SlideShare needs no introduction. It went from being a pivot of an already successful consulting business (Uzanto) and a pioneering software (MindCanvas) to being a force to reckon with in the professional content community present online. SlideShare had established its behemoth position in the content space when it was acquired by LinkedIn that helped leverage its reach among other perks. Here is a quick look at all that went into making it the Quiet (not so quiet now) Giant of Content Marketing.

Fact Sheet

Brand: SlideShare
Business: Knowledge/Content sharing platform.
Founder/CEO: Rashmi Sinha
Co-founders: Jonathan Boutelle, Amit Ranjan

 “We have taken a medium, a cold format for business communication, and made it social.”

– Amit Ranjan, Co-Founder, SlideShare

As the name suggests SlideShare is an online platform that helps people share slides and presentations. Formats such as .ppt .pdf .key can be uploaded and viewed on the site. SlideShare creates engagement through likes, shares, and comments by users on the slides present online. It has revolutionized presentations and the way people see them.

The Founding Team

SlideShare didn’t actually start off as SlideShare but was a pivot from a consulting business called Uzanto. The backstory of SlideShare began in 2001. Rashmi, a Psychology graduate from Brown University was pursuing a PhD in Cognitive Neuropsychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Even though she liked the program, a small part of her knew she wanted to build things and not churn out research papers all her life. The web and its workings managed to pique Rashmi’s curiosity enough to follow it up with her professors in the Information Science department. She discovered her passion for Social Software and Interface Design.

In 2003 when the internet boom was unfolding, Rashmi decided to dabble with this phenomenon and founded Uzanto, a user experience design consulting company in 2003.  At Uzanto she had clients that included the likes of eBay, eBay, Blue Shield of California, AAA of California, and Ellie Mae. Her husband, Jonathan Boutelle, a software engineer and her brother Amit Ranjan an MBA professional joined her at Uzanto and helped build on the method Rashmi had devised and translated it into a software. While Rashmi and Jonathan worked out of San Francisco, in 2004, Amit started the company’s subsidiary in Delhi and hired 5-6 team members.

In November 2005, the team released MindCanvas, an online game-like software that ran surveys and facilitated customer research through technology. The use of MindCanvas as a product was sold to leading companies like Microsoft and Yahoo. MindCanvas was monetized as a result and the team was able to run it for 1.5 years without any funding. MindCanvas was the first live instance that demonstrated the distinct skill set each founding member brought to the table – Rashmi contributed to the Design/UX component, Jonathan to the Technology aspect and Amit to the Business-side of things. 2 years into MindCanvas and the team realized it was a B2B product which was built around their consulting practice at Uzanto. This meant they would only be able to scale with people and not technology. They clearly had complementing skill sets to start a technology company. This was just the beginning.

Genesis of SlideShare

In 2004 the trend of unconferences, an open version of technology conferences was on the rise. These were also referred to as bar camps. It brought people in specific areas, both professional and geographic together and they paid to attend it. In 2005 the San Franciso Bay area began to host 1000s of bar camps aka Startup weekend or Mobile Mondays.

In 2006, Amit and Jonathan organized the first bar camp in India at Adobe’s office in Delhi NCR. People from all over the world were in attendance with presentations being made throughout the day. The presenters wanted to distribute the presentations to the audience members and reached out to Jonathan and Amit to help them do that. They noticed that a lot of people were taking pictures of the presentation because it was easy to share images and videos of images on YouTube, Flickr, and such platforms. They were also exchanging files on USB drives. But there was no direct platform on the web that was able to host these presentations in their original format.

It seemed like a problem that needed a solution and they decided to pull out a few engineers from MindCanvas and see how a product could be built around this feature. It took 6 months to build. A very basic version of SlideShare saw the light of day in October 2006. In December 2006 they decided to shut down MindCanvas which was running successfully.

SlideShare’s Growth Story (Behind the Scenes)

Idea to Prototype

According to Amit Ranjan, Co-Founder & COO of Slideshare “The idea behind SlideShare initially began as a product for conference organizers to share slides. The focus was presentations and making them robust. Use by conference organizers was the first application and the focus was to reach out to this category of users. The first version was really basic. It allowed the user to upload a file, copy and use the embed code generated on external platforms. SlideShare became a utility for uploading and sharing a PowerPoint Presentation.”

Early Adopters to Growth

The idea began picking up with more and more users hosting content that garnered traffic and was also a simple and seamless way of communicating their ideas to the world. Initially, users barely tracked the performance of their content on SlideShare. After the first few months users took notice of the traffic their content was generating on SlideShare.

The SlideShare team was driven by product and focused on building capability. Their only marketing spend post-launch was the product review carried out by Tech Crunch titled Introducing SlideShare: PowerPoint + YouTube.They got their early adopters from the word that spread through the feature in October 2006.

6 months down the line the team discovered many other uses for SlideShare –

  • Users were initially hosting presentations on YouTube which was not the best format for it. SlideShare was proving to be a more web-friendly format for presentations in their original format. This attracted a lot of users.
  • People started inserting photos in a slideshow and shared it on SlideShare. It was well optimized in a horizontal format. Click, click, click. People loved its ease and SlideShare got a lot of users.
  • Companies were using these presentations as a marketing tool.

Product/Market Fit to Scale 

The data handling and analytical portions of the backend were not too sophisticated.  They were more observational, intuitive and gut-driven. Even the decisions that came from them. Especially because there are different types of data and a lot of it is superficial with little or no bearing on the actual trends and performance of the product. However, if you dig deeper there are a lot more insights. For instance, the team realized that among the top ten content creators, more than 50% had signed up with their company email ids. So the use of SlideShare was more professional than personal. The companies were not necessarily on SlideShare. The database revealed the latest trends.

Game-Changing Growth Hacks

The SlideShare team resorted to several hacks that proved to be crucial game-changers at the product/market stage –

Hack #1

Placing Content on the Homepage to Drive Engagement

The team noticed a certain type of content gaining popularity on the platform. The content read like a visual story and was a huge relief from the tech-heavy ppts. The team looked further and noticed these visual slides were being uploaded by designers and creative agencies. To cash in on it they tried this hack. They put the content on the Homepage and then sent an email to the uploader informing them of the same and encouraging them to send the link to their friends. This feature went viral with people sharing the link to their work on the Homepage and at times also followed it up with a blog post about the event. The viral loop was insane, drove engagement and worked very well for SlideShare.

Hack #2

Come right back to SlideShare

SlideShare installed a feature in all of the presentations uploaded online. It was the ‘View on SlideShare’ option that allowed visitors to open the presentation in SlideShare after locating the deck on an external website. So even though users were able to upload a presentation, generate a link and embed the code on their blogs and websites, the visitors still had a way to find themselves back on SlideShare if they clicked on the icon to view on SlideShare. This feature also helped advertise the SlideShare brand on external sites the web over.

Hack #3

Share via email and social shares

The team inserted social hooks for sharing through Twitter and Facebook and mainly through email. All of these sharing tools are still very much in use even as of today.


Hack#4

SEO Hack (Organic search)

To build in SEO, the team took text and links from images and placed it as a transcript below the presentation. Thus the bottom half was for bots to identify text and the top half was for humans to view the deck. This made the page longer and created stronger SEO value for the same.

Hack#5

YouTube videos inside SlideShare

How to get people to engage with the content and make it more exciting for them? A tough one. But SlideShare found a solution. Considering a majority of the content was textual in nature with bullet points, subtle layouts, the presentations could be rather boring. Videos were exploding at the time. They began fusing videos with content to drive engagement. They began embedding links using IFRAME into decks and this drove a ton of traffic. They even taught users how to do add sound bytes, screenshots and make their presentations talk. Here is how. Considering they began as the YouTube of powerpoints, this hack was inevitable.

Hack#6

Getting Angel Investors who were SlideShare users on board

When the team was looking to expand and raise funds for the very first time they reached out directly (through good old email) to distinguished members of the SlideShare community who also happened to be angel investors. These included Mark Cuban, Jonathan Abrams, and Dave McClure. They were some of the first ones to invest in SlideShare.

Hack#7

Added Analytics for Users 

The team added analytics around metrics that would help users determine how their presentations were performing. These included traffic sources, visits by geography/source and engagement stats to name a few. They also published a Guide on Analytics and how it could be accessed for each user account.

Hack#8

Embeds leading to Backlinks

The team wanted people to embed content. This idea came from what they saw on YouTube. New users usually found YouTube by way of video links embedded onto blogs. With all the readers of the blogs getting exposed to SlideShare, embedding was becoming a form of free marketing. This resulted in 60% embed links on the site and 40% across other websites. SlideShare was the very first website on the internet that did this actively. Each time somebody copied the embed code and put it on the blog, they got a link back to their website. With every embed, they got a backlink. It did wonders for their SEO. They got 10,000s of backlinks from harvard.edu. However, they dropped this later because they figured Google may find it spammy.

Hack#9

Best Presentation Contest

SlideShare had a whole bunch of users who created presentations frequently. From 2008 they began hosting the Best Presentation Contest annually each year where users were free to make presentations on whichever topic they fancied. Pre-determined categories were made available and the panel to judge these presentations were the who’s who from the world of communication. These included experts like Guy Kawasaki, Bert Decker, Garr Reynolds, Jerry Weissman, Jane Hart and Beth Kanter to name a few. The idea was to have killer slide decks go head to head for some of the best prizes (sponsors included the likes of Microsoft) on offer and the coveted title of Best Presentation on SlideShare.

Hack#10

April Fools Day Prank

On 31st March 2009, SlideShare decided to play an April Fools Day prank on their users by adding two extra zeroes to their presentation views on SlideShare. They sent out emails to users and asked them to mark their tweets with #bestofslideshare. People were surprised and fooled and the prank managed to do what it was meant to…have some fun but it also stirred up some conversations on Twitter even though the views were rolled back to normal within a few hours. The hack managed to grab eyeballs and trigger engagement but it also drove home some Lessons for the SlideShare team. They realized statistics were sacred and an April Fools joke can only be called that if people figure it out within 30 seconds of viewing it. Learning has always been an important aspect of SlideShare and they treated this too as a hack that taught them a few truths.

Hack#11

Fuze Meeting + Slideshare, Tell a Story Contest

In 2009 SlideShare got together with Fuze Meeting (now fuze) to host a storytelling contest. They wanted audiences to tell their stories in words and pictures, using audio or video. Whatever they preferred but within 30 slides. It could be a brand story or even something that people cared about. They had a line up of prizes for various categories and also a widely known judges panel to decide the winners. The contest garnered traffic and engagement with people sharing links to the contest and their presentation on social media and through email.

What did not work?

  • Zing was one feature added by SlideShare that clearly did not work. This feature was derived from the model of voting things up and down. Features like social sharing, no of favorites, no of comments were already present on SlideShare to indicate which content was most engaging and liked. Zing proved to be an artificial way of doing something that was already factored into the features and thus nobody got it, nobody used it and the SlideShare team was compelled to remove the code and throw it out.
  • SlideShare faced some heat in terms of competition within the presentation sharing space with the advent of Speaker Deck which claimed to be simpler and not cluttered. Speaker Deck was acquired by Github. It is a free service with no ads and can only handle pdf files up to 50MB. It is mainly used by the programming community.

SlideShare was built with a lot of hits (Zipcast for instance) and a few misses. It was a high gestation product which required the team to rough it out for 3 to 5 years. They survived and thrived with the right expectancy and mindset for an innovative product.

Acquisition by LinkedIn

With the world’s largest professional network (LinkedIn) acquiring the world’s largest professional content community (SlideShare), the outcome was a complementary one. At the time Slideshare had around 50 million users and Linkedin had 350 million users. Clearly, there was no risk in the product and the two put together made for a lethal combination. Professionally it made complete sense and personally, too it made complete financial sense. Everyone at SlideShare had equity and the employees also stood to gain from this acquisition.

SlideShare’s Revenue Models

Barring Paid Accounts here are some of the unique revenue generation models deployed by SlideShare –

B2B Lead generation

Lead generation is very popular on SlideShare with companies offering products/services being able to attract and convert visitors and prospects into individuals showing a keen interest in the company. The lead generating element in the case of SlideShare is the online content created and shared by individuals and companies seeking to spread information about

Content Ads on LinkedIn

This format provides a paid option for clients to gain targeted engagement and leads through rich and optimized content on SlideShare. SlideShare & LinkedIn together provide a strong source of earned, owned and paid options for marketing through these content ads. With the acquisition by LinkedIn, brands now have a unique opportunity to share their content with LinkedIn’s professional community through SlideShare Content Ads. These ads can also feature company news, videos, and blogs. Thus brands can showcase their content as SlideShare presentations and market it to targetted professional communities in the LinkedIn space.

Sponsor Channels

AdShare & LeadShare

AdShare lets companies run ads on SlideShare which are relevant to the content that people are viewing. LeadShare, on the other hand, prompts users on the site to provide their contact information either before or after viewing a presentation if they wish to receive additional information about the sellers (companies) and their products.

Distribution of Traffic

SimilarWeb, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.

Even though a lot of competitors have come up in the slide sharing place, SlideShare is still the most visited and used platform for sharing and uploading presentations. The fact that it receives a lot of its traffic from search isn’t surprising. Its high Domain Authority increases the probability of its content showing up on organic results. Also, a lot of marketers especially in the B2B space have started optimizing their content on SlideShare to show up for organic results.

From all the SlideShare hacks that you see in this content piece, SlideShare has an embed feature which gives them a ton of referral traffic. Now, Similarweb may not reflect that but even today that’s been their #1 strategy for growth.

Takeaway: Looking at this data, I would recommend if you’re a B2B business, look at the kind of content that is doing well on SlideShare in your category and see if you can create a better version of it and rank for it.

 

Summary of Growth

STAGES CHANNELS
Idea →  Prototype
  • 1st Business → Uzanto
  • 1st Product → MindCanvas
  • Pivot to Slideshare [Bar Camps → Problem → Research → Prototype]
Early Adopters → Growth
  • Built product
  • Zeroed in on customer persona i.e. conference-goers
  • Sent information to Tech Crunch to spread the word (marketing)
  • Discovered multiple customer personas based on data
  • The use moved horizontally.
  • The utility aspect of the product was really strong
Product/Market Fit → Scale
  • Hack 1: Placing Content on the Homepage to Drive Engagement
  • Hack 2: Come right back to SlideShare
  • Hack 3: Share via email and social shares
  • Hack 4: SEO Hack (Organic search)
  • Hack 5: YouTube videos inside SlideShare
  • Hack 6: Getting Angel Investors who were SlideShare users on board
  • Hack 7: Added Analytics for Users
  • Hack 8: Embeds leading to Backlinks
  • Hack 9: Best Presentation Contest
  • Hack 10: April Fools Day Prank
  • Hack 11: Fuze Meeting + Slideshare, Tell a Story Contest

 

Founders’ Insights

Product Perspective

The SlideShare team gathers product insights in a very balanced and holistic manner. This is how they approach the periodic review of SlideShare.

  1. They begin by analyzing everything. The qualitative and quantitative data or as they like to put it the art and the science. But at first, the emphasis is a lot more on the art. More qualitative first, then quantitative.
  2. In SlideShare given the diversity of content, the initial part is a lot more iterative thus more experimental and a lot more art and less science. The reverse is true for LinkedIn which is more science thus more predictive and formalized research is involved and a lot less art.
  3. What is science/quantitative data in this regard?
    • Overall User Behavior aka superficial data. This can be sourced using Google Analytics.
    • Individual User Behavior Data that helps identify who the users are.
    • Product Data which helps identify what type of content is leading in views and engagement and how are users interacting with it.
    • System Data helps identify features that are most in use and also email addresses in use. For instance, a close look at the leading content creators indicated that they used their work-related systems and not their personal accounts.
  4. What is art/qualitative data in this regard?
    • Feedback which provides insights into what people are saying about the product.
    • Observational Data which delves into the general trends noticed around the use of the product.

People Perspective

  • Give your team the chance to express themselves and showcase their ideas.
  • Instill a sense of ownership.
  • Create a culture that believes in giving ideas a fair chance.
  • Make people believe the company/team is iterative and open to change.

Their parting shot on how to get it right while starting up – Stay super lean and agile in the early days. Aim for a quick release.

I found a gem of an interview conducted at Stanford where Rashmi Sinha and Jonathan Boutelle spoke rather candidly about how SlideShare came to be and their journey with it. This dates back to February 2010 before the LinkedIn acquisition. Worth a watch. Cheers.

Sharing a Measure of Success (Entire Talk)

InMobi acquired the coveted title of India’s First Unicorn when it earned a $1 billion valuation and was strategically positioned to challenge the status quo of Google and Facebook in the mobile ad space. Despite the doubts and questions around InMobi’s profitability and success over the years, it turned full circle (yet again) this year when it made it to CNBC’s Disruptor 50 List for pathbreaking innovations that have elevated the mobile advertising and marketing industries to the next level. In more than a decade of its existence, InMobi has experienced several highs and lows. Let’s take a brief look at their entrepreneurial journey through it all.

InMobi Logo

 

Fact Sheet

Brand: InMobi (Originally MKhoj)
Business: World’s largest independent mobile advertising network
Founder/CEO: Naveen Tewari
Co-Founders: Abhay Singhal, Amit Gupta, and Mohit Saxena

“One has to figure out ways of competing by doing things differently. If we do exactly what others are doing, it would not work.”

– Naveen Tewari

Read more

For Wingify to go from
0 to $18M in Annual Recurring Revenue,
6,000+ paid clients in 90+ countries,
backed by a team that grew from the lone founder to 200+ people,
in 7 years
and that too bootstrapped
is undeniably startling!

 

Fact Sheet

Brand: Wingify
Business: A SaaS (Software as a service) company offering market-leading tech products to B2Bs
Founder / Chairman: Paras Chopra

“When we are growing up we have a vague notion of who a businessman is. He either has a coal mine or a refinery. Basically something that you need money for. The idea of just a laptop and some code and you could create a company like Google was very inspiring for me. “

– Paras Chopra, Founder & Chairman, Wingify

Paras Chopra had an early start. With computers, technology, programming and all that comes with the territory of owning a startup. He began tinkering with programming and toying with ideas of a startup during his school days. He was all of 13 years when he was able to write workable programs using Basic 6.0 and was strongly impacted by an essay titled ‘How to Start a Startup?’ These early influences formed the genesis of the evolved entrepreneur he is today.

I spoke with Paras, the man behind Wingify, to know more about the startup that brings together his passion for AI, Programming, and Marketing all under one hood.

The idea: How he came up with it?

Back to Basics

He jotted down his interests. Literally as simple as that. But he spent close to a month doing just that. This helped zero in on some key areas that excited him the most among which the theme that trumped the list was marketing optimization.

It combined his interests in analytics, technology and marketing in a fun yet challenging way. A marketing optimization platform was his idea for Wingify. He registered the domain name in 2008 right after graduating, even before the work had begun.

Creating a platform for marketing optimization 

Paras began moonlighting while still employed. He made the required disclosures to his then employer making sure he knew that his project was not in conflict with what he did at work.

Google Analytics was very popular at the time with people catching on to the invaluable insights being offered by the service. However, implementing the inputs in a manner that would generate results required a fair bit of customization and IP on the website. Thus users had access to information about their sites but acting on that information was definitely a challenge. With Wingify Paras wanted to build a platform which served as an interface between Google Analytics and the user website helping users to implement changes in an intelligent and optimized manner.

Landscape

While writing marketing optimization software on Google, Paras came across other sub-specialties such as ad optimization but they were primarily built for large companies. There were no practical methods available for small and medium businesses to run marketing optimization strategies.

How he launched the idea?

He worked on the product whereby he set out to commoditize marketing and optimization features for websites owned and managed by SMEs. The scope of the idea was established when he began focussing on what marketing optimization could effectively do for a website. He discovered it meant having to implement the following features – A/B testing, targeting, segmentation, and analysis. After having developed these features for close to 8 months he had a basic prototype in place. A sum of Rs.50,000 (~$800) fetched him a basic website design with inputs from his end.

He launched the website on Hacker News.

The verdict

In his own words “Everyone hated it. Nobody understood what I was trying to do with the product.”

The gut-wrenching feedback from Hacker News said it all.

Takeaways 

“I called it a conversion rate real-time optimization platform, and nobody understood what that meant. I was caught in the trap of having an engineer’s mindset.

The various algorithms I was using came very naturally to me, but they did not mean much to anyone else.

I also gave very little thought to the usability of the product. If you were to log in to the product, you would see at least 25 to 30 options. I thought that it would be good to have as many options as possible. I did not realize that this was going to overwhelm and intimidate people.”

– Paras being candid about Wingify’s failings

 

How he got his first set of customers?

Keeping it simple

In December 2009 after having faced the kind of heat that Paras did, he could have just given up. But he realized that the inputs from Hacker News were actually quite insightful and relevant. The feedback indicated that the product offered too many options and the terminology used was very complex. This helped him refocus and simplify the product. If users could not understand what the product could potentially do for them, it defeated the purpose.

Focus on one area

He decided it was best if he did not try and fix all that was wrong with the product at one go. Attacking the problem in its entirety could potentially backfire. Instead, he decided to keep it simple and focus on just one area. He wanted to learn from his past mistakes which also included trying to create a product that offered multiple solutions at the cost of being too complex.

  • He scrapped the code he had written. All of it.
  • There was a free Google tool available at the time of website optimization but it had very poor user reviews. It was very difficult to use because it required separate versions of a website to carry out the testing. Additionally, some high-end commercial tools were also available however their subscriptions cost thousands of dollars.
  • He chose to zero in on A/B testing and made it Wingify’s focus area.
  • Ver 2.0 was launched in one month and was called Visual Website Optimizer (VWO).

 

Hacks can be a good thing

When Paras saw the opportunity to create a simple, easy to use, A/B testing tool that could be offered at an affordable rate, he used many hacks to write the second version. He used the typical structure of a SaaS package from 37signals.com (now Basecamp). Design and Branding were clearly low order concerns at the time, so he bought a $5 website theme and used that for the app. He spent around $20 for a domain name + server hosting. He chose to resort to readily available solutions at cheaper rates instead of reinventing those aspects at the cost of extra time and resources.

Private beta (Free Trial)

Paras ran a private beta (free trial) of VWO through blog invites. Readers of the blogs received exclusive access to the software and he, in turn, received what matters most. Feedback. The free trial created interest with many requesting demos. Paras actively sought user feedback and the comments were very encouraging. It also helped shape the product to a great extent because VWO is essentially a useful marketing tool and Paras had very little insights into marketing at the time.

First 1000 signups

By March 2010 the growth was more than he could handle. He had over 1000 users and among the initial feedback he received was an early user whose email address was linked to the domain microsoft.com. The user told Paras that he “had gold in his hands”. Encouraging words such as these made it easier for Paras to quit his day job to be able to focus on Wingify full time.

Creating a revenue stream

Taking the difficult decision to leave a job also meant he needed to create a revenue stream from Wingify. Paras was convinced that businesses were going to have to be his primary user base because they would be willing to pay for the product. Paras did not have any real economic rationale for pricing the product. He just followed what he saw at 37signals.com which was to keep pricing under $100 and so went ahead and charged $39 a month. He finally launched the paid plans and signed up 10 customers on the very first day. By the end of the first month, he had made $4,000, way more than what he had expected. While the conversion rate was around 10% he also received some hate mail from users who expected the product to be free forever. They cited Google as a company offering free products to which Paras had to state the obvious and indicate how Google was a lot bigger than him and he had to be able to sustain the product and support himself.

How Wingify grew and soared?

Online Channels

Content Marketing:     

1. Blogging on own website: Paras had maintained a blog over the years and wrote a lot of content. He loved writing and on looking back he believes it was one of the most important things that helped Wingify gain traction.

Type of content – A/B split testing, case studies, conversion optimization, infographics, research studies

Frequency of content – 6 to 8 articles a month

Informative, long-form, high-quality blog posts  
On topics like – conversion optimization, marketing  
Tweet within articles  
Subscribe via email(first-time users)  
Subscribe via RSS  

2. Content integrated with Email Marketing: Paras had maintained a blog over the years and wrote a lot of content. He loved writing and on looking back he believes it was one of the most important things that helped Wingify gain traction.

He collected email addresses via Exit Overlay to keep the engagement going.

Emailed content (via newsletter) once-twice /week

3. Constant contributor to Hacker News:

Paras created a persona (stories, comments & favorites) on HackerNews. He was an effective contributor to the community. He made submissions to the platform and contributed to different areas –

Funding
Technology  
Life  
Industry + VWO  
Hiring  
Creating relationships  


4. 
Guest blogged for Smashing Magazine: They had good traffic at the time (~200K -300K per month) and so Paras reached out to the editors. The About Page had all the required information. He introduced himself, gave a brief background on his work, spoke about articles that could provide value to the readers (Industry + Concepts) and thereby add value to the magazine through his contributions. They gave him the thumbs up. He began with A/B testing, what should be changed on a website, the difference between A/B testing and multivariate testing, and best practices in the industry. He also strategically incorporated VWO in the content thereby soft-selling it effectively. This helped generate a lot of interest in Wingify.

 
 
 

5. Contributed to Open source GitHub: Wingify has one of the strongest product teams in the country and its open source projects are helping a lot of companies all over the world. This is evident from the top ranking on Github.

6. Via Case Studies [content broken down by industry]: Case Studies is a huge play for VWO because their clients are looking for examples of successes in their industry. VWO created a trigger in the system which would get activated when a customer increased their revenue by 20%. An e-mail would be sent to the customer with the question ‘Would you be willing to be part of the VWO Case study?’ This product feature also let VWO understand how many of their customers were increasing their revenues rapidly which directly correlated with their success. This small feature ad helped VWO create case studies in different industries rapidly without having to scout or manually search among their client list. Examples – Hyundai: Automobiles, Tinkoff Bank: Banks, BizzTravel: Travel.

7. E-Books (Download for free by giving an email address). Contents include –

Definitions & Guides: A/B Testing, Glossary terms
Templates: E-commerce page, landing page
Best Practices
Case study on how to boost conversions
Surveys

8. Knowledge Base and Guides

9. Webinars at least one each month

10. Recommendations from leading names in the industry – SEOMoz, CopyBlogger, Neil Patel

Paid Marketing:

1. Ad Words (SEMrush analysis of VWO)

  • Traffic from Adwords: 1000 – 3000 visits/month (SEMrush.com)
  • Total number of keywords they rank for: 266 (SEMrush.com, Spyfu.com)
  • Approximate money spent on Adwords (Monthly): $5500
  • Campaigns they’re creating within Adwords
    • Keywords
      • Generic Keywords – A/B testing, Mvt testing, Cro software, Heatmaps, Conversion funnel
      • Branded Keywords – Visual website optimizer, VWO
      • Competition focused keywords – Optimizely competitors, Optimizely techcrunch, Optimizely glassdoor, Mixpanel alternatives, Google conversion optimizer
    • The Ad Copy
      • Using quantifiable numbers – 5000 leading brands
      • Superlatives – The World’s Easiest, The World’s First Connected CRO
      • Features Set – Multivariate, A/B Testing, Heatmaps, User Testing
      • Other cool things
        • Over 100 different ad copies
        • Customized URLs for every Ad

 

2. VWO Landing Page contains:

  • Social validation: All the brands
  • Simple Call to action: No information overload. Free 30-day trial
  • What they do
  • The primary headline: “ VWO’s New A/B Testing and Convers..” changes based on the ad

3. LinkedIn Marketing Programs:

  • Targeted Marketers
  • Used Inmails, Sponsored Posts and Display Ads

4. PR aka General Coverage

5. Expansion via online premium partnerships (with digital agencies in Japan, Israel, Brazil, UK, USA, South Africa)

  • How they create partnerships?
    • Be a part of Wingify’s extended sales family
    • Earn a share of revenue sourced and be a part of lucrative incentive plans
    • Get on-boarded and trained by experts
    • Provide extensive sales, technical and marketing support
    • Access to Wingify’s white papers, case studies, product guides and optimization best practices
    • Incorporate the company’s name in Wingify’s Partner Directory
    • Gain eligibility  to use Wingify’s partner logo in sales and marketing tools

Offline Channels

1. In-person sales: Hired a VP of sales in India

2. Trade shows, events & conferences: Wingify is big on events. The Sales team is perpetually traveling across to set up brand booths at events and make their presence felt. By engaging with conference attendees, the team ensures that the news of VWO & PushCrew’s ‘s value offering spreads far and wide. The team in attendance diligently works towards understanding the needs of the attendees and starting conversations that offer information and solutions with a context.

 

3. Other Free Tools: Another strategy Wingify used is the creation of mini-tools. These tools like the A/B Testing Duration Calculator, Landing Page Analyzer give you insights based on your website and the growth you want. These tools help with two things. They inform the user about their situation and also show the benefits of A/B testing. It is a subtle strategy to acquaint people ono are in the fence with the concept of A/B testing or VWO as a platform.

 

    • With PushCrew, they added a small message “Powered By Push Crew. This small addition to all websites had an immediate viral effect and led to a lot of new users. This might seem like a common thing but companies don’t really think of ways where they can add unobtrusive marketing copy.

Distribution of Traffic

SimilarWeb, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.

Over 50% of their traffic is direct which means a lot of repeat users. Their next biggest traffic driver is Search which means they’re creating content optimized for search. Low social traffic is common for most B2B companies.

 

 

Summary of Growth

STAGES CHANNELS
Idea →  First customers ●       Focus on a single area●       Using hacks
First customers → Growth ●       Hacker News●       Blog

●       Guest blogged [Smashing Magazine]

 

Growth → Expansion ●       Hacker News●       Blog

●       Guest blogged [Smashing Magazine]

●       Case studies

●       Guides

●       GitHub

●       E-books

●       Referral: SEOMoz, CopyBlogger, Neil Patel.

●       Email marketing

●       SEM

●       Linkedin Paid Ads

●       Online partnerships

●       Offline Sales

●       Events

●       Conferences

●       Creating new free tools

Metrics that matter to Wingify

      1. Monthly growth in paid users
      2. Retention rate of paid users
      3. Monthly revenue

Product Innovation

Wingify hopes to forward integrate with both their products.

VWO (Conversion Optimization Platform)

They are moving from an A/B testing platform which is purely website focused to the expansion of conversion optimization which covers a wider universe –  emails, drip campaigns, website, social and other channels. So, its conversions across all channels. A wider product suite.

PushCrew (Push Notification Tools)

With this tool Wingify is pushing the limits of better customer support aided by AI. They built a Customer Success Management team and a Marketing team very early on and are moving ahead a lot more aggressively after having learned the ropes with VWO. This tool has every imaginable feature for multi-website and mobile support for every entity and the are building on it each day.

Advice from the founder

Being bootstrapped is winning in the long run

Pros of Bootstrapping 

  • Entrepreneurship is about freedom and creativity
  • Dictate your pace. Decide which products dictate growth.
  • You own a lot more, can build more ownership within the company with more working partners onboard.
  • Set the tone and experiment all at the same time.

Cons of Bootstrapping

  • Things may progress slowly
  • Advisors and course correctors may be few.
  • A constant compass is missing.

Being in India is an advantage

  • Cost of living and thus expenses (mainly salaries) are low.
  • Living with parents isn’t a stigma
  • It is a lot easier to connect with the ecosystem
  • Raise your bar. Someone who is an achiever can be the best anywhere. Innovation and success are not exclusive to the Silicon Valley.
  • Today in India we have many accelerators, coworking spaces and incubators to help succeed.

Being culturally distinct helps build team dynamics  

  • Wingify has very casual structures allowing for the best ideas to flow and flourish without tripping over hierarchies.
  • The team takes their work very seriously but not themselves.
  • We promote a culture that encourages people to express freely which is conducive to the company’s growth and the team’s well-being. Work-life balance is given a lot of importance by providing flexible work timings and work-from-home options for those whose need it.
  • Wingify organizes Friday Camps for the team to relax and unwind from the grueling week and takes the team on company-sponsored Trips and Experiences that help build solidarity among the employees

Wingify is a great example of a B2B SaaS company making a global impact from India. And there is hope for others too.

Write in if there are any companies that excite you.

Featured in the Limca Book Of World Records for Most Number Of Documented Marriages Online, Matrimony.com is India’s leader in online matchmaking with a market share of over 60%. With 3 million active users, 4000 employees, and 140 branches in India till date, the company’s growth story is fascinating, inspirational and a good example of brand evolution that achieved product/market fit on a staggering number of levels. As a result, they have managed to constantly reinvent the brand with incredible foresight.

Fact Sheet

Flagship Brand: BharatMatrimony
Parent Company: Matrimony.com
Business: Online matchmaking and marriage services
Founder / CEO: Murugavel Janakiraman

I met Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder & CEO – Matrimony.com and Rajasekar KS, GM Marketing & Head of Social Media – Matrimony.com to get to know the story behind BharatMatrimony and examine its journey from being an early adopter in its formative years to becoming a force to reckon with two decades later.

Here is a distilled version –

The idea: How it all started?

Murugavel (aka Muruga) had a rough start with his day-to-day life posing several challenges very early on. He lived in a small town called Royapuram, Chennai where 14 houses shared 1 bathroom. Till he turned 23, he didn’t have electricity at home. He always dreamed of earning a degree, getting a job and buying a house with electricity and an attached bathroom. In 1994 he earned an MCA degree and took up a tech consulting job with Polaris Chennai. The job required traveling overseas to Singapore and the US for projects. This is when he gained considerable exposure to the internet with names like Yahoo, Sify and Rediff building their business around the web and all things online back then.

In the US Muruga really missed home, his parents, hanging out with friends and Tamil movies over the weekend. Muruga had been away from home for over 2 years and truly felt the need to connect with his Tamilian community. His initial research led him to a few websites that created content for Tamilians around politics, entertainment, and the latest movies but weren’t really offering any avenues for interaction. A service that catered to the needs of a community away from home was an opportunity that no one had tapped as yet.

He was onto something.

A recurring pattern that has observed is that most successful entrepreneurs also happen to be the first ones in the space, aka first movers. It is all about getting in early and riding the wave.

How they launched the idea?

In 1997, Muruga launched transindia.com and with that, he paved the way for a platform called Thamizhar Pakkam (translates to For the Tamil community). The platform hosted multiple services and engagement channels driven by content. These included –

Services:

  • Tamil Matrimonial: Look for prospective brides or grooms
  • Make Friends: Connect with others Tamilians across the world
  • Tamil daily calendar: Calendar marked with auspicious dates
  • Reminder: Indian festival reminder
  • Travel: Book flight tickets through travel agencies
  • Religion and charities: Find religious and charitable groups in Tamil Nadu
  • Radio: List of radio stations that you could tune into and listen to your favorite songs

Content for engagement:

  • News and Magazines: Tamil political news
  • Movies and Cine Stars: Tamil Cine News, Photos & Interviews (Updated Weekly)
  • Literature and people: Famous people in the field of literature
  • Institutes: A database of educational institutions

How they got their first set of customers?

Back in 1997, social media was non-existent and Muruga didn’t have money to spend on marketing. So, he got creative and used the following methods to gain traction for his business:

  • Flyers

Grocery Stores in the US

Most Indians went to their local grocery store to shop, Muruga printed 500 flyers and distributed them across all Indian stores in his locality in the US.

Friends in Chennai

He also got in touch with a few of his close friends in Chennai and asked them to take printouts of these flyers and distribute them to different stores within their locality.

  • Online Discussion Forums

With no social channels, Muruga decided to target discussion forums like Google and Yahoo groups. He started by joining those conversations and mentioning transindia.com.

  • Cross Promotions

Muruga also found a few websites willing to promote his platform in return for some incentives provided to their users. For example, create a free profile and get a discount on travel tickets. This form of cross-promotion helped funnel initial users into the site.

  • Early days SEO

Also, with the advent of Google and Yahoo search engines, Muruga started leveraging concepts of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). His primary focus was ranking on the first page of Google, Yahoo, and other search engines.

Idea to Demand Validation

These efforts reaped heartening results:

  • 3000 people created a ‘matrimonial profile’
  • 2000 users had ‘make friends’ profile (unknowingly making him a pioneer of the Social Network)
  • The Greeting card service was also used actively.

Muruga had assumed a lot of his services would be used equally but the numbers showed that more people gravitated towards the matrimonial section while the other sections saw minimal engagement. This fact was confirmed when he received an email from a user expressing his joy at having found a bride through the Tamil matrimonial section. This was a huge validation.

This led to the launch of Tamil Matrimony and Telugu Matrimony which eventually evolved into BharatMatrimony.

How they grew their business?

In the midst of growth and the glow of the newlyweds, the dot-com bubble in the US burst in the year 2000. Most of the companies that had received investments from venture capitalists were shutting down causing a global panic and eventually a global recession. This forced Muruga out of his job.

One Step forward

Muruga was initially investing close to $1000 per month to run the website. But when he was out a job he was compelled to create a revenue stream for BharatMatrimony.

He decided to introduce a paid version with the free version. The terms and benefits were as under –

 

Free Version Paid Version (Rs 200 or ~$4.5 annually)
Create profileAdd basic information

Communicate with other profiles

Features offered in the free version+

Boost profile and Upload photos

Add Horoscope information

Users were allowed to place Newspaper Ads

"

Result: BharatMatrimony managed to break even with revenue received from paid users.

Given his situation, Muruga did want to scale and make more money. The model was further revised to include the following –

  • Free users were allowed to add images, bookmark their favorite profiles, save searches and scan photos. However getting in touch with other profiles was made available in the Paid Version only.

The new pricing was revised to:

  • $15 for 3 months: Bride/Groom living outside India
  • $25 for 6 months: Bride/Groom living outside India
  • $15 for 6 months: Bride/Groom living in India

Online marketing channels

When the dot-com bubble burst almost every other technology company was shutting down. However, BharatMatrimony stood the test of time and witnessed steady growth. Education and marriages are the only two industries that continue to grow even in times of economic downturn.

1. Partnerships with companies

Muruga observed that big technology companies that offered matrimony as ancillary services were shutting down those divisions to focus on their core business and the best way to take advantage of this crisis was to reach out to these companies.

Muruga approached Rediff (A news information platform) and showed interest in becoming one of their channel partners for the matrimonial services that were offered on Rediff. They paid Rediff Rs 1 lakh (~$2200) for this partnership.

Result:

Rediff eventually started making money as compared to their previous scenario because they had no workforce. BharatMatrimony, on the other hand, gained a phenomenal amount of traffic with Rediff migrating all of their profiles to BharatMatrimony’s database.

Next Steps:

Murugavel decided to approach companies like SifyMSN, and Emerson to set up similar partnerships.

2. SEO

  • Multiple websites, inter-connected
    • Muruga’s goal was focussed on creating a matrimonial space for different communities. He added sections with services like Real Estate (Buy and sell property online), Astrology (Get weekly and monthly horoscopes) along with new pieces of content featuring an extensive collection South Indian music, books, and recipes.
    • He changed the look and feel of the website along with the domain name and called it sysindia.com. He then made sure that people would inevitably navigate from the individual sites (telegumatrimony.com or tamilmatrimony.com) to the parent site (sysindia.com)
    • As time went by more profiles and successful marriages were being registered through the website. With data and on his side and a strong gut egging him to take on more he decided to expand. He felt if there was a demand for Tamil and Telugu matrimony, there would be a similar demand for other communities across India. He decided to register other domain names likebengalimatrimony.compunjabimatrimony.comgujaratimatrimony.com even though there was no sign of these communities growing online at the time. His grand vision was to have all of these communities under one brand name. Matrimony.com: A platform for all Indians.
    • His inability to procure the domain name ‘matrimony.com’ initially and ‘indiamatrimony.com’ later, led to the creation of the next best available domain name ‘bharatmatrimony.com’.

From an SEO perspective, it is advantageous to have one parent domain – matrimony.com with dedicated pages for each community that come under the parent site. Eg: www.bharatmatrimony.com/tamilmatrimony helped provide more authority to the website and also proved favorable in the search engine rankings.

  • Scaled content marketing
    • Launched ‘Desi Match’, the first and only Matrimony magazine for South Asians residing in the US.
    • Initiated India’s first blog on relationships, Matrimony Xpress
    • BharatMatrimony has always been about owning the matrimonial space in India. Diversification across religions (muslimmatrimony.comhindimatrimony) languages (Telugu, Tamil), economic segments (EliteAssisted) and then helping people staying married. Happymarriages.com is all about advice and tips on how people can stay happily married.The team at BharatMatrimony engaged several experts and counselors including some psychiatrists to make sure that the content added value to the reader’s experience.

Why was HappyMarriages.com created?

“The future of a country depends on its citizens. Good citizens emerge out of good parenting; good parenting can happen only in a good marriage and we are the gateway to happy marriages.”

This is the mission of Matrimony.com. HappyMarriages.com is BharatMatrimony’s initiative to help newly married couples enrich their lives and lead a happy married life.

The challenge

The team at Matrimony.com discovered that people who got married needed some guidance to enrich their relationship towards a happy marriage. They were facing issues early in the marriage from the very first day upto 4 years into the marriage. These ranged from understanding each other, arguments between couples, relationship challenges with inlaws, managing time, pursuing their passion, giving each other space, to name a few. There was no credible source of information or advice related to the challenges faced by newly married couples. Lack of time, support and guidance from elders often left them confused and with no one to turn to for help to resolve these matters.

Idea behind the initiative

“Happy families are the building blocks of the nation. As a leader in the online matchmaking space, we have the responsibility to guide married couples to lead a happy life post marriage. HappyMarriages.com is an initiative to enrich marital relationships and make them meaningful. It’s BharatMatrimony’s guide to a happy marriage.”

– Murugavel Janakiraman, Founder & CEO, Matrimony.com

HappyMarriages.com is India’s first website guiding newly married couples to a happy marriage. A simple site with useful and relevant content and a monthly newsletter. Quality content that enriches users was the idea.

How was the initiative executed?

The Marketing team took about three months to research the challenges faced by newly-wed couples. After intense research through conversations with couples and online/ social research, they rolled out the content.

The result

The objective was to offer useful content around the early marital challenges and help guide young couples to a meaningful relationship and a happy marriage. This was achieved with the website and a monthly newsletter which has over 24,000 subscribers and over 1 lakh married members receive the newsletter every month.

3. Referral & Word of Mouth

A lot of their traffic came from referrals and word of mouth. Parents create profiles for their children by hearing about it through other parents. They have very strong brand recall and it is solely due to BharatMatrimony’s first mover advantage.

4. BharatMatrimony.tv

This online channel showcases TVCs made by BharatMatrimony.tv across categories that include International TVCs, Assisted Matrimony, Elite Matrimony, and Tambulya in multiple languages that cater to diverse users online.

5. Website Traffic

  • Direct > Referrals > Organic Search > Display Ads > Mail > Social

This is the order in which they get their traffic. Maximum direct traffic is a great sign because it means it has a really strong brand recall. People are typing bharatmatrimony.com directly rather than being referred or finding them on social recall.

  • The traffic isn’t really being directed by emails, organic search or social. They’re more branding and engagement channels rather than direct revenue channels.

Offline marketing channels

1. Mega Swayamvaram

The world’s largest Matrimony Meet was conducted in 2007 in Chennai with over 10,000 participants from 9 major communities in Tamil Nadu.

What was the objective behind such an event?

To facilitate a quicker process of finding a match and make available a database of like-minded prospects seeking a partner.

How did they pull it off?

  • The details of the brides participating in the Swayamvaram were provided in a caste-wise categorized booklet containing the details of the grooms and vice versa.
  • This booklet included details like caste, height, weight, horoscope etc and sent to the participants well in advance.
  • List of probables was shortlisted for a meeting to be initiated.
  • Contact details of all participants from respective castes would be given at the venue for them to make contacts independently after the event.

Result: The impact was huge. People walking around, networking with the ability to have real life interactions at this scale was clearly unprecedented. It helped build brand BharatMatrimony in a big way.

2. Speed dating with families

  • To build trust BharatMatrimony went ahead and started creating strong offline communities.
  • In 2002 they organized the first ever Matrimony Meet, a progressive concept wherein prospective brides, grooms and their respective families could meet face to face.
  • This also facilitated both one-to-one and group interactions

3. Niche meetups

  • Muruga genuinely felt that love had no bounds and everyone in this world deserves a shot at finding a life partner. Taking this thought forward BharatMatrimony hosted its first-ever Matrimony Meet for the physically challenged.

4. Retail outlets

BharatMatrimony’s strategy for online expansion has always been to support it with offline retail outlets that customers can visit, talk to representatives. This helps humanize a brand. The idea was to expand them under the flagship brand bharatmatrimony.com, giving parents and the older generation who aren’t too tech savvy an offline channel to communicate in person.

  • In 2007-2008 Muruga and team decided to create over 100 outlets in the metros and suburban cities in India. The retail outlets would be company-owned or franchised. Even though there was some resonance with the offline outlets, they didn’t do well. The main reason being branding. For example, most Tamilians seeking matrimonial services didn’t necessarily identify with BharatMatrimony but instead resonated with Tamil Matrimony. The brand strategy didn’t align with the local brand strategy. They had expanded too quickly without personalization. The retail outlets lost money and the losses were amplified due to the recession leading to their shutdown.
  • In 2009 Muruga decided to have another go at it with a re-launch. This time the plan was to start locally and then scale nationally. And most importantly to personalize the branding. The team launched 20 company-owned retail outlets in Tamil Nadu that were branded as tamilmatrimony.com.

Benefits:

The benefits of the localized offline centers were obvious –

o  People could speak to a representative who spoke the local language.

o  See prospective profiles and take printouts if required.

o  It also facilitated visibility locally and collection of payments.

Results:

Within 6 months, it was evident that the outlets were a huge success and over a period of 18 months, BharatMatrimony launched over 100 company-owned outlets pan India with a similar localized strategy. Currently, it has 140 retail outlets.

5. Partnerships with the government

Purpose: Expansion of BharatMatrimony to suburban communities to provide access to many more prospective brides and grooms across India and the world.

  • Partnered with the Andhra Pradesh government to provide matrimonial services through e-Seva, a service initiated by the government to ensure technology reaches one and all – urban and rural, rich and poor, literate and illiterate.
  • Tied up with the Government of Kerala to provide Matrimony services through the Akshaya initiative. This is an innovative project aimed at bridging the digital divide between the urban and the rural to create massive economic growth.
  • Collaborated with the Department of Post, Government of India, to sell BharatMatrimony Membership Cards through post offices across the country.

6. Creative offline brand campaigns

  • Matrimony Day
    • On April 14th, Matrimony Day, people come together to celebrate the joys of matrimony. BharatMatrimony makes it a true celebration by treating married couples to great discounts and offers from leading brands. With everyone joining in, this day has come to be officially celebrated as Matrimony Day. In fact this year, The Hindu published a 4-page supplement aptly titled “Perfect Match” on Matrimony Day.
    • The initiative is a celebration of marriage and helps reinforce the importance of matrimony, BharatMatrimony’s reason for being.
  • Guinness Book of World records
    • To celebrate their 15th anniversary, BharatMatrimony made the world’s largest photo album on Matrimony Day. What was unique about this album was that BharatMatrimony featured every couple (who met on their portal) with their original wedding photos.

Result: Their message, ‘Matrimony is essential to secure a happy and healthy society’ was well received.

Summary of Marketing

Launching Idea 1.   Online:

  • Discussion forums
  • Cross promotions
  • Word of mouth
  • SEO

2.   Offline:

  • Flyers
Early Adopters → Growth [2000 – 2005] 1.   Online

  • Partnerships with Companies
  • Partnerships with Government
  • Content Marketing: Blog
  • SEO

2.   Offline

  • Speed dating events with families
  • Mega Swayamvaram: Huge offline events
  • Niche Meetups
  • Localized Retail outlets
  • Sponsorships
  • Magazines
  • Word of mouth
Growth →  Expansion [2006-2010] 1.   Online

  • Partnerships
  • Website Traffic
  • SEO
  • BharatMatrimony.tv
  • Social Media Campaigns

2.   More Offline Events

  • Mega Swayamvaram: Huge offline events
  • Niche Meetups
  • Parvathy Homam: Pre-Wedding Pujas
  • Sponsorships
  • Retail outlets
Expansion → Maturity [2010-2016] 1.   Direct Traffic2.   TV Ads

3.   Offline Events

4.   SEM

5.   SEO

6.   Social

7.   Sponsorships

8.   Creative branding campaigns

  • Matrimony Day
  • Happymarriages.com
  • Guinness book of world records

What BharatMatrimony does differently?

1. Aggressive diversification

With money in and a strong foothold within the matrimony space, BharatMatrimony had two options through which they could expand –

A single-brand strategy where they could roll out more services around matrimony and a multi-brand strategy wherein they could create other marketplaces using the same technology and move horizontally. They opted for both. This is how –

  • Single-brand strategy – Building on BharatMatrimony

Looking for faster growth, the company diversified to wedding services, a $56 billion market in India. It rolled out three services:

o  In 2015 – MatrimonyPhotography was launched. It offers professional photography and videography services.

o  In 2016 – MatrimonyBazaar.com was launched as an assisted commerce service that helps those getting married save time and money while availing wedding services.

o  In 2017 – MatrimonyMandaps.com was launched to help users check the availability of wedding venues online and book at the best prices.

To keep the communication and engagement intact even post the wedding, BharatMatrimony developed the appended portals which shared updates and information for and by couples post marriage.

o   Success stories – A platform that encourages couples to share their success stories with others. It also has a section called Tinies for couples to share pictures and stories of their children with their extended families on BharatMatrimony.

o   HappyMarriages.com – A content platform that encourages couples to share their experiences post marriage leading to a collection of stories and tips that help enhance relationships.

  • Multi-brand strategy – Diverse marketplaces

Muruga saw the following advantages of using a multi-brand strategy –

o   It was easy to replicate these marketplaces using the same back-end technology

o   Scalability wasn’t an issue

o    Also, matrimonial customers aren’t lifelong customers. The lifetime value of a user is usually 3-12 months. They only stayed on the platform till they got married. Once the search is over, there is no reason for them to come back to the site. This made it imperative to diversify.

Keeping the framework of technology in place, Muruga took an executive decision and decided to launch the following marketplaces consecutively from 2006 to 2008 i.e.  8 services in a span of 24 months. The diversification helped gain market share and these platforms were starting to see growth –

o    Indiaproperty.com: The No.1 Property Portal.

o    Loanwala.com: Help people with personal, property and automobile loans.

o    Indiaautomobile.com: The Online Automobile Supermarket.

o    Mobile 5050: Latest news on phones, gadgets

o    Indialist.com: The Online Classifieds.

o    Clickjobs: A jobs portal

o    Indiapages: The Online Yellow Pages

o    BharatBloodBank – a non-profit, non-commercial interface

In 2008 when the credit crisis led to a global recession, the aforementioned entities, barring Indiaproperty.com were shut down to survive the downturn.  This is when the focus shifted solely towards the matrimony space.

2. Differential Pricing Strategies – Geographies & Net Worth

In 2001 after the dot-com crash, Muruga decided to offer a paid version along with the free version to create a revenue stream for BharatMatrimony.

The paid version was pegged at Rs 200/year (~$4.5/year). When this model picked up, he decided to scale with a revised model that took geographies and thereby the net worth of the users into account.

Even though differential pricing based on geographies isn’t very common in the subscription business, it was a brilliant move by Muruga given BharatMatrimony was catering to a global Indian audience with different spending powers.

There are some companies that adopt this strategy today. For example, Tinder, a dating app, for its premium services, charges differently based on where one is located as well as based on the age group they fall under.

3. Experimenting right through

One of the main reasons for BharatMatrimony standing tall and strong for two decades has been their need to perpetually experiment and launch new properties, platforms, and products.

  • The initial idea was launched with 15 regional domains under BharatMatrimony and finally, Muruga shifted the focus to matrimony based on audience preferences.
  • Launched diversified properties unrelated to matrimony such as Indiaproperty.com, Indiaautomobile.com, Indialist.com, Indiapages to name a few.
  • Launched over 300+ websites that catered to matrimony and its niche categories and provided services ranging from organizing 100 meets in 30 days to organizing massive offline events.

While some experiments in horizontal diversification worked and others clearly failed, Muruga learned from them all. It comes with the territory.

4. Extremely data driven

Muruga relied on data to drive his decisions, especially during the expansion phase. Information was being captured from Day 1 but the company wasn’t drawing any insights based on the data. It was only in early 2006 that Muruga decided to form a process to analyze the information and iterate based on what it said, to make BharatMatrimony more efficient. He set up a data warehousing team to make sure all the data that was being collected was cataloged for easy search. Analytical tools were installed and data scientists were hired to analyze the data and report interesting insights to the team on a weekly basis.

5. Human-Centered Product Updates

  • New communities – Muruga expanded BharatMatrimony’s services based on the assumption that people from various backgrounds would have the same matrimonial requirements as those from Tamil and Telugu communities. The common denominator is language for all human interaction. Based on this factor Muruga made these matrimonial services available to communities that spoke – Kannada, Sindhi, Gujarati, Marathi, Kerala, Bengali, Hindi initially and then went onto extend it to speakers of Parsi, Marathi, Marwadi, Assamese, Oriya and commonly spoken local languages in India. Based on the success stories seen so far, the idea clearly worked.

  • New devices – BharatMatrimony was always available as a desktop version but Muruga wanted to make it possible for those without a desktop to easily access the website. Especially individuals in the rural areas. They do not have computers at home but it is very likely that each of them owns a phone. Thus to cater to these people, BharatMatrimony decided to create an optimized, mobile-friendly version of their website which would help people set up alerts online for better interaction and engagement.

A keen examination of the demographics of your target audience, their device usage, and online payment habits goes a long way in determining which platform a business should opt for to ensure ease of navigation and frequent use of the online interface.

When you’re looking at how people interact with your product, look at the Soft qualitative data as well as the Hard quantitative data. Soft data is usually in the form of customer feedback, reviews, conversations over calls that give you information about how they feel about your product and their sentiments. Hard data is in the form of numbers like revenue, the number of customers, rating score, time spent on the site. Things which are quantifiable. To make better decisions, it is important to look at both types of data.

6. Keen to stay lean through optimization

Once the processes and tools within the company were well in place, we made a keen effort to optimize it. The optimization was mainly around product and marketing related developments. The questions posed were “How can we spend less and get more customers while retaining the existing ones? The traffic was analyzed based on channels, ads, keywords, creatives and finally how that translated into revenue. The entire gamut of interactions from the first touchpoint to a retained user was closely examined across the board. Properties and campaigns that weren’t contributing as much were done away with and the focus was shifted to ones that were thriving. There was a need to optimize which led to the company’s size being drastically reduced, making it a lot leaner and focussed.

Advice from the founder

1. Freedom to voice ideas

It creates a culture of openness and leads to innovation. So many interesting ideas have come out from customer support representatives and tech teams that have led to new products being created at BharatMatrimony. Usually, if there is an interesting idea, we let the person decide a strategy, place a team behind it and then execute the plan.

2. Work with a process

At BharatMatrimony, we follow a fairly robust agile process. There are daily stand-up meetings across all product teams in the morning for 15 minutes where we discuss what was done yesterday, if any impediments were encountered along the way, what we plan to do today. Key metrics often form part of these discussions.

3. Motivate people

We have had employees who have been with BharatMatrimony for more than 10 years. For instance, our first three employees are still around. We motivate our people by consciously keeping them in the loop about the company’s growth and where it is headed. This helps boost employee morale.

4. Understanding the values system

The Company values and those of marriage go hand in hand within the organisation, making the mission bigger than all of us. We instill these values among people in BharatMatrimony from the very start.

 

BharatMatrimony (Matrimony.com) decided to go public. The IPO opened in September 2017 and was oversubscribed 4.41 times (441%) at the end of the third and final day. The company raised Rs 500 crore through the issue that comprised of fresh issue of up to Rs 130 crore and an offer for sale of up to 37.67 lakh equity shares.

A review by one of India’s leading financial information houses highlighted the company’s biggest positives to potential investors.

Prima facie, the IPO satisfies Warren Buffet’s cardinal principle of investing – a business that is easy to understand, has favourable long-term prospects and operated by honest and competent people.

Source: Moneycontrol.com

BharatMatrimony had its fair share of misses but the hits were far bigger and way more in number.

So why are most of the Indian startups failing or unable to recover from their failures today? Is it lack of disruption, inability to assess or retain product/market fit or simply refusal to pivot and try another idea when the one on hand is clearly not working. Do you have any others in mind?

Do write in with your thoughts and a wishlist of companies you would like to hear about.

All feedback is…much awaited and more importantly truly appreciated.

Let’s get it straight; most Indian startups are failing. As a nation, we aren’t producing what we must, and the struggle is real! Yeah, sure a lot of them are raising money but talk to any real entrepreneur, and they’d rather stay bootstrapped and never set sights on a VC ever. So how have certain successful startups survived and thrived?

I have made it my mission to find out, with Chumbak being the first case in point.

Fact Sheet

Brand: Chumbak
Business: A design-led lifestyle brand for Apparel, Home & Accessories
CEO / Founder: Shubhra Chadda

The year is 2010. The very first batch of quirky fridge magnets produced under brand Chumbak is an optimistic 5000 units.
8 years later in 2018 Chumbak (don’t hold your breath, this could take a while) –

Has 100 product categories available in 25 stores pan India.
Is recognized as one of the top 4 advertisers in the world by Facebook and acknowledged by Google for its effective use of their services
Has grown YoY at a whopping 300%
Has raised over $20 mn in funding in the last 6 years

So how did Chumbak go from such a humble beginning to being a heavyweight brand?

I met with Chumbak’s Head of Marketing, Somanna Muthanna to explore the workings of their awesome brand.

Data collection tools used to gather statistics include –

Similar Web, for measuring online visitors; SEMRushAhrefs for estimation of keywords ranked and targeted; Ghostery for the collection of data related to the tools in use.

The Chumbak Timeline

The idea: How it all started?

Chumbak Store at Orion Mall Bangalore

The idea of Chumbak started brewing way back in the year 2004 in Shubhra’s mind, when she and her husband Vivek, were working as Marketing Communications Manager and GM of Marketing at Sun Microsystems.

Both of them loved traveling and did so extensively, whenever they found time from their busy schedules.

After a short stopover in a country, Shubhra realized that in almost all of their trips they would find amazing souvenirs that represented that country well.

She wanted to make beautiful products that represented India as she knew it, colorful and real.

How they launched the idea?

Shubhra finally decided to start with fridge magnets due to their obvious connection with tourists.

L to R: Shubhra and Alicia

She didn’t know a lot about designing and running a business, but she was clear about the look and feel of these magnets. She was now looking for a great designer, and during this period she met a young, talented and quirky designer, Alicia Souza.

How they got their first set of customers?

Vivek and Shubhra with the magnets that made brand Chumbak possible.

After getting the designs ready, Shubhra and Alicia went ahead and got their first set of 5000 units manufactured from China. They then planned to unveil their products but to a very small audience. They showed their first batch to their close friends and family.

And were blown away by their response to the magnets.

The general reactions were, “Oh my god, these are so cute!”  to “These are perfect” to “Shubra, you gotta take this further. You’ve got something here.”

So what were the marketing strategies that Chumbak deployed at various stages of their growth? Let’s find out.

The Chumbak Marketing Breakdown

The initial marketing plan: What channels were used?

After being validated by their inner circle, they planned to take their game to the ‘real world’ but on a small scale.

Boutique stores: Offline sales and marketing

  • They made a list of stores selling funky and different products and spoke to their owners.
  • Zeroed in on a 100ft Boutique restaurant & store in Bangalore, the first store to feature products.
  • They decided to price the keychains between Rs 40 and Rs 120.
  • Adding a small margin to compensate for the shipping and manufacturing costs.
  • They approached similar stores in other cities too and found a nook for Chumbak products in some interesting boutique restaurants that include Chamiers in Chennai, Either Or in Pune, and Levitate in Bangalore.

Friends and Family

  • They unveiled the products to their friends and family.
  • The products stole the show.
  • They were the perfect collectibles and nothing like this had existed before this.
  • The pieces were immediately claimed with everyone scurrying to pay for them.

Results: Within the first month of operations, they made Rs 60,000 in Sales.

The idea to demand validation

So far so good, but there were still some things that needed immediate attention. Magnets were inexpensive, and therefore there wasn’t much scope in only selling these. Considering the design, manufacturing, shipping and other ancillary expenses collectively it would not be too profitable especially with the minimum order for manufacturing pegged at 5,000 units.

Solution: Creating diverse products

Soon after they got their initial samples Shubhra and Alicia realized that even after tasting success initially with Chumbak it would make very little business sense to continue this way. With just fridge magnets. They consulted family and friends and were advised to expand beyond the tourist demographic and introduce more such products, only different.

New Product Categories

Why these products?

They were easy to design, affordable and already had a user base. Manufacturing was initially carried out from China and then they began working with Indian manufacturers too.

How they grew their business?

After soaking up some success in the offline world, it was time to go online. But until April 2010 Chumbak had a ‘Coming Soon’ label on their website. It was only a year later that they added an e-commerce functionality.

Online marketing channels

During the initial days, in a very small way, they started shipping their products internationally (to the US) via redpatang.com.

But it was time to plunge into the real e-commerce business.

1. Marketplaces 

  • Chumbak partnered with Dailyobjects, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon, Myntra and Flipkart.
  • Marketplaces are good but involve a deep discounting and even up to a certain extent dilutes the brand. So, Chumbak never went full throttle; they listed a few popular products on these marketplaces. In the long-run, this strategy made complete sense and worked to their advantage.
  • On Flipkart, they mostly sold bags, home decor items, and clothing apparel.
  • On Amazon, they sold keychains, diaries, and other DIY stuff.
  • The marketplaces adapted their marketing and branding strategies and did extensive content, social media marketing along with running cool campaigns.

2. Content Strategy

Blog

Chumbak, being a design-led Lifestyle brand for apparel, home, and accessories needed to come up with a different perspective and approach.

Their blog mimics a storybook-like pattern where they tried to make the content as personal as possible. Furthermore, to increase the engagement they tried the following –

  • Break the monotony: As a brand, Chumbak created multiple categories of posts to keep the engagement as high as possible.
  • Quality over quantity: Quality content with proper moderation was their goal. Posts were scheduled in advance to go live at pre-determined times.

Statistics: Similar Web

 

On their blog, they have categories like –

Live

Life hacks related to home decor, ideas for the perfect gift and a lot more stuff that can create value in your day-to-day life.

Wear

Outfit ideas based on the season, Wardrobe planner, Colorful accessories like bags, clutches, etc., Office outfit and even some party dress hacks; they tried to make this one as personalized as possible.

Eat

Anything and everything good about food can be found here. From cool options for dinner and lunch to eating healthy and sharing exotic cuisines, they’ve covered it all.

Explore

Art of surprising someone is best explained by Chumbak’s Explore section. They’ve options for Christmas gifts, birthday gifts, and there is a new section for every other festival or occasion.

World Class destinations, Contests- to engage more user base, cool vacation ideas and a lot more.

Create

One of the most trending topics of this decade, DIY. A lot of DIY hacks and tips from basic stuff like creating a paper bookmark to greeting card hacks, everything can be found there.

Click

Special section for photographers and Instagrammers, where they feature many people touting Chumbak products. Instagram is a great tool, and almost every one is sharing something or the other on the platform.

Results: even better engagement!

Live@Chumbak

Anything and everything about Chumbak, the journey, fun activities, store updates and their connection to their cultural values and opinions.

One thing to note here is, Chumbak never showed any hesitation in sharing as much quality photographs (related to their products) in their articles. This color gave their website a depth, a depth of personification.

And, this is what I think mattered the most in creating a flawless and seamless online engagement.

Integrating fan content within the website

  • Focussed on integrating fan content within the website to make the website look more realistic.
  • If you look at their website, i.e. their Home Page, the Fan Reel content enlists how many fans are using their products. This is the perfect way of gaining trust and building a connection with your persona. This is taken from Instagram and was later included in the Chumbak Fan Reel.

3. Facebook 

Facebook has been one of Chumbak’s biggest marketing channels. In Vivek’s interview with SocialSamosa Vivek says, “We don’t look at Social as something that requires an ROI. It’s about engagement and effective content. We are on Social Media to have fun” he says.

Here are some stats –

  • Feb 2015 – Facebook: 3,50,000 Followers, 300,000 – 5,00,000 monthly unique visitors
  • Dec 2016 – Facebook: 5,28,000 Followers
  • Dec 2016: Instagram has 1,20,000 Followers.
  • Rs. 15 to 20 lakhs a year on Social Spends
  • 35% of Online revenue from Facebook.  25% online revenue comes from Facebook.
  • 38% of Web traffic from Facebook.
  • Chumbak gets 5X the ROI & 30 to 40% of Traffic comes from Facebook.
  • Facebook reached 2 Million advertisers in 2015. On this occasion, Mark Zuckerberg sent Thank You notes to 4 brands in the world, who were successful advertisers with Facebook, Chumbak was one of them.

Facebook alone brings in 83.74% of the total traffic.

Chumbak is all about creating communities and connecting with audiences.

A lot of Chumbak’s design gives a premium feel. Its colors are bright and classy. Ideal for classy and quirky women.

To achieve that, Chumbak appointed their ‘community team.’ Their focus is not just limited to the application and formulation of the content, but it was also about engaging the community.

  • Relevant Facebook Cover
    • Frequency: replaced three to four times a month
    • Relevance: cultural, seasonal and based on occasions
    • Upcoming Sale notification
    • New product launch
    • Caption: relevant text explaining the post with Bit.ly links redirecting to Chumbak’s store.
    • Bit.ly links: also helped them to collect analytics helping them to cater great content.

Source: Facebook Wall                           Source: Facebook Timeline

  • Shop on Facebook
    • Mostly image-based product catalog
    • Short caption and product information
    • Message button enabled customers to contact the sales team directly
    • Exclusive offers – products mostly are on sale. Both the original and discounted prices are mentioned.

  • One Post per day
    • One quality post per day: Better engagement – measured comments and likes over shares
    • No spammy posts
    • Minimalistic captions: Allowed the post to speak for itself rather than creating confusing captions
    • Bit.ly links for making it look clean and to collect analytics
    • What is posted?
      • Chumbak blog posts
      • Blogs featuring Chumbak
      • Sale Notification
      • Latest deals and new product launch
      • Seasonal apparel collection updates (Spring look, summer look)
      • They made sure that they are not just doing it for gaining likes or shares, they invested in engaging with the community on a level that people can relate their posts to their everyday life.

      With their motto of connecting with the audience, Chumbak never limited their posts to just their brand. They kept on posting content that the general population could relate to –

      • Places you need to visit this summer?
      • Drinks to quench your thirst
      • Traveling Plans and destinations etc.

 

  • Amalgamating other social media platforms 
    • Pinterest: Focus – Potential overseas buyers (international shipping)
      • Sharing pins and boards
      • Primary content: catering to the audience interested in their business
      • Secondary content: related to the industry
      • Tertiary content: interests, personalized content
      • Products included – fashion, home decor, accessories
      • Food that looks fun, the food we love, food by Chumbak
      • Generic: Make happy, Genius Ideas, Travel, DIY
      • Culture: in the NEWS.
      • Pinterest → redirect to Chumbak product page
      • Use of unique photos and captions
      • Content curated for a special audience

Primary Content                        Secondary Content                     Tertiary Content

Pinterest Statistics: 899 pins, 4025+ boards, 2260 followers

    • Instagram: Focus- Instagrammers, photographers, models
      • Post frequency – 4 times per day on an average
      • Contests – to engage more people, #Bangalore for #DrippedInGold
      • Ad shoot campaign contest for models → More engagement
      • Hashtags –
        • Dedicated hashtags that comply with the theme of their products – #foodbychumbak  #weekendfun  #makehappy  #quoteoftheday  #homedecorations  #cocktails
        • And one Chumbak dedicated hashtag – #shopchumbak  #chumbak  #fashionbychumbak  #foodbychumbak
        • Redirecting to Instagram shop, similar to the Facebook market.

Instagram Statistics: 3337 posts, 182k followers

  • Twitter: Focus- Twitteratis, investors, potential clients
    • Unique, high-quality tweet three to four per day
    • Tweet: great photo + caption + link
    • Online contests catered for the bloggers, models, and photographers. → More engagement.
    • Products: Redirects via Bit.ly links to the store
    • Contests: Redirects via Bit.ly links to the Instagram contest post
    • Blog posts: Redirects via Bit.ly links to Chumbak and other relevant blogs.
    • Trending #hashtags –#shopchumbak  #chumbak  #fashionbychumbak  #foodbychumbak  #weekendfun  #makehappy  #quoteoftheday

Twitter Statistics: 11.8k tweets, 9,000+ followers

  • Type of posting: Facebook ad types were chosen
    • Facebook links were preferred for a single product category
    • The carousel was preferred while showcasing a whole chain so that the user could browse through the whole category.
  • The process of creating daily posts
    • Creation of calendar and daily scheduling the post and their frequency.
    • Image size, layout, and design were finalized and how many such posts are to be created.
    • Bit.ly links are embedded to make sure the purpose of CTA is fulfilled.
    • Boosting the ones that are doing well via Facebook ads for even better engagement.
    • Collection of analytics used in the Facebook campaign scheduled for the following week.
  • Engagement level and success
    • Their goal was to achieve > 2.5% engagement levels.
    • Chumbak applied this tactic to correlate the number of likes they got to the success of their product. Initially, they assumed if they are getting 2000+ on a post, their product is doing well.
  • Not providing product prices 
    • Mentioning the price of the product you are selling may attract negative comments and may lead to drop-offs. So, they kept this point also in consideration.
  • Facebook, a recruitment tool 
    • This is how it is done – As and where there is any job opening they notify via their Facebook profile. A bit.ly link is added redirecting to the recruitment page on their website.

4. Instagram and Twitter

  • Trends on: #chumbak
  • Other hashtags that they use most frequently – #foodbychumbak  #weekendfun  #makehappy  #quoteoftheday  #fashionbychumbak
  • #dippedingold contest: Promoting the gold collection
  • Relevant # to the post: #ecommerce  #diwali  #fashion
  • Bitly links
    • bit.ly/CBKGld: Gold collection
    • bit.ly/CBKStores: Step into a store near you
    • bit.ly/CbkWd: Fun Wedges
    • bit.ly/CbkGc:  We hope you have a wonderful festive season! Explore the collection here
    • bit.ly/CbKWnk: #WeekendFun, The Best Weekend Guide You’ll Ever Need!

5. Campaigns

The MakeHappy Fan Reel

  • Created a community page and named it The Chumbak Fan Reel.’
  • The Chumbak Fan Reel community page will automatically feature Instagram posts with #chumbak and has a Chumbak product in it.
  • Embedded links to the Chumbak store so that the products can be purchased directly.
  • This mix of community and commerce intertwined beautifully.

Everybody Loves Everyone

  • Launched during Valentine’s week in the year 2013.
  • Made a cute video that had characters getting along with each other.
  • Printed these characters on the products and were sold.

Conversations with Chumbak

  • Invited interesting people and covered their journeys. They covered stories of Wildlife Enthusiasts, Filmmakers, Beer Producers.
  • They made a set of videos that gave a peek into their lives and what these people are passionate about.
  • Benefits  It helped Chumbak to stand out as an offbeat and interesting brand.

6. Google Adwords

  • Went after branded keywords only – Chumbak online, Chumbak magnets, Chumbak shoes, Chumbak laptops
  • Ranked for unusual keywords – For example, Funky Boxers

 

  • Searches – 500-600 (less)
  • Compensated by advertising out for such keywords to cater to this small market
  • Ads displaying latest offers and discounts

 

7. Influencer Marketing

Saying “Hey we are a fashion brand; let’s get a fashion Instagrammer to promote us.” is taking the easy way out. Instead Chumbak focussed on Micro Influencers, people who are already their customers and who have a good following going.

8. SEO

Focussed on brand-centric keywords and certain other keywords that were catering to small groups of audiences to increase engagement.

Offline marketing channels

Although Chumbak was selling well in third-party stores, they realized the products would be placed haphazardly and in a way the store deemed fit.

They wanted to create their very own shopping zones and give people the Chumbak experience.

1. Kiosks

  • Choice of location – Ones with the most footfall, in a happening part of town and the most popular of malls.
  • First Kiosk – Forum Mall in Koramangala, Bangalore.
  • Focus – Chumbak experience rather than just selling.
  • Branded beautifully and consistently and become a branding initiative as much as a selling initiative.
  • Results – They broke even within four months.
The first Chumbak kiosk and it is tin-shaped
Interiors of Chumbak’s kiosk in Forum Mall, Koramangala, Bangalore

 

2. Flagship Stores 

  • Focussing on the age-old mantra of ‘Location, Location, Location.’
  • They standardized the designs of products and structure of their stores.
  • Opened their next stores in Select CITYWALK Mall, Delhi, Oberoi Mall, Mumbai and a few more cities.
  • Analysis Took 3-4 weeks and analyzed the success of their newly opened stores.
  • If a location was not up to the mark, they removed the store.
  • Reasons for failure of some stores:
    • Lesser revenue in some locations.
    • Due to the location itself, sometimes the footfall was less.
    • Sometimes the kind of crowd that the mall attracted hadn’t warmed up to Chumbak’s style yet.

3. Overseas Expansion

  • Apart from exporting their products to Dubai, the US, and the UK. Chumbak got contacted by a Japanese store owner.
  • Within 8 months (by the year 2011), Chumbak started to build a presence in over 50 stores in Japan which lasted for a few years before closing the overseas operation.

 

Summary of Growth

STAGES MARKETING CHANNELS CHALLENGES
LAUNCHING THE IDEA ———————— Rejected by bossMotherhood

No design knowledge

No manufacturing knowledge

Needed to find a designer

IDEA →  DEMAND VALIDATION Friends and FamilyPartnerships with Boutique stores Manufacture 5000 piecesNew products to be created
DEMAND VALIDATION → GROWTH
  • Partnerships with boutique stores
  • Partnerships with larger events
  • International stores
  • PR
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Marketplace Expansion
  • Products in Premium Stores
  • SEO
  • Alicia leaving
  • Had to sell the house to create cash flow.
GROWTH TO EXPANSION OFFLINE:

  • Building own kiosks and stores
  • Flagship stores
  • Partnerships with boutique stores
  • Partnerships with larger events
  • International stores

ONLINE:

  • PR
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • SEO
  • SEM
  • Marketplace Expansion
  • Knockoffs
  • Saturated home market
  • Saturated apparel market

 

What Chumbak does differently?

Some daring moves

  • Shubhra left her corporate job to work on Chumbak full time.
  • Vivek and Shubhra sold their house in 2010 to fund their business. A bold move, indeed.
  • Vivek joined the business in the year 2011.

Emphasis on data across the board

  • Entering new markets
  • Optimizations on every campaign

Persona evolution

  • Creating an avatar that people could relate to
  • Simplicity

Conversations with Chumbak

Chumbak Influencer Meet

In their recent marketing effort, they’ve started something called Conversations with Chumbak which covers the stories of really interesting people and their journeys.

These include stories from Wildlife enthusiasts, Filmmakers, Beer Producers and more. These set of videos give a peek into the lives of these people and what they are passionate about.

How does this translate into sales?

These efforts don’t directly lead to conversions (sales) but they place the brand in a unique position. They show Chumbak as being offbeat and interesting. We are perceived based on how we communicate.

Breakfast with Chumbak

They started Breakfast with Chumbak to get to know their customers better. They called some of their customers to have breakfast with them one Saturday morning.

The event was supposed to last for 2 hours, but it ended up lasting for 6 hours instead.

Chumbak wanted to understand their customer’s life. What were their motivations? What TV shows did they watch? Did they have a TV at home or did they just use the TV to connect an HDMI cable and stream their favorite Netflix accounts?

Purpose:

This piece of Information may seem irrelevant, but for Chumbak, it helps understand the psyche of their customer. If they are able to cater to the personality of their user, they have a user for years to come.

Website Evolution

  • The e-commerce functionality was added almost 1 year after the Chumbak Website was launched.
  • The Store is now online, and people can buy their products directly.
  • The website development is still outsourced.
  • They asked their audiences for feedback and implemented the most desirable features in their website.

Design Philosophy

Starts with hiring: Designers were hired based on skillsets and they had to have a sense of humor. There was no restriction in terms of the kind of work the designers did. Designers wrote copy as well for the designs and marketing material.

Creating an avatar that people could relate with: Chumbak although unabashedly original, looks at happening trends all over the world. Som (Somanna, the Marketing Head) said “Animal designs were trending all over the world and our thought was what bird can we do? ”They thought of the Owl. Our Immediate question was “What about the crow?” The Immediate answer from Som was “The crow by itself is not pretty”. A bit unfair on the crow we thought, but we couldn’t argue with the logic. The Owl was also a symbol of insults and compliments. Goobe (Kannada) and Ullu(Hindi) means Owl used as an Insult. They decided to stylize the owl and add color to it. This turned out to be great and this design was almost in every product category, even breakfast tables.

Create the uniqueness: Vivek had mentioned explicitly that Chumbak’s design had to be identifiable without the logo 9/10 times. This was a very powerful differentiator. Their intention was to create something unique in terms of designs and this style came to be known as the Chumbak style. The Owl design that has become so ubiquitous. It is a guarantee that every girl in her early to mid-20s would have had the owl design in some shape or form. As a necklace, or a bag or a phone cover.

Add Chumbak to everyday objects: They work on only adding the “Chumbak” experience to everyday objects. This helps in bringing out product categories like never before, also their main focus is to work on the design. This means they don’t reinvent the wheel, they just focus on making it look a lot more beautiful. The products in the market were already functional, they just didn’t have the design flavor to go with it. If you take their laptop sleeves, for example, they would be simple laptop sleeves without any extra pen holder or extra compartments. Keeping this aspect simple has made Chumbak focus on design to add more of their strength.

Simplicity: One of the most striking aspects of Chumbak’s approach has been its simplicity. They don’t experiment with the form factor of their products. In fact, they don’t change a single bit. Their designs are so simple but yet so catchy that it was plagiarized in every shape and form and put on products.

Hire the right designers and give them creative freedom: At Chumbak, the designers are trusted to come up with their own styles. There are no specific briefs given. This is an important aspect because a person’s originality comes into play.

Chumbak’s earlier design work set them apart and this is exactly what they wanted. They wanted their products to be vibrant and that exuded fun. Like Steve Jobs said in his 2000 unveiling of the iMac “We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”

The culture at Chumbak

When we visited Chumbak’s offices, we realized this company was as bright inside as it was outside. Their offices were similar to their stores. We walked in and the receptionist hadn’t walked in yet, it was a Saturday morning. There is an open-plan in the office like most startup offices with two rooms for imaginative conceptualizing and gatherings.

  • Hiring people who you want to hang with too: Chumbak hired people that they would want to otherwise spend time with beyond work as well.
  • Jolly working environment: The team goes out a lot where they ask each other awkward questions and crack jokes about the fights at the office. In a sense, it is a leveler.
  • Connecting the dots: Chumbak’s culture hinged on hiring people who would be similar to the customer persona. This meant, the team did not have to overthink about what the customer would like and not like.

Advice from the founder

Hire an accountant

The first person you should hire is an accountant. Very important to know your numbers. Passion is awesome but you need the money.

Focus on a few things

When they delved into too many product categories early on they had to cut back because it was getting too difficult to handle. The lesson learned is that it’s good to have passion, but better to have focussed passion.

Have some skin in the game

The point is that you need to put some meat in the game before you go looking for investments. When your money is in the game, you’re up at 3 am trying to see where you can get more business. So even if it is 10% of the money required to startup, put your money in the game.

Taking the dive

Don’t be scared. Jump into the deep end. That’s the advantage of being a startup. It’s far easier to take risks and not get hurt.

Have fun

As simple as it sounds, most people tend to forget it. Get music in your office/home/warehouse, Get a life outside of your startup!

Get to market ASAP

At Chumbak, we pretty much live by this adage: “Good today is better than perfect tomorrow”. Don’t waste time getting your business plan perfected, don’t waste time getting the most awesome logo. Don’t waste time getting to market. Period.

Chumbak did not waste any time in claiming what was truly theirs. Success.

What do you think? How far are we as ‘Indian Startups’ from reaching that Gold Standard of triumph?

Nearbuy.com (previously Groupon India) is a pan-India online marketplace platform that allows customers to connect with local merchants present in more than 35 cities in India.

As a business, it allows customers to discover, buy, save and thereby engage with over 50,000 merchants across 100,000+ distinct locations in more than 18 product and service categories.

Fact Sheet

Brand: Nearbuy.com
Business: India’s first hyper-local online platform for customers and local merchants.
Co-founder / CEO: Ankur Warikoo

“A startup needs to be growing everyday…that’s a false definition. A startup is when you set your mind to do something and build a size and scale to make it happen faster.”

– Ankur Warikoo

Nearbuy.com pushes the envelope with Experiential Marketing aka Engagement Marketing. It offers customers varied options to discover experiences within their cities while also providing local merchants with a strong branding and visibility-led platform for easy accessibility. Everything from Food & DrinkBeauty & SalonGym & FitnessHealth & WellnessMovies & EventsSpa & MassageHobbies & Learning right down to Personal, Home & Auto, Nearbuy.com has clearly been gunning for all avenues to bring the perfect experience to their customer.

I spoke to Ankur to know more about what went on behind the scenes while creating a brand that makes its own rules.

Journey to Nearbuy.com

The genesis of Nearbuy.com began with the acquisition of Sosasta.com, a deals platform co-founded by Ankur Warikoo. In 2010 Groupon made its maiden entry in India by acquiring Sosasta.com. The platform was rebranded as Groupon India after a battle to acquire the legal rights to the name. It began as a subsidiary of Groupon, but after having firmly planted its feet in the subcontinent, Groupon India went on to become one of the fastest growing companies in the Groupon portfolio. With the entrepreneurial DNA of Groupon on the decline, Ankur made a conscious decision to move out with a management buyout. The independent entity thus formed, with investment from Sequoia Capital and a minority stake held by Groupon was rebranded to Nearbuy.com.

The appended timeline outlines the journey in greater detail.

 

Business Model

Nearbuy.com is using the same model as Groupon.

  • Nearbuy.com strikes a deal with the merchant on two fronts
    • Customer discount on the merchant offering
    • Nearbuy.com commission on the sale
  • Customer pays the discounted price to Nearbuy.com on the purchase of a coupon/deal
  • Nearbuy.com keeps its commission and transfers the rest to the merchant
  • There is no upfront fee for a merchant feature
  • Nearbuy.com makes money only when the merchant makes money.

Nearbuy.com has forged ahead in the discovery space which is novel for Indian audiences and it has worked well so far.

How they got their customers?

Family and friends

Nearbuy.com started how many other companies do. Initially, they tried and tested their services with family and friends. According to Ankur, “Your friends and family are influenced by you and might still continue using your services because of the close relationship. They will also give you genuine feedback.” The one thing we learned about Ankur’s initial 100 customers was that they weren’t necessarily people who fit Nearbuy.com’s customer persona. But the feedback gathered was important and useful to better the product and its offering.

Merchants pushing offers

Nearbuy.com had a distinct advantage of a marketplace wherein the merchants listed on Nearbuy.com’s platform would advertise their products on their respective channels. Close to 1,500 merchants advertising across all channels drove the customer traffic to Nearbuy.com People took to the idea of deals right away and Nearbuy.com had customers without spending a dime on marketing or advertising their product.

Facebook & Google AdWords

Nearbuy.com took to marketing online when they noticed people had begun searching for coupons and deals. They tried a number of channels and finally zeroed in on Google Adwords and Facebook which they found most effective for their business. Close to 90% of their marketing budget was spent on these two channels.

While marketing on Facebook, Nearbuy.com’s strategy revolved around the conventional ‘Get Offers’ type of ads. This worked well because any discounts on food services were readily and rapidly gobbled up.

Nearbuy.com’s Google Adwords were based on potential search queries in two categories – Nearbuy.com specific and brand (merchants/service providers) specific. They pushed out Adwords for every new merchant. Due to the volume of merchants present on the platform, the process was automated. Each time a merchant came onboard and went online, the Google Ad word would automatically go out as an advertisement. This helped save a lot of time and while staying efficient.

For more information on the types of ads they ran, the amount spent and collateral used, check out Spyfu and SEMrush.

Email Marketing

Nearbuy.com used overlays to promote their offers and deals. Subscribers who opted to receive emails received multiple offer/deal details in their Inbox regularly.

High Discount Vouchers

Nearbuy.com was ready to scale at this point decided to work with their most popular and in-demand service providers to help them do it. These included PVR and Domino’s Pizza to name a few. The plan involved selling a Rs.500 voucher for Rs. 99. A high discount voucher. Ankur knew that they were losing money in this transaction, but as an acquisition strategy, it worked well. These vouchers helped track users who came through this channel and measured how many purchases they would make in 7 days, 14 days and 21 days. This gave them an idea of whether this marketing was worth the steep discount or not. This form of marketing proved advantageous when affiliate marketing channels would pick it up at their end and promote it thereby driving high traffic towards Nearbuy.com. After a point in time, they were able to predict the success and failure of a campaign because of the data they had.

Heavy investment in Data Analytics

From very early on, Nearbuy.com has relied on data to make major business decisions. Nearbuy.com built a patented process, in-house, for its merchants to find the demand for their offerings in real-time. For example, you are a merchant listed on Nearbuy.com who owns a restaurant. There are 300 customers present in the vicinity of your restaurant on a given day/night. The question is how many customers do you want right now. Assuming you have 7 free seats, your answer is 7. The minute you key that answer into the system, the patented algorithm will scan the 300 customers around and determine a price at which you must sell to get 7 customers. Once the price is agreed to and confirmed by you, the merchant, push notifications are sent out to the relevant Nearbuy.com customers. Thus reliance on data analytics has helped make informed and strategic moves.

Events in Malls

The marketing was expanded to running small events and experiences in malls and shopping centers. This was definitely low touch because the number of people they reached wasn’t much, but it was high impact. It helped build longer brand recall through an experience. This was the start of what became Nearbuy.com’s signature marketing style – Experiential Marketing.

Direct aka Repeat Users

Customers/users who had enjoyed and availed of huge discounts on coupons/deals on Nearbuy.com kept coming back for more.

Scaling through Experiential Marketing

Nearbuy.com truly believes that Experiential Marketing is the way forward for a brand such as theirs in the 21st century. They want to create unique and rare experiences for people and catch that in action. This form of marketing is rooted in story-telling. This involves incurring costs that go into creating the experience itself such as the camera team, gifts given, among others. Executing customized campaigns with a certain context and relevance that touch the hearts of people is a tall order and no small feat. But it is definitely worth the effort because brand building and user acquisition through this mode are a lot more effective and long-lasting when compared to conventional print and digital media.

Here a few examples of campaigns that really stood out.

The Onion Heist Campaign

This one checked all the boxes. It went viral and also went on to win the marketing campaign of the year. The campaign stood for the most opportunistic creativity encountered in the Indian startup space in a very long time.  At the time of this campaign, there was an onion crisis in the country, where onion prices were skyrocketing to Rs.100 per kg. Nearbuy.com’s marketing team decided to run a campaign to sell onions for Rs.9 per kg. An obvious deep discount that would get people’s attention. They bought 21,000 kg of onions with a plan to sell it over 7 days. 3000 kg per day. They sent teasers to a few journalists. On the first day, all 3,000 kg were sold in 23 minutes. Customers were restricted to buying 1 kg per email id. On the final day of the campaign, they sold 3000 kg in under 13 seconds! Nearbuy.com’s website crashed. This was unprecedented.

Impact

  1. The entire campaign cost Rs.13,00,000 and the PR it garnered was worth $6,00,000
  2. They delivered onions to over 78 cities
  3. They got 17,000 new subscribers in a matter of 7 days.
  4. Business literally doubled. When the buzz settled, traffic was 22% higher.
  5. The campaign was covered by Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal and the national media.
  6. Singapore Management University & ICFAI wrote this up as a case-study.

One Way Ticket Campaign

 

For this campaign, they tied up with Red Chillies Entertainment to give an opportunity for fans to share screen space with Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). Groupon India created a campaign called the One Way Ticket where people could log on to the website, pay Rs. 499 and bag the chance to act with SRK in his movie Happy New Year. The rules were simple, you had to send an audition video to Groupon and a group of eminent people from the film industry would rate the auditions and the top ten would be selected at the end of the process. The finalists would then get an opportunity to perform in front of Farah Khan, the Director of the movie and she would choose the winner. The campaign went viral with news and media picking it up and covering the story. Every news article mentioned the Groupon name and even SRK in his video while asking people to audition told the users to log on to Groupon India’s website to participate. The experience for the finalists and the winner was a joyous one and they associated it with Groupon India.

The Mominate Campaign

This was a simpler campaign to plan and execute. On Mother’s Day, Nearbuy.com invited people to nominate their mother through the Mominate campaign and the winning mother would get a chance to be pampered for the day while Ankur, the CEO of Nearbuy.com would fill in for her at home. Ankur actually went to the winner’s house, made tea for the family, took care of the grandmother while the mother was pampered in a spa and taken to a lavish lunch. With no marketing spend the video shot got 40,000 views in just 7 days by sharing on Facebook and Twitter. It tugged at many heartstrings and helped build traffic organically to the website.

Give Love Back Campaign

During Diwali Nearbuy.com approached a local brewery in Mumbai, spoke to the owner and decided to surprise their waitress Sophie who hailed from Manipur. They planned and organized thoughtful gestures to make her day a memorable one. Throughout the day she received unexpected gifts from the guests who visited the brewery. These included Rs.5000 tip, a free air ticket to Manipur, her rent for 6 months was paid and a cake to celebrate the day. The campaign video titled ‘Server gets tips worth 4 times her salary, in just one day’ went viral with close to 36,000 shares and over 314,000 views.

An ad during prime time would cost as much as how much Nearbuy.com spent for some of these campaigns and it would not have the same impact as the real thing, with social being a lot more popular and widely accessed than TV.

Scaling through Partnerships/Sponsorships

Nearbuy.com formed partnerships and sponsored events to scale its brand visibility.

The Grub Fest 

 

  • The Grub Fest is one of the biggest food festivals in India and considering one of Nearbuy.com’s top categories is food, they are a good fit to be their ticketing partners. In the October 2015 edition of The Grub Fest, tickets for the event were sold through Nearbuy.com in exchange for a % of the sales.
  • Nearbuy.com wanted to establish their position as experience providers in the food space, their biggest category. They made a smart move and sponsored The Grub Fest Masterclass with online engagement as a run-up to the fest and live participation at the event.

  • They also advertised their food and health services with standees during the event.
  • The Grub Fest is a large event with thousands of people attending and for a branding ploy, it was undoubtedly very good strategy.

Top Chef Awards

  • In keeping with the strategy of associating with premier food-related events, Nearbuy.com chose to be the Presenting Sponsor at the Top Chef Awards 2016.
  • Top Chef Awards is a coveted recognition, especially in the Delhi-NCR area which is considered to be the most competitive food space in the country. With significant press coverage at the event and a well-thought-out association with leading food restaurants in the country, Nearbuy.com managed to further its agenda in the food space to a great extent.
  •  Nearbuy.com positioned itself as a food experience brand which has helped create partnerships with top restaurants that are frequented by many of Nearbuy.com’s customers. An event like this serves as an ice-breaker and helps onboard these restaurants that have a huge customer base in the form of working professionals on a platform like Nearbuy.com.

How Quora and LinkedIn helped build brand Nearbuy.com?

Quora Presence

Ankur is one of the few Indian CEOs who speaks his mind on social channels. He has gained a considerable number of followers on Quora due to his honest and candid answers which are rather unexpected from a CEO. He responds to both generic questions and those about Nearbuy.com in equal earnest. A question about his fitness led to an answer (which went viral) in which he spoke about how he got a 6 pack after many months of working out.

 

Although Ankur chooses to air his views through his personal profile, it is definitely good for the company from many perspectives. It helps keep Nearbuy.com in the minds of customers consistently and constructively. That too without spending on PR or ads. For close to 30 minutes a day on Quora, there’s a constant chatter about Nearbuy.com. Some bad, some good but Ankur has learned to tackle both with equal aplomb. He has also hired top talent from Quora in increasing numbers that have gone on to contribute significantly to Nearbuy.com’s growth.

LinkedIn Presence

Ankur’s writing on LinkedIn also bears testimony to his candor around professional and personal themes. His articles hit a chord with many people because as a CEO he is very open and always willing to share his experiences. An often quoted and one of the most popular articles was My Failure Resume wherein he unabashedly listed all his failures. Ankur is clearly a natural at ‘tell it like it is’ and his firebrand writing style has elicited a positive and encouraging response.

 

Takeaway

Interact with people genuinely and honestly. Your personality is bound to shine through and bring the right kind of attention to your story and your startup’s journey.

 

Summary of Growth

STAGES CHANNELS
Early Adopters → Product Market Fit(0 to first 100 customers)
  • Family and friends
  • Word of mouth
  • Advertising by merchants/service providers
  • Aggressive discounts (not too effective, customers wondered why so cheap)
Product Market Fit → Scale / Refinement(100 to 1000 customers)

 

  • Increase presence across cities and categories
  • First step towards Experiential Marketing
  • Campaigns
  • Facebook & Google AdWords
  • Events at malls
  • Data Analytics
Scale → Hyperscale(>1000 customers)
  • High discount vouchers for the most in-demand merchants
  • Facebook & Google AdWords
  • Experiential Marketing campaigns
  • Social Media
  • Activation deals
  • Affiliate channels
  • Presence on Quora & LinkedIn
  • Data Analytics
  • Email Marketing
  • Offline events
  • Partnerships / Sponsorships

 

Distribution of Traffic

SimilarWeb, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.

Nearbuy.com receives the majority of its traffic from Direct and Search which means strong brand recall and their content is really well optimized for search.

 

 

The Nearbuy.com Culture

Ankur has set the tone for the culture at Nearbuy.com with three rules:

  1. Respect irrespective of your title, where you studied, the team you are in etc. Respecting each person in the organization equally is key to being part of the bigger picture together.
  2. Ownership of errors and unsuccessful outcomes is imperative thus allowing for identifying things that are broken and working towards fixing them. This has led to a culture where performance is not faked.
  3. Performance is not measured based on output. It is measured based on the outcome. At Nearbuy.com it is not about what you were supposed to do, but what you were supposed to achieve.

Let the numbers speak

Data drives the decision-making at Nearbuy.com Its use is non-negotiable. Data determines everything in Marketing, from the platform to the tool even down to the creative process. The team knows that if they want to be heard, they need to bring the data.

Know your people

Ankur began an initiative in Nearbuy.com called Lunch with Warikoo through which he would have a casual lunch with each of his employees on different days. The agenda is ‘No-work talk’ and is organized for the sole purpose of getting to know his team at a human level to help understand what motivates, inspires and drives them in life.

Nearbuy.com’s people-centric approach has led to the creation of a brand that goes beyond the offering.

This unique ability has landed them the big win.  A strategic investment by Paytm and the merger of Nearbuy.com and Little Internet. The merged entity will be India’s largest discovery and deals platform led by Ankur Warikoo.

I am looking forward to the new dynamics and possibilities that will stem from a strong partnership such as this.

Cheers.

Over 6.7 million people blog globally. Blogging is a trend that has caught on fast and furiously. How does one benefit from blogging, not just socially but also monetarily? The story of ShoutMeLoud a pathbreaking blog platform and its pioneering founder, Harsh Agrawal, tells us how to ride the blogging wave.

Fact Sheet

Brand: ShoutMeLoud

Business: An award-winning platform that teaches people the nuts and bolts of blogging, how to make money online and increase traffic to your website.
Founder/CEO: Harsh Agrawal

“If you want to live a different life than others, don’t do what everyone is doing.”

– Harsh Agrawal

How he launched the idea for ShoutMeLoud?

Purposeful Passion

Harsh’s blogging journey began with the initiation of a blog on BlogSpot. This was a great place to begin because it helped combine his two great passions – network security and writing. He began blogging about computer security and technology in an effort to share his views with the world.

Blogging Ahead

His deft planning was evident in the way he went about laying the groundwork for his blog. He zeroed in on the topics and the number of posts he wanted to write a week prior. He wrote diligently every day for 3 months and published 90 articles with a minimum count of 800 words per blog.

Aggressive Marketing

Just blogging was not enough. After publishing each article he would aggressively market it using all of the following routes –

  • He spread the word on search engines and social groups like Google, Yahoo, and Orkut. He participated in discussions to create relationships with other members of the group.
  • To stay ahead in the conversation game, he would subscribe to blogs via RSS feeds (A format used by publishers to deliver the latest content to you) and be the first to comment on their posts. Harsh would provide valuable feedback to these blogs which helped him connect with other members of the community.

Unforeseeable Outcomes

Despite all his effort,s the articles did not get much traction. His blog received approximately 800-1000 visits a month but nothing of great promise. After a while, one of his articles was picked up by Digg, a news aggregation platform that curated articles for different categories. This article on blogging received over 18,000 visits in one day. This sudden spike in traffic signified appreciation from the readers which was much-needed validation for the blog.

First-mover advantage

Back in 2008, Harsh knew the next step for him was to make all this traffic count. There was serious potential to grow and monetize the blog but no one around him really knew how to make it happen. Right there was a market which was completely untapped and that is when he knew he had to be in it. He spent the next two months learning more about blogging, internet marketing, and technology. He borrowed a friend’s credit card, bought a domain and web hosting services from Dreamhost, (the cheapest option back then) and swiftly migrated the blog to WordPress. After considerable thought, his brand name found its way into a quick logo and onto his website – Shout Me Loud.

How he drove traffic to his blog?

Although that blog piece went viral, it was still 1 out of almost 100 articles that he had written. It wasn’t smart or sustainable to keep writing the way he was and hope his writing would meet the same level of success he saw with that article. It clearly was an outlier.

Original Strategy

Harsh did some research and realized a lot of content that he was writing was about technology and it wasn’t unique. He came up with a set of to-dos for himself to help realize the vision he had for ShoutMeLoud. Aspiring bloggers and those just starting out pay close attention.

  1. Create content from your own experiences. It is unique and cannot be replicated.
  2. Create more content on blogging and WordPress. People are seeking this content.
  3. Focus on a specific audience, the ones who really love ShoutMeLoud. The rest don’t matter.
  4. Shift from time-sensitive content to timeless content.
  5. Continue posting once a day but keep a buffer of a few posts in the bank.
  6. Analyze comments and virality of posts.
  7. Monetize the blog.

This shift in strategy led to more focused content and Harsh started getting a lot more traffic to the blog. People connected with his personal experiences/learnings and encouraged him to write more content around it. The timeless pieces he wrote could be shared even after months of first being published. In terms of his marketing strategy, he continued to generate traffic by commenting on other blogs and keeping his community engaged via social groups.

The traffic slowly moved from a few 100 visits a day to ~2000 visits a day.

Unexpected Pay-off

One day while promoting his blog post on Digital Point Forum (a discussion forum related to marketing, tools and other technical content), Harsh came across a comment posted by a member on one of the discussion groups, regarding an error on their blog. The member had been struggling with this error for a while and had not found a solution. Harsh saw the comment and came up with a solution to resolve the error. Out of goodwill, the member asked for his PayPal details and transferred $10. That was the first sign of revenue for ShoutMeLoud.   

Cash in on Traffic

As the blog grew in visits, Harsh knew it was time to start making money off it. He added AdSense [Google’s ad platform where you can get advertisers to place ads on your site] and within the first week made $40 through ads.

With the initial and encouraging signs of being able to monetize the blog, Harsh decided it was time to take ShoutMeLoud to the next level.

How he scaled the business?

1. Blogging Techniques

Frequency

He blogged every day. 1 article a day.

Content

  1. Quality content over quantity: Harsh switched from high-frequency short posts to low-frequency long posts. He was able to incorporate more relevant content with value for readers in longer posts.  This improved the time spent on the website and led to more shares per piece. His average word count increased from 800 to 1500 words per article.
  2. More actionable content: The content created was more focused on “How to, Why, Tips and Tools”, topics that would help increase traffic and also make blogging easier for aspiring bloggers.
  3. Easy Read format: Harsh realized breaking the content into smaller value paragraphs helped register concepts better. The article was broken down into paragraphs with titles for each paragraph making it easy to skim through.
  4. Supporting material: Each of these articles would be supported by images, videos, and presentations to understand concepts better. In case the concepts got heavy or the terminologies were new, there would be hyperlinks to learn more about these concepts.
  5. Catchy headlines: The headlines were catchy and straightforward. The idea was to create enough curiosity to read the article. Harsh used titles like “12 Ultra Modern Tools That Every Digital Marketer Should Know” or “Harsh Agrawal: My Blogging Journey So Far” or “5 Things All First-Time Entrepreneurs Need To Know”. 
  6. Language: The language was kept really simple. Nothing too fancy. Even a tenth standard kid could understand it.
  7. Tone: Harsh spoke directly to his readers. He always used ‘You’ for them to relate to his content better. Example: “So if you are passionate about blogging then only read it” to “This story will tell you about an important time period of my blogging journey.”
  8. Categorise content: By now Harsh had already written over 100 articles and knew his previous content was something that his new readers would also like. So, he categorized his existing content into topics like blogging, entrepreneurship, SEO, lifehacks along with trending topics, popular posts and recently updated posts.

A nifty infographic for you to work with whenever you decide to start blogging.

Infographic Nuts and Bolts of Effective Blogging

SEO

In blogging terms, the content was really optimized for search engines i.e. it gave readers a seamless reading experience while making it easy for search engines to index and deliver this content to them.

If you want to learn more about On-Page SEO techniques, check out Backlinko

Performance Measurement

Harsh started measuring the performance of posts both from a qualitative as well as a quantitative standpoint. He would measure qualitative feedback by analyzing the posts in the Comment section and with questions like How did this article make you feel? with emoticons for options to answer.

 

In terms of quantitative metrics, Harsh focused more on post shares, the number of new accounts created and time spent on each article rather than the number of likes.

2. Growth Strategies

#1 Growth Hack: Income Generator Report

Harsh did what is NEVER expected from a company that is not publicly-traded. He went public with his Income Reports. His transparency was so inspiring for people that it became a huge Traffic Generator. He was also approached by Advertisers.

ShoutMeLoud’s Income Report – February 2018

Created a strong process for Content Marketing

Earlier on Harsh had switched from high-frequency short posts to low-frequency longer posts i.e. from 800-word article pieces to 1500 word content pieces with 3 new posts per week. Here is how Harsh deployed Content Marketing to scale to 6 quality, high-value posts a week.

  1. Network of writers: He first reached out to his network of contract writers to see if they could refer new writers. Usually good writers already have a strong following and their audience is really responsive. Next, Harsh directly reached out to his community of Shouters as a lot of his readers were aspiring bloggers. Finally, he leveraged freelance marketplaces like FiverrContentmart to hire more writers. His primary mode of filtering was consistency and a passion to write. The writers who wrote more often were given more work and made contract writers i.e. ‘x’ number of articles per month for a flat fee.
  2. Topics to write: Instead of following his gut, Harsh decided to reverse engineer the process. He would gauge what his audience wants by engaging with his community on his blog, Facebook, and other social channels.  He would also use an approach called keyword research where you can research actual terms that people enter into search engines and how popular these keywords are. It’s a scientific approach to achieve better rankings on Google & other search engines.  Also, writers from the network would suggest topics.
  3. Content calendar: Once a list of topics were finalized, publishing dates were placed on the calendar at least a month in advance. These topics were opened up to the network of writers and they chose the articles they wanted to write.
  4. Rough draft: The outline of the article was created with a few guidelines followed by a full form rough draft. Think of it as a free-flowing form containing all the content pieces without the editing. The turnaround for this piece would be 3-5 days.
  5. Refine the content: The rough draft underwent copy edits, reference edits with images being added and content optimized for search. The written content had to be easily understood by search engines as well as humans. Content would be refined within a week.
  6. Final review: The content would be finally reviewed by an editor or Harsh for flow and readability. Once OK’ed by everyone, it would be placed in the blog editor and would be scheduled to go live on a certain day.
  7. Distribution of content: Once live, the content was distributed on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Email while measuring reach, engagement, and sentiment of the post. Over time, the content was repurposed and shared as either excerpts, infographics, summaries to continue engagement.

Collecting emails became the #1 Acquisition Strategy

Harsh realized in order to grow an audience he needed their email address. It was the only way to ensure they received content which they could engage with, be hooked to and come back to the website for more. In a smart move, he made this the central theme of the website. So when you visited the home page, there would be Call To Action (CTAs) that focused on newsletter sign up. If you visited the blog, a widget would appear on the side asking for the visitor’s email in return for free courses or tips. Harsh also set up an Exit Overlay, a modal lightbox that activates in the same window the user is looking at. It’s not a new window nor is it built like a traditional pop-up.

Creating New Revenue Streams

  1. Affiliate Marketing: In addition to incorporating ads on the blog which is an obvious and more traditional form of revenue generation, Harsh also resorted to Affiliate Marketing, a format that promotes other businesses on a platform for a fee. This involved writing about companies and their product offerings and diverting traffic from his blog to their sites. Each time a user converted on their site, ShoutMeLoud would earn a fee. He also found other affiliates that were willing to promote ShoutMeLoud on their site and in return for every account created offered to pay ShoutMeLoud a fee.
  2. Offline Communities: Harsh wanted to engage with bloggers and readers offline to create a ShoutMeLoud community across India. He curated events that led to road trips, speaking gigs and workshops, especially in Tier 2 cities. Workshops on SEO, speaking gigs on how to make money online and creating a lifestyle for oneself were well received and soon came to be known as ShoutMeLoudMeetups.
  3. Tangible Products: With vast quantities of original and useful content being created in-house, Harsh wanted to offer it in various formats beyond just the blog. He strategically converted the content into books, e-books, podcasts, and courses. ShoutUniversity is the culmination of these efforts.
  4. Consulting: He also consulted for companies likeThrilloPhilia, Musin, Jaago Investor.
  5. Cross promotion: He built connections within the blogger community which lead to lucrative and mutually beneficial cross-promotional activities.
  6. Sister site: To widen expand Shouter community, Harsh took to blogging in Hindi through ShoutMeHindi. Through this addition, he was able to provide the same expertise and opportunities for Hindi reading audiences which too is a fairly untapped market online.

Summary of Marketing

STAGES CHANNELS
Launching the Idea(July 2008 – Dec 2008)
  • Google, Yahoo and Orkut Groups
  • Digg, a news aggregation platform
Idea → Demand Validation(Dec 2008 – April 2009)
  • Digital Point Forum
  • Facebook Groups, Own Facebook Page
  • Google and Yahoo Groups
  • Guest Blogging
  • SEO
Demand Validation → Scale
  • SEO (On-Page, Off-Page, Keyword Analysis)
  • Guest Blogging
  • Growth Hack – Income Statement
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Cross Promotions
  • Offline Meetups
  • Consulting

 

Distribution of Traffic

SimilarWeb, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.

80% of traffic coming from search is huge. That is every blogger’s dream. But it also means that ShoutMeLoud is creating content that people are searching for and its blogs are ranking for it. The main aspect of ranking for search traffic is keyword research and creating content that is optimized for search.

Top Referring Sites are where ShoutMeLoud is getting their traffic from and Top Destination Sites are the ones people are going to from ShoutMeLoud’s site.

Feedly is a reading app, so people maybe subscribing to RSS feeds on Feedly while Ahrefs may have linked to some of the blogs on ShoutMeLoud . The numbers in green, small text is increase in traffic from those sites. As a company, if you’re similar to SML you might want to look at their referral traffic and see if you can get traffic from those sites as well.

 

 

 

Advice from the founder

Take it seriously

If you are passionate about blogging, take it seriously. You might end up making the kind of money that may not have been possible otherwise.

Focus only on your audience

Giving value to your audience is all that matters. Whatever you receive over and above readers’ appreciation is a bonus.

Learn SEO & how to make money blogging

If you wish to make money via blogging, learn SEO. It is the best way to drive targeted traffic looking for a solution, to the articles on your blog which have the answers they are looking for. Start learning about SEO from day one. This could help your blog grow a lot faster in a smaller span of time.

Get better at writing

The only way you can create a difference is through the words you choose to use. Spend time learning about writing, creating copy. More importantly, write daily.

Understand trends in tech

Stay ahead of tech and understand what’s working and what’s not. Especially when a big portion of the web is shifting to mobile, you can’t expect to earn the same with a year-old strategy.

Other skills to pick up

Content marketing, sales, and basics of Affiliate Marketing + Copywriting. A good affiliate marketer needs to be an outstanding salesperson and an effective copywriter.

Focus on Lean Marketing

Do more of what is working and get rid of what is not.

Keeping good company 

Work with people who are passionate about the work they do.