Ranjit Mulgaonkar – Founder and CEO of DNA Response

Our strategy to focus on the marketplaces channel and to build a suite of services around it tripled our revenue last year.

Ranjit Mulgaonkar brings twenty-five years of executive management experience in the Internet, e-commerce, payment processing, desktop publishing, and offshore development. His prior work includes executive management experience at Amazon Services, Avalara, FlatWorld Group, Network Commerce, iCat Corporation (bought by Intel in 1998), and Moore Corporation (RR Donnelley).

Mulgaonkar holds a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics & Telecommunications, and received Executive Management training from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Mulgaonkar has authored white papers, spoken at over 40 conferences worldwide, and was honored with the 2015 Mercury Wing Award for outstanding contributions and innovation in the Direct Response industry.

Where did the idea for DNA Response come from?

I have been in the e-commerce industry since its inception in 1997. I was working at Amazon before I started DNA Response and I was helping big brands like Samsonite and Timex take advantage of the fast-growing Amazon platform. At that time, I was focused only on very large brands but I was getting a lot of calls from mid-sized brands asking for help running their Amazon sales. After receiving dozens of calls, I decided that someone needs to help the mid-sized companies maximize their opportunity (both revenue and margins) on Amazon and other online marketplaces.

Today, DNA Response is a full-service agency providing a turnkey solution to 60 plus companies and 200 individual product brands. We help our customers maximize their revenue, protect their pricing and provide valuable business intelligence critical to the business on a pay-for-performance pricing model.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

As a startup CEO, no one day is alike. Our business is online commerce so as a company we operate 7x24x365. As our business model has become more matured, we have implemented processes to automate tasks and have built a highly talented and motivated team. I focus mostly on strategic projects, investor and board of director relationships and communications, executive relationships with our major clients, the overall company vision, and strategy, and become also act as the voice of DNA Response within our industry and in front of the press.

My days are typically 12 to 14 hours long. In addition to our Seattle office, we operate offices on the east coast and in India so I need to be available around the clock. With all the new technologies available I am always in communication with my team and can respond to opportunities and crises, except when I am sleeping of course.

The typical day includes calls and presentations with potential customers and partners, keeping in touch with partners and major customers, exploring new product ideas, evaluating new technologies, keeping track of finances and operations, keeping in touch with my team, corporate marketing activities like writing blogs, articles, interviews and more.

Due to the multifaceted nature of my job, I keep a list of projects and tasks in three areas and prioritize them frequently – company growth opportunities, customer relations, and strategic opportunities. My philosophy is that you will never get 100% of projects done but if you are able to get the top 60% done, then you are doing well.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have been in product marketing for over 25 years with companies like Aldus (Adobe), Xerox and Amazon. The combination of understanding the customer’s and the market’s needs, the competitive landscape, new technologies and our ability to execute the idea are the key things needed when trying to determine if a product will or will not work in the market. We are constantly coming up with new ideas, trying them out on customers and then picking the one that meets a market need where we can provide a unique solution that customers will use and be willing to pay for. Typically, out of every five ideas we come up with, we commercialize one.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Amazon’s explosive growth and the opportunity it gives a company like DNA Response to help thousands of consumer brands take advantage of the growth. Having the opportunity to grow our business worldwide really excites me.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Efficient multi-tasking. My job requires me to be able to switch from project to project without forgetting something important.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I can’t say that any one job was the worst because at the end of the day they all taught me something important which led me where I am today. Having worked in various larger companies I did learn that I prefer working in a small business environment. When I was working for the bigger companies I noticed that they tend to stifle creativity due to their size, organizational structure and internal politics.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would grow the business slowly and would avoid chasing every opportunity. I wouldn’t be afraid to tell customers, “No, we cannot offer something you want because it does not fit our business model.” I would be more selective in how I choose my team members and would not take external investments.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Revisit all business assumptions regularly to see if we are missing anything. Check to see if customers are happy, keep an eye on new technologies and constantly think about the next product/service we want to offer to make our customers successful and make ourselves invaluable to them.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

In the early days of the company, we provided multi-channel e-commerce services. We managed online stores and all services associated with them in addition to providing services for marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. In 2013, we lost our biggest customer and we had to restructure the company and almost start from scratch. At that time, we started studying Amazon’s growth and the tremendous momentum they had both for companies selling products on Amazon and consumers buying products on Amazon. We decided to drop everything else we were doing and only focus on online marketplaces like Amazon. Today, we help our customers sell on online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Sears, Rakuten, and Newegg. Our strategy to focus on the marketplaces channel and to build a suite of services around it tripled our revenue last year.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

2013 was a tough year for our company. We had hired staff and made technology investments looking at the potential growth. When we lost our largest customer and 70% of revenue with it, we had to decide if we could continue or restart. Getting any investment at that time was nearly impossible but we were able to convince existing investors that we could come out of the situation and build a great, profitable business. A small dedicated team of loyal employees stuck around and we gave everyone who stayed additional equity in the company. We spent the next 18 months rebuilding and now we are on our way to success, having become stronger as a company and a team than ever before.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There is a lot of potential for selling organic free-trade ethnic spice blends. The cost of goods is fairly low as compared to the selling price. Millennials are into ethnic foods and are willing to purchase a unique blend of exotic spices.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

In early February 2016, we held our all-company meeting at 7pm Pacific Time. We had team members from India and the east coast dial in for the video conference call so some of them had to work pretty late in the evening. As a surprise, we bought all of our employees dinners since they all had to stay at the office for the late meeting. It was a great team building opportunity which allowed everyone to connect outside of the work environment.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use several off the shelf tools along with our own proprietary software. We use Amazon cloud and Microsoft cloud because it reduced our infrastructure cost and had high reliability. We also use re-pricing tools, review-monitoring tools, databases, email marketing tools and more.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

There are many books, but what I have always found to be more helpful and inspirational is listening to Ted Talks. Personally, I prefer reading online content rather than reading a book. I feel there is always something to learn by listening to conversations and reading about experiences shared by other leaders in a variety of fields.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Steve Jobs, President Obama, Mahatma Gandhi and my old boss Scott McFarlane, the CEO of Avalara.


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