Hauz Khas – a place in Delhi unique for its colour, vibrancy and energy. In the heart of the Hauz Khas Village is an establishment that not only echoes this exuberance but actually celebrates it with a passion. On a bright September day, my colleague and I made our way to this location, only to be transported to a magical world of soft colours and charming decor upon stepping inside. The interior of this modern office is, in many ways, emblematic of the vivacious, fun-loving personality of its owner, Priyanka Gill, Founder & CEO of digital media startup POPxo.
The world is full of disruptive, trailblazing women who refuse to submit and accept defeat. These individuals shoulder the immense responsibility of uplifting womankind all around the world. Gill is one of them. A force to be reckoned with, she is on a mission to create quality content that speaks to women, instead of talking down to them.
Priyanka is a fashion journalist and digital media entrepreneur who is passionate about modern Indian art. As an angel investor, she has backed several early-stage tech startups and food concepts, including London-based Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Raptor and Campanja. From a blog catering to the Indian diaspora in 2013, she has steered POPxo, which is branded as “The Desi Girl’s Guide To Life & Love”, to unprecedented heights.
Today, her website boasts over 10.8 Mn unique users per month and is backed by the likes of IDG Ventures, Kalaari Capital and GREE Ventures. Added to that, POPxo’s YouTube channel has amassed nearly 800K subscribers, in less than two years with many of the videos raking in millions of views. This is a testimony to the quality of content and the marketing strategies the company has adopted so far.
In an exclusive AMA with Inc42, Priyanka Gill speaks about the digital content business, her love for digital media, and how consistency and moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
Popxo And The Business Of Content
Question: Creating quality video content that resonates with your audience is a challenging task. Focussing solely on content for women makes the job even tougher. How did POPxo manage to crack the code of marketing video marketing?
Priyanka Gill: Creating text or video or social media content is always a challenge. The reason why we have been able to create over 2,000 pieces of content which include 150 videos, over 800 stories and a large number of social media graphics obviously takes a large set of people. We do it well because we keep certain things in mind. Firstly we are about the real women. So we have certain things we believe in and as you said we don’t drop down from here. It’s all relatable content, we don’t assume she is a rich woman who can afford to spend one lakh on a dress. Some of our audience is like that; a lot of it is not. So it’s all about assuming this equality and creating content for real women.
The other thing we focus is on data. Since we put out so much content every month, we constantly look on what’s working, what’s not and try and find trends in that. Then of course, it’s backed by this giant distribution strategy. And that is what gets us the views. Our videos have been phenomenal. On Facebook, we are the seventh largest video player in the country and we got 178 Mn video views last month.
Question: In an earlier interaction with Inc42, you mentioned that monetisation was one thing that is directly built into the ethos of the company. Can you explain to our viewers what you mean by that statement and how did you accomplish it?
Priyanka Gill: I think as a startup entrepreneur, making money is very important. Especially, for a content company, that’s the first question you ask. Fine, your reach is fantastic, your growth curve is fantastic but how do you make money? And that is something we have addressed since the inception of the company. And it’s a challenge that we kind of live for every single day. Given that we are the largest platform for women in the country online, brands which want to access that user base, we are pretty much their largest choice online. So that has made it easier for us to make money. The other thing is we constantly look at new ways to do that. So we recently launched Plixxo which is our influencer management platform. Brands love attracting influencers and we act as an aggregator for over 600 bloggers for them.
Question: You have experimented with localised content in the past. However, it didn’t take off the way you expected. Given that women and girls of tier II cities constitute a major portion of your reader base, are you considering creating content in regional languages again?
Priyanka Gill: Well yes, we stopped publishing new content for POPxo Hindi. But we literally restarted in a stealth mode right now. So we hired a small Hindi team again and we are beginning to take on the vernacular languages.
Question: What is POPxo’s differentiating factor from other websites and channels in digital media?
Priyanka Gill: The first thing is scale, we do everything at great scale. As I mentioned, we create a lot of content which is a big differentiator. The other thing is we believe in looking at data all the time and the content that people might like. So that sets us apart too.
POPxo, Women, And Being A Female Entrepreneur
Question: According to a recent World Bank report, India ranks 120th among 131 nations in women workforce. Less than 20% of all urban workers in the country are women. POPxo, on the other hand, boasts of 85% female workforce. Does this come from a conscious decision to empower women in the workplace?
Priyanka Gill: I think we have around 80 women employees right now. There are a couple of factors in this. Firstly you have a company started by two female founders, the content is for women. So the best employee pool who would understand that would be women. But why they have all stayed on? I think it’s because of the environment. Obviously, by definition, it’s an extremely female-friendly place to work in, And it’s fun!
I think about your point on fewer women in Indian workforce, I think flexibility is important-be it men or women. Employers need to create environments where that workforce is feeling comfortable. What’s encouraging is that the average age of employees at POPxo is around 25. So we have a lot of young, bright energetic women working here.
Question: How has your journey been and what were your challenges as a female entrepreneur?
Priyanka Gill: I believe that my challenges as an entrepreneur are the same as any male entrepreneur. For all entrepreneurs, male or female, it’s a difficult journey; it’s stressful and fun at the same time.
Question: How did your life change before and after POPxo?
Priyanka Gill: It’s been a roller coaster. I like to think that I had a life before and I don’t anymore! I come to work at night, in the morning. If I am lucky, I leave in the evening. I have two kids and I seem them on the weekends at the moment. I think work-life balance is a myth but I am having a really good time.
Question: Do you think India needs more women entrepreneurs?
Priyanka Gill: Of course India definitely needs more women entrepreneurs. Women have their own strengths, we are good at multitasking and we kind of think of on our feet.
Surviving The Cut Throat Digital Media Business
Question: How does POPxo survive in the cutthroat digital media business?
Priyanka Gill: We survive just by being better, by being faster and bigger, and by being the first go to market with everything we have. I think we do a pretty good job of that.
Question: How will POPxo breakeven?
Priyanka Gill: We do hope to break even this year. And we have lots of new initiatives planned. We just launched something called the POPxo Beautybox which was our partnership with My Envy Box for a new subscription box that really did well. The other thing we launched was the POPxo digital magazine. So we are taking the production quality which a digital magazine has and applying the reach of a digital platform to see how that works out. For instance, our wedding magazine will allow users to shop at the same as you read it.
Question: What do you love most about digital media?
Priyanka Gill: For me I think, it’s the scale. The sheer fact that we can put out a story and it will be seen by millions of women and hopefully it will impact millions of women. That for me is the best thing about digital media.
Question: India has some of the lowest eCPM rates in the world. For example, YouTube eCPM in India averages at around $3 versus $9-$12 in the US for the same types of video. How has this disparity affected POPxo’s growth?
Priyanka Gill: Because of this disparity, we are not able to rely on pure page views as a source of revenue. If I had the same amount of traffic sitting in the US, obviously I would be making a lot more money because my ad dollars will be better. It has just spurred us to kind of focus on more sources of revenues. And I am hoping that it catches on and this disparity reduces. Till then, we will have to look at more sources of revenues.
Question: Do you think brands are blindly spending on traditional channels and do not know the power of the digital media?
Priyanka Gill: Absolutely. Magazines are fantastic. Every time I get featured in a magazine, I feel good about it. It gives me a bump. But what magazines lack is reach. If you put POPxo’s reach on top of the reach of all magazines in the country, it will be bigger. And brands should recognise and understand that. Today the consumer is living on her mobile phone. And to reach them, you have to do so by the mobile phone and platforms that are prevalent there.
Behind The Scenes At POPxo
Question: How do you make the content for your videos?
Priyanka Gill: There is a whole art and science to it because we really believe that you just can’t wake up in the morning and shoot 150 videos every day. So there’s a whole ideation process, a lot of things happen behind the scenes. Scripts have to go through, we have multiple editors and content meetings and production meetings. So each video goes through that process. That’s how we continue to maintain quality all the time.
Question: What is your plan in branded content?
Priyanka Gill: Well branded content is a large part of how we make money. We have been doing that from the beginning. We work with almost 200 brands which use POPxo’s reach to create and distribute branded content. And that has been working out well for us so far.
Question: Do you read a lot? Could you share some of the books you have read?
Priyanka Gill: Yes I do read a lot. My goal this year is to read 100 books. I think I am slightly behind but I am looking to catch up this long weekend. Zero To One from Peter Thiel is amazing; The Hard Thing About Hard Things is my bible. I almost read that every book. The Art Of War is a tiny book but relevant for entrepreneurs. One should read as much as possible.
Priyanka’s journey to start digital media company POPxo all stemmed from her passion to create content that women enjoyed reading. Today, the platform reaches over 10.8 Mn unique users every month. So her advice to entrepreneurs who want to follow their passion is simply doing it. Priyanka Gill believes if you have an idea, just take a shot. Just having a plan doesn’t make anything happen ever. The key is to take the first stop, then the next, and the next. If you don’t stop, then you will actually succeed!