Reinvention: How Beachwood-based Vantage Agora is leveraging its service experience to venture into the software industry
OD, Ohio – Sudhir Achar co-founded Beachwood-based Vantage Agora Inc., as a company that helps insurance companies with back-office support services. Then as the company started growing, so did his obsession with aiming for high marks in customer service.
In just seven years, projects grew larger and more complex as the business grew to about 200 employees and expanded to the healthcare and manufacturing industries. Achar and his business partner, Harsha Chaturvedi, developed internal software to better manage jobs and a growing staff in different locations, mostly in India.
It didn’t take him long to realize that even with credentials including SSAE 16 certification, clients may have more confidence about the service they provided, but they still felt better with direct access to back-end operations. And he and his partner wanted a better system to track employee results. When they couldn’t find an off-the-shelf product to do everything they wanted, they developed their own operation’s software.
The software was developed a few years ago strictly for internal use. But clients and employees made them realize it could have mass appeal.
“Once we started using this we started seeing efficiencies. Employee morale went up because we became a transparent company. The software showed how we were processsing transactions,” Achar said. “We would tell clients these are the five people working on your project. And our clients could log into our system and get real-time updates.
“And if there was an error – we are still human beings and errors happen – the client would be notified about what we did to fix it,” Achar said. “Everything was reported.”
The more clients asked about the software, the more Vantage Agora invested in it, to the tune of $1 million. They continued to add more features, gave it the name ox zion.
If your industry has become saturated with competing companies or products, consider ways you can develop a niche.” – Sudhir Achar, CEO, Vantage Agora
“That’s when this platform became like a smartphone, because each client wanted their own applications. We started rolling it out last year.”
Today, it’s a patent-pending software product geared toward helping companies operate more efficiently. The product helps employees collaborate, measure department projects and people performance, and gives management real-time data. The product is in an in-house tool that combines various data sources and even offers a corporate social media platform.
“I like to say, In God we trust. Everybody else should document the whole process,” Achar said. “It’s important to follow procedures.”
Reshaping a company is no small feat. Here’s some more thoughts on how Achar is reinventing his service business to start selling a new product.
Q. Was there a time when you questioned your decision to move into an entirely new field?
A. No. Not really. The technology field wasn’t a new field for me or my partner Harsha Chaturvedi. Together, we have experience in developing 100-plus products in our careers. Also, the beauty of it was we were developing the ox zion platform to increase operational excellence, at our company. That’s what gave us the added jolt to build a platform of our dream.
Q. How did you validate whether or not consumers would be interested?
A. Well, the advantage we had was our own operations team was our first internal customer. Secondly, we had a handful of clients that we selected in different sectors to be our beta clients. That was our second round of validation.
Q. As the technological revolution accelerates, consumers have completely changed how they shop, and what they expect from product distributors. The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming product companies into service businesses. Why are you moving from a service industry to developing a new product?
A. Yes IoT is changing everything we do on a daily basis. We are not moving away from our service business; however, we are leveraging technology to augment our back-office service where needed. So our customers now have a trusted technology and services partner in Vantage Agora.
Q. With so many software products on the market, why did you invest so heavily in your idea?
A. ox zion is a very unique patent-pending product. Yes, there are lots of software products out there. But most are designed to address one issue. For example most of the CRM (client relationship manager) software is mainly for sales teams to manage their sales activity. There is no workflow to trigger the next department about the sales cycle. The market is flooded with a lot of point solutions. ox zion is gives leadership teams unprecedented access to information on how their company is performing against set goals. Data yields insights that lead to more informed decisions, which in turn will help companies achieve a higher level of operational excellence.
Q. Who did you turn to for feedback while developing this product?
A. We sought feedback from all sorts of people. We turned to our staff, partners, mentors, other industry experts, current clients and potential clients at trade shows. We also talked to students from the high school level to students in business schools.
Q. Do you have a mentor?
A. Yes, I look-up to a lot of people. Some are my partner companies. Some mentors are now my clients. And some are my golf partners. My mentors are local and global.
Q. What makes a leader?
A. Leaders command confidence and trust, not by demanding, but by encouraging. Even in the face of defeat, a leader will tell you to get up and keep fighting. And more often than not, failure is part of the equation. That’s OK, because great leaders know when to admit their missteps and have an equal willingness to learn from them.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in aiming to improve efficiencies?
A. One of the biggest lessons is giving our client what we have promised that is reliable, of high quality and at the right price.
Q. Can you offer one tip for someone who is thinking about reinvention?
A. Spend some time with a list of obstacles and begin brainstorming about ways you can reinvent your business to meet your challenges. If your industry has become saturated with competing companies or products, consider ways you can develop a niche.
With the quick changes in technology these days, you may have found your product is no longer as relevant as it once was. Brainstorm ways you can use your knowledge and expertise that you gained with your previous offerings to create something customers want or need.
If one of your obstacles is finding new customers, think about ways you can appeal to a new customer demographic. For instance, if you own a sports bar, you may want to focus on ways to make your offerings appeal to families, or women, as a way to increase revenue. While a marketing campaign aimed at a specific audience can sometimes work, you may have to add a new product or service as part of the reinvention of your strategic direction.