Pranav Dalal: A Profile of Success and Courage
Date: Monday , October 19, 2015
When you first meet self-made millionaire, Pranav Dalal, you are instantly struck by his remarkable humility and passion. The Office Beacon CEO, makes the art of business seem so effortless. Dalal\'s journey into business and entrepreneurship has been an unusual and eventful road punctuated by many twists and turns.
Early Years - The Birth of an Entrepreneur
Opportunity has always been synonymous with hard work for Dalal. It all began in his teens. Dalal developed his extreme work ethic while pursuing a variety of jobs since high school. At sixteen, the budding entrepreneur worked on weekends at a local burger chain and during summers at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. From this point on, Dalal understood that success would not be handed to him on a silver platter.
Dalal never stopped working. While pursuing an undergraduate degree in Economics at the University of Toronto, Dalal was hired as an executive in the office of Canadian telecommunications giant, Ted Rogers. \"Working directly with Ted Rogers was quite an experience; it gave me a phenomenal insight into the marriage of technology and business. Rogers-Cantel owned by Ted was the first telecommunications company to introduce cell phones to Canada,\" says Dalal.
While at Cantel, Dalal quickly gravitated towards sales, marketing, and technology. At only twenty-two, Dalal pioneered mobile messaging, now known as visual voicemail. The implementation of Dalal\'s strategic campaigns led to unprecedented success for Cantel. Therefore it was no surprise when Cantel\'s founder, Ted Rogers wrote glowing letters of recommendation on behalf of Dalal to the Schulich School of Business, York University to which the young protege was immediately granted admission to pursue a Masters in Business Administration. Dalal\'s many successes at Cantel were a sure sign of things to come: A disruptor was born.
Time to Transition
Upon completing his Masters degree, Dalal accepted a senior position at Fidelity Investments. This was at a time the multinational financial institution was launching operations in Canada in the mid-90s. Being part of the senior management team and a key member of Fidelity\'s systems steering committee, Dalal further expanded his knowledge of technology and sales management. While Dalal\'s experience at Fidelity was extremely rewarding; the consummate enterpriser believed his life warranted a higher calling. Dalal, on a whim quit his job at Fidelity and moved to Los Angeles, California.
Dalal chose to move to LA for a few fundamental reasons. First, the all year around sunshine was extremely alluring, but more importantly, the market in California alone was as big as all of Canada. Soon after moving, Dalal decided to pursue a completely new world, that being the world of Internet startups. It was the late 90s, the stock markets were booming, and it was the Internet startups that were leading the party. Dalal\'s first endeavor had him collaborating with the founders of PCMall, now a public company with over a billion dollars in market cap. Having had colossal success with this public offering, Dalal was deluged with requests to get involved with other startups.
In 1998, Dalal was approached to implement a web strategy for a former Amazon \"competitor\" known as Kabang.com. This included acquiring website content such as music, movies, books, and video games. While working on this enormous undertaking, Dalal realized there was a tremendous need for content. This was priceless knowledge that Dalal utilized later on that led to the success of his many endeavors to follow. Soon after successfully launching the website, Dalal decided to go on his own.
Dalal initiated a company called Pacific Data and collaborated with a New York based company called Muze. The latter was a joint venture of Jerry Garcia (of Grateful Dead fame) and John Kluge (amongst other things, owns Kirkland brand at Costco). This 50-50 partnership allowed Dalal to jumpstart his entrepreneurial journey. The collaboration achieved massive success from the moment it kicked off, licensing data to hundreds of retailers and earning a percentage of every product sold to every retailer including Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, and Google. In early 2004, Dalal agreed to sell his share to his partners to what is now Rovi Entertainment Corporation, a multi-billion dollar market cap corporation.
Office Beacon Is Born
Shortly after cementing a highly successful buyout deal, Dalal decided to explore opportunities, mostly abroad in India. Inspired by the success of the many companies he initiated, Dalal\'s desire to control his own destiny was now more indomitable than ever. That meant focusing on establishing a company that could withstand the test of time. Therefore, the brainchild of Dalal, Office Beacon, was born. The fundamental premise for Office Beacon was to provide companies of any size and vertical with back office support. Initially Dalal wrestled with the idea of whether the primary focus would be services or software. Dalal ultimately felt it would be easier to start with services to drive revenue. In 2001, armed with the conviction of success, Dalal boarded a plane and headed to Vadodara, India. In hindsight, there was no other city under consideration for the intrepid entrepreneur. Vadodara was the only city Dalal was accustomed to, as his family hailed from that city. However, prior experience taught Dalal one rule and that was not to have family involved with his business. That posed an interesting decision, how was Office Beacon to start operations in India without familiar management. Never one to be held back by obstacles, Dalal hired five individuals, all of whom are still employed by Office Beacon today. After renting an office for the new team, Dalal returned to LA to garner business.
The original plan was to offer data entry services. With no outside funding and only an initial investment of only $2,000, Dalal had no choice but to do the cold calling himself. He was remarkably effective in selling. Initial contracts included the State of California and Smart and Final, a large west coast brick and mortar retailer. After a year of growth from five overseas staff to seventy-five, a friend, Craig Morantz, who owned a promotional products supplier company in Toronto, contacted Dalal. Morantz was looking for a way to improve his bottom line and he approached Dalal to help him achieve that goal. Together, they enabled India to handle artwork, order entry and other tasks that would support the promotional product industry. In just under a year, Craig sold his company to the world\'s largest supplier now known as PCNA. This milestone now positioned Dalal\'s company in the big leagues.
From $200 to a Multi Million Dollar Company
Fast forward, to present day, Dalal has successfully transformed a $2,000 dollar investment into a multimillion-dollar company. Office Beacon now employs over 1,500 full-time employees in offices based out of Vadodara, India, Los Angeles, California, Toronto, Canada, and Manila, Philippines.
However, growth did not come easy. There were multiple hurdles and challenges along this journey. There was the challenge of infrastructure. Real estate in India was booming and Dalal decided to buy his first office around 2005. This space appreciated considerably allowing the company to borrow against value to fuel growth and expansion. Next was addressing the very high cost of software licensing. From Microsoft to Adobe, Dalal had to negotiate terms with every software vendor to ensure that cash flow would not be impacted. Fortunately, the software companies agreed to the requested terms.
Software and a Service
Office Beacon is now doubling its growth every couple of years, but never one to rest on his laurels, Dalal wants to leave much more of a legacy. Dalal\'s aspiration is to redefine the interaction of software and service by introducing \"Software and A Service.\" According to Dalal, \"Traditionally business software is the service and clients have to figure out how to operate these systems without any prior knowledge. Additional investment to hire experts can rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars. While this may be feasible for multi-million dollar companies, it leaves small to mid size businesses without highly efficient operating systems that are integral to grow their businesses and this is where Office Beacon can bridge the gap. We offer software and a service. You get to license our software and hire a minimum of two experts who will ensure implementation and ongoing maintenance of your operating systems for a fraction of the cost of what you would traditionally pay for\"
In order attain Dalal\'s vision, Office Beacon has made significant investments in technology to develop proprietary software products it now licenses to clients. As part of the plan to become the \"go to\" company for small to medium sized businesses, Office Beacon sells its clients \"Business In A Box\" software offerings, an all in one solution including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and lead automation software tools.
Renowned for positive disruption in the software industry, Office Beacon offers these tools at a premium and so far, the response has been exceptional. Instead of offering \"Software as a Service\" based tools at less than a few hundred dollars per month, the company is able to garner subscriptions of more than a few thousand per month. With over 150 developers and an army of production staff, Office Beacon\'s business plan is clearly headed for much greater success with its five-year goal to put the company at $100 million in annual revenues.
For CEO of National Pen, David Thompson, Office Beacon has been engaged in a revolutionary lead generation program targeting over 10,000 companies daily. Using Office Beacon\'s services and lead automation technologies, conversion rates of over eight percent have been achieved on a consistent basis and ten percent year after year growth. As a result of this on-going unrivaled success, National Pen was able to exit with a $150 million sale of the company to Lincolnshire Private Equity. David says,
\"Since we\'ve known Office Beacon we\'ve grown our revenues by ten percent every year on a global basis. We\'ve grown our earnings more than ten percent every year and frankly our business is exploding.\"
Along the way, core principles have guided Dalal in how he has developed the business. Dalal says he fully understands what is crucial for business owners to implement growth without compromising their integrity. Not only do they require resolutions for their day-to-day business issues, but they also want help, by way of services, to implement and drive solutions. Hence, Dalal has focused the Office Beacon team on delivering a unified offering of software and a service.
This strategy has translated into hyper-growth for Office Beacon. Albeit, more challenging, the long term competitive advantage is tremendous because there are few, if any competitors, who can compete on both levels.
Inspiration to Sustain a Business
As Dalal says, \"Every entrepreneur is looking for his or her holy grail - the type of business that can grow exponentially and withstand the test of time and competitors.\" Since venturing into the worlds of software and entrepreneurship, Dalal has believed and strictly adhered to core principles that have a record of accomplishment for success. Dalal says regardless of how your competitive landscape changes, how much money you invest, or how good your idea may or may not be, following these basic guidelines should help ensure your path to success.
Principle #1: Focus on a unique business model. According to Dalal, being a \"me too\" is extremely hard. Being a \"me too\" only ensures that you will be competing solely on price. Therefore, if your model is flawed, you will not achieve the level of success for which you hope. Even worse, you will be stuck with a business that you will not be happy with and will want out of sooner rather than later. Nevertheless, how can you assess your model? Dalal advocates that first, take time to understand how your offering is different from competitors. Understand whether customers value the differentiation and will they see you as the \"only\" alternative. When they do, pricing and growth become much easier. One way Dalal likes to look at things is to put his feet in the shoes of his competitors. He often assesses that if he offered something to his clients, how would his competitors react? Could they offer the same thing, could they match his delivery, could they offer something better? In all the businesses Dalal started, the answer was \"no\" each time and this was how he knew he was off to a good start.
Principle #2: Price your offering competitively. Dalal believes that regardless whether you are the innovator or not, pricing your product competitively will ensure a few things. First, it enables you to get a true picture of your on-going cash flow. If you price high, only to have to reduce prices later on, the foundation upon which you built your business could be jeopardized. This happened when Office Beacon took on a massive competitor.. Office Beacon entered the promotional products industry offering software and services as a differentiated service. At the time, the competitor was the major player. When Office Beacon entered, not only were they offering something unique but at a price point that company could not match. They lowered prices, but over time bowed out of the industry and has become a marginal player in the industry.
Principle #3: Who is going to sell? This is the biggest dilemma entrepreneurs have. You have a great product but do not know how to sell it. According to Dalal \"Sure, it\'s great to use social media and email marketing, but nine times out of ten, it does not help you garner the sales you need to even survive. Before launching your business, think about the sales and distribution model.\"
In a nutshell, Dalal says his journey to revolutionize business software is only beginning and is personal on many levels. Dalal says, \"This dream would have no meaning without the inspiration of my three phenomenal children, my wife, my Office Beacon family and of course the unending support of my clients.\"