We engage in conversations with successful business owners to learn the little things that made the journey of building their companies special. Then we discuss how they plan to hand off their business to the next generation of leadership.
This episode is with special guest Hemal Desai, CEO of Anuva LLC. Hemal Desai is the Founder & CEO of Anuva LLC. Hemal is an enthusiastic, dynamic and fun loving leader with more than 25 years of experience in IT industry. Hemal has extensive experience working with Fortune 500 companies setting up delivery teams for Enterprise CRM applications before founding Anuva in 2006. As the visionary leader and driving force behind Anuva, Hemal has harnessed the power of Digital Marketing to revolutionize the way businesses connect, engage, and thrive in the modern marketplace. With a relentless passion for digital marketing and a profound understanding of consumer behavior, Hemal has steered Anuva to the forefront of the industry, guiding Small & Medium Businesses towards unprecedented growth and success. Hemal has a BS in Electronics from The M S University of Baroda, India. An avid marathoner, you can find him running when he finds time out of Anuva.
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About Steven Denny: Steven Denny co-founded Innovative Business Advisors in 2018 and serves as a Managing Member of the firm. Steve has been actively engaged in M/A activities in a wide variety of industries for the last 14 years and has developed specific products to assist clients in growing their profitability and enterprise value. His specialty is working with established private companies in the lower middle market with annual revenues from $1 – 50 million.
Welcome to the You Don't Know What You Don't Know podcast, by Innovative Business Advisors, successful business owners who have started, grown and led businesses share their journey and direction for the benefit of those traveling the same path.
Today we're talking with Hemal Desai. He's the business owner, Founder, CEO of Anuva. And Anuva has been successfully serving small businesses in the US and Canada for the last 17 years. Anuva is a premier Google partner, meaning they're in the top 3% of Google partner community. And their team is fully Google certified. They focus on getting their customers noticed through website development, SEO services, and pay per click campaign management. Hemal, great to see you today. Thanks for coming and joining our podcast.
Thank you very much, Steven, glad to be here.
You've been doing this for a pretty good while now. Tell me what was the moment you decided to get into business for yourself?
Yeah, so I think it was about the year 2006. And I had just completed 10 years of my work experience. So it was like 10 years in the industry. And I had been mostly working in IT implementing CRM systems for Fortune 500 companies. So so it was about time I thought, okay, you know, 10 years of experience, I should try my luck of trying to do something of my own. And as a natural fit, I started off with, you know, with CRM implementations, and Siebel was the platform on which, you know, my expertise was, and then, you know, we actually developed a Siebel reporting tool as our first project for one of our clients, I used to know them for a long time so. So we, that that is a first project we got, we developed that and, you know, so that was the start I got, however, you know, the problem with CRM implementations, or Siebel implementations is that, you know, it's a pretty expensive affair. You know, most projects were multimillion dollar projects. And so most businesses who implemented them were big companies. And, as a result, what used to happen is that they were not ready to actually work with Anuva, right as such, because, you know, we are too small for them to really, so that they trusted us to manage those projects for them. So they were, when the most, you know, projects I used to get were like, the companies were more interested in hiring me as a consultant or you know something like that. So it was almost like, you know, I'm going back to my job, more or less, you know? I was actually looking for something that is more scalable, that, you know, that becomes a business for me, not really not something on consulting, you know, I will be better off doing a job so. So as, as what happens with most businesses, right, like, a lot of the businesses you see, they start with something, and then eventually they end up with something else, you know, a very similar story. So since I was in CRM, and it was, you know, related to sales and marketing, you know, I started looking at that domain, per se, and then, you know, you know, I stumbled upon with digital marketing, which was fairly new at that time. Very few people were really doing something about it. And I quickly realized that I think, you know, if we look at, if we want to look at the future of sales or marketing, I think this is where it should move, it should go on to. And then, you know, during that time, Amazon and ecommerce was already catching up. They were already investing in digital marketing. I think ecommerce as a business was the first to really invest in starting, investing in digital marketers, right. So, so I saw those things, you know, panning out and I realized that I think this is something that is the future and that is something on which a business can really prosper. So, so I personally started learning the tricks and tricks of the trade. You know, we started getting initial clients. The very initial clients, you know, I personally, you know, help them get rankings, I was the one working on it. Slowly I started building the team for it. And it was good that I personally implemented few initial projects, because that is when, you know, I came to know what I need, what are the strengths I need in my team. So so that is how it all started, I started building a team. Website development came as a package to digital marketing, because of several reasons. First is that a lot of our clients came to us when they did not have a website. So they were asking us to develop a website. So that was one reason. Second is that if you want to implement digital marketing effectively, right, and be successful about it, you must know how a website works, the ins and outs of various popular technologies for website development. Because whenever Google or search engines try to index a website, right, we should know how the pages are being rendered. And you know, the other technical stuff. So website development came as a package. So those are the services. You know, we started focusing on like website development. You know, SEO is a primary service, search engine optimization, where we focus on getting first page Google rankings for our clients, for them to promote their products and services. And other alternative campaigns, or ad campaigns, which are most popular in Google, but we also do for other search engines like Bing and social media like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and stuff so. So these other services, you know, we ended up doing a lot of them. New services came as a request from clients themselves, who, you know, who were looking to grow more, and they went wanted to do more so. So that is how it really started. And, you know, it's been 17 years. So it's a pretty long time.
You guys, sounds like you were an early pioneer in that regard. And now there's a lot of folks that are, that are professing to be service providers in that channel. So, what sets Anuva apart in that regard? What makes you guys special or different and better than your competition in, in your chosen field? Yeah. So,
um, so what happened with us is that we started pretty early, right. And at that time, and the team that I ended up, you know, hiring, were even senior than me, you know, in terms of digital marketing. So they had started digital marketing long before the, you know, so my partner, Pankaj Patel, and, and a core team that I have, right? They, they had experienced digital marketing, even before Google existed. So they were doing digital marketing, since the days of Yahoo, and their search engine called Lycos, and you know, Inktomi, and you know, those guys, so.
Netscape or some of the early guys, right? Yes, yeah. So they
had they, they understood digital marketing from from the ground up. And initially, during those days, Google wanted to capture market share. So when they came on board, initially, they had, in fact, even published their algorithm for, you know, people to understand what they are doing, and they are doing better and stuff like that. So, so our core team actually has understanding of the Google, you know, core algorithm of Google. And the key part, and the key aspect of our services is that our focus at all times, right, when we are doing search engine optimization for clients, or any other optimization, is that we focus on the, you know, core algorithm of Google to get rankings. So what happens in that case is that, you know, there are a lot of smaller parameters that Google keeps changing every now and then. You will, you will keep hearing that, okay, Google has made this change, that change and people have lost rankings. Luckily, our team understands how Google works. And it is very risky for Google to change their core algorithm. It's impossible considering you know, almost like trillions of pages already indexed. So they, I mean, up till now, they have not really made any major change to the core algorithm. And we continue to focus on on that so. So we have been able to provide long term rankings to our clients because of our focus on the algorithm. So I would say, since we have been working for such a long time, right, we, this is what really sets us apart from our competitors. And, you know, when we started, right, there are a few things that we had in mind, right, that we started focusing that is also different, that also differentiates us from others. First is that, you know, we were based out of India, and what we, based on our interaction with the initial clients that we had, we started realizing that a lot of small and medium businesses, right, they, they wanted help with technical services or digital marketing, but they were limited by budget. You know, they didn't have too much money to spend on it. And then when they wanted to outsource, right, the big, they were able to reach out to the big companies, you know, were outsourcing their services. And those companies were not ready to take small projects. And then when the small businesses tried to hire small firms, you know, they were, you know, they either got bad service out of it, or they were, you know, they could not trust them to hand over their, you know, website and, you know, their server, their marketing initiative to somebody whom they don't trust. So we made a, we made a choice that, you know, over a longer term, we would want to become a trusted digital marketing agency for, you know, for small and medium businesses, you know, so that was our goal. And, you know, we have been pretty successful with that. Most of our business, all these years have been through word of mouth, or, or references. And, and also through partnerships. I mean, we, we, for example, if you look at business brokers, we, we are partnered with Ron West of Deal Studio for the last 15 years. So, so that helps us, you know, working with industry stalwarts, and you know, growing with them, you know, being with them and partnered with them for their clients. And then we also work with several digital marketing agencies and web development or design agencies, where we are their, you know, technical team, helping them manage their projects. So that's how we, that's how we have been growing.
Awesome, incredible. As you've grown this, Hemal, what's the thing that you're most proud of in the business so far?
Yeah, that's interesting. So there are a couple of things that I'm really proud of. First and foremost, I'm really proud of my team. You know, like I mentioned, Pankaj Patel, who is, who is now a partner with us, and, and then the core team, right. The reason we are proud is because, you know, of our, our expertise, our experience, you know, our understanding of how search engines work, and then the way we are able to, you know, utilize that, and help our clients, you know, setup and grow their business on internet, and provide long term success to them, you know, in on search engines and social media platforms. So that is kind of something I'm really happy about, because that is what we started off with. And, you know, for a period of time, we have built a strong team to be able to really do that. So, so we are really proud of providing, you know, doing ethics, I mean, kind of what we say ethical, digital marketing, you know. I mean, that's kind of where a lot of agencies or consultants, you know, fall apart, and, you know, we are still able to continue doing that. In fact, we lose a lot of projects where, you know, we say that, okay, you know, it's going to take, say, for example, six months for you to get this rankings because, you know, we don't want to take any shortcuts, and a few clients don't understand that. So we do lose their projects, but, you know, we still continue to provide, you know, the most right way to where to do the market. So, that's what we are really, really proud of. And then the second thing is, you know, if you if you I mean, if you do visit our website and do check out our portfolio, you will come to see that we have worked with several different business verticals, you know. So we have worked with clients across industry verticals, and we have been able to successfully help them, help all of them, you know. So, so that's one good thing that, that we feel good about is that as long as we are able to understand your business, right, we will be in a position to help you promote your product or service. So so that's, you know, like, like, for example, a lot of our competitors are, are focusing on just a single business vertical, or, or, you know, pretty niche niche area. And on the other hand, you know, we are able to pick up any new business vertical, and then, you know, understand that business, and then, you know, growing that vertical, so that's also something we feel good about.
Well, when you talk about business verticals, our listeners may not have a clear understanding of that and I want to call some of that out. So business verticals would be like dental clinics, you do, you guys are experts in the dental clinic space. You're experts in the chiropractor space. You’re experts in the pet store space. You're experts in the, in the business consultant, and business coaching space. You’re experts in the business brokerage space. So there are various business niches. And you guys are really experts in those particular niches and helping your clients in those areas really succeed.
Yeah, thanks, Stephen, for spelling that out for us. Thank you.
It's, it's also kind of interesting, Hemal, that you're not really a small business anymore. How many team members do you have now?
We have around 60 people working with us. Yeah, it's
amazing. I mean, 60 people, you're getting to be quite a good sized business these days. Yeah. Thank you. That's quite a success story, a lot to be proud of there. Thank you. So let me, I know that a lot of success comes from a lot of trial and error. Yeah. What are some of the, share with us maybe a failure that you experienced on this on this path that you've, that you've trod, and what you learned from that, and how that helped make you a better company. Yeah, so
I think a few years back, we we were working with few companies were into online training.
Online training. Okay. Yeah. Online learning environment seems to be more and more of that coming up, right?
Yeah. So it's coming up now. But we were working long back, maybe around eight or nine years back, we were working, helping few online training companies. And they needed help to sell their courses, you know. So we used to, and since they were all online training companies, you know, digital marketing was a natural fit for them to sell their courses. So there was, there was one company in which we had a lot of business, and they were into occupational and work workplace training. So so there is an institution in US government called OSHA. And, you know, so all the workers were working in an hazardous environment, right. They need to, there are several different trainings for different kinds of working environment you work like construction, or chemicals, or, you know, all those kinds of stuff. So there are different trainings for that, and it's mandatory for them for the workers to complete that training. So there are some some trainings that are needed to, to even take a job in that field. And there are some trainings that are required that they need to do it every year, to continue their compliance, you know, as per OSHA. So, we used to do that and you know, that worked out very well for us. So. So, to such an extent that it almost became like 60 to 70 at that time, you know, 60 to 70% of our entire business. Wow. And since we were getting so successful, and then you know, we had set up our own network to you know, to grow the sales for for that company. You know, we started thinking that okay, you know, this is something which we should be focusing on, because we, we have got good knack about it, we have understood what is to be done. We are growing pretty fast. And it was a good business for us. And one fine day, OSHA came up, I mean, the Institute came up with, with some sort of regulation. And from the next day, we were off, you know, we got cut off. So we lost almost 70 to 80% of our entire business in one day. Wow. So there was a, there was a big setback. Um, so obviously, we learned quite a lot in terms of okay, you know, not being like not not have a single client really, you know, taking up on a single entity or a single space, taking up majority of your business, especially, you know, things which are regulation driven. So few learnings, you know, in that whole experience. And of course, we came out of it, you know, and but yeah, it was a, it was a great learning experience during that time. And, you know, yeah, but it was good till it lasted. So, I mean, no regrets on that, but, but it's a great learning, and then, you know, whatever structure we ended up building at that time, you know, it's helping us grow beyond that, beyond that point. Yeah.
Yeah, we, we talk with our clients today, in the, in the business brokerage side about, you know, being overly dependent on either a customer, a particular niche, like you described, even being overly dependent on an employee. If you've got, you know, one employee that has a certain certification that represents a good portion of your revenue, you know, you may have an employee dependence. Yeah. So, you know, there's always a bit of owner dependence in, in privately held companies. And that's, that's kind of a separate task and subject unto itself. But yeah, you call out a big thing that's becoming dependent is, it can be nice while it lasts, but it can shut off and cause you to pivot. Yeah. So you guys have done well from that. Thank you. And today, what do you guys see is the some of the biggest challenges in the marketplace today?
Yeah, in terms of, if you if you ask about today, right, I think the latest challenge that is coming across, and I think you, you must be hearing quite a lot about right is artificial intelligence. So everybody's talking about that. We are also facing a challenge from that front. However, not really the really what other businesses are facing, but in a different way. Like, what is happening with us is that some of our potential clients, they hear about this buzz, and then you know, somebody reaches out to them. That, okay, they can quickly, you know, help them through AI, and it would be pretty fast and, you know, be cheaper, or, or whatever. I mean, I'm not sure what they are asking them or telling them but you know, they promise them a lot. So, so that is, so that is a challenge we're facing when we are trying to acquire a customer as of now. So a lot of our potential clients, they ended up going to such agencies. And, and, you know, AI is not yet you know, I mean, at that level yet, especially, especially in digital marketing, I mean, we have not seen anything, anything yet. Most of the effort required is manual. In fact, Google tracks, automatic, automatic efforts, so, so I'm not sure how that works. But some of them, you know, after a few months, they came back to us in a really bad shape. So, so our team is helping them with that, getting them back back on track. So I think it's important for most businesses, or people to understand that, as of now, they should avoid any kind of shortcuts with digital marketing because sometimes the damage can be long lasting, and maybe, you know, very time consuming, you know, to get back on track. So, you know, I mean, that's, that's the very latest challenge that that we are having, and we're kind of mitigating that.
That's the shiny new tool out there, right and getting, getting a lot of multimedia press and so forth. Yeah. And it's, you know, it almost seems logical when you think about AI being basically machine learning. And you think, Well, you know, Google, as you said, Google's an algorithm. So maybe the machines ought to be able to automate that. But what I'm hearing you say is there's there is a lot of institutional knowledge yet that AI probably doesn't have that you still need. You still need the experts to work through it in order to keep things moving, moving forward.
Yeah, I think maybe in future but not yet is where we are, I guess.
Yeah, has has promise but not quite there yet, right? Yeah. Like, like all new technology. I mean, you know, it's it's fascinating. You talked early on about one of the things you did in your business was you had to pivot early to really, to really build out. That's very common for, for small businesses. And it's, I think, you know, all new tools like AI, if you if you were to buy, you know, the first new anything out there, you know, it's always the second and third generation products that really prosper. Apple was as was a, basically a, arguably a second or third generation, depending upon whose view you believe, right? Yeah. They weren't the first to market. They, they were second or third to market, and now they dominate so. Absolutely. Fascinating. Well, I'm sure that that's, it's going to be interesting to see where that goes. But you've got, you’ve got a big team in play and it sounds like you guys will be all over it. So as you begin to think, you've been doing this, you're in this now 17 years, you're building this amazing team, the organization keeps getting bigger and bigger, what's your vision for the business after you retire? And do you have a, do you have a path to get to that point in time?
Okay, so I guess evan after 17 years, I feel that, you know, the digitization has just actually got started in a way, right. COVID
Wow, from an insider, you think it's just really getting started? We're just really getting there, huh? Yeah.
And because we spend so much time, you know, educating every single client, you know, every new client that we talk to, you know, they are still not aware, like just just to you are from the business brokering industry, right. And, and you might be doing it like we are kind of almost have become like the number one digital marketing provider for business brokers in US in last 15 years. And I think, I think not even 1/3 of business brokers really do digital marketing. So, so just as a as one single business vertical, right, when we look at the small and medium businesses, that there’s still a lot to do. So similarly, you know, we feel that, you know, most small businesses are still not doing anything, they need help. And I think because of COVID, there is more push for them to really do something. So so it is helping us. And, you know, the way things are, I'm yet to decide anything yet on on retirement, or what I'm going to do with the business after I retire. So I probably would, would let it take shape, you know, in coming years so.
Yeah, it's it's, it's fascinating, we, you know, we talk about in our business every day, Hemal, there's basically six primary areas of value, right, the financial performance and having positive trends in that regard. Clearly over 17 years going from, you know, yourself to a team of more than 60 professionals and continuing to grow, you guys are, you're on a good track there, right. And that that's the second dynamic, growth and future potential. I just heard you say you know, you think, you think we're on the front end of that growth and future potential in the digital world. Yeah. The business model, you know, you pivoted into your current business model. And that's, that's created a pretty significant recurring revenue model for you. I would imagine you have clients for a long period of time.
Exactly. Most of them are there with us for several years, so. Several years. That helps us in. Yeah, that helps us. So there's more stability and predictability in the business because of the recurring revenue models so, so that that really helps us plan out down the road as well as you know, for future.
Yeah, consistency and predictability for your team members, for your ownership, for your customers. Everybody wins in that scenario. Absolutely. So yeah, recurring, recurring revenue is almost like, it's almost like compound interest, right? It’s the gift that keeps on giving, you know, yeah. And then you know, the, the market with AI and just starting on the digital side, the other fascinating thing that I think of a lot, you mentioned the business brokers, we’re really kind of an old industry where a bunch of bunch of gray haired guys like me, we’re relatively slow to change. But you know, here you are, you're you're located across the world. You're serving customers primarily in North America. But I would imagine you have customers worldwide as well.
Yes, we have customers worldwide. The majority of them are in North America. Yeah. We have clients in the UK, Australia, some in India as well. That's phenomenal. Yeah, there will be, there are markets where we can focus on but we have enough opportunity in the markets we are serving, so we are not really trying to look for or add any additional effort in other markets.
Fantastic. Well, listen, it's been a delight to talk to you today. How can, how can people learn more about your company? And what do you recommend if somebody is interested and would like to engage with you? What do you recommend as the next steps? Yeah, so,
you know, first is there, I mean, they can always go to our website, which is anuvallc.com. They can check out, you know, the services that we provide, they can check out our portfolio. So that's how they can learn more about us. They can call me anytime, my number is 916-273-9549. Or they can send me an email, you know, I'm always almost there, almost always online, so they can just send me an email at Hemal, which is my first name, Hemal at Anuvatech, is one word, anuvatech.com. So that's my email address. They either they can email me and let me know when we can talk or they can just call me, place a voicemail, and then I can come back. We typically reply within one business day, so generally don't miss any calls. So I will be with them, you know, within one business day.
Outstanding, outstanding. Well, Hemal, it's great to see you. And we're very appreciative of your time today. And I hope this hope this will lead to some engagements, you guys do outstanding work and customers would be well advised to reach out to you and see what value you can bring to them. And so I'm very appreciative of that. And I want to thank you again for joining us today.
You're most welcome. And I also would thank you for your time and taking this initiative for the podcast. Thank you. Outstanding.
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