This week’s guest on The Subscription Publishing show is Snigdha Sur, founder and CEO of The Juggernaut. Launched in 2019, The Juggernaut is a subscription-first publication covering stories about South Asia and South Asians around the world.
Snigdha and I discuss why subscriptions offer the best model for powering The Juggernaut’s editorial mission, the opportunity for publishers to place themselves at the center of communities, and why The Juggernaut is building and maintaining much of its subscription technology in-house. Listen to the full episode above, and via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Highlights from the conversation included:
When it launched in 2019 The Juggernaut knew it would struggle to quickly attract an audience large enough to support a robust ad business. It also hoped to prove to investors that a publication targeting South Asians was worth betting on.
“Subscriptions made perfect sense. We had a very targeted audience, we knew they had the willingness to pay, and we knew there was no other solution out there for them. We also knew it gave us extra predictability and revenue in the door early, so even if we raised no VC money we could have a path to profitability,” Snigdha said.
The simplicity of “hard” paywalls
The Juggernaut operates a hard paywall requiring readers to take out free trials to read anything more than excerpts of content. That’s a more aggressive approach than the freemium and metered models which have become the common choice for many publishers, but its simplicity appealed to Snigdha and her team when building the first iteration of its product.
“I looked at what a bunch of different publications were doing and I ended up going with the hard paywall because, hey, it was easier for me to build… If you start doing stuff like metered paywalls, people start to figure out how to avoid them. They read three articles and they’re out. We really wanted to get people into the habit where we suck you in during that free trial for seven days, and you want to read every single article there, and then somehow you’re with us for life… I figured why don’t we start with not giving people anything and if for some reason this is an utterly terrible experiment, we can loosen it,” she said.
Building subscription technology in-house
Rather than buying an off-the-shelf solution, The Juggernaut opted to build large parts of its subscription tech itself:
“Some of it was out of pure necessity and some of it was also just being aware of where technology was headed. There’s a little bit more in terms of initial cost, but it’s so much more customizable and you’re not reliant on a third party. You’re also not paying a 10% fee forever, because you’re using somebody else’s registration wall or somebody else’s system. And frankly, we did talk to a few vendors and because we were a startup they said no to us. They thought we were too small.”
Transcript of full conversation:
(Audio was transcribed using an automated service. Please excuse mistakes and typos.)
Snigdha Sur 1:15
The Juggernaut is a media company and community for Global South Asian stories. What that means is we cover people around the world who have roots from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, sometimes Afghanistan, sometimes Burma, but basically that Indian subcontinent region, in terms of our products, we have two main ones. One is a free weekly newsletter we send out every Sunday where we kind of go through the news, so you don’t have to and kind of cover the key South Asian stories globally, and just sum it up for people. And then the second product we have is more you know, Allah, The New York Times or the athletic, which is a subscription product where you pay us typically 72 bucks a year, and you access via paywall, you know, you get through the paywall, a lot of our original content and a lot of our original articles. So those are our two main products today.
Jack Marshall 2:07
So what is your revenue model? Currently the core product is the paid product. You mentioned the newsletter as well. Is there an advertising element that you’re layering on top? What does that split look like currently?
Snigdha Sur 2:19
That’s a great question. So one of our investors is Adam Hansmann, the cofounder of the athletic which exited earlier this year to the New York Times. And you know, one of the best parts of talking to an operator is they get to tell you like what did you wish you would have done differently. And one of the things he told me is that look, I would have loved to have experimented with advertising earlier. So for the longest time, we were like, we don’t have the bandwidth for this, we don’t have the bandwidth for this. So we were just totally, totally focused on subscription. And this year is the first year where we started to monetize our free weekly newsletter because we saw such amazing engagement. And so we have signed on a few sponsors this year. So I would say our current revenue split is about 80% subscriptions direct to consumer, and then 20% ad sales to other businesses.
Jack Marshall 3:04
The Athletic I think famously sort of hung their hat on the idea that they would be not only subscription first but subscription only. The idea being that advertising wouldn’t sort of pollute the content or the experience. Those are my words, not not The Athletics. But having sold to the New York Times one of the first things they did was layer on an ad product. Was there something that you think subscriptions enabled you to do that advertising maybe didn’t? Talk me through that sort of evolution or thought process?
Snigdha Sur 3:45
Yeah, that’s a really great question. So I would say that the way to think about it is how much patience you have for what I call profitability, and predictability. And I think that should determine for any business, what model they kind of, to your point hang their head on, or initially kind of really Chase, I do think it’s important. And many people have pulled off multiple revenue streams from the get go. And you can look at, you know, folks like I would say, The Atlantic for this, where they kind of said, Oh, we’re going to do subscription, we’re also going to do advertising. And we’re also going to do events, and we’re gonna do stuff exceptionally well. They’re also a multi 100 year old brand. So let’s say you’re in business today. And you’re like, Well, what should I start with? Right? There’s usually something to start with. If you look at Axios, even they started with advertising. And I would say that the reason we chose to start with subscription is if you look at our target demo, which is South Asians, we specifically go to market started with South Asian Americans. There are 6 million of us which is very tiny when you think about it in the ad world, right? Most people are living in this world where they want to get as many eyeballs or as many impressions sorry, in front of as many eyeballs as possible. And that means that 6 million as a target audience just won’t ever cut it right. You can just go to a Facebook ad for like a few $100 and already get oh For 6 million impressions, right, that’s not an 6 million unique, sorry, impressions, not just impressions. And so we decided based on our target demo based on go to market, we wanted to prove to investors quite quickly that we were investable bet. Number one, and number two, quite quickly figure out what were our unit economics. Because if we didn’t know that, then the rest of the kind of business would be quite unknown for a long time. And I don’t I don’t come from a trust fund. I don’t have really, really wealthy parents, I don’t come from, you know, it’s, you know, that kind of background. So it’s not like I had my own personal wealth to fund it and had lot more time to figure that out. Right, which is how you can do it with an ad model, no, ad free model, I’m sorry, an ad based model. And so we started with subscription, because we’re like, Wait, this is a demographic 6 million of us that has half a trillion dollars of spending power. Can we convince a small portion of them to give me and see what that kind of repeat unit economics looks like? And that’s why we went with subscription. I definitely tell people, because there are so many people who ask us for advice for like, should I do subscription? Should I do advertising? And I always say, I know this is the worst answer. It depends. Yes, the answer is yes. I know, it’s the worst question. I know, it’s the worst answer. I know, you’re saying the answer is yes. But you know, for us subscription made perfect sense. We had a very targeted audience, we knew they had willingness to pay, we knew there was not enough, like another solution that was like good enough out there for them. We knew it gave us extra predictability. We knew it gave us revenue early into the door. So even if we raised no VC money, we could or no other funding, we could have a path to profitability. So those are all the reasons I started with that. So I don’t know if that answered your question. That was such a long winded answer. But that’s what worked for us.
Jack Marshall 6:37
From an editorial standpoint, do you think starting with subscriptions has enabled you to approach your output a little bit differently? The scaled ad-based model that you described has inevitably sort of dictated the type of content that publications put out, whether you’re relying on traffic from social or search or whatever it might be. So I’m just curious from a pure editorial standpoint, has that sort of played into that decision? Or what has that enabled you to do?
Snigdha Sur 7:09
Yeah, editorially, that’s such a great point. We didn’t even talk about the editorial aspects, so you’re nudging me to do that. So I would say editorially, what’s really interesting is I have a whole theory, I talk about it with my team a lot, I call it, you know, clickbait versus clickability. And I believe clickbait is when you are putting a headline or a subtitle out there or something really, really exciting. And you want people to click, and then they click, and they read your story. And it doesn’t deliver on its promise. It’s actually not what you thought it was at all. And I think clickability is when you write a really compelling headline, write a really compelling subtitle beautiful graphics, people click in, maybe they hit a paywall, but it’s such a good premise, they then go and try to get a free trial or pay. And then when they read the story, it delivers its its promise. And so I would say that when you have a subscription model, the bar is really high for barley, you’re convincing people that they not only have to click in, you have to make it clickable, you’re also need to show that even you that friction cost is totally worth it to like, hit the paywall get through the paywall put in your credit card, then read that article, and then the promise of reading more articles. And I think that the other thing to remember is that because again, going back to the size of the audience, we’re not going to win when it comes to having the most popular article in the world. When it comes to some of the issues we talked about that are specific to the diaspora, that’s never going to happen. And so we really wanted to maintain that discipline and say, Look, editorially, we should be covering the best stories, not the stories that we think is going to have the most eyeballs, but I’d love for them to have great eyeballs too, but also the stories that we actually think deserve to be told. And especially in a region like South Asia, sometimes that means covering something so specific, that maybe nobody else cares to know about but hey, it probably resonates with somebody out there who might be teaching a class on South Asian Studies or who might be thinking about something else. And so yes, I do think editorially, it adds a lot of discipline. But this is a surprise. I think some people already know this, you probably already know this jack, is that many of the articles that you would say are the ones that are free, no paywall, no subscription, and do really well and bring in a lot of ad dollars. Many of those same articles could be the very ones that bring in a lot of subscribers. And so you’ve seen this trade off, play out with some publications where you’ll see I think, Entertainment Weekly, what they’ll do is they’ll have like a hot article out, they’ll put it behind a paywall. They’ll wait a few weeks until it’s no longer timely, and then they’ll remove the paywall. Yeah, so they get the benefit of the subscribers but then they also get the benefit of the ad dollars. So I definitely see that play out a little bit to
Jack Marshall 9:43
Give us a sense of your subscriber base currently. How many paying subscribers do you have? Give us a sense of your growth since you launched.
Snigdha Sur 9:52
Yes, so we haven’t ever officially announced our paying subscribers yet because that is also one thing Adam told me like once you start doing that it’s feels like you’re running an analyst call every quarter like company. So we have not, we’ve also tried to get up, get ourselves off that treadmill. But what we’ll say is similar to what other companies saw during COVID, like we grew 6x, during 2020, we grew 3x, during 2021, from a much larger base, we didn’t actually increase our spend that much. And so that’s been a really fascinating thing for me to think about, which is, as we scale and your base gets bigger, and you want to maintain certain growth rates, you probably have to increase your spend, because that spend, you know, goes into few buckets and technology into people for writing and editorial. And then also in terms of thinking about how you, you know, do the marketing side of it, and the growth side of it, which is contents or editorial is fantastic in the sense that it has its own kind of inbuilt virality, right? Like, if you write something great, hopefully more and more people will know about it, and more and more people will share, share it. So when I say marketing, I think some people think immediately, oh, that means like ad dollars when I say marketing, I mean, it means everything from Do you have an amazing email flow, to make sure that your current subscribers know that this great piece of thing is out, right? Do you have a really good relationship with other platforms where you guys can co collaborate and share things that might have, you know, relevance to a shared audience? Are you you know, those are the kind of things I always think about because, you know, that creates a ton of opportunity to kind of exchange audiences but also make sure more people know that there’s something out there that’s relevant to them.
Jack Marshall 11:32
How have you seen that cohort sort of retain? So they’re heading into this year? And I guess heading into 2023?
Snigdha Sur 12:52
Yeah. So I think again, going back to our attention, one of the things that we’re really, really proud of is our 12 month retention at the Juggernaut has been really high. It’s 75%, which is usually really unheard of, for consumer SAS, I would say it’s usually closer to 30 to 40% is considered great and consumer kind of software as a service, or subscription services. So we’re really proud of that retention metric. And we know that’s happening, because we’re hopefully trying to build that sense of community and giving people something they don’t really get anywhere else. What I will say is, as we head into this new environment in 2022, where people just feel beat, right? People feel like we’re getting hit on all sides, interest rates are going up, valuations are going down. Real asset prices are falling, there’s inflation, people feel the pinch, I definitely think what ends up happening is you have to figure out as a company, how do you deliver more value? And I think that’s something as a company we’re really trying to figure out. So one of the things that have been on my list is how do I make sure there’s more regular events, both online and offline, for our community, for our subscribers community to make them feel special? We’re figuring out a scalar verticals. So we’ve mostly been in culture. So how do we scale to business in tech? How do we scale to politics so that we can provide more for the subscription they already have? And I think you’re seeing companies like Netflix, as we talked about, they’ve been increasing prices to counter inflation, which makes total sense. It’s also led to a lot of backlash and cancellations, which is why they’re, you know, really pursuing this ad strategy to try to provide like a 799 a month tear. And so, you know, for us, we’re going to be trying a bunch of different things as we head into this kind of environment where, you know, consumers are demanding a lot. They want to know that there is value, and it’s totally worth it. And that’s going to be on us to deliver.
Jack Marshall 14:34
So you mentioned events there. In addition, just to sort of the core content products, I mean, what are sort of the key drivers of engagement and retention for you? Obviously the paywall does its job and drives the conversion, people are sticking around for the content, but what else are you experimenting with on that front?
Snigdha Sur 14:51
Yes, events seem to be a Well, I would say to zoom out a little bit. Our hypothesis is people just want to feel seen and they want to feel like they belong. Right. That’s it human need, I always think well, what are the human needs that never changed. And that’s one of them. And so one of the things we started testing as we started doing events in New York and LA, and when subscribers got together, and they got to meet each other if you were so excited, and we kept on hearing over and over again, I’m joining the Juggernaut just not just for these amazing stories that made me feel seen made me feel heard make me feel like there’s something to dig into. I’m also joining the Juggernaut, because I want to meet the other juggernaut members, like who are these people. And so you probably heard me talk about this in another podcast, but like, I always used to joke with Adam that like, Hey, if you’re an athletic subscriber, you just want to go to a game, you’re not really interested in going to meet another Yankee fan at a bar, you might as well just go to a Yankee game, you’ll meet a ton of that. And for the New York Times, you know, you’re usually like, okay, like, I don’t really have much in common with this other New York Times subscriber, because it’s such a generalist product rates and mass, I call it Coca Cola to like, first of the Red Bull, you know, you’re not going to necessarily meet other New York Times subscribers usually going to meet the famous person for the juggernaut. Whenever we read, whenever we ask our audience at the beginning of any of that, like, why are you here? Are you here for the guest? You’ll see a slew of hands. Are you here to meet other subscribers, you’ll see a huge slew of hands. And so that is something that we feel is one of those key drivers because people don’t crave that right as you think about institutions that are dying, unfortunately, or fortunately, the way my parents, they were new immigrants, and I’m an immigrant, but they the way they met other people in their community was by going to like religious festivals or religious events, or, you know, language events, like the Bengali salon or Durga Puja, our generation, we’re not doing that right. among South Asian Americans, the way we meet other South Asian Americans are often by pure luck, or you happen to like, work with them, but there’s no larger kind of connective tissue. And so we’re trying to hopefully solve for that. And so yeah, I do believe that events for us might have a bigger weight than then maybe for other kind of, I would say, brands or consumer brands.
Jack Marshall 16:48
The word community gets thrown around a lot these days, especially in media. But I do wonder if products such as the Juggernaut, you know, there is sort of such an inherent sort of community element there that, to your point just doesn’t exist with products like the New York Times. And I think you’re seeing publishers like that attempting to sort of engender that sense of community with sort of more kind of vertical offerings, whether it’s events or whatever else, but we’re sort of seeing, I guess, a new crop of media company that sort of cropping up with the community element at its core. And obviously, content is a key part of that, but maybe the real driver for subscription and retention. Certainly it is that community piece.
Snigdha Sur 17:26
One of the interesting things about the clubhouse era during COVID is we were co I was co hosting this club with one of my mentors Sonal Choksi. And she used to work in that a16z editorial team, and now she’s on a16z crypto. And that was such a, you know, wonderful gathering place where so many people could kind of talk about the things they’ve been consuming at the the Juggernaut during the week and have this one place to like talk about it. And I sometimes think there’s so many things, community structures that got broken down during COVID and got rebuilt. But now and just post kind of COVID world I always question like, there was some good there, there was some, you know, bad there, of course, two people credibly lonely and depressed during that time, too. And it’s like, how do you how do we kind of separate, you know, as we say, the baby versus the bathwater, and throw everything out? Versus what are kind of the new structures we can build. And that’s something I always think about, like the online versus offline debate. And you know, what, all I can do is just hire a smart person, and they can kind of figure that out for me. So that’s kind of one of my list, which is, hey, go experiment, have fun. Let’s figure out what can really work with this kind of group of people. Because it feels really good when you kind of get somebody together. And they’re like, wait a second, like this is really energizing, you want people to feel that kind of energy.
Jack Marshall 18:37
Have you invested in sort of that digital community side today? Or is that something that’s on your roadmap?
Snigdha Sur 18:44
That is on our roadmap, because, frankly, for me, it’s been decision paralysis. As a founder, I will say like, I have done a couple of surveys with the community. And the answers are always different. And I’ve realized it’s because of partly because of COVID. Some of my investors still call me a COVID, baby, because like we raised money, primarily, all of the majority of the money we’ve raised has been during COVID. So I remember, like raising money during the summer, and they’re like, snow, oh, VCs are on vacation, like, what are you doing? I’m like, what VCs are on vacation during the summer. I’ve never experienced that. Right? I’ve raised all but there have been many investors I’ve never met in real life, because I’ve raised everything on Zoom. And so going back to being a COVID, baby in decision paralysis, we ran a couple of surveys where we’re like, Hey, if you want an online community, where would you want to be? And you know, different, like different times of point of time, we’ve seen Facebook groups come up as a top choice. We’ve seen slack, come up with that as the top choice we’ve seen, clubhouse come up as the top choice. We’ve seen discord come up as the top choice. And so I’m not at the moment where I’m like, You know what, no more of this. Like, no more decision paralysis. I again, going back to my spirit of delegation, that’s my vibe right now. I’m just going to delegate this to her how to be in community, and they’re gonna figure it out for me on their first 30 days and we’ll build it. One of the other solutions we looked at and I was actually talking to Shareen about this was circle.sl because they it’s a white label product that you can integrate with your website so you don’t have to get people won’t have to go through another Their platform, and maybe they can go to like community dot the juggernaut.com and kind of talk and interact. That was definitely on the roadmap for a while too. But then I kind of didn’t want to overwhelm the engineer. So we never did that. So there’s, there’s, there’s that I will say, so don’t fall into my trap, make a decision, talk to your customers figure out what’s you know, where they’re likely to have the least friction, but also, after a certain point, just like pick something and just go with it. That’s, that’s my advice, which I have clearly not followed.
Jack Marshall 20:27
The approach you’ve taken with your paywall is what I would call sort of relatively tight compared with the approaches of some of the publishers. So what was the thinking behind that approach? And how effective has it proven?
Snigdha Sur 20:43
Yeah, I think, you know, going back to making decisions quickly, and trying not to think too hard about it and kind of putting experimentation to leader when I was doing initial product research to figure out what kind of paywall we wanted to do. I definitely looked at the Atlantic as a case study, I looked at the Financial Times I looked at the New York Times, I looked at a bunch of different publications. And usually what ended up happening is that people had a spectrum of, you know, basically, how porous is this paywall? Is this like a metered paywall where you like, can read three articles for free, and then it stops you is that a hard paywall where you kind of can’t really read much at all, and to read into any article at all, you need to subscribe. And I ended up going with the hard paywall, because, hey, it was easier for me to build one of my really good friends where I met this person who was a friend of a friend in a bar in Bombay. And I was like, Hey, you want to build a site with me, I’m getting into Y Combinator. Let’s do this. And so he built like 95% of it, I go 5% of it. But like, I always like to think we co built it in terms of the product strategy. And we just decided hard paywalls really simple to build. There’s not much algorithmic logic you have to do, there’s not much IP address matching you have to do, it’s just super simple, super easy. And when you look at the data, when you look at what the Financial Times was reporting at the time, it actually led to more usage. Because if you start doing stuff like metered paywalls, people start to figure out, okay, how do I avoid this three article thing, so they’ll only read three articles, and they’re out. We really wanted to get people into the habit where we suck you in during that free trial for seven days, and you want to read every single article there, and then somehow you’re stuck with us for life. Like that’s what we want. That’s experience. We want it. So because of that we kind of ended up going with the, you know, the hard paywall. What’s really good is I also talked about this a lot. It’s like initial conditions. It’s so much harder to take things away from people people can really upset. You know, they get so upset when you take things away from them, right. It’s like once you give a tax break, right, they say it’s like near impossible to erase that tax break. Everyone knows this and politics, or maybe they do know, they don’t know this, but that’s what our tax code looks like. So I figured that why don’t I start with not giving people anything? And if for some reason, this is an utterly terrible experiment, we can loosen it right? We can create porousness, we can make it easier for people. And there are a few things we can do right now. So today, what we can do, don’t tell the readers this, but they’ll find out soon enough, because we can select which articles we want to make what I call unlockable with an email. So if we think it’s a news story, if we think this is like a COVID story, we made all our COVID coverage free, all you have to do is give us your email address. So we meet our BLM editorial free, we made our COVID coverage free. And all we asked was for your email address. So we still to this day can make certain articles, unlockable just we just want something from you. And so that’ll allow an introduce some porousness and some people to kind of build trust with us and kind of read what we’re doing. So that that was easier to build after because you know, you’ve made it so difficult. Once you give people something, it’s nice. The second thing I did is I love stealing and copying different features from different companies and like creating my own Frankenstein. So we copy the information where you can kind of share an article link or gift an article, basically, you can share an article link, and if you’re a subscriber and gift it to any friend, and they again, give their email to us. And then they can read the article for free. And so you started seeing like the New York Times The Wall Street Journal also start implementing this recently, but I believe it started with information.
Jack Marshall 24:03
How do you sort of balance that with discoverability? So I mean, you mentioned metered paywalls. I think a lot of publishers, when they first kind of pushed into Subscriptions went with me to paywalls, in part because they’re a little bit nervous about sort of discoverability and reach. And then I think sort of the second wave of subscriptions, we’ve seen publishers move towards what I call more of a freemium model where you have sort of a free class of content that can grow the brand, you know, it can help you out with distribution on social and search and all that stuff, while sort of reserving a separate area of content for paying subscribers. So I mean, how have you sort of balanced that relatively tight paywall with the discoverability and sort of brand development piece? Is that as much of a concern for you, is it maybe as for other sort of more broad focused publishers, you know, do you rely more heavily on on word of mouth or just talk me through that dynamic?
Snigdha Sur 24:54
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say that for us. In terms of brand visibility, we’ve Notice that you know, first of all, I zoom out a second. So the question is like, I feel you’re saying that there’s sometimes some publishers create two kinds of kind of editorial coverage. One part that they want to just make free, accessible, get shared a ton, helps increase their brand visibility. And then there might be like a second tier that’s, you know, behind a paywall, maybe further subscribers a little bit more needy.
Jack Marshall 25:23
Exactly. Yeah, it kind of satisfies both needs.
Snigdha Sur 25:27
I can totally see the benefit of doing that. Again, going back into keeping things simple. Initially, when you’re growing a brand. We didn’t go that route, right? We just were like, hey, everything that we’re writing, we’re going to aim for the paywall. We can make the paywall unlockable, but what we’re just trying to do is, first create our own style, because no one had really done what we had done before in terms of the exact demographic and the exact quality bar. So we’re like, first let’s get our style down. So we know what a juggernaut the article sounds like, looks like reads like, and I think down the line, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t do something like that. Like, I know that some companies do this through like, you know, Forbes 30, under 30. They do a list, right? That becomes a brand. But in and of itself that’s often completely free gets virally shared becomes like a moment. You see other companies do this through like, you know, even the time next 100. Right, like that just came out. So I think one way to do this for companies? And would I be that is not beneath me, I would definitely think we would totally do a list where you kind of do a list like that completely free. Make everyone like show up to that moment. Yeah. And use that for brand awareness. We’ve also done brand awareness through events as well. But yes, I definitely think that’s a really smart strategy. And something that we haven’t explored to its full potential yet.
Jack Marshall 26:42
So as things stand currently, what is the path from sort of anonymous traffic to follow paying subscriber look like for the juggernaut? What’s that sort of conversion process? Typically?
Snigdha Sur 26:54
Yeah, I think what’s really interesting in the world we live in right now is that first touch point for a person to get to know about us may not happen on our website at all. So you know, sometimes people hear about us through tick tock, they hear about us through Instagram or Facebook, and they’re not even on our site. We’ve even heard that some people are confused about who we are like, are you in New York Times off shoot focused on Asian Americans? Like, you know, there’s all these questions that people have. And so in that way, I think it’s interesting, because one of the things we ask people when they become a subscriber is how did you first hear about us, and I would say about 70% of people say it was through Instagram, which is insane. That’s one of our power channels, were over 181,000 followers, by the time you publish this, it’s probably gonna be even higher. And our Instagram following just grew a ton during COVID. Part of it was because of our really good, I’d like to say our writers is such an excellent job. Our editors did such an excellent job, or BLM coverage or COVID coverage. And we did a lot of Instagram lives. And I think that the next kind of frontier that you already see Washington Post doing a really great job of this is tick tock, because tick tock isn’t, you know, they’re not trying to get you the most massively popular video, they’re just trying to get you algorithmically service, the best video for each individual. And sometimes that allows for more democratization of the content you’re seeing. And you can see if you just go on to tick tock, there are so many South Asians, they’re just creating, and like, they don’t care if non South Asians watch it, because we are, there’s enough of us for us to like, enjoy it and share it. And so I think that’s going to be the next kind of frontier of where we go. So the current journey I would say is maybe somebody shares a post that on Instagram with a friend, people comment on it, people get really angry, sometimes some of our hot takes, and then before you know it, they’re like, We I really want to read this. Okay, maybe I’ll sign up for the newsletter. Okay, maybe I’ll like just start following you on Instagram. All right. Now I’ve seen like eight articles I want to read. Let me go sign up. Okay, I have the seven day free trial. Let me read as much as I possibly can. There’s definitely some people that we call the vendors, we have a group of people, and we can tell you sign up for a free trial. They’ll read as much as they possibly can during those seven days, they’ll promptly cancel. And then they’ll try to sign up. And they usually succeed with a completely different credit card completely different email completely didn’t like but same name or something like that. Yeah. And that’s one thing that I find like such interesting behavior. The other behavior I love hearing about is somebody at Stanford University, they invited me to speak at their South Asian society. And then they said, By the way, we have one account, and we have like, 25 people on it. Great. I love to hear it. So I think, you know, those are the kinds of things that you know, we’re not really trying to discourage at this point, we’re like, okay, we get it. But you know, down the line, those are the levers we can tie in to make our, you know, our people maybe even less porous. So we’ll see.
Jack Marshall 29:43
Are you fairly confident at this point, at least in your ability to migrate audiences from social over to your platforms and ultimately to sort of build that direct subscriber connection with them because obviously, the platforms are incentivized to keep people on their platforms, you know, they’re rolling out sort of native monetization tools to that end as well. So obviously, you know, those relationships will evolve, as they always do between publishers and platforms. But how do things stand currently for you? I mean, it sounds like it’s working to some degree.
Snigdha Sur 30:12
Yeah, great question. I mean, one of the things that we’ve all learned, right, and Mic is a great example of this is that you can never get married to a social media platform, just don’t do it, don’t do it, it’s going to be terrible, you’re gonna hate it, there’s gonna be divorce, sometimes it’s just going to not, it’s not gonna go well, and you can’t rely on the feet of your company cannot rely on one social media platform alone, ever. And we know all the people who’ve tried that. And that’s completely failed. I will say that in terms of how to get people into the site, you know, we kind of this is where paid marketing can help, right? So whenever we do do Facebook ads, we’re very careful about what we’re doing. We often do the carousels of our best articles in there. And these carousels lead directly to our site. And that allows us to get better data on who’s even coming and trying to consider, you know, subscribing. And whenever people come to our site, we also retarget them so that you know, our ads, chase them everywhere they go online, and everywhere they go on Instagram. So I say like, use social media as a way to get smart about, you know what, we talked about the customer journey, but don’t get married to it. And I think at the end of the day, how do you make sure people are ever paying for anything that you’re providing, you got to provide value. And so that means that those stories got to keep being amazing. That means that the community value if you’re offering something has to be really, really good. So I think even if you see what’s happening with the Washington Post and tick tock, right, I don’t think a lot of those people necessarily translate to subscribers right to Washington, Walpole subscribers, but it does translate to this awareness that we there’s something here I’m learning something here. And Washington Post is now a brand that I might be aware of, which you know, is sometimes the very first step you need, where maybe down the line, some of those Jen’s ears are gonna go live in DC, and there’ll be like, you know, what, WaPo I gotta subscribe. So what I gotta do. So I think like, that’s why I don’t mind that those 20 Stanford kids, right, subscribing to the Juggernaut on one account, because hopefully, they’re gonna one day graduate, they’re gonna one day have been earning something. And they’ll be like, You know what, I had really fond memories of what I read there. So I think the biggest thing that people should worry about when it comes to Okay, social media versus how do I get people onto my own platform is a first party data everyone’s been talking about that cookies are gonna disappear, make sure you’re converting people to a free newsletter or getting their email addresses given, it’s okay to ask for things. That’s one of the things we learned. A lot of we did this Facebook, actually this meta accelerator program through blue engine collective, I believe, and, to this day, I remember so many of the things he said, which is one of the things people forget to do is ask for things. It is okay. You don’t have to give everything away just because, you know, things used to be free. That means if you’re asking if people are like coming to your site, or they want to read an article, it’s okay to ask them for their email address. And so go get those email addresses. Go make sure your retargeting people visit your site, make sure you’re not relying on just one platform. I definitely say that. So but yeah, you should be getting get the product to work for you get the product to work for your customer. And they should be paying eventually, right? That’s hopefully the dream.
Jack Marshall 33:03
It appears you know, you haven’t gone with an off-the-shelf subscription or membership software solution, and have built a lot of it in-house or at least sort of pieced together and integrated different systems there. So just talk to me about that decision process and why you went that route.
Snigdha Sur 33:17
Jack Marshall 35:58
So do you view sort of tech as a differentiator for you? Because I think, you know, the conventional wisdom, or at least the data kind of show that publishers have not been that successful in building their own technology in house, despite multiple attempts. I think there’s a lot that would say, you know, just focus, stay in your lane, focus on content, focus on media and just sort of outsource that piece. But yeah, do you see technology as a differentiator, or it was just more of a necessity as because he described,
Snigdha Sur 36:25
I think technology is so key today, and 2022. Like you’re even seeing this from the New York Times 10k, right, which is they’ve invested so much of their profits, and so much of their revenue into building out their software team. I do believe building certain things custom for the sake of it is a fool’s errand. Like whenever you hear like, back in the day, the voxels, and the bus speeds of the world is like we’re building our own CMS, like this is gonna be amazing. At the Juggernaut, we’re not trying to build our own CMS, we’re figuring somebody else has figured out how to build that better, that’s fine. Maybe one day we will. But that’s like, not top priority. But I do think it’s really important if you are a new publisher, or if you’re new consumer content company, whatever you want to call yourself, if your headspace or calm, having ownership over experiments, and data is so critical. So regardless of what choice you make, whether you go with a existing solution, or if you go with something that’s off the shelf, make sure you have that ability, because you will grow right, have that confidence in yourself that you will grow up, right, you will crush it, if you have that confidence, you are going to need to know how to customize things you’re going to need to be able to adapt to customer demands, you’re going to need to be able to harness your data. And whatever like choice you make, if you cannot do that, then you got to build it, then you got to make sure it works. Because otherwise you’re going to be so behind. And I think the issue with what’s been happening with some publishing industry is that some of these systems don’t work so well with each other. So when you try to layer things on, right, like people, I think the editorial team, sometimes just Chartbeat or parsley to get like analytics data on how which contents working right? I get it like that need is so huge, but maybe they’re not perfect. You know, what we do is we use like analytics and like segment and amplitude. And that way we can see an entire customer journey. We don’t even just see what Article somebody read, we see, hey, how many times have they hit the paywall? How many times have they tried to sign up for a newsletter? How many times have they gotten a credit card failure. So if you search that user in our database, you can see everything that they’ve done every action you’ve done, because a lot of those actions have nothing to do with content at all. And so I think that’s what’s more important, which is, are you harnessing your data and have a 360 degree view of your customers who actually can really understand them? Because, yes, do those qualitative interviews, but also like, look at your data, because what they might be saying to your face is not actually what they’re doing online, right, reveal data versus, you know, stay to data, as they say. So that’s my take is, whoever you are, whatever you’re building, just make sure that you have that those two things, a the flexibility to change things around, like do tests and be you know that information, because if you don’t have that that sucks,
Jack Marshall 38:45
What would you say is the biggest challenge you face in growing your subscription business at this point?
Snigdha Sur 38:51
I think the biggest challenge, I call this the scale challenge, which is something that I think a lot of founders face at different phases of their company, which is, so many of the tactics that work at certain phases of the company no longer work. And you kind of have to go completely back to the drawing board and start completely afresh. You also as you get bigger, and you have a bigger base, if you want to go 6x with like a 6x bigger base than what you had before. You got to do way more. Right. So I think that that’s the biggest challenge that we’re facing right now as a company, which is okay, we’ve been really lucky to get the subscriber base we have we’ve been really lucky to reach the ARR we’ve had, well lucky and a lot of hard work to now how do we keep that consistent? And how do we kind of inject the right amount of capital and investment, be it through hiring more staff on the editorial team hiring more kind of software engineers, hiring more marketing executives, how can we do that in the right combination to unlock this next level of growth because this next level of growth will not be done by me alone, ever. And it cannot be done by just the team we have right now. And I think that’s been some of the biggest challenges I’ve been trying to overcome, which is like how do I how do I Like, how do I figure out this new puzzle? And that’s always been fun, right? Which is like, you’d have to kind of go back to the beginner’s mind, or as they say, right, which is like now imagine I know nothing about my own company. I’m going back to the blackboard, what are some assumptions I have that are completely wrong, what are some things that I must do that seem uncomfortable, like sometimes that means hiring earlier than you have the revenue to hire that person for and take a bet that that person will deliver. So it might mean hiring ahead of BD? Before you might know exactly what their JD is. And so that’s kind of that’s kind of a territory I’m entering right now. And I’m excited for it. I’m a little bit scared by it. But hey, I have the tailwind of you know, today, I don’t have to explain to people who Kamala Harris’s or what never have ever, you know, is, and that wasn’t true even two years ago.
Jack Marshall 40:48
What’s a myth or a piece of conventional wisdom about subscription models or businesses that you see bandied about on social media? Or wherever it might be that you know to be false or or that you disagree with?
Snigdha Sur 41:00
Jack, don’t get me started on my pet peeve.
Snigdha Sur 41:05
So one of my biggest pet peeves is there’s a whole group of venture capitalists out there who somehow believe that b2b SaaS cannot be compared with consumer SAS or that consumer SAS is not actually subscription. And I do not know why they have this myth. I do not know exactly why they have this. First of all, what I need to say here is that subscription is a business model. That means that there are certain metrics that you can measure whether it is a consumer subscription, or a business subscription, right? You can measure retention, you can measure churn, you can measure annual recurring revenue, you can measure monthly recurring revenue. And it boggles me to know and that people think, well, just because it’s b2b, it must be better. Guess what, that’s not always true, you’re gonna dig into the data, it could be that it’s a b2b company. But that doesn’t mean that it’s better just because it’s like targeting businesses, because businesses also have much longer sales cycles, right? There’s like pros and cons to each side. So one of my biggest pet peeves that people Bandy about is like, oh, it’s consumer, I gotta give it a consumer discount. I think that’s completely unfair, I think you’ve got to look at the profitability, the margins, and the specific metrics of each business alone. And it’s not necessarily the sector they’re in. It is like the unit economics, and like the retention rates, and all of those kind of key metrics of that business. So it’s one of the things that I really personal pet peeve, it just boggles me to know that people don’t understand that.
Jack Marshall 42:27
Okay, so finally, what’s a subscription related prediction for the next 12 months? If we’re sitting here in a year? What’s one thing you think will have changed around subscription businesses?
Snigdha Sur 42:38
I think it’s what we’ve been talking about, Jack, I think you’re going to start seeing many, many more ad supported tiers, you’re going to start seeing a lot of experimentation with price cuts, I think Netflix just cut prices in India, you’re just gonna see a much more experimentation as people kind of revisit product market fit for subscription businesses, because they’re going to have to kind of parlay their way across that, Hey, am I delivering value? And what’s the value I can capture from customers? So I think that’s going to be happening in the subscription world, but but my belief is, if you believe in your product, and you do, because you’re a founder or your Creator, somewhere out there, keep talking to your customers. Like that’s my biggest advice and my biggest like, prediction for 2022 and 2023. A year from now that the people who listen to their customers and kind of figure out what they really need, they’re going to be okay. So that’s, that’s, that’s my hot take. But everything else, don’t be surprised with a lot of experimentations and your Netflix plan or your Hulu plan or your you know, even your comp plan looking completely different than what it did a year ago.