‘Himachal has potential to be IT state’

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More Imputs By Hemlata Verma

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AN UPHILL TASK: Nandini Maheshwari (L) and Ankit Maheshwari (R), the President and CEO of Instablogs Network respectively

It was lure of the hills, more than the economics involved that made Ankit Maheshwari and his better half Nandini Maheshwari leave the hyperactive metro life of Delhi and put up their base in Shimla. And how about the economics, when the local talent runs to the plains for a better income? The Maheshwari couple thought otherwise, and made Shimla as the headquarters of their Instablogs Network (instablogs.com), – a part of the Citizen Media Pvt Ltd – which they launched on November 14, 2006. It’d been in beta for over nine months. Instablogs is a personalised platform for bloggers and readers to connect and engage with others having common interests and passion.

Instablogs was all Nandini’s idea, who herself is a prolific blogger and is the President of Instablogs Network. While Ankit is the CEO. Though they love the peace and serenity of the hills, Nandini misses the malls and the night-life of Delhi as well. In a tête-à-tête with HimVani, the Maheshwari duo tell more about the IT scenario in Himachal and why Shimla scores above Delhi. Excerpts:

HimVani: How did you come up with Instablogs?
Nandini:
Instablogs was launched to bring bloggers and readers closer and develop a good relation between the both so that they can interact and benefit from each other. So that there would be no distinction between the blogger and the reader – all will be members. They can comment or post a story on the blog; each one will have a profile space or “my blog space” where they can import their own existing blogs and when they post a comment, the traffic gets diverted to their own blog too. However, they can only import 255 characters. We do not intend to duplicate content but are importing excerpts.

Instablogs provides a platform to highlight the best post of the day. We enable people to use stories from Instablogs for the mainstream media or personal blog posts.

HimVani: Can blogging be a profit venture at all?
Ankit:
Yes, certainly. We wanted to be a profit company and wanted our bloggers to earn more. On the revenue model, we were able to make good use of advertising and keeping our content free. After earning some good money we’ll be starting a new venture linked to the Instablogs Network. We are a self funded company and within four months of the beta, we were able to get good profit for our bloggers.

HimVani: That means the bloggers too have a share in the revenue of the company?
Ankit:
Yes many of the bloggers are working on the revenue sharing basis, few on salary basis, few on per post basis. We ask our bloggers, what model they are most comfortable with.

HimVani: How do you decide the ratio of the revenue share?
Ankit:
Generally, it’s 50:50. Many a times the blogger can keep the initial $200 and then split the revenue into 60:40.

HimVani: Who’s the target audience of Instablogs?
Nandini:
We have many blogs on luxury, fashion, Indian audience, celebrities, etc. so our target audience is not categorised as such. We even let the members chose the channels they want on their page. So if they are not interested in some channels, they are free to delete them. If one is interested just in autos and business s/he can subscribe to only these channels. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the traffic is coming from the US. But the Indian Audience too is growing very fast – at least on our Indian blogs. And most of the ads too are coming from the US and UK.

HimVani: What is the age group of the bloggers on Instablogs?
Nandini:
At Instablogs we are a community of about 2,000 members in the age group of 20 to 30 years. While some are around 65 to 70 yrs as well.

HimVani: Why did you choose to make Shimla as the headquarters?
Ankit:
Personal reasons… I like Shimla a lot. Moreover, as far as economics are concerned, the Internet speed here is good, and we have no problems with electricity, unlike Delhi, where we have a blackout sometimes for over eight hours. I got here good writers too, as here are good convent schools, and intelligent students. Earlier, I wanted to just put up a small office here, but due to good working environment here and low cost, I went in for a little bigger model.

HimVani: How much cost cutting have you been able to do here?
Ankit:
Nearly 50 to 60 per cent, including the rent for the office premises. We use no generators here, and require no ACs. Even salaries too are 30 to 40 per cent lower than in Delhi.

HimVani: How about the Internet speed here in Shimla?
Nandini:
We were pleasantly surprised with the BSNL service here. Within one hour of booking, they installed our phone and Internet and it is never down for more than five to ten minutes in a month. I pay only Rs 9,000 a month, for a 2 mbps speed. Downloading is good. Though its is not fibre optics – it is copper cable here – but it does not affect the speed. In Delhi I paid Rs. 1.5 lakh for a 2 mbps speed.

HimVani: How many bloggers do you have from Himachal?
Nandini:
We have around 70 to 100 bloggers from Himachal out of 2,000 community members and they are writing on space, auto, travel and on so many other things. Most active among them are bloggers from Shimla, Solan and Mandi region. Few are from nearby villages between Fagu and Theog as well.

HimVani: How do you rate the writing skills of Himachali bloggers?
Nandini:
Excellent. It is because of their writing skills that we decided to shift the headquarters to Shimla.

HimVani: How do you plan to market Instablogs?
Ankit:
We did not feel the need to advertise with ATL (above the line) or BTL (below the line). It was easy to create a buzz through blogosphere itself. We sent personal mails to people about the launch and held a small press meet and within in next few days there were so many reviews in many papers and on the Internet about Instablogs. And bloggers did a great job by creating the buzz for us.

HimVani: Can Himachal be a prospective IT state?
Ankit:
With the kind of rebate the Himachal government is giving to the IT industry for the next few years, I think yes. I am not paying any income tax as well as of now, as almost all my ads are from UK and the US.

Himachal should promote small companies. This would bring more confidence to the people from nearby cities who would also like to come and work here.

HimVani: What is holding the companies back from investing in Himachal?
Ankit:
Lack of awareness. Though the service is good here, all believe that Himachal means only tourism. The government should promote small companies besides giving tax benefits. The big companies would follow soon.

HimVani: Are Himachalis internet savvy?
Nandini:
No. The picture in entire India is the same. But in a few months or a year or so I expect the trend to improve.

HimVani: Tell us something about your future plans.
Nandini:
We’ll be in the blog business for a while, before starting with a new citizen journalism venture called ‘Right to be Heard’. We’ll be adding some regional channels like that of Hindi too soon.

HimVani: Was it easy moving to the hills for you?
Nandini:
Shimla is one of the largest hill-stations in the world. So it was easy moving here. However, I miss the malls and the night-life of Delhi.

HimVani: Aren’t you disgusted with the concrete jungles around here?
Nandini:
These will happen till the government does not develop suburbs. The government should take notice of illegal constructions and suburbs should be developed. Other metros can be developed as we have only four metros today.

HimVani: Coming back to blogs, can stories be faked on blogs?
Nandini:
No. On blogs, one has to be very honest, as you can be caught very easily.

HimVani: Can personal agenda be promoted on the blogs?
Ankit:
It is very easy to catch them. Like Wal-Mart (US’ No. 1 retail chain) tried to run fake blogs – it got caught.

HimVani: Can blogging ever replace the mainstream media?
Nandini:
No. They will complement each the other. Newspapers and bloggers will help each other.

3 COMMENTS

  1. In the recent past Himachal is certainly becoming an IT hub. A lot many websites have come up. Though mostly by local people. Nandini and Ankit’s initiative is a laudable one. Hats off to their guts for fishing out in untested waters.

    Hope more such initiatives will be taken up by the locals and the talent drain to the metros would be rested.
    Thanks.

  2. Sound Good. I agree that HP can become IT Hub but the very talent of HP i.e. our children are deprived of the quality IT Education. IT Education that is running in the Sr. Sec. Schools is in bad shape. Govt. should take over the IT education system. This will improve the condition of IT students as wellas the teachers. At present teachers are paid less and are teaching four classes ie. IX,X,XI,XII.

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