In the coming days, I will share our experience in building MyToday and the decisions we made at some of the challenging moments in the business. We haven’t got everything right, but when I look back at the past two years, we definitely made more right decisions than wrong ones. And in a growing business, that can make all the difference.
It is amazing to see how quickly business plans evolve. Making one is important only so that one knows one pathway to the future. There are many more roads – and they may lead to different futures. As a business, it is important to make decisions which constantly create better situations than one finds oneself in.
We found ourselves in one situation two years ago. We had launched a mobile portal hoping that it will become central to the lives of millions of people in India quickly. A few months after launch, we quickly realised that reaching out to the small percentage of people who had GPRS activated mobiles was going to be very difficult. This, combined with the fact with 3G still seemed a distant future, meant that either we could wait for a long time, or try something else.
It was then that I asked my team – what would we do if there were no constraints of any kind, financial or otherwise. What could we do to create a service that would grow and become central to the lives of millions. One of the ideas that emerged from the brainstorming session: free SMS subscriptions. At that time, it seemed like an extremely dangerous path to tread on given that each outgoing SMS cost 45 paise (about 1 US cent). If we became successful, we could die under our own weight!
That is when I made a call – let’s do it. There were a couple factors which weighed in my mind when I made that decision almost exactly two years ago. One, SMS pricing was a function of volume and the cost to carry an SMS on the mobile network was extremely low (in fact, close to zero). So, there was potential to bring down the cost of an SMS substantially if we became successful in building a user base. Second, we didn’t really have ay other alternative if we wanted to be a player in the mobile data space — we couldn’t possibly wait for an indeterminate period waiting for GPRS usage to grow or 3G to happen. Both of these were beyond our control.
So it was that we quickly turned around our publish-subscribe platform (made for RSS feeds to be consumed on the mobile web) to support SMS. I was still somewhat skeptical but at least we were going to do something where we had much greater control on our own destiny. Our team had done some work on SMS — despite my opposition — over the past few months, so it was easy to get a solution going quickly. (Till then, I could not imagine what one could with just 160 characters of text.)
The first day that I actually experienced the service (receiving cricket updates when I was outside the office) I was a complete convert. And, that was how MyToday Dailies was born. Today, MyToday has over 3.7 million subscribers and 11+ million subscriptions, all via word-of-mouth. It is India’s only media on mobile. It has started us on an amazing pathway of things that we can do in the mobile space. And it emerged because something we had originally planned for didn’t work — and we were smart enough to realise that we needed to change direction quickly.