Music has evolved over the centuries and in this age of the internet, evolution is on at a rapid pace. Along with all the good, the internet has also been blamed partly for the burgeoning piracy in the space. The problem has been especially acute in India owing to a lack of stringent measures against digital media piracy.
The growth of the music streaming sites has brought some relief to the industry and Saavn is one name that really pops up when one talks about such services in India. Deemed as the Spotify for India, Saavn has been really popular and claims to have more than 10 million users with it. Here, we catch up with Vinodh Bhat, CEO and Co-Founder of Saavn. Vin, as he’s popularly known, takes us through the birth and rebirth of Saavn, its current offerings and future plans. Vin further delves into partnership with internet giants, competition and gives away his key learnings from his entrepreneurial journey for others who wish to tread the path of the entrepreneur.
YS: How did Saavn come to be? What was your moment of reckoning with Saavn?
Vin: Well, that’s a long story. We started Saavn in 2006 under the banner of BODVOD networks and had partnered with a couple of media houses, such as Hungama. We initially had a B2B offering and till about 2009, where we partnered with several premier distribution platforms, including Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and Verizon FiOS. We did different things during this time. For example, we tried our hand at streaming legal movies when we distributed Bollywood films on Hulu, for online viewers in the USA. Saavn also partnered with YouTube to offer free, legal Bollywood films online for a global audience.
Come 2009, we had shifted our focus to being a destination for Bollywood music. We launched Saavn.com, which was a free music streaming service, with features like playlists. This was a shift from our initial B2B approach to a B2C approach. We re-launched Saavn.com as an independent entity in 2010, with a revamped site and with better features and that is the Saavn that you see today. Saavn.com has over 2 million songs in 77 languages.
YS: Saavn also has a strong mobile presence via its mobile apps across various platforms. When did you identify the potential of the mobile platform? What according to you is the secret of Saavn’s apps’ success?
Vin: We had experience in working with the mobile platform before Saavn.com. In 2007, we brought Bollywood ringtones and ring-back tones and Bollywood music videos and films to Verizon’s network. We always understood the potential of the mobile platform. As far as the success of the app goes, I think a lot of thought has been put into the design and user experience. Along with a really good service, if the user finds an app very easy to use and it’s good to look at, it’s bound to succeed, and I think that’s what happened with Saavn.
YS: What’s your view on newer online music streaming services? What is Saavn doing to keep itself ahead of the competition?
Vin: We believe competition is good for the marketplace, and it drives us to be the first and best for our listeners. We are proud of our incomparable track record with advertisers and have worked with major brands like Airtel, Vodafone, Samsung, Nokia, Hyundai, Pantene, Lay’s, and Domino’s Pizza. We also have an amazing team of passionate and talented people who have built world-class products at Yahoo, Twitter, Google, HBO, Times Group, NDTV, and Airtel. Streaming music to end listeners is not by any means a unique idea, and it’s the chemistry, pace and decisions of the team executing that really makes the difference.
YS: Saavn has partnered with internet giants like Google and Facebook. Tell us a little more about these partnerships.
Vin: Saavn is the only South Asian digital music company that has partnerships with both Google and Facebook, and is the most popular Facebook app for South Asian music. We were selected us as Facebook’s first truly global Open Graph partner last year. Saavn’s deep integration with Facebook enables Saavn listeners (who are logged in via Facebook) to share and discover new music with their friends, instantaneously, to their Facebook Timelines, Tickers, and News Feeds. You can see how it works here.
We’ve seen incredible growth in traffic and downloads since partnering with Facebook earlier this year – monthly music streams have grown by over 200%, daily referral traffic from Facebook has grown 30 times, and Saavn has generated close to 2.3 billion impressions on Facebook. All of these efforts inure to the benefit of our record label partners. As guardians of their their content, we are constantly looking at innovative partnerships to continue scaling our listener base.
YS: What are some key learnings from your entrepreneurial journey that you would like to share with our readers?
- Choose something you can be passionate about in the long run. Our job is never done; our products never stop evolving – and if you’re doing well, you’ll find yourself in the same position. There are going to long hours and setbacks, and your passion and focus will get through the tough times.
- Seek out advisers with experience in your industry – they’ll know your business better than you do
- Choose team members who smarter than you and care about your product as much as you do – they’ll keep you going when the going gets tough.
- Lastly, stick with your instincts – if you’ve achieved the above, they’ve served you well. Go with your gut, even if it means taking a risk.
- Make sure you’re solving a meaningful problem. There are plenty of ideas out there, but few gain traction. Don’t start a company to make money or be an opportunist; rather, start a company to focus on solving real problems for real people.
Treat yourself to good Indian music with Saavn.
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