The latest episode of Shark Tank India 2 was high on drama as it saw some inspirational stories come to the fore. Apart from the two American women co-founders who built a company in India from scratch, what caught the sharks’ attention was the hyperlocal content platform, STAGE.
STAGE was co-founded by the co-founders of WittyFeed, a content platform, which was shut down in 2018. However, it rose again like a phoenix in just a year.
A successful run
Now called Nukkad by STAGE, Indore-based WittyFeed was started in 2014 by entrepreneurs Vinay Singhal, Parveen Singhal, and Shashank Vaishnav. WittyFeed made videos and viral content with its traffic mainly driven by the social media platform Facebook. The company grew exponentially in four years to reach an annual revenue of Rs 40 crore with monthly traffic of 12 crore viewers.
The company had offices in different parts of the country and the world including Times Square. However, everything changed in November 2018. One day the co-founders woke up to find that they had been de-platformed by Facebook. This was because of the Cambridge Analytics scandal in which the British political consultancy firm was accused of purchasing millions of data of American citizens from Facebook to build a tool that influenced American voters.
“Of the 12 crore traffic, 6 crore viewership came from America which meant that several American voters were there on our platform,” said Vinay Singhal on Shark Tank.
Their page was wiped out overnight without any particular reason. For several weeks, they were in denial and even thought of fighting it off with Facebook but realised it was not a feasible option.
Everything fell apart after the incident as the company ceased but the co-founders had their expenses before them. The three of them admitted that they went into “depression” and had to seek therapy.
However, despite the huge rock placed in front of them, they refused to give up. Singhal said that they continued to give salaries to their employees until February 2019. When no cash was left, they conducted a town hall with the 90 employees.
“We told them that we will give them 25 per cent of their salary and double the rest of the amount and give them as equity in the company,” he said. Of the 90 employees, 54 agreed to come on board. Some even gave their savings worth Rs 1 lakh and more to infuse capital into the company.
“As an entrepreneur we didn’t want to believe that this was the climax of our story,” he said. It took them six months to ideate and come up with a new company, STAGE, which was launched on November 1, 2019.
STAGE rolls out Haryanvi and Rajasthani content. Since 2019, they have boarded over 1,000 local artists, and more than 300 hours of content with 1.3 lakh paid subscribers.
At Shark Tank India, STAGE raised Rs 3 crore in debt and equity at a valuation of Rs 250 crore from Peyush Bansal (CEO of Lenskart), Aman Gupta (Co-founder and CMO of boAt), and Namita Thapar (Executive Director, Emcure Pharmaceuticals). Other than the Shark Tank funding, the start-up is also backed by Better Capital, Blume Ventures, and other marquee investors.
And what happened to the employees who showed immense trust in the company when it was facing choppy waters? “They exited in 2020 with more than 2x returns,” Singhal smiled.