Episode 116 / May 9, 2021

Ranjeet Pratap Singh on the story & culture of Pratilipi, India’s largest vernacular storytelling platform

46 min

Episode 116 / May 9, 2021

Ranjeet Pratap Singh on the story & culture of Pratilipi, India’s largest vernacular storytelling platform

46 min
Listen on

Ranjeet Pratap Singh is the Co-founder & CEO of Pratilipi. Prior to Pratilipi, he worked at Vodafone with stints in Marketing, Retail, and Channel Sales.

Pratilipi, is the largest vernacular Indian story-telling platform with over 320,000 writers in 12 languages and over 25+ million Monthly Active Readers.

There are several sub-categories and sub-products within the brand such as – Pratilipi Literature, Pratilipi Comics, Pratilipi FM & their latest acquisition IVM Podcasts.

During the podcast, Ranjeet talks about simplifying the creation of online consumer internet companies, creating their own definition of growth, giving ownership to employees to define their plan of action, and set their individual North star metrics amongst other work culture practices followed at Pratilipi.

Notes –

01:03 – Pratilipi – Vernacular self-published content platform

02:53 – Problem statement behind starting Pratilipi

05:04 – Onboarding first set of users & building traction on the platform

06:11 – Current scale in terms of authors, stories, & readers

07:19 – Revenue model: Brand advertising for IVM Podcasts

08:34 – Revenue model: Subscription & Virtual gifting for Pratilipi Literature

10:22 – Revenue model: Early access model for Pratilipi Comics

11:45 – Optimising your odds based on a long-term future as a founder

12:49 – Challenges while raising initial funding

16:12 – Transparency & Ownership amongst employees

19:10 – The thought process behind hiring: “We don’t look at people as dots, but we look at people as journeys.”

21:22 – Adopting things from work culture at Freecharge, CRED & Flipkart amongst others

25:31 – Setting product-wise North-star & check metrics

28:44 – Not following the general Growth Playbook

31:22 – Future goals as a platform: Democratizing Storytelling

32:33 – Thesis behind Audio Content: IVM Podcast & Pratilipi FM

39:24 – Things that didn’t work out at Pratilipi

Read the full transcript here:



Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:00

Hi, this is Siddhartha Ahluwalia. Welcome to the 100x entrepreneur podcast. Today I have with me Ranjeet Pratap Singh, founder Pratilipi. Pratilipi is India’s largest storytelling platform. Welcome Ranjeet to the podcast.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 00:14

Thanks Siddhartha. thanks a lot for having me here.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 00:16

Ranjeet, can you share about you know what Pratilipi is before we dive into your journey and Pratilipi’s journey?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 00:23

So Pratilipi, I think, as you rightly said, is a storytelling platform started and focused on Indian languages for now. So, our basic premise is that people should be able to share their stories with each other in a wide variety of different formats, a wide variety of different languages, wide variety of different devices, geographies, and everything else. So, we started by building an online literature platform, which was essentially called Pratilipi where people can come and publish their stories, novels, books, civilized literature, and other people can come and read them. And then in the beginning of last year is when we finally started expanding into other formats. So we launched Pratilipi comics, which is like the comics version of Pratilipi. We launched Pratilipi FM, which is like audio version of Pratilipi. And we acquired two companies, one called IVM podcast, which is India’s largest podcasting studio. And second is a small physical book production company called right order. So that will hopefully go on to become our physical production. Now, we have also started licensing some of our stories to third party partners, where we believe that we either don’t have the capital or the talent to kind of produce those. So, for example, our first web series has just started being distributed on an MX Player, our first few books have been published in partnership with traditional publishers, and so on and so forth.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 01:40

And Ranjeet, if you go back in time, what was the persistent personal pain point, which led to the birth of Pratilipi for you?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 01:50

I think the real reason of starting Pratilipi was not like maybe 5%, rational and 95% personal. So I wanted to read something in Hindi. I am a voracious reader, I used to read the like hundred 30 or 40 books a year. And when I went to pursue my engineering, I realized that Hindi content was not simply available that I started cribbing to my friends that, you know, this seems ridiculous, it should be my choice. If I want to read Hindi or English or Canada or French or German or whatever, it’s, it should not be because of lack of access. So, to be honest, I did not want to build up the plan, or the hope rather, was that somebody else will solve this. But nobody did. So, after five, six years gap, some of my friends basically said that, why don’t you try and follow my thought? Let’s do the shot.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 02:37

And how did you validate that this was a pain point very large enough for both audience as well as the writers.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 02:46

So even though the reason of starting Pratilipi was deeply emotional, and personal, obviously, before kind of deciding to work on this for the next 10 years, 15 years, I wanted to figure out if this is a problem worth solving. So obviously, we did a lot of secondary research and all of that. But more importantly, I think what I did was I spoke to about 350 odd authors. In trying to understand why this was a problem in the first place. Like, it does not make sense in the sense that India has been very popular for its storytelling culture, for like, last 2000-3000 years, so did not really make sense that why this problem exists. So, I spoke to these writers primarily via my uncle’s connections, my uncle is the writer. So he knows other writers. We organized a poetry when bunch of writers came there, I spoke to them, then I asked them for referrals to their friends, and I talked to them and so on so forth. I also spoke to about 300 readers, what we understood was that it’s not that the stories are not being written. It’s not that people don’t want to read these stories, it’s just that it’s very, very hard to bridge them and figure out which stories to read at what point in time, especially because of the inefficiencies that exist in the physical world. And the cost that comes associated with a traditional book that is being published.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 03:56

Tell us about your journey of onboarding, the first set of users, and how did you build your various traction channels over a period of time.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 04:03

So, I think, when we started building up, the first two things that we did was one that we got some public domain content, and like the definition of public domain will be different in different countries. But in India, it’s basically once a writer passes away 60 years post that the content gets into public domain. So, we basically got some of that content about typing 150 odd stories or 200 stories The second thing that I did was I reached out to the 350 authors that I have already spoken with. And we basically propose to them that, you know, we talked about this problem. Now we want to help take a shot at solving this problem. So would you like to help us a little bit by giving some of your content was, it was still difficult, but we convinced about 150 of these authors to give some of their content to Pratilipi. And then we started using, like our own networks to try and basically grow from there on the demand side. So we kind of would post it on Facebook, on WhatsApp on email and everywhere else that we could figure out that you know, You should come here and you should read stories which are available for free. Over a period of time, we realize the two of the biggest growth channels for us, essentially, were just keeping our authors happy, because authors are going to share these stories on their own timelines, mostly on Facebook. And this not only helps us with readers, but it also helps us with writers, because other writers, again writers are friends with other writers. So, these writers will come and see that, you know, you have published my friend’s story. So, they will reach out to us and say, why don’t you publish our story as well. It’s absolutely great. Just email it to us. And we’ll publish it. So, this kind of helped us on both readers and writers. The second part was essentially was research. So, this almost sounds obvious. But basically, long form text content is like the holy grail of what search generally wants. So, I think organic search kind of helped us quite a bit. And it kept on improving over time, because Google kept on getting better at organic search in Indian languages. So back in 2014-15, Google was not as good at a Hindi search or Tamil search as it was an English search. But I think they kept on improving over a period of time. So, it kept on helping us in terms of growth as well. So, I think these are probably the two big channels.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 06:07

If you can share, what are the numbers today exactly how many monthly users you have on your web and app? And how much time do they spend and how many authors you have right now.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 06:18

So, let’s go product by product. I think that’s probably best, for the literature product. We have about 345,000 writers now, about 4.5 million stories published on the platform and about 24 million monthly active users. On the comics front, we have about 800,000 monthly active users. Comics is operational in five languages. It was just one language about couple of months back now we have expanded to four languages. And we have about I think about 450, odd comics is right now which are published on Pratilipi, which has running series. Pratilipi FM currently has about 200-250,000 monthly active users. And we have about 35,000 Audio Stories and audio books that are there in nine languages. I think. IVM podcast has about 110 shows. Combined, they will have about 7500 episodes. And we have about 1.6-1.7 million monthly downloads of these apps.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 07:17

what are the early revenue experiments that are you doing? And if you can share those numbers around? How are they performing right now?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 07:26

So, the way we think of the Pratilipi essentially is that different verticals are run very largely independently, so they have their own cost structures, their own revenue models, and so on, so forth. So again, we can go product by product. So, for IVM podcast right now, majority of revenue basically comes from brand advertising, primarily because podcast in India is still a relatively niche industry. And IVM, apart from being the largest podcasting studio is also one of the most reputed. So, which means that a lot of brands kind of want to associate with us. So, brand advertising is the biggest source of revenue for it, I think roughly we should be doing about 60-70 lakhs a month revenue from IVM right now, we should be able to get too upwards of a crore a month revenue within the next four or five months. The second part that we are going to be launching in IVM by the end of this year is podcast subscription. So, this will not be launched on all the podcast this will be on like 25-30 of the top podcasts where the majority of podcasts themselves will still be free. But if you want to have behind the scenes access, or if you want to interact with the Creator, then you can subscribe to that podcast and basically get these additional books, onto literature. So, on literature, there are two parts. One part is creator subscription, something that we just launched four days, three and a half days, four days back. So basically, again major was motive content is free. But for select writers, if you want to support them, you can basically subscribe to them by paying just 25 rupees a month or 250 rupees a year. In return, you get some exclusive features you get some early access and some other additional content that will not be available to everyone else that I think right now has about 1200 subscribers in last three or four days. The second bit is essentially virtual gift where you can just support the creator by sending them a virtual gift, so I think roughly about three lakh people have used that till now then coming to comics but hippy comics has a simple early access model. So, comics are published on a weekly schedule. And if you want to read today’s chapter today, then you have to pay a very small amount of money, I think five rupees to unlock that chapter and read it today, or you can just wait for a week and the chapter becomes free and you can read it. And then we have started IP licensing, like different partnerships might be slightly different. In certain cases, we’ll have a revenue share. I can’t share a specific number because of Indians. In certain cases, there would be like upfront payment that IP or licensee will make tools. In each case the revenue shared by the Creator between the creator and


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 09:57

Got it. so roughly, the estimate that you would be close to a couple of million dollars in ARR. At this moment,


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 10:07

I don’t think except for subscription based businesses, most companies should talk about arr. And nothing else. And people just use it


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 10:15

Let’s say for a revenue year.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 10:16

So, I think annualized revenue, let’s say, I think we should end this year. Right now, we should be at maybe about maybe about a million, we should end this year at maybe about 3 million. Our plan is to end next year at 20 million.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 10:32

you have been very patient building the business for the last five years. And your motto always has been like koshish jaari hai. So, what was the thought process behind it like, and what allowed you to, you know, be patient and build it frugally for this period of time.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 10:51

So, I am generally a very probabilistic person. So, I think a lot of founders are like very optimistic, and that’s absolutely awesome. Like, that is how it should be. I am just not like that. So, I’m very, very prognostic where I want to increase the odds of whatever I’m essentially trying to do. And I also have like a very long-term time horizon. So generally, I’m not worried about what is going to happen in next three months or six months or one year out weights. I am particularly concerned about what is going to happen next 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. So, I’m always trying to optimize my odds basis, that long term future. Now, we have to understand that when we started Pratilipi building up in India, UGC was not really a real thing. Most people did not understand that there are certain kinds of startups where you should make it’s not just okay to defer monetization, it’s actually a good strategy like for a UGC platform for monetizing before you get to critical mass, that’s actually a bad strategy. Which meant that most people, both on the investor side as well as on the potential team members side did not really understand this. So, we had to be frugal, because that’s what it took for us to kind of get to the point that we are. Now on the other hand, that people have started understanding what UGC is people are started understanding, that is when we are getting more aggressive, we started getting into newer formats, we started getting into new geographies, and so on, so forth. So, I think it’s just a function of essentially trying to optimize the odds of our long-term success. So, I don’t particularly care if we become a billion-dollar company in one year or one month, two, three years, what I care about is in the next 20 years, can I build a generation design?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 12:19

And that that has been from your thought process from day one? Or is it evolved over a period of time?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 12:26

my thought process, like for last 15-20 years, much, much before I started building any company or I had any job or anything


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 12:35

wasn’t a challenge for you, you know, let’s go back five years to raise any amount of money. Serious VC money based on the status that I’m building for long term a UGC platform for vernacular and long form content, which is not like pure entertainment.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 12:55

seed round was like the hardest that I can imagine, I think we would have heard no, from almost every leading VC in India. And honestly, like, I can’t blame them. So when that we were doing something that was never been done, second, that people are like, okay, we have been waiting for the Indian language users to come on to internet for a long, long time, however, that not only do not make money, but you are actually saying that you will not be making money for many years to come. And for that our products really look like shit. So, I think, like, I can’t really blame them. I honestly feel that, you know, Nexus to the big bet, by committing for the first institutional check. But after that, I think over a period of time, people have kind of started learning a little bit more a bunch of Chinese companies and Valley companies started talking more about their own strategy, their own GTM and so on, so forth. I think things have become a little bit easier after that, but I think seed round was brutal.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 13:48

And before Nexus, were there any individual?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 13:51

We had raised our first round of 30 lakhs from times internet. To be fair, like before, so at times internet point, I was still like, very, very confident because the team was fairly small. So, I just kept on borrowing money from my friends. And as I said earlier, right, because I look at it, look at life for 20 years upward rise. And so, from my perspective, like 10 lakhs 15 lakhs did not really matter. So, it was a lot of money, some money in bank perspective, I had zero money in the bank, but there’s not a lot of money when you consider your career as a 30-year thing. So, I just kept on borrowing money and I kept on putting in Pratilipi and kept on kind of going well, when we raise money from times internet obviously, we started feeling that you know, now there’s external validation. Now we have capitals, we started expanding the team. We started taking office and so on so forth. So, then the burn goes up, and then suddenly my friends who generally working companies like TCS Infosys would not really lend me five lakhs, they could lend me like 50,000 a piece or 20,000. So, then things became a lot harder.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 14:48

You converted the money into equity, they would be happy now.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 14:53

I would like to think that they should be happy. You are talking about friends or times internet?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 14:58



Ranjeet Pratap Singh 14:58

no, so friends, I give the both the options to be fair, I gave, I gave them an option of just buying equity, either at a fixed price or at a 50% discount on next round, nobody took it, then I offered people to kind of give debt to company. And with a smaller equity upside, nobody again took it, then I gave them an offer, you can give me personal debt, in which case, it’s my guarantee. And that is how most people give me that. So, it was a personal debt on me not company debt.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:25

Okay, and you were able to return it over a period of time.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 15:28

Most of it, I still have some debt


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 15:30

i wish, I came in touch with you at that point in time. So, so tell us about, you know, the entrepreneurial culture at Pratilipi, like if it’s been praised from external VCs, the talent outside, which now is wanting to enter, you have two fantastic companies coming from Pratilipi, which have raised large rounds. So, for what’s inside the Pratilipi that churns out the entrepreneurs,


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 16:01

I wouldn’t really agree with the fact that, you know, if there’s something inside Pratilipi that churns out great people, I think there are two parts of this one part is that I think we have been lucky in terms of just being able to find and attract some good people. And that’s really the number of big or like the big, big reason of why people have gone on to do great things, even outside Pratilipi. The second part is also that I think we have going on the highest independent, transparent and high ownership culture in the world, not just in India. So, when we hire someone, we are very picky in hiring. But once we hire someone, we give them insane amount of independence. They move almost everything about the company, like literally from number of users to engagement details to revenue details to how much money company has in the bank and everything else. my calendar is public, so people know who am meeting at what point for example. So that level of independence, and that level of transparency essentially pushes the best people to learn more and more across different domains. So, till about a year and a half back, for example, we had a marketing team size of zero. And it’s not that we were not spending money on marketing, it’s just that it was like 5% of my time and 5% a bunch of other people’s time. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re in language Ops, you’re in finance, you’re in product or engineering, or do you just wanted to learn marketing, go and spend 10 lakh rupees on Pratilipi and figure out what works? What doesn’t work? I understand that a lot of these people would have had series of like 50,000, or one lakh. And they’re spending like 30 lakhs or 50 lakhs on Facebook to learn. So obviously, my PMS are engineers who understand more about marketing than most marketers would simply because of that freedom to kind of experiment and learn and see. So, I think it’s just a combination of these two things. One that we have been lucky in comes to the number of people who like the both the number and the quality of people who have joined us. And second, the high independence, high ownership, high transparency culture that we have. So, I think it’s just a combination of these two,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 17:49

what’s the current team size are totally up?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 17:52

So, both acquisitions combined, I think we are at about 115-120 people now.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 17:57

And if you can share, right, you said you have been very selective? What are the values that you look for in the hiring process? Apart from the skill set, right? The values that you look for in the hiring process? And how have you developed your hiring process over a period of time.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 18:12

So, the most important bit that we look for when we are hiring is that we don’t look at people as bots, we try and look at people as journeys. So, we look at not just where you are right now, but also like what have you done to get to the point that you are at? So, what has been your growth rate? For example, what have you learned as a professional, what have you learned as a person? And that is very, very important. This is probably why even though we don’t enforce diversity of any kind whatsoever, I think we have such a diverse team in general. And I don’t necessarily just mean in terms of gender, or age, but like across the spectrum, because we are looking at people as paths. That means that like, by definition, people from different walks of life, who have different kinds of purposes, essentially coming to Pratilipi, the second thing that we look at, is essentially just how resourceful these people are. So, we understand that in startups in general, and based like Pratilipi, in particular, where we are so focused on like building the Pratilipi as a great place to work at. That means that we have to give people a lot of exposure, which means that we have to have a lean team, which means that it’s important for these people to be as resourceful as possible. So that is another thing that we’ll look at. And the third thing is basically like not just the fact that are we a good fit for them. So, the third thing that we are really focused at is not just the fact that are the people that we are hiring, are they a good fit for us, but we also want to make sure that we are a good fit for them. So, we try and make our best judgment call. Now, I’m not saying you’re always correct, but I’m saying you always try and figure out given the aspiration of the person who’s going to join us, are we a good place for them both personally and professionally. I think these would probably be the top three things that we look at when we’re hiring


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 19:57

you know before a podcast in pre-conversation, you mentioned that you have learned the culture by picking things from various places? Can you share that process? Then where do you pick those things from?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 20:10

So, I think on the good side, we like we learned a lot from different companies, but the top two are probably a free charge slash cred. And Flipkart, I think these two companies, especially in the consumer domain, end, which is the domain that I follow the most, they have great cultures given their time period. And like, this is something that I’ve heard not just from the founders themselves, but also from people who have worked there, people who left and everybody else. So, like a lot of things that we do at Pratilipi, essentially, we just took from either freecharge slash cred or from Flipkart and we just tried to make it even, like even better or even more extreme. Similarly, we learned a lot of things from other companies in terms of what not to, from my own experience working in Citi and Vodafone, as well as other companies. And we decided, Okay, this is not the kind of company that we want to build. Just to be clear, it’s not necessarily that Pratilipi, culture is good or bad, or that Flipkart culture is good or bad. It’s more that this culture is distinct and consistent. So, you know, what you’re getting. So, for example, the level of independence that Pratilipi provides might be a bad thing for a lot of different people. And that’s okay. It’s just that they know that, then maybe they should not be joining Pratilipi, because that’s not the culture that Pratilipi wants to. So, I think when I say like, we have learned a lot about culture, it has been about making it distinct and making it consistent across the board, less about whether it’s good or bad.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 21:29

If you could share examples of what you learned from Flipkart and what you learned from freecharge slash cred.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 21:35

So, Flipkart, for example, was one of the first few companies that any kind of real scale, which actually shared ownership around. So, like some of my friends, younger brothers who joined Flipkart, even as a junior engineer, all of them got in ESOPs. mandatary. And now of course, it seems common, but it was not really that common when Flipkart started building Flipkart. So that is one example of sharing ownership and sharing wealth, the second thing again in Flipkart time, there are bunch of stories around this where the kind of ownership that they gave people to just make an impact. So, I’m forgetting the name of a person, but there was some intern who did not like Flipkart website. And people just told him that you know, what, just go and redesign, the guy went on and redesign the entire website in a week or something. And of course, Flipkart was not a billion-dollar company at that time, but they still, like having that level of trust that when you have hiring someone, they are good people like both in terms of skills and in terms of morality, and they are going to do good things. I think that was like really, really great. Similarly, just how, like proactive Flipkart has been in rewarding its people, the people that they hire both again, it’s not just rational, rewarding in terms of cash or ESOPs whatsoever. That’s one part of course like a friend again, who joined Flipkart, he got his first appraisal in three and a half months. That’s not how it happens, majority of Indian companies, especially five, seven years back, but also in terms of roles, like Mekin Maheshwari, has been one of my favorite leaders for quite some time. Like he was an engineer and engineering manager. And then he just went on and he worked at people Ops, like, that’s not something that happens very frequently in India. And I think that was fantabulous. Similarly, for freecharge. Again, a lot of people might think of it as a bad thing. But like one of my best friends used to work at freecharge. And he would say that Kunal basically knows how to get out of it. And when you hire great people, that’s like 90% of job. If you’re hiring great people, then at least in certain areas, they are always going to better than you. And whenever you try to help them, whenever you try to be value add, you’re just slowing them down. And you’re just frustrating. In fact, like, there’s a famous saying, I’m forgetting the exact blog, but somebody said the same thing, both founders and VCs, like the best value add that you can do is just get out of my way. So, I can do the job. And I think Kunal has done that beautifully at both freecharge and cred, and that becomes particularly important as they have also kept the hiring bar really high. Then again, just the play that cred has made on trust both as a value proposition, but also in terms of the kind of trust that they have put in their own team. Building, again, Freecharge as well as Cred has been phenomenon. Again, something that we have tried to kind of borrowed heavily from them. So, these are just some of the things


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 24:13

how do you set NorthStar metric for your team or either that they set the NorthStar metric for them for themselves?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 24:20

So actually, it is that they said their NorthStar. So, we have companywide NorthStar’s actually not company right we have product wise not NorthStar. So, for example for the literature product, we have NorthStar and then we have to check matrices to make sure that we are achieving these NorthStar in the right manner. So, we have stories read and stories published as our two NorthStar and then we have completion rate and NPS as the to check matrices to make sure that we are achieving them by the right manner not by taking short but as far as individual targets individual goals and mutual NPS goal sorry individual NorthStar goals. We not only allow rather encourage people to decide on their own that what is it that they want to achieve and sometimes it might be Either like for the next two months, I just want to figure things out, I don’t have any goal, any target, I just want to randomly do 30 experiments and see what works, that’s also completely fine. So Pratilipi culture has always been that, like, there are no individual targets or okr or goals, people decide what they want to work on, people decide how they define it. So


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 25:17

if you could share some examples of experiments that became huge inside Pratilipi?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 25:26

Pratilipi comics, so Pratilipi comics, I think is now the largest online comic player in India. In fact, I’m pretty sure like I will take, I will give good odds that in the next two years, we will be the largest comic players, like that’s it, like online, offline will do, both in terms of titles in terms of revenue in terms of users everything. And that will be coming. So just started. Because Sachin, who funnily enough, joined us as Android engineer, then he said that, okay, I want to do back end, and he said, I want to do front end, and he said, I want to do coder, then he said, I want to do a business school. And that’s how we started building Pratilipi Comics. And in less than a year, it’s already the largest online comic player, and should be a large part of Pratilipi’s for our portfolio within the next two to three years. But they’re a bunch of other examples as well.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:11

And how do you embrace failure? Because if you’re running experiments, you’re giving ownership? How do you treat failure at Pratilipi?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 26:19

just a part of life, as long as you’re learning something from it, and as long as you fail for the right reasons, it’s completely, the notion is that sometimes you can fail for the wrong reasons. So, for example, sometimes you can fail because you tried to take too many shortcuts, sometimes you can fail, because you’re lying to yourself, sometimes you can fail because you’re not listening to users, and you’re just trying to be Steve Jobs to kind of know everything. And those are problems versus sometimes you can fail for the right reasons that GTM did not work for somebody else out executed somebody else, like the market went down. All of these are completely fine. Sometimes you will strategy not well, those are completely fine


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 26:58

If you can share your, How did you build attraction channels, let’s say for the zero to 100,000 users a month journey from 100,000 to 1 million and then one to 10 million, currently right at 24.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 27:11

till about maybe about six, seven months back, we used to say that growth is not a priority, we keep on going. But that’s not what we are focusing on. We did not really care that much about channels. Again, it was basically around just experiment with everything and see what works some things work some things worked for a short, long time and then did not work. But the purpose was to figure out what is working, what is not working. I think till about our Series B. We never ever gave forecasts that like what are we going to do in next six months or one year, whatever, people who basically said that they want to have forecasts or targets, he essentially said that we are probably not a good fit. So, you will find out your thesis. And that’s that. So, we never really kind of tried to build channels to go from 1000 users 10,000 users, because going 100,000 users was never the goal essentially to learn and to make a lot of experiments and to figure out what are those experiments? coincidentally, we kept on going about 50%, one quarter, one quarter. And that was in our mind, that was like a reasonable acceptable rate of growth. So, we never had to kind of panic that much. But there have been times where we haven’t gone much for a quarter or two. And that’s also


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 28:19

but then how do you how do you look at growth? Is it that author’s bringing more authors is that the focus users bringing more users?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 28:29

As I am saying, right? The focus is not necessarily on which channels work, the focus is more on tryout different channels and see which one works. So, for example, it’s entirely possible that one channel that works for IVM doesn’t work for Pratilipi, what works for Pratilipi doesn’t work for IVM. So, we don’t want emphasize on playbooks that no, this is what works, especially in consumer internet, its cost of making a mistake is very, very low. And if you get something right, it can be insanely large. So, you’d rather prefer to be thoughtful experiment makers. And then to see what works. And sounds weird and not work you’re probably expecting but unfortunately, this is what


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 29:09

I appreciate different thought process which you have brought about it. And I think it takes a lot of patient team members and investor also when you say I don’t know, right, what are we number the next quarter? We are doing something right, let us continue to do it.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 29:26

Absolutely. Like I can’t take any credit away from especially from outside shareholders, like including investors and everybody else. I think they have been very kind. I think we have been lucky that


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 29:36

but when you say that you are looking from a very long period of time, how do you look at it because from a long period of time, you want Pratilipi to be a creator dent and be one of the largest value creators in the domain.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 29:53

we want to enlarge one of the largest value creators ever, like no domain, no country, all of those are just narrowly defining your market?


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:03

So largest value creators? How do you map that to your current set of actions, whether you are going into that right direction or not?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 30:10

So broadly speaking, we are fairly clear that we want to democratize storytelling, an overview of things, we probably will try to democratize access to everything, not just storytelling, but that’s probably still 10-15-20 years away. So, who have been talking about for the first 10 years or 15 years, we want to democratize storytelling is the basic mic? So, everything that we do, the focus is on essentially, does it help me my goal towards that direction, so everything that every company that we have acquired every product that we have launched every experiment that we have made? If it works, the thesis is always been that it should make a storytelling easier and more


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:44

That’s how you track yourself whether you are in the right direction. Or not. Is it making your storytelling easier, more powerful, more reachable?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 30:53



Siddhartha Ahluwalia 30:54

And then why the, you know, you mentioned also that you are now acquired a company out of into physical books. Why go in that direction when you picked up online first direction first.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 31:07

So again, books are just another form of storytelling, right? Like movies are just another form of storytelling. It’s not about text or literature. And this is something that I’ve been saying, since we started building Pratilipi. At that time, obviously, most people did not believe me. But the basic premise was always about storytelling and like formats will change tomorrow, maybe it’s not text or audio tomorrow, maybe it’s AR or VR or something else, that doesn’t really change. What we are trying to do. Our goal basically is that, like any format of storytelling should be as easy as other forms, and physical books, or audiobooks, or podcasts, or comics. All of these are just like an additional format in which you can share some stories now there will be certain stories, which would be more suited towards one format. And that’s fine. There’ll be some stories, which will kind of almost seamlessly move between formats, and that sort of it’s just a natural extension. From our point of view.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 31:57

I believe it’s been less than a year of acquisition of IVM. and Pratilipi FM launch also, right, I think around, what was your thought around audio when you made both these moves?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 32:16

So audio is, my understanding is, is going to be one of the largest formats over the next 5-10 years. It’s just that also is it right now, there hasn’t been or at least when we launched with the Pratilipi FM, or when we acquired IVM, it seemed like the demand was not really there yet. But our belief was that it’s going to happen, it might take six months or six years. And as I said earlier, right? We are very, very long-term people. So, we are not betting on what is going one year, so two years or five years, we are betting on what is going to happen in 10 years, 20 years. 30 years. So, 10 years out, do I believe that audio will be one of the most popular formats for content creation and consumption? I definitely think so. And that is why Pratilipi FM and IVM,


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 32:54

and can you share of the process how you acquired IVM, because the largest podcasting platform which we are discussing on our podcast.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 33:03

So, I think it was kind of funny. So, Abhishek from times internet reached out to me if I remember correctly, saying that, you know, you should talk to Amit, not just from acquisition or investment perspective, but also because good guy and like both of you enjoy talking to each other. And obviously things work out, maybe you can acquire or invest or something like that. I use 99% sure that we’re not going to invest or acquire. But I also really liked talking to people. And I spent 10% my time helping other people and each case, so we thought, let’s get on the chat, I spoke to Amit, and I really liked talking to him. So, I actually decided that, you know, Pratilipi is unlikely to be going to acquired. And even if we did want to, it’s going to take three four months long process because Pratilipi itself was a small company, we have to take approval from different investors, and so on, so forth. So, I was essentially trying to help him raise money from someone else, or that somebody else should acquire them, including Amazon, by the way. So, I made connections between Amit and bunch of other people, like different VCs, different angel investors, different media houses, different tech companies, it’s just that somehow nothing was really working. And by that time, in parallel, we’re also doing like convincing our own investors and shareholders. At some point in time, I think we discussed that, you know, now we are at the place where if you give me one movie, we should be able to close this and get your degree. Let’s do this.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 34:24

Is it possible that you can share the contours of the deal? Or is it private?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 34:28

I think it should be Amit’s call to whether he wants to disclose or not. It’s not my it’s not my information show. It’s Amit’s information share.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 34:36

But how did you make sure that you have done two acquisitions till now? How do you make sure that acquisitions are fare?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 34:41

So, one of the Pratilipi, so Pratilipi’s first core value is always try to do write thing. And this is very ambiguous. That’s not by coincidence, that’s by design. So, our thesis is that, like everyone who works in Pratilipi, you should be trying to do the right thing for every shareholder every stakeholder involved. Every minute, sometimes you’d be wrong. And sometimes you could be horribly wrong. And that’s okay. As long as you are considering every perspective and trying to do what you believed was right, it’s fine. So, the same applies to me. Do I know whether the acquisition price was fair, efficient terms were fair or not, I don’t like Amit might give a different answer, I might give a different answer, Kavita might give a different answer, and so on? but did I always act with the premise that you know, am considering my investors perspective, my employees’ perspective, my legal counsels, perspective, IVM team’s perspective and so on so forth. We always tried to consider each perspective and we always try to do what we thought was the right thing. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, I think you will have to ask different shareholders. But we try to do what we believe those things


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 35:48

you mentioned about this is the first core value, right? What are the other core values if you have written them down in a document?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 35:56

we have on also, honestly, I will also have to search because I don’t probably remember everything on the top of my head. But for example, I can talk about a few things. One is basically that, you know, you always have to work on getting better today than you were yesterday. So, as we’ve seen earlier, as well, if you remember, we look at people as lions, and not as bots. So, we take it as a responsibility that if you’re working with us, we want to continue to grow as a person and as a professional. And this is something that we put a lot of emphasis on, if that means that you are going a little bit sorry, if that means that company itself is going a little bit slowly, it’s fine. Similarly, if it means it’s not very efficient, it’s still fine. So as one example, right, like was having a 0% marketing team efficient, it was not. But that forced bunch of my other team members to learn marketing and grow at a faster pace. So we continue to do these kinds of things. Similarly, I was giving an example of someone who started as Android developer and then a bunch of exchange before starting Pratilipi comics. Was that like, the best thing to do for Pratilipi in the short term, obviously no, like it takes time before you kind of get set into a rule and so on so forth. But did that help Sachin go at a faster pace? And is that good for Pratilipi in the long term, of course? So that is, I think, the key well, then another key value is be always like as transparent and curious as possible. So, we encourage people to be as transparent as possible, we encourage people to ask questions out everything that they want to ask about, like everything from, for example, why is this a company value or not this? Or why is IVM doing this versus why pratilipi comics, and so on. So, then another one, which is really important is that like 100%, ownership 100%, accountability, generally, ownership without accountability doesn’t work, accountability without ownership doesn’t work, we want people to have 100% independence, but that independence comes with accountability, that they have to be true to themselves. And it’s not about being accountable to me or to company or to someone in particular, but it’s about being accountable in general, like you have a responsibility towards your team, you have a responsibility towards your customers, and so on so forth. As one example, we don’t have a fixed time schedule when people work, but if you’ve committed to anyone, could be a good colleague, could be a customer could be investor could be whatever, that you know, I will get on a call at 11 then you have to get on a call. If you haven’t committed, you come at 6pm in the office completely fine. So, these are just some of the key values that we have


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 38:17

What are the something if you can share that didn’t work out at Pratilipi. Right, we discuss all the way till now that what things worked? What are the things that didn’t work out?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 38:27

So, I think, again, a lot of different things. So, most of the things that did not work, they have been more around like something that did not work on a time horizon that we thought of. So for example, as one example, we migrated our infrastructure from GCP to AWS, we are expecting that it will take us about a month and a half or two months before things get back normally took us more like eight, nine months, before things were back to where they were, like extremely, extremely stressful times. That’s one example. Then other examples would include, for example, that we like some of our round financing rounds that we closed took like seven, eight months, nine months before money hit the bank, and something that we learned from it now. Now, for example, I just don’t negotiate like, these are the key terms if we agree on these next handshakes and move ahead, otherwise, that’s fine. Like, I’ll just find a different partner. It’s not just what fundraise. It’s about everything else. Like we did not negotiate items price or whatever. We just kind of talked about what seems fair. And if it seems fair, let’s proceed. If it doesn’t seem fair, let’s just say no and move on. I was like, getting into that habit of negotiating everything. I think for something that did not work for a long, long time in different contexts. fundraising is easy context, but just in general. I think these are probably the top that come to mind.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 39:47

When were there any down days at Pratilipi that this is not going to work to be where you think of . This is not going to work out.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 39:54

I think like now maybe it happens on a like once or twice a day. I think till about a couple of years back it could have Like, five, six times. So, like, that is the fun and the curse of entrepreneurship, I think, like, it can take sometimes five minutes before you feel like you’re building the largest company or the most impactful company in the world to feeling like I am an idiot, my companies, like absolutely terrible, why I’m doing this imposter syndrome and everything else. Like it’s very, very toxic. I think that happens on a fairly regular basis.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:23

What have you overcome it?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 40:26

I think, honestly, the single biggest help has been this learning by talking to other founders that it’s okay, and everybody needs that. So, I think, when I did not know, as many founders and it felt like, you know, okay, I don’t know what to do. And like, I don’t know if this is right, or that is right. But when founders who have been at it for longer than me, or founders who have been more successful than me, and they say that they still feel that way, then you understand that it’s just like, occupational hazard, it’s not something unique or special, it’s part of the job. So, it becomes a little bit easier to kind of go through that


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 40:59

how do you define what’s the end goal for Ranjeet, not for Pratilipi, but for Ranjeet?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 41:05

Honestly, I don’t have any rules. So, there are things that I care about, and there are things that I don’t care about. So, for example, I don’t care about money, simply as a matter of do, I care about making the world a little bit better. And again, it’s ambiguous by choice, because I want to give myself that flexibility that, like, if it is something in healthcare, I’m fine. If it is something in education, I’m fine, like anything that can make the world a little bit better. And I care a lot about like playing intellectual ping pong. So, I like talking to smart people arguing about things in a rational manner. And like just disagreeing very, very vehemently, like, think of basically like having very, very loud arguments on why is right and like very heated arguments, all of that. And I really enjoy that. So like, everything that I decided on whether I should do this, or that I like working with smart people in general, because of that second point where you can play that intellectual ping pong. So almost everything that I do is basically just a combination of these two, like a tip, if it helps me with either this or that, then I will, if not it


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 42:03

correctly, you have your four co-founders right at Pratilipi?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 42:07

currently we are three, one left, I think about two and a half years back, one just left about a month that so now we are 3.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 42:14

How do you resolve co-founder conflicts, right? Because with so many co-founders are different arguments on how to do this in my to do this?


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 42:21

I think early on it was very, very stressful, very, very stressful also, because there is no right answer. Like if you decide to discuss everything, which is a lot of people say that you know, in any kind of relationship, you should over communicate, that just shows us down. So much. And if you don’t communicate everything, then well, then they are more complex. If you take these conflicts head on, then they are heated arguments and people don’t feel good. If you don’t these take these conflicts head on, then they just fester and they become even worse, there’s no right answer. It’s always kind of trying to find out the right balance. But I think over time, people kind of started trusting each other. So, what happened is that people now understand that, you know, this is your part of the job. So, unless you need my help, you can go and do whatever you think is right, because I trust you to make the right decision. Similarly, this is my part of the job. So, you trust me enough to make the right judgment call. And if I’m not sure, then I’ll come and ask you for advice. So, I think now all of you will find that mutual trust has been built quite a bit. So now I think I don’t think this has been a problem for the last 2-3-4 years. By in the first two, three years, it was very, very difficult.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 43:30

Because they have, they have a different point of view on each division.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 43:35

Not on each decision, but on a vast majority of decisions simply because like if all of us had same point of view, that’s also bad because they may even need. But if you have different point of view, do we discuss every single point of view, we decide by consensus? Do we decide by like, you know, individual veto? Do we decide in some other way? The thing is that, in general in life, some of the absolute best things like this is only applicable to power laudable outcomes, that some of the absolute best things like the best hires the best companies, the best experiments, the best features are almost always comprehensive, which means that consensus is never going to work. If you’re looking for extreme outcome, like remember the newsfeed example almost everybody hated newsfeed on Facebook, and feed became like 80% of Facebook, essentially, maybe more than that. And the same is true across things. Again, it’s not just about features. The same is true for like the best startups, for example, the most valuable companies were almost all passed over by like 50 different investors. Harry Potter, which is the highest selling book of all time behind Bible was rejected by 16 different physical book publishers. So that’s true across the domains, you can’t really be consensus driven. But also, if it is just one person or the loudest voice on the table, that is also not going to work because then other people feel like nobody’s hearing me. So, these are just complex human problems to solve. And unless there is enough Plus, I think it’s almost impossible to solve those.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 44:56

And now, you mentioned that on different divisions. Different people trust each other that each of you will take the right decision.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 45:03

This is not just true for founders by the way. This is part of the company’s culture again, so it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or intern. If you are doing something the final call is always. Even if you’re an intern, you can basically say, Ranjeet get out of the room. This is what I want to do. I have already decided that this is my experience if it doesn’t work, doesn’t work. That’s it. No more discussion.


Siddhartha Ahluwalia 45:23

Thank you so much, Ranjeet. It’s been very insightful talking to you today. Sharing the mind of Ranjeet inside how creativity works, has been an infinite wonderful journey for me, listening to you and absorbing these nuggets.


Ranjeet Pratap Singh 45:39

Thanks a lot for having me. And for interesting conversation instead of a boring cookie-cutter conversation. This was fun.

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