandan Mahajan: Absolutely. Absolutely. So our, vision also was that, without making a brand go through and painful re platforms and migrations, how can we help them? create much more value from their tech investments that they’ve already made and really create that experience that they never had before. We have built it on Shopify and WordPress ecosystems. We are, onboarding other platforms as well. So our idea is eventually Sania will become the experience layer on any commerce and content site. So it is better what brands have, we are talking to some brands that have even custom tech that they have built as well and we are able to integrate with as well.

Nitin Bajaj: That’s amazing. I can’t see what you guys unfold here in the next few months, so I’m super excited. Now as we talk about the future, I wanna take a pause and look in the rear view mirror and ask you to share two experiences. One that did not work out as you had expected was a failure, became a lesson, and another one that blew your own expectations and became a success beyond what you would’ve imagined.

Chandan Mahajan: Absolutely. So the, what I would call a failure and learning bundled in one actually came last year when we came out of stealth last year around in May. Because at that point of time, the vision we had was quite large and we felt for us to really make an impact as a new startup on the block, we had to really come out in a big way. So we came up with the announcement that, we had a full Slack platform. Also I would say underestimating the market currents in a way that, when we went to the market, we had all of people acknowledging and saying great things about what we have built. the market was not ready to adopt it. So we realized that it was a big enough proposition for anyone to chew at that time, because to your earlier point the lift was very high, right? They had to migrate to a platform. They had to stop using whatever commerce platform they had. So we realized it was a good product and a good solution, but a bad timing, of the market. So I think that was a big learning that, okay. Lot of startups go through that, journey of, learning and adjusting and pivoting as well. And we did the pivot as well because. There is probably value in what we’re building, but this is not the right stage in time for that. So why don’t we make it easy for brands to adopt what we built? So we went back to the drawing board took another three, four months to re-engineer the proposition in a way where we came up with this boat on offering, where we said, okay, we can vote it onto what you have. We can set up in literally one day and start to show results. And that’s when we started to see adoption. So it was actually. As I classically say that every price also has an opportunity. And I think if we had not received that first pushback from the brands, we would’ve been happy in our, dream world of that, Hey, ack is the way to go. I think it forced us to think very creatively and come out with a solution that made much more sense to the market that we are going to, and we have been able to address needs of lot more brands with this model. so that in a way, that in some way I call, I think of it as a blessing in disguise. It didn’t appear like that at all last year. It was like, it was a doomsday scenario, but in hindsight I think that, that, happened for the best

Nitin Bajaj: And kudos to your resilience because that may have felt like a big shut door. And for you guys to persist and keep on relentlessly kudos to you the rest of the team. It takes a lot of courage especially when you don’t see the signs you’re supposed to see to continue to press on the pedal. And so now you’re seeing the benefits of that. Congratulations.

Chandan Mahajan: Yeah. you. So that sort of shifts the point to the other question you had around the biggest success. And I think that success came 

Nitin Bajaj: Right.

Chandan Mahajan: of the opportunity that this crisis you know presented to us. And I think the first aha moment that came was actually in January where, see we all have having understood how marketing works, how SEO works, we all know that SEO and any kind of organic banking takes time, right? We all have been taught to, know that over the years and over decades of our work in this industry, right? So when we were doing this for our customers, we actually ran an experiment for document because we realized that if our proposition is to help a brand grow organically. The same logic should also apply to us as well as a young startup. So what we thought was that, okay, we already have the model. Can we teach this model our category and did do an experiment document. So you know, the classical way of eating the own dog food. We actually did that in Jambo we ran an experiment in ourselves. And I think the results of that what blew us. Where literally in the second week itself, we started to see organic rankings for up. So now on couple of the keyword classes and categories that we are writing content about and anyone can go and check that content on, on our side as well, have started to see page one rankings for our content, where much larger unicorn competition is sponsoring NAG for the same keywords, right? So that was like a aha moment, and when we started to see the same pattern repeating for our customers. That’s when we knew we were onto something great here, right? Because it was not a fluke on our content, but it is actually now a pattern that is starting to emerge. When you have the right fundamentals in place. Very excited about that progress that we started to see.

Nitin Bajaj: And again, congratulations. I am looking forward to seeing how many fold you grow the success and apply it to many of your customers in the future. 

Chandan Mahajan: Thank you.

Nitin Bajaj: let’s pause a little bit and talk more about what you do when you’re not working on dotkonnekt. What do you do for fun? What do you do to de-stress?

Chandan Mahajan: So there’s not a whole lot of time left when I’m not working on dotkonnekt. But whatever time have left whatever number of hours, I personally don’t like to do anything. So I sometimes I feel the best relaxation for me is actually to do nothing. So I will sometimes just lie on the couch, with my kids and, just family, just completely. Get her feet up and just lie back and do nothing. I’ve realized over the years that sometimes, because we all end up talking so much, that sometimes just staying quiet and do nothing is probably the biggest heater. And I really enjoy that, me time or just quiet, sitting in the basement sometimes doing nothing. in the last two years I’ve also been exploring side. With meditation there’s a group that I’ve been engaged with very like-minded people, and I’ve seen. I used to think it was midlife crisis area, but actually the more you think it is actually changing the way you think about religion versus

Nitin Bajaj: Yes.

Chandan Mahajan: And I’m starting to feel more connected in that front in a way. And I personally have seen huge changes in my own personality, right? Because I think the startup life tests your many front in terms of your patients, your how you react to certain situations, whether they’re adverse or positive. So how do you stay balanced? Irrespective of whether things are not going good. Or maybe things are going very well, how do you maintain that balance and that focus? And I think that has really helped me and that, sometimes tell me that, it’s very important to focus on your mental or, mental wellbeing and wellness both in physical and spiritual side because I think that’s what sometimes give you that power that you need when you need the most.

Nitin Bajaj: I agree a hundred percent. I think one thing that I have learned is in an entrepreneurial journey, because it tests you in so many ways. In so many, at times that the one thing you should get to know best is yourself, right? What are you made of and what are your challenges and reflecting introspecting, meditating, whatever your medium is, you know the art of doing nothing. It just helps you understand yourself better. That also helps you bring on the right teammates. Where they have strengths, where you have weaknesses not just in a technical way, but even in a people skills way. So I a hundred percent agree with you that this whole journey is also about understanding ourselves and through that, bringing our best in a product or a service or in helping our customers. So very important. Okay. Now onto my favorite part of the show. We call it the One Line Life Lessons, and then I would love for you to share a few of your life lessons with us.

Chandan Mahajan: So this one had to do a little prep

Nitin Bajaj: Sure.

Chandan Mahajan: call, right? Because we all have lessons and learnings and all that, but sometimes you’ve gotta think through. So first one, which actually became I would say a reason why I started. I did not want to have a regret at the end of my life. And I was very clear. I didn’t want to retire on the job. So I would say the first learning for me, or life lesson for me has been, that life is too short to have any regrets. so do what you feel like experiment. It’s okay to fail sometimes, but just life is too short to have any regrets. The second one I’ve always felt is it’s very important to stay grounded and remember, what are your roots and value systems, because I think that’s what keeps you grounded. I, that’s why I feel very connected with my family roots and India and, the mountains of Imaal. I hope at some point in my life I’ll go back to those mountains because that’s where I wanna live at some point in my life. Hopefully you’ll find me there in the next couple of years. third for me which is very important, especially after having come out of my corporate life, I realized the importance of learning continuously, right? Because. I had gotten a little too comfortable in that corporate life in a way that I don’t think I was learning anymore. I was making money, but I don’t think I was learning. So I think yeah, that continuous learning is very important because what you knew yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow. so I think that continuous learning cycle is super important. The fourth one I feel, which is again, going back to the spiritual side, is it doesn’t have the spiritual, but I think each one of us should indulge in something, at least one thing that nourishes our soul. It can be anything. It can be whatever, right? It doesn’t have to be perspective, but something that takes you away from what you do in a day, but really settles you down in ways that you can’t imagine otherwise. And fifth one I feel is sometimes it’s just okay to be the odd one out, right? ’cause if you don’t just be the odd one, like you probably will not be, do something which is beyond your comfort zone.

Nitin Bajaj: Love those, and I resonate with pretty much every single one of them. So I don’t know if it’s. Or just following a similar path where you went from a nine to five to an entrepreneurial career or coming from a similar upbringing. But yeah, thank you for sharing those life lessons and more importantly for sharing your journey and story. Congratulations on your journey so far, and I know you guys are just getting started and, uh, many congratulations and good wishes for your continued success. We’d love to bring you back on pretty soon I hope to talk about more of your successes and more customers that you’ve brought on and shown many positive results for. Thank you.

Chandan Mahajan: So thank you so much and congrats to you for, doing such a great initiative with the industry show and I wish you much success.


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