As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sudip Saha. Sudip Saha is the Managing Director and Co-founder of Future Market Insights, an ESOMAR-certified global market research and consulting firm based out of the US, with offices in the UK, India, and UAE. He is also the founder of Fact.MR, a fast-growing consulting services provider, and serves on the board of Transparency Market Research and Eminent Consulting & Solutions Pvt. Ltd. Sudip is a respected voice in the market research community and has been extensively covered by leading publications including the CIO, ZDNet, Economic Times, and The Economist.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
First and foremost, thanks for the opportunity to discuss the very important subject of rebuilding the economy post COVID-19. I’ve been associated with the market research and consulting industry for nearly 15 years now, and it has truly been an incredible learning experience. I was doing my Master’s in Business Administration, and during the course, I got drawn toward the fascinating role of data information and insights in decision-making. It wasn’t a tough call to choose market research as a career, and I was excited when a great opportunity came my way in 2006 — I was hired as an ‘Associate Analyst’ for Datamonitor PLC.
First jobs are always memorable, and during my stint, I learned a great deal about the various nuances and subtleties of this craft. Since then, I worked at various capacities at some of the well-known market research providers, but my personal dream was realized when I co-founded Future Market Insights in 2014. I had been in the industry long enough to catch the entrepreneurial bug, and it was never a question of if but when. But anyone who has been an entrepreneur will tell you that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed once it actually happens!
For years, I was raring to accomplish my goal of having a market research company of my own, but when we got started, I realized that this was going to take a lot of perseverance, patience, and resilience. Thankfully, the initial blues soon disappeared, and over time we were able to successfully develop Future Market Insights into a trusted brand. Apart from that, I also founded Fact.MR, a consulting firm targeting the SME segment, as I realized that access to quality research at competitive offerings was quite limited. In addition to learning these two companies, I also serve on the Board of Eminent Consulting & Solutions Pvt. Ltd., a group that aims to promote new business research firms.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In hindsight, I may find some humor in it, but at that time it certainly wasn’t funny! During the early days of Future Market Insights, we were all putting in extra effort to have a stellar website, as we believed the face of the organization would play a huge part in our success. This meant paying attention to every little detail, but due to a glitch, the website was up there for the world to see while still being a work-in-progress.
I will spare you the details, but some sections actually would have evoked a giggle if only we were not racing against time to fix the issue! The experience taught me something that has stayed with me throughout — own up early, get in a huddle with your team to brainstorm the best possible solution, and get your best people to fix it.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I believe a big part of running any business is philosophy: Why are you doing what you are doing? What difference does it make today — and in the long run? One is constantly looking for answers to the internal monologue.
In my journey, the advice, guidance, and solace provided by Brain Pickings, a blog run by Maria Popova, has helped a great deal. She discusses the inner thought processes and worldly wisdom of some of the greatest personalities of all time. NPR’s ‘How I Built This’, Peter Drucker’s ‘The Effective Executive’, and ‘Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want’ have also been massive influences.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The purpose is pretty straightforward — mutual, inclusive growth. In the global economy, there is a great deal of interconnectedness, it’s just that sometimes we don’t fully realize it. The success of a hedge fund in New York has ramifications in a local bank in rural India. So, the thought that our market research solutions actually make a difference, and help business grow, is central to our strategy and purpose. When the insights offered by our company help an organization overcome a roadblock, new avenues are unlocked. These new pathways create opportunities at all points in the value chain, which means better growth for everyone.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts” ~ Winston Churchill. I think this quote perfectly describes my approach to running a business. Many people turn to philosophy when going through tough times. However, I may find myself in the middle of a success party, yet this thought is always on the back of my mind!
I guess it keeps me on my toes and prevents complacency to set in. I believe, as in life, ups and downs are part of the journey. There will be moments of triumph, but also rejection and failure. You’ve got to be ready to take them on the chin and move forward.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
On a personal front, my family and I have been fortunate, as the impact of the crisis has been limited to not being able to see our friends and loved ones. To address this, I have made it a point to be on a group video call at least once a week. As I’m working remotely, I use this video call to have some semblance of the pre-COVID-19 setting where we would have barbecues and dinners with family and friends on weekends.
However, these restraints pale in comparison to the challenges that many people have been facing globally. In my individual capacity, and also as an organization, I’m doing my bit to support local communities so that basic necessities of some of the worst-hit segments of the society are taken care of.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I wouldn’t say that transitioning to a 100% work-from-home model was exactly simple; there were minor challenges here and there that cropped up over time, but we were able to come up with a solution fairly quickly. Nevertheless, the real challenge is the subdued business and investment climate. As the economic consequences of the crisis become more apparent, many international projects are being stalled and postponed. This, in turn, has curtailed investment in market research and consulting, with one estimate pegging the total revenue loss in the consulting industry at $30 billion in 2020.
We are working tirelessly to mitigate the impact, and have offered clients a great deal of flexibility in pricing and payment terms. We are also doing targeted marketing and advertising, so that our message reaches a pre-defined audience. Such targeted approach has reduced our client acquisition costs during this period of slowdown.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I tell my family and loved ones that it’s okay to feel anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. Trying to provide reassurance calms these emotions in the short run, but reinforces them strongly, creating a vicious circle from which it’s difficult to escape. This is what they teach in cognitive behavior therapy as well — don’t look for temporary solutions to ease anxiety or fear. Instead, sit with these feelings mindfully through meditation, and gradually habituate yourself, so these feelings don’t impact you as much.
I also tell them to control the news they consume; while it’s important to be up-to-date with the latest guidelines and advisories to take necessary precautions, too much of anything is bad.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
History is indeed a great teacher, and in my opinion, while the crisis will have a severe impact on the majority of businesses, some industries may actually see a spike in demand. The tourism industry will be particularly impacted and is likely to face a long road to recovery. On the other hand, e-commerce businesses, healthcare & pharma, and those involved in cloud business will see more opportunities coming their way.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I believe that even once a vaccine is available, people will take the prevention rather than the cure approach. This will mean an avoidance of physical meetings and gatherings wherever possible. Whether for business or otherwise, people will ask: “Can we do it virtually?”. Dining out will be replaced by home deliveries or take-outs, big sporting events will be played without in-stadium fans, and movies might be released on OTT, rather than in multiplexes.
The cultural impact will be palpable, and the ‘virtual world’ will be more imminent. Conferences and trade shows will be replaced by webinars, but most importantly, remote work will become a permanent fixture rather than a mere stop-gap.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Over the last couple of months, I’ve refocused my efforts on marketing, especially content creation. I believe clients may be in a wait-and-watch mode, but they’re yearning for informative content to consume. With more time on their hands, they want to learn more about their industry or niche. Through informative content, such as white papers, case studies, and e-book, we are nurturing our audience at the moment.
I believe the pandemic may change a lot of things, especially how you meet your clients, or the time it takes to convert a prospect into a returning customer, but brand awareness, trust, and transparency will never cease to be effective. That’s why our efforts in the rebuilding phase are centered around these factors.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage others to use this time for retrospection, analysis, and designing a flexible strategy. You ought to keep a lot of room for uncertainties. Also, having a good look at boosting cash flow can help address concerns related to immediate expenses.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Well, in addition to the previous one by Winston Churchill, another one that’s my favorite is “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future” by Steve Jobs. As a leader, there are situations where you face contrasting opinions, and eventually you need to make a decision. That’s when I remember this quote; it gives me a bit of headspace to realize that this too will be a learning experience.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I pen most of my thoughts on LinkedIn, so you can check it out!