Successful Startups: Mitchelle Carvalho and the making of CogMat

When, as a little 13-year-old, as a class topper and favourite of her teachers, she started giving tuitions to kids a year of so younger then she was to help her parents who were struggling to make ends meet working in blue-collar jobs, Mitchelle learnt gave herself the best education of her life: ‘Being financially independent at a very young age  and learning the virtues of earning money via an honest day’s work’.

At 17, she had a full-time job as a recruiter for an IT recruitment consultancy while completing graduation. It was then she realized her potential for  business development.  And then, at the ripe young age of 24, she gave her mother her life savings of Rs 80000 and asked her for some time before contributing to the home finances. Because, armed with her dreams, confidence, and a laptop and a phone and internet connection plus an office space for two provided by her partner who believed in her passion and abilities, she was about to set up her own Digital Marketing firm, Cogmat.

image-COGMAT-logo-The-Making-Of-Cogmat-By-Mitchelle-Carvalho-MediabriefToday, Mitchelle is the CEO and leads her team of 50+ at CogMat, which has progressed to providing 360-degree digital solutions, including Social Media Marketing, Online Reputation Management, Search Engine Optimization, Online Advertising, Affiliate Marketing among Websites and e-commerce design and development. They are successfully doing that for over 30 brands from industries such as Retail, BFSI, Technology, and Education in India and Hong Kong.

CogMat derives its name from two words, Cogito and Materius, which when put together simply means ’From thoughts to matter’. At CogMat, they are strong believers of ‘I think therefore I am’ and bring the same philosophy into their work lives, which in the essence defines what everything at CogMat is all about.

Mitchelle-Carvalho-on-The-Making-Of-COGMATI caught up with Mitchelle Carvalho, whose passion, smarts, sweat and toil, and her diehard belief in Albert Einstein’s statement, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depends on it, I would use the first 55 minutes determining proper questions to ask.” has kept both, Cogmat and her on the track to success, respect, recognition and growth.

It’s been a rewarding, inspiring interaction, and I hope it gives you the same thrilling mix of admiration and inspiration it gave me.

Read, reap. 

Mitchelle Carvalho, CEO – CogMat, in conversation with

CogMat’s been around for 8 years.  How old were you when you decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship? You had a steady job then, right? Who with, and why did you decide to give it up? Why was entrepreneurship so much more appealing to you?

I started CogMat in 2010 a few months before my 24th birthday. I had been in a full-time job since I was 17 (with full-time college) so by the time I hit 23, I had decent work experience and was deciding what I wanted to do next.

A good 6 months before I co-founded CogMat, I was consulting a few people on Business Development which has been my forte from the very beginning. I never really romanticized “Entrepreneurship” like it is so in that sense this was purely accidental. My focus was on an idea that I bounced off my then mentor and current business partner, and just stayed focused on developing the same.

What  was your pre-entrepreneurship career like — starting from education to work?

I belong to a middle-class working family. My work ethic and understanding of team-work came to me early from my parents who have always been  an exceptionally hardworking people. Running our household and my paternal grandparents’ home on two blue-collared incomes meant tight budgets and schedules.

image-bLURB-1-Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredHence in a bid to not burden my parents, I took my first job at the age of 13 giving tuition to children in my colony who were a couple of years younger than me. . My popularity in school of being one of the top rankers and an overall teacher’s pet made me get those jobs pretty easily. Being financially independent at such a young age  and learning the virtues of earning money via an honest day’s work, has to date been my best education.

By the time I was 17, I was in a full-time job as a recruiter for an IT recruitment consultancy while I was simultaneously completing my graduation from St. Andrews College in Bandra.

It was during this period that I realized  my potential for  business development. Though recruitment is a function of HR, at its core it’s a department that relies on continuous sales pitches for a job position, convincing a candidate to take-up an offer  and closing the deal with it.

I attribute my development of empathy, people skills and knowing when to close a deal to this very job. From here I moved on to Business Development roles in Software Services, ITES and Internet companies and in one of my functions began researching and learning about social media marketing which set the precedent to start CogMat.

What kind of work experience prepared you for CogMat and what you wanted it to offer? Share some details on your launch strategy.

During my stint in the Internet space, I had to research newer avenues for generating  business and while doing so, I realized that social media as an avenue was a somewhat unexplored terrain. There were hundreds of genuine queries on products/services and yet no one was around to spot an opportunity to initiate a dialogue.

This became the cause with which I explored the market further and once I was ready, CogMat’s journey began. The beauty of a social media marketing setup is that there is zero to minimum costs involved. My launch strategy was convincing to my business partnerChirag, who saw an opportunity  there. Armed with a laptop, internet connection and a phone line on a desk in his existing office, we were officially a go.

Day One at CogMat. What was it like?

While the idea was discussed, my business partner, already running a successful Software Services company for a decade, knew exactly how this was going to go. He was convinced with the idea but wanted to see if it would find genuine takers.

image-bLURB-2-Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredSo it was decided that I would work on developing business and give pitches for 30 days and if someone showed interest, this company was official. By the end of the 30th day, we had two year-long retainer contracts signed and sealed. Getting both clients on board simply had the same strategy that we have to-date – Follow the “Why” – convincing each of those brands Why they needed Social Media Marketing and how it was important to them was enough for us to set the ball rolling.

What was the growth like, thereafter?

In the first year, we grew from a two member team to 15 people and we also set-up a shop in Hong Kong. While we were signing new clients every month on social media marketing, a resounding ask from all of them was for a wider range of digital solutions that involved technology. So by early 2012, CogMat with the help of its parent company, CMSS became a Digital Marketing Agency that had a competitive edge with technology in an otherwise creative-heavy industry.

Some of CogMat’s clients over the years

What are the main offerings of CogMat? What do you look after, primarily.

CogMat in piecemeal offers Social Media Marketing, Online Reputation Management, Influencer Marketing, Campaign creation and Management, Digital Video production, Search Engine Optimization, Digital Advertising and Website/App Development.

We however have been striving towards a holistic Digital Branding Solutions for our clients for a while now.

I closely work with the Business Development team however anything that requires a Client or Team focus always has my attention.

image-bLURB-3-Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredWhat was it, 8 years ago, that helped you grow? Was it greater opportunities then, since it was relatively early years for digital and it was a definitely larger un- or under-tapped market?

It definitely was easier to acquire new clients and accounts 8 years ago as we had first-movers advantage. However, digital marketing itself has seen a sea change and considering its fluidity, if you are at the top of your game, provide the right solution and are pitching at the right time, the market is just as open today as it was back then.

Numbers grew through continuous business development, client referrals as well as our case studies finding notice among industry peers.

image-bLURB-4-Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredWhat are the most important things that are a must-have for any entrepreneur / any entrepreneur in the digital space?

The rules to entrepreneurship are the same, industry notwithstanding.

Being thick-skinned is the most important rule. People only choose to see the glamour attached with entrepreneurship but no one sees the frustration, tears and self-doubt we go through everyday. One must learn to develop a thick-skin to get through any and every kind of bad situation.

Invest in good people. Anything and everything can be worked out if you have the backing of a good, solid team that gives their all.

Never stop learning. Whether its digital media or otherwise, the only way you can stay on top of your game is by constantly learning and evolving. The edge you’d have over competitors merely because you know more goes a long way.


image-bLURB-5-Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredIf you were launching a digital marketing agency today, what would you do  differently?

The approach to business development and pitching has stayed the same with us, all these years and it works. Focusing on delivering pitches keeping client’s business objectives in mind is what worked then and continues to work today in our industry.

Digital marketers have been talking about the impending demise of cookies-based marketing, which is being accelerated by the newest Safari browsers, and also the updates and changes in Google Chrome. What is your view on cookies-based marketing?

Not every aspect of digital media marketing requires cookie-based marketing. Digital media marketing is so much more than just online ads. Organizations have moved to focus areas on disruptive content to break away from the current clutter of marketing.

How will the shift from cookies-based marketing to people-based marketing affect digital marketing agencies? What do they need to do to prepare themselves for this major shift?

Brands are already investing heavily in creating exclusive content for their digital media properties in a bid to appeal to their TG. This trend is going to catch up and hopefully replace irrelevant marketing techniques in the near future.

Your short overview of the digital marketing space. How is it poised to evolve in India?

The digital marketing space in the country is at an interesting curve. Brands are getting bolder and experimentative with their choice of content, tonality and communication. A deeper focus on meaningful messaging and engagement is what we should ideally evolve into as an industry.

image-bLURB-6-Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredOn the talent front, when someone wants to work for you, what qualities, skills, values, whatever, do you look for? What are the deal makers / deal breakers?

A major pet peeve while hiring is the self-entitlement that MBAs come with walking through our doors. If anyone begins with “I have done my MBA from so and so and I deserve a position in your company because of that” its an instant deal breaker with me.

A deal-maker for me is self-taught people. We have hired individuals who are self-taught designers in photoshop through youtube videos or coders who taught themselves to code. A constant drive to learn and teach oneself shows that an individual seeks newer avenues to grow and such people always turn out to be assets in a team.

Let’s talk about the things that have always stood you in good stead. What are your most important values.

My mother taught and practiced “Honesty is to do the right thing when no one is looking” and I strive to uphold this value everyday.

image-bLURB-7--Mitchelle-Carvalho-and-The-Making-Of-COGTAM-logo-mediabrief-featuredWho has been your most important influence in your formative and recent years and in the present? Why? What did you receive from her / him / them?

My mother. My sense of empathy, people skills, time management, money management and work ethic come from how I have seen her conduct her life.

Your thoughts, please