How AMBCrypto beat the odds to reach over 30 million cryptocurrency users worldwide
In a year that was dominated by COVID-19, 2020 saw global fintech investment in blockchain/cryptocurrency reach an impressive mark of $2.8 billion, according to a KPMG report. The virtual asset industry has grown steadily over the past few years with the launch of new products and asset classes.
The surge in popularity of cryptocurrency in India can be traced back to early 2017, when products like Bitcoin and Ethereum were gaining traction by promising higher returns than traditional stock options, and perks like discretion and user autonomy.
However, the two Edtech startup employees identified the lack of verified and easy-to-understand information about cryptocurrencies which eager investors like them could refer to.
As Jeevan puts it, the articles available on the internet were filled with jargons, and cryptocurrencies apart from Bitcoin hardly ever found a mention.
Both Jeevan and Himanshu saw how the information gap was keeping many investors away from cryptocurrencies. These factors and the continued buzz around cryptocurrencies led the duo to launch AMBCrypto — a news platform that made easy-to-understand and verified information about cryptocurrencies accessible to readers — in February 2018 with just Rs 15,000 as seed capital.
The two entrepreneurs clicked instantly as their individual strengths complemented each other. While Himanshu had dropped out of an engineering course to dabble in everything from building websites to coding to SEO, Jeevan was a journalist and a media professional with over eight years of experience.
Solving the policy puzzle
They had their work cut out for them, but nothing had prepared them for the shock that awaited them on the launch day of AMBCrypto. “We were to launch the AMBCrypto website on February 1, 2018. Incidentally, former Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was to table the Union Budget in Parliament that day,” recalls Himanshu.
“We were sipping coffee when we got a news alert on our phones that the Finance Minister had just announced that Bitcoin would no longer be considered as legal tender in the country,” he adds. There was immediately a flurry of news articles that claimed that cryptocurrencies were banned in India.
“We were worried and started asking ourselves if leaving our jobs was the right decision. The news shook me as I had just Rs 4,000 in my bank account and still needed to pay for the server and the house rent. But, we decided to forge ahead and by working 15+ hours a day, we somehow managed to get a few clients for our first month of operations,” says Himanshu.
It was difficult to stay positive about the future of cryptocurrencies as many other media publishers in India were shutting down after being pressured by their banking partners.
“We realised that the only way to get through this crisis was to focus on working hard, getting more clients, writing good articles and retaining our audience,” he added. Just as things started getting normal, Himanshu and Jeevan were in for another bumpy ride in their entrepreneurial journey.
“In August 2018, our bank closed our account overnight and we lost access to our own money. We finally resolved the issue with the bank, but it was a desperate moment for us when we couldn't pay our people, despite having the money.”
By June 2019, the news portal was clocking well over 1.5 million sessions per month, but the startup was in for a rude shock as a Google Core update decimated several websites including AMBCrypto, impacting their revenues and audience reach. “Our website traffic crashed to 300,000 in just a month and we had to rework on our audience acquisition strategy from scratch," says Jeevan. A few months and several sleepless nights later, AMBCrypto was able to get its website traffic back on track.
“The experience served as an important lesson and now most of our readers come from sources other than Google because of our partnerships with international news aggregators," says Himanshu.
These challenges weren’t the only ones they have faced till now, but the two entrepreneurs said that these hurdles were a part and parcel of working in an emerging industry like blockchain. The founders credit AMBCrypto’s strong team of journalists and editors and a robust work ethic for their success. “This helps us avoid publishing any fake news or meaningless articles with clickbait headlines,” they add.
Betting big on the future
Starting with 300,000 readers per month in 2018, AMBCrypto today has a user base of more than 30 million per annum. “We have been seeing a year-on-year growth of 20 to 30 percent over the past three years. We have grown from a team of just two people to 30 members spread across three countries,” say the proud founders, adding that their news articles are available in five languages — English, Spanish, Hindi, Japanese and Korean.
AMBCrypto also publishes an e-paper that boasts of 10,000 impressions per issue and is available in more than 50 countries. Their newsletter 'Unhashed' has more than 75,000 subscribers.
Talking about what sets AMBCrypto apart from other news websites, the co-founders say that the platform's focus on providing easy-to-understand and certified information has helped them gain an advantage over competitors.
“We have partnered with 20+ apps and websites like JioNews, Dailyhunt and Paytm to expand our reach and spread more awareness about cryptocurrencies,” says Jeevan. AMBCrypto is also working in conjunction with several international news aggregators like Newsnow, Tradingview and Coinmarketcap.
Currently, AMBCrypto gets over 60 percent of its users through its partners like Dailyhunt, JioNews, Netvibe, Coinmarketcap and Coingecko. Shedding light on how these partnerships have helped the platform scale, Himanshu says, “Our distribution partners have enabled us to become independent of Google search rankings and reach a new demographic audience who are looking for trustworthy sources of information," says Himanshu.
As the business landscape changed, so did the news platform’s priorities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Like most organisations in the world, the pandemic did change the organisational culture of the team. Within the first few months of the pandemic, we created strong processes that enabled the entire team to work remotely. We gave up our office at Koramangala in Bengaluru in 2020 and are now permanently working from home," says Jeevan.
Despite the regulatory flip-flop, the AMBCrytpo team is still bullish on the future of cryptocurrencies in India. “Cryptocurrency and blockchain are likely to shape the future of transactions. People can deny it, ignore it or even fight it, but it is here to stay. Humankind is always evolving and this is the next stage of our financial evolution,” quips Jeevan.
“Less than 2 percent of the Indian population is aware about cryptocurrency investments. In the future, as this number grows, users will need verified and unbiased information while making cryptocurrency investment decisions. We see a huge potential in the growth of AMBCrypto over the next 5-6 years,” explains Himanshu.
The founders are looking to double the number of partners over the next few years and have new products that are likely to be rolled out in 2022.
“Seeing the user onboarding rate of cryptocurrencies on different exchanges, I see a huge potential for AMBCrypto. Over the next five years, the number of people looking for easy-to-understand and authentic information about cryptocurrencies is likely to increase, which will help us explore new opportunities,” adds Jeevan.