Kunal Phalak, Associate Director | Ishita Shah, Investment Analyst posted on 30 Apr 2021
This month, our Vertex Ventures SEA & India team chats with Bisu Lalchand from KukuFM. KukuFM is India’s leading audio platform where users can enjoy listening to audio books, stories, podcasts, news and courses across a wide variety of genres and regional languages. Vertex Ventures SEA & India invested in KukuFM’s Series A round and have been working closely with the team.
Read more to find out what inspired Bisu, Vinod and Vikas to start KukuFM and their startup journey thus far.
How did you get the idea for KukuFM?
Our inspiration was actually a fairly personal one – when we noticed people around us wanted to consume non-music content while commuting or exercising. We tried podcasts in English, but faced a serious challenge – they didn't have relevant context to our lives and seemed foreign. This made us realize the huge gap in demand and supply. KukuFM was born with a simple premise: to offer new, promising and diverse audio content in Indian languages. We wanted our users to get away from their screens and enjoy passive audio consumption for information and entertainment.
What is the toughest problem you are solving for your customers?
‘Making life better off screen’ is the vision that drives us. We aspire to provide engaging and entertaining content that is easily accessible and relevant to our users. Our users love us for it and they spend an average of 50 minutes listening every day, which requires an extensive library. This was a challenge for us initially when we had limited content to offer. Over time, we engaged with our users, and build the necessary tools for our creators and artists. This resulted in an artist content driven community which helped expand our platform’s content offerings. Today, providing the best and most relevant content has become our top priority.
Was the business impacted by COVID-19? What have been the greatest learnings which helped you navigate the business during these tough times?
We started working from home (WFH) before the nationwide lockdown was officially announced. Being an early-stage company, setting up WFH arrangements for the entire team overnight was a challenge.
However, the pandemic created new business opportunities. With more people spending time online, we witnessed a surge in usage. We also noticed a shift in people’s listening behaviour. KukuFM users are inherently aspirational and they are looking for quality, motivating and invigorating content. At the same time, content has to be delivered in an engaging format. This ranges from listening to audiobooks and autobiographies, motivational content about personal experiences and learnings, meditation or stress relief.
The pandemic also opened new opportunities for us to better engage our users – where more people were sharing direct feedback which helped us identify the value we were delivering. Our users requested for better content, and offered to pay a subscription for it. Looking back, it seems obvious that a segment of our users will be willing to pay. We were pleasantly surprised at the response from our users since we launched subscriptions in December 2020. Over the last four months, we offered single category subscriptions and accumulated 15K paid subscribers. We are just getting started and plan to roll out these subscription offerings to the vast majority of our 1.4M monthly active user base across different categories.
What has been the highlight of the entrepreneurial journey so far?
We derive immense pleasure from the impact we create for our users. It is a joy to participate in user feedback sessions and truly satisfying to hear high quality user feedback. We realized the feedback loop between our platform and users are among the strongest in the industry - where our users derive value from KukuFm, and for that reason, they provide us feedback. That puts us in a very strong position to build and ship better products. For instance, we recently added new features to our app to serve India’s visually-impaired population, which is unique to us.
A couple of KukuFM users have also shared anecdotes highlighting the difference KukuFM brings to their lives:
What are some challenges that you’ve faced?
Building a Team
Finding people who believe in your vision and consistently giving their best is especially tough, when you haven’t built a brand or offer them the perks and salaries that big companies do. But when you find them, you can see results very quickly because they own the responsibilities. It is crucial to have the founding team believe in the idea and commit to it.
This is one of the biggest challenges, especially in the beginning, as an entrepreneur plays many roles. Your only wish will be time - more and more time. You have to keep yourself from burning out as it may impact your productivity. But through this process, you learn a lot such as delegating efficiently, prioritising tasks, and most importantly, people management across all levels.
What is one thing about each of the co-founders that you admire?
A crucial decision in the startup journey is picking your co-founders as this can make or break your company’s future. It is vital to pick co-founders you are comfortable with discussing anything.
We have known each other since college, and we complement each other in terms of skillset and values. We have seen each other grow in the last decade and have taken different paths and roles. What I admire about my co-founders are their values and passion towards approaching problems.
Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those starting fresh from college?
There is no silver bullet for success and nothing happens overnight. Building a business takes time and a lot of hard work, hence it is important to partner with the right set of people be it co-founders, team members or investors. It is critical to have passion for what you are doing as your resilience and patience will be tested. Always keep challenging yourself and your assumptions. Be open to new ideas and learnings. Lastly, one essential skill to keep refining is your communication skills – the ability to convey your ideas, thoughts and be an effective storyteller can be very handy in the entire journey from recruiting to fundraising.
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Our Vertex Ventures SEA & India team chats with Bisu Lalchand from KukuFM. KukuFM is India’s leading audio platform where users can enjoy listening to audio books, stories, podcasts, news and courses across a wide variety of genres and regional languages. Vertex Ventures SEA & India invested in KukuFM’s Series A round and have been working closely with the team.
Here’s what inspired Bisu, Vinod and Vikas to start KukuFM and their startup journey thus far.