How two Delhi college students built a Rs 14 Cr business

College students Supriya Paul and Shobhit Banga started Josh Talks in 2014 with Rs 2.5 lakh. Today, apart from its flagship product, the Gurugram startup has three new offerings and is set to hit Rs 13.5 crore in revenue.

Supriya Paul and Shobhit Banga met at a party while they were in college. She was in her third year at Delhi University’s Sri Venkateswara College, pursuing a bachelor’s in commerce; Shobhit was in the second year of his bachelor’s in business administration at the GD Goenka World Institute. The two got talking and realised a common passion for “motivating the student community by shaking things up”. They became friends and while still in college, co-founded their startup, Josh Talks in 2014, as a youth-centric platform to showcase the country’s most inspiring stories. 

After five years of being in business, from running it with just a couple of interns to over 100 employees, across three offices in Gurugram and Bengaluru, the startup is set to clock a revenue of Rs 13.5 crore this financial year.

Josh Talks Co-founders Supriya Paul and Shobhit Banga

The initial avatar

Josh Talks’ initial business model was that of an event management company. The company organised offline events where talks were delivered by inspiring individuals to a live audience that bought tickets to the show.

Anshu Gupta, Founder of Goonj; Vicky Roy, a ragpicker who became a celebrity photographer; Soniya, an acid attack survivor; Akkai Padmashali, a transgender activist; Boman Irani, who went from being a waiter to an actor; Ankur Warikoo, CEO, Groupon India; and Arunima Sinha, the first female amputee in the world to climb Mount Everest – these were some of the most popular speakers at Josh Talks events during the first two years. 

On an average, the startup was hosting 12-15 events a year and reaching 15,000-20,000 people. But it was running losses and was way short of its aim to reach a million people “to do more with their lives”. 

In 2016, the company’s revenue was around Rs 40 lakh, with losses of nearly Rs 7 lakh. So in early 2017, the founders decided to do away with events completely.

The pivot

The duo realised that bringing their content online, rather than focusing their energies on offline events would be much more fruitful towards achieving the company’s goals. The company wanted to cash in on the increasing mobile and affordable internet penetration in India. 

“Moving the talks online would also address the problem of not being able to reach young people who were not privileged enough to afford a Rs 500 ticket to an event, we realised,” Supriya says.

In 2016, the company launched its YouTube channel and started putting their offline content there. “It was just to see if there was an active audience for it,” she says. Soon, it became the major distribution channel for the startup’s content.

Today, Josh Talks gets around 30 million views a month on YouTube. The startup’s content is now present across 40 different online distribution platforms, including YouTube, TikTok, Ola Play, Jio, and Dainik Bhaskar. It has a total of six million subscribers across all the channels. The startup also produces podcasts available on platforms such as Apple’s iTunes, Saavn, and Gaana

Josh Talks has its own studio in Gurugram, where all shoots are recorded.  It “barely” does any events now, unless it is running a campaign with a partner that wants offline outreach. The startup has partnered with several prominent entities such as Facebook, UNDP, UN Women, Edelweiss, and ITC for various campaigns and CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives. 

The products

Josh Talks currently has four products and produces content in eight languages, including Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Malayalam and Hinglish (a mix of Hindi and English). Initially the content was mostly in English and sometimes in Hindi, but the startup launched languages in 2017. It also decided to drop English and go with Hinglish instead.

The four products include the flagship Josh Talks, Josh Kosh (a career advice platform), Josh Skills (a skilling platform), and Josh Jobs (a jobs platform). 

“Our target audience is young people from Tier II and III cities. We say, for them to do well in life, they only need to have two things - josh in their heart and on their mobile phones,” Supriya says. 

The company uses the flagship platform’s wide reach to promote its three new products. 

Speaking on the competition, Supriya says while each of their products has rivals, no entity offers an “entire ecosystem”. “Everyone is trying to solve these problems in isolation,” she says.

Josh Talks competes with the likes of TED Talks and INKtalks; Josh Kosh has rivals such as and Career Adda; and Josh Skills’ competition includes the likes of Unacademy, BetterYou, Coursera, and Udemy.

Funding and growth

Innov8 Founder and CEO Dr Ritesh Malik was an early ‘angel’ for the company, having invested around Rs 10 lakh in 2015. The money went into operational expenses.

In 2017, the company raised Rs 1.2 crore through angel investment from Freshworks’ Girish Mathrubootham, HCL’s Apoorva Chamaria, and Hero Corporation’s Rohit Chanana. This round helped the company roll out content in regional languages.

Currently, Josh Talks is on the verge of closing a pre-Series A round of Rs 10 crore

Today, Josh Talks produces close to 2,000 talks a year, compared to the 200 it used to produce in the pre-pivot days. From Rs 6 crore revenue last year it is set to more than double its topline to Rs 13.5 crore this year. The startup made a profit of Rs 50 lakh last year and is well on track to continue the profitable streak. From 1.2 million subscribers last year, it touched six million this year. 

“The last 18-month period has been a period of extreme growth for us,” Supriya says.

She still remembers the day when Shobhit had to sell his bike to put together their first event in 2014 at Delhi’s Air Force Auditorium, because they did not have enough money. 

“For that first event we had to invest around Rs 2.5-3 lakh. We pooled in Rs 1.25 lakh each and took some debt. Shobhit had a bike worth a lot of money;  he sold that. And I used to do assignments and teach juniors; I put in the money I had saved through that,” Supriya reminisces. 

They have come a long way since then. And are poised to go further. 

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


Updates from around the world