[Startup Bharat] IIT-Kanpur incubated Ficting is making reading cool again for millennials
In recent years, there has been a lot of concern over how today’s youth prefer Netflix to a good book. While Amazon’s Kindle got us digital books, now chat fiction is changing the way kids and millennials get their stories.
With a focus on making the narrative more interesting and engaging for the youth, Abhay Gupta developed Ficting, an app which is a combination of fiction and texting.
Launched in November 2018, the app is trying to revive the habit of reading in the youth by providing engaging and non-distractive narrative, which grabs their attention and hooks them on to the content.
Currently incubated at IIT-Kanpur, the startup has also received a fellowship from NTT Data.
Abhay Gupta, Founder and CEO, Ficting
Testing the waters
Abhay himself was a not a fond reader, and says he used to get distracted very easily while reading. However, while growing up, he was always curious and believed in self learning.
A BTech graduate, he got the idea of Ficting while working at Wipro as an associate consultant. He felt the current generation was also facing similar problem like him in finishing a book.
Abhay thus went on to develop the pilot version of the app all by himself. He also applied to YCombinator’s 2018 winter batch, but did not get selected. But after working on it slowly and steadily, he got incubated at IIT- Kanpur in February 2019.
“In March, I launched the very first basic pilot version along with a friend of mine. We, however, saw a good traction on it very early on, and launched on both iOS and Android. But there were some glitches initially, especially when people were trying to log in.”
The Ficting app thus went through revamping twice before launching the latest version in November 2019. Abhay says, the new version has more content and genres included.
By February 2020, the app claims to have seen over 500 organic downloads. The app also started getting attention and recognition in various events and competitions.
Recently, it caught the attention of Tim Draper (a third generation VC who invested in companies like Skype , Hotmail , Tesla, etc), as it emerged as one of the top-four winners out of 50 startups that pitched in person to Tim in Mumbai.
Today, Abhay has a team of three under him, which includes a content creator, designer, and a techie.
The stories on the platform are created in the form of chat fiction, where the readers will be reading text conversations between two or more people with a legitimate story going on behind. The content comes with a range of special effects such as graphical images and music, which is aimed at drawing readers deeper into a story.
“We have developed an innovative way of storytelling for our readers who do not have much time to read, and for those who get distracted easily. With chat-fictions, this concept keeps the reader hooked to the story, making it curiously engaging,” says Abhay.
Today, in the time of the coronavirus, the app has also curated stories specifically related to coronavirus (Covid-19), which goes with the name Mythbusters, and has other corona-related stories as well. It is aimed at busting all the myths related to the virus, and the only source of information has been the world health organisation (WHO), which in itself makes the content authentic and adds credibility.
Currently, there are 26 stories on the platform. Ficting launches three-four stories on the app every week, which are written and curated by the team for now. It also allows outside writers to push their content as well.
The content is currently available in English, and will soon be available in Hindi to reach more people.
The market and competition
India has witnessed a rise in the consumption of reading devices, book apps, book gifting options, audiobooks, self-publishing platforms, etc. Some of these include platforms like Storytel, Episodes, Choices, Yarn, Juggernaut, etc.
According to Statista, India’s e-book market will be worth $214 million by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 14.3 percent annually. However, Abhay says, the USP of Ficting is its content and method of storytelling.
“If you look at our competitors, they are selling every type of content, which includes erotica as well. This does not go along with our content values as we cater to spiritual, soft romantic, thriller, and recently added coronavirus related content, which in itself is highly unique,” says Abhay.
In April 2020, the app crossed 1,000 downloads organically without any marketing. According to Abhay, this was entirely through word of mouth and reference.
For now, the company is not generating any revenue, and is focussing on getting as many customers as possible. The team survives on the monthly stipend that Abhay receives from NTT Data as part of his fellowship. “We aspire to be pre-revenue initially to let users get to know our product in-depth,” says Abhay.
However, going forward, the company plans to add a freemium model where a user buys certain type of stories based on quality content, and the hyper contextual advertising targeted at the users.
The team is in talks with some popular authors as well.
“We will be taking it to the next level where these authors can partner with Ficting, and publish their own content on our app using own tools.”