Delhi-based startup provides free newspapers to Metro commuters on the go

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Delhi On The Go is free newspaper for all Delhi Metro commuters. It covers national, business, world, local, showbiz and sports news. YourStory caught up with Ankit Dhawan and Virat Mohan, co-founders of this publication to learn more about their new publishing business.When did you publish your first issue and how has the journey been so far?

AD: Our first issue was printed on September 28, 2011. The journey so far has been amazing, right from conceptualising the whole concept back in March to implementing it. A lot of hard work, energy, time and passion has gone into Delhi On The Go but no amount of hard work seems enough yet. As they say, once you find a job you love, you will never have to work again – that’s been the case with Virat and I. We have loved working on this project and we have learned a lot too.

What kind of content can the readers expect?

AD: We live in an age where internet is so accessible and it provides an abundance of news and information. Our USP lies in our crisp and to-the-point presentation of content. With Delhi On The Go, we bring a fresh approach to reading a newspaper. Starting from the name to the design, the content, the way it is presented, the whole mood of our paper is very youthful and unique. Also, besides covering hard news, we also focus feature stories pertaining to health, relationships, fashion, lifestyle, travel, gizmos and gadgets among others. Another unique facet our newspaper is promoting citizen journalism on the Insight page, which incorporates news and opinions sent in by our readers, suitably edited for our audience. The paper also carries a recreational page with a general knowledge test, comic strips, jokes, daily horoscope and more engaging columns like Photo of the Day and Pet of the Day that invite reader contributions.

The concept of distributing free newspapers (on public transport) is quite common in Western countries. You are the first one to do it in India. Why has nobody done it here before? What are the challenges here?

VM: It is difficult to comment on our competitor’s strategies, however, we feel that the common rationale of a product losing it’s value because it is free is baseless. The challenge here is to deliver a consistently high quality newspaper so that the readers are hooked onto the experience. This will ultimately lead to our success. Also, by providing a free paper with comprehensive news, knowledge and information, we intend on achieving the social cause of community building.

National newspapers in India are affordable and they have a strong brand presence and a great outreach. Where does Delhi On The Go fit?

VM: In reality, the cover price charged contributes to a very small extent to the top line of newspaper businesses. By distributing a free paper, we have managed to not only initiate a community building cause but have also changed the way circulation vis-à-vis readership.

Wouldn’t podcasts or content on a mobile phone be ideal for people on the go?

AD: Our newspaper is especially designed for people ‘on the go’. The content, the compact size of the paper are specifically adapted to suit the metro audience. Our newspaper can be completely read in less than 25 minutes whereas the average time of a commuter is close to 40 minutes at least. Being in the compact tabloid format we feel that it is much more convenient to read a newspaper and navigate through it rather than catching up on news on a mobile phone or an iPad also taking into consideration the limitations of network connectivity on the underground sections of the metro. We feel that that the print medium of news is one that would not go out of fashion for a long time to come. We have received tremendous feedback from our readers thanking us for the free service we are providing. Our readers are already in the habit to get off work and go straight to take their daily newspaper before boarding the metro.

Do you produce all the content in house or source if from outside?

AD: Our content is a unique and balanced mix of both. The majority of our daily news is syndicated from various news wires, which provide us with text and picture content. We have tied with the nation’s leading & world’s leading syndication services like IANS & AFP. On the feature side, we have tied up with various different content channels that provide us content on various genres. In addition to this we have a capable editorial team, which generates original content on various feature topics. We also have several well known free lance writers who write regular columns on feature for our paper. Lastly, our unique model of reader generated content invites readers to contribute to our feature sections as well on the news side through citizen journalism. One has to read our newspaper and articles to really see the youthful energy flowing through them.

How many copies of your publication do you distribute every day? How does the distribution work?VM: We distribute 10,000 copies across Delhi NCR daily, free of charge. The distribution network is unique as we have our own uniformed distribution boys standing and handing the newspapers directly to the reader adding a level of personal touch to distribution. The distribution is not limited to the Delhi Metro as we do distribute outside select high-end malls, major traffic intersections. In the future, Delhi On The Go would also be available at the Guragon/Noida toll booths, inter-city coaches plying fromDelhiand other locations such as airports, railways and establishments across Delhi NCR.

Are you a media guy? Give us a bit of gyaan about your background.

AD: That’s the biggest surprise! Neither Virat nor I are from anywhere close to the media background. I am a BE Mechanical Engineer from theUniversityofPune. After graduating, I worked in the sales and marketing sector. I had a good job in hand but I always had the urge to start and run my own set up. I was just 25 and did not have many responsibilities to shoulder so I thought that it was an appropriate time to quit and look for my holy grail. Being from a non-media background never intimidated us. We believed in this project and have faith that with our passion and hard work, we will make it a huge success.

VM: After completing my BSc degree, I studied banking and finance from London School of Economics and pursued the External Degree Programme at theInstituteofTechnologyand Management, Gurgaon. I then went on to study MSc, International Accounting and Finance atCassBusinessSchool,London. Later, I worked with KPMG,Londonfor a period of about 18 months, post which I returned toIndiato explore business opportunities. Working in the media sector is exciting as it pans across all functional areas and gives you the opportunity to come connect with different people. It is also a direct way to make a social impact.

As an entrepreneur, what are your joys and challenges?

AD: The biggest joy of being an entrepreneur is to see your work being appreciated. There is no better feeling than to see your product being so well-received by the readers.

VM: It is greatly satisfying to build a team of people and watch them learn and improve through mutual participation. The main challenge is to keep finding new and innovative ways of doing things to stay ahead. I won’t trade this for anything else.

How big is your team? Are you looking at hiring?

AD: Our office strength is currently 15 people in addition to 20 on-the-field people in our distribution team. Our team is very young and energetic, which is reflected through the newspaper. The oldest member of our team is 30, but having said that, the work we do is class apart. On the design side, we are led by a very talented and intuitive Hari Shankar while the editorial team is led by Parvati Tampi. We are always on the look for talented and motivated people who want to put in that extra bit as is required in a startup.

Are you planning to expand your business?

VM: We are soon going to be present in inter-city buses plying fromDelhiand are also working on a home-delivery model as our readers have shown interest in the same. We have a determination to eventually take Delhi On The Go and expand across all other major cities in India.

Are you looking to get funded?

VM: Currently, we have invested in the business ourselves. However, we are in talks with a few investors and are keen to discuss opportunities with venture capitalists. We have a clear investment and growth plan for the same.

Anything else you would like to share with us?

AD: We would like to give a message to all budding entrepreneurs - Follow your heart and dreams and do not live and work for someone else. If you have an idea and believe in it don’t waste time thinking about it. Just go ahead and implement it.

VM: Anything can be achieved if you have the will and are ready to work hard.

 

- Anisha Mehta