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"If you don’t grab consumers’ attention in 2 secs, you’ve lost them"

Day 1 of Goafest 2022 saw Ankush Sachdeva, Co-Founder & CEO, Sharechat & Moj, and Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison Media & OOH, Madison World, engaged in a meaningful conversation, highlighting the mission that Sachdeva, a Messiah for the creator and influencer community, is on. During the conversation, Sachdeva spoke about how short-form content is going to be the future of content consumption. While addressing the advertisers, he said, “If you do not catch the attention of the consumer in 2 seconds, you have lost them.” He also emphasised on the advantage of reaching the mass audience using regional content.

At the outset, Vikram Sakhuja called Sachdeva a “new age rockstar”, not quite 30, but already an unicorn, and asked him how he started out on his journey.

It all started with Sachin Tendulkar!

Ankush Sachdeva reminisced, “We had a very interesting start from IIT Kanpur. I and my co-founders were in college, when we hit upon this idea of Sharechat. Before Sharechat, we had tried 14 different products, in fact, we had launched the most popular dating app, StillLive, in IIT Kanpur. We were building a product called Opinio, a debating app, while I was in my fourth year. We had built a website and were trying to drive traffic to Opinio. But it was not working. So, I tried to take the link of our website and spam it into different Facebook groups in the hope of getting some traffic to the website. It was then that I came across something very interesting. There was a post in a Sachin fan club on Facebook that stated, ‘Main bana raha hoon, Sachin ka Whatsapp group, apna phone number dalke’ – and that simple post had received 50,000 phone numbers. Imagine, people were putting their real phone numbers in a public Facebook group. Out of curiosity, I took around 1,000 phone numbers from that comment box and put them in my WhatsApp, creating 10 WhatsApp groups and naming them as Sachin Photos, Sachin Videos, etc. When I checked my phone after a hour or so, I found that every single group had hundreds of unread messages. People were sending Sachin’s photos and videos – those were random strangers who were part of a WhatsApp group and they were super happy sharing content. That was what led us to start thinking that people are hungry for content. How did they get into WhatsApp groups to somehow get content? That’s not how content distribution happens in India. Thus, we decided to build Sharechat, which is a very simple app that allows people to consume content in their own language.”

From English to Hindi and beyond

Sakhuja here noted that Sharechat started out in English, but now they have taken it off. He wanted to know the story behind that.

Sachdeva concurred that the first version of Sharechat had English, saying, “When we launched the product, almost 70% of our users, when given an option, picked English. But once they went inside the app, the engagement was super low, which surprised us as we thought that our English content was not that bad. So, how can our engagement be so low? We actually used to call people who had chosen English to understand how they liked the product. To our surprise, these guys had zero English vocabulary, but when given an option between English and Hindi, they were still picking English. There was some aspirational value to picking that language they did not even know, when given an option. We decided that people want Hindi content, but they will not give us a signal, so let’s just hide English.”

Sakhuja then noted that in today’s day and age, there are about 150-200 million active users on Sharechat. “At this point in time, is there a reason for people to co-exist on both Sharechat and Facebook?” he asked.

Sachdeva pointed out that Facebook or FB Blue, or the original Facebook product, had started as a friend graph for people to consume private or public content. “We fundamentally started with public content, with a strong difference being that we never relied on any friend graph or holograph. Our fundamental thesis was that machine learning is strong enough, that we can recommend to you the right content, without even getting into the whole holograph space. Our journey starts from the 100 million content posted on Sharechat in the last 90 days. We are smart enough to figure out what you want at a particular point of time. That’s a very fundamental shift in how digital platforms have evolved and that’s our core focus as well as a big differentiator from Facebook as well.”

When asked whether he saw the two co-existing, Sachdeva replied, “I think they are very focused on holograph, which we fundamentally don’t believe in. We will build a world class recommendation system, which will give people content, aggregate all the public information and give it to the users even before they are searching about it, that’s our mission and we are focused on that. You will have ten different apps coming and going.”

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