No Shortcuts features the interviews of 15 of the most successful Indian founders of the current generation. An excerpt from Interview of Instablogs founder, Nandini Maheshwari:

Instablogs was founded in October 2005 by a couple – Ankit Maheshwari and Nandini Rathi. What started out as a blog network of 50 blogs around niche content, soon added a conversational platform based on news from around the world with a collaborative journalism approach. Breaking even in five months, Instablogs drew two million monthly page views and half a million dollars in yearly revenue by 2008. Nandini’s innovative marketing brain and Ankit’s technology expertise helped create a content platform that was successfully competing with the high-profiled US blogs. Key decisions such as building their own back-end platform and relying heavily on analytics paid dividends in growing the content as well as the community. Instablogs was later renamed as Instamedia, and it raised US$4 million from the Times of India group.

The down-to-earth husband–wife duo overcame a lot of criticism and lack of experience to create data-driven content marketing strategies that are, till date, followed in the blogosphere. Generating more AdSense revenues than bigger media houses and becoming the third largest YouTube channel in India, Instablogs garnered commendable feats to its credit before winding down operations in 2012. Although not the biggest of exits, Instablogs story throws a sparkling spotlight on the endless possibilities of a persistent and resourceful mind.

Nandini was pursuing her CA studies but loved reading blogs, and Ankit was working with small companies, getting a taste of code, design and databases. They married and dreamed of doing a start-up someday. That day arrived soon.

“In my college days, I had launched a web directory called Webatlas which made good money for every listing. That was my first online start-up. I was charging few dollars for every listing, but then it got banned by Google due to excessive link building. This failure taught me a very important lesson—to never do any business that is totally dependent on Google,” Nandini reminisces.

“I started following a blog network called Weblogs Inc. which was later acquired by AOL. That was the only blog network on the Internet at that time and it was based in the USA. I was particularly following their luxury blog called Luxist. It was in my daily reads. And I decided to start a luxury blog of my own. I discussed it with Ankit and it turned out that he was also interested in content but he had a different idea in mind. He convinced me to launch a blog network instead.”

They launched Instablogs in 2005 with two parts: One of the parts, www.instablogs.com, was the citizen journalism platform and the other part comprised of few blogs with their own URLs.

We didn’t have the budget to advertise in order to bring traffic, and social media wasn’t like it is today.

Since no one knew what blogs exactly were back in those days, Nandini had to reply on her creativity to get the initial traction. “We didn’t have the budget to advertise in order to bring traffic, and social media wasn’t like it is today. So we devised a PR strategy to promote our launch. The first strategy was to create content for each site beforehand so that when we do our public launch, our visitors will have interesting content to read. The second strategy was to make an outreach to all the popular bloggers. We created a mailing list and sent out our press release to everyone on the list. The list had bloggers, SEO people, other contacts we made from forums, etc. When we finally launched, reactions started pouring in.”

“Few people were ignorant, few were very critical. One of the harshest reviews labelled us as cheap Indian writers on steroids for publishing so many blogs on every site. But we didn’t lose hope. We gathered all those critical reviews and created an interesting comic strip. The strip showed people gathered around an elephant; someone was pulling the elephant’s tail, someone his ears, and saying what they think about that part. The idea was inspired from that joke about blind people feeling an elephant by touching one part and describing what they think an elephant is based on their partial experiences. We wrote the stuff that critics had commented about us in the blurbs and then we personally acknowledged every single critique very politely. We told them that we might not be good but we are going to deliver. The idea was to show that they are missing the bigger picture about us,” Nandini smiles.

We told them that we might not be good but we are going to deliver.

“Interestingly, that worked out great! Our critics ended up feeling bad that they had said all those mean things about us and we ended up networking with a lot of people because of that.”

Excerpted with permission from No Shortcuts by Nistha Tripathi, published by Sage Publications, Pages 308, Rs 395.

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