It was an ordinary Facebook page, created hopefully like the many thousand others that are created each day on the world’s biggest social network. It didn’t exactly aim to change the world. Its claim was relatively modest – it said it would provide news updates in 60 words.
Three years later, that Facebook page has metamorphosed into a Rs. 600 crore company.
Inshorts has never been a conventional enterprise. Its founders don’t exactly fit into the mould of media moguls who’d run a company with millions of monthly pageviews. They’re 23 year olds who dropped out of IIT who say they knew nothing about the media world. “We never really thought InShorts would take off the way it did, but our college allowed us the flexibility to take a year off, and we thought why not”, Azhar Iqubal disarmingly tells OfficeChai. Azhar was in his 8th semester at IIT Delhi when he along with Deepit Purkayastha and Anunay Arnav decided to start InShorts.
“It was really easy to set up. Unlike other startups where it takes months to get off the ground, we were up and running in 3 days flat”, laughs Azhar. The premise was deceptively simple – they’d provide their fans with snappy, 60 word updates of happenings around them. They didn’t aim to break news, but summarized news reports from established sources. The number 60, Azhar tells us, was completely arbitrary.
There was clearly a market for it, and Inshorts grew fast. The Facebook page garnered 1,000 likes in 8 days, and at the end of the first month, they had 20,000 likes. “Our network helped. My friends liked the page, and word spread pretty quickly”, says Azhar. “The IIT community helped with the initial traction.”
Then one day a very special IIT alumnus happened to come across Inshorts. His name was Sachin Bansal. “One day, I got a mail from Sachin Bansal saying he really liked our product, and would like to meet up.”, says Azhar. “Turns out that Sachin had been using our product, and thought it had great potential. He wanted to invest in our company.”
There was no looking back. Inshorts has grown exponentially since then. It’s raised $24 million, its app has been downloaded 3 million times, and it’s nearing a billion pageviews. Azhar thinks their product succeeded because it addresses the needs of the current generation. “Young people today are in a hurry, and this format suits them”, he says. “The modern world is fast paced, and large chunk of people are moving to shorter formats of news consumption.”
Longform journalism fans might scoff at InShorts’ model and its stripping away of nuance, but Azhar understands his audience. “There will always be a market for longform journalism with detailed analysis. But Inshorts has made news consumption more accessible. We get feedback from people who say that they never read news until they came across our app. We’ve effectively tapped into a whole new market.”
Not merely content with its premier position in the news segment, the company is now on the lookout for new audiences. “We’ve launched a Hindi version of the app, and we’re pleased with the response. We’re also looking into expanding into languages, and perhaps going global.” says Azhar. Inshorts’ rebranding from News In Shorts, its original avatar, also allows it to focus on content beyond news and become a content discovery platform.
“Our team is looking at ways to make content discovery more natural.”, says Azhar. Inshorts now employs 72 people, half of which are in the content team. “We generate around 140 stories a day, but only show 40-50 to a particular user. We’re trying to understand user preferences and build an engine that shows users stories that they’re interested in.”
Competitors with similar business models have sprung up, but Azhar remains unfazed. “We were the first movers, and the market is quite big. Look at the e-commerce world, there are so many players, and they’re all doing well. Even if we have competition, we’ll fight in the market, and the best product will win.” In short, they’re in for the long haul.