Onward, upward

The Ken raises $1.5M in its Series A Round

Subscribers: 1. Conventional Wisdom: 0

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The Ken just raised a Series A investment of $1.5 million, led by Omidyar Network. We’re thrilled to bits at having on board a set of mindful and long-term investors who truly understand the importance of unbiased journalism and evolving media business models.

Not many believed we’d last beyond a year, because the conventional wisdom held that Indian readers would never pay premium prices to read any kind of journalism. The same conventional wisdom also held that even if readers would pay to subscribe, they’d demand more than just one story a day, because that’s what they were used to getting from other sources. Lastly, this conventional wisdom, by now a clinical schizophrenic personality if one had to visualize it, maintained that we’d never have enough companies, subjects or ideas to run in-depth long-form features every day.

What truly makes us click our heels is the sweet irony of announcing it today. Because yesterday was exactly two years to the day that The Ken published its very first story, “How Rocket Internet Got Pushed Out of GoJavas.” (Long story: we got sued for it, earned valuable trust from readers for our investigative reporting, and are still fighting it in India’s Supreme Court.)

The antibodies that rushed to our aid were our subscribers. They wrote in to us. They tweeted their support. They shared our story. And most importantly, once we launched our subscriptions a few months later in October, they subscribed.

This funding round is thus, three things: (a) a validation of our subscriber’s support for our journalism, (b) fuel for us to double down on building a world-class journalism organization powered by them, and (c) a resounding rejection of the conventional wisdom prevalent in India.

SUBSCRIBERS, SUBSCRIBERS, SUBSCRIBERS

The Ken’s publishing cadence has remained largely unchanged since October 2016 – we publish just one story every week day. In the 20 months since we launched, we’ve published over 450 original and deeply-reported stories. Many of our peers would have published ten times as many stories in the same period, perhaps even a hundred.

Why do our subscribers pay us a premium (an annual subscription to The Ken costs as much as subscribing to two of India’s leading business newspapers, The Economic Times and Mint) for fewer stories? I’ve had enough conversations and email exchanges with hundreds of them to know the answer – because they value depth, analysis and an informed point of view over mere quantity. Because in their careers and jobs and companies, they realize the value of clarity of thought, forward-thinking and unbiased analysis.

That is why they value The Ken for not overwhelming them with breathless me-too coverage of daily news, but instead taking time to report, analyze and narrate the most significant stories from Indian business. Whether they be our analysis of business models and VC funding games for startups; or stories we broke, often weeks or months in advance; or our comprehensive reportage on sectors like fintech or healthcare.

That is why even with a “strict paywall”, zero discounting and lack of marketing till date, we’ve managed to grow fast thanks to subscriber word-of-mouth. For the April-June quarter, our revenues were up 200% over the comparable period a year ago, and up 100% the immediately preceding quarter. We’ve also launched institutional subscription plans for companies and colleges, both of which are seeing very encouraging adoption. This allowed us to become cash-flow profitable in April this year, just 18 months after launching subscriptions.

Why then are we raising venture money? Because we’re clear that both our ambit and ambition are much larger than our current operations. So instead of continuing to play it slow and steady, we see the possibility to grow faster while continuing to keep long-term sustainability in mind.

This $1.5 million now gives us the confidence and resources to build a much more ambitious media organization, but one with subscribers still as its beating heart.

A WORLD-CLASS TEAM

From the four of us who started The Ken – me, Seema Singh, Ashish K. Mishra and Sumanth Raghavendra – we are now a talented and hardworking team of 18 spread across three cities. By next month, we will be two dozen.

I’m extremely proud of the fact that this is an incredibly diverse team. We have career journalists, book authors, engineers, crypto geeks, MBAs, chartered accountants, serial entrepreneurs, development economists and two biochemistry grads! This intellectual diversity is off the charts with respect to the media sector we’re part of, and one that we’ve painstakingly assembled.

A big use of our funding will be to expand this team by bringing on board more world-class writers, editors, UI designers, marketers, developers and product geeks. If you think you might be one of them, do drop us a note at [email protected].

THE RIGHT KIND OF VC MONEY

As chroniclers of business, we realize taking on venture funding represents a sea change for many organizations. We were lucky to have found a set of angel investors early on who gave us the security and freedom to build our product without thinking of revenue or profits.

But with VCs, the game is different. The number of times promising startups lose their way because they started chasing metrics that their VCs wanted, not what their business demanded.

We’re cognizant of this. Which is why we spent a lot of time identifying investors who were genuinely interested in the long-term success and sustainability of The Ken. Omidyar Network is arguably the best in that class. They are long on media. They have backed some of the best-known names in media globally. Every member of their team we’ve met till now has only been supportive of our vision. Other investors included Yuj Kutumb, the Family Foundation headed by Sid Yog, the Founder and Managing Partner of The Xander Group Inc., and a mix of existing and new angel investors.

Which brings me to the end of this Oscar speech-esque post. What exactly is our vision? We’ve never formally defined it. But now we have.

The Ken’s vision is to become a daily reading habit that make our readers feel smarter and happier.

And The Ken’s mission is to combine reportage, analysis, narration and product innovation to craft high-quality daily business journalism worth paying for.

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