Viral content site WittyFeed was founded in 2014 by Vinay Singhal, Shashank Vaishav and Praveen Singhal as India’s answer to US company BuzzFeed.
in with your storyVinay revealed that by the end of 2016, the site had recorded 120 million Unique monthly users. Additionally, it generated 420 million page views and 2.5 billion impressions.
But on November 26, 2018, the team woke up in a nightmare. WittyFeed Facebook page removed.
“We were killed overnight by Facebook for no reason. As founders, we denied…we thought it was a glitch. Later, we were ready to fight Facebook. But over time, we realized that it was not It will happen,” Vinay said.
By February 2019, the team ran out of funds and was about to close its doors. “But we somehow thought this couldn’t be the climax of our story… We had to rebuild and rethink what we did from here,” he added.
Later that year, Vinay, Shashank and Praveen set out to build a Bharat’s Netflix—STAGE, an artist and dialect based OTT platform for Indians. Today, this hyperlocal video entertainment platform has over 2 million downloads and over 100,000 paying customers.
It is backed by companies including Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Ritesh Malik, Blume Ventures, Venture Catalysts and Inflection Point Ventures.
“Our team kept saying they wouldn’t give up, no matter what. That became the STAGE origin story,” Vinay said.
for this episode Uncut version of your storyVinay takes us through his journey of losing his first company, nearly closing its doors, and building STAGE.
It takes a team
The founder’s personal Facebook profile was removed from the social media platform before WittyFeed’s official page was taken down. The 150 employees who worked at the company also had their work experience removed from the platform.
“We may have violated some policies, but we were never told … At these companies, you can’t talk to people. You can only talk to one email address at most,” Vinay said.
WittyFeed is profitable. But soon after it died, the team ran out of money.
The founding team called for a town hall with the remaining 90 employees and presented two options. They can close for the day, or the team can trust the founders and continue working with them for six months.
To their surprise, 54 decided to stay, taking home only 25% of their salary. Double the remaining 75% is offered as equity.
Vinay said: “These 54 employees became our angel investors, came to the hat table and saved us as we figured out the way forward. ”
“How do you kill an undead company?” He smiled.
OTT platforms in India, including global and large Indian players, focus on language in the name of vernacular content. That is, they produce video content in languages such as Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi.
However, “When you walk out of the urban settlements in India, everyone speaks a dialect…language is an urban concept,” explained Vinay.
As Haryanvi was growing up, he and his co-founders started to wonder why there wasn’t any dialect content available. “The real hyperlocal company built for Bharat will be a dialect-based platform. That’s STAGE,” he added.
Currently, content is only built in Haryanvi, STAGE aims to target India’s underserved market.
Founder of STAGE
the road to the stage
When building STAGE, the team basically faced three challenges.
“We’re more of a category creator. There aren’t any TV channels or OTT platforms in this industry for us to learn from,” Vinay said.
First, the team had to demonstrate that there was an audience willing to consume dialect content. Vinay said the first 18 months of the company’s existence were devoted to addressing this need.
Once it has determined that people are willing to consume content in their local language, the startup has to address supply issues. To solve this problem, STAGE created a production company from scratch to produce the first web series in Haryanvi.
Finally, the last hurdle is monetizing the content. “There is more money in rural India than we thought. All we have to do is create value for this,” Vinay said.STAGE went from a completely free platform to a completely paid platform last April, and since then it has added Over 100,000 paying customers.
Overcome 500 rejections
While the team has credibility in the market due to WittyFeed’s success, production isn’t a breeze. “To build an OTT platform, you need to invest a lot in making movies and web series. You need to invest a lot of money in making a good web series,” Vinay said.
Therefore, STAGE needs to raise more external funding, which is not easy.
The most popular model is to build user-generated content apps, similar to TikTok, Instagram or YouTube.
“We’re trying to build something new…it doesn’t have any resemblance to our story in the U.S. or China. So it’s hard for investors to understand the model,” Vinay explained. “Anyone who wants to invest in our business has to spend a lot of time understanding our business.”
“What’s interesting about investors is that they want you to build something unique, and once you do, it’s hard for them to invest in you because you’re ‘no thesis’ and a category creator,” he said.
Convincing VCs to invest in STAGE becomes another battle. The founding team contacted the top 25 investors and made over 100 proposals, all of which were rejected.In fact, STAGE had to go through 500 rejections before Five investors believe the story.
The startup’s first angel investor was Jana Balasubramaniamwho passed risk catalystAlthough Jana did not play, he contacted the team after watching the recorded video and decided to lead the round for his company. He remains the largest single angel investor on the STAGE market cap table.
“Blume (Ventures) also turned down the first pitch,” Vinay said. The conversation with Blume lasted more than a year before the early-stage VCs joined, which Vinay attributes to the enormous patience Karthik Reddy had.
Another first investor in STAGE is Better Capital.The startup raised 30.75 crore Funding so far.
The last sentence
Vinay, who advises aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs, says: “Hold on. Don’t give up. Hold on and negotiate your way out. Anyone who builds a successful business has to struggle at some point. The top is because they persevere.”
Entrepreneurs say it does get alone on topadding that he had a breakdown the night before, “because it was too much.”
“We’re currently raising money and still facing rejection. We’ve done so much and still need a lot of persuasion and education to get them (investors) to believe us,” Vinay said.
However, looking back, he added that he would not change anything.
“Johwa Achaiwa (whatever happens, is for the best). It will only make us better entrepreneurs in the process… If you don’t give up, life will give you a way out,” quipped Vinay.
(This story has been updated to correct a typo in the title.)