Qpeka aims to be the YouTube for written content

Believe it or not, the concept of papers, pens and books is fading away as we are embracing new technologies. Subsequently, the market for digital reading is growing. Even though physical publishing remains the Holy Grail for Indian authors and readers, it is an unavoidable truth that internet is killing the time people spend reading a physical copy.

On analysing this trend, Abhishek Barari and Rahul Shelke made an attempt to come up with a ‘YouTube for reading and writing’, as they call it, and started Qpeka this year.

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Our role model is YouTube. YouTube had a big role in democratizing media content. Even though in the beginning content publishers were hesitant, over time they realized that YouTube was in fact an opportunity for them to reach out to newer audiences. One of the great features of YouTube was that it was free and easy to upload,” says Barari, adding, “They believed in a wide variety of content instead of focusing on a particular kind of content and depending on ads. Eventually it has grown to such a level that people depended on it virtually for everything audio-visual. We wanted to do something similar for written content.”

They then did a survey of close to 500 people and nearly 95% loved their concept. “Then there was no turning back. The idea of a Youtube for reading was no longer going to be just an idea,” says Shelke.

Qpeka – Its name and concept

Qpeka, interestingly, has no meaning; it is a strategically invented name. Barari, having a fascination for mirror images, chose the two letters ‘q’ and ‘p’. ‘Q’ being a rarely used letter, the chances of Qpeka to come in the auto-fill options once a person types ‘q’ was high. Hence, the birth of a new word took place.

The uniqueness of the venture is not just associated with its name but its concept also. Qpeka’s central idea is to democratise reading and writing by creating a platform more engaging than blogs and as universal as YouTube.

“Our aim is to give free and immersive reading experience to readers, and a secured and monetised publishing platform to authors and publishers. To reach our dual aim we created a patented per page monetisation system, which currently credits authors with points for every page a reader reads,” says Barari.

The platform supports close to 300 languages which include approximately all Indian languages. For educational content, readers have an option of paying for the part of the book they want to read. Also, like Youtube, once content gets popular, they provide them a large part of the ad-revenue that they generate. Alongside, the reader gets discounts if he/she engages with contents on the site more often.

The team

At present, they are a small team with two full time Co-founders, a senior developer and an intern.

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(Left to Right) Shashank Mestry, Rahul Shelke and Abhishek Barari

Abhishek Barari, Founder, is a Chartered Accountant and a Lawyer. He was in KPMG in International Taxation for 4 years prior to starting Qpeka in 2012 and then My Cute Office in 2014.

Rahul Shelke, Co-founder, is an M.Tech from the prestigious VJTI in Mumbai and has 3 years of experience working with various startups.

Shashank Mestry, Senior Developer, has done his B.Tech and worked in Rolta prior to joining Qpeka. At Rolta, Shashank handled a collaboration project involving NASA.

Journey so far

Qpeka has come a long way from where it had started. Around 200 authors and 10,000 readers have engaged with the site in a short time span of 4 months and “the number of works which are published keeps growing each day. What’s been more amazing for us is the fact that 60% of our visitors revisited Qpeka everyday!” says Barari.

In December 2013, they were shortlisted in the top 8 startups presenting at BSE at Nasscom 10000 Techstock event. “Luckily, we did get the exposure we required which saw us getting selected into the TiEBootcamp. We got in touch with amazing mentors, including Kanchan Kumar who guided our positioning and gave us great new ideas. All in all, the journey has been a roller coaster but really fun! And it’s getting even more exciting every day!” says Shelke.

Challenges

Wattpad is our biggest competitor and we believe that we have a more robust platform for our authors and readers,” says Barari.

“Our addressable market currently includes new authors and readers for short casual content such as poems, articles and short stories. This market has typically been served by blogs and other micro content platforms. However, these lacked the uniformity and seriousness to become mainstream. A good move towards uniformity was made by Wattpad in 2007 and it has been the pioneer of self-publishing. Till date, it has received around $ 66 million in funding from prominent Silicon Valley Investors, including Vinod Khosla,” he adds.

However, “Every morning when I wake up, I see 5 to 10 new works crossing a 100-200 readers. These are people who would never have imagined getting published let alone becoming writing superstars. This keeps us going and ready to face the challenges which keep coming our way,” says Shelke.

Lessons learnt

“In a startup, you are the basic labourer and corporate decision maker,” chuckles Barari. Undoubtedly, as a startup entrepreneur the lessons that one comes across are incomparable.

Here are a few lessons the founders have shared with us:

  • It is extremely important to rapidly develop your concept (if possible in less than a week) and try it out. It doesn’t matter what technology you use as long as people want what you are making.
  • The most critical statistic is the revenue per user. If the revenue which you generate per user is high, and the rates of conversion for your marketing campaigns are decent, even a simple product will do. The moment your revenue per user is lower, your focus shifts towards the UI/UX to attract and retain users. “For Qpeka, what we realised was that chasing readers was a futile exercise; instead we created a platform for authors. An author would not only give us content for our platform, but also get his own readers who would end up exploring other works. So while the revenue per reader would have been low for a reader focussed marketing campaign, it’s much higher (almost 50x) for an author focussed marketing campaign,” says Barari.
  • People think of internet and technology as something which will either give them information, comfort, entertainment or communication. The core concept of an e-venture has to cater to one of the above. Focussing on a particular features or cost is useless as that can only act as a growth strategy after you have established yourself.
  • It is important to have experienced people on board. “The time you will save will be the difference between success and failure,” says Shelke.

Funding, future and more

Qpeka is currently seed funded by two friends who act as investors by contributing a part of their monthly salary. However, they are looking to raise angel capital soon.

Our future strength will lie in our ability to analyse a reader and a writers’ progress. This means that we can track if a user quits on the first page or goes through the whole work. This analytics will help the authors and publishers understand the readers better and edit their works accordingly. This will be an attempt of its kind to use technology to help content creators structure their content,” says Shelke, “For instance, if 60% of the readers quit on Page 5, this may mean that the content on that page is not interesting enough and needs to be edited,” he explains.

With the traffic on Qpeka growing constantly, there are a couple of changes and innovations Qpeka will be undergoing in the upcoming months. Beta version of the site will be out, which means that the author payment modules will be live soon. An analytics package for publishers to analyse the readership and identify weak points in their works for improvement will be introduced. Alongside, plugin for websites to secure and paywall the content on their websites as well as use Qpeka’s analytics package on their platform will also be introduced. Furthermore, they are designing an Android and IOS app for the users.

“We believe if we are able to do all this, we will be able to take reading and publishing to a whole new level using technology as the driver,” they say.

What’s on?

They are hosting a competition in which 10 best poets, story writers and columnist will get a chance to be featured in Qpeka’s first printed anthology. Interested? To apply, click here.

Visit the site. Click here.


Richa Maheshwari

After completing her journalism course from Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, Richa joined Your Story as a reporter. You can reach out to her at richa@yourstory.com.