[YS Exclusive] How this Bengaluru-based blogging startup got Silicon Valley investor Naval Ravikant to invest in it

By Sindhu Kashyaap|21st Dec 2020
In an exclusive interaction with YourStory, noted Silicon Valley investor Naval Ravikant and Uncorrelated Ventures’ Salil Deshpande talk about how they got onto investing in Delaware and Bengaluru-based startup Hashnode — a blogging platform for software developers’ community.
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Investor Naval Ravikant inspires awe among the global startup community, and having him on the board of any startup is nothing short of an achievement.


Naval Ravikant is one of the most respected and successful angel investors of Silicon Valley, who has invested in over 200 companies that include some of the biggest names — Uber, Twitter, FourSquare, Postmates, Yammer, among others. The Co-founder and CEO of AngelList has also had over 70 exits. 


And for Hashnode Co-founders Syed Fazle Rahman and Sandeep Panda, impressing Naval Ravikant in an elevator pitch was no mean feat.

Bengaluru and Delaware-based startup Hashnode is a blogging platform that helps software developers and teams start a blog on a custom domain and find readership from a broader built-in developer community. 

Founded in February 2020, Hashnode is part of Sequoia India Capital’s early-stage accelerator programme — Surge. 


As part of Surge, the startup received $2.1 million in a funding round, in which Naval and others, including Ritesh Arora and Nakul Aggarwal (Founders of BrowserStack); Shashank Kumar and Harshil Mathur (Founders of Razorpay), Christopher Golda (Founder of BlackType); Girish Mathrubootham (Founder of Freshworks); Salil Deshpande (Founder of Uncorrelated Ventures); Ed Roman (Managing Director, Hack VC), and Guillermo Rauch (Co-founder of Vercel) also participated.

Hashnode

Fazle and Sandeep

The X-factor of Hashnode 

In an exclusive interaction with YourStory, speaking about what impressed him the most about the Bengaluru startup, Naval Ravikant says, 

"I seek out delightful products, and Hashnode qualifies — it's fast, it's beautiful, and it's useful.” During the pitch he added, "The product is super fast (which developers love), useful, and solves a real problem."

Explaining how the product works, Fazle says, “Publishing networks, like Medium, help a blogger with social media reach and credibility at the cost of SEO, traffic, and customisation. On the other hand, there are self-hosted solutions like WordPress/Ghost who lack an active community.” 

What impressed Naval and all others was the fact that Hashnode brings the best of both worlds — it helps writers focus on writing, as well as gives them the freedom to blog without the risk of losing their content or SEO benefits. 

For bloggers, Hashnode offers a tool that helps them focus on creating content without any friction. For readers, it provides a personalised feed that features new and interesting articles. 


“The community votes and decides which articles should rank higher. So, we not only offer a great tool for blogging but also help with initial reach and readership by fostering an active developers community,” explains Fazle. 


At present, blogging for individual developers is free on the platform. However, in the long-term, Hashnode aims to help businesses and developers-focused companies run their engineering blogs, which, in turn, can create a strong monetisation opportunity for the startup. 


Sandeep and Fazle first met each other at IIIT Bhubaneswar, and have been friends for over a decade now. 

“We graduated in 2013 and joined software development firms. We worked there for a couple of years before quitting and started pursuing our passion for technical writing and teaching developers new techniques, best practices, and so on. Both of us are published authors as well,” Sandeep says. 
Hashnode

The Hashnode personalised feed

The winning pitch 

Sandeep and Fazle wrote a single page pitch to Naval Ravikant, explaining the product and the vision of Hashnode. Speaking about the same, Fazle says, “We put together a one-pager pitch, and shared that with Naval along with our Product Hunt launch URL. The product by then was live.” 


Following this, Naval tinkered around with Hashnode’s product, and soon after, agreed to invest in the startup. 


Another Silicon Valley investor Salil Deshpande — Founder of Bain-backed Uncorrelated Ventures — says, 

"Hashnode is fast, beautiful, and stands on the shoulders of giants, that is, it takes the best ideas from prior-generation publishing platforms such as Medium and others while avoiding the awkwardness or intrusion caused by the limitations of their technology or business models.”

Fazle says, “We walked Salil through our product and pitch deck for 45 minutes, and by the end, we were discussing how to get started.” 


Salil — the former CEO of TheServerSide, a network of developer community sites — coded the earliest iterations of the Seeking Alpha platform. For several years in a row, Salil was on the Forbes Midas List of the 100 best-performing venture investors. 

"It wasn't difficult to convince the investors once they had seen what the product could do. What helped was also that they were all extremely humble, understood the developer ecosystem, and were easy to talk to. Naval and Salil understood what we were building immediately," adds Fazle.
Hashnode

Traction and growth 

The space for content blogs is fast-growing, and according to PQ Media, content marketing is estimated to be a $313 billion global industry soon.  While major players like Github and HackerEarth provide developer blogs and insights, startups like Lightspeed Ventures-backed Pepper Content are content marketplaces. 


However, Hashnode works differently. While Hashnode’s product was started as a Q&A site for developers initially, it wasn’t growing fast. The team had some initial success and traction, but it had to put a lot of effort on everything to move the needle. 

“Our goal was to build a large and friendly community of developers. So, we started figuring out how we can make a bigger impact on the developers’ community. We eventually realised that blogging for developers is broken and is a much bigger problem to solve. We built an MVP and relaunched ourselves in June 2020. The word of mouth spread quickly, and we got a lot of traction. We have not spent a penny on marketing, and are growing very fast (30 percent) in all our KPIs,” Fazle says.

At present, the startup is in its pre-revenue stage, and has a small team of six people


Speaking of the future, Fazle says, “So far, we have been optimising blogging experience for individual developers. We plan to launch team publications for developer-focused businesses, and open-source projects in early 2021.”


Edited by Suman Singh

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