Bengaluru-based digital media startup YourStory recently filed its annual returns for the year ending March 2020. The company reported a topline of Rs 25 crore ($3.4 million). In a unicorn-obsessed startup world, where figures featuring tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars are passé, it might sound like a trivially small number.
But it is significant for two reasons.
Within the universe of digital media firms, $3.4 million is a very big number, especially so in India where new-age media firms have struggled to earn revenue. Reaching a multi-million-dollar revenue run rate is a commendable achievement.
For another, YourStory achieved this scale of revenue at near break-even. The company reported a loss of just Rs 16.5 lakh ($22,500). That’s less than 1% of the topline and mere inches away from profitability.
How did YourStory get here?
Where does it go from here?
What does YourStory’s story tell us about the broader Indian startup ecosystem?
The 10-year-old story to YourStory
YourStory was formally incorporated as a company on 18 July 2011, but the site first went live in October 2008 (under the yourstory.in domain). While ten years might not seem that long ago, the startup milieu then was far removed from the state today. There were a mere handful of startups, most founders were “crazy and hungry” and hadn’t even heard of the term “venture capital”. There were hardly any media firms focusing on startups. The mainstream media publications didn’t care much for startups, and there was just one blog called Pluggd.in (later known as NextBigWhat), that covered startups. Against this backdrop, Shradha Sharma, formerly with The Times of India, started YourStory with a modest goal: “help entrepreneurs who are not yet superstars tell their story”.
While YourStory started in an environment where startups were not yet “fashionable”, the company’s timing couldn’t have been better.
This was the time when the startup ecosystem in India was on the cusp of lift-off. Buoyed by the successes of startups like Flipkart and Inmobi and the emergence of the green shoots of large-scale VC funding, Indian startups were more ambitious than ever before. In Sharma, many Indian startup founders discovered a kindred soul—an easy-going, affable, scrappy entrepreneur. Rather than have to pitch to media agencies, founders were pleasantly surprised to see a media agency reach out to them proactively to give them a chance to get coverage. Not only did founders participate in telling their stories, many founders actively contributed pieces to YourStory pro bono as a way to pay it forward.