Pivoting to a world of opportunity

Mahesh Peri, Founder & Chairman of India’s Careers 360 – which started as a magazine but has since become an education “platform” – gives some insight below into how he exploited the opportunity he’d identified for his niche publication…

For more from Mahesh, join us for FIPP Asia-Pacific, taking place in Singapore from 27-28 September 2016, where he will be one of 30+ international speakers.

You began as a publisher of a magazine, which then became an education and careers portal. How did that begin and was your intention always to diversify from straight publishing?

If you look at India, it’s one of the most populous countries and it is culturally and economically diverse. When you don’t steer students and children on to a good career path, it’s impossible to even think of the ‘Demographic Dividend’ that we so proudly hope to achieve. They can easily join the masses of unemployed, yet educated, youth – sitting on the streets and become a ‘Demographic Nightmare’. 

The more I looked at the mainstream media, including my own media, I realised that it didn’t give people an understanding of what education means. A political journalist would be covering education, a financial journalist would be covering education – and so education was seen as a supplemental activity in pursuit of advertising for most media entities in the country. I had identified this huge gap between the information needs of the student and what we were dishing out. And I don’t think that was exclusive to India. It possibly is the same in other places too.

That’s when I decided to create a platform – a magazine or whatever – which as an objective ensures that the student ultimately takes a ‘more informed’ decision. That was the start of Careers 360.

Another thing I had identified was that people were creating content for a platform and a market, whereas I wanted to create content that could go across platforms, languages and markets. So if you take women in India, for example, the women from north to south to west are three different women. Culturally they are different. We have a different movie industry in the south compared with the north and the west. The content of north and south have to be different. However, with education the content across zones is mostly the same (with only a bit of localisation needed). We could use similar content, along with data across different platforms, to reach different audiences. This means, across market and across platforms, the same content, with little incremental cost, can lead to multiple revenue streams.

If your intention was always to move into education tech, why did you not launch the web portal straight away?

When I launched the magazine, it ran it for three years before moving to digital. There was a website but it was not exactly a digital initiative. It was like any other magazine having a website. That really was it. The reason we did that was because we wanted to ensure we invested and gained credibility before moving in with our big digital initiative. That was essential if we wanted to penetrate the market and say I’m a very credible player. The credibility had to be such that the students believed that whatever happened we would be on the side of the student. So the product couldn’t have been created straightaway as a portal, as a website. Back then there were credibility issues around the web as a whole. It just didn’t have the same credibility as a magazine. Even today, if I ask for an interview with the minister, it comes from the magazine. If we started off as a digital player, nobody would give me an interview. People like to see themselves in magazines, in large format, with great interviews, with great stories. So we used the magazine to gain access to information and gain credibility.

Once we achieved credibility and a brand recall from the magazine, which took me three years, I started creating reach and scale with www.careers360.com

You talk about having loyal customers rather than readers and you have a sustainable relationship with your audience. How have you achieved that and how does that work?

That is right. Obviously the magazine is a one-way communication. But what we do is include a URL in articles to say that if you want to further research information, come on to the website. And when people come to the website, they engage and interact with the data that we have and that is where they get really rich and deep information. So as an example, if you say you want to become a Bachelor in robotics, and you want to study in Europe, that you will have to have a scholarship and that you want to go to a college with diversity of more than 50 per cent, we can provide that data and information. Where did I get that data? I collected and collated the data because I was doing a review of the 100 best institutions in Europe for Indians. Thus we rank 100 best institutions in the magazine and use the same data to lead the student to make informed career choices through products and tools. And the students pay for some of these data tools and products. That again is an example of using a single piece to provide more than one output and more than one revenue stream.

Can you share some of the numbers in terms do success and share of the market?

So now we have about 15 million students using our portal every month. On any given day we’ll have more than 300,000 to 500,000 students visiting us and accessing information. In various verticals [targeting different study directions] we have between 1/3 and 3/4 of the available audience. In engineering, for example, we have more than 60 per cent of the market. In medical, we have more than 70 per cent. If you take management, we have 35 per cent. This has been a very deliberate process. While the magazine keeps doing much of the stuff that it does, on the digital side we started to understand the following: if there are 200,000 students in a vertical, then we need to capture 100,000 of those and get them using our information and tools to decide what is the best option for them – because that’s where they pay us.

Do you see other traditional publishers moving in a similar direction to what you have?

I think anything that is a niche publication today has no other option than to diversify. It is an opportunity. Look at India itself. In the last seven years, jobs have moved to being completely digital – auto platforms have moved digital, matrimonial platforms have moved digital, travel has moved digital and anything classified has moved digital. The next one is education. So as we keep moving on and on, every niche will move digitally. If you’re a niche title and want to create an impact, it has to be digital.

Mahesh will share more lessons from his journey pivoting from print to multiple platforms at FIPP Asia-Pacific from 27-28 September. 

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