Here’s the story Ranjeet Pratap Singh, an entrepreneur who quit his job because he wanted to do things which were challenging. Being a voracious reader, what else could be more interesting than creating a platform where people can create, distribute and consume digital content in any language!
Pratilipi, possibly India’s fastest growing self-publishing and reading platform, has been getting phenomenal response from people since its inception. What is their revenue model? How are they sustaining? What are the future plans? Read on to know more.
Saikat: You have already showcased Pratilipi here. Just to start the conversation in a formal way, could you please tell us something about yourself? What you did before starting Pratilipi, from where you are etc.
Ranjeet: I was born in a very small village in Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh. Later on I did graduation in Computer Science and Engineering from KIIT University, Bhubaneswar and MBA from FMS Delhi. Before Pratilipi, my last stint was with Vodafone in Ahmedabad as Area Sales Manager. I was doing pretty well there and so I quit :). I didn’t want to do well, I wanted to do things which are challenging. So I roamed around the country meeting a lot of friends and entrepreneurs for over three months before deciding to build Pratilipi full time.
Saikat: Tell us about Pratilipi – Who are the founding members? How did the idea of something like Pratilipi come in your mind?
Ranjeet: I am a voracious reader and I read over a hundred books every year. When I started reading, I started with Hindi literature like Premdchand, Nirala, Dinkar etc. but later on I shifted to almost exclusively reading English content primarily written by international authors.
Over a period of time I started thinking that the main reason I shifted to reading English was because of lack of access to Hindi content, and I started hoping and cribbing to my friends that someone should solve this problem. When I had left my job and was looking for my next challenge, my friends started telling me, “Till when will you wait for someone to solve this problem, and why don’t you solve it for yourself and us?”
That was when I started looking for the best people I knew, who could solve this problem with me. That is how Prashant my school batch mate (who went to BITS Pilani and later joined Amazon), Rahul who was my engineering college batch mate and had joined TCS, Sankar who was my FMS batch mate and was looking for a next challenge himself and Shally who was my colleague at Vodafone came to join hands together.
Saikat: Let me tell you that I am an ardent reader of Bengali books. However, I only find books of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay and some writings on Tagore on Pratilipi. There are so many Bengali authors from West Bengal and Bangladesh also. How are you planning to bring on their work? How are you handling copyright issues?
Ranjeet: All the content on Pratilipi is of two types a) Public Domain content such as the works from Sharat Chandra and b) Contemporary Writers who directly publish their own content on Pratilipi so we don’t have to worry about copyright violations (unless a writer publishes someone else’s content under their name).
What we have seen till now is that we have to do a lot of hustling for our first 70-80 authors in any new language (Bengali is still in this phase), but beyond that most of our new authors come to us via referrals from existing authors. We now have over 2500 authors, including many writers who have won Jnanpith, Sahitya Academy and Padma awards.
Saikat: What kind of response do you observe? How are people consuming regional content? Do you have any stats such as No. of Visits, PageViews, etc. that you can share?
Ranjeet: The response till now has been phenomenal; over 2 million content pieces have been read on Pratilipi in past 15 months (the first 1 million reads took a little over a year, the second million reads took around 14 weeks)
In January alone, we would be serving over 750,000 user sessions on Pratilipi and this is with just a basic product and minimum marketing spend. What is even more amazing is that on an average, every reader spends over 40 minutes reading on Pratilipi every month, and many of them also start writing within six months of starting reading on Pratilipi.
Saikat: On another note, digitizing these books is a huge task. How are you managing this?
Ranjeet: At present we don’t digitize any content. Pratilipi is basically a platform, which means that 95%+ of our content is self-published by contemporary authors. For public domain content (~5%) we usually tie up with existing Government and other not for profit initiatives where they digitize the content and we try to provide maximum reach.
Saikat: You are providing a Self Publish Platform for authors? Why would someone publish their books or poems on Pratilipi? Do they get any additional benefit? Do you help them reach out to more readers?
Ranjeet: In our understanding and experience writers want three things in this order: i) Reach ii) Reader Interaction/Feedback iii) Money
We already have over half a million monthly readers growing at over 20% every month. Our reader community is also very involved and passionate which means that we are able to satisfy the first two needs of our writers. And I think that is why we have a well-knit community of Pratilipi Authors.
Saikat: What is the revenue model?
Ranjeet: First a disclaimer, we haven’t yet started monetization. Having said that our core revenue model is essentially simple, authors will have the ability to distribute their content for free or to sell it. We collect revenues for all paid content and share royalty with the authors. Think Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple’s iBooks or Google’s playstore.
We also have some other interesting revenue models that we want to experiment with once we have larger scale.
Saikat: So, how are you sustaining?
Ranjeet: Till now basically three things i) Prize money from competitions ii) Borrowed Money from Friends iii) Raised 30 Lakhs from TLabs (Times Internet accelerator) in March 2015.
Saikat: Any achievement, success, wow moments that you would like to share with us?
Ranjeet: Our biggest wow moments are generally the reviews that we get from our authors and readers – we received the best one about 2 months after we started: “I was worried that my four year old girl doesn’t know anything about Gujarati language or culture, now thanks to Pratilipi I read her a short story or a short poem everyday. I am very proud to share with you that my daughter has now started joining characters to make small Gujarati words. Thank you Pratilipi.”
Additionally we have also won various competitions such as IIT Bombay Eureka, Intel Technology Challenge, Powerhouse Award at Wharton India Economic Forum etc.
Saikat: That’s great! So, please share your Wharton experience? How did you prepare? Feeback you received? Factors that helped you to win?
Ranjeet: I didn’t really have to prepare much for it, since all I really wanted was to tell our story to the people who were attending the event. I made a conscious choice of only talking about two things: i) Why this is a problem worth solving ii) What we’ve done till now
Thanks to the event I met a lot of interesting people, including investors, journalists, fellow entrepreneurs and students. Many of them gave us wonderful insights from a fresher perspective and some have even become our regular users!
I think our win was simply because we kept things simple and that people could relate to the problem statement and believed that this is a dream worth following.
Saikat: Staying simple is a great strategy indeed! So, what is your future plan for Pratilipi?
Ranjeet: Our future plan or rather end-goal is that all people should have equal opportunity. If someone wants to read / write / learn or do anything else, they should be able to do that irrespective of what languages they know or where they live or any other external constraints.
I understand that maybe you meant future plan as in where do we see ourselves in next 3-5 years, in which case we will most probably be a platform where people can create, distribute and consume any digital content in any language.
Saikat: Your advice, suggestion to fellow entrepreneurs.
Ranjeet: Startups are really, really hard. So, if you are not yet ready to give it your hundred percent I would strongly advise you to do something else. And if you are ready to do so, make sure you have others on your team who share the same commitment.
Saikat: My last question, how did you benefit from TheRodinhoods? You showcased Pratilipi here, you blogged – how did all these activities help?
Ranjeet: We have received open and frank feedback from Alok/Asha as well as other members. We may not have taken all (or even half of) their advice, but it definitely compelled us to think from a broader perspective.
Most importantly, the fact that you can connect with so many people who are going through similar challenges makes TheRodinhoods a special place.
Saikat: Thanks a lot Ranjeet! Thanks for your time; wish you all the best.
Pratilipi on Twitter: @TeamPratilipi