Story Telling at Scale by Solving Access Problem for Indian Language content
The story of all stories on Pratilipi (@TeamPratilipi) starts with the protagonist Ranjeet Singh(@thebmr). His weapon of choice – reading. With the love of books, he found means to read more by making deals with shopkeepers who sold books to watch their stores while they were away; He borrowed books on Teacher’s library cards so he could borrow more. Listen to Ranjeet of Pratilipi talk about story telling at scale by solving access problem for Indian language content.
With a little more love towards Hindi literature, he realized that though readers cherished reading in whichever language, they just couldn’t because of lack of access. Indian Language content suffered from an access problem both in publishing as well as in reading. For a few years, he thought that someone else could build this platform and he could make use of it. Eventually, with a push from his friends, he rose to the occasion. He created a digital platform with content in different languages.
With the rhythm of heartbeats of all narratives, the whirlpool of words weaved into another story.
To quote Rumi,
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”
In this episode, Ranjeet of Pratilipi talks Story Telling at Scale.
Listen on YouTube
Here are a few quotes from the episode
I personally don’t like the word vernacular primarily because of connotations. While I am not a grammar nazi, I do think that certain words should not be used in certain situations because of the condition of how people think about those words. I like to say that Pratilipi is an Indian language platform. Some of these Indian languages actually much bigger than the almost any other language that you would not call vernacular.
So there’s I mean, there’s a like a real part of it and rational part of it. So, the real part of it, we have just spoken about. The rational part of it is also that one of the reasons that I became an engineer and like, I will probably be the first engineer in maybe 50 villages or 80 villages was because I knew that there’s something called engineering. Even after that one of the reasons and one of the ways that I actually became a founder is because I knew that there is something called a founder or an entrepreneur.
It’s almost impossible to believe like if you just wanted to have fun, you can pick any of the ancient stories and you can just have fun. But if you kind of build deeper you would say, there will be exception, but almost all of the stories would actually have a much, much deeper meaning and explaining that in such a simple story that a 10-year-old child can understand. It’s genius.
My experience has always been that people’s core beliefs or aspirations, what makes them tick is actually fairly similar across cultures across age groups across a bunch of different things. It’s obviously possible that their priorities are slightly different. Like, if I don’t have enough money to eat, I’m probably not going to pay you for insurance. So that’s obviously there. But apart from that, I think people’s fundamental desires or aspirations are fairly similar. So like when you’re thinking about building a product, for example, and you’re thinking in the right direction, it’s just that you have to go and talk to the same users and ask similar questions except for the fact that the answers might be different.
I was always of the belief that my strength is not figuring out a story. My strength is largely about building a platform where we can figure out that which stories are the right stories for what kind of people, instead of me playing a gatekeeper role.
So for example in Hindi pulp fiction is very popular, in Tamil, science fiction is very popular, in Bengali, like a lot of society in life and friendship lead to the stories are more popular, but like these are essentially more about genres and taste and less about like broad generalizations.
Ranjeet Recalls a Crazy Story!
I think I’m forgetting the exact name of the writer but there’s somebody called Zaidi would publish a story called Mayavi Hindiya back in 2015. That was one of the first crazy stories that I read. I was like, I was so freaking happy, basically talks about there’s a guy like a small kid, I think, maybe 10-11-12 year old, who is afraid of maths and then an alien comes to his neighborhood.
The alien captures this small kid into a world where the only way to get out of that world is to solve a lot of mathematical problems. And this alien being basically kind of captures, not captures, kind of takes over this small child’s body. So, he’s living his life, the alien guy as a God on earth. And this kid is basically trapped in that world where the only way to get out of is by solving maths problem. I thought like, its phenomenal.
Now Pratilipi has about 12 languages and over 1.3 million stories. There are plenty of more stories to be told and read.
@thebmr Follow Ranjeet on Twitter
Pratilipi Try Pratilipi to read and write your stories
Some books and authors discussed on the show:
Books by Dinakar
Let’s look at some prominent words from the episode
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people, stories, read, writers, english, world, building, publish, hindi, books, language, talking, largely, problem, founders, money, spoken, called, company, chacha
Ranjeet Singh, Krishna Jonnakadla
Krishna Jonnakadla 00:00
This is Maharajas of Scale, the 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 located in town and start mentor bringing you these stories. Namaskar, namaste, namaskar, vadakkam. If you're wondering why I'm reading you in so many languages today, we are talking to a unique individual and unique organization called Pratilipi . By talking to facilitate today we have started a conversation with a company in the domain of art, not in the domain of business. They publish content stories, their storytelling platform in our twelve Indian languages are Nebula which is very close to my heart. So we are today with Ranjeet of Pratilipi. It's a pleasure to have you on the show.
Ranjeet Singh 00:28
Thanks a lot for having me here.
Krishna Jonnakadla 01:05
Welcome to Maharajas of Scale. A lot of Indians are polyglot. And they speak multiple languages, they can read multiple languages, does it actually need any literature on not is a separate point or together? About 20 years ago when I was in Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh, I was on multi month assignment. And that's when I picked up reading Telugu. I could read and write Telugu as that's my mother tongue . But I realized that in Andhra Pradesh in Vijayawada, there is a road for Leluro road, which is home to a lot of publishers. And I would go to these places every other day, and pick up tons and tons of books. And I will stay up through the night and then that's when I realized that the order of vernacular literature was so rich and so different. What was your spark in starting Pratilipi?
Ranjeet Singh 01:53
Actually before that, let me kind of take a moment to share my thoughts on what you said. A couple of things. So first of all, like I personally don't like the word vernacular primarily because of connotations and like, I am not a grammar nazi, but I do think that you know, certain words should be used in certain situations because of the connotation of how people think about those words. So I like to say that it is a your language is treating people, like some of these Indian languages actually much bigger than the almost any other language that you would not call vernacular. So, it doesn't make sense in my personal being. Second of all, I don't think of it as an art platform, or even a business spectrum I think of particularly, of course, it's a for profit company, it has raised a bunch of money and stuff like that. But the premise of the Pratilipi is not art or business, the premise of Pratilipi essentially is democratization of storytelling. So my belief in life essentially, largely has been always around people having equal access and equal equal opportunity. So the primary reason of why we started building Pratilipi so there's a real story that I'll talk about, but rationally speaking, it's largely about that why should somebody have access to me More literature, more content, more opportunities, more hopes or dreams versus somebody else just because of a particular language. So, in my family, for example, anybody who's older than me would not be able to speak a single sentence in English. And that just because of that, if they don't have the same access or same opportunity that sounds ridiculous, so I was lucky that my father was in army. So even though he passed away when I was fairly young, that essentially meant that I studied in Kendriya Vidyalayal, at that time I feast was like 45,45 rupees a month, and which might sound like a very small amount of money now, but at that point in time, like, there were people who used to tease me that you studying a very expensive school like 45 rupees a month is a lot of money that somebody's spending on your education. It was a very weird phase because you know, people in my school Think of me as somebody who is relatively very poor, relatively very unsophisticated. And then people in my village would think that you know, it's extra fashionable, extra sophisticated and extra rich, so that they could, to me kind of was the and a bunch of things different between the The most common thread is whether or not you're able to speak and kind of like understand English and my belief has always been that it's not just about English It's not that I have anything against English we all speak English right now, but the belief has always been that it should language should be something that unites people, it should not be something that separates people. So that was the original part of why we started building Pratilipi. The real story of the emotional stories crappy, simpler, and it seemed like I was gone a very very small village in library leaves 1000 population village.
Krishna Jonnakadla 04:30
The same Raibareli which was Indra Gandhi's constituency.
Ranjeet Singh 04:33
So Raibareli primarily I think, has been famous for three things. It has been the Gandhi Bastien, even before Indra Gandhi, like Feroz Gandhi was actually was MP from there. It has been famous for literature. So Nirala who is my favorite writer actually was not from library but he spent almost all his working life in Raibareli, one of the greatest writers in Hindi ever. Then Mahaveer Prasad Dwivedi was form Raibareli and then I really have been famous because like a lot of times people confuse it with Bareli and there is a famous song "Bareli Ka Jhumka" . So like people kinda of confuse it with that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 05:02
This is Sonia Gandhi's constituency. Right? Yeah.
Ranjeet Singh 05:06
So like the infact lived in Raibareli with my mom from class seven to class 12 but essentially My home is not in Raibareli city it's about 15 kilometers away from Raibareli city. So almost nobody was English if you make more than five 6000 a month you are decidedly rich people be jealous of you if you're making more than 10,000 a month on the side of it I'm gonna show so you know, so I used to read like hundred 30 hundred 40 plus books so you just think everybody else is started by reading comicis like chump or minimum Bal Hans.
Krishna Jonnakadla 05:33
These 130 or 140 were Indian language book or they were all Hindi?
Ranjeet Singh 05:38
Starting almost everything was in Hindi. there was no the language that I knew. And the level of English like my own course books for example literature and my elder brothers and cousins and during English books, but like 99% Hindi. Then started reading like Nagraj, super condo to do,Chacha Chaudhary, stuff like that, then started reading classical Hindi literature. Nirala. Then started reading contemporary Hindi literature.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:00
Chacha Chaudhary, I used to read it one of my favorites. Bablu I think is one of the characters isn't he?
Ranjeet Singh 06:08
Names sound familiar but i am not able to place.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:12
That Chacha Chaudhary and Bablu are the two guys that team up and do a lot of mysterious things and so he is a very interesting.
Ranjeet Singh 06:18
I feel like you're mixing characters from as an from a different comic. So Chacha Chaudhary there is primarily I think, Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:25
Haan, Sabu Yeah.
Ranjeet Singh 06:26
Sabu is not a kid. Sabu is supposed to be like 50 feet tall. The very powerful guy Okay, this one comes from Jupyter Yeah, I remember there was a kid but I don't remember his name primarily its about Chacha Chaudhary and Sabu but there are a bunch of kids one of whom is quite frequent. Right So yeah, I think remember I'm not able to place the name.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:43
I still remember the story of
Ranjeet Singh 06:45
So there should be some Chacha Chaudhary comics there by the way.
Krishna Jonnakadla 06:48
Doremon which is very popular and which is actually written in Japanese right? The Doremon cat is famous for all the magic tricks it can do. okay. And when I used to when my daughter now watches Doremon, I was reminded of Chacha Chaudhary's magic powers. And there's this one story where they have to watch a football game, and they don't get tickets to it and Chacha Chaudhary creates a contraption that creates a transparent layer, a sort of an X ray that helps him. So Sabu and Chacha Chaudhry are both using the contraction to see the football match. So that was a yeah.
Ranjeet Singh 06:51
Funny thing is Chacha Chaudhary,doesn't have any magical powers, but he's supposed to be very, very smart. So tagline of Chacha Chaudhary comic says was, Well, two things one was "Chacha Chaudhary Ka dimaag computer sae bhi tez chalta hai". And the other was "Jab Sabu ko gussa aata hai toh dur kahi Juwala Phata hai" but these taglines, a punch line still published, they still are published. I don't know if like how frequent they are anymore.
Krishna Jonnakadla 07:47
Okay. And the second time I stumbled upon the richness of the Indian languages was when I was in a like that this was in the year 2001. I would carry a bunch of English books with myself. And I was dropping off a colleague to go to Delhi. And this guy tells me "Yaar aaj Sunday hai chalo market chaltae hai, train mai jaanae se pehlae kitabein khareedtae hai".And he bought a copy of Chandrakanta. At that time, Chandrakanta was very popular was a very popular show on Door Darshan. And I actually thought Chandrakanta was written for TV. And I saw that I was published and I discovered a whole new world. I can, I can imagine it is a very rich world. So
Ranjeet Singh 08:35
I think almost every Hindi fantasy writer started from Chandrakanta, which was the first one.
Krishna Jonnakadla 08:41
So and then 130 books 140 books.
Ranjeet Singh 08:45
So i started by reading Hindi, then I went to pursue my engineering and I realized that like Hindi content was simply not available. So offline. bookstores cannot carry more than a few thousand titles and online there really wasn't any. So I shifted to reading English but I also Started curbing to my friends that it should be my choice if you want to read in Hindi, English or German, like it should not be because of lack of access, that doesn't make any sense. So because it comes from a lower middle class family always talking about. So my family essentially said that, you know, for a couple of years it is do some job, the cable backup option. And after that if you want to do something, sure, by all means, go ahead. So I did my MBA from FMS daily, then worked at Vodafone for a couple of years. And then I quit my job different reasons, but essentially is deciding what to do when my friends essentially said that you have been talking about this problem for like, more than half a decade. And if nobody else has solved this, why don't you give it a shot. And I thought that makes logical sense.
Krishna Jonnakadla 09:40
Let's touch that access problem a bit you you've spoken about this. For example, in the Telugu world. There are lots of authors some very rich literary world and in the Telugu language, while a significant amount of contribution has been made by separate parts. Andhra Pradesh the, coastal districts have given rise to a lot of authors. But the distribution method is essentially access is solved a little differently, isn't it? So for example, there are weekly magazines that actually publish chapters of each of these novels and then the stories. So for example, in Telugu there is a magazine called Swati, which is extremely widely circulated is just one of many. And when I started reading these nove.ls, I realized that I would pick up a novel and internally I would see a note saying that this appeared as a weekly story part in XX magazine, such and such magazine, and then I realized, okay, if I wanted more stories, then I would just read the magazine, because then it is introducing me all to all these authors anyway. So there was a problem of who are the other interesting authors was salt. So when we say access, are we really talking about the Metropolitan People were largely used to having access only to English books to get access to Indian languages as well.
Ranjeet Singh 11:07
So there are multiple problems. Or rather, let me with the split that there was existing world out there. So bunch of things were very, very valuable. One is, as you rightly pointed out, they were magazines, for example, or even newspapers used to carry like a weekly edition where they would be stories and poetry and essays and articles and opinion pieces and stuff like that. And then I think the public library system was absolutely fantastic. We have a bunch of shows on radio as well, which used to kind of provide access to this. Some of that still works. And this hasn't had a fantastic PR, thanks to internet, we can actually take it up and we can ramp it up by 1000 times. So there are a bunch of, let's say, opportunities that were not possible to solve in the earlier system, and things that we can now move on. So I'll start with just some examples. So the first one being like, let's assume that you are the best publisher in the world. If you get like hundred writers reach out to you. How do you figure out which of these hundred writers Publish because there's a fixed cost associated with publishing something. And it's not necessarily your fault. It's just that it's it's a judgment call. And how do you make that just so for example, Harry Potter was rejected by two dozen producers, or publishers rather, before somebody took a punt on JK Rowling. And I mean, it's not that it was a fault of these publisher just incredibly hard to. Now, if you're talking about internet company, for example, it becomes relatively easy, right? your cost of distribution is zero, you can just put it out and see which story do people like. The second problem being that because there's a much higher fixed cost, which essentially means that you can only write stories in a particular of a particular length in a particular kind of paper and stuff like that, which means that by the time it gets into the hand of redo, it has to cost a significantly higher amount. And then distribution also becomes a problem. If you're talking about somebody who lives in a remote village. Versus again, thanks to internet you can actually produce the same story at a fraction of a cost you can distribute it at basically zero. And the writer and the publisher can effectively still make the same money while the user or the reader is paying a significant Listen, then this third part, which is essentially like till about five or 10 years back, the only way the readers could communicate with the writers. So essentially by writing letters or postcards, now you can actually connect with the writers on real time basis. From a writer's perspective, the majority of writers that I have spoken to, they're primarily two reasons why the right number one is that they want to be heard. But the number two is that they want to talk to their fans, they want to figure out what is it that my readers are saying, and the internet makes it so much easier than versus having a book? So these are just three examples. But I think because of like new technology, which is primarily just internet, or there's a lot more that can be done on the existing infrastructure.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:38
Let's go back to the starting story of it. If earning 5000 rupees made you, perhaps one of the most very true families in the city,
Ranjeet Singh 13:47
not the city, the village.
Krishna Jonnakadla 13:48
Is not that the village sorry, is it fair to say that were you from all of the way to do they do have a...
Ranjeet Singh 13:55
So my father was in army he was a Havaldar, actually, he was just he was a Nayak. was given an honorary post of Havaldar just before retirement. so different. So if you ask most people in my village people say that we are very, very well to do, if you ask somebody from Raiberali city, they will not if you ask somebody from Bombay or Delhi, that doesn't even come, I, for example, after a time and my father was a security guard at different places in Raibareli, and I really am that actually used to pay more than what the army job use to pay.
Krishna Jonnakadla 14:21
I'm trying to place that within the context of you reading hundred and 20 hundred and 30 books.
Ranjeet Singh 14:25
So my, so Okay, let me kind of take a step back. So there's a couple of things here. Number one that my uncle my father's elder brother is a writer. And the way it works is that like 99% of writers actually not get paid anything like the money to the publishers to publish their books, and then they get some 50 books and they try to distribute it to other people so that he would get like hundred plus books a year from his clients, and I'll read most of those. And of course, his own books that my mom used to read and she probably still knows a lot of these fiction novels like case open date and repercussion. I was barred from reading them. I was too young to I would still kind of steal them and read them somewhere. And the third party I had a deal with like a bunch of different comic shops that I will look after their shops for free. And in turn, I'll get to read these comics as either for free or make it a very, very low cost, right so I'll read a lot of comics as they are. So then I had to deal with my teachers in the school let you know I would use their library card. So at my library card is a string you can only borrow one book at a time at teachers lie because you could buy two or three or four depending on how much cloud the teacher asked because combination of all of these,
Krishna Jonnakadla 15:27
I can relate to a lot of the time oratious reader myself, the things that I've done to get my hands on a book, you know this it's though it's Legion. So and then this whole reading passion continued all through your professional career.
Ranjeet Singh 15:42
Yes, what is reading changed, but the amount that is reading hasn't.
Krishna Jonnakadla 15:47
Okay. And this problem remains with you. And this is something that you decidedly and obviously if you have been complaining about that for a better part of a decade, then it means it was something that was tugging at your heart and sort of was knocking and saying, Hey, this is this is broken, this needs to be fixed.
Ranjeet Singh 16:07
So there's mean, there's a like real part of it in this original part of it. So, the real part of it, we have just spoken about the original part of it is also that one of the reasons that I became an engineer and like, I will probably be the first engineering maybe 50 villages or 80 villages was because I knew that there's something called engineering that actually exists. And like even after that, like one of the reasons of one of the ways that I actually became a founder is because I knew that they something called a founder entrepreneur photo. Now, once I became an engineer there at least like I would guess, maybe around 20 people in the neighborhood, who are either engineers who are pursuing engineering, so in my belief that you know, having a role model or somebody to look up look up to is has insane many it sounds like a small thing, but once you see that, like you know something is even possible somebody has done this, then you kind of start feeling like this. is at least possible. So that is very valuable. Now, of course, you could have real life models. But I think the best role models, a lot of times come from stories like the number of people who get inspired by Harry Potter would always be more than number of people who get inspired by the majority of living humans. So it has always been my belief that great stories are what drives the world forward. So a lot of new innovation technology has essentially come from science fiction writers who imagine that, you know, there'll be a world where x would be possible, nobody would be possible Is that possible? So I always wanted somebody to do this. I never wanted myself to do this. But I wanted somebody to build something that has always been the same goes from an emotional standpoint, or like selfish standpoint for me to be able to read something and from a rational standpoint that the world should not be like this.
Krishna Jonnakadla 17:46
What's story that has stuck from your childhood that you remember even today?
Ranjeet Singh 17:52
That's harder. So I'm a hyper rational kind of person, which is both a strength and probably more importantly, a big weakness. But that also means that like I, I picked some parts from a lot of different things, but they are very, very, almost no one or no one book where I would say that I agree everything that is there. So there are bunch of different books there, which I like for a bunch of different reasons. So for example, there was a time where I was a huge fan of Sicilian from RU, who does a time where I was a huge fan of Artemis for which is actually a children's book that I read when I was already in the school, I think for the first time. And Mr. I read it like the entire series for like 345 times. So I would find it very hard to say what is my favorite book, or who's my favorite author? Because it's like, I can tell you for this book, or this author, these are the parts that I like, these are the parts or these are the parts that I find fascinating or interesting, irrespective whether or not they are true. But it's hard for me to pinpoint something that I would say like this is perfect.
Krishna Jonnakadla 18:50
Anything that left a lasting influence at least?
Ranjeet Singh 18:53
So first of all, like Nirala has a poem called Saroj Smiti, it's about his daughter, and that I think is very, very powerful. Bunch of poems that keeps us within I think I've been fantastic. Like, I think there's a book called The goal, which is about operational excellence. And that talks about largely like earlier. So how important some bottlenecks are. And a lot of times everything else doesn't matter unless you can solve this thing that has influenced me quite a bit hard thing about hard things, for a lot of different reasons is a fantastic book. I think the entire as he's talking about like, Mario trilogy of Godfather, and Sicilian is fantastic if you want to understand like how human emotions kind of work in a wide variety of settings. So these will be just some intervention in general, the way he kind of explains very, very nuanced topics in very, very simple language. It's almost impossible to believe that if you just wanted to have fun, you can pick any of ancient stories and you can just have fun. But if you kind of build deeper UTM, almost there will be exception, but almost all of the stories would actually have a much, much deeper meaning. explaining that in such a simple story that you A 10 year old children child can understand is this jeans.
Krishna Jonnakadla 20:04
How did in that background with such simple family background, how did you pay for your education?
Ranjeet Singh 20:12
Well, I wouldn't say simple. But up so like classical dancing, if I remember correctly till class eight my piece was 45 rupees Coleman. My father's mommy's 45 rupees per month was not bad, bigger D. and like my mom and I used to spend rivals or room rent if I'm not foremost for 50 rupees, which was a big deal. But my mom kind of put a lot of emphasis on my education. Good for me, in retrospect, bad for me at that time. So yeah, I think my mom went to a bunch of hardships, because like room rent is just one small part of it. Just the societal pressure that you know, your family's living 15 kilometers away from there, including your other son and other daughters. I have elder brother and sister. And it was like kind of living with your younger son spending like maybe 1200, 1300,1400 rupees a month, which was significant amount of money. I was hard then when I went to pursue any Funnily enough, I went to do my engineering from one of the most expensive colleges and not really a top tier one. And that was so we tried to get a bank loan, we figured that you know, that was impossibly hard to do. So mom like so we used to live in a joint family so everybody kind of came together especially my uncle that he was talking about my dad's and revenue. And my mom's we put some of the land under debt, we could pick random stuff and we kind of arranged for the money. Then during MBA I went to one of them, possibly like the lowest feast college in the world, and actually made about four and a half lakhs by internship and competitions and all that. So my fees was I think 20,000 and I made like five lakhs I was probably more like four lakhs in profit during my MBA. So less profit Moses paid back from the debt but.
Krishna Jonnakadla 21:45
Interesting. Let's the larger world that people are aware of, for example, the English news channels so they're actually get people off the iceberg. India. I remember somebody telling me, please Good asking somebody saying XX such and such channel. He's saying what do you what do you have to say? And his retort was that is the English Channel saying that punchy Janya, which is a publication which is in Hindi, that is where real issues are actually published. So a lot of us who live in the cities are not even aware of lower market, the larger market. So contrast the English and the regional language market in terms of size, in terms of because you said this, I remember in one of our earlier conversations, you've said, If you hit hundred thousand copies in the English world, it's big deal. But in the regional languages world unless and until you sell half a million, nobody even takes you seriously, or something of that sort. I don't remember what numbers those exactly what so contrast how big those are for perspective.
Ranjeet Singh 22:52
So I think you're asking two different questions. One question is about the relative size. Another question is largely about like, are they fundamentally different silencer the second one. First of all, I think like my opinion is contrary to almost everybody has that element. So like a lot of people, for example, think of it as a vernacular startup or Indian language startup or all of that. And a lot of times when people ask me for advice, it's like keep your building for the next billion users. So what do we kind of do what is different than, you know how these people think differently, behave differently and all of that. My experience has always been that people's core beliefs or aspirations, what makes them tick is actually fairly similar across cultures across age groups across a bunch of different different things. It's obviously possible that their priorities are slightly different. Like, if I don't have enough money to eat, I'm probably not going to pay you for insurance. So that's obviously there. But apart from that, I think people's fundamental desires or aspirations are fairly similar. So like when you're thinking about building a product, for example, and you're thinking in the right direction, it's just that you have to go and talk to the same users and ask similar questions except for the fact that the answers might be different. Just be open to having different answers like that doesn't really change that much. So I don't particularly think for example that English newspapers or English channels or English whatever are fundamentally different from in the news because any chance of course, like there will be a lot of new answers like not all English new channels are same not all in the news channels are same same for newspapers or books or events. Like the spread might be differently Hindi for example, there might be a lot more spread towards mass media versus let's say Nishan media in English Nishan media might have more reach, but that's just a new ads coming to the size. So it depends on sector rate, but in general, if you look at almost anything, if you look at for example, it's a TV dollar. So if you look at ad dollars, if you look at regional publication of newspapers, books published whatever you typically see that the Indian languages organized market is about four x of English and unorganized market should be probably more like tense. So rough idea out of top 14 newspapers in the country, there is only one in English which is Times of India. 13 on variety of different Indian languages so of course India has a bigger show but the Kindle is not only when the same for magazines in the number of books published for example, the official number of books publishing datacenter thousand out of which English only about 34 to 5000 so again about three x of that is in the language but a lot of Indian language books don't even get on ESPN so anonymize number will be even higher the same would be true for like Bollywood versus let's say Hollywood movies within the country so sure one particular Hollywood movie can make a lot of money but we're all Bollywood versus all english movies bollywood is will be like easily five x 10 x because access Bollywood you tax not even counting other lands, like depending on different sectors and different use cases the size different might be different. But in the language content space will usually be at least four x five x bigger simply because two things number of people number one who understand Indian language will be much, much higher the number of people who understand English and secondly, even people who understand English it's not like they have anything well, majority of them. It's not like they anything against the poor Hindi or Marathi or Tamil, right? But majority of these people want is great stories. Like, if you're showing me a story that I don't like, then I'm not interested. But like, for example for somebody like me Show me again, so possible, I would love it every single day of the week. It's not like I prefer Game of Thrones because it's an English I prefer Game of Thrones, because it's a fantastic story. You me a similar story in Hindi. Love it. So I think like this will be a lot of overlap between these two elements. I think that would be my answer.
Krishna Jonnakadla 26:28
So your friends urged you to finally scratch your itch and say, dude, you've been complaining about this for a long time, you know, started, these are how you decide to start, you mentioned that you were possibly not even thinking of starting it by somebody else to start it.
Ranjeet Singh 26:45
Right. So there are two parts to it. Number One was that, funnily enough, when I was in my engineering college, I wanted to kind of build something of my own. Same for when I went into my MBA, funnily enough, when I went into corporate then I thought that you know, maybe like this is not the right time to kind of do something on my own. Maybe the right thing is to kind of be apprentice with someone who's running a startup and then learn from them and then start a company. So little bit of a weird irony. But so when I quit Vodafone, my plan was not to start something, my plan was to find a CEO that I thought was like, smarter and more aggressive slash driven than me and then work with them for like, 345 years and then figure out what to do. So that was one part. And I I like some people a lot. I just did not like somebody enough to do this. And the second part was that people are saying that, you know, if nobody else is doing this, why don't you and so both of these kind of collided at the same thing. And so I decided to take the punch.
Krishna Jonnakadla 27:39
How the startup that you were embarked embarking on was not in a brain based startup or was not in a hot sector. And this is not exactly a problem that stays at most people's faces like this is not a topic that's this. Nobody opens up anything and just old. tier two, tier two to three issues are becoming sort of the last two years has been into our conversations. But this was not something Yes, we have our languages or and it is not a problem that comes to you can therefore, how did how did how did you how did it sit with you? Did you think, okay, am I the only one and you talked about doing a little bit of research, but it still would have taken a big leap of faith to say, Hey, you know what, this is more of an emotional problem for me like, I've grown with it.
Ranjeet Singh 28:34
So funny thing is that, like a lot of people have done something similar to Pratilipi as a part of nonprofit or social enterprise. And a few people have tried it to build it as a proper for profit company, but like not that many. I think that there are a couple of things which were I am viewers, not Nestle good or bad. We're just viewed or different. So one of those things is like, I am very, very I have very high risk appetite in general like not Financially in general. And secondly, I don't really particularly care about short term that much sleep. What happens in a day, a week, a month, a quarter is not something that I worry about too much. I have too much irrational belief in myself that, you know, this is quite what I want to do something that I believe would kind of has a high probability of working in 10 years or 15 years is with us. So when we were thinking about the TV, of course, we did a lot of primary research and secondary research. But as you rightly pointed out, it was still a huge leap of faith. And my understanding, largely was that so with the primary and secondary search, we knew that this content, we knew that there are writers who want to write, and we knew there, at least some people who read like, it may not be hundred million, or it may not be 500. And there are some people who read. So my premise was that if we can utilize internet in a way to kind of bring in access and democratize the creation so that they are a lot more creators telling a lot of different kinds of stories, then at some point in time, there would be enough consumers at this business to kind of make sense. So the revised basically was I don't know if this would happen in years. I don't know if this would happen in five years. But do I know that this will happen someday it will. And if it happens, someday, we will try to make sure that we are still alive at that point in time. And whenever that happens, we'll take advantage of that. Largely, the thesis was basically that and largely, the thesis even today is exactly that. So a lot of times, for example, people ask us that, you know, how well it's doing? And my answer is almost always essentially one of the two things either it's like, pushes God, which means that we are still trying, I was like, so far, so good. But let's see how it works out. That's primarily because, like, we still don't know whether or not this will work in next two years, three years, five years. But whether this fundamentally makes sense on a 10 year, 15 year 20 rise, and it does, like people who'd want to kind of create and consume stories, people who want to talk to each other. So the fundamental belief is that whenever that happens, we want to be there. So that gives us a lot more comfort.
Krishna Jonnakadla 30:50
So let's talk about that starting point a little bit because I'm a little intrigued about what went on in your mind. There are amazing stories written in Indian languages. That can possibly be translated into other languages software, for example, take Amish books. Right? And it actually, it is actually a regional story that is written in English. The style is all the style, the imagination is all very vividly feels like original language story. And that's possibly I, I don't know, this is a personal opinion that one of the reasons it became such a big hit was the folks in English were not even used to the world that the kind of ambitious kind of writers were, you know, dreaming up, right? So when you started, it wasn't essentially about bringing this world into that or that world into this. It was about crafting an entirely new world altogether. Was there a particular reason you took this path?
Ranjeet Singh 31:51
So before I answer that, and I will say violence thing that I have a rational self belief in myself, which is sometimes a good thing, most acting. A good counterpoint that I have is that I am also like somewhat self aware. So it's very, very clear that I am not really applied to am not really an editor, I have zero sense of like being able to figure out who is a good writer, what is a good story and all of that. So my premise was never that we will figure out the best stories, my providers insurance, we will have so many stories from so many sweeteners that people can figure out what is the best story for you sort of quantity comes quality. Exactly. Especially now that we have so much technology available, that becomes a relatively solvable problem. So my favorite example is Harry Potter. So some of my friends think that Harry Potter is the greatest book ever written. Some of my friends think that Harry Potter is absolute crap. Some of my friends think that Harry Potter is awesome. It's awesome for kids. Like if you're an adult read Tolkien telling this story is the same. The book is the same. It's just a different people have different teas. I was always of the believer that you know my strength is not figuring out a story. My strength is largely about building a platform. Where we can figure out that which stories are the right stories for what kind of, in sort of me playing a gatekeeper school? The reason why so now coming to answer your question more directly. So the reason we thought of this model was largely because I was saying that I care a lot more about 10 year horizon. So if you're building a company from a 10 years perspective, then you have to think about something that is durable and defensible, and large enough so that you will be able to attract other people to help you those other people could be my potential team members, it could be potential investors, it could be potential advisors, writers themselves, leaders themselves. So you want to pick a problem that would be large enough and deep enough, and will have some sort of inherent defense ability. So which is how this particular model in place? Did we know Do we know that this is the right model? No. The premise is that the models can evolve. So as long as the vision remains.
Krishna Jonnakadla 33:46
So then extrapolating that if what it means is if you had in a universe of 10,000, in which you had about 100 people that were good writers like and maybe about 2000 of them That one want to be writers and they themselves don't know leave their stories are good or not until it is out there. Though in terms of quantity, there's a vast difference that 2000 horses hundred, and there are going to be gems in them honestly, only discovery can tell people who read their stories can tell. So decided I'm not going to focus on the hundred, because while some body has decided the hundred is good, I personally am not equipped to do that. But we are going to bring all of these 2000 remove the economic barriers that exist, right and then out of that later read readers and the users decide which are the ones that are great and they bring you to this.
Ranjeet Singh 34:39
So I think you have captured like half of it. The other half of it is what I think a majority of times people make a mistake on. So people think of like good writer, as a good batsman, as a good founder as like it's a static thing. It's really not the best way to become a good writer is to write. So if we build a platform where you're writing and get feedback from your leaders who are going to become a better writer like you first, the story is not going to be as good as your hundred story. So it's not just that you will have 2000 writers out of which maybe five would be good. But it's more like if there is a feedback loop going on out of these 2000 writers, like all of them will become better, and maybe five of them will become like, significant achievement. So both of them have to kind of work in tandem.
Krishna Jonnakadla 35:22
That's an amazing angle. So bring the quantity. And for them provide a consistent feedback, you get their imaginative juices going, and that feedback creates more energy for them to dream of more imaginative things. That's, that's, that's amazing. I've never seen everybody anybody articulate anything like that. So now this model, did it. Did you detect had it already taken shape in your mind? Or was it something that you did it with your family?
Ranjeet Singh 35:48
So that's, that's the fun things like To be fair, this was like the first model. It just so happens that we got like, it's random look that we kind of are still doing the same thing. Every Started off. So before I post my co founders, we had a chart listed only How does it work? If we are right, constantly guys still doing like 99% the same things. But that's coincidence. That's not that I was very smart, whatever. It just like, we made certain assumption that this is the first thing we'll go with. If this doesn't work, we will change this and this and that in that Shawn, wait went with your gut. Let's say educated guesses, okay. So, so I believe that instincts are good. A lot of times people think that it's entirely natural, but I think it's like, batsman's timing. Like, if you practice the same shot 10,000 times, it becomes relatively easier to play it instinctively, after that, so it's educated guesses should good but not just random, but most likely educated, slightly random. So cognition.
Krishna Jonnakadla 36:44
So how did the founding team come together? How did you end up you? You are a pretty large founding team.
Ranjeet Singh 36:51
Pretty large is subjective to what we will fight people, right. One of them has left last year. So now we have Okay, so these are mostly folks that I had already spoken with about the same Problem. folks were complaining that you're dreaming about this. So Prashant was my school batchmate, Rahul was my enmgineering college batchmate, Shanker was may have batatch mate. Shelley was my colleague at Vodafone. In fact, the first few hires were also people that had worked with before. My first employee was a super senior Vodafone. My first product manager was an batchmatch from engineering college, so like the first few people were all people that had already worked with me or studied with me.
Krishna Jonnakadla 37:23
So how did the founding team come together? Did you all decide that? Yes, it was a problem that you all shared, or what was the reason you came together?
Ranjeet Singh 37:31
Like so not everybody had faced the same problem personally. But all the five founders kind of had seen that at his second hand. So like, everybody was from a tier two city, if not a tier three, tier four like me. So everybody knew that this problem existed. And none of us knew what the solution is, but I think people kind of had the shield believe that's a problem worth solving. Or at least giving a shot. So largely was more about the problem statement and less about whether it was in this city. That they were excellent.
Krishna Jonnakadla 38:01
So then the founding team IN we've discussed this a few minutes ago, this was not next necessarily a trend based startup, but there was no hype cycle around it. There still isn't the hype side,
Ranjeet Singh 38:13
there was a hype cycle about a year ago, but
Krishna Jonnakadla 38:17
there wasn't one. How easy tough or how was the founding the funding journey?
Ranjeet Singh 38:24
I think, like the first couple of rounds were very, very hard. So we To be fair, we got a few offers that we kind of rejected. But those were either that the people that we will not like or the terms were not really working out or stuff like that. So early on fundraising was very, very hard, but that was less to do with the new languages. So that was the reason one of the reasons so there are a couple of problems. I think the biggest problem was that India hasn't really seen open platform so entirely UGC companies where the content itself is created by somebody else, there is no moderation. There's no curation. So in fact, I keep on saying this at except for Silicon Valley, San Francisco. And China, even within us, or even within European countries, we haven't really seen proper UGC platforms, we have seen a bunch of different kinds of companies. And you just simply Trump's going to work in a very, very different way. So which means that for people, and it's not that I'm trying to blame these people, it's just that if you haven't seen something workout, it's very, very hard for you to be able to pattern match and say that if this happened, that this happens, this happens, this happens. The only reason I was thinking like that was because I read so much I read about like, bunch of these companies. So it was very, very hard to explain what is UGC? Why, why would somebody come onto the Pratilipi's platform and write for free? Like a vast majority of people literally said that, you know, why would anybody come and write for free? In fact, some people also said, why would somebody come and read on mobile? It's such a small device that how can you read on mobile? And I was like, What are you talking about? People are already reading Facebook and Twitter just slightly longer content. So if you're reading Facebook and Twitter, I'm going to read a story if you wanted to read it, in retrospect sounds funny, but at that time, it seemed like a valid concern and A lot of people are essentially talking about, like everybody believed that for the new language content, there will be a lot of companies at some point in time. It's just that nobody knew when that would happen to arm it was that's fine, but we will kind of work in a way that whenever that happens gets to them.
Krishna Jonnakadla 40:16
So did you bootstrap in the first few months?
Ranjeet Singh 40:19
I just kept on borrowing money from my friends and just kept on putting in.
Krishna Jonnakadla 40:22
How long was that?
Ranjeet Singh 40:23
So it was there for about seven, eight months, then it was not there because we raised 30 lakhs from time center and then that money ran out it was again fully 3456 months or maybe eight ,9,10 months.
Krishna Jonnakadla 40:35
Which was the biggest trump chiming is to
Ranjeet Singh 40:39
actually raise 15 few months back. Okay.
Krishna Jonnakadla 40:42
And they are China based fund. Just interesting. You don't hear about cheering ventures anywhere. At least I haven't.
Ranjeet Singh 40:50
shaming is one of the best and the most well known funds in China.
Krishna Jonnakadla 40:54
But the Indian ecosystem that's what me in
Ranjeet Singh 40:56
NQ system Pratilipi Firstly, siding inflict the first Students work hard, you'll hear about them Otherwise, you'll know
Krishna Jonnakadla 41:02
What they're interested in. I'm a little intrigued by this?
Ranjeet Singh 41:05
Generally, for us raising rounds after series, they have in relatively easier because people have seen this work. So somebody was invested in, let's say, Facebook, or YouTube viewed understand reality intuitively. shaming has bad a lot of companies, which when user generated content, and they have also seen bunch of other companies that they might have missed out on. And then they became like a $5 billion company. So for them, it's relatively easy to see that, you know, if x happens and why it happens, and it happens, and they understand the company might of course fail. But if things kind of work out and this is how it will play out, it's relatively easier for them to internalize because they have seen that happen five times. So even within our existing investors, for example, some of the people the reason why they became interested is because they have seen that play out while they were in Valley or some of their friends will invest to things like that.
Krishna Jonnakadla 41:51
What kind of scale is Pratilipi at right now?
Ranjeet Singh 41:54
So we have about 10 38,000 authors now. They have published about 1.3 million stories. Monthly owed roughly about seven and a half million to 8 million monthly active readers.
Krishna Jonnakadla 42:06
And you've spoken about net promoter score. I'm curious for a story telling and a story reading platform is that even though relevant metric, white via exactly I can understand if you're a service organization or an e commerce platform, you're delivering something, you're servicing something, then Net Promoter Score is relevant. In your case, I would say tangentially, it is relevant. Yeah, I was able to, I found a lot of interesting stories. And luckily, we also recommended some additional good stories to me. So I can say I'm going to recommend preferably to others. But otherwise, it seems like a retrofit metric to really track.
Ranjeet Singh 42:51
Actually, funnily enough NPS is one of the top four mixes every track, so we track like maybe about, like 1000 different matrices 150 of them. We traveled a little Or if on a daily basis, but their format is that we really care about and NPS is one of those. The major reason is two things. One is that you are right in the sense that in in in enterprise companies or services companies, NPS is very closely related with revenue, or like at least whether we will upsell, whether you can upsell them whether whether they will churn and stuff like that. But that's not just it. And this is important to figure out that, are you moving in the right direction? So for example, what is less important for a company like Berkeley be is that what is your NPS right now, what is more important is, is it growing over time? Is it stable? Is it growing over time, that kind of tells you whether you're building the product in the right way, whether you have the right sort of content that they want for fighters, like whether you're getting them the readers that they want, whether you're getting them like the features that they wanted to all of this sort of stuff, otherwise, it's very, very hard to figure it out. So that you can talk to DU and me you all you want. The problem is like, all growth is not created equal. How do you know that the deal that you're getting is actually DU that is actually interested in how do we we're providing them a service that they're actually interested in. So the own Well, not the only way. But one of the best ways to know about that is essentially just to figure out whether your existing users are happy with the service that they are getting or not.
Krishna Jonnakadla 44:16
You were founded in 2013 right?
Ranjeet Singh 44:18
Krishna Jonnakadla 44:19
2014. September, so it's been about five years now. Seems like a very quick journey to so many million, you know, to get to this kind of scale. And I still think there's there's a the journey ahead, but how was the start? It was, how many was it stumbling? What were the stumbling blocks that was a shaky?
Ranjeet Singh 44:40
Before that. Let me kind of direct you. I think, for a consumer internet company. Like we have been well, we haven't really done exceptionally well. So if I could kind of go back. I think like a bunch of things that I can do to get to the same point in maybe three, three and a half years. So
Krishna Jonnakadla 44:56
very proud of where we are a million stories. You haven't even Begin your monetization is not
Ranjeet Singh 45:04
well enough, I think we could have done a lot of things a lot better. Oh, true founder sleep, right. So
Krishna Jonnakadla 45:11
There's always a chasm between where you want to be and where you are. And when you go back and possibly pick up your notes from what you have you possibly have shot, I heard of your course. And in terms of how it just be
Ranjeet Singh 45:23
Generally i am very ambitious. As we were thinking of where we are, we'll get there in about three years. So I mean, we have been amazingly well don't get me wrong. We are very proud of what we have done. It's just that are there things that I think we could have been much better it's like much much.
Krishna Jonnakadla 45:39
So So talk talk about in the shaky start. Now, it's not because you picked the other 2000 the wannabe writers, because it's not. There are a variety of factors motivation is not the only aspect of a bunch of inhibitions and the availability of plat a platform is not necessarily, it's not like they're all waiting. Oh, as soon as I have a platform from tomorrow I'm start I'm going to start putting down the stories, right? How was that start?
Ranjeet Singh 46:09
Actually I have given like half of thr answer. For building any kind of marketplace The hardest part essentially is is how do you solve the chicken egg problem. So just because you help play form, nobody will come. If you had a lot of readers writers will come and publish. If you had a lot of good stories readers will come into how the hell do you get there if you don't have either this or that? So I think that was of course the first and the biggest challenge. So what I'm not sure if you are asking to answer the solution as well, just the challenges that
Krishna Jonnakadla 46:39
I'll give you an I'll give you a little bit of background. In 2009. When I was in the US, there were a lot of students in the US. And the telco film industry is home to a lot of comedy schools and stuff like that. And these students were independent producers, and I will send those videos pop up during their free time. And I started a media company. And I quickly realized that they weren't a lot of producers. And I started a relationship with Rama night of school in Hyderabad to started producing our own content. And I realized that I was way ahead way early in that game. There was no matter what I did, the demand existed, there was no doubt about the demand is just that the supply side didn't exist at all. And you could have been a superhuman effort to create any sort of supply. So ran it for about a year. at best. We were under the impression that if I were to contrast English, independent producers, versus telugu, the English ones were possibly 1 million and number and the terrible ones were not even 1000. So there's a vast difference so I had no choice but to shut shop. But did you have that kind of a situation where it was hard to find those in the first place? Where did you find it?
Ranjeet Singh 47:59
In way Yes, in a way No. So there were a lot of books being written in new languages and like articles in essays and the stories being written. The problem was that majority of that was not really online. Or even if it was online, it was very, very kind of like, like somebody would have a blog, somebody would be posting it on their Facebook wall, somebody would basically have a small website that there will be publishing on like, a lot of very, very diverse, very, very different places. So there was no consolidated lead form. What we did was a combination of two things. So one was a simple we essentially got some public domain content that was already do. And the second thing was we reached out to writers and we told them that you know, we understand that we don't have any leaders. What we will do is that if you just see us we will do all the work for you. So we will manually make your profile. We will take your content from wherever it is. we'll publish it on public need and you don't even have to log in anytime somebody actually reads this content will tell you who is ready Thomas they already what is the feedback they want to give you and everything is. So we try to take away the friction from the suppliers. Till we got to the point where they themselves have started seeing value out. Second thing I did was like whenever we publish something, we share it on on on our own walls. And a lot of times some of these writers will also share it on their walls on Facebook, saying that, you know, my story has been published in public. And then some of their friends will look at that. And they will basically asked us like, if you publish, my friend says to you, why don't you also publish my story? And I think, like these two things, were kind of how we seeded almost all of our content in our lives.
Krishna Jonnakadla 49:29
How long was that? How long did it take to get to that point where you decided this method was working?
Ranjeet Singh 49:34
Probably like first 4,5,6 months and after that, for every language predict something, so of course, newer language becomes relatively faster, but I think every language that launch event today, we will still have like at least a week or maybe 10 days of hustling, trying to get some writers.
Krishna Jonnakadla 49:50
So what were the first few languages the first few languages?
Ranjeet Singh 49:53
So we started with Hindi and Gujarati then we launched Tamil very, very quickly, then we will not launch anything for quite something then Launched Malayalam Bengali and Marathi all at the same time.
Krishna Jonnakadla 50:03
Why Hindi and Gujrati, any particular reason.
Ranjeet Singh 50:05
I knew Hindi and one of the cofounders Gujrati, Okay,
Krishna Jonnakadla 50:08
I see same for the other co founder CO and have they all been different they're each of these languages do they come with their own quirks and...
Ranjeet Singh 50:17
Little bit in terms of like what john john knows what kind of stories are most popular but I think at a high enough level they are very very similar, but at once you end up group granular then you will realize that like some people prefer this story versus that story was is actually so for example in in the pulp fiction is very popular in Tamil science fiction is very popular in Bengali, like a lot of society in life and friendship lead to the stories are more popular, but like these are essentially more about journalism piece and less about like broad generalizations.
Krishna Jonnakadla 50:45
So 2014 September, Mark aside the fact that you have no mountain of faith in yourself, that is definitely there. pragmatically speaking at some point in time. It should have occurred to you that yes, I think we are on the Right back. This is working. Where were moments where you thought, Oh, no, we've lost the plot.
Ranjeet Singh 51:05
I still feel that. So maybe now I feel it once or twice a week. Okay? But that's, that's like a constant person between you feeling that you are building the next greatest company in the world. And feeling like, Where the hell am I? Why am I doing this, this is never going to work. Like I can't do this. So it's always a tussle between these two. It says that early on, I used to feel that every single thing like some days will end on the same day you will feel like you're doing something really important going to be a big companies, a lot of users and stuff like that. And on the same way you feel like absoluten crap. It still happens both of these it's just that both of these emotions like now happen at a much lower frequency. So now, very rarely would I feel like this is the greatest company in the world. And very rarely do they feel like very when I say very rarely me like I will still feel that once in a week or twice a week. So it's not that true. It's just not like five times a day, which is what to sleep.
Krishna Jonnakadla 51:57
So in the initial days, that Were there points where you were stuck. You were trying a bunch of things, but nothing was happening.
Ranjeet Singh 52:05
Again, like a lot of different eyes, I can give you like 10 different examples. So for example, like when we were at p labs from that time onwards, you talk about, we're going to launch our Android app in two weeks. And you're simply not built, like engineering. So you're growing quickly, which meant that a lot of people had a lot of issues, a lot of feature requests, you should build this and that and stuff like that. And you're just always behind what we wanted to build, like, all these things.
Krishna Jonnakadla 52:31
So always a good problem to have isn't?
Ranjeet Singh 52:33
Well. Yes, it's better than customers not using your product, but it's still a problem, right? And you start losing faith in yourself that do I even have the skill set to be able to build this then in between everybody basically, like, there were days when, for example, we are interviewing someone and convincing them to join our team and they're like, dude, you don't have to even like what if tomorrow you can't be you like know, some, some like, at some point in time, people who understand what we were doing and at some point time fundraising will become easy. and stuff like that. So that would be and then a lot of times different investors will, for example, say that you know what, this company has so much more money, why wouldn't they just start doing this and kill you like, sure they in theory can but that's just ensuring in practice that because hundred percent sure this is working, why would I be raising money from you? If it's hundred percent obvious I'll go to a bank and take a loan.
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:20
That's sort of a question applicable for any Yes,
Ranjeet Singh 53:23
exactly. So I'm not trying to say that in any way Pratilipi was a snowflake. It was largely very similar to the companies there will be some challenges and some good things, but
Krishna Jonnakadla 53:32
What I meant was, why would a large company with so much money not do it that applies for practically everything.
Ranjeet Singh 53:38
That is true, but when you're actually going through that phase, where like, you have zero money in the bank, and I'm putting Jesus to say is that you actually feel like Why don't you get paid? You start getting into that victim mentality, at least for a minute, if not for an hour right there. You start feeling like why is why is everybody so stupid, and why can't they get it that like Google has 10,000 things to do? like buying the focus on this one small problem right at this time? And if they do, then I'm dead. That's obvious. Why are you asking me right? It's like, these kind of feelings typically will last for more than a few minutes. But when the last few minutes, they will oftentimes they will last. They will come like multiple times a day.
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:13
So then, essentially, you've seen the smaller supply Prop, the supply is where you did most of your most of your growth hacks.
Ranjeet Singh 54:22
In the very early days is so basic, we don't we don't do growth hack supplies. That is way too important for hackers.
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:28
to know what I mean is, you've been initially to get some of those writers. Yeah,
Ranjeet Singh 54:34
in the first six months, you're like,
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:35
and did the readership automatically take care of itself?
Ranjeet Singh 54:38
Mostly, so leadership has been a lot more predictable. So I will say for example, for the first two, three years was not doing that which it was going through at least two leaders and has always been roughly Mukhlas consistent.
Krishna Jonnakadla 54:48
Okay, and how has that both of those, how are both of those words, not the right or what is ....
Ranjeet Singh 54:54
every every quarter we essentially grew at about 50% like someone's it might be 40 some months. It might be 60 but I think broadly It is very rarely more than 40 it's very rarely more than 62 it's roughly about 50% every quarter on both sides.
Krishna Jonnakadla 55:08
And so one and a half black writers 1.1 point 371 point two 1.38. That's that's a lot and almost all of them write on a regular basis.
Ranjeet Singh 55:17
So on a monthly activists we have about 21-22,000 writers. So they could be two parts. One part is that obviously these people have joined us for a number of years. Number two, some people write like long form content only. So if you are going to write a novel, it's going to take you like two years to write you can be monthly active or weekly active because like it's going to take you two weeks. So we are trying to solve that in different different ways. But
Krishna Jonnakadla 55:38
What are some interesting stories that you've seen on the platform, something that you thought is disruptor genre has not been heard anywhere.
Ranjeet Singh 55:47
Honestly, there's way too many to name. So there's a lot of crazy stuff that people publish some of a crazy hood, some of it crazy back some of it just crazy, thoughtlessly good or bad.
Krishna Jonnakadla 55:59
And if Stand up.
Ranjeet Singh 56:00
So lot, which is why I'm trying to write off also something that somebody I'm forgetting the name, I think I'm forgetting the exact name of the writer but there's somebody called Shadi would publish a story called Miami, India back in 2015. And I, that was one of the first crazy stories that I read. And I was like, I was so freaking happy, basically talks about there's a guy like a small kid, I think, maybe 10 1112 year old, who is afraid of maths. And then alien comes to like his neighborhood. And he captures this small kid into a world where the only way to get out of that world is to solve a lot of mathematical problems. And this alien being basically kind of captures, not captures, kind of takes over this small child's body. So he's living his life, the alien life as a God on earth. And the scared is basically trapped in that world where the only way to get out of is by solving that sprawl. I got like, XP nominal.
Krishna Jonnakadla 56:53
That's pretty interesting. That's
Ranjeet Singh 56:55
super nice and the story it's not in Hindi and forgetting which language it is in. Well, essentially, like there's a doctor who is building, the first artificial general intelligence. He's driven primarily by bringing his dead wife for life is provided basically is if I can build AGI I can achieve some kind of singularity where time kind of doesn't hold any meaning. And then like so he's dead why he was the one who started this bullet so he kind of figured out a way to get her back and the wife comes back and essentially says that every time we go through this iteration I again and again 10 you don't invent AG I used to do
Krishna Jonnakadla 57:29
Time Machine time travel, you know, I interval plus Inception time. So I insert the same loop is going on with quite. That's interesting. So, there are two more things that I want to touch upon. One is you said this, you've spent zero on content acquisition, absolutely zero, but that would be sort of true for any user generation in production,
Ranjeet Singh 57:52
which is it like we have one of the other for UGC, paper maturity. Right. Having said that, in retrospect, for example, when Advice other founders, I spend 10% of my time helping other people, I usually advise them that if you can afford to put in more money or more time or both, while you are seeding, you should do once you have seen it, you should understand what is seeding versus what is the electronic strategy. But during seeding, you should actually invest money in buying gold. If I had to go back and we'll put up again, I would have invested money into content equation, I would have invested more time into quantum equation in the early days are not as a strategy but as a seeding mechanism.
Krishna Jonnakadla 58:27
And your metrics are all out there. You say you're a very transparent company. And I, for one feel that's refreshing in India, because I've seen two parts of it. One is crazy while claims for to see in newspapers without naming names. There is an investor that told me that the public news about a particular funding was three and a half million in terms of actual money given was only $30,000.
Ranjeet Singh 58:55
That hasn't that doesn't make any sense. Like why would you do?
Krishna Jonnakadla 58:58
For news came from a very credible investor.
Ranjeet Singh 59:03
That sounds funny. I know that people kind of inflate them with,
Krishna Jonnakadla 59:07
right, but so it's one thing to well, if in a non transparent world, you can say any number. It cuts both ways. The ones that buy it, it looks big for them. But the ones that don't, it's just a number, right? It doesn't make sense. It carries very little credibility. But you put the number of Indian enterprises in the form, explain the startup space, that are transparent about numbers, how they are growing, why they're growing, they are somebody the lower number, a very miniscule percentage, and you are one of them. Was it a conscious decision to contrast that with what you see?
Ranjeet Singh 59:43
So honestly, I think it's partly up or at least largely impact a function just market maturity market. So I think I'd like to say it we have, historically we have lived in a world of scarcity. And when you are living in a world of scarcity, you want to defend what you already have, because you Afraid that otherwise somebody else will steal it. So it doesn't matter whether you're talking about knowledge sharing, whether you're talking about talking about your data, you're talking about sharing your vulnerabilities or whatever. You always feel like if I give you information that you know, this is where we are bad, then you are going to judge me, you're not going to join me as an employee, you're not going to give me money as investor and so on and so forth.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:00:20
You have you have this, at least the society that you've grown up, it has created the need for you to put up a facade.
Ranjeet Singh 1:00:27
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Historically, that has been true. So of course, in the information age, for a lot of different things, we actually now live in a world of abundance. So for example, information itself is literally abundant. The problem is not that you don't have information. The problem is how do you go to that information? But like when you talk about Indian startups, it's still like a, I think Flipkart is one of the first companies that kind of started that tech startup ecosystem. So it's, it's still fairly young, like immature not deep enough market. So it's, it's like a fascinating place to be because of how quickly it is growing and how much depth interesting As we see now, we're still a fairly young industry. So like, even now, for example, how many founders unless you have like, excellent pedigree that you were one of the first 10 people at Flipkart that's different. But by and large, even right now, raising money seems like a big hallmark of success. Right? And that's because of the market. So which is why I think a lot of times people feel like they need to lie so that, you know, other people kind of feel like this is a good place. I think once we go beyond this and move to a place where, you know, they're a lot more, there's a lot more liquidity. Let me discuss with a lot more employees, lot more startups a lot more founders lot more investors, then you will see that the best ones will typically be a lot more transparent about a lot of different things.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:41
Given that this space you operate in is so vastly different from what you see on the streets only is not machine learning. It's not data
Ranjeet Singh 1:01:50
and we use more machine learning than most companies that call themselves as ML companies.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:01:55
Correct. So it's not a cool thing to work on. It's not that it is not finished. It's not one of the hot sector when using urinal legal Pharaoh. Given that what is the kind of culture you have internally, and you mentioned you enjoy a very high employee MPs, there must be something on the culture front and the environment front that you must be doing that must be engendering it, or is it where you get these people's?
Ranjeet Singh 1:02:22
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:05:48
And I want you to talk about this access thing. And, and when you spoke over your funding journey, that you didn't have any funds, you were still you're in mainstream words you were going to pop out to what they were saying that comes with a certain life, the way you think about money. And talk to us about that.
Ranjeet Singh 1:06:10
So honestly, I think it's a very, very complex and nuanced topic. And in general, I do not like kind of talking about things in a black and white manner when they are not black and white. So, access or privilege is something that has 1000 Shades of Grey. And the more importantly, they work very differently for different people, something that kind of might help me might actually hurt somebody else in the exact same position. So for example, a lot of people keep on talking about, you know how having a chip on your shoulder can sometimes drive you to do great things like a lot of the bravest. The richest and the most adventurous people in the world have had a huge chip on their shoulders. But they're also people who are into depression because of the chip on chip that they had on their shoulders. It's very, very hard to talk about this at a higher labor, what I can talk about largely is that essentially, in an ideal world, an entirely ideal world, everybody should have the same access and the same opportunities. And like they shouldn't be a privilege that exist. In a realistic world, there is a lot of privilege that you get for a lot of different things. So just by the sheer fact that I can speak English, for example, it's a huge privilege. The fact that like, I'm a boy and sort of being a moon is a has been a huge advantage, because the younger son has had its own both advantages and disadvantages. So a lot of these things kind of work in many, many different different ways. But I do think that we need to do is that we need to figure out a way to kind of take things from here and move in the right direction where people have more access and more opportunity. Will we ever get there, but can we make things a little bit better than what they are? I definitely think that we can and we should all be trying for that and seeing it in greater detail. will take Like a lot more than 10 or 15 or 20 minutes.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:08:03
I think we'll leave that topic here. And I do have one last question in terms of, it's one thing to build a world of your own, measure yourself, yourself by the yardsticks of that world. Because the world that you're breathing doesn't exist, right? And we don't even know what success looks like. We can go back and look at NPS we can look at DAUMAU millions of readers, but that are possibly just certain indicators, toxicity, I think that's a better term. But at some point, there have to be some mainstream breakups. For instance, there has to be a story that is written on Pratilipi by a writer who started his journey on Pratilipi and maybe that gets that becomes a film. And maybe there is one. Michiko la Dora JK Rowling equally Are you traveling in the direction forsee that coming.
Ranjeet Singh 1:09:01
Funnily enough, organically, I think there have been more than hundred stories published in particular well, more than hundred, actually, which have already been converted into physical books to comics is to regional movies to regional TV shows, to web season and stuff like that. It's just that nothing has yet been like an Amish or Harry Potter. I saw, but would that happen? I'm pretty sure it will it happen in six months or two years or five years? I'm not so sure.
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:09:25
Do you foresee that being a serendipitous outcome or till now
Ranjeet Singh 1:09:29
it has been entirely serendipity? Well, not entirely serendipity. Part of that is just because of business models. So like a lot of publishers and producers would essentially be Susan Patrick NLCO. This story is fascinating. But now we kind of have somebody in our team who's kind of doing this activity. So you got as a writer, you wouldn't really know these many people. So you are dependent only on what we are now trying to do is can we figure out a way that we can take the best stories and give them a lot bigger boost. So both in terms of reach and also in terms of an principles
Krishna Jonnakadla 1:10:01
So Ranjeet we we have spoken for over an hour? It's always a fascinating conversation. I think we behind all your aggression lies, so much of honesty and so much of transparency and it was very very refreshing that you don't mince words in what you say you read well don't lend land HI loud the interesting the those two stories that's what stuff you know, real world stuff is made of right behind all the business stuff, which is why I refer to this as art because there's Yes, there is a money making angle to it. But it is very cold what a human being is, which is expression. That's what so and expression and art, you know, they're all ventures of the soul. You built a fantastic thing at Pratilipi and it still feels like you're still scratching the surface for what's possible. If we step outside of the Indian language, well, there is the world language is also demonstrate a very, very Interesting world, I tried building a streaming media startup for the non english movies and content. So I, to a certain extent I understand what you're building. And we know that a lot of interesting things that are head thank you for speaking with us at Maharajas of Scale. We wish Pratilipi the very best anything you would like to say in closing.
Ranjeet Singh 1:11:18
So first of all, thanks a lot for having me here. Second, just a word of advice in case there are future founders listening or early stage founders listening. So, number one reason I've seen smart people fail is because they try kind of trying to do five different things and a lot of times people will give you different advisors, it's important to try out one thing at a like at one point, and it's easy to look back and you know, look at the TV for example and say okay, perfect is doing this and what TV is doing that and the TV is also doing this and this and that. But what you have to understand is that for a long, long time, all we did was essentially one thing and once you are good enough, that thing only then you kind of deeply expand to something else. That's it
Nida Sahar 1:12:00 Hope you enjoyed this story. If this story made a difference to you tell us by leaving a comment on the website or associations help us spread the love by subscribing liking and sharing our show. We welcome speakers suggestions and collaborations write to me at email@example.com