Pranay is Co-Founder & CEO of Chtrbox.com, India’s leading Influencer Marketing Agency & Technology Platform.
He was previously Co-Founder and COO of LetsIntern.com (India’s platform for college students to find internships) from 2010 until it’s acquisition in 2016. Under his leadership, LetsIntern became the world’s most visited internship platform, and catered to over 450,000 students & 23,000 Employers.
The IncubateIND team recently in an email interaction spoke with Pranay Swarup on the future of influencer marketing and making it as part of mainstream digital advertising budgets.
Tell us something about your idea and what market size are you looking at?
Chtrbox was started in 2016 with the purpose of making Influencer Marketing automated, intelligent and cost-effective. We offer brands and leading agencies access to 1,60,000+ mega, macro & micro influencers in India, all segmented across 30+ categories, unique data points, and content buckets. Through proprietary technology, Chtrbox enables deep data-driven influencer discovery, selection, management, performance tracking and payments. Our brand strategy teams further help brands meet marketing goals by either completely structuring their influencer marketing plans, and/or supporting their ongoing campaigns via engaging the right influencer media mix.
Influencer Marketing has grown exponentially in 2017-18 and this trend is expected to continue into 2019-2020, while it becomes a must-do for all brands that have a digitally savvy target audience .Digital spends have increased by 30% last year, taking digital to a 14% pie of overall marketing budgets. A large part of this will go into content creation rather than distribution alone. Consumers have become smarter, have built ad-blocks, and are looking for quality content. Influencer marketing will become an integral part of digital ad spends of businesses in the coming years. Influencer engagements will not be restricted to niche product and digital focused companies but will be seen across categories and industries. Companies will engage with their customers via Influencer Marketing not only in metropolitan cities, but also in tier 2& 3 cities.
What made you come up with this idea and how has the entrepreneurial journey been so far?
In 2010, I co-founded Letsintern.com, wherein we dedicated five years to assist students in India to get-going after their graduation. The platform expeditiously grew to become one of India’s leading mobile & web platform for college students to find internships and was acquired by a global assessment company in 2016. While running Letsintern, we had started to successfully leverage college students as mirco influencers to evangelize brands that they are passionate about. Organizing & triggering digital word of mouth in the right way, had tremendous opportunity. My passion for Advertising and Technology found form in Chtrbox, for which I connected with Rohit Raj, who is the cofounder of leading digital advertising agency, the Glitch. Roshan Abbas, MD Encompass and Gaurav Kapoor came on board as seed investors & Chtrbox was on its way.
In about two years, we’ve already come a long way. Our intelligent technology, vast & diverse access of 1,60,000+ Influencers from celebs, social media stars, mom bloggers, working professional early adopters and college influencers, puts us ahead of competition. We have an awesome team of 22 across Mumbai & Delhi. We’ve learnt tremendously, failed fast & built even faster. Chtrbox has since then worked with 65+ leading brands (including Adidas, Flipkart, Godrej, P&G, PrettySecrets, Puma, Rayban, Teach For India, Unilever, Zee & more) & agencies & media companies (GroupM, Ogilvy, 22TribalFeet, WAT Consult, Glitch, Encompass, etc) delivered high performing campaigns. We’re cash-flow positive and growing.
Currently, in terms of market penetration where do you stand and where do you wish to take it?
India has more than 500 million internet users. We’re currently only at a base of about 160,000 mega, macro & micro influencers in India. Our aim is to be able to help brands collaborate with the top 1 million social media users in India. The growth will happen mostly from micro influencers, and across regional languages too. We’ve built our technology to be language & geography agnostic. We are also establishing partnerships & hacks which open our networks to influencers from across the world.
How does AI help make influencer activities more effective and affordable?
With AI, at Chtrbox.com, we’re being able to make Influencer Discovery smarter by ranking millions of active social media users as per context, authenticity, engagement, earned media value, and 27 other key data-points. We use Machine Learning & Natural Language Processing as a continuous process that makes influencers’ data more reliable and structured. By . This helps us make influencer marketing more effective, affordable & relevant.
What are the challenges you face the most?
Building a startup is a true rollercoaster ride, and every day throws up a new challenge. However, one of the realities is the struggle to attract exceptional yet affordable talent that startups need and deserve. As a startup, you’re always competing with salary benchmarks set by unicorns & service-based development companies catering to international markets. Young talent need to have the passion and risk appetite to stick it out with promising start-ups to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When enough people have such foresight, that’s when an ecosystem flourishes & everyone wins.
A quote that keeps you going or motivates you through your entrepreneurial journey?
It was in the early days of starting my first company, Letsintern.com, that I came across Steve Job’s speech at Stanford about “connecting the dots”. The beautiful message behind what he said had clicked instantly, it was something I too had always internally echoed. Perhaps, all we need is someone else (and it helps if it was Steve Jobs!) telling you that it’s okay to not know everything, and it’s absolutely okay to follow instinct. It went something like this-
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Any specific advice for the new entrants in this space
When we started out Chtrbox in early 2016, we had an early movers’ advantage as a startup since influencer marketing was at a nascent stage in India. This allowed us to establish ourselves & take leadership in the space. It’s most important to understand the market opportunity & your potential product market fit very clearly before you venture into any business. That will help you set yourself apart from your competition and stay ahead of the game, something that we at Chtrbox have always strived to do.