Cover Image For S1 E34: Vivek Khandelwal of iZooto
Winning with a SaaS Business

Winning with a SaaS Business Built in India for the World

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Winning with a SaaS Business

What’s the formula for Winning with a SaaS Business? Is there a formula for Winning with a Business Built in India for the World? Indian IT companies seem to have discovered a path to a certain extent. However, IT businesses themselves are going thru significant competitive pressures. IT services, predominantly driven by Hourly $ rate dynamics have seen significant competition. Competition mounted by automation tools or economic policies that frown on remote work.

Indian entrepreneurs have learnt new tricks and new models. An outgrowth of this is SaaS – Software as a Service. A best of Both Worlds Model. This makes Winning with a SaaS Business Built in India for the World a key topic. SaaS Businesses earn revenues in $ or Euros but have expenses in Indian Rupee.

Catch this other amazing SaaS entrepreneur story: Amit Mishra of iMocha on the jump from Slums to SaaS: Season 1, Episode 35

Further, they don’t have the dependency on $ per hour pressures. This means they have a product and their revenues are non-linear. But how does one do it? What’s the formula? Before we get into that, let’s understand a little history of India’s GDP.

The History of India’s GDP – India had businesses that won the World

India was once the World’s Pre-eminent Global Economy with a significant share of the World’s GDP. Until the imperial era dawned on us. We made things that were the envy of the World. So much so that it made European powers go to great lengths to find trade routes to trade with India.

Source: Visual Capitalist
Source: Visual Capitalist

However, things have changed drastically with India importing much of what it needs. A cursory look at Indian imports versus exports shows that India is slowly clawing its way back that ladder. A couple of decades ago, India mostly imported finished products. Today, its a mix of raw materials and finished goods putting India in the category of value-adding countries.

India’s Exports and Imports. Source: The Guardian and Quora
India’s Exports and Imports. Source: The Guardian and Quora

India’s SaaS Story- The future is bright

The stress of IT lifestyles of Indian IT Service businesses is giving way to SaaS. Entrepreneurs no longer want to work graveyard shifts or service overseas clients for $ Rupee arbitrage. They want to be in control of their destiny. They want to build products for the World but leading normal lives out of India. SaaS seems to be the perfect model for that.

India’s SaaS Future is Bright
India’s SaaS Future is Bright

India today is home to more than a 1000 SaaS Companies. While a few names dominate the headlines, a visit to SaaS Boomi in Chennai is telling. The annual signature SaaS event feels like the late 90s moment for SaaS is soon going to be upon us. It is in light of this that Vivek Khandelwal’s iZooto Story makes for interesting listening. Winning with a SaaS Business Built in India for the World is not just fantasy. It's as real as it can get.

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A Train Journey and Vivek brush with entrepreneurship

While still in College, Vivek Khandelwal embarked on a journey of discovery with Jagriti. Jagriti is a train journey unlike any other. It takes young minds to see the best of entrepreneurship and innovation across India. This inspired him to become a creator and an entrepreneur. He shares how he and his co-founders have built a multi-million $ SAAS business working with businesses across the Globe.

Jagriti Yatra
Jagriti Yatra

Here are some excerpts from the Episode

How Vivek Became an Entrepreneur

I ended up being an entrepreneur because I was part of this strange journey back in college called as Jagritiyatra in 2008 December. And that’s when I met a bunch of enterprising people. I met a lot of entrepreneurs, people who are building stuff people who are doing really, really cool things. And that journey was a great tipping point for me personally

Vivek Khandelwal 03:38

He took us for a tour of the kitchen he showed here is what scale actually means. Scale is not serving lunch to 500 people in a hostel, right? Scale is serving meals, hygiene, nutritious, warm meals to half a million kids in a city. That’s what scales mean scale means. And that idea completely changed my perspective of how to look at things

Vivek Khandelwal 07:30

And it was mind boggling because they were spending, like a couple of million dollars every single month, just to Drive app installs. And I could not believe this was like, if the end user is uninstalling their app in less than eight hours, why? Why are they spending so much money?

Vivek Khandelwal 16:44

Vivek On a Cardinal Mistake He Made!

So in 2009 we made the cardinal mistake of building the product first, and then figuring out our distribution or our sales, sales method.

Vivek Khandelwal 30:27

Remember when the Indian government recently banned Tik Tok? What also happened in this process was that there were hundreds and thousands of Tik Tok influencers that were suddenly stripped of the access to that audience.

Vivek Khandelwal 34:55

Vivek says Serving Customers is the Goal!

By the time it was 2018, we were already profitable, we had some money in the bank. But we also knew back in fact, then that doing this with two or three different segments of customers will be a suicide mission. So we said, we will gradually shift the focus to this new segment of media publishers. We will double down our efforts in terms of production and marketing and sales to serve these customers more efficiently.

Vivek Khandelwal 1:02:34

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Show Notes

Follow Vivek Khandelwal

Vivek Khandelwal – Founder – iZooto | LinkedIn

Vivek Khandelwal (@vivekk) | Twitter

Here’s what the World Cloud for this episode looks like:

Word Cloud For The Episode
Word Cloud For The Episode

Episode Transcript

(Automated Transcript)

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

building, people, founder, customers, day, business, product, india, audience, called, startup, scale, problem, story, brands, app, publishers, telecom operator, single, followers

SPEAKERS

Vivek Khandelwal, Krishna Jonnakadla, Tania Jadhav

Krishna Jonnakadla  00:01

This is Maharajas of Scale, a podcast where we go behind the scenes and talk to founders who are demolishing the myths around building and scaling a big business in India. These are the stories that have shattered the assumptions around Indian consumers and changing the game completely. I am Krishna Jonnakadla, serial entrepreneur, co founder of FLIT the fashion locator in town and startup mentor, bringing you the stories. Everyone Chilly and a cool actually a pretty rainy afternoon in Bangalore amidst unending or the seemingly unending pandemic of Coronavirus. But today we do have Vivek Khandewal one of iZooto with us. Vivek is doing a terrific job of ensuring businesses engage with their followers and all their customers. It's a less understood science, at least in India, but elsewhere where online marketing channels are well known, it is an indispensable tool. Vivek Welcome to the show.

Vivek Khandelwal  01:00

Thank you so much for having me. Hey, Krishna, I am excited about this conversation.

Krishna Jonnakadla  01:04

Wonderful. So Vivek, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you're working on right now.

Vivek Khandelwal  01:09

All right, great question. am Vivek Khandewal I'm a founder at iZooto iZooto is an own audience marketing platform built for publishers. I wouldn't make my intro sales fit well just stop that. I am. I've been an entrepreneur for most of my life. iZooto. Slash readability is is my second startup. Prior to this, I was part of another startup which we ran for about a good seven years. And yeah, that's, that's really, you know, how I define myself? Yeah, I like podcasts. Like you is like you I also enjoy biking once in a while. Yeah, that's pretty much it.

Krishna Jonnakadla  01:54

Pretty interesting. You said the previous startup, you ran that for about seven years.

Vivek Khandelwal  01:58

Yes.

Krishna Jonnakadla  01:59

Tell us a little more about it.

Vivek Khandelwal  02:00

Okay. So the previous startup we started we back in 2009. In fact, you know, it's a, it's a great. Just recently, we got we got nominated in the NASSCOM emerge, 50 list for 2020. And the be the last time we got nominated in NASSCOM emerge 50. It was 2010. We had a first startup, which was called voice tap slash apply to buy labs was Saturday in 2009. Back in the day, when, when when being a part of a startup was not cool. That sort of started off as an as an edtech. business. We were We were trying to help people connect with experts on a phone call. The idea was, India is not any is going to be a mobile, heavy country, we are inherently fam of we are inherently believers of speaking and talking. Right? And our our first intuitive reaction when we are looking for something, is it can I speak with someone who can help me with this. So that's where Voice Tap started. And from there, the idea pivoted from edtech to AD tech. And close to around 2015 is when we when we wrapped up the business to start iZooto

Krishna Jonnakadla  03:34

Interesting. So how did you end up being an entrepreneur?

Vivek Khandelwal  03:38

Okay, that's I actually nobody has ever asked me that question. And Come to think of it. So I ended up being an entrepreneur because I was part of this strange journey back in college called as Jagritiyatra, this is 2008 2008. December is when Jagritiyatra happened, this is essentially a train journey, which takes a bunch of youngsters on an 18 day train journey across the country. I was part of that. I was part of the Jagritiyatra in 2008. And that's when I met a bunch of enterprising people. I met a lot of entrepreneurs, people who are building staff people who are doing really, really cool things. And that, that that journey is is he was a was a great tipping point for me personally, because after that journey, I was like, okay, you know, what I is making things and building things is a really, really cool thing. Right? There is no reason I should not be doing this. How did I end up being in startup world? It was, you know, just like everyone else, it was an accident. My co founder, my then co founder, he called me up one fine day because he had met me on Jagritiyatra,. He figured that this guy knows something about the internet or marketing on the internet. He said, I'm trying to do this thing. You want to be a part of this. I said, Sure. That sounds like fun. Let's give it a shot. Right. And one thing led to another. And before I realized, I was I was knee, I was neck deep in into what we were building back in the day. So yeah, that's how I just sort of stumbled into the, into the so called startup ecosystem.

Krishna Jonnakadla  05:27

Very interesting. In fact, we did cover Jagritiyatra's 2019 Journey last year on Maharajas of scale. And it's it's the we've, it's the first time we are actually speaking to an entrepreneur that has been through Jagritiyatra, or at least began his journey. What was Jagritiyatra, or participating in itself an accident of sorts? Or was there something else behind that it was

Vivek Khandelwal  05:51

literally an accident, because, you know, finally, right? In 2008 2009, the internet was not as powerful as it is today, right? The first Jagritiyatra actually happened in 1997. And this was a decade after which this was happening. And it was, it was a very, and back in the day, there was literally no information on on what exactly will happen in the Jagritiyatra, that I had applied to be part of the other because I thought it will be a good it'll be, it'll be fun hanging out with a lot of young people. And going on a train journey across the country, living on a train was a fun idea. And you know, when you are in third year of college, pretty much anything is fun, pretty much everything in anything is fun, as long as it's not academics, right. So So yeah, that's how I had approach to Jagritiyatra, because there was literally nothing available on the internet, there was the there was no agenda page on the website, it was a blank canvas, as if we had walked in with absolutely zero expectations of what the Jagritiyatra will be all about. And, you know, fast forward to bring 19 you know, if you are applying for the Jagritiyatra, today, you would know exactly what will happen on the yatra,, you have so many, you know, I alumni to speak with you, you know, precisely the the speakers who will come on the archive, and so on and so forth. Right. I walked in going, I had no idea what this is going to be

Krishna Jonnakadla  07:04

And in some sense, you were swept off your feet?

Vivek Khandelwal  07:30

Oh, yeah, absolutely. The Jagritiyatra,was, I think it really shakes, you know, it just changed my perspective, you know, of the world, right? As a teenager, you know, as somebody who was in you know, 1920 years of age, you do carry a lot of energy, right? You want to change the world, right? If I may say so. And there is, and then, but then at the same time, you know, coming from a middle class family, I had only stayed in two cities throughout, you know, whatever, 20 years of her life, and then so my perspective of the world was was very shallow, or narrow, if I may say, and the yatra,would have really helped me expand that perspective. It helped us understand. It has me undersand, personally, problems that existed outside of my worldview. And we understand how are people actually thinking of doing things at scale? What scale means in the first place? What is social impact and takes integrity, moral compasses, right? A lot of these new concepts were sort of revealed in those 18 days, and I think most importantly, you know, when you are with the right set of people, when you have the right set of people around you, right, serendipity is what happens, right? I think there is no other way to explain the experience of going to the Jagritiyatra,, but then that single word serendipity, right, magic will happen at some point in time, just because you had you've built so many amazing connections and you've been exposed to such, you know, you're exposed to so many unique, unique perspectives from from people who have been building stuff people who have been working on the ground. And remember, there were there were two stories that shook me to the core. Back in the day, one was the Nandi foundation. And the foundation is, is in hyderabad from more from Bangalore, and they run the run the midday meal program. Back in the day, they were running the world's biggest kitchen, which was serving five lakh kids a day. And the founder of The Art of the foundation was also an IIT Bombay alum he had, he took us for a tour of the kitchen he showed hear is what scale actually means. is not you know, serving lunch to 500 people in a hostel, right? scale is serving meals, hygiene, nutritious, warm meals to five lakh kids in a city. That's what scales mean scale means, right? And that idea completely changed my perspective of, of how to look at things. Right. So So yeah, the yatra, of, I think, in, in more than one ways, genes to, or could have contributed to a lot where I am today.

Krishna Jonnakadla  10:35

Yeah. What was the other story? You said two stories touched you. This one

Vivek Khandelwal  10:40

is ofArvind eyecare, I care. I'm not sure if you knew about it, but I think it's it's the, it's the most exciting, exciting business model that exists out there, which delivers social impact at a magnitude which is just not imaginable. And it deploys economies of scale. So, so beautifully, right? Remember, they were treating, they were treating for cornea for a piece 80 in 2009. Right. And they were doing some hundred thousand surgeries per month. And it was literally, it was literally an assembly line operation. And when you me listen to the to the founders of Evans, I can talk about how deeply they are concerned about making eye care making health care affordable, how deeply they are passionate about, about making this work at scale. Remember, they were doing telemedicine, right. So called, you know, what we experienced right now with practo. Right? We may have a doctor on a phone call, or a video call explaining us what to do. They were doing this back in 2009. And they were doing it extremely well already. So that story top, you know, taught he taught me about that, you know, no matter what, you know, which category of which segment you're trying to operate in, you can still have you actually still build a sustainable business, right, and yet have a social impact. So So yeah, those two studies were were extremely powerful. They completely change the way I look at things.

Krishna Jonnakadla  12:31

Very fascinating. We will come back to the social impact angle, you know, a little while into the episode because I do want to pick your brains on the social impact angle because for the stories that you share both about Nandi foundation and both of these are about social impact. But as far as I was just checking out the Nandi Foundation website, it is a midday meal program. I'm not sure if they were still doing it or they were known for it back then. While they are definitely based in Hyderabad, the largest kitchen that organization is based in Bangalore. It is called Akshay Patra scheme, which is run by iskcon.

Vivek Khandelwal  13:09

Yeah. So Akshay Patra runs the runs the midday meal program. Right now the foundation is the one who runs a 24/7 kitchen for the midday meal program. Right. I'm not sure if they're part of the same, same mission, but that's how it was described to us. Maybe you know, the scale is changed. Maybe. Akshay Patra does. Far more today. But yeah, correct.

Krishna Jonnakadla  13:37

Possibly, possibly. So that's, that's an angle that I'm not aware of. There is another Indian politician who's who's no longer there. Anant Kumar, who's a member of party who is a member of parliament from South Bangalore. His own family was also associated with the Akshay Patra foundation. I still feel is associated he's no longer there. But yeah, awesome. You know, it should. It's funny, you should talk about, in some sense, getting goosebumps from seeing the unlimited possibilities of being a creator, right. I recently on one YouTube episode, I heard Sadhguru, of who's followed by a lot of people and who's also, you know, derided by a lot of people. I don't have any opinion of him one way or the other. But for long in India, you know, we believed in karma, we when we believed in action, we believed in attachment, less karma, but Sadhguru his interpretation of Karma Yoga is that life is in some sense, a self fulfilling prophecy. Right? So of both your words and your actions, not just your words and your thoughts, but also your actions, which means you can actually create the life you want and actually sculpted, and I recently remember getting into a discussion about how To make our kids less addicted to phones, and then less bored, and I remember responding, you know, today, most most of us, most of us, we actually look at look at ourselves as consumers, right from consuming Netflix content, or YouTube content or Twitter tweets, any of these 99.9% of the world is actually a consumer. But the joy actually comes from being a creator, when you are a creator, different sort of a joy, you know, is invoked in you, I suppose. That's what you saw. And I keep telling people, if you want to know why we are, where we are, why we feel stagnated as a country, that's because we are not creating enough, right? I have a slightly different analogy to say, in the last 100 years, how many last? How many words have we contributed to the English language? Right? Once the British left India, for instance, you know, guru and all those words, Dharma we contributed a lot because we were contributing and creating. But if you see the last few years that leaves and our language is under threat, a lot of things are under threat is because, for example, why do we call a computer a computer, we didn't invent it, some people have some other language invented it. So there is proof that we have to be creators. And, you know, at marches of scale, our focus is to get creative stories out there. Awesome. This is a little bit of a longer prologue. But you know, I'm very exciting discussion. So let's jump into it. iZooto  story. And was there anything from the first startup that sort of acted as either as a catalyst or some sort of pixie dust? When you thought of thought of as pseudo?

Vivek Khandelwal  16:44

Well, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So in fact, it was literally a derivation of our learnings of applied mobile labs. So as I mentioned, we were working, we pivoted to AD tech as our business model in 20 14 - 15. And back then, so to 2014 is the year when the internet in India went crazy, right? This is when we saw a splurge, of startups being built around mobile, we saw a massive, massive adoption of mobile apps, we saw every In fact, I remember back in the day, everybody wanted to have a mobile app. Right? They wanted to have a mobile app for Android, iOS, also, back in the day, BlackBerry OS, and Symbian versus when, and we, and because we were working back in the day, we were working with all reputed ecommerce brands, all every single otaa. Right telecom operators, so so we were, we were right in the middle of this ecosystem. And we were even sort of worried about this trend, which was emerging, because and I remember a slide which came out in the Google Site guest presentation, which said that in 2015, every seventh day, a mobile, an android mobile user had to delete photos from their mobile, because their mobile phones did not have enough storage. And this led us to wonder that why exactly are people downloading these apps? I mean, I, I consider myself as a frequent flyer, and I, and I don't have the make Metro app on my phone, you know, iPhones real estate is very, very, very, very precious. And, you know, back in the day, every single person was trying to sell me an app, right? Buy from Justin slay car. And everybody thought that that we needed a plumber every single day, or we had a carpenter requirement every single day. It just did not make sense. So so with that as an observation, and and the trend of being that mobile was that, you know, being on mobile was a thing, right. And the adoption for mobile phone was was going through the roof. The telecom operators were adding millions and millions of subscribers every single month. Right. So we said, okay, there is something that is broken half people want to be on mobile, people will be able to provide for sure. But the way they are looking at driving their mobile presence, which is mobile app only, or mobile app first. Right, that doesn't seem to resonate. This by the way, the same time when Flipkart and myntra went went mobile app only if recall. So, yeah. So is that okay, so so we then asked, you know, these these brands that why are you going so crazy about, you know, driving these mobile app installs when your retention rate is is like couple of hours, I remember I saw this one slide from app, any app, I need an app analytics platform. And the slides that and this is India's largest 48. delayed, it said that their their median app, time, app retention time on a mobile device was eight hours. And it was mind boggling because they were spending, like a couple of million dollars every single month, just to Drive app installs. And I could not believe this was like, if the end user is uninstalling their app in less than eight hours, why? Why are they spending so much money? And the answer we got was, if we have the mobile app on somebody's phone, we can send them push notifications, to engage them, to retain them, and to get them to use the product more and more. So is it Okay, so the problem is getting engagement right on mobile? The problem is not the answer to the problem is not having a mobile app, right. And this is exactly the time when so in 2015 is when Chrome as a browser rolled out in push notification API. And then it was a matter of putting these two pieces of the jigsaw together to say, Okay, what we have here is a potential way of changing how engagement on a mobile device can look like, right? Or how engagement on on a browser can happen without, you know, forcing the user to install an app and stuff. So yeah, that's, that's what sort of acted as a as as a catalyst for us to sort of look at, look at things beyond ad tech and say, okay, you know, what, now we will make a subscription product for these brands to help them solve that engagement challenges.

Krishna Jonnakadla  21:57

Very interesting. So in some sense, is the mobile application wave reached some sort of a crescendo, and then your inference was that there, it has hit a crescendo, but it has not necessarily solve the engagement problem. And therefore, this, obviously, this crescendo is going to come down. And then once the dust settles, there is going to be need for engagement as well, in that space, where we should be focused on is would that be an accurate? description?

Vivek Khandelwal  22:28

Yeah, so correct, right. Because, yeah, I think that's just, you know, picture perfect, right. And the problem was, you know, so much more specific to that time in 2020. People have way more than way more space on the mobile devices as compared to 2014 or 15. Right? In this era, people are also way more comfortable downloading apps, right. And also, the way users are engaging, you know, the end user is engaging with apps is very different as compared to 2015. Right? So the problem was very, very pointedly acute in that time period only.

Krishna Jonnakadla  23:06

 Very interesting. So you went from being an ad tech platform, you had worked with all these telecom majors. And that's, I think, looking back at how you made that leap. It's like one of those long leaps, right? We make these master athletes do between two clips, when you actually look at it, there is a deep chasm, there doesn't seem to be a connection between the two. And therefore, you're wondering, how do I get from here to there? But in hindsight, it looks like such an easy leap. Was it like that when you actually made the leap?

Vivek Khandelwal  23:36

Yes and no. Right? Yes, because a lot of our experience helped us a lot. I mean, in all honesty, right? He had an unfair advantage, because we were already talking to these brands, he will be had active conversations, active engagement with these brands, we had access to lot of a lot of marketing things who we could go back to, we could call up and say, and say, Hey, is this a legit problem that you're currently facing right now? Right, and they could get, you know, first level feedback on our hypothesis, at the same time transitioning from an ad tech model to a subscription product model. Yes, that was a massive leap to be we had a learning that and it's something which, which we, which we speak very, very passionately out of a upekka, which is the concept of founder market fit. When we when we, when I look back at our 2014 days, if the best way to sort of describe this was an enterprise grade, a team that has great experience of working with large enterprises, because you know, all there in that we were dealing with before only operators in India, right, and it means you know, we were very very comfortable, you know, walking into a room addressing a bunch of cxos, suit up who job to do the whole presentation? No, no, the whole nine yards, right? That's what we were, we were extremely good at, right? And then changing from that mindset to saying, Okay, you know what, now we are a subscription product, selling possibly, let's say at hundred dollars a month, right. And for this is the inside sales model is one of the best mode. So that mindset shift, which is you do not have to now walk into a customer's office, but you are you are just sort of sell them on a phone call. Right? That mindset shift took us a while for us. But when it happened, it was very, very enlightening. So yeah, there is a, I don't

Krishna Jonnakadla  25:45

know, if anybody has coined a phrase for that, I possibly would have to say, sales product fit model, because I've seen a lot of founders make this mistake, which is, you know, not knowing which product is an inside sales model, which product is an enterprise sales model, which product is a inbound funnel? So it takes I've seen founders who do a personal one on one based, you know, sales model, even for, it's like, if you build a social network, going around, and telling everybody to download is actually a wrong way to sell that product. Right? So the sooner you figure out that this is the sales model that is going to work for you, you know, the lesser time and resources that you're going to spend on it. It's interesting that happened? How exactly did you make that draw that inference? was it was it On a hunch, or was it something else?

Vivek Khandelwal  26:38

So to be honest, right? We, we took our own sweet time to sort of conclude that point that hey, you know, what, we will need to approach this slightly differently. And I think it's because about the good seven to eight months, right? To have the product up and running. After having had a bunch of conversations with our early customers who say, okay, you know, what, it is what you have asked us, it is the problem, right? And we can actually solve this problem remotely without walking into their office. And guess what, at this ticket size, this just seems like a fair deal. Because you know, what, these the SAS products that we are buying right now, nobody is selling us, FYI, right? We just go into the websites putting a credit card on file, and consuming as we go along. Right? Can we get them that? That was one question we would constantly ask ourselves, right. At the same time, we also had, you know, the the fortune of us being four founders, right, which meant that we could we would split a lot of core jobs between the four of us, right? So for example, Neil, were the CEO, and founder, he focused on selling to large enterprise customers within India, which was fantastic, because it helped us, you know, get the cash machine rolling, right? I took on the responsibility of Okay, you know, what, I'm going to set up an inbound funnel and an inside sales process, if the same person is asked to do both, right, that's, that's like, you know, literally making no progress because you can't sail into boats. At the same time, we want to have, you know, the remaining two founders, chicken took care of everything, under the product, umbrella and such and took care of technology. Right. And we were sort of trying to figure out that, hey, you know what, let's see what works, right. I think in the early days, it's all about throwing stuff on the wall and see what sticks. So So yeah, very interesting. So would you describe this jump jump to a pseudo as pivot? Is that a good characterization? Oh, it wasn't a pivot ourselves. Right. It was very clear that we do not want to the ad tech business, right, which is why we started fresh as a new company, a new organization, right? Yeah. So it wasn't really a pivot as such, we had gone through way too many pivots in a previous company, honestly speaking for our own good. So to view, what we were very clear about is the want to build a product based business we want to be want to be in the recurring recurring revenue business, right? We realize the value of that, right? And that's why it was a fresh ground up or which we had built up

Krishna Jonnakadla  29:31

interesting. So if you would indulge me for a moment 2014 I still remember going to the NASSCOM product council the annual event that happens where products that are being built in India are showcased and inmobi right. In mobi, which has done a terrific job and eulogized by practically everyone had made it in the ad tech business and in the mobile business, right. So every now and then we do hear about them being India's at Tech unicorn. So So if you could talk about two things, one is you guys were in that space, and but yet decided to move out. And the other other thing is what you just said, intrigues me a little more, you went to went through far too many pivots or have, you know, a lot of pivots in that previous one. Can you talk about those two and your experiences there? Okay.

Vivek Khandelwal  30:27

So in 2009, when we had sort of waitstaff, the seminar fit, we made a cartoon mistake of building the product first, and then filling out our distribution or our sales, sales motion. And, you know, back in 2009, there was no credit card processing. And you could still make a payment on the internet. Sure. But, you know, it wasn't like the whole country was wanting to pay using credit cards, right. So, if I had to patch patch, a young aspiring founder with with you, because he wanted some humanoid inputs on entrepreneurship, right, there was no way to actually charge that end user for the knowledge which he will be getting from you today. So which is why we said, okay, you know, what, because this problem cannot be solved right now. Or if we solve it, we will be adding way too many barriers for the end user, right? Let's throw this open, how do we take this to the masses? So he said, Okay, let's go down the telecom operator path, which is when we said okay, we will convert this into a value added service. And, and take this to the operators, right, which is when we started working with likes of Docomo, at waterfall, and so on and so forth, right? We did that bit for for good, three, three and a half years. And that's when the figured out that, okay, you know, knowledge seeking and knowledge providing is a good thing. But if we translate this, or if we, if we extrapolate this to, to businesses and end consumers, where somebody is seeking us a specific product, or service, and somebody providing a specific product or service in the back these two, right, we said, okay, you know, what we will now even with essentially, the, the def drive model was that it was running on a telecom operator, right? So that'll be thick into it, right? Like, when we sat down, okay, we will now convert this edtech business into an ad tech business. Right? So and by the way, all of this is still happening on voice, SMS voice, text. ussd. Right. There is no more than that yet. The turtle, essentially was when he said, okay, you know, what, the mobile web is hot. There are a lot of people who are trying to consume information on the mobile browser, right, we should try to build an offering. for mobile web, we started building, we built an entire education platform, which allows people to, to consume, because you content videos, text, images, and whatnot, on a mobile browser. All of this, we're still you know, within the within the realm of telecom operator, right, which is what made it disproportionately unfair for us as the as as providers, because back in the day, value added service providers got 30% revenue share, and 30% was kept with the telecom operator. Right? So we will, in this probe, heavily skewed model in this model, which was skewed towards the operators, rather than us as, as creators or builders. Right. And so, and that's when we sort of realized that the next business that we will do, we would sort of want to want to control our customers ourselves and not go through a middleman. Right? So So yeah, those were some of the learnings and pivots which we had gone through in a previous organization. Yeah, very, very interesting. So let's talk about the own audience engagement angle a little bit. And this is this is not, this is not something easily understood, because of all of us. racked up some followers though, with the phrase essentially retargeting if we, if we actually analyze it a little more. What it means is, hey, somebody got to your webpage or your ad, or they got to it, they saw it. They were interested, and maybe they didn't stay too long. All you're doing is you're just going back and telling them, hey, you you clicked our banner or something, you're not essentially saying that, but you're using that earlier interaction, and telling them out of sight out of mind, you know, let me get back in sight for you. Right? So in some sense, that's what retargeting is. But when you started I zuto and all of this own audience engagement, what were some human behaviors that you were modeling in your mind? saying that? So one aspect is the storage on mobile phones and the craze for apps that you were looking at? What were some other user behavior or audience behavior that are human behavior that you modeled and said, these are exactly how humans are thinking, this is what they need. This is where we are going to position ourselves and this is what is going to help us win. Okay, I believe a quick a short story, which I think will will help the audience and the listeners understand what exactly is called audience marketing and why is it so important thing, when the Indian government recently banned tik tok? And I think a couple of you know, I think over 100 other Chinese apps, they end up creating, obviously, insane opportunity for Indian for Indian invaders. But what also happened in this process was that there were, there were hundreds and thousands of tic toc influences that were, who were suddenly stripped of the access to that audience. Now, when that happens, right, let's just sort of take a step back and and try to visualize article influencer, who on day one makes a video gets 500 followers fantastic. Like is encouraging the influencer goes out there and say, Look, you know what, I want to make more videos, because my audience is loving this, right? So she goes on building these videos, like super engaging content, super fun content, ends up amassing like a million followers, life is good. Suddenly, a brand comes up and says, Hey, you know, what? Can you advertise our toothpaste to your followers? She says, Sure. Can you pay me for this design? Yes, they end up you know, she basically creates a small opportunity for ourselves. Fast forward, you know, a few months, she now has a team of people working with her creating this content continuously engaging millions of followers on Tiktok. And at the same time, she now has a steady stream of revenue coming in from these brands who want to tap into the audience, right? No base standard process happens all the time. On Facebook, in Star Trek on YouTube, nothing new about the fun, the not the sandbox, right, the moment the Indian government bans Tick tock, she no longer has access to those millions and millions of followers, all of a sudden, our business is down to zero, they can do nothing she does not know she has no. She doesn't even have an email id of a single user. Right? She could email and say, Hey, you know what, here's my here's my latest video, because they've never really focused on on owning the audience. They focused on the million audience, but they'll focus on owning the audience. Right? And that is the exact problem, which really, which we sort of, have been obsessed about that. And brands and creators and vendors have to realize that all these platforms, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Snapchat, Tinder, everybody is building and owning for themselves. Right? Then they're not aligned with your business model. they align with who they are.

Krishna Jonnakadla  38:21

So So how does so let's say if these people these influencers had i zuto? How would that change their world? How would that change their world? What would they do specifically?

Vivek Khandelwal  38:34

Okay, so I don't think they are I sort of solve the entire problem, right? Our job is sort of enablement. So I think the first and the most important thing, and something that you will see now happening all the time, is, people now finally realize that we have to so the CEO of Shopify said it the best, there are only two things that you truly own on the internet. The first one is a domain name. And the second one is your marketing list. Rest, every single thing on the internet is rented, including your followers on Twitter, your followers on Facebook, your, for your subscribers, on YouTube, and so on and so forth. So the first and most important thing that we recommend these brands, these creators, these bloggers to do is have their own website where people can go and experience the brand. Yeah. And it hasn't been as that having having your own website is the most important thing. Some people have learned this the hard way. For example, they've been, they've been a lot of brands who went out there and, you know, shifted to medium for blogging, right? only to realize that medium will change its business model right in the middle of here and say, Hey, you know what, we're not going to be a CMS focused business. We're going to be appealing to this business, right. In fact, medium long term strategy still remains unclear to most people out there right now. And then they had to switch back to WordPress. And that created a lot of math for them. So the up to two medium changed its business model, and out in the middle of the year, leaving these brands, these bloggers hanging out there, right because and by the way, mediums long term strategy till date remains unclear. So, so the number one rule remains right? Have your own domain, have your own website, where your followers, your believers, or fans can come and experience your brand in its purest form. Once that is established, that's when you need to start thinking about how do you build a true, true flywheel. flywheel to drive engagement with essentially means is how do you convert anonymous visitors into into a repeat visitor? How do you convert a repeat visitor into an email subscriber? How do you convert an email subscriber into a loyal reader? How do you convert a loyal reader into a fan who is willing to support you by paying you dollars by the prescribing to you? And how do you convert that fan into somebody goes out there and talks about your content your brand to the network. That's the audience engagement flywheel which we want to, which is sort of enable at suto for our customers. Yeah,

Krishna Jonnakadla  41:29

yeah. So they're a terrific company, they have their own reasons and knees, they obviously have enabled it. But a lot of us that get out there don't know that this is what happens, especially while for normal consumers and normal people that may not be, you know, all that important. But for creators, especially people who lives depend on it earning depends on it. That's absolutely essential. You're You're so true about that. The fun. The funny thing is, you know, this brings to a brings me to an interesting product we just launched recently, we launched a payment guarantee product called vouch on all these platforms, essentially, on all these marketplaces, what happens is you go to the marketplace, because of certain things that it offers, like payment protection for both the buyer and the seller. There is a certain degree of covenants, but people who establish themselves so people who do a significant amount of business, like take the example of their influencer, for instance, you know, she, she or he has a lot of followers, they built sort of a mini business there, right. So now, the marketplace needs them more than they need the marketplace, they do need the marketplace, or then they don't need a platform. But they the platform needs them more after point. Right. So we realized that, you know, a lot of them don't have these tools. And in many cases, many cases or think about the other smaller things when something like platform disappears, your comments, your ratings, your likes your all these other things disappear as well right. And so we so we so we realize that there is this huge set of long tail of data points, which are actually stuck in multiple islands of places. And so we launch voucher vouchers of payment Guaranty Trust building app, essentially, wherever there is a need for two people where there is either a time delay, or a distance that separates either a product or service delivery vouch comes in, it holds the money till the buyer and seller completes the transaction, which is what we launched last month. But that's just the core aspect of it, or rather, the basic aspect of it. The next aspect is for people to continue to, for example, a freelancer works with maybe 2030 4050 projects a year, but he doesn't capture all of that customer content anywhere. You know, all of them are stuck in some emails stuck in multiple places. So for them to get it all in one place. So this whole when when people engage in a marketplace, there is a disintermediation, desire, right, a deep disintermediation, desire, because once you found someone you already established, you're thinking, Okay, how can I disintermediate the marketplace? Because the marketplace charges such a hefty hefty sum? Right? It could be some for access, it could be something to conduct a transaction. So interesting to see similar battles on the online ecosystem as well. Great. So talk about the scale journey. What sort of scale Are you at right now?

Vivek Khandelwal  44:39

Okay. You know what? We, we just had an all hands yesterday, and we're talking about a scale yesterday, only two hours deep. So we currently process about 72 billion notifications a month. Yeah, so that's the kind of scale we currently operate at. Then, as it is that with, we've got about about 2 billion uses every single month across the globe. Okay, I do the 2 billion devices, more than more than unique uses 2 billion unique devices, what sort of touch across the globe right now. And, yeah, that's what, that's the kind of scale we are currently operating at. We work with, we work with some of the larger stuff, not just media brands, and media publishers across the globe, to name and send fans of India, in an express SQL, network, needy, Asian apps, new score erst, right, some of the more easily recallable names, like work with currently. And their focus is very simple. We're trying to help the editors who are creating and publishing articles and stories day in day out, we're helping them reach their audience, precisely when they publish their articles that they can get people back on the website, they can listen, they can, they can get the feedback on their stories on their work really quickly, right as compared to waiting for somebody to send out an email the next day of waiting for Google News to possibly pick up that story in their feed and so on. Right. So So yeah, that's what we're currently operating at. As a reference point, we were at, I think, last year, last year, March or April, we were at 5 billion notifications a month. You sort of gone? I think, when Yeah, 15 x since then, in terms of our scale of operations, it's literally hockey stick in terms of, you know, product usage, which you know, which is a great, great metric into which lead metric to sort of establish, you know, product adoption, per se, and I feel the way we look at it.

Krishna Jonnakadla  47:14

Wow, interesting. So we'll, we'll come back to the beginnings of that scale story and what that looked like, but what what sort of revenue? are you at? Howard, the financial smoking? Talk to us about profitability? Anything on that, that you can share?

Vivek Khandelwal  47:29

We are sure. So, to realize Udo have been a profitable business. Right from the first year. Right. We've been bootstrapped and profitable, I think, the last one now, because of now, in our journey, in our one to 525 minute journey, regardless of one millimeter shoulder, if I'm not wrong about two years ago, right. And instead of skip, I think one and a half years ago is when we crossed our one mil threshold. Right, which is, you know, in the, in the in the b2b SaaS space. That's the that's the first first major milestone, which was that you are now no more in survival mode. Now, essentially, in private mode. Right? And in simple, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, that's good. And then Now, on to our journey from I think there's a cost of 44 mil mark, a few months ago, so yeah. Okay.

Krishna Jonnakadla  48:41

So you're, you're, you're a you're a tech business, you're not people have a business at all, obviously, sense. So then, would it be a stretch to say you must that you must be insanely profitable? Now? We do

Vivek Khandelwal  48:53

enjoy, you know, the margins of typical corporate offices. Yeah. So I would not refrain from saying that. Yeah.

Krishna Jonnakadla  49:02

No, no happy for you. We need businesses. We need businesses like these where now in some sense, the whole revenue and the profitability trying equation is actually inverted, right. So we usually hear of the other spectrum, not that there is anything wrong with it. And I was I remember talking to persona of obika on, you know, the SAS episode, where he corrected my own perception that these large gargantuan businesses were the way to go. And my I've had this theory that ever since the 3d printing, all these things came in, in some sense, in some sense. There's a lot that we need to get right as a country. But in some sense, Indians, we are not good at organizing ourselves on a massive scale. Right. So we were not good at organizing ourselves into 20,000 30,000 hundred thousand with whatever exists in Wipro, Infosys, IBM. I think it's some some sort of accident. And I don't know, either I, when I actually personally see the revenue equation, right? Take a Microsoft, which has close to maybe 80 90,000 employees, the revenue per employee that they get, versus, you know what, what we see not that, again, not that there is anything wrong in it, but I feel we are possibly still, in some sense at heart, a tribal nation, we are good in smaller teams. So therefore, you know, this, this whole SAS thing, all of these startups are all, you know, they can grow, and we need wealth to be created in this country. And fantastic that you know, you guys are, I'm certain that you will soon be one of the poster child of that revolution if you already aren't. So let's talk about the beginnings a little bit in 2015. When you made that shift, how long talk about that journey? How how that was? Did it feel like, you guys were in a tunnel? Or when when did you first feel that you have something going here?

Vivek Khandelwal  51:01

Okay, good question. I remember, it was 2017 31st December, when I had sent out an email to the team saying that, and I'm a big fan of the movie Interstellar. If you haven't watched it, you should. You should absolutely watch it. And I have you have amazing. Okay. So I remember when, when Cooper is taking the Rangers through the wormhole. And, and he says, in fact that he's asked to take the Ranger through the wormhole. He's told that we know there's something out there. That is promising. We don't know what that would look like. We don't know how it will be. But we know it is promising. Right? That's what I had told the team on the on the eve of 31st. December. And yeah, that's how well, you know, because back back in 2017 2018, we were we are growing, we are growing fast. We are serving a whole bunch of customers, we will be serving customers, the banking space, we are serving customers with e commerce and publisher and pretty much everybody you know that you could find where the customer and that's been? That's been I think, our our journey with a car Not at all. And which came in as a big as a big relief because they door dice that ceiling in forget sailing into boats, you're trying to sell in multiple ports, right, you sort of need to nail down your your customer persona really well. But you do prove sustainably in the future, right. And we actually did neither a persona intermediating we committed to do e commerce being our target persona. And we focus on them be focused, we tried billing for them. Right. And, and that's what they actually saw that there was a massive, there was a gap between what we were building and what our and what our customers expected. Right. But then most importantly, there was a gap in the whole founder market fit problem, again, came back into picture, right? You were trying to build for an SMB market. Whereas we as founders had a great fit for an enterprise market. And we were going through this motion. I think almost three or four quarters will be sort of realize that hey, you know what, we're seeing this massive journey right? Now, we need to solve this problem, which is sort of figured out that Okay, you know what, the problem is not the journey. The problem is the customer that we're trying to go after, these customers are not getting a lot getting incredible value from the product, which is when we looked at a different segment of customers are still a part of our we're still using a product very extensively. And this was the media, the publisher segment, and then we sort of look deeper into the way they were using the product, right? That's when our eyes lit up for the first time. I remember, I still remember our first first customer interview, which we had with the editorial team, and, and the editor his exact words, were these my quote, when I send a push notification to my entire audience using izotope I am able to see 1500 people on my article in the next one minute. That is like sniffing crack open for me. You know, forget you know, forget vitamins, forget pain pills, painkillers, if you selling blocks on the street, you know, you know you are the hottest guy on the street, right? So that's what It sort of made us realize that, hey, the problem you're solving, or the problem that we have solved, unknowingly, for this segment is way more acute. Right? And then we also took a step back this to see, okay, who exactly is building for publishers for bloggers at large? And the answer, unfortunately, was was actually very poor. We be I remember I had downloaded the marketing, have you seen the market landscape, which is released every year that that beautiful collage, which has some 5000 logos in it, you mean kitschy? Not collage? That I have seen that you have seen that right?

55:46

Yeah, that I have I have

Vivek Khandelwal  55:49

now has over 8000 Mark tech companies in it. a fun thing to do on a weekend is to actually download the dynamic widgets, and go through every single company by yourself. We actually did that. And that's been really life, my God, nobody is actually building for the publishers out there in the world. Because everybody thinks or believes that, that the Googles and the Facebook's and the Twitter's of the world will actually take care of these media publishers. And when you go back to the publishers and say, hey, how is Google treating you? Right? There, they would have, you know, mixed emotions on the face, because they're like, these guys gene, their algorithm again last month, and a traffic went for a talk. And, you know, for three days, we were wondering, what should we do should be fired when people have a team because our traffic was warming 20%, which meant our revenue was down by 20%. And, you know, that's the kind of dilemma that these publishers were dealing with month to month, and not and by the way, not just from one platform from they were they were they was they were facing this, this lack of predictability of every single social media platform out there. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you name it, they have skin, right. In fact, as recent as two months back, when the when the Indian government banned the Chinese apps, what are the apps that ban was called UC Browser, UC Browser, a lot of publishers contributed up to 20% of their total traffic. Imagine if 20% of the traffic goes, falls off the cliff tomorrow morning. What do you do now? You have 20%, less Emily, what do you do now? There is no magical one to get the facts. Right. And that's when, you know, the problem of audience ownership becomes bigger and bigger and bigger feet. And that's really, you know, been I mean, that's the I think that's the best way to sort of understand, I would have Johnny and I zuto, we have been, we are now dealing with a segment of customers that are massively underserved, and are also extremely inefficient when they are so it is literally, you know, for lack of better world, a blue ocean out there, there is nobody who is building for them. And those who are building for them are not serving them the right way.

Krishna Jonnakadla  58:29

That's a, I think it's an extremely powerful sort of a need, isn't it because I quote this article, I don't know if it was on verge or another VentureBeat. I don't remember where it talked about the death of the internet startup, that was the title of the article. And essentially, the article says, the internet essentially has become sort of a walled garden, have three or four players, you either are in Twitter universe, or in Facebook, or in Insta, or if you're in the apple ecosystem, you know, that's a walled garden by itself. And the organic growth that you could have before couldn't be seen anymore. And as it is, you're already bald. And on top of it, you have something like, you know, Black Swan event, which is like the Chinese incursion, which creates, you know, app banning of apps, which is sort of like the, like a double whammy, right? You've put in so much money, you put in so much, so much of your effort building all of this, and this happens and it disappears, which means that there's a massive opportunity to build independent audience tools to actually once you start acquiring them in some place, you start earning them elsewhere. What is that magic formula? What is that magic product? We don't know. But I think you guys have started on that path.

Vivek Khandelwal  59:57

Yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's So, you know, it's so it's so empowering to sort of see that fine. And with the pandemic, and the year that no, trade really has been, right. problems have just, you know, multi folded for public health, as revenue went through a massive roller coaster in the last two quarters, right? We've seen recovery now, it's great. But it essentially taught publishers that they need to consider revenue models beyond advertising. And there are only so many options, right? It is, it is ecommerce, that is subscription revenue. There is so much that, that so many business models that are out there right now, and the number one rule, right to sort of build a business, which, which is that you are selling something to someone is to know that someone, if you do not know, who is reading your newspaper, if you do not know who is consuming your content? How do you sell anything ever to these customers? In fact, you can't even call them customers, right? You have no right? To call them customers, almost like bots. exactly the point, right? It's like, you go into the mall, and you go to the food court, and you had a meal at McDonald's, but the mall is calling you their customer. It doesn't make sense. So yeah, that's how that's how most, you know, most publishers have been have operated for the longest time and, and the pandemic and the year 2020 have really been a blessing in disguise, forcing them to rethink their business models, forcing them to look at all possible mistakes, all possible flaws that exists today, right? At least the self awareness is an all time high today. Yeah, I'm happy. I'm happy about that.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:02:02

So talk about that time, in 2018, which is which I think you talk about like a turning point. 2015 when you started this, how was that was was there? Because you are bootstrap? Obviously, you're not funded? Which means you are making Did you have any money leftover from your previous startup, which you parlayed into this? And how was the start? You are already because of your ad tech business, you are already working with a few entities which allowed you to launch the initial product and test it out? Is that how it all panned out?

Vivek Khandelwal  1:02:34

Right. So when we started, we started selling to anyone, everyone, guests, we had an unfair advantage of being part of the ecosystem, which enabled us to sell quickly sell fast. And this and, you know, fortunately, we came from a mindset of, of building revenue first. So we were able to, you know, have our revenue flywheel in motion really quickly and able to iron factor continues to be the backbone of the company, right? Yeah, you've always been revenue focused right from day zero. So that's sort of insurance is your that ensure that we were able to, you know, get to get to break even and profitability, we did carry a very small amount into my savings, which were invested in, as founders back into the business gap, which sort of gave us some runway, I think about five or six months back in 2015, or 2016, when we started off, and then by the time it was 2018, we were already profitable, we had some money in the bank, but we also knew back in fact, then that doing this with two or three different segment of customers will be a suicide mission. We had to make a break, and it's not like we had the we had the luxury of saying okay, we will let these cuts to be will not serve these type of customers anymore. Right? You know, you just do not have that actually. Right. So we so we said, okay, you know, what we will, we will gradually shift the focus to this new segment of media publishers, we will double down our efforts in terms of production and marketing and sales to serve these customers more efficiently. Right, and will continue to support our existing customers from all the diverse segments that they're from right now. Right. And, but and what it sort of worked really well is that the focus, focusing on one clear segment of customers tip, I think that that always gives you exponential results. The moment you are able to align the entire or in one single direction in one single against one single customer persona. lightest becomes simpler. You're able to market better, you're able to sell faster, you're able to onboard them swiftly, you're able to support and you're able to Is all their support tickets faster, you're able to be able to help them get to the value metric fairly quickly as a success team, right? And you were able to build for one single for only the key use cases, which your customers actually care for. Right? I think that the choice which we made in 2018, it was very, very critical, because that sort of really set the box for patroon. Exponential growth. Right.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:05:30

So let's go to the founder story a bit. How did the founding team come together? how did how did the founders Yeah,

Vivek Khandelwal  1:05:36

well, yeah, so me, so I was part of WhatsApp right from day zero. Me joined us in 2011. And he joined us. As a VP, he joined us as business head. I mean, it was a small deal, right? He came in as somebody who are solid students within operators, right. He came in there. And then such an who is the CTO and founder now, he joined us in 2012. He came in from from Yahoo, back in 2012. And, yeah, so that's how the three of us came together such and then left, applied mobile labs to start another company was called question in 2015, which is when she can't afford co founder joined us, right. And then he sort of came back a great 16 million. He said, You know what we will do our new startup with this with this new problem with this new focus. So yeah, so we've been All together now for a good 789 years now. Yeah, it's pretty interesting. Coming back is like, you know, the return of the prodigal founder, as I say, it very rarely happens, doesn't it? I mean, so he did not leave on bad terms, to be honest. Right? When?

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:06:50

Oh, no, no, that's not what I'm referring to at all.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:06:52

But yes, going back is really important. Going back is, is critical. Yes. Absolutely. Yeah.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:06:57

I'm just wondering, the people usually leave. But coming back, obviously means that if he came back, obviously, it means that he didn't leave on a bad note. That's for sure. But right. So that's, that's pretty interesting. And let's talk about do you face challenges, attracting people, maybe not right now, because maybe you're already you know, so focused, and to a certain degree on the path to a great degree of success, whether challenges when you are setting up your culture or recruiting team members earlier

Vivek Khandelwal  1:07:35

challenges. I think of you know, in general, hiring good team building remains the cornerstone of, of building a sustainable, growing business, once you have the thinking, having the right team and nurturing the right team is literally the most, the most important thing that you need. For the challenges, you know, I think the usual ones, right? finding talent is extremely difficult. onboarding them in the right manner, treating them in the right manner, continues to be a difficult job, it becomes even more more difficult when you're looking at talent, which has SAS experience, because Delhi NCR is not not the most lucrative location when it comes to for for bloomix. As he says, Gemini took that spot a long time back and as retain that finding talent, and, and getting them to join you physically in person deli was like a big challenge for us until the pandemic hit. Right. Now, of course, we have the flexibility to think things side with and say, okay, you know, we can actually onboard, we can actually consider onboarding anyone and everyone across the entire country, as long as they are fit for the job. So yeah, that's interesting.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:09:03

So we'll come back to the social impact angle we discussed early on. Personally, I love social impact. But I do feel though that in some sense, all of this social impact, take Aravind eye care, which is a terrific business. In fact, which is a terrific mission. That's what I would call an even the Akshay Patra Foundation, but their success actually also hides a lot of things about the system that is around us, doesn't it? An ADP, cornea implant is definitely great. But that also that does all that also means that we've not solved the income problem for a very, very long time. You know, the last time I think three years ago, I was in TTK, prestige board meeting, and, sorry, the annual general meeting, and in the annual general meeting, Td jagannathan. was reading out the annual report and one of the things They were seeing the saying in the annual report was that incomes had become unpredictable. The monetization had happened GST and stuff like that. And funnily enough, that was the first time in my mind of a large enterprise in India had started talking about the elephant in the room, so to speak. Nobody talks about income in India, nobody talks about, you know, him amidst all this, let's take the TIC Tock example itself that you referenced some time ago, you know, while on the national security and all of these angles, it definitely sounds like, it's a blow that we need to deal. Or rather, it's sort of like, it sounds like a logical tit for tat. And maybe yes, market access should be controlled. You know, these are always debatable topics. But at the core of it, every move of sorts, is wreaking some sort of, you know, havoc on the incomes. And that is perhaps one of the reasons why social impact and social entrepreneurship resonate so deeply with a lot of us. And I personally think it's time to change the paradigm, the first time I came across Arvind eyecare was when ck Prahlad. You know, the famous management guru talked about it in his book, The fortune at the bottom of the pyramid, but the unfortunate aspect of it is, it has not led to mass scale innovation, it has not led to mass scale wealth creation, it should lead to, I believe, the fundamental problem in our country that we have is wealth creation. And we talk about everything, but that

Vivek Khandelwal  1:11:32

you know, what, there actually, I remember in 2010, when I had written down a blog post, that the fortune is not at the bottom of the pyramid, the fortune is in the middle of the diamond. So when you stretch the diamond, so Yeah, actually not a pyramid, right. Any eyes, there are extreme poverty, right. And there is now when it's coming up as the great Indian middle class, and you sort of have, you know, the lower middle class, the middle of middle class and upper middle class. So, remember that post? Was it sort of, sort of a simple answer that more than consumers, the the future will essentially belong to the builders are the makers and the creators, and that's where that's where the middle of the diamond becomes a very, very important, important, you know, portion to focus on right, it is the, the middle class India, right, you know, people like us, sort of rarely go out there and, and why they are obviously consuming and, and you're trying to generate income and wealth and so on and so forth. Right, it is Google will actually go out there and create and, and it is only once you create, that's when you open up, you know, these are possible you open, open opportunities of creating actual wealth, real wealth.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:13:11

Yeah, I agree. I agree. But indulge me for a moment here. What's the what's the diamond analogy? What, what's what's a diamond here?

Vivek Khandelwal  1:13:20

So when you pull the pyramid, from the middle point of, of the base, it takes the shape of a diamond. Ah, okay, so it's sort of like an inverted trapezium, so to speak. It's Yeah, it's a it is easier. And yeah. So you know, basically countering CG provides today that the fortune is definitely not at the bottom, it is right in the middle with the with the grade in middle class.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:13:51

And not not to pick on the symbol. But I suppose you're referring to a rhombus. Because the the the rich class is really, really thin in India. And we have to push the poor up to the middle class and therefore become a rhombus in of sorts, isn't it? Yes, yes.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:14:07

Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:14:09

Fabulous. Fabulous. So so you do agree in a social impact. There's nothing wrong in it. I don't I I'm definitely for it. But I think the longer we have, and we're only looking at one, one side of the equation, for every meal that is actually delivered by Akshay Patra. What it also means is that there is some degree of self reliance that's not not actually coming to the people, right, for every social enterprise, you know, cases or rather, an anecdotal piece of piece of information. Do you know that we have 42 lakh registered NGOs in the country? Wow.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:14:46

That's an incredible

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:14:47

42 lakh? Yeah. If I remember my numbers, right. It's almost one NGO for every 10 or 20 Indians. Yeah, yeah. And, and it's like something wrong with that picture. If it's something excessively wrong with that picture, either, you know, these are just meaningless enterprises masquerading as NGOs, or, or our civic and our, you know, our, our civic, our civic society is so broken that we need so many NGOs to solve it. In effect, all we are creating is chaos. So, I did want to ask one question, obviously, with all of this, you're seeing, you know, who the audience who the audience says what their persona is, they're clicking on so many things, what sort of insightful, counter intuitive insights have thrown up because of the massive amounts of data that you are seeing?

Vivek Khandelwal  1:15:38

Hmm, okay, I would rather talk about an insight into the persona, right, that being so and our persona remains the editor, right? And this again, just like everything else came in from a customer conversation that I was having, is it okay, if I share this one? Sure. Yeah. Okay. So I was speaking with this, with this journalist, would become co CEO of a digital newsroom. And, and this person came in from the print background, right? He had said, he had seen the whole cycle of factually submitting filing stories to editor, the elder finance in the stories, the layouting of the newspaper, and the paper actually go into the print. And finally, the paper actually hits the hands of readers. And he mentioned something, something very many in it. He mentioned that back in 90s, back in 2000s, we had to wait for one entire day, to get the first reaction. And what we had created for journalists would file Thursday at 9pm, they would get their first reaction from a reader, possibly by 10am. In the morning, the next day, the feedback cycle was way too long. And plus, there was really no way to sort of, for them to actually see the feedback, right, it was still coming from them, coming to them in different forms and leads faster. Digital editors are now able to publish stories really quickly, really swiftly. And they're not able to get first hand feedback from the audience, when they are actually consuming news in terms of comments, or in terms of the the fraction of the conversation on social platforms like Twitter, and Facebook, and so far, and for one of these editors that have mentioned this to me, and he said, I love, you know, the capability of reaching to an audience using just one, I just want to pick a button because now I am able to, I actually have a solid feedback loop for myself. So if I have to change my story, if I have to change my perspective, if I have to update my numbers, I can do that. Right overhead sitting, while I've just been within five minutes of me publishing a story, rather than waiting for, you know, for 12 to 16, to 80 to 18 to 24 hours to get that feedback back. I think that's really too far for us is the fact that, you know, shortening the feedback cycle feedback loop the feedback cycle. So from better word well as now, just a couple of

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:18:40

minutes. That's extremely important. In fact, as you're describing it, I'm not I'm not only am I getting goosebumps, I'm almost feeling like saying that's borderline dangerous. It's like so much power, or rather so much feel such instant feedback, isn't it? It is it absolutely is.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:18:57

In fact, it reminds me of another story when it was budget day. And so, the news of what is happening in the budget day, has a direct correlation or has a massive influence on the stock market. And the editor of a news newspaper told me that the speed at which this article will hit the readers is the speed at which the stock market would respond to the budget that the Indian government has released, right. We might not have ourselves as the platform that is facilitating that. But when you enable reach and when we facilitate communication, these two are extremely powerful levers to influence people to try emotions. And there is nothing more powerful than being able to influence people with Just a couple of words delivered on your mobile screen interrupting you from your existing workflow, forcing you to look up and see what exactly is it that has happened, and allowing that to influence you, as a as a reader as a consumer of content. when when when we build the product, we might not have thought like that. But now there is a certain responsibility that the editor carries. And when they emit, and when they use the product, right, they they do sort of carry that burden with themselves that we have to use this power, more responsibility than what they have been doing so far. Because this is, you know, as you correctly said, it is it is way too much power in a few hands. Yeah.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:20:44

Yeah, it is. And that instant feedback loop can be really addictive.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:20:49

But yes, the crack cocaine bit is really hard to hard to get without.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:20:53

Yeah, yeah, I know. Now, I exactly understand why you why you use that analogy to describe it. So awesome. So I the previous question, I, you know, if it's a holy cow topic, don't, you can decline. So I was thinking my whole thing was just taking the Indian budget itself as an example, all the if you're serving 72 billion notifications, you must have some sort of a trendline, you must have some sort of an inside who's clicking board, very similar to and you are in a different sort of a data universe. Anything that you can talk about on that.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:21:30

Okay, so I put out a report. Today, I did a couple of insights from my side, you've seen people consume, it's the mobile world now. themed people consume way more content in the morning, and in the afternoon. While it used to be the preferred choice of consumption, we've actually seen more consumption happening over the weekends as compared to weekdays. weekends, is when we have seen people flick more on notifications in general, for and again, right now with these are, you know, specific to news and media, in the context of the pandemic, of course, as well. Right. Yeah. And what else can I think of in terms of insights coming in? From our fire hose of education delivery? He gave up? Krishna, I'm reading a blank right now. I'm sorry. I wish I had no, right.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:22:26

Yeah, no, I think this is good. No, this is good. This is good. We should have we will talk off offline about something that I said to a founder of another data analytics company about bridging the whole gap, because they were they focus on enterprise data pools, and drawing insights from them. And you have two sorts of data pools in the world right now. Right? You have the consumer data pools, which is your Facebook, your all the social channels and online channels. And then within a company, you have different sort of data pools, what they are selling what a customer is buying from all these interactions. The thing is, the two have never really met. Right. And there's an incredible opportunity out there. And I think you guys are, you know, possibly right in the middle of it. Great. This has been a fantastic conversation with Eric, loud love your candor. And it has been a little free flowing, but unpredictable. And that's exactly how I like it to be. In closing, if you were to offer some words of wisdom for people who are starting out there, what would it be

Vivek Khandelwal  1:23:33

we and we spoke about this internally, last week, where we met in person, all the founders. And we and we all agreed to do this, we said next time, if you are ever crazy enough to start yet another business in life, the first thing we will do is to find our audience, the first thing we'll do is, is to build our audience before we build the product in the first place. It is is so easy to get lost in the in the woods, of building product, building features, right? What is most important is to figure out who exactly where you sell this to? And is to figure out, can you spine Can you have? Can you have your first few customers ready before you even have the product out in the first place? Yeah, that's what I would say that.

Krishna Jonnakadla  1:24:31

Fantastic. I know. It feels like such a short journey from 2015 to 2020. But looking at the scale and how the pulse that you have the finger on the pulse of the market and your customers that you have. I think it's incredible what you've done. This should be a lesson for a lot of people to think about. And what you're doing is really so simple, right and as Einstein says it takes a genius To make complicated things simple, you've taken massive problem like audience engagement and then solve it in a simple way. I know this is only the beginning and there'll be more peaks to scale and mirages of scale. We'll come back and talk to that time we make it's been fabulous chatting with you. We wish you the very best. We'll see you again soon.

Vivek Khandelwal  1:25:18

Thank you so much for having me. Lovely composition love. Yeah, I hope.

Tania Jadhav  1:25:24 We hope you enjoyed the story. If this story made a difference to you, then tell by leaving a comment on the website, or our social media channels. Helps Spread the Love by subscribing, liking and sharing our show. We welcome speaker suggestions and collaboration. Right to me at heythere@maharajsofscale.com