K. Sivakumar, co-founder of Saluto.

Marginalia: What is the idea behind Saluto?

Siva: We want Saluto to be the ultimate power tool in the hands of organisations, to transform the lives of each and every one of us – employers, employees, business partners and consumers by creating a new wave of thinking in engagement and wellness.

Employee engagement has been a priority for many organizations and in spite of spending a large portion of their pay roll cost, they still face many challenges. With a majority of the workforce today being millennials, the traditional models of engagements are not working anymore. There is a need for a different approach.

Recent studies by various HR consultancy firms, point out that it is time for organizations to move away from mere engagement to sustainable engagement, which can be achieved by focusing on the holistic well-being of employees. 61% of HR leaders feel that employee well-being is becoming a key metric for organizations.

Similarly, despite spending a large portion of the marketing budget on Channel promotions & Consumer loyalty, organizations and brands are not getting the best ROI. There is a need for brands to meaningfully engage with their partner networks and consumers to build loyalty & brand advocacy.

We also found that, even though smartphones were firmly embedded in the tapestry of the majority of our lives, the tools at the workplace / business were not mimickingthe ease of use of apps in our everyday/social lives. The “digital transformation” of our personal life had clearly not transformed our workplaces and businesses.

Today, diseases are also becoming a growing burden in our country. Being unwell impacts the productivity of people, organizations and governments at large which in turn affects various aspects of an individual’s ability to live life fully and contribute to the society they live in. Healthcare costs have gone up. There is a need for intervention and what best place can it be than work since we spend most of our time there.

Saluto was born out of the belief, that we can address the above need gaps.

Marginalia: Tell us more about your company and your founders?

Siva: At Saluto, we believe that, to create lasting value, organizations and society as a whole, must place people and their well-being at the centre of their thinking. We consider the overall well-being of people to be a key, yet, largely unexplored factor in individual and collective performance. Our core business mission is to improve Engagement & Well-being, especially within companies looking to champion a more human-oriented economy.

Saluto is an Integrated Engagement & Wellness service provider with a holistic approach to improve productivity & performance.

We offer a cloud-based technology platform, and services combined with our unique Engagement model, to support organisations in their efforts to effectively engage with their employees, business channels & consumers.

We help organisations to

  1. Drive behaviours that are aligned with their business objectives through Rewards, Recognition & Incentives
  2. Meaningfully engage with their target audience through Well-being to create an emotional bond
  3. Build loyalty & brand advocacy for their company & brand.

Our digital platform, solutions and services help our clients Attract, Retain, Motivate & Engage with their key stake holders to improve productivity and performance.

Anoop Nambiar and I, co-founded Saluto in June 2017, and we launched our first product in June 2018. Today we have several large corporate clients and over 50,000 people using our platform and services, all of this, in less than a year.

We have over 45 years of collective experience in the corporate sector in various leadership roles, 14 years of them working together. We met while working in the telecom sector and found that our wavelengths matched. We both looked at things differently and shared a passion for starting something new. We’ve come a long way together, sharing learnings from our respective entrepreneurial backgrounds and now making our own share of history.

Marginalia: What was the hardest part in the early stages of the company’s growth?

Siva: Being in the B2B space and being bootstrapped! Even though our prospects loved our products and solutions, they were hesitant to sign a contract with us, unsure of whether we would survive in this business, as we weren’t funded. We lost a few opportunities where the clients decided to play safe, choosing inferior solutions from traditional players, at higher costs.

Marginalia: You are headquartered in Bangalore, that is often called the hub of start-up activity. How much has location played a role in your growth?

Siva: It definitely did help us collaborate with other start-ups, to create value for our clients & consumers. Availability of good infrastructure and resources has helped us expand faster. There are various initiatives and communities in Bangalore to support the start-up ecosystem, where we’ve received guidance in various areas of business including how to get funded.

Marginalia: When did you first get the sense that Saluto was developing a significant audience?

Siva: When we received appreciation from our first set of clients on our product & service offerings and when they started referring us to other companies, is when we realised that we were truly on the right track.

We continuously measure the progress of our programmes and the truly satisfying moments are when clients are able to comfortably over-achieve their objectives after launching our solutions.

Marginalia: How has life changed for Saluto after you received funding? How tough was it to convince the investors?

Siva: First, it gave us a great confidence boost when people believed in our idea, capabilities and products enough to invest in us. It also helped us gain client confidence. We have expanded our operations to multiple cities and have been able to attract some of the best talent from the industry.

Convincing an investor wasn’t the tough part. Choosing the right investor, who’d understand and share our vision, definitely was. We did not pitch to multiple investors.  We were keen on choosing that investor who would back us in building the business and taking it to the next level.  And we were lucky to find him.

Marginalia: You are now expanding your operations pan India? What factors have played a significant role in your success?

Siva: Since our offering is comprehensive, technology driven, and tailor-made to help customers achieve their specific objectives, we have found traction across various customer segments and geographies. Every client success story paves the way for new customer acquisitions.  We’re extremely grateful that our result-oriented approach gains the confidence of clients who achieve their objectives swiftly, with minimal intervention. They in turn serve as live case studies for prospective clients and in many cases, they themselves refer us to other businesses.

Marginalia: What are your future plans, and do you see an exciting prospect for Saluto outside India as well?

Siva: We have our clients’ consumers in over ten countries using our platform, which we’re strengthening to continue expanding globally. We’ve gotten into a few partnerships to take our offerings to multiple countries on a larger scale and are in the process of implementing our solutions in other countries where our multi-national clients are present.

Marginalia: What challenges do you foresee for entrepreneurs like you in ensuring sustainability of your venture?

Siva: Despite the buzz around start-ups, there is a trust deficit at the ground level, from clients. Organizations are extremely wary of entering into contracts with early stage start-ups until they establish themselves. This is a vicious cycle. While companies should definitely tread carefully while contemplating going into business with start-ups, they should also understand that every company was a start-up at some point of time, including themselves.  It is important for businesses to afford opportunities to start-ups to prove themselves while still managing to protect their interests.

Marginalia: What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs who are about to launch their venture?

Siva: Entrepreneurship is all about building an organisation under extreme uncertainty. An entrepreneur has to juggle many activities all at once – be it acquiring new customers, catering to the existing ones, improving the product, marketing and operations, raising funds to fuel growth, steering the company in a particular direction and deciding if and when to pivot. Founders need to find a way to not drop any ball. Hiring early and being able to attract the best talent goes a long way in helping the founders keep their balance and stay focussed on the bigger picture.

Having a sound business plan or a lofty concept is far from enough to guarantee success. Most entrepreneurs start with great plans and expect things to just happen, without fully realising how long or what it takes to get a business off the ground. The reality is, there’s no way to know how long it will take or whether it will work at all.  So when things get tough, they tend to feel discouraged and often give up. Creating a company is hard work and it requires determination, grit, emotional balance, humility and resilience.

More about the founders

K. Sivakumar Founder & CEO has more than 25 years of experience in Employee Benefits, Incentives & Recognition, Prepaid, Fintech, Food & Facilities Management and Telecom.

An out-of-the-box thinker, Siva has handled various functions like business development, new product initiatives, innovation and training. He has successfully managed and grown businesses to the tune of 1200 crores and managed more than 1000+ people in his previous roles. He has been in leadership positions with large corporates like Sodexo, RPG Group and The Arvind Mills Ltd – Telecom division. Siva was also part of the Global Innovation Committee at Sodexo. In his last stint at Sodexo, he was heading the Incentives & Recognition business for India.

Anoop Nambiar Founder & COO comes with over 20 years’ experience in IT, Telecom, Employee Benefits, Fintech across geographies, working in South Africa, Middle East and Australia in IT and Strategy functions. He has been associated with MNCs like Sodexo, Williamson Magor Group, and Aircel in various leadership roles. At his last stint at Sodexo, he was heading the Customer Service Delivery for more than 3 million consumers, 10,000 + clients and 25,000+ merchants. He has also been involved in various roles at Sodexo heading P&L responsibilities and business development. Anoop was spearheading a global initiative of Sodexo in India called “Clients for Life”.