On this week’s episode, An Agency Story podcast has the pleasure of speaking with Abhi Jadhav, founder and managing partner at Bay Leaf Digital – a digital marketing agency focused on the SaaS industry based out of Dallas, Texas. Abhi has received some unexpected blessings but not before learning to roll with some unexpected blows. Abhi takes us through his own personal story of making lemonade out of lemons by making the best of opportunities available and persevering through the uncontrollable obstacles along the way.
Abhi of Bay Leaf Digital talks about the difficulties and good fortune that have come his way during his marketing career. Abhi discusses his upbringing in India, where the mindset is a bit different in that if you are in a certain class, your kids will follow suit. Engineers, doctors, and architects were the main classes and Abhi found himself picking engineering as his calling before he started his journey in marketing. While this may not have been his path after all, it led him to discovering programming along the way and he fell in love.
Abhi’s passions continued to evolve over time as he went from wanting to be a programmer to then becoming a project manager, running software implementations for airlines and then eventually landing a job at Travelocity where he would make his first introduction into marketing
From losing their jobs, to physically knocking on restaurant’s doors to offer website services, to eventually starting their own agency and taking their employees to Puerto Rico to boost morale, Abhi and his business partner Tori have managed to persevere through hardships while valuing what they have and who they’re with along the way.
For Abhi, Tori, and their team, it’s all about making sure that people are happy doing what they’re doing. Nothing brings them more fulfillment than knowing they have succeeded in this area; and what better mission is there to have than that?
Enjoy the Story.
You can listen to this episode of An Agency Story on your favorite podcast app:
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[00:00:00] Welcome to An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. From the excitement of starting up the first big sale, passion, doubt, fear, freedom, and the emotional rollercoaster of growth, hear it all on An Agency Story podcast. An Agency Story podcast is hosted by Russel Dubree, successful agency owner with an eight figure exit turned business coach. Enjoy the next agency story.
[00:00:39] Russel: Welcome to another episode of An Agency Story podcast. I’m your host Russel. Today’s guest on the show is a Abhi Jadhav with Bayleaf digital, a digital marketing agency focused on the SaaS industry based out of Dallas, Texas.
[00:00:53] Abhi sort of fell into his role as an agency owner when a corporate restructure and a lack of ideal opportunities [00:01:00] left him without many desirable options.
[00:01:02] He hasn’t looked back since and went from a slow start to where his biggest problem now is how to get all the work done. This is a classic story of making the best of opportunities available and perseverance.
[00:01:13] Enjoy the story.
[00:01:17] Welcome to the show, everyone. Today I have Abhi Jadhav with Bay Leaf Digital. Welcome to the show, Abhi.
[00:01:24] Abhi: Thank you, Russel. How are you?
[00:01:26] Russel: I am doing well, sir.
[00:01:27] Glad to have you on here. Well, get us started off and tell us what is Bay Leaf Digital? What do you do and who do you do it for?
[00:01:34] Abhi: Absolutely. Bay Leaf Digital is a B2B SaaS marketing agency. We are based in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I guess based is a tricky answer because we are everywhere now.
[00:01:48] You could say we were founded in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, but we’re all over the country. What do we do? We are a SaaS marketing agency. We help companies that have software as a service as their offering. We help [00:02:00] drive leads, we help drive demos. Basically anything that is a marketing goal for companies, we help accomplish those goals for them.
[00:02:08] Russel: Very needed among those types of businesses. Was entrepreneurship always on the horizon for you as your career is concerned? What was young Abhi thinking he was gonna do with his life?
[00:02:18] Abhi: I come from India. The mindset is a bit different in India, in that if you are in a certain class your kids either become engineers, they become doctors, they become architects, and that’s about it.
[00:02:32] You gotta draw the line there. Like everybody else, I picked engineering as my calling. I began what’s called electronics engineering, but in the US it’s electrical engineering. By the time I got into my final year, I was pretty convinced that is not what I was going to do with my life.
[00:02:48] In fact, I would make a pretty lousy engineer, I think, but along the way I discovered programming. I discovered assembly language. I discovered C and I immediately fell in love with it. I thought I would [00:03:00] be a computer programmer, that’s where I was gonna go. I worked for a couple of years in India and my dad was high up in management.
[00:03:07] My sister was also pursuing a MBA, and I got thinking, that’s where I want to go too. I made the change, made the leap, went to University of Arizona, got my MBA there. After that I got into corporate life. I didn’t have a grand plan on who I was gonna become.
[00:03:23] It was smaller steps that got me here.
[00:03:25] Russel: You got your MBA and you’re headed out into the corporate world. What did you start out doing? We can start tracking how that plan evolved.
[00:03:31] Abhi: I started my corporate career in the US at a company named Sabre.
[00:03:36] It is basically the bookings and reservation engine that’s used across the world. I lucked out. I got to travel a lot. I went to really cool places like Brazil, Estonia, Kuwait and so on.
[00:03:49] Russel: I need to work for a travel company.
[00:03:51] Abhi: You know what’s ironic Russel, I traveled to Brazil, I think it was 13 times in one year.
[00:03:58] The folks there were [00:04:00] amazing. They always encouraged me to take the weekend off and go visit the rainforest, et cetera. I’m like, nah, I don’t want to do it. This is 2005. Eventually I decided that I was done with travel and I moved to Travelocity, which sounds ironic, right?
[00:04:15] But it was a desk job. At that time, it was a online travel agency and I got my introduction to marketing at Travelocity. It was a very circuitous route to be honest. I went from wanting to be a programmer to then becoming a project manager. I ran software implementations for airlines and then I ended up at Travelocity and got my break into marketing.
[00:04:36] Russel: What were you doing in marketing? What was your main area of focus?
[00:04:39] Abhi: I cut my teeth on analytics. Data analytics and marketing. When I first entered marketing, I had a very poor opinion of marketers because I thought it was creative without any data to guide their judgment, et cetera. When I actually started looking at the numbers, and especially if you’re talking about [00:05:00] Travelocity visitors a month, it blew my mind and I was fascinated.
[00:05:04] I fell in love with the whole notion of conversion, how you measure it and what channels are driving it, trying to do A/B tests and whatnot. That is what cemented my path, if you will. Marketing, plus the analytics behind it.
[00:05:18] Russel: Abhi turns marketer, then as I understand it you left Travelocity, you started somewhere else and then got caught up in a bad situation with a merger acquisition and actually lost your job.
[00:05:28] But you were able to turn that into the opportunity that actually started your agency. Where and how did that all begin?
[00:05:33] Abhi: There was an acquisition in works for Travelocity. There was a lot of management movement and such. My business partner and I actually at that time, we looked for various jobs in the Metroplex and I ended up in a company named Sheplers, which used to be a western wear online retailer. Then it got acquired by Boot Barn. When that merger acquisition happened, they moved some of the operations back to Wichita.
[00:05:57] Both my business partner and I, we found ourselves without [00:06:00] jobs. We asked ourselves what do we do? We can always go back to the corporate world. In fact, I interviewed, I vaguely remember interviewing with Zappos, Target and Audible, and they all wanted me to move, either to Las Vegas or Minneapolis or New Jersey.
[00:06:14] You know me, man, you live in the Metroplex. I live in the Metroplex. There’s something about it. I was like I don’t wanna leave the Metroplex. We said, you know what? Let’s stick it out here. Let’s start an agency and figure out what we really want to do.
[00:06:25] The goal was definitely not to run an agency for a decade, by no means. It was, let’s try our luck out while we keep figuring out what is it that we actually wanna do.
[00:06:34] Russel: Let’s not move. There’s your starting motivation for building an agency. That’s the first one I’ve heard that.
[00:06:40] You started with a business partner. How’d you guys divide and conquer the business, and how has that evolved from when you first started? Or has it evolved, I guess you could say, to where you guys are at today?
[00:06:50] Abhi: As I mentioned before, we didn’t really have a plan in terms of what we are gonna do with the agency.
[00:06:55] The idea in general was, hey, let’s figure out a [00:07:00] product that we wanna build. Let’s build a SaaS product. At that time, we didn’t call it SaaS. The terminology at that time was more ASP, now it’s called SaaS. It was a means to an end. When we first started out, Tori and I literally, I kid you not, Russel, we went knocking on restaurant’s doors and we were like, hey, want a website? We can build your website. We want some revenue on the side while we figure out what to do.
[00:07:23] We’ve come a really long way since then. We’ve divided the responsibilities. Tori today focus on business development. He also focuses on content development internally, while I’m focused on all things administrative, operations in the company. Also, strategy as we develop new strategies for SaaS companies and such.
[00:07:46] I’m involved in the execution side of things, if you will.
[00:07:49] Russel: Who was the best at knocking on doors? That’s the question that comes to mind. I know you guys had to have a competition or something going. Who was the best?
[00:07:57] Abhi: I gotta say, it’s gotta be Tori. He is a [00:08:00] talker. He will talk you out of parting with your last five bucks.
[00:08:05] Russel: All right. That’s a first as well. A lot of people hit up various ways to find cold leads, but, I’ve yet to hear of door to door website sales. You guys are so innovative.
[00:08:13] You obviously have a very specific niche now, but you didn’t start there and as I understand it was a long tailed process to get to where you eventually ended up.
[00:08:21] How did that process evolve for you guys and when did you decide, hey, this is what we’re gonna focus on?
[00:08:27] Abhi: Very early on, 2013, I sought out mentors and I talked to them. I kept saying that, hey, we need to find a niche but wanting to find a niche and actually finding a niche, very different things, right?
[00:08:41] When you’re scrappy, trying to find whatever you can get. At that time there was no niche. It’s, hey, my contacts contact asked me to do marketing, and they asked me to do SEO. Heck yes, we’ll do SEO. We did anything and everything. Come about, I wanna say 2017, we had a [00:09:00] few clients that were in the contact center space.
[00:09:02] We’re developing this niche in the contact center space, and neither of us actually had that background. We acquired it and we felt very comfortable with that business. We said, lets make that our niche. We tried that for a year. Didn’t work very well because the contact center niche, it’s a little odd.
[00:09:18] You’ve got some very big players, you’ve got some players that are breaking into the marketplace, and they each had their different needs and it just didn’t quite fit where we were. At that time Tori had been to SaaStr approximately 2017, 2018. He comes back from SaaStr, bright-eyed and he’s like, dude, this is it.
[00:09:38] I found it. It’s SaaS. I go, we just started going down the contact center route. Let’s give it a try and maybe we’ll see SaaS is the thing. He goes, okay. By the time we were winding out 2018, we are like, okay, I think we are done with contact center tech. Let’s look at SaaS. We started learning about SaaS, learning how we should be marketing [00:10:00] SaaS, read up about HubSpot and all of those things, changed the website and slowly but surely moved our way down from just a SaaS marketing agency to a B2B SaaS marketing agency. Then we further narrowed the niche because the demand was so much. We said, we are only a HubSpot B2B SaaS. Then this year we’ve narrowed down even further and said, we are only product-market fit, B2B, HubSpot, SaaS, and even then it’s hard to keep up with the demand.
[00:10:28] It’s weird. We go from a very broad focus in 2014 of we’ll do anything to we are so niche that we are trying to make sure that we get just enough number of prospects and clients that we can service them without going crazy.
[00:10:42] Russel: My next question was gonna be, how did that transition work for you?
[00:10:45] But it sounds like, pretty well because it really, as you said, forced you down a even more further refined path. That’s awesome. I’m guessing you haven’t looked back on that decision.
[00:10:54] Abhi: No, but we do go back and now ask ourselves ,HubSpot is [00:11:00] our focus, should we look at Marketo? Should we look at Pardot next? Are we going deeper or are we going broader? Are we going horizontal? This is always in the back of my mind, what’s next? Because, 2019 before Covid hit. If you had searched for SaaS marketing agencies, you may have found two or three of them.
[00:11:16] Now you search, there’re like 40, 50. Everyone’s a SaaS marketing agency. It’s okay, everyone wants to be a SaaS marketing agency. We gotta find a niche and we gotta be really good at it. We think we are pretty decent at what we do. Try to stay ahead of the competition, if you will.
[00:11:29] Looking at what’s next.
[00:11:30] Russel: Gotta look at what’s next.
[00:11:31] One of the surprising things when I first came across your story was that, given you were a digital company focused very much in a digital space, pandemic comes along thinking you shouldn’t be too affected by that, but that sounds like that wasn’t the case and the pandemic hit you pretty hard. If you don’t mind kinda sharing how it hit you and how you came out of that.
[00:11:49] Abhi: I still remember, when everything started shutting down, employees were worried.
[00:11:54] We were worried. We had just signed a lease for an office. That was a third office. We had [00:12:00] moved back and forth. Back in 2018 we were in an office. I gave it up because of revenue issues. Finally, in 2019 we had enough courage to say, things are looking good. Let’s go ahead and get an office again.
[00:12:10] We had just signed that lease, then Covid hit and I’m like, oh crap. What now? The news was, it’s two weeks and it’s four weeks. We’re like, okay, we can survive that. We slowly realized that this is going to last a while.
[00:12:25] I remember my son saying, we have planned for a Hawaii trip for four years now, and I remember him going in March, we are not going to Hawaii this year, are we? I’m like no, we are going, we’re going. Come June, I tell him, no, dude, you’re right. We’re not going to Hawaii. That’s what happened with the business. We were like, oh, things will be okay, things will be okay.
[00:12:44] Come June and July, I’m like, oh crap. We may not make it. We lost 80% of our revenue.
[00:12:51] Russel: 80%. That’s a lot.
[00:12:53] Abhi: It was nuts. We had a little bit of cushions, so we were able to squeeze through. We got grants [00:13:00] from Facebook, the Tarrant County.
[00:13:02] We got grants from the federal government, the forgivable loan. That kept us afloat. Without that, I think this agency wouldn’t be here today. Then, come December of 2020, suddenly there was this whole pent up demand. There were plenty of people knocking on our doors and I went, I think things are gonna be good.
[00:13:20] Things have been good and getting better since then. I’m glad we survived it. It was a huge lesson for us in terms of never stop marketing yourself and keep growing, otherwise, I think a famous sports commentator said this, if you’re not growing, then you’re regressing.
[00:13:37] Russel: It’s funny, you go back to the pandemic and how long is this gonna last? I remember, I was still in my agency at the time and we created this little memo and it was like, we don’t know how long, but we planned two to three weeks. How wrong those words really were. Clearly we all didn’t know how bad it would get and what recovery would look like, but that’s awesome.
[00:13:54] You went from near bust to explosive. It’s hard to talk about the [00:14:00] pandemic in terms of positive sense, but all we’re left to do is make the best of it. Glad that worked out for you guys and now we get to sit here and have this chat today. What is your big goal with the business?
[00:14:10] What are you trying to do? What are you trying to achieve?
[00:14:12] Abhi: Back when we launched the agency, Tori and I, we are both product managers at heart, so our goal was to build SaaS products. That’s where we wanted to go. In fact, in 2015, we had saved up enough money to build not one but two SaaS products.
[00:14:28] We built them. We were naive enough to think that if we built them, that would be enough. We built them and we ran out of cash. Not only did we run out cash, we also were not focused on growing the agency. We got in a deep pit. It took awhile to dig out of it.
[00:14:44] We’ve not lost sight of that eventual goal, we both would want to manage SaaS products. That is the big picture goal. Agency is now our passion, this is who we are. We will continue to grow the agency. We grow it [00:15:00] as a way for our employees to grow and as a way for our employees to do bigger and better things, and for us as well.
[00:15:06] Big picture is we will someday hope to own one, maybe two SaaS companies that will be part of our portfolio.
[00:15:15] Russel: Man with a plan. Looking back on that experience, if you could go back, would you say, don’t do that. Don’t build that SaaS so soon. Wait. Or do you feel like going through that process and experience early is actually going to help you down the road with your goals?
[00:15:29] Abhi: Russel, you’ve got kids, right?
[00:15:31] Russel: I do.
[00:15:32] Abhi: It’s one of those things where, you tell your kids, hey, don’t do it, and your kids are gonna do it anyway.
[00:15:38] Russel: So true. In fact, if you want them to do it, you probably tell them, don’t do it.
[00:15:44] Abhi: Even if 2022 Abhi went back to 2014 Abhi and said, hey, don’t do it.
[00:15:49] 2014 Abhi would’ve still done it. Would’ve still made that mistake. It’s one of those things that you make that mistake and you learn from it. You learn how difficult it [00:16:00] is to earn every penny, and how much you have to respect the revenue earning capabilities and nurture that stuff.
[00:16:05] I wouldn’t change anything, even if I tried, it wouldn’t change.
[00:16:10] Russel: I was talking to someone else on another show and we were talking about the exact same concept of we almost need to take this podcast with you and say, it’s not just me telling you. We’re telling it to the world that this is what we should have done.
[00:16:20] Please listen. Kids and youth and all that good stuff.
[00:16:23] You had a really big moment this past summer. I thought that was really cool and a milestone moment with your team that was unique, if you don’t mind telling us what happened there?
[00:16:32] Abhi: It goes back to Covid and how we were a team of four or five people here in the DFW metroplex.
[00:16:40] As we started growing, emerging out of Covid, we hired outside of the DFW area. I was counting before our meeting because I’m like I should get this number right. We are right now at 18 full-time employees and four contractors, more or less working part-time for us. Bringing all of these people together was definitely [00:17:00] necessary for us to make sure that there’s camaraderie and there’s cohesion in the team.
[00:17:03] With that in mind, we actually took employees to Puerto Rico for our offsite. Employees and their families. It was a week long offsite and it turned out to be amazing.
[00:17:15] We had a professional facilitator with us, and she made the comment, this sort of stuff is done by big companies. Small companies don’t do these things. She said that it speaks volumes, what you guys are trying to do here. It really stuck with me that, at the end of the day, It’s all about employees, it’s all about morale.
[00:17:35] It’s all about making sure that people are happy doing what they’re doing. We did that. We had one employee comment that was the best offsite of her career, which was amazing to hear. To me, when I look back at one of the biggest accomplishments I would say that probably is in the top three.
[00:17:50] Russel: If you got any open positions, maybe you’re gonna get a rush of applications after this conversation that’ll be like, I want to go to Puerto Rico. I’m gonna see if I can figure out myself how to get on Abhi’s Puerto Rico list. I want [00:18:00] to get back there. That’s a really cool place.
[00:18:02] Someone that didn’t intend to be an entrepreneur, final big question for you. Are entrepreneurs born or are they made?
[00:18:10] Abhi: As a child, you probably have an independent streak. You probably have this innate desire to go to your own thing, but maybe the better question is, are successful entrepreneurs born or made? I would say successful entrepreneurs are made as a result of a lot of lessons learned along the way, or maybe even mentors who showed them the way.
[00:18:35] Some cases there’s always an exception. There’s always an exception to the rule, right? I would say you could be born with this strong desire to do your own thing, but you gotta get some guidance so you don’t falter.
[00:18:46] Russel: I love it, and I love the question of the question, are successful entrepreneurs born or made? I appreciate your turn on that. It reminds me of, the exceptions to the rule, I’m seeing these memes of how I created a 50 million dollar business: wake up every morning at 6:00 [00:19:00] AM, read a book every day and got a 50 million dollar trust fund from my father is my business story.
[00:19:05] I love those jokes and memes out there.
[00:19:07] If people wanna know more about Bay Leaf Digital, where can they go?
[00:19:10] Abhi: Bayleafdigital.com. Bay Leaf Digital, one word. Bayleafdigital.com is where you can find everything about us, and you can of course reach out to us on LinkedIn as well. Those are probably the two ways to get in touch with us.
[00:19:23] Russel: There you go, folks. Thank you so much for being on the show today and sharing all your insightful knowledge and journey. Very much appreciate it, Abhi.
[00:19:31] Abhi: Awesome, Russel. It was a pleasure and honor. Thank you so much for inviting me.
[00:19:36] We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of An Agency Story podcast where we share real stories of marketing agency owners from around the world. Are you interested in being a guest on the show? Send an email to email@example.com. An Agency Story is brought to you by Performance Faction.
[00:19:59] [00:20:00] Performance Faction offers services to help agency owners grow their business to 5 million dollars and more in revenue. To learn more, visit performancefaction.com.
[00:20:13] As we are all remote, so that it’s not all serious, we try to have a little bit of fun online. One of the things we do is we celebrate birthdays, employee birthdays. I will send our employee, birthday boy or girl, a cake. They’ve come to expect it. Before it was a surprise and now they’ve come to expect it.
[00:20:29] We will sing on Zoom. We all get together and we sing. You can imagine how out of sync everyone is when we sing on Zoom. It’s always funny listening to people, but what took the cake, if you will, a few weeks back was I had someone else, someone other than our normal person lead the chorus and he decided to do something different.
[00:20:54] You’ve seen Lord of the Rings, right?
[00:20:56] Russel: Yes, I have.
[00:20:57] Abhi: Gollum, right? “My precious.” He [00:21:00] started singing Happy Birthday in that voice, and people, oh boy, lost it. They absolutely lost it. It was fun. It was hilarious. We do things to keep things light around here.
[00:21:10] Russel: I love that. You have a recording of that by chance?
[00:21:12] Abhi: No, I do not, man.
[00:21:15] We should have recorded it.
[00:21:16] Russel: Yeah. I’m so bad about that at moments I’m just living it up in the moment and I don’t record a lot of things, but that’d be funny if you had a recording .