Vignesh Vellore, founder and CEO, The News Minute, an independent news and media website, started his talk by giving the audience a quick peek into the genesis of the firm, founded by him, along with Dhanya Rajendran (managing editor, The News Minute; Vignesh's wife) and well-known journalist and author Chitra Subramaniam, in 2014.
"My wife was taking a break after working for more than 10 years in the television news space; she was tired of all the noise... but after a sabbatical of six months, news-hound that she is, she decided to make a comeback. That's when we decided to put things together," said Vignesh, adding, "However, her ideas were absolutely different at that point in time - she wanted to start an event management agency, which would engage in making memorable birthday parties for children. I, on the other hand, come from a tech background and have been working in the tech industry for over 12 years. I too had my own plans - of making a movie with Rajinikanth... I still want to do it..."
It's a good thing Vignesh and Dhanya are based in Bengaluru, the startup city, where Chitra was also present at the time. "We wanted to start something that we were strong enough in, so we decided to start a media venture," recalled Vignesh.
What was the overall sentiment that led to the launch of The New Minute? The trio realised that traditional journalism has taken a back-seat and that 'reporting' is getting lost in a sea of content. News narratives tend to be determined by 'the desk' (typically Delhi or Mumbai-based) and South India-centric content is not getting the importance it deserves.
"All this made things clear for us - we wanted to bring qualities of traditional journalism into the new-age digital space. Digital was giving us a lot of options, and costs were considerably less. We realised that it (launching a news website) is not as difficult as starting a newspaper or a TV channel. Ultimately, we decided that we will go the traditional journalism way but focus on the five Southern states (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana)," Vignesh said.
The next big challenge for the team was deciding - 'How to make a website and go live?' "We used our savings to start funding the site, we even reached out to our friends and family members who helped us with the tech-cyber side of things, and helped us put the site together. We went live in February 2014 with just three founders and an employee," Vignesh said.
He added, "Since we were a very small team at that point, we only focused on news curation and showcased that on our website..." Soon enough, the team was faced with the next big question: 'What next?'
The answer was clear: The News Minute had to evolve.
"We observed that we were getting a lot of traction from our own reporting, and from the original content that we were putting on the website. So we started hiring reporters in each state to start building the platform," Vellore said.
Six months into the operation, an investment firm approached The News Minute. But the representative of the firm had one condition: the investing firm would like editorial control. That, Vignesh said, was unacceptable.
Looking back at that decision, Vignesh and team feel a sense of pride. "After three-and-a-half years, we have a team of 24 people. We've achieved a good amount of recognition. The biggest compliment for me these days is when people call to say, 'Your news is being circulated on WhatsApp," said Vignesh.
By the end of 2015, the organisation received funding from Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur-led Quintillion Media. "Now if somebody asks us why they should invest in The News Minute, we tell them that doing so would mean investing in credibility, in the fourth pillar of democracy, that is, the news narrative. That's because we take our content very seriously," he said.
Vignesh ended his talk with: "You can plan all your life to start something, and make the best projections, but at some point you need to realise that if you want to do something then you just need to go out and do it... We started at a time when people were not very aware of what Google Analytics was all about, we did not know that we can boost stories on Facebook. We learnt all that and continuously evolved."
What next for The News Minute?
"To move away from being a bootstrap organisation and emerge as a full-fledged media organisation. And to make inroads into the vernacular news space, where news consumption is very high," he said.