Sri Ramakrishnan on how he built Nyusu, a video news platform, by getting out of his comfort zone

"Forty is a magical age. You’ve lived half your life and you begin to wonder where you are going​."

I knew Sri from his time as Managing Editor of India’s ET Now. I’ve always been intrigued by his ideas. So it wasn’t a surprise when he broke the news over dinner one night in Mumbai that he was building a video news startup.

Nyusu is simply explained as this: 1-minute news videos, 6 languages for the Indian audience, delivered straight to a smartphone app, in a format that’s easily shared.

How long has Nyusu been running now?

We incorporated the company in October of 2015 and launched the apps in March of 2016. ​

Tell me, what drove you to the point where you said “Fuck it, let’s do it”?

Forty is a magical age. You’ve lived half your life and you being to wonder where you are going​. Then I read the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. My life and whatever I was doing seemed so inconsequential ​in the larger scheme of things. So, the question was, “Should I continue in my comfort zone or try something new that I really wanted to do?” before my time runs out. The answer was quite obvious.​

You had a solid career — Washington Post, Business Today and ET Now. What was it that you wanted that a traditional newsroom could no longer provide?

Both print and television are terrible at empowering the news consumer. TV, for example, expects you to tune in when it has a show going. But the reality is that the ware we call media has changed and so has the consumer. The consumer wants power over what he consumes, where and when. For Nyusu, there was a big opportunity in regional Indian languages, where more and more people were migrating to smartphones but didn’t have custom content in the language of their choice.​

How did your family and friends react to your decision to branch out on your own?

​My wife was cool with it, but mom was horrified and continues to be so! Many of my friends could relate to what I was doing, but maybe they lacked my level of madness to actually do it! ​

Looking back now, what do you wish you learned in the corporate world before becoming an entrepreneur?

​As journalists, most of us are great at creating content. But when you reinvent yourself as a journalist-entrepreneur, you must acquire the skill to monetise your content. That is, if yours is a for-profit venture. So acquire business knowledge while you are still in the newsroom. In my case, it was easier because I have always been a business journalist​.

What’s been the hardest part of the journey so far?

​One tends to underestimate ​the amount of work that is required to get a startup going. One can get overwhelmed when the team is small and young. In my case, I’ve had to learn quite a lot on the technology side (from adaptive bit rate streaming to php!) and learn how to negotiate like a penny pincher.

You’re fund-raising now. How’s that going?

​We have signed a term sheet with one institutional investor and we have a few angels on board. We hope to close funding in another month or so. But there is no doubt that the environment for fund raising is much softer today than what it was even a year ago.​

In a nutshell, what are you pitching?

​C​ontrol, convenience and choice ​to video news consumers on digital platforms, from mobile app to social media to YouTube.​

Jeff Bezos or Jack Ma comes up to you and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea in this space. What is it?

Nyusu. (Laughs)

If we’re sitting at a bar a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for you, what would be some of those things you would want to celebrate?

A million app downloads and steady revenue.​

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from your users?
​Nyusu has a rating of 4.6 (on 5) on the Google Play​ ​Store. So one user says, “Nice and crisp. ‘Wouldn’t mind paying”. A news consumer saying he is willing to pay is a huge compliment! Of course, we also get abused for the pre-roll ads we run on the app!​ But then, there are no free lunches.

As a professional, what scares you about the future of the media space?

​As a professional and as a citizen of this world, what worries me about media is that it is getting shriller and shriller, with decreasing emphasis on facts. There’s way too much unverified content circulating on the internet. ​Social media in particular is getting nasty. Thoughtful people who measure what they say are generally not active on social media and the ones who shoot first and think later get all the space. As a result, there appears to be less room for nuanced, considered discussion on almost any topic.

Last one. What advice would you give a media professional who’s thinking of leaving the traditional newsroom to set up a business?

​A) Pay off your debts first. Build a nest egg that assures your family the standard of living they are used to. B) Be prepared for a lonely struggle. People you considered friends will be too busy to return your calls. Nothing wrong with it — at least from their perspective — but you should be prepared for it. C) ​Have a team. If you are sold enough on an idea to risk your life, then you should be able to sell the idea to your friends in the newsroom. Ensure the skills are complementary. Media today is all about technology. So have a hardcore techie on your team as a co-founder. D) Finally, persist. You will fail not just every day, but multiple times a day. Pick yourself up and keep going.


 

This interview is part of a series of stories around the journey of entrepreneurial journalism and the different ideas that could help build sustainable models.

We want to showcase both the ideas and the courage that go into breaking new ground in the business of media. If you know of someone who should be interviewed here (or yourself), please drop me an email: alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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