Instoried’s Sharmin on Bringing Emotion and Empathy into content: Emotion is at the heart of everything that we do as humans. As the adage goes and what we are witnessing with modern-day Twitter wars, the pen is mightier than the sword. However, using the right words to evoke the right emotions seems more like an art than science. Can technology help us write as well as Kalidasa or the Bard? This is the place where Sharmin Ali is focusing her energies.
Sharmin traces her origins to Shantiniketan, the hallowed place of Rabindranath Tagore. Being a Bengali, Sharmin spent the first few years of her professional in high-growth environments such as Mu Sigma and Fortune 500 companies in Biz Dev. However, her literary origins and Bengali roots did not go away. This episode reveals Instoried’s Sharmin on Bringing Emotion and Empathy into content.
Sharmin eventually branched out to build India’s Netflix, writing as many as 70 scripts on her own. She saw the writing on the wall and sold her scripts to launch Instoried. With Instoried, Sharmin Ali is hoping to change the way people write. Infusing their writing with emotion and empathy is something Sharmin is envisioning. Interesting episode with lots of twists and turns.
Automated Transcript – Errors May Exist
startup, content, company, india, people, b2c, called, happened, months, money, founders, create, telugu, initially, marketing, users, scale, built, amazing, co founder
Rashi Narang, Krishna Jonnakadla, Anindita, Sharmin Ali
I’m very honest, if I was a VC funded myself, like it was how bad the presentation was, you know, to build scale, you have to think scale. Sometimes I think too much of money restricts innovation. I think that’s a sad part. So Destiny finds you on the road that you take to avoid it.
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:16
Whenever you get a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask which we will see.
We didn’t really ask ourselves like too many questions in terms of how big can we get it? It was very, very hard to explain what is UGC? He wanted something first 30 or
Rashi Narang 00:30
1 million to 10 million every year. But again, you know, we had basic teams, struggled, struggled, struggled, but every day was this learning, which was just amazing.
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:39
Listen to founders about their stories, and how they build their startups. Here on Maharaja of scale with me your host, Krishna Jonnakadla, co founder of mango mobile TV and Bob. Hey, everyone, this is Krishna, your host on marriage scale. Today we have a Maharani of scale, sharp mentally on the show. Charmin is doing some testing, and very similar to some founders that are from Ukraine. So we will if a lot of you listeners are into writing, you will understand a startup that helps you clean up your grammatical mistakes, make your polish up your spelling’s and stuff like that, I’m not going to say the name of that company is already well known. And the reason companies like that are in the spotlight right now is because of the war between Russia and Ukraine right now. And it’s still going on. But we have our very own entrepreneur in India, sharp Minnelli who’s working on in story. But he’s taking a slightly different route to the same problem about putting empathy in writing. So let’s hear from her and how she’s changing the world of the boring world of writing and making it interesting. Charlene, welcome to the show.
Sharmin Ali 02:05
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Krishna Jonnakadla 02:09
Tell us a little bit about yourself. And what are you working on right now?
Sharmin Ali 02:13
Wow, interesting. So yeah, we are doing a lot. So hi, I’m Sharmin I’m the founder and CEO of Instoried. We are a little over three years old. Now we are a startup based out of Bangalore, in India and Los Angeles and San Jose in the US. We are essentially a pure play the tech based product company, which is heavily invested into helping people create better content, you know, content with which you will be able to connect better with your audiences. We are both a b2b and b2c company. So what the tool does is very simple. It helps you evaluate the emotional engagement quotient of your content using smart recommendations, which are auto generated using the AI tool that we’ve built in house. And we also have another angle to the tool which helps you create exciting copy, you know, for all of your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. So it is the world’s first in fact tool that does both content generation and content evaluation. Otherwise, most of the tools are doing one of the two. But we wanted to make it a very wholesome product end to end into content. Heads. We’ve got everything under one umbrella. And yeah, that’s that’s for us.
Krishna Jonnakadla 03:33
Awesome. That’s a lot about what in store it is. But he didn’t say anything about yourself.
Sharmin Ali 03:40
Okay, sure. So when there’s a lot to say about me, but just just a little summary. So then I’m six months based in Bangalore, six months in Los Angeles. So I love traveling. I’m a huge, huge, you know, I have a huge thing for traveling. I’ve been to 45 plus countries, in somebody I want to visit the whole world. And yeah, doesn’t that I’m an engineer by profession from which was waria here in Bangalore. Then faster in 2010, I joined a company called mu sigma. And it’s very initial days work there as an analyst, then moved to the US. Sales, worked with a number of 14 companies turned out making over $50 million in revenue and then realized that I was just helping the rich get richer, wasn’t adding too much value to my own life. So I decided to quit, came back to India, started my first company, which is the media space ran that for about three and a half years. Then, you know, we were essentially building India’s very own Netflix, because the whole Netflix Revolution had already begun in the US. This was around 2016 You know, when Netflix wasn’t all that famous in India so That’s when I decided to, you know, write my own scripts, we wrote over 70 plus scripts and created a lot of content on YouTube and on Vimeo. But it so happened that, you know, I think you were a little ahead of our time because the GU Internet revolution was still picking up in India. So Indian audiences were still very much prone to consuming content on their television sets, as opposed to, you know, their mobile devices or on their laptops. So that’s when we decided to sell. So we sold the copyrights of all the scripts to a Bombay based production house, took the money exited. Then I wrote two books, got them published one. One of them was announced a best seller back in 2019. January by the New England Express and the Oxford bookstores. Post that you know, I started in storage full time in March 2019. With my co founder, and yeah, ever since there’s been no looking back. That’s That’s
Krishna Jonnakadla 05:56
amazing. I won race in Bangalore.
Sharmin Ali 06:00
No, actually, engineering is what got me to Bangalore, but then I fell in love with the weather and the people and most importantly, those South Indian food is the world’s best food. I am originally from Calcutta do not born and brought up dead born in a in a small town called because Bihar which is in the northern part of Bengal, which was erstwhile coach dynasty, the Maharani of Jaipur, Maharani Gayatri Devi, which was the was the princes of the Koch dynasty. So my mom comes from there, and my father comes from Shantiniketan, from, from Tigers Shantiniketan essentially, they both got married, and then they had me. So I was I was born in which we had but brought up all around the country because my dad was in orange DC. So in a transferable job, so we have to keep moving. So, yeah, you know, lift lifted all around the country, changed a number of schools. And then finally, you know, came to Bangalore for my engineering and I think, I know that my favorite city in India has to be landlord because of the food because of the weather. I mean, of course, there’s been a lot of climate change now, but we are responsible for it. But otherwise, I think it’s, it’s the best place to be in
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:26
interesting. Well, looks like that’s where the literary angle comes from the Shantiniketan some element of this is happening.
Sharmin Ali 07:36
Oh, yes, yes, I think literature sort of runs in the blood also, you also because the Bengali is, culturally speaking, they are you know, very much into, you know, dance, music, literature, all of these things, right. I mean, I think art and literature is something that we are naturally sort of inclined towards. So, that was a very big factor for me to you know, take up writing storytelling as such. So that that happened. And my mom also has been into Bengali theatre for like, the longest time in her life. So that again, influenced, you know, the the love for content, good quality content, you know, and I was like, Okay, I think this is what I need to pursue.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:21
Very interesting. And what branch did you major in engineering?
Sharmin Ali 08:26
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:28
electronics, okay. And Mu Sigma, Mu Sigma was still early days back then the reg was building it up. Right?
Sharmin Ali 08:38
Pretty. I mean, when I joined the Sequoia general Atlantic funding hadn’t happened. We were one of the initial guys to actually join in. We’ve really seen those days. You know, we’ve slobs so much. Now it’s like now it’s now it’s much different. Now. The pressure is it as much as you know, as it used to be back in the day in 2010. Yeah, that’s still in touch with the Raj. And I’m so in touch with some of those guys. You know, yeah. But but I’ve seen the struggle, and then I realized that okay, I think I have cut out only to be building startups not to be working is so yeah. I mean, you know, they definitely did the initial you know, that that whole mind polishing, so to say, right to, you know, because one thing I understood that I’m someone who will never crack under pressure, I can perform really well under you know, alarming situations. Thanks to those days and Mu Sigma. Those two years were amazing. But I realized that I have to start start on my own. So yeah,
Krishna Jonnakadla 09:48
okay. Yeah, the energies are more mercurial guy. And although company itself has fallen off the highchair and You know, me and Rick, that’s when you know, and I’m talking from memory like, three, four years ago. But it’s still incredible that what Mu Sigma did not a lot of other companies did. They’re still in a niche on their own. But they haven’t outgrown the roots that they pioneered. They’re still very much there became a
Sharmin Ali 10:23
unicorn. So I think they’ve no comments, but I think they are. I mean,
Krishna Jonnakadla 10:30
yeah, but the those sorts of it’s, you’re right about the part that some of these places are amazing training grounds in your initial years. Because you see the, that startup spirit, you’re seeing everything. So 3040 member teams becoming 400-500-2000 5000. And then you’re seeing growth unfold right in front.
Sharmin Ali 10:53
Right, as a fresher, it’s like a very, very big, you know, breeding ground for, for, for a lot of knowledge. You know, they they, I mean, they sort of train you who you know, as an as a as a 22 year old, right? I mean, I joined them at 22. And I’m 33 today. So, you know, I mean, I still remember those those those days, you know, I mean, the amount of learning and the, you know, technical skills or you know, communication skills, anything and everything it was it was amazing experience. So I think, yep, startups that that’s how the love for startups actually happened to me.
Krishna Jonnakadla 11:32
I see. I see. Interesting. And then selling. You took a business role in the US, is it?
Sharmin Ali 11:40
Yeah, exactly. Yes, I was I was there for a few years. More and more on the sales, business development side of things, worked with a number of companies, was overwhelmed with the weather in the US lived in Chicago for a while and I was like, Okay, I’m done with minus 30 by. So, in, going from there and then living in Bangalore, as I look at this, this is such such tropical blessing. So I think I’m spoiled spoiled for life. After this, at least in India,
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:19
yeah. Well, that way, both LA and Bangalore have similar weather.
Sharmin Ali 12:23
Similar. Yes, that is you. You exactly got my point. That’s the reason I have an office in LA in the US, which feels like Bangla weatherwise. And then also, like right next to the ocean, so it’s nice and quiet, quiet. Don’t feel
Krishna Jonnakadla 12:42
that tropical, because it’s still a bit away from the ocean, ocean front. So the other city in the US that sort of mirrors that weather, which is a little bit of a less kept better kept secret. Is Atlanta, a great extent still.
Sharmin Ali 13:03
Georgia or or, you know, but But yeah, I have friends there. And they’ve been telling me that it’s nice. It’s really pleasant cover office there. And I was like, I’m going to escort you’re on east coast. So like, no, no, I think so. I mean, you know, more from a startup perspective, right? Scallop is pretty much like the breeding ground for startups.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:26
So the choice of LA is a bit surprising. Instead of doing it in the in the San Fernando Valley, or which Silicon Valley
Sharmin Ali 13:35
office in San Jose, one in San Jose, one in LA, I live in LA. I see. You know, I mean, I’m in Santa Monica. So I’m like, driving, so I can just walk to the beach anytime. I’m more of a beach person, not not so much as a hill or a mountain person. So I was like, okay, Santa Monica is my thing
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:58
that has the surfing bug with your dog.
Sharmin Ali 14:00
I’ve tried it once. Not as much I can’t swim. But I love to see I mean, that is such an irony. But yes, life skill, important life skill. I have to work on this, I need to learn how to swim.
Krishna Jonnakadla 14:20
Okay, let’s talk about that media startup that you did. So the little bit of intro that you gave in the beginning, at least what I can discern from that is that you wanted to create a Netflix but you also talked about writing your scripts. Did you ever buy any films? So how was it Wait, how far how far did you go? What sort of traction did you get on that star?
Sharmin Ali 14:47
So basically, no, we didn’t buy any scripts or you know anything. We won’t buy any films.
Krishna Jonnakadla 14:52
So by any content, we
Sharmin Ali 14:54
created all that content ourselves. You know, I have myself contributed into creating stuff At Scripps, I mean, like 70 series, you know, like, like 70 web series. And we created a lot of content on YouTube on on Vimeo. You know, we had, like, 300,000 plus followers at that, at that time, when I’m talking about 2016, you know, when YouTube wasn’t, you know, when, when the whole YouTube influencer thing wasn’t really that big. And, you know, we we had over 5 million plus views on our content and things like that. And I think that is why selling, you know, the copyrights of our scripts became, you know, pretty easy, because we were the first ones in this space, at least at least in India, you know, but then again, as they say, right, for a startup, timing is everything. If you know, you’re not at the right place at the right time, then no matter how, you know, how amazing a team you have, or you know how amazing your execution is, but it has to click, so you know, because we were talking about digital content. So, you know, we were like, Okay, I think it’s best that we sell right now, and you know, take the money and then go out and do something else. So I was like, Okay, no problem. And now, in fact, it’s, it’s quite nice to see some of my content on prime. I was like, Oh, my God, that’s, that’s, that’s my thing. But then I can’t claim any copyrights. I took the money. And I splurged it. But yeah, but you know, exciting, because it was a huge learning for me, you know, about how to set up a team. Most most important, right? I mean, team is everything. So you know, about how to set up a team, but how to create all that content, how to get, you know, things, things rolling from an execution point of view. Because that was, again, very operational, you know, I mean, operationally very heavy, right? There has to be a production team or writing team or marketing team. There are shooting team, you have to get actors, etc. So on and so forth. So you know, but but those three years, we’ve learned so much, I think that is something that I’ve really implemented into him story. And, you know, so now I know that the mistakes I made, then you know, how to correct them and what not to do when you know what to do. What was missing then? So yeah, I think whatever happens happens, so good.
Krishna Jonnakadla 17:27
We’ll come to the part of how you channel those lessons into installed in a second. So it’s interesting that you consider 2016 is a bit premature. Because from a media company perspective, it makes it inevitable for us. I co founded a OTT platform called mango mobile TV, in the in the US in the year 2011. So, so forget 2016. This is way back in 2010. We will watch people who are checking out their grocery shopping for either on a Friday evening.
Sharmin Ali 18:13
In the US in the US. Yeah, that’s what but but I was doing it in India.
Krishna Jonnakadla 18:18
Yeah, I’ll come to India in a second. Yeah, I’ll come to India in a second. So what we witnessed was that there was content was not very easy, but easily available. So either it was literally Rapidshare, or mega upload, if you remember, any of those are ripped versions of bootleg copies, as they’re called DVDs. And so they were in fact being sold pretty blatantly in every grocery store. And we would see that every card used to have a minimum of two DVDs. So each, if it was a really good copy, it would be $2. If it was a bad copy, it was 99 cents. So essentially, people were paying anywhere between two to $3. So if you multiply that over a period of four weekends, people are paying anywhere between $8 to $12. That is to watch content. And Netflix was at 799 at that point in time. So we built mango. When we launched we had about 2800 films. Yeah, so and that scale. When I left the platform, when I was forced to use the platform that we had about 10,000 films, you know, perhaps the largest, how long? Three years 2011 to 30. And even today, the product is frozen as is in fact in newsletters. Everything is the way my co founder and I built it because the current person doesn’t have the vision. He runs it a bit differently. So I can really Back to we were, we were very clear there is this notion that of timing when it comes to startups, but a lot of people, so there’s this infamous talk by a guy called Bill gras on time, where he talks about measuring and measuring various parameters. So at least his in his TED talk, he says he’s seen 1000s of startups. And he’s looked at the reasons for their success. And in about 54% of them, he says they succeeded because of timing. Now, the problem with timing is, timing is always in the high in hindsight, you cannot look ahead and say, This is the exact timing, everything is falling into place. And then I’m going to do it right now, it rarely happens that way. More often than not in the startup world. Because if you see the various startups from WhatsApp, and Facebook, to Instagram, none of them. If you take the likes of Instagram, they were not even what they were before. Right. So in their inception, they were just a social network called bourbon. It was not even what you say. And if there was some other company. And when you look at Uber, Uber started as Black Caps, the cab sharing aspect of it did not come from Uber. So there’s a lot of hidden history behind startups and a lot of these myths that are bandied about saying that, okay, the team is everything that is everything. Yes, yes, yes, they are all correct. But the fundamental processes, it’s like how human beings were born. There is something I call it startup instant death syndrome. So for kids, there is something called a safe, sudden infant death syndrome, which is a very funny, harmless way of infants dying. So when they’re young, in the first few months, infants have a tendency to turn over when they go ahead, and many times they turn over, and then they dry, because they’re unable to breed. So that’s called sales, which is why they say, lay an infant always on its back. So startups, the first priority is to survive, forget timing, you, you don’t have the luxury. And by definition, you’re most of the time going to be a little ahead, because you’re filling out a solution. So the idea is to very rarely happens like a Hotmail scenario where you launch and then in about six months time, you have the whole world having a Hotmail address. And I had Saville on my show a couple of months, a month ago. So where we were chatting about how that happened. And he said, Yes, that is very rare. A rare situation where a launch a product and the whole world decides that he’s going this, this was something needed. If you want if you’re already fulfilling, existing need, more than likely that you are you are behind the market, in which case, you’re just playing catch up. And in that kind of a scenario, a startup cannot succeed a company like Apple with humongous resources, because then it is not about it is not about innovation. It’s about actually making it really, really good. So with mango, that’s what happened. We were very conscious. We knew that we were a little ahead when we started in 2010. Because even Netflix had only two hours of streaming content at that point in time because they didn’t have a lot of content. So we were we were clear. But the funny thing was 2011 when we started, all of the content that we were selling was freely available on rapid Rapidshare Megaupload, but by 20, mid 2012, something happened. The FBI odd all of a sudden shut down Megaupload. And our platform which had 200 or 300 users, all of a sudden shot up to 33,000 users in a single month. So that is not something that we could have foreseen. In fact, we used to have so much illegal versions of our content floating around, we used to send 5000 legal notices per day to various internet service providers to take take down content. So but we were clear that in 2014 When I moved back, I was like, Okay, this is fantastic. I think we have high speed internet here. We should launch but our rights that we had bought because we had bought rights in such a way that the rest of the world other than India, we had rights to the Philips. So that is how we were able to buy cheapy but yeah, it’s a it became a multimillion dollar company, you will be a little ahead of the market. But you need to have that staying power. Very rarely. It’ll be there’ll be a scenario where you’ll click and then it’ll happen. So it’s interesting. I think you should have stayed a little more longer. But anyway, here you Hear within story.
Sharmin Ali 25:02
So I, I have a different opinion. You know, I think genius is in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. Because I know the struggles that we had faced, you know, fundraising was a big challenge at that point in time in India, not in the US. So I was like, I’m not someone who’s going to drag things forever. Once I feel that, you know, because it was almost three and a half years. And, you know, we were not able to fundraise. I mean, I was the only one who was, you know, contributing from my own money. So I was like, I think it’s time to move on. Because for me, timing was a was a very important thing. I didn’t see that as a very big requirement in the Indian market at that at that point in time. So I was like, I think it would be smart to, you know, jump onto something, which which would give us much better returns in the long term as compared to, you know, what we’ll be doing? So, so we decided to sell but but again, they can be multiple opinions. That was my opinion. I was like, Okay, let’s
Krishna Jonnakadla 26:04
Yeah, no, no, I think you went to production house. Right. So in effect, you were a production house, then a media startup. So I think you had a different perspective, I was coming more from an aggregator VT perspective, because that’s what we were. Right. And, and, and it is this because time, and again, I’m on my sixth venture. Now, time and again, I have seen that, in most cases, you tend to be a bit ahead of the market. And many times unless there’s a existing, so take, take the example of airports. Today, Apple with airports alone, makes about $24 billion. It is equal to the revenue of all the other wireless companies combined. But they were the last company to launch airports. There it was, they were they looked at what everybody else did, and then they
Sharmin Ali 27:01
know correct, but that’s also because Apple had already built a huge rapport right, with their initially with their iPads with their Mac, book, air and everything. Right. So when you write that space, I mean, I can’t compare apples with oranges, of course. Apple in the in the category that it’s been there, right? Mmm, you know, a very, very premium product. Incredible product, of course, no doubt, you know, previously is their number one thing, I don’t think anyone can hack the iPhone. I’m not sure if they can, but I mean, not that I’ve heard of. And, you know, service is also amazing. So of course, when when they also they were, you know, one of the latter viewers in the in the airport space, but then see, they, you know, because when when a giant like Apple is coming in this space, and coming up with an airport, although they are the later ones, because of their, you know, existing reputation in the market, of course, that that had a huge contribution. So that’s
Krishna Jonnakadla 28:06
the captive distribution network that they’re able to tap into. So So let’s come to how you made the switch to instore. So from then, was there some sort of an organic segue that happened from what you were doing with the media company, where you were writing, there was something a need that you saw? And therefore, that’s where you decided to get into a status? What was the initial spark? How did that happen?
Sharmin Ali 28:34
So, you know, this is a very good question, actually. So the thing is that I was creating a lot of content for a number of startups in, in the US, you know, as in particularly working with, with a number of people that I met when I was in the US. So one thing that, you know, I was really, really interested towards was understanding how content marketing really works. I’ve always loved to create content. So, I was like to, you know, in order to understand how content marketing works, especially from a strategic point of view it you know, so, what happened was that I spoke with a bunch of neuro marketers, so I went to Howard because one of my friends who was from Howard, he had told me that you know, there are some of these neuroscientists who are doing some incredible work and because I was so interested into you know, understanding how to create better content, what is it that audiences really want? So, that is the reason I got in touch with those guys. And after talking to them, what happened is that you know, in I mean, in simple layman’s terms, what they said is that Gone are the days of, you know, wherein you have to do conventional forms of marketing. Now is the time to market in such a way wherein you’re able to sell to the human brain. So, you know, they explain the triune brain model And then they said that, you know, I mean, the the the emotional brain or other the other limbic system, as it’s called, that is the one which is the most impactful that is the one which, which you know, handles all the decision making in us humans. So all of the customer buying patterns, decision making all the customer behavior that is being solely and only impacted by the emotional brain. So for all of the content that you know, you’re you’re training for all the content creation that is happening, be it for your Google ads, I mean, offline, online, whatever that you do, you know, for for you to connect better with your audiences, it’d be amazing if you’re able to connect to the emotional brain. So create content with which, you know, our our emotions are being resonated with. So, there are five main emotions that we human beings connect the most with. So you know, joy, anger, fear, sadness, and surprise. So, if you are able to put in, you know, elements with these emotions into your content marketing, then you would be able to get the most number of conversions. So, and I mean, of course, there is a whole storytelling aspect of it, but then I ended up talking to a number of guys who are already working in this space in the in the, you know, emotional engagement, sentiment analysis as as it was, then. I mean, there was, of course, IBM Watson’s that was there. So, you know, after, after doing a lot of research, and then creating a lot of content myself, and then understanding how content strategy really works. That’s when I was like, Okay, I think this is something where I’m naturally inclined towards, and I’m really liking it. Also, because, needless to say, Now, as you know, we know good quality content is key, no matter who you are in the video, space, tech space, or any kind of content that you’re generating. So that’s when we decided that, okay, let’s let’s do something in this. You know, so, initially, we had a few other ideas. The first thing actually, not too many people notice, I’ll tell you, is that initially, when we started, what we did was, it was actually like, medium. You know, we were actually started, you know, something like a medium wherein we were getting people to, you know, post content. But then, you know, I was like, Okay, so do we want to, you know, use advertisements and things like that to generate revenue. I was like, if you create ads, then what happens is that you’re diluting the entire essence of reading, right? I mean, when I’m reading content on, let’s say, on my mobile device, or my laptop, I hate seeing ads on the right. So I was like, Okay, no, this is this is not something that I want to do, because revenue generation for us was was the most important. So then we came up with something like, you know, something like some of the other platforms that are available. So we thought that, okay, maybe we build something like an Instagram for content, you know, when you should be able to post and publish your own content, and then invite people. So there are a few companies that are doing this. But then it so happened that all of you know, first of all these companies revenue generation was, again, through advertisements. And I personally was like, okay, there is engagement is one factor. Another factor is revenue, which is through ads, but I don’t want to dilute again, the essence of content using advertisements. And then after doing a lot of research, the third thing, finally, that we came up with, was the content evaluation platform that we’ve built. And, yeah, now that is what we’ve been doing. So you know, because now that we’ve been in the space, we also need some money. So we understood that, okay, next thing in the content space has to be about content generation, about creating copy, right? GBD three, and all of these technologies have been dead for, you know, for the last 1820 months, they’ve been like, you know, in talks, so we were like, Okay, so let’s, let’s enter into the copy creation space. So now we are there as well now, and one thing we’ve done is that, you know, we’ve club both. So both content generation and content devaluation, although that final tool is not yet live, it should be live by the end of June. You know, so yeah, that’s where we are, but then, you know, all of these pivots happen. And yeah, so we, you know, we’ve spoken to a number of people, content guys, personal marketing guys, ad tech people, and then figured out that, okay, this is what the market needs. So accordingly and obviously this
Krishna Jonnakadla 34:45
nice. So you did launch as a blogging platform initially, like medium. How long did you stay in that version?
Sharmin Ali 34:53
Six, I think eight months, eight months.
Krishna Jonnakadla 34:57
Okay. Okay, and what sort of traction Did you see in that?
Sharmin Ali 35:02
So we had, you know about 70,000 content writers that we’ve got, I think around 7000 Something content writers from from India, we were initially vernacular, we were in, you know, all languages, English, Hindi, and then some of the local languages Bengali, which are the Telugu, a lot of Telugu guys, in fact. So we have almost six to seven languages that we are supporting. And then the challenge happened again, when, you know, we realize that the only way is to, to generate revenue, because people didn’t want to, you know, pay when it comes to, you know, having a subscription, right? Like, there is so much content trending online, both from a, you know, writer and a reader perspective. So, we were like these, these readers didn’t really want to pay, so subscription wasn’t really a thing. And I didn’t want to do advertisements, because after talking to a lot of guys who were doing ads, they figured out that, you know, they were actually losing customers after, you know, when when they started doing advertisements. So we were like, Okay, no, you know, this isn’t something that that can help us sail through in the long run. So, yeah, then we
Krishna Jonnakadla 36:21
would pretend that the Instagram for content then was was that any? Was that something that you were evaluating? Or did that we would actually have?
Sharmin Ali 36:30
So yeah, we did we did that pivot. You know, we did come up with something interesting with with a with a mobile app, actually. So and so it was initially a mobile app. You know, which, which was basically that you can, you know, plug and play, like as in just just drop your content, publish it, and then reach out to users. But we didn’t, we didn’t make that, you know, we didn’t really invest too much time in it six months. And it was mostly in private beta. He, we did make it live for like, a month. And we got some, I think, 3000 downloads, so and then, you know, we were like, Okay, no, but then what, where does this go? So, again, we we realize that advertisements isn’t something that we want to invest in, there are a few companies that are doing this, you know, there’s a company based out of the US, they did raise some money, and then you know, now, they’ve also pretty much like falling apart. So we were like, Okay, anyone who’s not doing ads, or who’s doing ads, you know, because because there’s so much of freely available content. So we were like, Okay, I don’t think that a marketplace for content is something that we’d like to invest. Then finally, we got into a product model from, you know, from a platform model, wherein we decided that, okay, let’s use NLP to build something from scratch. So that’s
Krishna Jonnakadla 38:01
a huge jump, actually, to jump from going from user generated content platform to becoming a completely product oriented. Yes, right. And the kind of back end engineering that that’s so important for a platform like this. So do you have GPT? One, two, or three anything behind this? Or I know
Sharmin Ali 38:25
we’ve not used those, we’ve built our own? That is okay. It took us 18 months, and 30 million plus data points and a partnership with Oxford University to get this out. But then, you know, what happened is that, thanks to Grammarly, I would I would love to name them. I know those guys. They are they’re fantastic. You know, thanks to Grammarly what what happened is that this particular space was seeing a huge boom. You know, so people knew that there was a market for this. And we need to create emails every other day or you know, I mean, whatever content that we’re generating from a marketing standpoint, now most of our competitors are in you know, multiple other industries, someone can be creating engaging content for, let’s say HR people, someone can be doing that for you know, sales, but we chose marketing, although we had access to I mean, we could have got content, you know, resume a content for HR or, you know, sales related content for for salespeople, but we chose marketing because irrespective of whether it’s a pandemic or a recession, you know, my I mean, marketing is something that you will always have to invest in in that you know, you would always have to do so, yeah,
Krishna Jonnakadla 39:45
as as as a spending source as a absolute, you always
Sharmin Ali 39:51
knew that okay, there will not be any dearth of money, you know, from a sales point of view because people need to market so they will need
Krishna Jonnakadla 39:59
to decouple America When marketing, correct, correct, right?
Sharmin Ali 40:03
Well put Yeah, well. So we were like marketing is an absolute essential. So let’s go with marketing. So then, you know, we started, we collected all the, you know, backend data that was needed, right? So, multiple platforms all over the internet. And we’ve also got a few partners, data partners, who’ve done that for us. And then we’ve sat in tag, I have also tagged like, a million data points myself, and then I was like, Okay, no, I can’t do this anymore. Then we got linguists in house when you know, they have satin tagged, and we still do it, you know, as in when we need to upgrade the data, which which happens quarterly. So, yeah, that’s, that’s how it happened. And then finally, now, I think the tool has, you know, it’s good, it’s functioning well, and it’s at a point where in a, you know, initially, when you start to get a variety of, you know, recommendations, a very broad spectrum, like, they can be junk, there can be meaningful stuff. But then now the product has stabilized, and, you know, the back end content is good. And because the tool has gone through so much content in itself, that now it’s, you know, also on a self learn mode. So more more the content that it encounters, the better the recommendations, and the responses also become. So, in, I think, in the last 18 months, we’ve seen a huge, you know, jump from, from, you know, from an efficiency perspective, right earlier, the tool wasn’t doing that well. But now, in the last six months, we’ve seen a huge jump in our users, especially after we’ve gone b2c. So now, I think we are doing much better. And also, I think, you know, COVID, turned out to be a huge opportunity in, you know, in adversity for us, actually, you know, it was, it was definitely a blessing in disguise, I think we are one of those companies, which excelled due to COVID. So, you know, because when most of the brick and mortar stores were shutting down, because people were, you know, witnessing very few footfalls in their stores, the only way that they had was to, you know, sell online. And that was exactly our pitch that how do you sell better online by engaging with your audiences? And how do you engage better, you know, by seeing what’s your engagement quotient, and, you know, see the prediction that the tool gets, and you know, then then decide what you want to publish. So a more like a pre publishing, you know, prediction tool, which will tell you that, okay, this is what needs to go, this is what might do better. And then now that we have a, you know, content generation aspect to it, so that just makes it, you know, it’s, it’s like a nice cherry on top. So it just makes it much easier when it comes to saving time, you know, productivity efficiency. So I would say, as is more of a writing assistant, you know, because it completely depends on on the writer, I’m not trying to replace the content writer or a content marketer. Many people ask me this question. So I’m like, No, we are an assistant, we are not someone which can, because AI cannot essentially replace the human brain completely. You know, it can, it can never be perfect, of course. So yeah, but then I think now, the results are much more polished.
Krishna Jonnakadla 43:38
Interesting, you know, when you were talking, when you said earlier, that you’re not someone who will crack under pressure, I can see evidence of that, because doing the kinds of pivots that you’ve done, and exit, making the kinds of exits because it’s an exit. Whether you had opportunity ahead of you or not, is irrelevant. But it takes a certain amount of courage to admit that you’re at a certain point, and say, Hey, I think this is this is time to call it quits. And,
Sharmin Ali 44:12
exactly, I mean, you’ve, you’ve exactly read my mind. I was I was gonna say that, that, you know, as a founder, yes, we all have our own journeys. You know, I so I invested almost $100,000 of my own money, like whatever I’ve saved over the years. But then, you know, after a certain point in time, it is not just about the money that you’re making, it is actually about thinking through, am I actually creating an impact? You know, there there is that trigger in your brain, which sort of tells you that, listen, I think this is the end of the road for this particular startup. I mean, the one that I was doing that so because because of the we were a team of almost 55 got people. And you know, on top of that, we have these freelance writers and, you know, a bunch of other guys that we’re working with. So overall, almost 7035 people, and they were all doing this full time rather than maybe the 1015 or freelancers. You know, but I sort of understood that. Where was this going? You know, I was like, there has to be a proper tech angle in order to scale things up. I mean, that is just that this is one, you know, one particular learning, but then I sort of had that gut feeling also, I was like, you know, that’s the reason I said that you were a little ahead of our time, because I’ve seen some of my other peers who are in the US doing something similar. You know, like you said, in the, in the aggregation space, we decided to create content ourselves. So another learning was that, you know, you don’t have to create everything yourself, right? Sometimes you can just, you know, get what is there and enhance the Instagram for content? You know, again, I was like, No, I don’t want to just just have someone who’s, you know, creating content, let’s open a marketplace, let’s, let’s have to, you know, come and post content, and like, you know, share, and then get more subscribers. So all of that, you know, all of these ups and downs, all of these learnings, and then finally ended up into a completely different thing altogether, when, you know, data heavy tech heavy. So yeah, those those learnings are there, but I was like, I think the genius is in knowing where to stop there that there is that gut feeling that you get? Because I’ve seen startups, which has raised like, $50 million, no offense, but when I asked the founder they do, what do you do with all this money? I figure it out. Okay, you know, as in like, lack of vision, lack of knowing what, where you’re going, I mean, I don’t want to just run a startup to, you know, make money, yes, we will all eventually end up making money. Because if you have the guts to quit a Wall Street job, and then start something of your own, you know, then you’re definitely in the top 10 percentile, right? But, but then the thing is that, you know, are you actually adding some value? Is this something, I mean, as they say, right, that build to last are built to sell. So, like, we need to sell, you know, revenue has to come, profitability has to be shown, let’s show some real value that I was like, I want to sell water, not juice. Earlier, I was selling juice, but now I’m in the water space. So
Krishna Jonnakadla 47:44
essentially, you’re, you’re dealing with something very essential. So I give you two or three examples, you know, from my own journey, where the I hung up my boots with that startup, under slightly two separate scenarios. Okay, this is, before I did mango, I had started. My mother tongue is Telugu. So what I’ve seen was a lot of the Indian students who are studying in the US, their spare time would make a lot of foam, foam sketches, schools and schools. So I saw homemade comedy. And it was not still a big thing on YouTube yet. So there were a lot of portals back then a friend of mine ran out for recall that guy with the glasses, and that fellow had 800,000 users, and all of this pay based on user generated comedies and schools. So I said, India is, you know, got a lot of languages. And I saw, I went on YouTube in another few places. I saw a lot of these creators I said, this is fantastic. We need Indian stuff like that. And I built a platform called naboo.tv. Now, who in Telugu means laughter I said, the second largest diaspora in in in the US is the Telugu speaking population after digerati. So and they’re young, they are they’ve recently come they’re thirsting for Indian content. So let’s put it out. But until I put out the platform, and I started scouting for creators, I realized that in the in the English speaking space, you had two 3 million creatives way back then this is 2007 2008. And in Telugu, the number of content creators max over 25 And so I was And thankfully, I have this week to run things on a shoestring I hadn’t put in a lot of money. And what I did then was iced I got into production myself. So I tied up with Rama and I to film school in Hyderabad and the It was a big mess. And I realized that, okay, I think the Indian creative community is not yet set. So I decided I’m going to I drive I was added for 15 months, and I decided, Okay, I think this is the wrong time, let’s not do it. And I chatted. And funnily enough, all the things that I learned about encoding, editing, standing of a media platform ended up hugely relevant when I started Lango. So, and in mango, there were 40 other startups that were trying to do the exact same thing as we did, we did a couple of things. And as a result of that, we ended up with it 2800 films on a platform. So we knocked out 39 others from that. And so there were a whole host, there was a whole host of innovation going on. So I came back to India. And I don’t know if there is a startup called RetailMeNot. I don’t know if you know about that. Essentially, it’s a company that sends you shows you deals in offline stores. So whether it is Xpress or banana republic, or Macy’s, so you check RetailMeNot, you see an offer or a coupon, and then you go shop them. So essentially, they’re creating the lead. When I came back to India, I saw that 2014 15 people were like, Oh, the online space is amazing. I said, India is offline. I mean, there’s so much variety here, nobody’s doing anything for the offline space. So we created the exact same platform. We were right in time, we spread to nine cities, with 1/10 of the budget that other startups who had raised today, none of the startups that raised this was a company. This is 2014 to 2016. Nice, very nice. So the funny thing is, in that case, we had to, we had to pivot. It’s a whole different story. I won’t bore you with it. Three and a half years, we pivoted into fashion, it was a mistake. But after working for three and a half years, there was this problem, the thing that kept nagging at me is the problem that we are trying to solve still remain unsolved. So you’re, you’re a lady. So for instance, women want and it’s in the case of men as well. But in in the, in the case of men, the supply is very limited. You want a different dress, you want a different piece to reuse such high end, high end low for things that are unique, right. So today, what has happened is, and there are a whole host of internet brands, and none of them have a physical presence. And they could greatly benefit from that. But the problem with the physical presence is that you cannot have 100 branches because you need capital for that. So how do you solve that problem? So after working for three and a half years in that startup, we came up with a format called a pothole in an existing store. It worked brilliantly. So we did about 14 of them. And we made so much money in a single popup that we had not done in six months in the previous version of the startup. Awesome. But you know, what was the other side? That was a breakthrough, but I had no energy left. Why? for and a half, close to four years of slogging my finances were a mess. Oh, my. We had responding and we run out of funding. And so what I done was from a team of 44 people, we had scaled down to five, and I was doing 12 jobs at the same time. So as a CEO, I was I was calling myself chief everything officer. So
Sharmin Ali 53:45
outside of running a startup. Yeah. was difficult. Yeah, we were there in the beginning. And why is it so what happened? In during COVID? You know, it suddenly felt like okay, are we gonna flat is this. I mean, I called up my co founder one day, and I was like, Dude, I don’t have any more go left with me, even for my jewelry. Like, I don’t know how to pay salaries. But then, you know, that’s when we understood that. There is so much money in tier two and tier three cities in India.
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:20
So this popup showcases exactly same thing happened in when we went to a tier two city. We hadn’t even opened shop and people had lined up for these things. So all we had to do was put out saying that, hey, these brands are gonna be here. So we had a format. The unfortunate thing was, I tried about 18 months to raise funding for it and so many investors had lots of money in fashion. They said, This sounds great, but we are not going to do it. And the sad part is the retail may not want it today. Think about it. You’re going to go shop in a retail store. You can look up a coupon. There isn’t any risk. It’s a valid use case. And you This pop up, let’s say Calcutta, you know, is home to so many amazing local brands, and Bengali still are amazing with so much fashion. None of that shows up here. And to say that only place to shop is Myntra or shopper stop. Is any of these just a bad way? Right? Yes, yeah. So I know those models exist, those are still valid. But I had to just give up for a variety of reasons either opportunity exists. And the pop up format. It was, there was no timing. It was just it is still there. So variety of reasons. But right now I’m working on a startup, which is in FinTech. I’ve been in
Sharmin Ali 55:40
Wow, what scares me that first?
Krishna Jonnakadla 55:44
Well, no, this is about you. So we’ll come back to you.
Sharmin Ali 55:51
Please, I would I would love to know like, what are you doing? Please tell me that. No. Talking to people like you who have the audacity and the interest and you know, who want to do things on their own? That is so incredibly nice. And just to set a minute. What are they?
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:08
For me, the goal is we have to help create a trillion dollars in wealth through startups. So this podcast is a platform to do that. And I’ve been an entrepreneur, I started my first venture out of college. So anyway, right now, it’s a Fintech startup essentially, is a digital escrow platform, which prevents payment issues. That’s so it’s a little ahead of you live already. Yeah, we’ve been we’ve been live will share details with you after recording. And I also play the winner.
Sharmin Ali 56:44
So Oh, very nice. Amazing. And also a very, very difficult instrument to play.
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:50
Still a student, still a student,
Sharmin Ali 56:54
at least you’re doing something that is so amazing.
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:57
So I suspect so I will come to the data points, the million times 5 million. 30 million 30 million. Did you know that Pandora which is an music started similarly with the Music Genome Project? Yes, yes. Yes. I
Sharmin Ali 57:12
know. No. Yes.
Krishna Jonnakadla 57:13
So 10,000, people listened to various types of songs and marked songs that sounded similar. So today, whatever powers Pandora in the backend, is similar to this. So kudos to you. So when you launched this first version, what was the attraction? Like? What was the first customer? Or how did you land them talk a little more? Well,
Sharmin Ali 57:31
there was no traction initially, obviously, product companies zero. Like one thing that my investors have always told me, Don’t just be only product, we also into the services side, you know, which which we are now figuring it out by just giving away information. But initially, we were only SAS, you know, so, SAS companies, as we all know, right? I mean, it takes a long time to generate sizeable revenue. Right. I mean, especially in the, in the content side of things, right. So, initially, we were absolutely free. Yeah, you got like freemium, you know, like, just how rapidly is again, right. So I am, I have always accepted this. I love what, you know, the people that Grammarly have done. The only thing is that they took 10 years to do it. I won’t do it in five years. I don’t spend 10 years doing that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 58:30
I think you will. I think ironically, your timing is right.
Sharmin Ali 58:39
This time it is yes. You know, and also because this time, I have a fantastic co founder.
Krishna Jonnakadla 58:50
How do you find a co founder? What’s the story behind that?
Sharmin Ali 58:52
So I have known him for almost 15 plus years now. First met during our college days. At this one some some event that was where you know, those those hackathons and stuff that happened, right? I gradually gone and then you know, we bumped into each other. And then he was telling me about what are things that he’s doing and so he was he was always into computer science and stuff and any told me then that he was going to pursue his master’s in machine learning and natural language processing from Sydney. You know, I was like, back in Ramona Panzer in 2010. And I met him in 2009. So sorry, in 2008 is when I met him. Yeah. So I was like, Dude, that is amazing. Yeah, what are you doing? I mean, that time I had no idea about you know, what is natural language processing? What is machine learning? is like, no, no, no, this is this. No, there’s this there’s so much scope, so much happening. So we always kept in touch. So he went to Finland. He did his, you know, his, his his masters and then He was working with, you know, this one, Microsoft for a while. And in, in, in Finland. And, you know, so how it happened is that I was like, okay, dude, like, suddenly after my, you know, after coming back from the US, I called him one day I was like, What are you doing? So that time he was into another startup wherein he was the CTO, and based out of Berlin whenever using drones for crop detection in the agri tech space. So I was like, why you are in German farmers? Come do something for us. So so he was like, Don’t you think we might just have an acquisition? So let me just get out of this. You know, because we’re IP and all that was there. So he was like, No, I can’t just leave it like that. But just give me like five to like four to five months. And I thought, I was like, Okay, fine, but not more than that, else, I’ll find another commander. So but but I knew that, you know, he’s, he’s, he’s a very grounded, very calm sort of a person. So one thing that I had, again, learned from my first startup experience, and also from your sigma, and you know why I’m saying this, that it is very important that the leadership team have complementary skill sets, you know, and it was like, I’ve seen what happened in in, you know, in other companies, I was like, We are not repeating those same mistakes. Okay, you know, what I’m
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:32
saying, Once we stop recording, I will definitely understand what and add to what you’re saying, I can definitely vouch. I’ve seen so
Sharmin Ali 1:01:42
many startups fall apart, because of the fights. You know, I was like, Dude, I can’t handle that. You know,
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:49
I mean, so they are saying, amongst founders, that for every one startup that’s killed by Google, or Facebook, or any of them, there are 499 that are killed by the conflict. And
Sharmin Ali 1:02:01
that is so true. That is so true. You know, I mean, founders have so much of ego clashes and shit like that, about when they have to raise money, how much to dilute and all that bullshit that they get into, because they’re just talking about making money. How can I, how can I have a low valuation? I’m like, Dude, it’s your first startup, do something, first commit, make some money, then then think about becoming, you know, a unicorn in the next one. So why don’t we knew about Tom so my co founder is they’ll sit down to write it. So one thing I knew is that he’s a very grounded person. You know, I am the sales person is the he’s the tech person. I was like, era. And this is like Steve Jobs. And Steve Wozniak, you know, he’s like, the doc to my car. I was like, I was like, this is this is amazing. He is also equally enthusiastic, but in the tech space. And for me, it is sales, fundraising, all of that. Although, I mean, I’ve done tech also, because he makes me do from time to time. But I was like this, I think he’s an amazing, you know, couple. This is, this is an amazing pair where, you know, I will not, I mean, I won’t tell him how to code, he won’t tell me how to sell, we will do our own things. And he’s someone who really sits back and lets me, you know, do the decision making when it comes to fundraising, talking to investors is like, that is your forte, you do it. So, you know, I think that is the biggest strength of this. You know, I mean, my co founder and me that
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:03:39
Charmaine charmed Sudan to into quitting his German startup and coming over to India,
Sharmin Ali 1:03:45
by the way, you know, what the meaning of my name is also charming. So, John Yeah, so, you know, I was like, dude, listen, I have to do this. And I want to get with you only. Because, I mean, I had known that, you know, this one guy who will sit back code and you know, I’ll be the one who will keep screaming, who you will keep yelling references that you are funding me and all that. And he’s like, Don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll do it. chill, relax. No, he’s, he’s, he’s that person. very calm, very grounded. So I’m like, okay, we can survive. Yeah, I was like, yeah, so you know, the the only thing I told him that Listen, no matter what happens, you and I are never fighting. So if we can survive that, I think building a startup 50% job is done. The founders don’t have anything. So you’re saying
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:04:43
so. So talk about your traction right now. What sort of numbers do you have? What sort of adoption rate? What sort of, if you’re measuring yourself as a SAS? What sort of ARR MRR you’re saying
Sharmin Ali 1:04:58
so yeah, I mean, you know SAS both from a b2b and b2c perspective. So I can’t really, you know, share exact numbers. But yeah, you know, we are very close to getting to at least, you know, half a million in in MRR pretty soon. I think yeah, possibly in the next quarter only it should happen. I mean, in in this upcoming
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:05:23
quarter, what sort of other numbers are the numbers? So we
Sharmin Ali 1:05:27
have a we have over 1,000,000,001 point 2 million users almost 1.2 billion users now. And, you know, we’ve just started investing in marketing. So, so long, we were not paying marketing. We now have a have a very good marketing head also. So you know, he’s setting up his own team and everything. So
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:05:46
what is your end users that are using it on premium users,
Sharmin Ali 1:05:51
b2c perspective? For b2b, we have about 75 companies that we are working with.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:05:57
2 million is amazing. That’s astounding.
Sharmin Ali 1:06:01
Yeah. So all of it happened again, because of COVID. You know, because, like I say, we are a COVID startup, you know, initially when we were struggling to raise funds, and then suddenly COVID happened, and we raised all the money that we’ve raised in the last few years, actually,
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:06:22
there must be some sort of COVID is the hockey stick creator here in in user base. Correct. And so you started in mid 19? Was it
Sharmin Ali 1:06:32
2019 12 marks 12. March, so
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:06:35
a little most like, almost like the so then the first two first year or so was the payment time, so and then bang in the midst of COVID.
Sharmin Ali 1:06:48
You live in the middle of COVID launched during the lockdown, you know, the
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:06:53
launch launch, launched using the lockdown. And then what were the numbers, numbers, like in the first few months? And what were some tipping points that took it? I mean, 1.2 million is not a number two, you know, sneer, right so it’s a it’s a sizable number. How did you get to that talk about that number journey?
Sharmin Ali 1:07:12
So initially, we were only b2b, even not b2c 1.2 million users, as has happened from January this year, actually, because when we went to b2c, we were only b2b. Because we knew that, again, COVID time investors were like revenue the cow, I was like, what? And that’s when we were like, okay, no revenues can come only from the b2b space, not from the b2c space. So all those things, right. So to get those numbers to get the revenues that we’re talking about, we started in June 2020, was when I think we, yeah, June is when we got the first customer, you know, and that customer never really ended up paying the entire money because he ran out of money in his company because of COVID. So, again, another learning for us was that, you know, let’s do annual upfront payment, let’s not do like a pay as you go model for for right. So now we are again completely, you know, like annual upfront payment. And we are a we are a premium service, we really charge a good amount. So, you know, June was was the first customer. And then, you know, until October, November, we had raised our first round because of the you know, we had done, I think about 5060 lakhs in revenue in in those six months. But we were able to raise the first round we are we were like, Okay, fine, look, we’ve got some numbers that we missed. But then as soon as the money came, the second wave happened the intuitive way one last year, and oh my god, that was the worst time ever. I was like, what just happened? Our revenues came down to zero. And, you know, that’s when I mean, the, the the MRR, you know, near to zero, you know, I mean, because we were doing like 1015 lakhs in a month. And then suddenly, we were not able to sell at all because everyone was like, we can’t pay we can’t pay for email after us. So that’s when we again started trying out a bunch of other things. Initially, we were only talking to you know, the enterprises. So during the second wave, that is when a lot of learning happened that SMEs, Indian SMEs, they have a lot of money. A tier two guys, right? So we started working with SMEs. And then we again saw that huge rise that you know, I mean, there was a surge in our revenues, and we were able to get 70 odd, you know, customers in in the last 12 months, and that’s when we saw that okay, You know, converting these SMEs that is much easier than as compared with a large enterprise. So we were like, Okay, let’s let’s focus on SMEs. And then last year in November, December is when we decided to go b2c. So we launched the tool in December. I mean, the, you know, as in a much better version of the tool in December. And then Jan onwards, we went public in, you know, we started the whole lifetime deal thing, you know, for for b2c. And that’s what we saw that, okay, this is this is working really well. So we’ve had all of those lessons that we’ve learned, we’ve made our mistakes, we’ve learned those lessons, we’ve tried and tested multiple models, multiple pricing models, you know, there is no one size fits all thing that we’ve seen, thanks to COVID. Again, we’ve you know, seen that what has worked, what hasn’t worked. But finally now I think we are at a position where, you know, we initially I was the only one doing sales, but now there is a sales team in the US that we’ve hired. So
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:11:04
when you focus on b2c, it’s surprising. Do you need a sales skill?
Sharmin Ali 1:11:09
We are both b2b and b2c. It’s okay. So the sales team is for b2c attorneys for b2b, the marketing team is for b2c, so they are focusing on their own things. But like I said, that, you know, for any company to scale and also because the market right now is unstable, right. Thanks to some of the things that happened recently. So you know, now we’ve understood that profitability is everything. So, thankfully for us as soon as we hit half a million dollars in monthly recurring revenue, we will be profitable you know, so, in the next three to four months, we are looking at profitability and then scaling in the US
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:11:55
Well, I think Grammarly has, like you said, brought light to the space. A funny thing is this f7 which you which you had to hit in Microsoft Word to bring up spelling and grammar has been there for more than a couple of decades now. So and it would correct spelling and I personally heard of Grammarly. Only about a year ago, when my co founders, my co founder spelling sucks by the way. His spelling’s are so bad. And, and, and all the friends all of his friends spelling’s also suck. And whenever we, whenever whenever we are writing briefs or presentations, I would say, Gosh, I can’t believe how could you spell that? Right. So in a in a Telugu film, there’s a joke, where somebody is interviewing for a position and then that Phil was asked to spell coffee when he cracks in them. So, so wherever so I would tell my I would relay this joke to my co founder and say your spelling is like that. And then he said, Krishna, I don’t have to worry about my spelling because we’ve got Grammarly. So what is Grammarly? And I would go to and I saw Grammarly said, Okay, we’ve used f7 in Word for a very long time this is this is a little ahead. And I consider myself a pretty good writer, so I’ve never really used it. But But what Grammarly has definitely done. It’s one of those things, right? Those, it’s like those little drops of water mighty ocean thing. For a single user, it does a small thing, which is just makes the grammar better and spelling better. And that’s where it starts. And then the kind of opportunity that you work at is tends to be humongous, because it’s a universal need. And writing for emotion is a universal need as well, which I think I think your latest pivot is absolutely bang on. And I think
Sharmin Ali 1:13:56
he’s learned from the lesson, you know, especially COVID I think COVID was the biggest lesson for for any startup. I mean, 1000s of startups shut down, but then the ones that did well, you know, be able to utilize, you know, understand an opportunity in an adversity basically. So, yeah.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:14:16
So, so this is this is awesome. So, then what’s the next peak that we are going to see you scale?
Sharmin Ali 1:14:25
So, you know, we’ve also entered into the services side of things now, we are doing something very exciting when it comes to attribution. You know, there are there are a number of attribution tools available out there. But still any and every company when it comes to customers, right, their biggest problem again is attribution. So we’ve recently, recently as in just a week ago, we’ve just started entered into the services side of things, but again, can anything and everything to do with marketing money, you don’t want to believe marketing for us marketing is marketing is the universe. But within marketing, there’s so much that you can do. So we’ve gone into, you know, some attribution related services, wherein we’ll be doing attribution audits, you know, so and then basically understanding your market mix, you know, your, the channels that you’re, you know, promoting your content on. And then on top of that, we want to sell the product as a value added service on top of that, you know, so
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:15:38
no, I think your product itself has a lot of juice, I can see. Maybe grammerly alternative is the number one driver of traffic to I don’t know. And then Hemingway shows up there and then in store, it shows up there. So I’m sure
Sharmin Ali 1:15:55
work on our rankings, the VA and stuff that that is what we are working on. backlinking a lot to our, you know, content blogs and stuff. I mean, we’ve just started marketing. So right in the next three to four months, I think, you know, our our page rankings should also improve. So yeah, all of these things are happening. And most importantly, the content generation tool should go live in the last week of June. So that’s
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:16:25
one question I forgot is in the 1.2 million. What does this since it’s happened in the last six months, which is really kind of post COVID? What’s been the single or maybe one or two big contributors to that? I know, I mean, you pivoted, b2c freemium and all that, but that would also have taken some discovery something out, what’s the what have been key causes that have contributed to it?
Sharmin Ali 1:16:49
So, you know, we, we always wanted to go b2c Because of the whole untapped potential that is there, right? Copy generation as the, you know, as we call it, number,
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:17:03
what I mean, is, was it search engine was it adds somewhere? So what were the channels or the sources where a lot of those users came from?
Sharmin Ali 1:17:12
Oh, okay. So channel partners, you know, I mean, 80% of our users actually almost 80% came from our channel partners, affiliates, right, that we have. We were so I mean, we have a very, very good marketing team in house, thankfully. And, you know, they were able to secure a lot of these, you know, affiliates and channel partners in the US. One of our advisors is also the ex CEO of very large tech company in the US. So we bought him to get us those, you know, I mean, some of those companies, which are doing those affiliate partnerships, which will get you those those people so, you know, we weren’t listed on their channels. And, uh, you know, that is where people got to know about us. And then we started this lifetime deal $49, you know, lifetime for, for our users. And, you know, I mean, almost 250 $1,000 in the in the last three months came through just the lifetime. Just the lifetime needs so, and ready, or are they still not listed on product country are waiting for the content generation to recover? You know, but yeah, Reddit and Quora again, you know, because for, I mean, too many people don’t understand how valuable Reddit is. But if you have the right sub Reddits. And if you can get into that network, then getting users becomes really easy. So we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:18:56
editing, it’s just that I think India is not a big source of Reddit, Quora is possibly a better absolute engine for India. Reddit,
right is mostly
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:19:06
quest. Yeah, yeah. So amazing. So, Charmaine, this has been a fabulous conversation. I know. I know, we’re going to see you and in storage scale behinds. And I say this to every speaker that we have on our show, that will come back and talk to you when you scale the new peak and see what that vantage point looks like. But I think you have all the right. You know, brass tacks in place, you have the nuts and bolts. And by your own admission, I think you have the you have a great, grounded partner, who will see you through this. Couldn’t. This is going to be one great story. I think that’s going to come out of India and can’t wait to see that happen. Hopefully, yeah. Well, it was good having you. We wish you the very best.
Sharmin Ali 1:19:58
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:20:02
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