GramVaani Co-founder on Monetisation, Partnerships, Funding, Marketing and Roadmap


In the first part of our interaction with GramVaani Co-founder, Aaditeshwar Seth, he spoke with us about their technology, data collection, impact of data, listenership and programming. In the second part of our interaction, he speaks about their monetisation, partnerships, marketing, funding and future roadmap:

Monetisation and Partnerships

MediaNama: How have you monetised the community stations?
GramVaani We don’t monetise the community radio stations. They are taken care of by different NGOs. In any case, the advertising done on these stations is very low. It doesn’t help us even meet the operational cost. In a few months time, we are planning to bring these stations into the Goonj so then it would become easier to bring brands and advertising agencies for better monetisation.

MediaNama: What is the incentive for advertisers to advertise with you?
GramVaani Basically, we have access to a very large user base. This user base is typically not accessible to television or radio media. The benefit, we are able to bring to the advertisers, is the personal reach to people in these geographies. For instance, if there are micro-insurance or health camps, they would be more directed. We could set up a contest asking listeners what they would want from a health camp. They would be asked to leave a message and get a chance to win a prize sponsored by the concerned company. This way, we will be very different from what is usually offered by radio or television.

MediaNama: What is the cost per user on Goonj?
GramVaani In a steady state, there are half million users. When in this steady state, we expect the cost per user per month to be Rs 6-7 on an average. We want to keep the service free for the users, so we make sure that the users only have to give a missed call to a number, and the connected number from the server calls them back. We are trying to further subsidize these calls through sponsors and other network activities over time.

MediaNama: Do you have advertising partners?
GramVaani Not as yet. We are just starting out to build these monetisation models. We have spoken to couple of brands and they have shown interest but we haven’t started as yet.

MediaNama: How do you think the users will react to advertisements?
GramVaani The idea is not to completely portray these communications as ads but to also package them as educational activities. If we are to go to companies working in financial inclusion, we would ask them to do a study on how joining self help groups is helpful to people. This would help the communities in knowing their pros and cons and at the same time companies would know more about catering to the bottom of the pyramid. Or we could also be doing a dental hygiene campaign for a brand like Colgate etc. So that’s how we would pitch the campaigns and not as a blatant ads to be aired on the network.

MediaNama: If someone fills out the social campaigns form on your website, do you charge them to execute it?
GramVaani Right now we are mostly only looking for ideas. Going forward, we will try to get joint sponsors for campaigns. If it is maternal mortality, there are several non-profits who deal with that particular issue. We would reach out to them for sponsorship. In the last 4 years that we have been around, we have got many partners who are interested in using ICT tools for outreach. We would go to them and ask if they would be willing to run this particular campaign. In the future, the web form will remain to generate ideas and the business ideas will also come from there.

MediaNama: What is the kind of partnership that you plan to have with the community radio stations?
GramVaani We plan to have revenue sharing partnerships. We will want them to have a Goonj `hour – a mobile based programme for an hour similar to the content on Goonj network. We will partner with them for that one hour to have conversations similar to the ones on Goonj.
The difference between Jharkhand’s Goonj network and the other community stations is that  in Jharkhand, there is no broadcast component but the other community stations have the broadcast component with limited footprint. The mobile based network becomes more interesting without any boundaries.

Funding and marketing

MediaNama: How are your initiatives funded?
GramVaani We are a for-profit company. So far we have been funding our initiatives through a combination of grants and licensing. The Knight Foundation, U.S.A gave us a grant to build community radio platform. We have also been making money through licensing. Our IVR applications and community radio technologies have been licensed. Some of the revenue streams that we are planning to introduce are corporate messages, market research, advertising and sponsored campaigns on the network. The advertising becomes interesting. Unlike traditional media, here it becomes two way. We can ask people for feedback and charge like the equivalent of pay per click on internet. If an insurance company places an ad, the user can press 0 and get redirected to their call centre after which the entire process can be tracked from their end.

MediaNama: Tell us about your latest round of funding
GramVaani We are raising an equity investment. It is not public yet. I can’t disclose the name of the investors. We have an Indian investor and a US investor who are jointly investing. In the next month or so we will go public with the news.

MediaNama: How do you market Goonj network to the end users?
GramVaani We haven’t really done much publicity at all with the community. It has been word of mouth marketing within the community. Initially, we spoke to several groups about Goonj after that the network has been growing over time through word of mouth. When a  person’s message gets published and they tell their friends about, the friends also start calling and they become regular users. Thats how, much of it works now. As we grow, we will also use newspapers, radio channels, ads, other media to publicise.

MediaNama: How do you measure the impact of your initiatives?
GramVaani The impact is measured in couple of different ways. For instance, the amount of content created on the network is also an indicator of how participative the system is. It shows how the community sees the network as their own and wants to create content. Next measure is the number of people and how we managed to empower them. Final would be the number of voices that we could connect to stakeholders like government, partners etc. We see ourselves as a platform. Our success lies in the number of people we are able to bring together enabling them to network with each other.

Roadmap for the future

MediaNama: Do you plan to expand the Goonj network to the other states that you are present in?
GramVaani Eventually, this year we are planning to expand to one more state. We haven’t decided which state yet. It was serendipitous with Jharkhand because of the kind of groups we were working with in Jharkhand. For the next state, we would make a more strategic decision based on the existing media reach in the state, the number of users etc. It would be a more strategic decision for the next state unlike Jharkhand.

MediaNama: Have you grown as you wanted?
GramVaani We didn’t grow as expected. Our growth was initially constrained because the whole community radio movement was slow. It was the reason why we created IVR based applications. Then IVR was also constrained because the non-profit organisations in India were not used to using ICT. We had to create a new market which was not there so far. That’s how we have made a strategic move now. If we run our own network then we can access non-profit organisations, corporates, government, etc directly without trouble. This method we feel is going to be much easier for us to grow fast.

MediaNama: What’s the best case scenario for Goonj and your technology driven community stations?
GramVaani Our best scenario would be when we are able to hit our targets and grow the network. Ultimately, we want to be a social media platform for the bottom of the pyramid. Then the problem is how do we make it sustainable. In Indian scenario, apart from the usual technology cost like the ones faced by companies like Twitter, Facebook, here we also have access cost for calls. On the internet, this access cost is subsidized for online social networks. You pay your broadband provider and then you get access to the entire internet with a larger ecosystem. In our case, the website content creator doesn’t have to pay any access cost. Through the broadband they get access to all sites. In our case, we pay because we are both the content provider and the service provider that becomes a big problem for us.

MediaNama: Will the community stations and Goonj network continue to be mutually exclusive?
GramVaani Community radio stations have a specific geographic footprint. In each of those geographies, community radio are going to be predominant. They have more staff and resources to produce content and the community has also been sensitised to the community radio. We view them as complementary to Goonj. Community radio is spotty or patchy. For instance, Madhya Pradesh has 3 stations. Each has a small footprint. Mobile radio makes it more agile, in the sense, more people in the state can access it.

MediaNama: What is your plan for Goonj for the future?
GramVaani The internal targets are mostly around two things – growing the network and sustaining it. Growing is to really scale the network. We want to hit 10x touch, 20000 calls a day. In Jharkhand alone we want to reach out 1,00,000 people and pump up call volumes. We also want to start evaluating the revenue streams.