Wondering what shade of lipstick to wear to work, Hiteshi Dehlal browses through social networking sites on her smartphone. Among the different updates on Facebook, her eye catches POPxo’s new piece: “The Best Lipsticks for Work and Why They Work!”
The eight-point listicle begins: “We all have those stunning reds and beautiful pinks, but the perfect nude — like the perfect man — is hard to find.” The 25-year-old, who was a network engineer in New Delhi before quitting to prepare for graduate studies in the US, is hooked. Reading through the list, she starts to write a mail to POPxo.
A few minutes later, Pradipta Sarkar, an editor with the online media house, opens the email in the office — which looks more like a studio — of POPxo in Hauz Khas Village, a nightlife destination in south Delhi.
Hiteshi is one of the 2,500 people who have shared this article and one of the 1.5 million unique users to have visited the website of “the second-largest fashion, beauty and lifestyle content website for women”.
So, which is the first? “Times Group’s iDiva might be slightly larger than us,” says Namrata Bostrom, co-founder and chief executive of the online publishing media house. “But it is difficult to tell, as the numbers are not reported publicly.”
Namrata, and Priyanka Gill, founder and editor-in chief, intend to improve POPxo’s rank to the first very soon.
The road to the cool office, loyal reader base and recent funding has had a few bumps along the way, though.
In 2012, Priyanka, a mother of two, contributor to publications such as Vogue India, The Guardian and Harper’s Bazaar, and an angel investor and advisor to European start-ups such as Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Campanja, Yieldify and Raptor Supplies, was looking to explore the online media space in India.
“I always knew I would do something in this space, and began observing the gaps in the market closely in 2012,” she said, adding she was looking for a co-founder. “Luckily, I met Namrata.”
An Oxford University and London Business School alumnus, Namrata confessed she was sceptical about the space to begin with. But soon, she was convinced. “We planned to focus on women — few other businesses were targeting this young and growing market then,” she said.
In mid-2013, they launched eStylista, an online website, targeting both Indian and non-resident Indians. “But we soon realised there were significant difference between the two,” says Namrata.
Also, the similarity between the name of their company and UK’s Stylist magazine made them rethink their business plan, and out came POPxo, in March 2014.
A curious name, it is derived from two sources: ‘POP’ from popular, and ‘xo’ from the symbol for ‘hugs and kisses’ in SMS language.
Business and funding
“Our product is content,” says Priyanka. “We are trying to address women ages of 18 and 35. We talk about the latest style trends, relationships, beauty and even aspects of feminine health, which are still considered taboo by some.”
She adds: “In only 10 months, we have touched 1.5 million unique visitors. This means there is a target.”
Designing their website on Android and optimising it to be used on cell phones has been a winning marketing strategy for POPxo. By 2016, India is expected to have two billion smartphone users, most accessing content on their mobiles.
“This is a really exciting media space,” adds Namrata.
For POPxo, the primary source of funding is advertising. For FY15, the company’s turnover is expected to be Rs 1-2 crore. POPxo also monetises by connecting the audience to brands and running flagged-off advertorial content.
“We are already working with top brands across fashion, beauty and lifestyle, including Myntra, Westside, Swarvoski, Lakme and Vero Moda,” said the chief executive.
The hard work seems to be paying off, with POPxo raising a second round of funding of Rs 3 crore from a group of angel investors, including Google India head Rajan Anandan and CaratLane.com’s Mithun Sancheti, in October last year.
Explaining why he chose to invest in POPxo, Hussein Kanji, one of the investors and partner at Hoxton Ventures, says: “It’s a great team. Priyanka is well known in London’s fashion circles and has deep insight in this space. I was one of the first she brainstormed the idea with. She then teamed up with Namrata, who I knew from when I was on the board of TELL (tellseries.com), when she was a graduate student. Namrata was super-smart and hard working; she was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford.”
Hoxton Ventures is a London-based early-stage venture fund that invests in technology start-ups.
A few niggling problems, however, remain. POPxo is yet to break even. “We hope to soon,” Namrata says, adding the company could have achieved this landmark had it not diversified into different products such as multi-lingual videos.
Hiring, too, has been a significant challenge. “The digital media sector in India is very new. Finding talent for editorial and marketing is a struggle,” says the CEO.
As of now, the team at POPxo has only 12 people — 10 women and two men. “We are trying to hire smart, young people, who can be trained quickly,” says Namrata.
POPxo’s investor Kanji feels scaling could be another challenge. “The biggest challenges is scale; how to get to 10 million and then, 100 million readers,” he says, adding recruiting the best team of writers, techies and editors, as well as exploring new media and different languages could be key.
“The second challenge,” he says, “is how to build this (POPxo) into a large business, where advertisers realise it is one of the best places to come to reach the Indian woman. That’s a bit of an education, as the market shifts from offline to online.”
Despite a significant shift in the advertorial spending in the sector towards the digital segment, it is an uphill task for a new outfit such as POPxo to draw advertisements. On the company’s plan to address this, Namrata says: “We provide relevant metrics to the brands advertising with us, as we track and analyse every bit of data.”
POPxo plans to touch a unique visitor base of 2.5 million by June this year. “Check with us then,” said Priyanka. "This sector is just beginning to open up, we are happy to be among the first movers here. It's an exhilarating time to be a digital media startup in India, the possibilities are boundless."
Area: Online media
Founders: Priyanka Gill, contributor to publications like Vogue India, The Guardian and Harper's Bazaar and Namrata Bostrom, a Rhodes scholar and an Oxford University and London Business School alumna
Turnover: Rs 1-2 crore this financial year
Reader base: 1.5 million
Recent funding: Rs 3 crore from a group of angel investors, including Google India head Rajan Anandan and CaratLane.com's Mithun Sancheti, in October last year
The greatest thing for digital content is its shareability. Mille-nnials are accessing content on multiple devices, so it's a good time for all those blogging/writing about light content that can be easily accessed. Also, people increasingly go online to diagnose any minor medical ailments or seek home remedies - so the beauty section of all consumer-based webpages does well.
What sets POPxo apart from all the other pages that keep popping up is its specific target audience - young, female, cosmopolitan, who has grown up on a steady diet of teen editions of international magazines or a refinery29 but is now looking for Indian references in the listicles.
POPxo has done very well in creating an identity for themselves in an environment where pages are launched and abandoned every day. Its biggest strength is its social media integration. The blog and the instagram seem symbiotic, as one feeds off the other.
The next step should be to head in the direction of pages like The Coveteur. For that, they'll need to maintain a healthy balance between easy breezy articles and lengthier (say 900 words) articles that pull readership and encourage engagement, rather than first-time readers.
Shigorika Singh, features editor,Fashion Forward Trends Magazine