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BITS Pilani startup Pepper wants to create a thriving marketplace for content writers

Sohini Mitter
24th Aug 2018
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Campus startup Pepper matches writers’ skill sets with clients’ content requirements and has on-boarded over 50 brands in a year; it wants to engage students in different spheres of the content industry.

Back in 2015, Campaign UK magazine declared content as “marketing’s most overused buzzword.” It wrote, “Arguably, content is the most overused but misunderstood buzzword in contemporary marketing. It’s become a catch-all term that alludes to everything and nothing, and on its own is too woolly and lofty to hold all the complexities that are contained within.”

Suffice to say: content is everywhere, everything is content - text, image, audio, video, graphic, GIF, emoji, and all else in between.

Content is, what Campaign UK calls, the “cornerstone” of branding and marketing, publishing and PR, SEO and social media. Several marketing strategists want the overused — and even abused — term to disappear, but content factories continue to be churned out by the hour.

Pepper, one such content factory that was birthed in the hostel rooms of BITS Pilani in 2017, aims to be different though. Four engineers - Anirudh Singla, Adit Mittal, Rishabh Shekhar, and Parv Panthari - in their sophomore year formed this startup to produce content for a variety of commercial purposes, and most importantly, serve as a “mediation platform that connects talented writers to organisations that require content”.

(L to R) Adit Mittal, Parv Panthari, Anirudh Singla, and Rishabh Shekhar, Co-founders, Pepper

Pepper focuses on written content that includes blogs, press releases, corporate website information, social media campaigns, and more. In about a year, it has on-boarded over 50 brands, and is hitting 900 to 950 “pieces a month”. It has created a network of about 80 writers (five in-house) whose skills are matched with available opportunities in the content industry.

The startup has just secured an order of 10,000 content pieces from an industrial group which it has to deliver in nine months. It soon plans to start creating visual content. All this, even as its four founders continue to be full-time students at BITS Pilani.

So, what led to Pepper? Was one more “content factory” really required?

Anirudh Singla, Founder & CEO, Pepper tells YourStory,

“All businesses are fine-tuning their content marketing strategies. Companies heavily invest in content when they raise rounds. But, they have to deal with multiple stakeholders, and their in-house teams cannot satiate this demand. There are hassles in content production and it takes away a lot of resources, money, and time from companies. We step in to ensure that we handle all aspects of content generation, from strategy to detailed execution.”

The opportunity in content

Anirudh stresses on the “big opportunity” that is content marketing. And the numbers back him up. Content marketing is estimated to be a $313 billion global industry by 2019, according to PQ Media.

“Content is the currency of digital marketing,” says Anirudh, “yet over 80 percent of businesses haven’t formalised the way they produce content. Hence, there is a lot of scope to create good value in this industry.”

While Pepper’s model is not unique, given there have been similar content marketplaces like Contentmart, White Panda, WriterAccess, and others, it wants to differentiate itself by paying writers well and using their skills to the fullest. (Contentmart, incidentally, shut down this month.)

Pepper claims it is “empowering writers” who tend to be overlooked in the content creation process. As a result, writers often churn out content that is poor or plagiarised, or both.

Anirudh explains,

“Writers have simply become a tool in the entire process where their services aren’t recognised and there is huge pay disparity. We are trying to equalise opportunities for writers wherein once they come to our platform through means of merit, we take the onus of matching them with the best projects and providing them a good pay.”

As a result, Pepper has been able to retain good writers, it claims. 

Writers join the Pepper Cloud. This one-stop platform is where clients upload projects and writers are matched to them depending on their skill sets. It used to be a manual process, but as Pepper’s writer network expands, the startup plans to begin using machine learning (ML) algorithms to sift through client projects and assign them to the best-suited writers. The ML-powered platform goes live at the end of September.

Pepper is tweaking its platform to send “periodic feedback to writers, both qualitative and quantitative reviews and ratings based on client engagement”, Anirudh reveals.

Clients and operations

One of Pepper’s first big clients was WittyFeed, a homegrown viral content company which crossed 50 million site visits in 2016. It came on board in December 2017, and Anirudh and his team created “mostly lifestyle content” for WittyFeed. By February 2018, Pepper had on-boarded more clients - Bewakoof, Zivame, Times Internet’s Speaking Tree, MeraEvents, SocialCops, Imarticus Learning, Sportskeeda, and others.

Between April and August, the startup claims to have witnessed “exponential growth” in orders. Anirudh says, “We were creating 150-200 pieces a month until four months ago. Now, we are at 900-950.”

Revenues have improved too. Bootstrapped Pepper says it is generating more than Rs 10 lakh now, and aims to end the year with Rs 20-25 lakh. “There are not a lot of expenses from our side. Our basic requirements are covered in campus. So, we have been able to grow profits by 30-40 percent,” Anirudh states.

Pepper customers seem content with its “reliable” services.

Parul Purwar, Senior Manager - Growth & Strategy, Zivame, says,

“We have been engaged with Pepper for over a month now. Both in terms of deliverance and handling the entire project, Pepper has been a reliable company to partner with.”

Sohail Merchant, AVP - Digital, Imarticus Learning, says, “Our collaboration with Pepper has strengthened over time, with them providing reliable and engaging content to us over time.”

Going ahead

While early-stage startups form the core of Pepper’s present clientele, it wants to take its services to a large number of SMEs in the next one or two years. The 11-member startup also wants to engage students and create “student-driven communities” in different spheres of the content industry.

Anirudh says,

“Our target is to reach 100 companies by the end of this year. We are also getting into creating short, 60-second videos for products and websites. But, first we want to monopolise text-based content.”

Pepper will shortly be incubated at BITS Pilani’s newly launched Technology Business Incubator (TBI). The startup is presently being mentored by former Tech Mahindra CEO Kiran Deshpande, who now serves as the President of Mojo Networks. “He’s also a charter member of TiE Pune and his guidance in making us a one-stop content destination is critical,” Anirudh says.

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