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Home / Companies / People /  It’s much harder to have a breakout app today, says Webchutney’s Sidharth Rao

Sidharth Rao, co-founder and chief executive of digital marketing agency Webchutney, in his first book, How I almost blew it, narrates lessons from the country’s most successful entrepreneurs who created brands such as Zomato, FreeCharge and BookMyShow. A serial digital entrepreneur, Rao co-founded Webchutney at the age of 19, which was acquired by Japanese advertising giant Dentsu in 2013.

An angel investor in startups such as ScoopWhoop, Loanzen, InVideo and CoHo, Rao talks about 20-year old Webchutney, which has clients including Airtel, Maruti Suzuki, Tata Sons, Bacardi, Swiggy and Flipkart, changing digital landscape in India and the importance of native advertising. Edited excerpts:

How has the digital platform evolved over the last two decades?

I marvel at how things have changed for good. Internet subscriber base was just about reaching 1,00,000 in India around the end of 2000 and now we are talking about half a billion users in the next few months. Most of the entrepreneurs who struck out early in the 90s in India hadn’t heard of venture capital, forget about raising capital outside of family and friends and now the market is flush with capital. So, things have changed dramatically, to put it mildly. With opportunities and excitement like never before, India is surely one of the best countries for startups.

Having said that, a council of bureaucrats, disconnected from entrepreneurship that introduced angel tax in 2012 did cause huge panic. The Central Board of Direct Taxation (CBDT) did assure those affected previously would get some relief. So, that bit continues to suck and hopefully will blow over.

Why have you decided to highlight the journey of multiple digital entrepreneurs in your first book instead of Webchutney?

I feel Webchutney is still a developing story moreover from the ecosystem perspective, digital advertising is a subset of the overall picture. It was important to focus on entrepreneurs such as Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Naukri.com), Deep Kalra (MakeMyTrip), Ajit Balakrishnan (Rediff) and Brijesh Agarwal (IndiaMart) among others who have been in the media spotlight the most.

How do brands create more engagement online?

Social platforms have treated achieving higher engagement as a direct function of new formats. Photo sharing app Instagram, for instance, while the feed remained one of the top organic engagement drivers for brands and creators alike, the engagement has shifted drastically to Instagram Stories. Twitter works purely on trends. Within agencies, any new ‘tweet format’ is seen as an opportunity to be a part of the conversation and brands must capitalize on those since the flow of information is faster on Twitter and moments are shorter. Therefore, it’s vital to ensure that agencies and brands stay on their toes when it comes to newer formats to capitalize on.

What is the importance of native advertising today?

Native advertising, even though I believe is still in early days, allows marketers and brands to infuse more authenticity into their media without disrupting user’s experience on any platform and thereby potentially increasing context and engagement. All advertising is intrusive, but because these don’t “feel" like typical ads, users are more likely to engage with that content. Native ads, to be effective, require much more effort to create great content which at scale is a challenge for marketers and their agencies.

Do you notice an app fatigue among consumers?

I read somewhere that in 2014, the average top 30 app had been available in the app store for less than two years. Today, the average top 30 app has been sitting in the app store for is more than five years old. Gaming apps being an exception, where users tend to move on to the next hot app fairly quickly. That said, those top 30 or say 50 apps that are solving for real consumer use cases, like communication, food ordering, cab hailing, fatigue is pretty much out of the question. I think the way to look at it is that it’s much harder now to have a break-out app than it was just a few years ago. That said, I see this as more of a western trend, since because of the newly added user base in multiples of hundreds of millions of users in India over the last few years, there is a tonne of opportunity for us locally.

Which social media platforms are working the best for brands right now?

With platforms increasingly looking to imitate each other, they are having a tiny existential crisis of their own. However, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok currently rule the roost purely because of the richness in content, avenues to experiment with and most importantly, an engaged audience (at scale).

What’s the future of influencer marketing in India?

Like every new shiny thing that happens in digital advertising now and then, I think influencer marketing has already passed the peak of its hype cycle. The future of influencer marketing will focus on authenticity. Not only in the content created but also in the metrics we use to determine the content creators’ sphere of true influence and that’s a really good thing.

What’s the next big thing to happen in the digital platform in India?

I’m very excited by voice. I truly believe it will be a gateway for many more Indians to get online. We’ve not even touched the surface of what’s possible and I believe that because of the nature of the new Indian internet user, India is going to lead the way here

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