Pratilipi turned 1 year young -or old depending on how you see it- yesterday 🙂 And it feels just like yesterday when I posted the news of surviving for the first week here on the rodindhoods: Pratilipi- You Become What You Read
Typically when I write a post, it is with the intention to help others, just like how I’ve been helped by those who came before me. But this post is different. There is no gyan, just sharing our journey from week 1 to week 52.
Week 2- Week 8: Baptism by Fire
We had left all our jobs and relocated to Bangalore before even writing a single line of code, we didn’t have much clue about how things will evolve. We knew 80% of our authors and readers either directly or with one degree of separation, and we were growing at 6-7% week on week without really knowing why we were growing or whether this was a good growth rate or bad.
The naysayers were getting stronger. We should focus on revenue, or attend that conference or include English or get another older and more mature person on-board etc.
Our own savings were almost exhausted. Our CTO was getting pressurized from his family to get married, and our friends thought we were either crazy or visionary (or sometimes both) to do something like this. A lot of people pointed out that their blogs had more visitors than our platform 🙂
Week 9 – Week 17: The days of Awesomeness
This was the age of awesomeness. We changed our reading platform to look a bit more like a web-reader and less like a blog. We started getting social love (100+ social shares a week), we started applying to competitions and making social profiles such as on Angel List, LetsVenture etc.
We grew at around 20% week-on-week, which was absolutely awesome.
People, including potential investors started contacting us, but we decided to just focus on the product + growth and raise personal debt from friends.
We still hadn’t registered the company, but my personal bank account was perennially below Rs. 10,000 and often below Rs. 10. But the awesome growth made us confident + we had great friends, so we kept on raising more and more personal debt to survive.
But in retrospect, we also made two big mistakes during this time.
1.> We got dragged by the opinion of experts and decided to make some quick revenue -luckily we were smart enough to not monetize our core value proposition-. We decided to lease out our reader as an API to outside publisher on a revenue sharing arrangement.
2.> We became overly optimistic on our ability to ship out product and sustain the 20% week-on-week growth without any external funding. We should have raised some investment right then which could have helped us add some more kickass people in the team, which in hindsight was the right and perhaps only way to sustain the crazy growth rate.
Week 18 – Week 29: The age of learning
These were probably the craziest, the hardest and in hindsight the most pivotal days of Pratilipi. We won many competitions, met Abhishek and team at TLabs and decided to join them -our first external funding-, Prashant our CTO got married and we learned how to manage over 100,000 users with just one tech guy, Rahul.
We realized that experts are very often just as wrong as normal people like us -not because they aren’t smart or experienced, but simply because context is everything and they often don’t know the context-.
We cut our losses with the B2B experiment -took too much of our focus + time, and was definitely NOT what we wanted to do anyways- we started focusing a lot more on granular data analysis.
But none of this seemed to matter, we were growing at low single digits now (3-4% per week), and we started wondering how we can survive and grow at the same time. We also better appreciated the problems of user love + scale. Since our users loved us, they also demanded more, and with just two tech guys in the team -one of whom was getting married- our 90% of tech time was just optimizing things for different devices, browsers or users.
But we learned two important lessons.
1.> We learnt to back ourselves, somebody else might be an expert on start-ups but nobody knows more about our business than us, simply because we are literally living it for every waking -and many sleeping- hours.
2.> We learnt to say No. We realized that despite all our passion and energy we were still humans and saying no was really-really important.
Week 30 – Week 41: Building the Foundation
This was the duration where in we started to implement our learning. We launched the new version of our writer panel, new reader panel, new website // in closed beta // started expanding our team and languages, hired our first employees and interns, started building local language communities, started our company blog and started talking to some investors.
Our growth rate grew steadily from 2-3% to 4-5% to 6% per week. We crossed 100,000+ content pieces read per month and we on-boarded over 1000 Indian language authors 🙂
This was when we started working a little like a company and not just a bunch of friends building a college project. This was also the time when we had finally had a runway of more than 2 months at any given day 😀
Week 42- Now: And the cycle repeats
We are largely back to our awesome growth rate of ~10% week on week growth, one of our writers has been read over 100,000 times on Pratilipi, our stories are shared over 1000 times every week and we are now available in 6 languages 🙂
We are still very optimistic about both the market and ourselves, but now we are also more grounded. We know that things can go wrong -that is their default state- and we are always on our toes trying to get them back on track.
We are now more comfortable in saying no, and as a result we are much more focused now.
But as Robert Frost once said,
of the week!!
UPDATE ADDED BY ASHA JUNE 25, 2016:
CONGRATS RANJEET & TEAM ON THE FUNDING!!
many many congrats ranjeet!
what a story of hanging on to what you believe in!
A BIG SALUTE!!
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thanks a lot ma’am 🙂
Congrats Ranjeet.. 🙂
Regional languages is your USP.
Just a doubt, are you allowing others to submit their stories on the platform? I could not find it on website. Allowing users to submit on the platform will create a community and bring more audience.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thanks a lot for your kind words. Pratilipi is essentially a self-publishing platform, we do not either write or curate any content (such as stories). However for seeding purposes we are acting as an assisted self-publishing model where in people can send their stories via email to us while our team helps them publish it.
Alternatively, as you log-in you would be able to see a button on the right to publish your own stories directly. We know that the current UX is really bad -both by accident and choice- and sometimes it is hard to find out where to start if you want to publish. This is being rectified in the new design (already launched for Tamil, once stable we will launch it for other languages as well)
i messed up the bottom of your post 🙂
for a few reasons – to me, you are the quintessential rodinhooder. i remember reading your first post about pratilipi. i remember not being impressed with the video as it wasn’t saying the right msg. i remember wondering how long you would last. i remember meeting you at the b’lore OH last year and talking to you for exactly 5-7 mins and wishing you well in my heart – hoping your venture would last.
i’m so happy you survived everything it takes to do! having less than 10k in your bank a/c – when i read that i shiver. here’s more power to do what you believe in, and do it so well.
my best wishes are always with you – lots of kudos from 10,500 rodinhooders! keep rocking!!
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thanks a lot Asha ma’am, both for your support and the wishes.
I absolutely understand that video wasn’t really very good nor is the current product. But I think that is what we entrepreneurs do, we just hustle and try to make something out of nothing. That something is hardly every perfect but that is always just a bit better than yesterday and as long as we are just a little bit better than before, the power of compounding takes care of everything else 🙂
nicely put 🙂
Congrats to you guys on battling the difficulties of running a startup and making it through a year. May there be many more to come 🙂
Being a voracious reader myself I checked up your website even though I do not read stories in any regional languages 😀
I have some suggestions that I think will be helpful for you guys:
The text displayed on the screen is more than the size of the screen and so the user needs to scroll down to read more. The situation gets worse when the font size is increased. As a persons who does most of my reading on a phone or tablet, I can tell you this hampers the user experience a lot. We readers do not want anything to come between us and the words. Also the option to change font size and index is stuck permanently to the right, swallowing precious screen real estate. More than the content, the medium in which a person consumes it matters a lot. I have almost all ebook apps(Kindle, Flipkart Books, Google Books, iBooks, etc) and the in my opinion only Kindle gets it right. There are no overt graphics for page turn, amazing and accurate syncing, spartan design yet simple gestures to bring up powerful features like highlight to search dictionary or make notes, etc. When it comes to web, I prefer reading blogs on Medium.com because the design is so spartan and elegant and there are no distractions. Even for a writer, the platform has a no-frills editor which is why I blog there too. So please remove any and all distractions a user might have while reading. Check out Kindle’s web reader interface. I don’t even sneak a peek at the other tabs when I am reading there. If the reader gets distracted, then he is not going to be spending time on your site. Good artists copy, so go ahead 🙂
2. You had mentioned in an earlier comment that the site is being redesigned and I do hope it makes the navigation easier.
3. In the NewsHunt app, I have seen a section where they feature regional books. The app is well designed. You could refer them for some inspiration.
By the way, a curious question – how do you guys make money if readers don’t pay to read the stories?
Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal
This is the quintessential story of succeeding as an entrepreneur.
Honestly, I think this can now be classified as a PROCESS!
Have a Problem – Think of a Solution – Startup to deliver that solution – Discover that the solution is far away from being easy to do – start realising that Starting up was a bitch in the first place – have everyone including their pets tells you to quit – start feeling ‘mental nausea’ – Still believe in the idea and keep at it – OPEN YOUR MIND to ideas AROUND your idea – Something else begins to click – Some believers stay and join – The snow ball begins to start to roll – BOOM BOOOOOM BOOOOOOOM
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thanks a lot for your kind words, and actually going through the platform to give some solid feedback.
I am a voracious reader myself -read more than anyone else that I know-, so I absolutely agree with most of your points.
1.> Personally I absolutely agree with the point about the reader panel, and that’s how it has been till a month back. This reader panel is just us experimenting whether others also prefer a no-frills reading experience (power features in the background) or I am just assuming everyone is like me.
2.> Navigation is something that we still haven’t been able to figure out. But the new design navigation is definitely better than the current version.
3.> Oh, trust me we take inspiration from everything everywhere. Newshunt, Medium, Kindle, Wattpad, Kobo, Oyster, Quora are just some of those platforms 🙂 We are not here to reinvent the wheel, just to make reading easier and more fun.
About money / revenue: Short answer, we don’t. I know there is a craze about experts claiming you are not a business if you are not making money. But different businesses need different business models.
In my understanding for platforms, it’s completely okay to not make money till you have a critical mass (say 50M users). In-fact almost every successful platform that I know pushed the revenue button after reaching around 50M mark or later, think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, Quora, Wattpad, Qidian.
Unfortunately our Indian market dynamics mean we will have to start monetizing too early (Jan 2016 or so with around 1M users).
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thanks a lot sir.
While the exact steps could be different for different people, I think you have summarized it as a good approximation / model.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Just one quick question, did you try reading on a desktop / laptop or on a mobile device?
In case you have tried desktop / laptop, can you please take 2 mins to read on a mobile and tell us what you think of the reading experience.
I tried on the desktop. But now I checked on mobile too and I could observe similar issue while scrolling. My suggestion for mobile would be to go app-only. That way you might get to control the user experience much better especially when each device has a different screen size and rendering text might become difficult.
A ‘big’ sign-up banner asking to subscribe on a mobile device is a big turn off. Finding the tiny close button and getting back to my reading hinders with the joy of reading.
Also when I click, the menu to select Books/Poems, etc the text overlaps on your logo.
Also another thing I forgot to mention is the video demos need some overhauling. The volume is quite low and also the information doesn’t seem to be conveyed concisely. Plus the watermark in the video(I presume it is by the company that made the video) is very distracting. More users will notice that instead of Pratilipi and the message you are conveying.
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thanks for taking time out and the feedback.
Our first App should be on its way soon. Sign-up banner is just an A/B test with 5% of the users, we don’t intend to ask people to sign-up for reading.
Will work on the remaining feedback points.
hey many congrats ranjeet and team pratilipi on the funding! i have updated your post!! so proud of you!! see you at #trh open house on july 30!!
Ranjeet Pratap Singh
Thank you Asha ma’am, looking forward to see you there 🙂