POPxo has the finger on the pulse of India. Specifically, the new India’s female persuasion. What makes POPxo so compelling as a platform is its inventive approach, driven by years of data.
POPxo’s point of origin was London - the city where time starts. In a candid interview with The Passage, Priyanka Gill, the founder and CEO of POPxo, gave us a glimpse into the trajectory of POPxo, its learning curves, and the changing dynamics of India’s fairer sex.
The Passage: How did POPxo come about?
Priyanka Gill: I founded Estylista in 2013 in London for NRI (non resident Indian) women.
In 2012-13, there was no content platform at scale in English for Indian women. We decided to create the platform for Indian women living in India and launched POPXO in March 2013. For a year or so, we tried to run the company out of London. We raised our first institutional round of funding. It made sense to move back, because the traffic was here, the team was here. So there was no sense to keep being in London at that point.
The Passage: What kind of content where you creating initially?
Priyanka Gill: Everything women are interested in such as fashion, beauty, lifestyle, weddings, relationships, work, fitness etc. We still do the same.
Beauty, especially hair, is our most popular category. Skin does very good for us as well. Then, relationships.
The Passage: How did your background as a fashion editor influence your decision to start POPXO?
Priyanka Gill: I was trained to be a journalist. I studied English in college. And I was writing and editing for magazines. I come from a content background.
So, I know how to create content. A lot of data also comes into play. We have years of data, what people are reading at what time and what works. We create 1,500 articles in six languages every month.
The Passage: How did POPXO change as a content platform over the years?
Priyanka Gill: As a content platform, we have remained true to our founding philosophy. We always talk about what makes us feel happy and makes us feel empowered.
It helps us be the best version of ourselves. That's the kind of content we always want to do.
What has changed is the way we interact with our audience. We started off by writing stories, and then video came in. We started producing a lot of videos. Today we produce 60-70 videos a month and generate 100-150 million views a month.
The duration of the videos will be anywhere between three to seven minutes. We also produce web series as well. We have two web series in production now.
Later, we have realised she's actually looking for products that can express who she is to the world. I am a sporty girl or I'm a woman who works. Those kinds of products didn't exist.
Under the POPXO brand private label, we have a catalogue of products that we produce for our audience. These products are made based on engagement data we have on our content. So there are buyers already. For example, if a million women saw a particular meme and liked it, which means the content of the meme has some resonance with millions of women, and then we can turn that into a T-shirt or a phone cover and sell it back to our audience using content influencers and social media.
The Passage: How big is your data science team?
Priyanka Gill: We call them the growth team. Our growth team is around 14 people out of 180 staff in the company. We also have some people working in Mumbai for content. The head of sales is in Mumbai office.
The Passage: What was the thought process that led to starting an influencer platform in 2017?
Priyanka Gill: We were already working with brands for content. The brands will come and say we want to launch something, why don't you create content to help us launch it. And then they started to say you create content for us, and why don't you get a couple of influencers to participate in the campaign.
So we started to onboard some influencers and said, ‘Hey, we will pay some money, why don't you create content for this campaign as well’. That kind of snowballed into a campaign we did for Puma, and they had an event in Mumbai. So in the run up to the event, they wanted 800 men to plank in different places on Instagram.
So then you have to get 800 influencers on phone calls and WhatsApp and trying to get them to finish the work. It is very complicated. At that point, our tech came to us and said, ‘Look, we can use technology to make this simpler’. That's when we kind of came up with Plixxo. Today we can run thousands of influencers on a single campaign and the entire team is 12 people.
20,000 influencer has signed the contract with Plixxo.
The Passage: How do you see influencer platforms as an industry?
Priyanka Gill: The KOL (Key Opinion Leader) industry in China is very big. I think India is in the beginnings of the industry right now. We have some people who do full time as influencers. Brands are looking to work very, very closely with influencers.
I think KOL is going to be a very powerful and interesting industry in the future.
The Passage: Could you give us a break up of your user demographics?
Priyanka Gill: We have 43 million monthly active users across platforms on POPXO, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. 49% of our audience is under the age of 25, 51% is above the age of 25, 18% of our audience accesses POPXO through iOS devices and they have spending power as well.
We are majority female. 90% of our traffic comes from mobile web. We are spread across India. Over 51% of our audience comes from outside and seven big cities. Our Hindi audience is bigger than English audience.
Male users can read the stories but cannot access the community part of the platform.
The Passage: Tell us about your newly launched luxury platform
Priyanka Gill: Brands were coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, we want to spend on digital, but there is no luxury content platform of choice’, which is why we launched Luxeva.
The luxury industry in India is relatively small. But I think it's a good investment for us to do as a company. And also because Luxeva came after POPXO, so everything we learnt about tech, content and commerce, all of that has been built into Luxeva as well.
The clients we have on Luxeva have gone back to POPXO as well. So we continue to be bullish on that. We want to verticalise across different categories.
The Passage: What’s your revenue model?
Priyanka Gill: The first form of revenue is sponsored content. We go to brands and say we have lots of audience. We know what they want, we can help you sell. We create content for them - social media content and video content. That's one.
Second is influencer marketing. The third is ads and the fourth is e-commerce.
Sponsored content is 50% of our revenue. Influencer marketing is 40% of revenue. We launched ecommerce in the last quarter of the last financial year.
The Passage: Don’t you think e-commerce is an investment-heavy model compared to the content business?
Priyanka Gill: The first version of e-commerce all of us saw was the traditional form of e commerce. Brands came in, they figured out logistics, they figured out the supply chain, they figured out how to get so many vendors together. And then they started spending on marketing to get people to buy from them. So that was the first version of e commerce.
That's immensely scalable. This sorted a lot of issues. Because of that, today the nuts and bolts of e commerce are well defined - services are available, last mile connectivity is sorted, logistics is sorted, supply chain is also sorted in many, many ways.
The inefficiency in the first version of e-commerce is that it's highly dependent on marketing, for each sale, you have to spend big marketing dollars.
POPXO is a company that spends less than USD 10,000 a month on marketing. Digital marketing is basically what we do, we get so much audience and so much engagement.
Private Label has high gross margin and our marketing cost is zero. So it's a huge arbitrage opportunity for us to kind of come up with e-commerce version 2.0 which is content led. And that's why I think it's a fairly unoccupied space in our approach to selling to the user.
The second innovation we do is how we sell the products back to them. Instead of spending marketing dollars, we have to sort of refer them to content they are already engaging with and sell the products.
The social innovation we're doing is on product creation side - looking at data to help create products - and the marketing side. Instead of using marketing dollars, we are using content and influencers to sell the products back.
The Passage: What is the split between PGC and UGC on your platform?
Priyanka Gill: We publish round 1,500 articles and 60 videos a month. On the UGC side, we have around 250 questions and 1.5 million answers every month. Question and answer type content are loved in India.
We believe PGC content helps you create a brand, which is what we've done. UGC content has given you breath.
We will be doing a lot of UGC content in the future, but we will always be PGC as well.
We are launching reviews soon and then we will launch stories and see how it goes.
The Passage: Are you regulated as a media company in India?
Priyanka Gill: We are not producing news. Our content is created by us mostly. And for UGC, we have red flags, we have permissioning, we have flagging, different ways to make sure certain words are not allowed.
If a user is typing a certain word, either she gets a health message or we just drop the content.
The Passage: Lots of brands use the short video format to sell products. Do you see them as competition?
Priyanka Gill: They sell other people's products through short video format. That's why we are different because it is all private label. So it's a different way again, of doing the same business. We don't sell other people's products on POPXO.
We are now in the market for over five years. Now, it is different environment. Five years ago Facebook as a platform was prioritising publishers and content. Facebook was giving free distribution to good publishers and content. That basically allowed us to build a very large base of people. Today, you have to spend a lot of money on Facebook to get your content out there.
The second is the system we learned and built over time. How do you create a lot of content with limited resources, how do you scale in different ways. All of those are basically things that we have kind of discovered and then put into process along the way.
Third is data. We have users and reading habits that go back to five years, which allow us to predict with a high degree of accuracy what's going to work. And anyone starting on right now will have to develop it.
The Passage: Do you have plans to raise funds?
Priyanka Gill: We have raised a total of USD 10.9 million so far. We are in funding round right now. We have a lead investor who we are in talk with right now. It is an open round, so will take a few months. Hopefully we should get it done before the end of the year or early next year.
The fresh capital will go towards the product side of our business. Some of the funds will go to Plixxo.
The Passage: Are you looking for investors from China?
Priyanka Gill: Of course. I have spoken to a bunch of people in the past. China has a lot of experience for this kind of company and all of those learnings can help us shorten our own discovery time. And some of the mistakes that they've already made and learnt from, we don't need to make all of those all over again.
From a technology point, Chinese companies have a lot of really good stuff that you can use right now. Of course, you go and develop if you don't have it. But having what they have already developed is no doubt the better option.