I have decided to write a monthly blog about our company history and the benefits and challenges of having international offices. This came as an outgrowth of our leadership meetings. Other team members of the group were sharing how they have learned things which have helped them do their job better by reading blogs of other companies and how they had overcome their challenges. We can improve by understanding new concepts and utilizing tools that we might never have heard of except by reading those blogs. I hope that the reader of my posts can glean some insights that can help them in their business success, especially as they think about growing internationally.
How did Benchmark start? In 2003-2004 I had just come out of the financial services industry and was looking for a new challenge. In the previous 10 years leading up to Benchmark, I had started a couple different companies mostly focused on desktop publishing and printing. I was moderately successful in those industries, but I was quickly losing interest and wanted to embrace the new online opportunities and technologies that were developing at that time. After a few months of reviewing, dreaming and tinkering I decided upon the email marketing space and registered the name benchmarkemail.wpengine.com. I liked the name Benchmark for obvious reasons. I dreamed of the product being the standard in the industry. The rock, or benchmark, by which our clients would evaluate email marketing. Plus, I am very competitive so the name was a good fit for my psyche … and hence decided upon benchmarkemail.wpengine.com.
Now came the challenge of building this service (back then I did not even call it a service … we looked at it more as a website that had cool features and tools) of email marketing. Where would I hire the designers and programmers? Where would the money come from? Should I get my family and friends involved or an angel investor maybe? I decided to bootstrap the entire operation. I opted out of an angel investor as I wanted to grow at my own pace and not be pressured. Both my wife, Denise, and I did not want to ever have to explain to our family and friends why things did not go well. Failure meant a loss of our time and money only!
First order of business was to look overseas for my team, as I knew the cost would be high in the US. I decided upon India as the location to look for talent. There were a couple of reasons for this. One was the high tech level that developers had achieved in that country the other had more to do with the integrity and trust factor of the Hindu culture. I think somehow subconsciously, in my younger days, I was influenced by the movie Gandhi, starring the incredible actor Ben Kingsley. India just felt right.
I was helping my wife at that time with a small printing business and we had some desktop publishing products that we were selling online. This allowed us to have some income while we gave Benchmark a chance to grow.
We were located in a small medical building (our first office was a room within an office, maybe 400 sq. ft.) next to dentists, optometrists and podiatrists, but the rent was cheap and it allowed us to spend money on the product. In the first year of operation, we had one support person out of India (Delhi), four developers (Mumbai) and myself. I would sketch out a design and list some logic on graph paper, scan it and send to our team in Mumbai. That’s it! Very barbaric by today’s standards, but very effective back then. My working hours were quite long. Full day at the office ,then usually at least 3-5 nights of 2-3 hours on India daytime hours. Back then I was a bit younger 🙂 and loved the challenge of this new idea.
As you can see Benchmark was born as an international company. In my next post, I will talk more about these early five years and the specific challenges and triumphs we encountered.