In his fifteen year corporate career Rajiv Unnikrishnan flirted with several startup ideas, but ultimately remained loyal to his tech employers. Things changed when he started listening to podcasts and got addicted to this medium of storytelling. Rajiv says, “With my love for podcasts and especially the start up space I realised that founders here in India and South East Asia needed a platform like The Entrepreneur Podcast where they could speak about their startup journey, the inspiration behind the idea and struggle before they saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I have been through the same, and always felt that some guidance from others who have been down the same road would have helped.
Also, on a lighter note, I knew that the word ‘entrepreneur’ is like a magnet. Everyone is a sucker for rags to riches stories. You never know when one can strike the elusive gold mine of successful ideas!”
When Rajiv was introduced to the world of podcasts a few years back, most of the shows were hosted in the US and covered startups, entrepreneurs and founders from North America. Two years ago he started a podcast aggregation app OIDAR curating all the podcasts from Asia. “At that time there were just a handful. Today there are around 50 plus from India, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia,” says Rajiv.
This felt like the perfect time to jump in the fray. The Entrepreneur Podcast went live with its debut show in the first week of January 2016. “Today we are 40 plus shows recorded with 30 on air!” says Rajiv. It surpassed 2000 downloads within two weeks of going live and was mentioned in the new and noteworthy section of ITunes in US, India, Singapore and Indonesia. 75 per cent of the show’s audience comes from India and the rest from South East Asia and USA.
Though the show is focused primarily on tech entrepreneurs, it makes exceptions for non tech individuals who have highly inspiring life stories. In fact Rajiv’s favourite interview to date has been with Nilam Sari from Indonesia who started with a pushcart and now runs the world’s largest kebab empire out of her country. Of late Rajiv has been foraying into a lot more diverse backgrounds to seek out interesting life stories. An example would be Bollywood actor Emran Hashmi and actor turned politician turned entrepreneur Gul Panag.
Though The Entrepreneur Podcast well may be getting diluted with a few non tech and non-entrepreneur variety, Rajiv is determined that the show will remain rooted to its Asian geography. He says, “There are a lot of success stories from the west and rather big ones at that with the Larry Pages and the Zuckerberg’s at play. But Asia has a lot of potential and I hope to bring these stories out to the world.”
A lot has been said about how podcasts are a new medium in India. Though the oldest ones in the country are well past a decade, they remain niche without any mainstream following. Since the past year we have seen industry veterans experiment with this medium and with success enough to warrant new players jumping into the fray. India now boasts a Serial of its own, at least in genre if not in scale. Saavn, India’s version of Spotify, recently announced a slew of podcasts to woo the smartphone commuter’s attention span. While all this points to a favourable direction, the industry remains far too nascent to be bankable. For Rajiv this was not a deterrent when it came to pouring his savings into his startup. He says, “I am lucky to have a circle of friends who are founders of successful startups themselves. After speaking to them about my doubts, I realised there was a need for this and my passion took me forward. I have always believed that the ‘I Should Have’ feeling is the worst one to have when you look back at your life.”
His instincts have paid off as Rajiv says, “The reception has been quite overwhelming with founders now contacting me to get a chance to get their story out there. I do around three interviews a week and try and launch two shows weekly.”
As mentioned, The Entrepreneur Podcast is bootstrapped from Rajiv’s savings. The business model, like podcast shows around the world, depends on advertising generated revenue. He says, “We are getting offers, but have not zeroed in on the right advertiser who will benefit our listeners.” Rajiv predicts that the show will become profitable by quarter four of 2016 if the current rate of audience consumption holds up. “We also plan to start a blog to help our listeners with resources on starting up, funding, podcasting and more,” he adds.
Given the show’s current popularity, he needn’t be overly worried about listener numbers. He relays the numbers, “We have active 5000 + subscribers since January and have crossed 10,000 downloads in April. The market is responding very well with Bits Conquest 2016 making us their official outreach partner. Conquest CEO Dhairik Fuletra wanted a partnership wherein we can do an interview with each of the shortlisted startups in round two. We are also in talks with two leading incubators for similar partnerships.” The podcast is soon going to be available on Spotify.
Rajiv has been getting inundated with requests to explore beyond his initial decision of interviewing only tech entrepreneurs. In addition to his recent Bollywood interviews, The Entrepreneur Podcast is speaking with comedians, restauranteurs and others on their journey. But what he is most excited about is getting more investors on the show. He recently concluded his first investor interview with Ajeet Khurana. “The idea is listeners will be inspired to start any initiative be it tech, acting, comedy, health, food etc.,” he says.
Rajiv’s scaling plan is to simply host as many quality conversations on the show as possible. He shares, “My plan is to have interesting guests with inspiring stories who can instil confidence in my listeners to overcome the initial jitters and ‘start up’ on their dream venture.” This, he hopes, will be enough to navigate the doubly tricky waters of staying afloat in the critical early start up period while also experimenting with a platform as niche as podcast. It will be a challenge, he rues: “The biggest hurdle Indian podcasters face is in the name of the medium itself. Utter the word podcast in public and you'll be met with confused faces. The term sounds complex for what's essentially just a radio show. A podcast is recorded audio on the internet that you can download and listen to or stream. People however are often unfamiliar with the term, and thus find it daunting. Hence when I approach guests I first say The Entrepreneur Talk show and then explain to them that the medium is a podcast.”
Rajiv says that he’s had no mentors in his life, which is why this show means so much to him. Every time he feels demotivated or too inadequate to continue, he draws strengths from the conversations he hosts with fellow entrepreneurs. Their candid stories about their strengths and failures pushes him to get back up on the horse and keep going. In the process he’s learned some key traits that are a must have in this business: “After having failed a few times I realize the key learning for me have been patience and perseverance. If you don’t have it please don’t start up. Every idea has its incubation period and that, however frustrating, is the price you have to pay before you hit gold. Starting up will take everything you have and will give you sleepless nights. But dig your heels in and do not give up because when your fledgling of an idea begins to soar, believe me, the feeling is unreal. Once you have done it you will always want to come back to it. Most people are serial entrepreneurs for a reason-once bitten never shy!”
In the same vein, his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is,
If you must start up, then go out there and hit it hard. You will either hit it out of the park and if you don’t, then there is always the next inning.