Scaling In The Graveyard of Event-Based Startups
Scaling an Event-Based Startup and Surviving to Tell the Tale
Events Industry’s Rocky Ride
Scaling an Event-Based Startup and surviving to tell the tale sound like a contradiction in terms. This is because scale comes after survival. However, this is what has happened with HighApe.
As is customary for Indian Media and Newspapers, in the year 2017, The Economic Times declared that the Event-Based industry was going to cross Rs.10,000 Crores in 2020-21. It also declared that it was going to surpass the Media and Entertainment Industry which was larger at that time.
So, how did 2020-21 pan out for Events? The opposite has happened. Covid has inverted that growth curve. Media and Entertainment have taken off while events have crashed. However, HighApe seems to be surviving this latest assault. But that is not an accident. It seems like the Company has quite the knack for it.
Aman’s background and growth at HighApe
Some professions and roles evoke a feeling of exoticness in us. One such profession is that of a Marine Biologist. Fascinated by it, Aman became a Marine Engineer and even worked for the Merchant Navy but stagnated. He broke out and tried his hand at selling T-Shirts which kind of worked out but didn’t scale.
He tried his hand at propelling civil activism thru a platform called Write for India. Eventually, realizing that creating wealth is the best way to make impact in India, Aman Co-Founded HighApe. Their early launch is similar to other stories we hear about event based startups. Yet, Aman is here, scaling an event Based Startup and Surviving to tell the Tale.
How did they survive the graveyard of event based startups and another startup graveyard called Covid? How did he make the transitions?
Create scale but how?
According to a now famous quote attributed at times to Abraham Lincoln, Peter Drucker, “The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Invent it” or create it.
In a movie called New Delhi (shot and released in Malayalam and Kannada), released in the year 1986, the protagonist secretly creates his own news events eventually publishing them as scoops. Since he is the one who creates the event, he has the first scoop on each event. This becomes sensational making his publication highly popular. A movie highly worth watching!
Create Events to Scale
What HighApe did was almost identical. The events industry has a concept called promoter where one creates and promotes an event. Without paying heed to the lack of events, HighApe resorted to a hack becoming a promoter. HighApe eventually hit 3 Million users.
However, the story is not linear like we make it out. The events-based industry is a startup graveyard riddled with dead startups with Covid dealing the final blow.
How did HighApe do it? Listen to the whole episode to find out!
Here are some excerpts from the episode:
I’ve been fascinated with technology since my childhood. That fascination really started when I was back in high school during my class seven or eight. And I got introduced to my first language, which was Qbasic back then.
And under the guidance of my teachers, I started building a few games on Qbasic. So earlier, I was addicted to computer games. And my mother was always after me, asking me to stop playing those games.D S Aman 0:52
So we did that theme event, we did Harry Potter themed event and it’s kind of took off, it was everywhere on social media, even Hindustan Times covered that there are two youngsters out there in Bangalore and they are changing the complete party landscape. So they wrote a long article about the things we were doing.D S Aman 24:01
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events, people, called, startup, india, happening, bangalore, experiences, platform, point, building, krishna, create, promoters, scale, tickets, person, interesting, book, read
D S Aman, Krishna Jonnakadla, Tania Jadhav
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:01
This is Maharajas of Scale, a podcast where we go behind the scenes and talk to founders who are demolishing the myths around building and scaling a big business in India. These are the stories that have shattered the assumptions around Indian consumers and are changing the game completely. I am Krishna Jonnakadla, serial entrepreneur, co founder of FLIT the fashion locator in town and startup mentor, bringing you the stories. Everyone this is Krishna, your host from Maharajas of Scale. Today we have a young and dynamic entrepreneur Aman who's built HighApe, an experienced discovery platform, Aman, I, I have to say I'm a fan of experiences. And what you built with HighApe other building with HighApe pretty astounding for a Indian startup. So tell us a little bit about yourself and how we got started with this.
D S Aman 00:52
Yeah, sure, Krishna. So we have been building. So I'll just go ahead and tell you a little about myself before I start describing what we are doing with HighApe. So basically, I am a technology person. So currently, I'm the co founder and CTO of HighApe. And I've been fascinated with technology. I mean, since my childhood I I believe I mean, that fascination really started when I was back in high school during my class seven or eight. And I got introduced to my first language, which was Qbasic back then. And under the guidance of my teachers, I started building a few games on Qbasic. So earlier, I was addicted to computer games. And my mother was always after me, asking me to stop playing those games. So I said, Okay, I'm going to stop thinking instead, I'm going to start building one now. So I built a few simple games on qbasic, tictactoe, noodle things like those. And that's how it all got started. I mean, I just got hooked on to technology ever since. So when I went to my college, so I was also a very curious person, I wanted to try out different things. And that's why I joined Marine Engineering and Research Institute of India, I made it a point to join Merchant Navy, I wasn't aware of the startup scene back then. So I wanted to do something different. And I thought Merchant Navy would quite be a lot different than what my friends are going to do. So I ventured out into that. And it was during my college that I said I again, I mean, being the curious person that I was, I wanted to earn money on my own, I wanted to stop taking money from my parents. So I started doing all of financing activities since my first year. I mean, I was doing SEO, social media marketing, building simple websites, literally anything that I could get my hands on. So I learned a lot during that period. And then towards during the end of my second year, I opened my first startup, which was called Bombx. So Bombx was a customized t shirt delivery company we used to deliver customized t shirts to different college festivals out there. And we work with many different colleges such as a SIT Tumkur, HBTI Kanpur, University of Hyderabad, manipal Institute of Technology, my own college for that matter. So we worked with a lot of depth, we delivered close to about 3000 4000 t shirts in just a span of four months, while we were active in the company. But it was a very operation intensive business, it was really getting difficult for us to continue doing that along with our college study. So we had to call that off even though it was going really great. And then gently towards my third year, I opened my another startup, which was called as write for India. So write for India was, I mean, citizen driven opinion based media website, as we called it. So what that means is that we had a team of about 150 volunteer writers all across the country. And they used to voice their opinion about anything wrong that was going on around their locality or in their society, they could just come and write for India, and voice their opinion. And the thing was that all these writers were writing voluntarily without expecting any sort of payment. So we had very complete volunteer system around the website. And we had about 500,000 readers who used to come and read our articles and used to, we had NGO partners as well. And our readers sign up with us to volunteer for those NGO partners in different social activities. So there was a NGO based out of Chennai, and they wanted some volunteers to come and teach the farmers out there, they reached out to us and we connected them with the college students from Chennai, who went there and has been teaching those farmers. So that was the kind of impact that you were creating at write for India. So and then towards the end of my college I got in touch with Prasun was my co founder at HighApe we were childhood friends and this was just back from Poland, and he started discussing this idea of HighApe so I wouldn't call it that that time. And Prasun was just back from his Europe tour. He was here in Bangalore, and we started discussing about the scene, the Europe scene. That person had seen that that it was really easy to discover experiences out there. And there was so many Interesting things happening, that you could just be assured that you would have awesome time every weekend. And so as we're discussing, so it wasn't like it wasn't happening in Kolkata or Bangalore, I mean, there were a lot of fun things happening out there. But more often than not, we used to end up going to the same place where we went every time. So there's a place called Parkstree in Kolkata. And I used to find myself going there. Every week, we used to think we're going to do something crazy tonight. But as it happened, we just couldn't find anything happening. And so we used to end up going to the same bar or restaurant at the Park Street. There used to go every weekend. So we decided that if only things are happening in India, then why don't we create a platform, which would answer the question of people where to go out to night? I mean, what's the interesting thing that we could do? And so that's where the idea of HighApe was born. And we have been building it ever since. So on the write for India front, After I finished my college, I we actually sold it off to NGO, based out of Maharashtra, who was a partner since we started.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:08
Interesting, interesting. So that's pretty interesting. You covered a wide arc of things practically for the last 10-15 year journey in in what you just mentioned?
D S Aman 06:17
Right. Yeah, yeah. So it's since since my school days, what I mentioned how I became an entrepreneur and why I'm doing what I'm doing today.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:26
But let's go back to those school days, for instance, Marine engineering, Oh, my God. This is the first time I think marine biologist or marine engineer has been on our platform. And that is actually fascinated me. I think a friend of mine ended up being a marine biologist. She lives I think north of Bhopal today. Okay, She practically lives some sort of, I wouldn't call it a hermit kind of life. But if you know the Amish in the US in the US, there is a community called Amish and the Amish, they do not have electricity. They do not take anything from the Government, forces them to participate in that local civilization, their own set of things, they have their own lighting systems. So she's sort of leaving life very similar to that. And she tells us that it is the source of inspiration for that is the marine biology, you know, career that she had, but interesting. So how come Marine Engineering?
D S Aman 07:35
So yeah, that's what I said. I mean, I wanted to do something completely different. I mean, when I was in my class, well, I wanted to do something out of the box, I mean, to explore the unexplored. And obviously, the startup werent still the key thing at that time that they are today, not every youngsters was aware of that startup scene. So the I mean, I would say the most different thing that I could find at that point of time was Merchant Navy, it was fascinating for me to stay six months out there in the sea away from everyone. And where you could just see water, water everywhere andnot a drop to drink. So it sounded really fascinating to me.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:14
Very interesting how long were you the merchant navy.
D S Aman 08:17
I really never joined a shift. So as I said, as soon as I entered my first year, I did my first startup in second year, at that point of time, I realized that this is what I want to do. I mean, Merchant Navy is going to be a possibility.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:35
Interesting, interesting. The second startup about t shirts. Looks like you achieved a fair degree of scale with that one.
D S Aman 08:46
Yeah, there was some scale with that. So it was a very operation intensive business. In fact, we had to be actually partnered up with a lot of printing people in Howrah so and in Ludhiana. So when we got a bulk order of about 1000 t shirts at once. We actually got in partnership with the suppliers in Ludhiana as well. People working with us to get orders and we used to go to our suppliers, and we would then give them the orders get the T shirt printed in the specifications that we want. We were very particular about the quality of T shirts, so we weren't giving out like 100 or 120 GSM t shirts, like most of the t shirt companies give out. So they were also very particular about quality. So if we would have continued I'm sure that could have steered into an even higher number. And but obviously, it wasn't really possible for us to continue doing that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 09:38
Okay. And Write for India, what was the inspiration behind that?
D S Aman 09:43
So Write for India, I mean, as the name says, I mean, we expected the citizens to write for their country, I mean, to stand up and voice their opinion. So, as I mentioned, I mean, I was a lot into financing activities, right. And some of the activities that I was doing was writing content. So I was a writer myself at that time, and my college days, I have liked to participate a lot in writing and debating those sort of stuffs. I really liked writing on my own, I mean, publishing my own blog as well. I mean, I had a blogspot.com address. So I used to publish a few articles from my site. So I wanted to create a platform where people could come and voice their opinion and also get readership for their article. See, the biggest thing with writing a blogspot article or medium articles is that you have to get out there and make your voice heard yourself, right. I mean, you have to make sure that people are reading your article, people are hearing your opinion about a particular issue. And the other thing is that you need to go to Times of India to publish your articles or or Hindustan Times for that matter. But that's a lengthy process. I mean, ultimate journalist is very interested in your story he or she's not going to cover. So I wanted to create a platform where people who are into writing would want to voice their opinion, who want to tell something to the society, they would just come there and do that. So that was the inspiration behind write for India.
Krishna Jonnakadla 11:09
Very interesting. And eventually, was there ever a grandiose designed to bring about social change? Because we, I mean, we see this right, today social media is abuzz with I call them armchair activists. It's easy for us to Yes, at some point in time, a lot of elections, a lot of events recently, for example, the Delhi riots are, for instance, there are two sides, you know, people who are not present at the scene, people who are not aware of the local scenarios, and given the fact that journalists themselves are starting to take sides, and interpret and then angry, and it may be an American trend, I because I've spent time there I've spent time here, politics in america has become so polarized. And that sort of has had a spillover effect on to Indian media as well, because a lot of Indian so called think tanks are all funded by these Western components. Right. So it's easy to think that they're not making an impact. I think they are. And But was there a grandiose designed to actually affect social outcomes at some point in time with write for India?
D S Aman 12:23
Yes. So obviously, I mean, see, Krishna, I mean, what I wanted to do, it's easy to just sit back at your home and write articles and voice your opinion, is what I thought I mean, it's obviously create the objective of creating a platform was to give people that power. But at the same time, I wanted some kind of on ground impact as well, or vice versa, a good fit. And that is, I mentioned that we even partnered up with our NGOs. So our readers, I mean, the kind of readers we had on the platform, those 400,000 500,000 readers, they were also kind of social activists themselves. And we used to get so many messages from people on Facebook, or email to about how they can create an impact in the society, even if they are not writing on the platform, let's say everybody does have a gift to write, right? Everybody can't be a speaker out there. But still everyone can make a change in the society. So that's the question that people were asking us as well. And that's when we started working with NGOs, as I mentioned about the changing example. Now, they're also NGO based out of Mumbai. So they sent to us to work with orphanages, and they wanted someone who could come and teach children. So again, we got in touch with her. So we had a few writers out of university of Mumbai. So we got in touch with them, they and some of our writers who actually volunteered by particular form on the website, and when we connected the orphanage with about 20-25, prospects, who were interested in teaching those children, they screened out of those 20-25 prospects are selected to be candidates out of it. And they I mean, they just started teaching those children. So that was the kind of on ground impact as well, that were created with write for India. Yeah. And then the idea was to scale this thing up and make that change happen and not just in Metro cities, but out of every villages everywhere possible, there are readers that give everybody a chance to create a change in life. Right.
Krishna Jonnakadla 14:15
Interesting, you know, the funny thing is, right now, I recently read a research report on NGOs, I if my memory serves me right, we now have one NGO for every 40 Indians.
D S Aman 14:30
So again, I mean, so, you have a lot of other research papers that I mean, most of the data...
Krishna Jonnakadla 14:36
I think these are registered NGOs not even unregistered if we take unregistered NGOs into into consideration, I think the number is perhaps going to be even higher.
D S Aman 14:48
But Krishna, there are really I mean, obviously that could be one NGO for every 48 people or so, but the number of NGOs are rarely working for people out there. That number is serious. I mean, Most of these edges, I personally, I mean, we used to screen NGOs working with them. And most of the NGOs were more interested in being light for five years and then get the government grants and things like those. I mean, literally having very few NGOs that we talked out that were interested in creating the kind of change that we wanted to write in the country. Yeah.
Krishna Jonnakadla 15:21
Yeah, I after I read that, and looking at the kind of that is why I was so interested in getting the better India because they are bringing a different approach, which you mentioned in the pre-session prep, there is enough negative out there. And then I know as soon as we step out of our homes, there is there seems to be enough that is wrong with our country, but it is there is a decent amount that is right as well, but as till the day we are not hacking away at these prejudices, because in some sense, in my opinion, India today's for by choice, or not by compulsion, right. So it is an NGO example, as a microcosm of what it represents the fact that there is a NGO for every 40 Indians represents that, you know, India has the West, itself doesn't enjoy these number of NGOs, right? You get the level of civil awareness, and awareness of the instruments with which change can happen, whether that is being impacted negatively or positively, it's a different matter. So when this degree, this degree of awareness exists, it only means one thing that if we haven't progressed, that means we've chosen not to progress our main set of restrictions, right. So anyway, that I could go on and on I'm, you know, we have everywhere we see, you know, we always keep saying, okay, India has so much potential that person has so much potential potential seems to be this much, and then we seem to be here.
D S Aman 17:07
The potential energy is converted to kinetic energy.
Krishna Jonnakadla 17:15
I know, you just stole the word from my mouth, it keeps using the exact same phrase, you know, from my sixth standard physics class. So awesome. So then, what prompted you to was it? Was it a change of heart that you kind of sold rice? Or what is it that sort of made you exit that?
D S Aman 17:35
So basically, I mean, this partner NGO that we had since the very start, so I, I wanted to do something new. I mean, we wanted to put the rice for India, hack at scale, we were working, I mean, all the metro cities, we had a good set of volunteers. And I believe that somebody who is so as I said, I mean, the idea with rice per idea was to create more on ground changes. So we wanted someone to come on board, who is I mean, active more on the ground, is actually creating some change out there in the villages. And as I mentioned, we want to take this to different villages, we were already out there in the metro cities, and we had a good volunteer base in all the places. So this NGO that we're working with, it was a shift of a charitable trust. And it's a quite popular NGO in Maharashtra, and they work in all the villages of Maharashtra. So the idea was that, if this NGO comes on board, they take it up, they take this project up, that we have envisioned, they could just give it up into the villages, the kind of expertise that we didn't have at that point of time being just college students. So that's why we decided upon this segment that NGO and seeing what they could do with it, we decided to give it to them. And they have been doing some very interesting stuff. So rice for India is now out there in all the Maharashtra villages and telling their stories of farmers there. So they have done a lot of suicides, farmers in those villages. So those people are actually using rice for India, to change the lives of those farmers in the villages of Maharashtra. And so that's something that we were unable to do at that point of time. But we really wanted to do. So that's when we decided to delegate this.
Krishna Jonnakadla 19:11
interesting. And was there a gap between rice for India and HighApe? Or was it back to back did you end up starting HighApe almost immediately.
D S Aman 19:20
So it was almost immediately so I mean, in fact, for some time, we continued with rice for India also while there was a transitioning process that should provide charitable trust. So there was a kind of overlap about six months at that time, but it was almost same time.
Krishna Jonnakadla 19:35
And childhood friends, what was were you all both from the same town, same locality, classmates, schoolmates.
D S Aman 19:43
So yeah, so we did our 11th and 12th together, so we were school friends. So we were preparing for IIT, JEE and that kind of forms a bond between all the students that bond continued.
Krishna Jonnakadla 19:56
Very interesting. So how was the start for for HighApe? You are not the first who experienced discovery startup there have been several. So what was that thought process? Like? If I'm always fascinated in? I'll tell you, I'll give you some background to my question. In 2014, I launched a startup called Madzz, which is basically an acronym for malls and deals around it. Okay. And what I discovered was in 2013-14, and the first half of 2015, was where the online frenzy sort of hit a crescendo, right? I still remember talking to meeting one of the heads of Shoppers Stop Bangalore. And that person, in fact, told me sir, I'm very scared. I said, Why are you scared? I'm wondering if offline will ever exist. I said, there is a movie called Demolition Man. It was, I think released somewhere in 1994, mid 90s. And I give this example to a lot of people, Sylvester Stallone is from the past. And Sandra Bullock is from the future in that movie, Sylvester Stallone has been frozen. And he goes out into the future. And obviously, he wakes up with this old memory, right. And they both get attracted to each other, there is a scene where, you know, they both get turned on. And they said, you know, we should make love now. And so Sylvester Stallone is seated like 15 feet away from her. And Sandra Bullock is seated. So they're both they both stay seated. So Sandra Bullock tells him, okay, let's, let's do this. Let's make love. So Stallone is expecting that they will actually get undressed, and then do that stuff. But when she tells him sit there, and then she's she sits in on her place, and both of them on a headset. Okay. And then, you know, she does the moaning and all of that stuff. And 15 minutes later, she says it's over. Stallone is wondering what the hell is happening,
D S Aman 22:08
I am going to add that movie to my watch list.
Krishna Jonnakadla 22:12
So, so I told this person, you know, no matter how popular online is here to stay, it's a credible business model. But no matter how popular it gets, online, cannot replace offline, there are some aspects of offline online, we'll replace. And there are some aspects of online that offline can replace, but they're good, mutually complimentary. They're not mutually exclusive. I told him, and then at that point in time, our focus was everybody's talking about online, but there is a rich world that is offline. Let's Let's help people discover deals in deals and offers in those cases, right. And that was our hypothesis, every other deals platform back then, was doing one hack, they would take deals and offers and cashback associated with credit cards, and package it in their own way and then start providing offers, right? That was so nobody was doing really driving footfalls nobody was doing any service to the offline merchants, in fact that there are hundreds of millions of them. So our focus was offline only. And we will also bring offline online. A lot of others started copying some aspects of our model. And then we made some mistakes. we scaled to nine cities very, very quickly, we had upwards of 50,000 merchants. But then we made some mistakes of moving into commerce, you know, as a bootstrap startup, and commerce is a capital, no move in India. So that was our hypothesis. That is how we were different. They were the startup. But if somebody asked us who you are, we were that was our hypothesis. What is what was your hypothesis? What was the background for HighApe?
D S Aman 24:01
Yeah, so Krishna, I mean, if you have been following the events startup scene in India, so I mean, there are a lot of startups that have come up over the past few years, I mean, a lot of fire to say that great. The events place is in fact, a graveyard for startups by that sense, because events are still in a very nascent stage in India, compared to the Western economies. So what we did different was what has survived for the past five years, like any other any other events, I made, the kind of events that will turn up that for any other startup for that matter, hasnt been able to do for more than a couple of years. And the reason behind that is the kind of revenue streams and the kind of growth hacks that we have implemented the kind of tools that we have built for our supply partner so I mean, I just tell you about what how we started HighApe. And what what are the things that we did different so it's really what helped us scale high, so When we started out, I mean, we were a market like HighApe is a experience marketplace for people where we have a supply side who come and list their events in the platform. And then we have consumers will come and book for those events and go there and have a nice time. So when we started off, we were just starting off with parties. I mean, we were just out of college at a club parties, really very interesting to us and all the people who are going there. So it was it was really interesting for us to be a part of that kind of atmosphere. So but the problem was the chicken and egg problem that every market is faced with I mean, how are we going to get consumers, how do we get the supply side of this. We are not other creators live and creators are not going to come onto the platform. If we don't have consumers, the consumers aren't going to come, we don't have to show anything to show to them, right. So to solve this problem, we became a supply side ourselves. So we became the event organizers at initial days, we partnered up with clubs like indigo, indigo XP in Koramangala in Bangalore was our first side, then there were a few other clubs like big picture, and the Opus club. So there were a few places that we tied up with, we started organizing events every Friday or Saturday at these places. So we solved the supply chain side on the website, we have something to show to the consumers. And that's when we started selling on WhatsApp broadcast to our list, runs of social media ads, and then get consumers for our events when that started to happen. So we had a lot of people coming on to the HighApe website, different creators, different clubs started to see that events on the platform in the hope that they are going to get customers for their event. So that's how the market really picked up. And as I mentioned, Prasun had been to the Europe and interested in adding to the European market. And he was telling that there were a lot of interesting things happening there. Things that maybe don't happen in the country. So what we did was we started doing a lot of themed parties in Bangalore. And that was supposed to be I mean, before we started doing that nobody had actually done theme parties. And so we were further greater part of 2016, we were event organizers that you were asked in a way educating the market is kind of events, the potential that of the kind of events they could organize, so that we were converting potential energy into kinetic energy from our previous conversation. So we did that theme event, we did Harry Potter themed event and it's kind of took off, it was everywhere on social media, even Hindustan Times covered that there are two youngsters out there in Bangalore and they are changing the complete party landscape. So they wrote a long article about the things we were doing. And when different clubs saw that the kind of customers we could bring into events, they start to listing their events with us. And that's how the market pace really picked up. So after that, I mean, once we had the market pace going on me that there was another thing that was happening to the industry at that time, there were different promoters. So that's how it is, I mean, that's how I believe a product has prepared right in a iterative approach. So we believe that we are completely uneducated, so don't do anything about it. And we're just rolling with the punches, we didn't have any massive idea that this is what we are going to be had the idea that we are going to break build the experience discovery market page, the kind that people have never seen before. Now what happened with the startups that die down, they just build a product page, just with the discovery market page, launch it up expecting consumers to come onto the platform, we can do that we were building the product is an iterative way, according to the demand, or supply side at what people wanted. So once we had the marketplace thing, picking up on that we wanted to build a revenue stream really, we didn't just go out into the market to raise funding, as the other traditional event started. To show some we wanted to reach some scale on our own first. So we figured out there was something called as promoters in the industry that are aware of the events industry get a few people called as promoters. What these promoters do is they work with different nightclubs and bring in customers to these places. So we said why don't we become promoters ourselves? Let's try that out. I mean, obviously, it doesn't fit with our scalability model. But we can always figure that out later, we still have some revenue stream for us right now. So we went out with the K promoters and we were paid about 30-150 rupees per guest. So it was a win-win design for all the parties, the consumer was getting certain deals from us for going to a particular venue, typically being a pre entry before a certain time limit, and the clubs for getting a certain ED cloud for their venue. And we were obviously getting money out of it for the customers. So that's how it happened. We started doing the promoting, and we started providing customers with different venue. And now came the scalability challenge. Obviously we couldn't scale this model to let's say a 100 nightclubs in a night or 1000 events in a day because we have to be present at these places to see what is number of customers coming from HighApe. So obviously firstly figured out the revenue stream and then we decided to find how we are going scale this smart. So we came up with something called promotion packages. And it just works like the way Facebook marketing works. If you have used Facebook advertising, then you are running an ad on Facebook. So you don't I mean, Facebook doesn't say that I'm going to sell 100 tickets to you, or I am going to send hundred customers today, that is what we should discuss. And depending on your objective, let's say for impressions, we are going to show your ad to a certain number of people, you depending upon the bidding model than your ad if you try 1000 people or 2000 people or 10,000 people, whatever that number is. So that's when we introduced the mission package, we started saying to the club that we can no longer stand there and charge you per guest. Instead, you can buy the promotion package from us, we'll show you how to add to a certain number of people on the HighApe app or the HighApe Android app or IOS app. And faces and certain impression will be guaranteed your event and out of that some people will come. So that's how it started. So we will iteratively building the product, depending upon supply demand, we were finding out the things that were going on in the industry, building revenue models out of it, as you know, as you were going along. And no other platform that has done it this way, the way HighApe has done is building the product iteratively according to demand.
Krishna Jonnakadla 31:23
Very interesting, what sort of So initially, the initial part very well focused on the clubs until you became promoters. Was there a revenue stream involved at that point in time as well or no?
D S Aman 31:35
Yes, yeah. So obviously, there has been a revenue stream attached with HighApe since the day we started the first day we started HighApe we had revenue out of it. So I remember, the first event that we did was the Halloween of 2013. So as I mentioned, we became supply side. Also what that means was, we were event organizers ourselves, as event or, we used to charge customers for attending the event, the ticket prices used to range from 200 bucks to about 1000 or 2000, whatever the kind of event may be. So we had a revenue stream attached with it at that time also.
Krishna Jonnakadla 32:07
I see what sort of scale have you achieved.
D S Aman 32:10
So the scale journey has been really fantastic for us. I mean, obviously, when we started so December is the peak time for events. And if you're in Bangalore, obviously, you will start seeing a lot of different things happening as of December month comes obviously due to COVID. This December might not be like the past December. But still, you will start seeing all sorts of event codings and digital ads everywhere you lay your eyes on. So during the 2013 December, we sold just 4 tickets that we were really happy about that, atleast, somebody has paid on the website that online payment, sort of bought certain tickets from us. Then in the 2016 December, we had about 50,000 visitors. And we sold about 1000 tickets that year. So and in the 2019, that's at 45. To give you a peek. So we had millions of views on the website, about 3 million viewers came and saw different events. And I don't remember the exact count. But that was that number of tickets sold was also about 50,000 just for December 31st. So that's the kind of scale that we have achieved. And it's really been fantastic.
Krishna Jonnakadla 33:24
So any other numbers about scale the the users, the businesses, the cities covered, that sort of stuff that you can share with us.
D S Aman 33:33
Yeah, so I mean, we raised the first round of funding in 2017 November, now that we have been scaling our operations to multiple cities. We dominantly we have been active in Bangalore, but we have a pretty strong operations in Hyderabad and Pune too. Apart from that we have been scaling our operation parallely in Mumbai. Okay, and how many events how many exhibitors promoters? How
Krishna Jonnakadla 33:57
many venues? How many? How many users?
D S Aman 34:00
Yeah, so we have about I mean, we are any add up to post about that supply side. And I believe it could be a strong contender save data compared with any competition. So we have more than 10,000 plus active organizers who use a platform on a regular basis. So we have a complete DIY platform for them. They could use our tool to create events on their own track, real time and scan the tickets of the customers. So we have 10,000 plus different event organizers and artists doing that for their events. And then Apart from that, so this is on the supply side, we had a number of events. So I mean, before Corona, we were listing more than 400 events for every week on a platform. So that comprised of different sort of digitally. I mean, when I was talking about parties, those were the initial base package. I mean, since 2018, we have been venturing out into different offerings. So we now provide different sorts of experiences like dance classes or trekking experience, or if you are in Bangalore, you can also you can fly a plane on your own using if I mean, it happens in Yelahanka, you can buy the tickets, go with your loved one and they just take a pilot training session and you can fly plane over the Bangalore air strip. So that's the kind of all different sorts of experiences that we have been listing on HighApe ever since. And we list about 400 different experience on a platform pre Corona right now obviously, for physical experiences, the numbers are a little less, but they are more than compensated with the kind of online experiences that we now have to offer.
Krishna Jonnakadla 35:39
We will come to the online experiences. So would it be fair to say upwards of a half a million user base? Close to a million?
D S Aman 35:48
Yeah, it's I during December, as I mentioned, I mean, we go around 3 million users and now all the different cities. Okay.
Krishna Jonnakadla 35:54
Okay. So talk to us about the initial days, it's obviously fascinating. Everybody remembers, you know, their first everything first love first song first movie first. So the first four tickets that were bought on the platform are always special, and especially if they come from strangers, right. So you put up a product and somebody actually believed you, it's it's some sort of a vote of confidence. So talk to us about the initial days.
D S Aman 36:23
So I mean, first, I'll talk to you about what the kind of hardship we had in selling those four tickets. So we ran a Facebook ad. And that's how we were able to set up those 4 tickets. And it was interesting. I mean, at that time, what was there was that a club wasn't ready to accept our online tickets. So we had physical tickets issued to us from different hotels, that if a ticket gets sold, we need to go and deliver those tickets to our customers. And then the customer has to show that ticket to the counter. So when that got sold, obviously four tickets were sold, it was two plus two. So basically, there were two bookings, and my co founder used to take out his bike, and then he went to deliver those tickets at the home office. So that's how it happened during that time. But it was a great experience. I mean, I can't describe the happiness of selling, the happiness, the selling 4 tickets, I don't believe after selling any ticket, I had been that happier as I was at that point of time. So during initial days, I mean,as I mentioned, we're organizing events. So we used to go at all these various we used to put decor on on our own. And I remember, during Halloween, we used to take spray paint, spray the bandages with red colors, and decorate the entire venue on our own. So that's how we started, when we were promoters used to take a list out. And me and my co founder, we used to point standard different venues. And you should take the names of the customers on our own that that's how we have been able to build this company, but they're talking with the customer who are seeing things firsthand. So once the customer was inside the parties, we used to go out, interact with them the kind of expectation that we may have with the party with the booking system. So we were really when I said we're building it iteratively. We mean we were out there in the market, we were talking with organizers. First time, we were discussing things with the customers, we were having a look at them while they were having. So that's that's how it works like that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 38:21
So and then what were some of the growth hacks or some of the inflection points that put you on the scale.
D S Aman 38:29
So as I mentioned, I mean, one of the growth hacks that we have been able to implement, I believe promotion package was one of them, which we're going to do right now. So let's say I mean, for that matter, I should like company or a Paytm like company, they also list events, right? But when a company like Bookmyshor would spend millions of rupees or millions of dollars in promoting their events. So basically, that's where the huge cash flow goes. We haven't, till day, we at HighApe haven't spent a single penny of ours in our marketing. And still HighApe is the brand out there amongst youngsters for the cohort experience. So how we have been able to do that is via promotion. So we organize to bear the cost of their events, and when we are doing that promotion, that's how the higher brackets promoted themselves. So till date haven't had to spend a single penny for marketing. So that's one of the things apart from that. As I mentioned, there was a lot of promoters out there. And we want to scale that thing up. I mean, obviously that a city has 500 promoters. Why not give every college student or every person working in IT sector a chance to earn money via HighApe. They could also become promoters, let's say if you have a group of 10 friends, you can partner up with HighApe and we'll give you a promoter link for event that you're interested in. And you can forward those to your friends to make the booking if they have to go someplace and you will get a commission off of that. So that's how we I mean Anybody could anybody could become a promoter and earn money via HighApe. In return, what we got was a higher reach among your friends circle of friends of these promoters, let's say college ambassador of the HighApe brand would get popularity at at college. So that's another growth hack that we have implemented giving promoters the power to earn money via HighApe from the friend circle, then he heard something that is called as exclusive ticker tape. So in 2019, of December, in Bangalore, we partnered up with all the premium properties of Taj exclusive, so Taj Yeshwanthpur, Taj MG Road, Taj Whitefield or Taj Airport or that matter VR, most of them are different property that we exclusively tied up. What that means is that we are controlling the ticketing of that, the marketing or ticketing of that effect and the marketing of that event, and we are the ones deciding how the event is gonna be. So if a customer has to book a ticket in some way or the other, that they have to go via HighApe. And because these are the premium properties, obviously, they are going to be completely sold out. So that's one of the growth hacks that we have implemented over the past year.
Krishna Jonnakadla 41:11
Very interesting. Very interesting. What were some vulnerable points along the journey where you thought, Hey, we we've started, we're doing good. And at any point in time, did you feel vulnerable? Did you feel stuck? Did you feel that, you know, this was not working out?
D S Aman 41:28
So that a lot of instances, I mean, obviously, Krishna, I mean, the most recent instance being the COVID-19. I mean, it's more than human beings, I suppose it has affected the Travel and event industry. So they are in complete collapse at this point of time. So I'll come to it how we have tackled that challenge. But before that, obviously, I mean, so this kind of vulnerability, I think for entrepreneurs, I mean, it's a journey. So I recently wrote a post on LinkedIn. Okay, so I compared the analogy to cycling. So I'm a cyclist myself, I go for long distance cycling from time to time. So I compare that how Cycling is very much similar to entrepreneurship, when you are cycling on the road. So often, smoke comes up, right, and even a smoke comes and you feel like I mean, it's up to 10 kilometers to go up, like I'm just going to give up. I can't cycle any further. But it's your energy and your motivation. Basically, the mindset, I believe, more than the body, the mindset that matters at that time, if you could just go through that slope, if you could cycle, use that energy and go up that slope, then there's a slope waiting through down waiting for you right there. And you can just zip through flatlands and slopes after that. But you have to try that cycle between energy can you pay such a uphill in front of you. So that's one way and then obviously, the next uphill will be right around the corner, right? Because flatland has come up you just can't expect to zip through at all times. And uphillis going to come up at any point of time. That's entrepreneurship, right? I mean, if a challenge comes up, you need to drive yourself, you need to keep that perseverance and patience to tackle that challenge to fight it and come out as a winner. And once you do that, once you're able to overcome the challenge, obviously, there will be a time of user growth, investment, and everything waiting for you after that. But soon you will have another challenge maybe expansion challenge or something really right around the corner. So we have also faced it at all points of time. I mean, as I mentioned, I mean that you are working as promoters, this is the end. I mean, obviously, we cant scale this business up. I mean, let's say even if we hire people to do it, if we had created 12 people team we can do just kind of within a night. And then we were thinking about doing a 10,000 or 100,000 sentences a day is always like thoughts. Like we just can't do it. So that was a first thought process that obviously we think through it. And we discussed a lot we brainstormed about it. And that's when taking the installation of our Facebook ads, we came up with this promotion package. So it happens at all points. I mean, it has happened, there were a lot of I mean, when we started off, there were a lot of denial of deals just because HighApe wasn't a popular brand. So those sort of challenges which are started by a brute force. I mean, we used to go up haggle appliance of the day, venue manager, so the owners actually made them accept the higher booking. So we have faced this challenge. I mean, obviously during the initial couple of years, these challenges, but more intense. And now more the challenges have been about more related to scale, like expansion into different cities. But there have been challenges.
Krishna Jonnakadla 44:39
So any particular near death moment you've had till now other than COVID .
D S Aman 44:45
Other than COVID, I believe to near that. So before we raised our rounds of funding, so every month was a near death for us, so I mean what happened was a pretty good start at that time and we would just active in Bangalore and obiously the scale. wasn't as much as it is today. So at that point of time, it was like we had a team of about five or six people, or two co founders and four employees. So every every monthend, we just felt like we can't pay their salaries and it was, every month was like that. But we have been blessed to have really great people working with us in our journey as employees, and the kind of culture that we have a company, it's just like an extended family. I mean, obviously, of course, employees which we hired back in 2016 is still with us. And so I mean, during this Corona time, also, our employees have been really great in helping us out. So obviously, there was a net profit every month, before we raised the percent of funding, but because of the, the great employees that we have had, and because of our revenue models that we were able to establish to just figure out something to find revenue and pay salaries for employees and get fixed costs, which are basically just tech costs.
Krishna Jonnakadla 46:00
So in the in the funding round, a couple of questions on the funding. One is, obviously how much funding we do raise was it Series A or seed or Angel.
D S Aman 46:10
So we call this a pre Series A round. So because we believe we were much ahead of the seed stage, the idea stage already. So we call the funding round as pre series A round, we raised your funding from seven different investors. So they were angels, and the amount that was we raised is just undisclosed. So we haven't disclosed that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 46:32
So what is the obviously making payroll and paying operational expenditure? This is sort of an existential problem that every startup has. But at that point in time, what was the state of mind? Okay, this is what we set out to do. This is what we have accomplished. This is what we are unable to do. Because we don't have funding, or this is what we are going to be able to do because we have funding. So walk us through that thought process, what was that like?
D S Aman 47:03
So obviously, we wanted to I mean, we were able to test the idea in Bangalore. With the MVP that we have seen, obviously, we worked a lot on the product after the raise of first round of funding, and we had a tech team of about six, seven people. So before that, we had tested the idea in Bangalore City, we had quite a good consumer base and organizer base, but we wanted to expand to different cities. And we wanted to expand our operations and check out if the model was replicable in other cities as well. I mean, like we were able to do it in Bangalore. So to do that we needed funding. So what that meant was, there is always a cash flows associated in the initial days. I mean, we didn't expect ourselves to go again and organize events in Hyderabad or Pune, obviously, for the first initial months, there was going to be a certain amount of cash flow. And to compensate that we had to raise along the funding, after which we did try expanding into we did start expanding.
Krishna Jonnakadla 48:02
Are you profitable right now, or are you still burning through?
D S Aman 48:07
So during pre Corona, I mean, since the mid of 2019, till Feb of 2020 we were profitable at a unit economics levels, but obviously Corona has changed things a bit, but we are again, stepping back to normal.
Krishna Jonnakadla 48:20
So I was intrigued by this online experiences that mentioned. So how has COVID-19 or Corona impacted you? Obviously it has impacted anything that has a physical connotation associated with it. How has that changed that industry? And how have you responded? And what what changes are you seeing?
D S Aman 48:45
So I mean, Krishna, our tagline was that if I mean if we have to decide if now, in as few words as possible, we would say that HighApe he said go out app, so that that's what HighApe was, I mean, if you have to go out and have some fun, that's when HighApe comes into the picture, you can just open the app and find all sorts of go out activities and events and parties on your application. So and as Corona came, people stopped going out. So that's what happened with HighApe. So we did take a very big hit. And it happened during March. So when people start I mean when all sorts of curfews and everything are being imposed. So and March is a big time for events. I mean, it's the Holi season and we get a lot of bookings at that time. So it was really disheartening for us to see such a thing happening. And but obviously, I mean, the April month was very difficult. First, from May onwards, we did roll up our sleeves, and we started working on what could be the next pivot or let's say our next addition onto the platform, which can help us come backwards. So that's when we include included a new section called live Sessions, in a span of next 2-3 months, we started listing more than 200 online experiences every week on our platform, these online experiences could be, let's say, a live dance class or a live harmonium class, for people that were interested in classical music. If you're interested in poetry, you can come and learn how to write poetry in HighApe. So all these sorts of classes, even on the tech program, and if you want to pick a tech workshop, or let's say, if you're interested in stock markets, or if you're dealing with anxiety and depression, we had specialists coming onto the platform, who could take live sessions for you if you were facing that sort of a problem. So those are the kind of online events and experiences that we started listing up and we really scaled the numbers and we were able to build some revenues out of it.
Krishna Jonnakadla 50:50
And if you've read the book, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb Talib essentially says most, and he bases it on his, I think experience as a wall street trader, and where the memory of the Wall Street trader is possibly limited to the last three, four years, or maybe seven, eight years, right, okay. In the trading world, there is something called as the Black Friday of 1987. In Ronald Reagan's, I think, first or second term, where the US was the dominant economy of the world. The only economy that had mounted some sort of a challenge was Japan and Japan, purely with electronic and automotive imports, automotive exports to the US had emerged as a developed economy, in spite of no real indicators pointing to falling economic parameters. There was a crash and and then eventually, there is a lot of rationalization of why the crash happened and then stuff like that. So Talib has written this fascinating book called The Black Swan. Essentially, his whole theory is until people went to Australia, and downunder they discovered the Black Swan, everybody thought that the swan is white. So life is like that there is going to be an event that is unexpected, and therefore that is going to create a black swan. Men going to disrupt life as we know it. I think in the last four or five years, we've seen demonetization we have seen the implementation of GST and the Coronavirus crisis as well, and the lockdown associated with the Coronavirus. So playing some sort of I think it's a now it is black swans are becoming more whiter and so to speak, disruptions are becoming so often. Yeah. So in and all of them are in this time frame of that you've started, right, so 2018 to 2020. In some sense, a lot of events are cash driven, there is a, you know, good amount of the cash economy involved in that sort of impacted these have, if any? And what sort of trends Did you see? And as an entrepreneur, how do you obviously deal with this sort of black swans or existential crisis?
D S Aman 53:18
So I mean, in terms of demonetization, Krishna, I mean, we were always online payment platforms. So we didn't face any problem with that. So events, obviously, what you're saying is correct. The cash transactions to happen without the venue or things like those. At HighApe, it was always on platform. So we were never a part of it. But talking about trends, so we haven't seen a certain shift in today's millennial. Let's say today, what we have seen is that disposable income has been increasing towards the ability of let's say, I mean, I suppose today, I don't own a car or a house. I like to I mean, if I have some sort of money, I'd like to travel around, I mean, I go to a some international destination, or I mean, even every weekend, I would just go someplace out of Bangalore, or I will just go on a weekend at a bar or venue and have a nice time. I mean, people do spend a lot of this I mean,you're going to spend about two to 500 rupees. Obviously, if you save up that money, you can easily pay off your car loan installment, right. But today's millenials, they want to spend money on experiences. And that's why a business like HighApe has been able to scale their business. I mean, obviously, if someone would have done this about 10 to 15 years ago, it might have not been a great website. I mean, at that point of time, people are more interested in creating FDs,, buying houses, buying car so that there has been a shift over a period of time. So as people say the economy has been shifting, right. I mean, first it was a good economy. Everything was being manufactured, right? People go find goods, people were buying cars, people were buying, let's say anything that can be manufactured in a factory. And that's when big people like Ford and all, they accumulated their wealth. So then came the service based economy. I mean, people started shifting their jobs to service sectors, they were providing services, and they were taking up services with the money that they asked, right. And if you could afford to have a maid at your house and have a maid at your home, or I mean, a person sitting in US who could afford a BPO working out from India to help with a tech problem, he will have that service for himself. So the economic shift into a service based economy. Now today, the transition phase is happening, there is a trend with service economy is shifting to an experience based economy. So people are really more interested in having such sort of experiences that we can remember for a lifetime. And we actually want to be the front runner for that transition. I mean, when the New Age youngsters are adopting that, and spending more towards the experiences to want to be there as a platform that they can come into it, that they can find all sorts of interesting things that they want to do in their life.
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:11
So that's great. So I will ask you two questions. And then interesting story that I read online yesterday. Yeah. I think a brother and his sibling, I don't know if the siblings, sister or another brother, their parents left them, I think a few million dollars in Trust Fund, and then bonds and with recurring income. And this this person said, All I want to do is you said, You set me up? Yeah. You said you, you made me set for life, I am going to use this money to travel the world, right? I'm interested in exploring the world, I'm going to see the world. That's really my life's goal. I don't want to do anything else and apparently they pay their parents got angry, turned around and then said, they did not intend their kids to be, you know, living off of the wealth that they created for their kids to be something and they did. They forbade him from actually accessing that money. As soon as they learned of, you know, that speaks about validates what you're saying, right. So that there is a lot of, I think the world has gotten a lot more interesting, or rather, it has been interesting. But the fact that it's more connected more aware, you know, take a simple do like a live translator, speak and then the app immediately translates it for you. It is it has created a situation whereby you could go and live in an alien land or a new land, and with the likes of Airbnb, you live amongst the locals, and you get to experience a taste of that life.
D S Aman 57:53
I mean, I read in some time back that at America in 1900s, an average american was spending about 55% of his income on acquiring food for his survival. And today, an average Americans spending about just 5%. So I mean, you see, I mean, and the pyramid of evolution, we have come to a point where you no longer have to think about the base. Now what comes above that is experience and you have to enjoy your life, right, you just have about some 90-100 odd years, I mean, you are just a dot on the timeline. So what you can do is you can actually experience life in the best possible way and create memories, that is going to go with you to the grave.
Krishna Jonnakadla 58:37
So but there is some sort of at least contradictory information, at least in the COVID era that's emerging that because of the economic disruption that this thing has really caused a lot of the millennials who didn't own anything, who didn't really invest in anything, are now turning around. And then looking at, I think it's early to say, looking at creating assets for themselves. What do you think about that?
D S Aman 59:05
So I think I mean, Krishna, I mean, if you see every decade or so there comes a point of time where such a financial upkeep happens to the economy right. I mean, during 2008 financial crisis, also a lot of people lost their jobs. And everybody thought that I mean, things are not going to improve or, I mean, it's actually I mean, we were not very far I think we started HighApe, seven years after the 2008 crisis, right? So so what happens is, I believe that humans have the ability to reach a planet's point very soon, obviously, in the short term, let's say for six months or so, what you are saying might be right people are afraid at this point of time. Let me give you an example. I mean, we thought that we are apprehensive of starting physical experiences very soon, to be very honest. I mean, we wanted to just keep exploring the online experiences, believing that people would go out for physical experiences, but the Dandiya people cam for Navrathri,lot of Navrathri events during that time, we said, okay, let's just give it a chance, see how people are responding. And we're thinking that nothing is going to happen, we're just taking a trial out of it. So you'll find it interesting that just a couple of events that we took up for promotion and the promotion package of a new model that I mentioned earlier, so until about 400-500, bookings, and both of those events, so we did ensure that there were all sorts of safety precautions that depending on the venue was large enough to accommodate these many people that social distancing measures. But people were very interested. I mean, if people wanted to go out, let's say a percentage of people are still very afraid. And that percentage is going to keep decreasing with time as it when the situation improves, to some extent, let's say people are saying, the herd immunity is about to kick in, or the vaccine is just around the corner. So people will resume the normal activities and things will start going back to normal right now until obviously, tell certain people are afraid, they will be apprehensive of such things. But that apprehension is gonna go down.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:03
I totally agree with that. In fact, if anything, I think as human beings, what we cherish is our freedom, anybody that tries hard to suppress that freedom in whatever formal fashion, I think at some point in time is going to face a backlash. While it's not a topic of discussion, I happen to believe that I, like we discussed before the before we hit the record button, I think six degrees of separation that we talked about, in my own case, I have seen all the Six Degrees get covered in COVID being in the household. And in some sense, if you see the progression of the virus and the disease itself, I think it's gone from severe to mild and getting milder as it passes through the community. And I don't know about this vaccine business.in And then what they are saying the government should be prepared to pay when the vaccine comes out completely contradicts their humanitarian values. So I do feel like we are close to normal. If there are any, all of this, you know, talk about reinfection. All of that? I think I think it's valid there. After all the, after all the insanity that in and some some of it rightfully so. Right. But I think it's it's some amount of normalcy should return now. Yeah. Because no matter what you are, what how evolved an economy, you are, right are going to be sections of the population that are that are going to be vulnerable. Like I said, in the beginning, we are a country that's poor by choice. And I look at the last five years and say the number of income disruption events. We We are, we are perhaps the only country on the planet that is so arrogant about not having an income, we very rarely talk about the world revolves around money. And as they say, Dhanamoolam idam Jagat, that's what they say in Sanskrit. But but we have this mindset saying that we do not need to worry about income, right? And then, but I think that's that that's so sort of wrong. But when we come to platforms like yours, the upheavals that you have seen, right, though, I remember in 2018, we used to organize certain events as part of a fashion portrait. Because independent brands have become so popular. This is 2017. And then D monetization and GST literally wrecked a lot of that stuff. And, and Bangalore,the kind of disruption that has come about, because infrastructure is the new source of corruption, so to speak, every part of Bangalore being dug up, right, literally, really only tiny, tiny islands of Bangalore that have infrastructure in that. Every part of Bangalore is literally dug up. And that is created some sort of a disruption in the ecosystem. So the wealth creators have become lesser and lesser. So in this scenario, there are obviously the large media houses, right there is for every media startup that succeeds. It feels like the times group is really around the corner, just trying to you know, waiting to clone that model. Really nip that other startup in the bud, right? I mean, it's just a force of competition. It's a force of nature, nothing right or wrong about it. It's just a feature of it. But let's come to the next evolution of your own model, right. So the initial model, initial days are all about establishing, today, you have achieved some sort of scale. But the real scale is only going to come when people see that HighApe is the platform that enables them to do dominant things. Just like for example, platforms like Tiktok, provided influencers to scale their audiences to, you know, maybe millions and lakhs of viewers and then being able to stream out of it, which means you have to think about a dynamic shift in your own business model, right. So the asset asset light model that a lot of marketplaces embrace, it works in different economies up to a point in time. After that, you need to get different things in mind, what is your evolution? How are you going to in all of this chaos, What is your evolution?
D S Aman 1:05:44
So Krishna? I mean, obviously, as startup founders, we also obviously are always thinking about what's the next step would be for our product? I mean, what extra value additions can we give to our consumers? I mean, as I mentioned, our initial days, it was about increasing the number of offerings that we have, are we adding more number of events, adding activities, the dance classes, the live sessions, etc, etc. But going back, obviously, I mean, one of the things that we were experimenting with I mean, the corona del, they are on with an election, and we are going to visit back to it is something called a social. So let's say I mean, you are going to an event or a concert, okay? But none of your friends. So let's assume that DJ in the Trans John is coming in Bangalore, right? I mean, you're very interested in the trans music, but none of your friends really like trans. So what I am going to do in a simple scenario would have to drop that. So what the in HighApe does is you can go to any event onto the platform, you can find out other people who are going into the event and they might want the companion to go there. You can chat with them, you can I mean, interact with them. And if your interests match, you both can go together for that effect. So that is one thing that we are working on is I mean, connecting people with like mindset. So if you must have heard about meetup, so what you could do on meetup is that you can go and create an experience. And then people will come there and come and meet with you if they're interested in it. So I mean, meetup doesn't have meetup isn't a market, right? I mean, meetup isn't that sort of a thing and you already have a lot of events and customers are already booking on HighApe? So we thought I mean, why can't we also allow people to meet the similar mindset, what I mentioned was about concert scene can be about trekking the scene can be for cycling, the same can be for any walking tour in the city. I'm like, let's say I mean, 40 or 50 year old woman, and if they want to walk in the park, they can just create an event on HighApe about a walk in the park or a 10 minute walk in Indra Nagar. So we have cycling events like that midnight cycling in Indranagar so anybody can come and just create an event like that an activity where people with similar mindset can also come and chat with them and go to that. So even if she wants to reach people and play harmonica in at home, she can do that. I mean, she can create an activity on HighApe. And people can come in for let's say two or three students. And they can learn Harmonica from her. So all sorts of activities that people can also connect with like minded person. That's what we believe the next evolution will be.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:08:28
Events with strangers.
D S Aman 1:08:31
Yes, events with strangers, and anybody can be a event creator. I mean, you need not be a professional.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:08:37
Yeah, very interesting. Very interesting. So how do what is your one unique piece of insight that you would like to share with other founders?
D S Aman 1:08:46
So my insight is I mean, obviously, building this startup, I believe that skills and knowledge is very very, I mean, after is quite overvalued in the industry I mean, I believe the most important thing that one needs to have is a couple of things is being curious, and being a patient having perseverance. So all that helps us I mean, today, in today's age, knowledge is accessible to all right? I mean, if you're just passing out from let's say, from a University, apart from the peer group that you have had, there is no knowledge you would have gained that nobody else can access to the world. Everybody can act like one. So what matters is how curious you are and what your rate of learning is, and how fast can you learn things, then a person without even a college degree can outsmart a person coming out from a tier 1 college. That's what I believe. And the second thing is now you have that knowledge, you can learn things, but you have the patience to apply that knowledge to build things out of it. So we I mean, I've met a lot of my friends or a lot of people I know they have wanted to do a startup, they believe the biggest hardship in starting up is to have an idea. So they would I mean, they would just keep thinking about it. And then they will be like I started and just a month down into starting that business, they will just shut the idea why, because the piece of furniture and idea is nothing until you can execute it properly yet, when you are executing, taking of an idea getting your company registered or creating a landing page of the website, you'll find it in the easiest steps, anybody can do that. What you need to understand is that your hardship started backwards and challenges will come, you can't expect the things to roll out smoothly like that you're not in a job anymore, you are riding a bicycle, you have to expect uphill coming up for you, right? It's your energy, your motivation, to keep yourself motivated, overcome that perseverance is going to help you. So you need to be confident you need to be optimistic about overcoming those hurdles. And that's how you build yourself.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:10:51
What is your personal leadership style?
D S Aman 1:10:53
My Personally, I'm completely chilled out person, I like to delegate tasks as much as possible. So if I've worked with anyone, I believe them to be as sincere and responsible enough to take on responsibilities. And as a leader, I will give them complete room, complete space to execute the things they the way they want. I mean, I like to work that sort of environment archetype because like that, since my childhood I have done things that I have wanted, so I expect that when a person is working with me, as a leader, I want to be able to see kind of space to people.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:11:26
Do you read?
D S Aman 1:11:27
I do. I mean, I I like to read, I used to read a lot of self help books. But then I realized that most of the self help books cite the same things. Just in a twisted language. So after that, I mean I I read a lot of startup books as well. So one book I specially like which helped us creating HighApe cause book. So if you remember, it's so you have to cover both. Okay, tell me about different the habit loop as to how you can make a person home. I don't remember the writers name, it was about three years ago. Yeah.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:12:01
Yeah. It's a terrific book.
D S Aman 1:12:04
Yeah, it's really a great books. So I really loved reading that. And one of the other books that I remember, was a condiment. So I mean, the way the numbers can change, I mean, the numbers remain consistent, right? I've seen that admin factor, that I have to wait to see the amount of conversion that we see, for me in some way or the other, it remains constant. I mean, whatever event is happening at Indigo XP, obviously, thousand different people are going to see the event every time. But let's say the conversion % focus, which was 10%, numbers are very fascinating that way. I mean, since then, I have a new power of data. And we have utilized that in HighApe as well to create a different offering for a supply side and to ensure a stable stream of revenue from using those numbers.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:12:55
I think what this this kind of stuff, they talk about in economics, and what neon talks about him hooked in to things like the fundamental laws of nature, in some sense, as it applies to humans, not not the way physics works. And the way human mind human psychology works, right? So data is a representation of how the world works, so for example, when you see a normal distribution curve. If there are 100 students in a class, you know, there are there is some set here, there is some set here and there is a bulge in the middle. That's the normal distribution. Although beauty is I think the most smartest entrepreneurs in the world are either by design, or by accident, or because innately somehow they have come to understand some of these workings have been leveraged these two. So they leverage human psychology. And the other version, maybe a more simpler word for that is emotion, human emotion.And then the other word, the other law is the laws of nature. So for instance, if you are in sales, for example, when you're when you're doing sales, there is something called as a numbers game, there is a funnel, these are all concepts. If you if you profile somebody, if you put an X, just go through the numbers, you will get Y obviously. And then there is another thing that says if you torture the data long enough, it comes confess, right, so so so I think the smartest entrepreneurs are the ones that piece these things together, and somehow intuitively and simplify all of this and say, How can I make some somebody's life meaningful out of it? And the ones that scale massively are the ones who've done it with something very simple and maybe one or two aspects of it. Right? very rightly put, I think, beautiful that those two books should be you know, on top of your mind any other book that comes to your mind?
D S Aman 1:15:00
So in terms of self help books I, as I mentioned, I remember two right now that comes to my mind that I found fascinating Tuesdays with maurey. The monk who sold his ferrari. So these are the two books that I can remember right now. And apart from that, I like to remember, I like to read different other types of books. I mean, now since then I have stopped reading startup books and self help books and VCs are more reading academic books sort of things. So right now, I'm reading a book of Ayurveda called mind psychology. So what Ayurveda has to say about that. So basically, they divide the mind into sattvic mind, the Rajas mind, and tamas mind. So it's interesting. I'm now I like to read about different things and see if I can get some sort of interesting idea from this. I can so when you actually I mean, right. I mean, let's say if you are hiring for industry, let's say if you are hiring someone for hire, right, if it takes someone from the events field, only, they will just have a viewpoint for how things are done in the events will take on some new ideas on the plate, and having worked. Let's say if I just keep reading, I figured this out. Like if I just keep reading about `startup, I just have one particular viewpoint. I mean, I just am thinking from a product angle. And so that's when I started reading about books about economy. So I'm reading Principles of Economics too right now, which is an academy course in undergraduate economics. I am reading the Ayurveda on mind psychology. I don't know I mean, some that the large book I remember reading was Sapiens so and interestingly enough for software, the other I do get some ideas out of these books, and yet there is something different that I couldn't have bought from a startup book or selfhelp book.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:16:41
So then I think you'll enjoy reading a book called range by a guy called Rory Susskind. It's a it's a fascinating read. The funny thing is, like what I thought about Malcolm Gladwell outliers, the whole central concept of Malcolm Gladwell book outliers is that in order for you to succeed, and then at something you need to put in 10,000 hours. And in many ways, it's a retrofit, he takes the example of Bill Gates, and then and then some of these other people, and shows you how they had put in 10,000 hours by the time they saw success. Yeah, because he doesn't explain how other people put in 10,000 hours and didn't succeed. So an extension of that concept is used for Tiger Woods. And, and the whole, the world always has fascination with child prodigies. And the story around Tiger Woods is that one day, when he was a very young child, I think four or six years old, in his father's driveway, he did a perfect putt, his father was a golfer himself. And in golfing, the in the driving, which is the initial initial longer shot, is relatively considered easier compared to the putting, which is supposed to be more precise. Right? So and Tiger does a perfect putt. Right? The story goes that at that day, that day, his father knew that Tiger was going to be a genius. So he's in range, they contrast that story with the story of Roger Federer who never played tennis until he was an adult. And and and he never did that 10,000 hour thing. And he never took tennis seriously, so to speak. Right. And he he's not a prodigy, but he's possibly has has had the longest, you know, successful week in in tennis. So this whole notion of You're right, so every book that you see, for me, I didn't see I've come to understand this as data that doesn't contradict itself. It just shows that there are millions of routes to success, and each human being finds their own. Right. That's how it is.
D S Aman 1:18:48
I mean, talking your point of a data perspective, so what I believe in data is that data can't predict on an individual level that whether, this person can be obviously so on every individual so, if that happens, and nobody has freedom of choice, right? I mean, we don't have free will, if that happens. So I believe on the individual level. It's the psychology of that person. And there is no one way to be successful. As you mentioned, Tiger Woods was a child prodigy, who fom his childhood was playing golf and Roger Federer started getting his training at a later stage. Similarly, if you see, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are completely different persons. I mean, they dont share the same personality traits on that regard. I mean, people can be successful in different ways.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:19:30
You're absolutely right. Awesome. This has been a great conversation. In closing. What would be your two words of wisdom for potential founders out there?
D S Aman 1:19:40
As I mentioned before, be curious and be perseverent. I mean, keep trying keep hustling.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:19:45
Awesome. Aman. Thank you for being with us today. We wish that HighApe scales even further and become a dominant platform, not just in India, but across the world. And I'm sure when you scale a new peak, Maharajas of scale will be there to listen, listen from you and hear from you what that looks like.
D S Aman 1:20:07
Thanks for this opportunity. Krishna. Nice talking to you.
Tania Jadhav 1:20:10
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