Indians comprise possibly the largest demographic of music listeners, worldwide, yet there are only a limited number of legitimate music platforms to serve them. The old world of Mobile VAS falls short of offering an experience befitting the passion that listeners have for music. Big box retail has only recently arrived on the scene, and most people in India never bought CDs from the smaller music retailers in the first place. The platform of choice is, surprisingly, television. No wonder piracy is rampant! Music is just not readily available. Songs.pk, MusicIndiaOnline and others provide unlimited illegal downloads, while CD burners and SD-Cards provide recurring access. All told, nearly 50MM people consume pirated music everyday!
Saavn aims to disrupt this dysfunctional music ecosystem. We constantly learn and improve by speaking with consumers on the street and with market-leading telco retailers, and by speaking at events like Harvard’s India Conference, the Goldman Sachs TMT Conference, the IAMAI Digital Conference, and the WPP’s Stream in Jaipur.
Building this company is a marathon, not a sprint. Recently, we have seen several companies, such as Flipkart’s Flyte and Dhingana, fail – despite having been started and run by very smart people. We have seen others teeter on the edge of fiscal collapse due to new government regulation (TRAI) that prevents them from, essentially, tricking people into buying unwanted services. So what has us marching forward? Our unwavering focus on providing the best music experience to our users.
Our drive comes from serving our customers and creating the reality that should already have existed for them. How important is music to our audience? At last count, there were 56 holidays and festivals on the Indian calendar, all of which revolve around music.
As my colleague and Saavn Co-founder Rishi Malhotra says, “music is in the bone” in India, and it flows through the bloodstream of every Indian across all walks of life. The surprise and delight we have witnessed on the faces of first-time Saavn app users is both rewarding and reassuring. There is no better return than putting a “big smile on peoples faces,” per Saavn Co-founder Paramdeep Singh. And our other Co-founder, Anurag Gupta, strives daily to make this “hard-core technology invisible to the user.” Our team has created a product that people deemed impossible – until they experienced it firsthand.
At its core, Saavn is a consumer-media and technology company that bridges Silicon Valley and Bollywood – an information culture and an entertainment culture. Technology is about creating abundance, while media is about creating value through scarcity. Content owners like Sony, Saregama, T-Series, Aditya Music, and several others license music to a handful of companies to make sure it’s not commoditized, and to properly regulate its value.
Running Saavn requires a proficiency in engaging with these content owners, selling advertising, aligning with mobile operators, integrating with device manufacturers, and generally working with other players in the ecosystem, in a mutually beneficial manner – and ensuring that none of this happens at the expense of our users’ listening experience. Having technology and media expertise in-house allows us to meld science with art. It is this extreme diversity of skill sets that allows us to execute our mission. Other companies across this landscape may get one part right, but not both. It’s incredibly hard to get technology and media mindsets to co-exist without proper organization, proper design, and a culture of collaboration, trust, and efficiency. Everyone at Saavn is a shareholder and everyone acts likes an owner.
We’re not just different from each other – we do things differently from others in this space. Saavn is a system of interlocking parts. In our “tri-coastal” operation, our engineering team is based in Silicon Valley; our product,design, and marketing teams are in New York; our content team is based in Mumbai; and our ad sales and business development teams are in New Delhi. We joke that even if a business plan – full of juicy product roadmaps, business models, and content licensing agreements – was left behind on a plane, it wouldn’t matter, because it’s our team that’s our real secret sauce.
Last but not least, great investors are a critical component of our success. We are fortunate to have a highly intelligent, connected, and patient group of people in New York, Germany, and India backing us. They provide thoughtful feedback on strategy, help us with recruiting, source advisors, introduce us to business development partners, and deliver a lot more value than just their capital.
We feel incredibly lucky to be building Saavn and you’ll be seeing big things from us in the future.