#TheNationGetsToKnow: Arnab Goswami’s startup journey, political leanings, and what drives this outlier
Arnab Goswami = Polarisation.
The jingoism and nationalistic stance of Republic Media Network’s editor-in-chief may put off many, but millions across India have taken to his never-say-never attitude and controversial approach.
Love him or hate him, you certainly can’t ignore him!
But while the entire nation knows Arnab Goswami as an anchor and a journalist, not many know about his journey as an entrepreneur and how he built a media organisation at unprecedented scale in just three years.
Speaking about his entrepreneurial journey in a video interview with YourStory’s Shradha Sharma, Arnab revealed how ARG Outlier Media, the organisation which runs news channels like Republic TV and Republic Bharat, has not only become the largest news network in India but has also surpassed its competitors.
Republic TV claims to have grabbed the highest share of viewership from the day it was launched. To Arnab, this number was ‘magic’.
“It told me that a professional can make a dent in what is a very difficult market,” Arnab said.
Donning the entrepreneur’s hat
Like most entrepreneurs, Arnab approached his journey with a combination of hard work, commitment, planned and unplanned moves, bets, and risks.
On his last three years, which saw him go from Times Group to launching Republic, Arnab said, “It was not as well planned as people think. There was a lot of hard work and commitment. We have worked relentlessly without a break; we have slept in the office.”
He said he strongly believed in Elon Musk’s work philosophy of “putting in the hours”. “We put in more hours in the day; our team was working up to 15-hour shifts. We went up against a lot to get to where we are now, and I have not even had the time to look back.”
Arnab also revealed that he had to do a tremendous amount of learning about being an entrepreneur on the job.
He attributed his shorter learning curve to the fact that he was the only editor who built an organisation from scratch earlier, which prepared him for his own entrepreneurial journey with Republic.
“At Times Now, I learnt, unlearnt, made mistakes – so I was very prepared,” he said.
The Republic TV journey
Arnab said his intention was not to build India's biggest network with Republic TV, but to build a news operation “where we can do what we want to do in our way, and sustain ourselves”.
“What keeps me going is bharosa; the motivation is that we are building a different country,” said Arnab, adding that his media startup was about “building a new India”, one that a lot of people disagreed with.
“A lot of people who have fundamental issues will disagree with my vision of a new India,” he said. “I genuinely believe that we are building a new India, otherwise this kind of support is not possible. It is not possible unless you have a tsunami of public opinion, pushing you all the time.”
Arnab said he was convinced that Republic TV was helping build a stronger, better, and - more importantly - a different India. “The change may not be evident on a day-to-day or year-on-year basis, but it will show 10-20 years from now. We will have played a part in it.”
The way ahead: digital first
Republic is the biggest success story of this scale globally, he said, adding that this was the time for media entrepreneurs and a digital-first approach.
Arnab, who has spent about 24 years in journalism, said he predicted that media was going to be digital first much earlier, but was not taken seriously. And then COVID-19 happened, which “acted as an accelerator and made the media think digital first”.
He said it was very difficult to maintain digital dominance because the audience was fragmented, and both quality and quantity played key roles.
“In the digital world, loyalty cannot be forced. But in terms of digital traffic, we stormed into the top five English news publishers in July and August,” he revealed.
Arnab said Republic had three million monthly unique visitors and was now crossing two million unique visitors a day. “If we grow at this rate, we will become the number one digital news publisher in September.”
An organisation that was not even into digital news has beaten the biggest English news publisher in six months, going from publishing 100 stories to 1,000 stories and about 150 videos in a day.
‘Print is going to collapse’
In five years, Arnab said he would like Republic to be equally dependent on both, digital and television.
“I want to exist in a cordless world where even if we have to sustain our business simply by making our feeds available digitally or if we have to serve our content differently, we should be able survive.
“Print is going to collapse...English print will die in three years. Digital will see the growth of new organisations like ours, and maybe others,” Arnab said.
He said he was keen to make Republic a digital-led TV operation this financial year. “I would like to grow to six to 10 languages by March,” he said.
“I am very ambitious and want to take the Republic brand everywhere. If I can do Hindi, then I can obviously operate in different geographies.”
Businessman or startup founder?
Arnab said one of the problems he faced as an entrepreneur was that he was not a pure businessman; he was simply looking at ways of taking his message to people.
Republic TV today has an audience of about 40 million, and a presence on more than 18 OTT platforms. Republic’s live TV has a reach of about 16 million.
“We have a watch time of about 400 million minutes, our videos on the Republic TV Lite platform are surpassing 400 million every month…even Republic Bharat is getting about 600 million video views and billions of watch minutes. Eventually, it is all about engagement and reach,” he told the YourStory founder.
Funding and political leanings
Arnab rubbished rumours that he favoured the current regime against financial benefits from a political party.
“Asianet and Jupiter Capital have invested in the company. They hold only 15 percent stake. I think it was great to be controlling 85 percent of your equity from day one,” he said, adding that “they” cannot reconcile to the fact that a professional reporter can have 85 percent equity in “what is today a non-listed company, but a company of the same significance”.
Arnab revealed his ‘lean startup’ journey, stating that he had started by himself from a 1,000 sq ft space at Garage, a coworking space behind Mumbai’s Toddy Mills. He said he did not even raise 25 percent of the funding he wanted, stating that the fact that Republic reached this stage without that support was “simply magic”.
He said he was saddened by the fact that people accused him of being favourably inclined towards the current government. People who say I come from a BJP background might not know that "I come from a family of politicians", he said.
“My grandfather, Gaurishankar Bhattacharya, was one of the founders of the undivided Communist Party. He was a hardcore Marxist leftist. He had his own political party, the People's Democratic Party, and was the winner of seven Sahitya Akademi Awards. Even as Leader of Opposition, he would ride a cycle to the Assembly. My uncle was a Member of Parliament and was in the Congress. He left that party and later became the Minister of Law in the VP Singh Cabinet” he said.
Arnab clarified that his father had never held a single political or party position in his life. He added that his sister was in the Indian Air Force, his mother was an educationist, and he had relatives in the Indian Army.
“I come from an illustrious, educated family of lawyers and politicians. The state of Assam is out in the boondocks; we may not have lived and grown up in Delhi Gymkhana, but we have served our country well,” he said.
Arnab asserted that he chose to not to go into politics but to “rise from the ground up in journalism”. “These political leanings and background are just a figment of someone's imagination.”
COVID impact and what he looks for
Despite an ongoing controversy on social media about people quitting the channel, Arnab said Republic had the lowest attrition amongst all TV news organisations in the country.
He said his company’s focus was on younger leaders.
“We constantly shuffle the deck. We build younger leadership, we take bets on people who have not had the opportunity. So, when I built Republic Bharat, I put together a team of people who had not had the exact same opportunity in their previous organisations,” he said.
Like most businesses, Arnab said COVID-19 has hit the company’s topline by 30-40 percent. But, he said, the team has been top priority and the company has not fired a single employee. “Rather, we are going to have an increments cycle in the next 25 days. What we expect in return is very solid performance.”
On creating more successful media entrepreneurs, Arnab said his formula was not to take people from traditional backgrounds but to look for raw talent. “I look for outliers, hungry people. My company is called ARG Outlier Media,” Arnab said.