When Manoj Agarwal, Abhishek Kumar, Sumit Khandelwal and Kushal Agrawal first took the plunge in the digital gifting space in 2012 by founding Giftxoxo, little did they know that the ‘cosmic connection’ that brought them together would culminate into Xoxoday — a complete toolkit for motivation and engagement.
Over the years, Xoxoday would experiment and iterate towards making a real difference to both an individual’s motivation and business performance. Fast forward to 2020, Xoxoday has 175 employees across eight international offices and a turnover of $53 million. The company has been serving more than 1,000 clients across India, US, UK, UAE and South East Asia (SEA).
When meetings turn into a mission
It all began when Manoj first met Sumit in 2012. Manoj was working with Flipkart at the time, and both had witnessed the sizable revenue that flowed from the gifting channel. Given that India was a land with a deeply ingrained culture of gifting that reflected in the billions of dollars spent annually at both the corporate and personal level, they were confident about the vast, untapped potential of the space. However, gifting was still a largely ‘unorganised’ sector in India.
“The only thing bigger than the monstrous numbers and figures that surfaced, was the gaping lacuna of technology and innovation in this sector,” said Manoj, adding that with their strong tech backgrounds, they instantly realised that adding technology strategically into the current mix and model could lead to unprecedented disruption.
Their idea involved migrating the offline model of gifting into a digital ecosystem through social platforms, emails and mobiles. Given the tech-heavy nature of the enterprise, the duo lost no time in finding the right tech co-founder for the development of their in-house solutions. After four months of combing, they found their tech co-founder in Abhishek. Manoj recalled meeting Abhishek at a coffee shop, the same way he first became acquainted with Sumit.
“Cosmic codes were at work,” he quipped.
The heydays of the initial years
With the team finally in place, they buckled down to work in a room in a friend’s office acquired in exchange for equity, which Manoj called their version of a “Google garage,” and bagged their first online customer in July 2012.
By September 2012, the team realised that their business model didn’t pan out quite formidably on-the-ground and they had to go back to the drawing board. This was also the time when Kushal joined as their youngest co-founder.
The team had approached former Air Deccan visionary John Kuruvila to discuss their business model and find a solution. “Revenue momentum in a business is very important, and if you are able to get that momentum, you can always use these revenues to fine-tune your business model in the long term,” Kuruvila told them.
This advice perked up the team, and they began refocusing on individual and bulk gifting of cakes, flowers and chocolates with renewed vigour.
“The Diwali of 2012 was a bit of a milestone for us, a season where we dug-in resolutely to leverage the mood of bulk purchase,” said Manoj.
As a result, Giftxoxo hit monthly revenues of around Rs 20 lakh.
The grind towards growth
The team knew that corporate product gifting wasn’t its real target, but only a means towards greater goals. And so, they kept fine-tuning their model and ploughed back its corporate gifting revenue into innovation and research and development (R&D).
It was during this period of recce and exploration that they stumbled upon the concept of experiential gifting —the act of gifting experiences instead of tangible products, memories instead of things and moments instead of assets.
Manoj mentioned that while products and gift vouchers had provided Giftxoxo with a good entry into the corporate world and proved to be stable revenue drivers, it was experience gifts which, for the first time, brought in differentiation and competitive advantage. Giftxoxo sold its first experience box in April 2013 and slowly started getting orders for the category.
Before launching their experience gifting vertical, the team had spoken to an experience-gifting player in Singapore. The chance encounter helped them connect with Naveen Kshatriya, who was their very first investor. Before long, Giftxoxo closed their first seed round in May 2013.
Envisioning a new identity, exploring new horizons
In a short period of time, Giftxoxo had signed up long-term contracts with large companies, and between 2015 and 2016, it acquired companies like Bluebulb, Yipeedo, Actizone, Bookmyinterest, and Fundoo.io to add muscle to its experiences and activities business. In 2016, the company got pre-series A funding from Mahindra Holidays, who also provided solid corporate mentorship to boot.
Having moved onto rewards, incentives and experiences, Manoj said the time had come to take another look at the company’s name, Giftxoxo. Since they were no longer just a gifting company, the name was both a bit of a ‘misnomer’ as well as limiting to future horizons.
“We wanted a name that was sufficiently broad in terms of perspective to be able to support our forward evolution. We finalised the name as Xoxoday,” he said.
As to the rationale behind the name, Manoj explained, “Xoxo colloquially means ‘hugs and kisses’. People use this word to show love, friendship, sincerity, and affection. We wanted to build a company that can bring more ‘love and affection’ between people groups that include sales, channel partners, employees, consumers…Whether this affection is between an employer and their employees, an employee and another employee, between channel partners or a brand and a channel partner, or a customer and a brand.”
The horizontal growth phase
Looking back at their journey, Manoj attributed Xoxoday’s growth to the streak of innovation that was part of its culture. “In terms of growth, we moved in phases. 2012 to 2016 was a period of horizontal expansion in the reward category with merchandise, experiences and gift cards,” he said.
The goal at the time was to move its transaction billings in corporate to subscription billing. The result was XOXOENGAGE – A rewards and recognition software as a service (SaaS) platform that can be used by companies to seamlessly handle their rewards, recognitions and engagements.
During this phase, Xoxoday had also built systems for order management, front-end reward redemption, point delivery for rewards and XOXO CODES that are used to redeem rewards, including gifts and experiences. The early stage of employee engagement software was also good-to-go, with about ten clients signed up for it.
New clients and new dimensions
Between 2016 and 2018, Manoj said that Xoxoday’s growth was all about adding more clients and end-users. In 2018, it went international by launching operations in Dubai and Singapore, followed by the USA, Europe, Southeast Asia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). From 2018 onwards, Xoxoday’s growth curve took on a distinctly three-dimensional aspect.
“Dimension one entailed a long overdue tech makeover that would allow us to scale fast and smoothly. The whole system was now constructed around microservices with a loosely coupled architecture, a robust database and good user experience.”
Dimension two entailed a portfolio expansion so that its three products: Plum – for automation of rewards, loyalty and benefits with a global catalogue; Empuls – for employee engagement, and Compass – motivation and engagement of sales teams, channel partners and gig-workforce, were trifurcated into three Business Units (BU) to achieve optimal focus and profit and loss ownership.
“Working in unison, these three BU’s had the power to synchronise a scattered and under-optimised workforce, unlock hidden growth pools and drive exponential business for our clients like never before,” attested Manoj.
Towards new modes of self-actualisation
The engagement industry was geared to the concept of extrinsic motivation. Largely linear, the extrinsic approach broadly means that good deeds are rewarded and failure punished. “While extrinsic motivation has its merits, it doesn’t address inner needs, which can leave us a bit hollow at the end of the day,” explained Manoj, adding that Xoxoday’s third dimension was bringing about a paradigm shift in the industry by bridging the extrinsic equation with intrinsic motivation in 2018.
“Intrinsic motivation is all about doing something purely because it feels good and is deeply meaningful. In other words, the activity is its own reward. Done right, this can lead to the actualisation of both individual and organisation and lead to truly fulfilling vocations,” he said, adding that Xoxoday, through its varied offerings, lets companies get the best out of their employees, sales and channel with the right brew and blend of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Motivating and engaging people
For a team that has worked relentlessly to redefine the way humans are motivated and engaged, Xoxoday has been on the receiving end of its own share of motivation, including being featured on CNBC Young Turks (2015-16), being awarded the PeopleMatters HR Tech Award (2016-17), being ranked in Deloitte’s Fast 50 (2017-18), being a SaaStr finalist 2019 and FT top 100 tech companies 2020.
Manoj attests that the Xoxoday team is as full of energy today as it was back in 2012. “We remain unsettled and constantly inquisitive of making our offerings better. I believe that this drive comes from witnessing how millions of our end-users are motivated, engaged and happier through our products. While we have built a fundamentally good company, we now want to build a good institution out of this company,” he said, signing off.