How WittyFeed founders lost a company overnight and launched a ₹300 crore startup in a year

Jan 5, 2023

By: BI India Bureau

Startup pitches ‘Boliyon ka Netflix’ on Shark Tank India S2

The team behind viral content company WittyFeed built hyperlocal OTT platform STAGE and pitched it on Shark Tank India S2. STAGE uploads content in Indian dialects like Haryanvi and Rajasthani and is positioned as ‘Boliyon ka Netflix’.

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STAGE receives an offer on Shark Tank India

Impressed by the founders’ story and product, sharks Namita Thapar, Aman Gupta and Peyush Bansal offered STAGE ₹1.5 crore for 0.6 percent equity and ₹1.5 crore debt at 18 percent interest. The STAGE team accepted the offer.

Credit: Imdb

WittyFeed - the STAGE founders’ first venture

Started in 2014, Indore-based WittyFeed was the world’s second largest content company at one point- second only to American media company BuzzFeed. WittyFeed had a monthly traffic of 120 million and ₹40 crore annual revenue.

Credit: Forbes-India

Losing a 4-year-old company overnight

In 2018, as a response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook ‘deplatformed’ several companies/pages operating on its platform that had large access to American voters. WittyFeed was one such company that lost its revenue stream overnight.

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The Cambridge Analytica scandal

In 2018, British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was accused of collecting personal data of over 87 million Facebook users without their consent, and using it to provide analytical assistance during the 2016 US presidential elections.

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WittyFeed received 60 million American users

Vinay Singhal, co-founder STAGE, said on Shark Tank India Season 2, “we were told non-American companies are influencing American voters using Facebook as a platform.” Out of WittyFeed’s 120 million monthly users, 60 million came from the USA.

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Became a ‘scapegoat’

In an interview with Business Insider India, co-founder of WittyFeed explained that even though Facebook was doing its job, they became a ‘scapegoat’ for the Cambridge Analytica row.

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‘Who cares about an Indore-based content company?’

“If the founders would have been goras (white people), the situation would have been different. Who cares about a content company based in the small town of Indore?” Vinay Singhal told Business Insider India.

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Recovered website, but lost all traffic

“We were able to recover the website after 6 months, but that is a death knell for any content company. We lost our company with no warning or communication,” Shashank Vaishnav, co-founder WittyFeed, told Business Insider India.

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Remaining employees offered equity

At the time it shut down, WittyFeed had over 100 employees with a ₹2 crore monthly payroll. In February 2019, it ran out of money to pay its remaining 90 employees. The employees were offered 25 percent of their total salary and equity in the founders’ new venture instead.

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54 employees agreed to work for half their salary

Founders shared on Shark Tank India that 54 of the 90 employees agreed to work for less than half their salary and equity in the team’s next venture i.e STAGE. The average monthly salary of these employees, claimed the founders, was between ₹30,000-₹50,000.

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STAGE receives Series A funding

In June 2020, former WittyFeed employees who invested in STAGE for equity, exited with a little over twice the returns on their investment. STAGE, which recently received Series A funding worth ₹40 crore, is currently valued at ₹300 crore.

Credit: SonyLIV

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