How This Bootstrapped Content Startup Turned Into A $30 Mn Company




How This Bootstrapped Content Startup Turned Into A $30 Mn Company

For a populace that has best now started drifting above the poverty line, and with urbanisation and digitisation speedy ushering in a brand new era of the rural-urban kids, these hopeful dreamers have taken the proverbial bull with the aid of the horns to prove their really worth – through commencing.

SRM Engineering College in Chennai, like the IITs and IIMs, too has bred a positive form of hopeful dreamer, the startup entrepreneur. It changed into at engineering college that eventual business companions Parveen Singhal, Vinay Singhal, and Shashank Vaishnav and their classmates met each other for the first actual time. All of them had two things in common – they were passionate and insatiably curious approximately tech and that they were all from the Tier II towns in India, tasting the pleasures of a town like Chennai for the first time.

“We truely began with making our Orkut/FB debts on the Internet. That became our first introduction to the internet,” starts offevolved Shashank. “And we started out following the major marketers like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Zuckerberg and others who were creating a huge splash globally, news about them even trickled down to us,” he provides.

Shashank, Vinay, and Parveen, were in their first year of engineering, and like regular geeks, decided to experiment with generation – with the aid of creating their first actual free website called www.Badlegabhaarat.Com.

“We are all ardent patriots, and it turned into election yr of a few sort, so we concept, why no longer supply out records on all our politicians for the citizens to do not forget earlier than they solid their vote?” The concept become completed pretty correctly.

And, much like that, with the creation of a public service website, the entrepreneurial trojan horse bit them all, the worm that caused the introduction of a bootstrapped startup worth $forty five Mn inside the media and entertainment area known as WittyFeed.

Co-founders-wittyfeed-l-r-parveen-singhal-vinay-singhal-shashank-vaishnav

7 Partners, 1 Company And The Emergence Of Content Marketing As A Viable Business Model

“Our first agency turned into referred to as Vatsana Technologies,” says Shashank. “It is an amalgam of all of the founder names and it manner ‘State’ in Thai, some thing that resonated with us. I fantastically keep in mind the day we formulated the organisation, May eight, 2010, in among the hiatus of take a look at leave earlier than our first yr engineering tests,” he recollects, with a chortle.

Vatsana Tech turned into released with a view to fund the innovation wishes of the institution of buddies. It became began as a easy IT organisation that would build websites for customers, no matter quarter and want.

“We’d spend our daytime in 2nd-yr training, 7 am to 4 pm, after which within the nighttime and late into the night, we’d work at the company. In the two years that we ran Vatsana Tech, we learnt how to construct apps, websites, learnt purchaser servicing, sales and marketing. Our at the process education became big,” says Shashank.

According to Shashank, weekends too had been committed to building the organisation, at the same time as frivolous and fun sports were left for later. A choice they do now not regret even now.

“It taught us the cost of constructing a commercial enterprise, the numerous components of jogging one – our know-how improved from just tech and tech-related subjects,” he shares.

And then, as it frequently takes place, the IT moment occurred – one of the co-founders started an advert hoc Facebook Page referred to as ‘Amazing Things In The World,’ which turned into literally a web page that published snap shots of wonderful matters inside the global, and it went viral. As in step with Shashank, the web page had 6 Mn site visitors inside 6 months.

“It became right then that we understood how effective content material may be, understood the significance of content material itself,” says Shashank. “Facebook could be very restrictive on the subject of the sort of content it allows you to publish on the platform. And we couldn’t do quite a number posts a day, compared to the hundreds of thousands of emails we would get from involved users who desired to send us greater great matters around the world.”

And this changed into the beginning of content advent for the group, a philosophy they observe even now.

TheStupidStation.Com, FollowMe24x7: A Beginning And An Ending

Shashank shares that the team decided to place their collective understanding to precise use and built www.Thestupidstation.Com in 2013. The motive of the internet site become an extension of the Facebook Page, to post attractive content material for the users, by using the users. This easy method become so successful once more, that in line with Shashank, the website had gained an Alexa ranking of 5K, global.

The crew also started to problem clear up a unique pain point for college kids in faculties. “Colleges don’t have the quality Internet, and students on a budget couldn't manage to pay for to apply the information packs anyway. And on the equal time, teachers had to preserve in contact with college students – tell them of sophistication timing changes, examination questions and assignment submissions and so on. But we looked round and located there has been no single app or website addressing this difficulty,” says Shashank.

Thus, FollowMe24x7 turned into born. A easy, no-frills app that required no Internet to facilitate teacher-scholar interplay. Teachers, even HODs on the SRM campus were given in on the app and it became soon seeing a traffic of one Mn messages every day, according to Shashank. “We even extended to IIT Indore and some different faculties as humans commenced seeing the precise fee proposition supplied by way of the app,” he says.

But, because the Vatsana crew increased its app reach, it realised that FollowMe24x7 changed into a extraordinary app, it wasn’t scalable. And scale became required if the business needed to generate sales.

“On the opposite hand, StupidStation became heavily focussed on content material, publishing. This caused eventual monetisation, thru associate advertising and marketing approaches. And for some months, we ran each web sites side by using side, until we couldn’t focus our energies on FollowMe and do justice to the viable commercial enterprise version of StupidStation so we close it down.”

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Thus, StupidStation, the first actual version of the platform called WittyFeed today, began its solo adventure within the international of recent age media publishing.

Returning To Roots: Indore Becomes Home Base

shashank-vaishnav2014 was a year of reckoning for the Vatsana crew, the way Shashank tells it.

“We ran StupidStation for a very good lengthy yr but then had to close down in 2014, whilst we ran into branding issues. ‘StupidStation’ did now not precisely encourage self assurance in customers and customers and I wager we had been silly to assume it would work,” he reminisces with a smile. “That become when we decided to rename the site EvryStory.”

When precipitated, Shashank stocks that the pronunciation changed into the same as the words ‘every story’ but it become written very in another way.

“Our traction figures remained the identical, but human beings were given pressured by using the call. Evrystory.Com did not have the same ring as everystory.Com, the domain call that already existed. But we soldiered on, pouring out content material even as nonetheless seeking to apprehend the form of emblem, and branding we wanted to face for,” he stocks.

The group graduated from engineering university and took a momentous choice – that of going back to its small town roots. “June 25, 2014,” states Shashank with perfect don't forget. “That become the day we decided to transport our base to Indore. My homeland. A Tier II city with out a startup community to talk of.” It was this simple idea, that the city changed into desperately in want of an entrepreneurial community that could assist different aspiring founders and turn Indore into a startup hub, that triggered the move.

“Of route, it did assist that being a exceptionally smaller city, our preliminary charges had been low – in terms of overheads, charges and so forth.,” says Shashank.

WittyFeed: The Phoenix That Rose From A Google Accounting Disaster

Life, as they are saying, couldn't be better for the younger, startup-hungry group. But then, no longer even a month later, on July 12, 2014, catastrophe struck. “We had about $70K in revenues in our corporation account. But Google put a ban on all our bills and we couldn’t get entry to something anymore – no records, no e mail, not anything. We were quite actually broke.”

The candid confession was followed via the standard course of action – the employer had no money to pay the salaries of the personnel, which was its primary responsibility.

“We nonetheless don't forget, we known as inside the group, 25 of them who had followed us to MP and advised them, ‘We are broke and have no cash as of now to pay your salaries. The preference of staying or leaving is up to you.’ And would you believe it? Not a unmarried considered one of them left. Everyone stayed,” stocks Shashank, with a fond smile.

As Shashank tells it, the subsequent three months have been the most vital for the business enterprise because it attempted to do  matters – generate revenue and fasten its vision and challenge which would lead to the introduction of a logo-new product. “We began a print mag of ‘Amazing Things In The World’ which, of direction, did now not pan out. And we determined, as a crew, that we would now not be operating with Google anymore in phrases of sales and advertising. In our subsequent panchayat (institution assembly) we started out brainstorming for a better call than all the present ones we’d come up with thus far – not silly, not each story, nothing like that. And that’s how WittyFeed turned into created,” he provides.

When caused, he says with touching candour that the name become a group attempt, the credit score can't take delivery of to anybody person. “It was a collective group choice and we have caught by way of it so far.”

Energised through the naming in their brand, the business enterprise’s founders took the subsequent step inside the business version – they attempted to elevate investment. But, right here again, they have been met with disappointment at each turn. No one become willing to guess on them sufficient to put money into them.

“So, what we did become take out a mortgage in our private capacities from the nearby creditors,” stocks Shashank, refusing to name the exact quantity that they had applied for and received. “Our mother and father and spouse and children all contributed to the loan too. And we gave ourselves six months – six months for cash burn, create runway and create a profit.”

The cut-off date to return the mortgage and emerge profitable become March 2015.

“By god’s grace, we returned the loan with our heads held excessive and had been profitable on the grounds that then,” says Shashank, with more than a hint of pleasure.

“We Made Relationships With People Our Priority, Not Money”

WittyFeed presently boasts a team of a hundred and ten all primarily based out of Indore, Madhya Pradesh – dwelling and running there. The team’s first office area turned into a smallish 3,000 squaretoes which has now elevated to 12,500 squaretoes to residence the group contributors running across divisions.

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“The authentic 25 members who stuck with us through those lean months, they're nevertheless right here. In truth, we've this coverage of getting the crew live with each of the founders. I even have this large condominium, considering that I don’t live with my mother and father anymore and it makes it simpler to house the team individuals there – we all stay together, eat collectively, paintings, and play collectively,” he shares.

Work lifestyle speaks volumes approximately the manner an company does commercial enterprise – as a enterprise is best as excellent because the personnel it continues. In this regard, WittyFeed seems to have emerged an undisputed winner.

“In the closing six years, we did numerous tough work. But we never did it to make money, not definitely. We wanted to make relationships with humans. Team loyalty way some thing here,” Shashank says.

But this doesn't suggest that the agency is running on fumes on my own. As consistent with Shashank, WittyFeed’s current enterprise version contains particularly advertisements. “ninety% of our marketing is programmatic – displays and banners and many others.,” he says. “The different 10% is sponsored content, wherein brands come on our platform and pay us to put their content on our platform. This is so because we will see that sponsored content material is ultimately selecting up in India and so we have truly employed sales personnel to head after this shoppers,” he provides.

WittyFeed’s content material creation model continues to be based at the ‘Amazing Things In The World’ philosophy. Users come and put up and exciting, cool matters in the form of posts, movies, listicles and extra – entertaining and snackable content. According to Shashank, it has now evolved, of path, to include a diffusion of topics that come below the purview of popular culture however the primary premise remains the equal – click on at the hyperlink to ask visitors and monetise the ones numbers.

“We have been all engineers whilst we began, right? So we understood from the beginning how the tech part of it labored. Back for the duration of the FB page days, we leveraged the power of affiliate marketing, which works on a pay-in keeping with-click module on social media. And because our content material one way or the other clicked with the audience, we have been able to keep excessive site visitors, which in flip caused more business and so on so forth,” stocks Shashank.

“When Tech And Content Merge Together, It Is Truly Powerful”

This is whilst the backend of the content material employer begins to emerge. For example, in line with Shashank, returned in September 2014, at some stage in its lean duration, the agency had 15,000 associates advertising on or through its platform. The analytics platform of WittyFeed focussed on  matters – how high-quality to engage with the patron and at what time to achieve this (decide on optimal time of posting). “Our funda is very simple. Content by myself is brilliant. Tech by myself is great. But it's far best when tech and content material merge together that it becomes clearly effective.”

Shashank shares with no small quantity of pleasure that it is due to this combination of analytics and well timed content that the site is proper now at 100 Mn particular site visitors. And it is also indexed under the Top forty websites in India on Alexa ratings, at the same time as it stands underneath the Top three hundred websites globally. A feat that has now not been finished by way of many content material author websites in India.

“We also have started a pair of new in-residence media properties – Inner Voice And Food Mate,” says Shashank. Inner Voice by WittyFeed is a Facebook Page made up absolutely of charges by way of people, celebrities, films, books etc. And inside the seven months that it commenced, it has already racked up 1.8 Mn likes. FoodMate is less complicated, it's miles just short videos of food recipes and has racked up greater than 1 Mn likes for the reason that few months from whilst it turned into released.

“We recognize tech and we recognize content, so we realize the way to reach our audience effectively,” says Shashank to guard these increase numbers.

He is also no longer shy of exposing the sales figures for the agency, which has reportedly been worthwhile considering 2015. “Our annual revenue remaining yr became INR 26 Cr. And this yr it has almost doubled to INR forty five Cr.” It is that this sort of sales that results in a $30 Mn valuation however this does not mean that WittyFeed is trying to relaxation on its laurels.

A Fluid Business Model That Hopes To Compete Internationally

“We are already looking ahead to the subsequent phase of growth in our increase. New age media is coming of age in India and we want to take our area by way of turning into a one-stop writer for writers and legacy publishers,” he says. When induced he expands in this with, “We need to open up our existing content platform www.Wittyfeed.Com and flip it into a formal publishing platform (consumer-generated content and paid content), wherein publishers and writers can come and publish their content on our domain and leverage our traffic and advertising techniques.”

According to Shashank, 25 present publishers have already come on board to this new manner of publishing and are partners with WittyFeed, although he refuses to reveal any names as of now. The cause for this flow is explained with, “We wanted to create a platform writers in India. When we checked out the existing content and analysed it, maximum of the content material isn't original, and it does no longer pressure site visitors which ensures sales. Publishers need visitors and this is some thing we will assist with.”

The organization is likewise seeking to diversify into video content with multiple web series to be launched in 2017 – created in-residence in a studio built on the WittyFeed premises. It has also increased into regional languages including Tamil, Punjabi, Bengali, and Marathi so that it will cater to the colloquial target audience.

With a company grip on revenues and a fluid business model that money owed for converting marketplace trends, it's miles hard to imagine the sort of competition WittyFeed faces. But Shashank is brief to point out that during India structures together with ScoopWhoop, FilterCopy might be considered contenders in terms of content if no longer numbers. Globally, it's far sites like Diply.Com, PopSugar etc., whose precise customers variety within the hundred millions.

“We are hitting our numbers within the united states, but to even compete globally we want at least 300 Mn particular users,” he says. WittyFeed plans to attain these numbers by increasing to america and UK and construct out visitors. Shashank admits candidly that it's far planning to attain out to influencers in popular culture – Hollywood celebrities and NBA gamers inside the US and content material publishers, media personalities within the UK to promote the web site and bring in engaged users.

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“We had been wary of desiring money on the grounds that nobody believed in us whilst we wished them to, and given that we became profitable, it regarded useless to need to elevate investment back then. Now, although, it’s exclusive,” he concludes with a small smile.

For a very bootstrapped employer that become started out in a university dorm room, the adventure appears to be simply starting.

Editor’s Note

With clients turning into king inside the media space and with the sensitive line among marketing and unbiased media blurring by way of the day, it's miles however apparent that new age media is a whole new animal. It calls for new guidelines and a brand new type of know-how of the connection that the average millennial consumer-target audience has with publishers, each legacy and new age. While platforms such as FilterCopy, ScoopWhoop and others have received in recognition their numbers still have a while to capture up with those of WittyFeed.

WittyFeed, however, has very currently jumped on board the video waggon wheel with its internet series and recipe verticals, a market that has properly been captured via other, extra established systems both in India and globally, as well. But with a valid enterprise model, young co-founders (none of them are over 30), and hundreds of thousands in sales, it does seem to be at the right track to going the space.

How a ways it'll achieve breaking out on the top inside the international arena, how a whole lot will its video efforts repay whilst marketing itself becomes a whole new ballgame is a question for the a while. One whose answer we look ahead to in the coming months.



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