Benita Chacko
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"I have set a lofty goal of making Josh a $100 billion company in three years": Rubeena Singh on joining the short-video app

In a chat with afaqs!, the former CEO of dentsu iProspect says she likes setting audacious goals for herself.

After almost five years of being the CEO at the digital-first media agency iProspect, Rubeena Singh has started a new innings as the country manager at the short-video app Josh. As she takes on the new responsibilities, she has set herself up to work towards making Josh a $100 billion company in three years.

“That's the lofty goal I'm setting for myself and our team. I always believe in setting audacious goals, only then you work towards them. It drives me better. It's okay if you don't reach them. But at least you'll do much better than setting a goal which is far too realistic,” she says.

Despite having over two-decades experience in the media industry, Singh still feels a renewed sense of excitement about her new role. For her, scaling businesses to new heights gives her immense satisfaction- whether it was at Network18, where she helped scale CNBC Awaaz, Forbes and Moneycontrol, or more recently at iProspect.

“I love these scale up projects. It excites me to be a part of the brand’s growth journey. As a professional, your learning curve is the highest when you do that. After a couple of years, it gets into autopilot mode and you get used to it. Then I start getting fidgety and I have to find myself something else to do,” she adds.

In the scale up projects, it's the challenge and the growth journey that interests her. She believes that personal growth is the fastest when working with growing brands, as it allows one to grow along with the brand.

“You're not working in a set mould. You're the one setting it up. I find it really rewarding because then I can claim success for it along with the team,” she says.

Singh feels Josh is at that point right now, where it is ready to be scaled. “There are a substantial number of users there. But how do we unlock the commercial value of the platform. It's been initiated, but it needs to be scaled,” she adds.

While she continues to provide client solutions in her new role as well, Singh feels here she can work deeply with one platform.

“In an agency you are working across platforms, here you're getting deeper into your platform and seeing how you can grow it. Here I have to intersect between the consumers, advertisers and the content creators and bring that to the marketer. There the role was wider, here it's about the depth of the platform,” she adds.

Here I have to intersect between the consumers, advertisers and the content creators and bring that to the marketer.

Singh started her career in 2000 as a manager at Star India, followed by a 12-year-long stint at Network18. During this time, she worked across mediums, starting with CNBC Awaaz, moving to Forbes and finally debuting on the digital medium with Moneycontrol. She set up their content marketing. Pitching it to the agency and the client, successfully conceptualising and executing it, and continuing it for the consecutive years is one of her most memorable wins.

“I did four different roles for them. Every three to four years, I would scale the business and move on to scale another business. I launched CNBC Awaaz and Forbes. Moneycontrol was not so big 10 years ago. Nobody knew what content marketing was. In digital it was all about banner ads then,” she said.

Seeing the digital space grow around a decade ago, Singh consciously made the choice to move into that space. That’s when she started working with Moneycontrol. Her last four years, at dentsu’s iProspect, has given her an understanding of the digital ecosystem, apart from leadership lessons.

“I came into dentsu with a non-agency background and I had to do a lot of unlearning and learning from the team. It gave me an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the entire ecosystem. Setting up the technology unit or the content team was a great experience. It was more a performance business. But I added a little bit of branding and technology to that and scaled it up,” she adds.

Though she always had client connections she credits iProspect for helping her forge deeper client connections and understand their businesses and their requirements at a much deeper level.

Speaking about her switch to Josh, she said that she wanted to be with a business where she could deliver impact at scale.

“The agency provided a perfect learning ground. Being in the center of the storm, I understood the client's requirements. I know what the partners and technology players are doing on the other side and we’re solutioning for the client. After a while I wanted to be with a business where I can deliver impact at scale,” she says.

After a while I wanted to be with a business where I can deliver impact at scale.

“While digital is growing, within that, video is outpacing everywhere across the world. In India at one point of time search was growing very fast. But now video is growing faster. And in videos, short-form video is really taking off. Consumers are hooked onto it because it’s personalised. Every consumer's experience is different depending on their tastes and choices. It's on your phone and it's so immersive. Even marketers are always looking at the digital ecosystem beyond the duopoly to see where they can get a large set of audiences to engage with their brands,” she adds.

Beyond her work, Singh is a mother to a nine-year-old daughter. She’s also a fitness enthusiast and has learned kickboxing. She has also learnt to ride a motorbike. She also spends her free time working in the diversity space. In 2018, she started the Women@iProspect initiative which allows in-house talent to grow and excel as the future leaders of the industry and also spearheaded the Dan Global Female Foundry in India.

A RedSeer report mentions that the short video space in India is set to be the second-biggest segment in terms of the time spent in one year after the Internet giants like Facebook and Google. The short-form creators have grown two-fold since June 2020, when TikTok, the leader in the segment, was banned in India. VerSe Innovation, parent of local language news aggregators Dailyhunt, also launched Josh a year ago, right after TikTok was banned.

As of December 2020, the biggest players in the space had the following numbers; Josh had 70-75 MAUs (monthly active users), and 30-35 million DAUs; MX TakaTak had 55-60 million MAUs, and 20-25 million DAUs; Roposo had 60-65 million MAUs and 12-14 million DAUs; and Moj had 38-42 million MAUs and 7-8 million DAUs.

In May 2021, Josh was the only Indian app to feature in the Top 10 of App Store and Play Store downloads. It was the world's 10th most downloaded app overall, and eighth most downloaded on Play Store, according to recent data from Sensor Tower.

Last week, VerSe acquired Indian social networking app GolBol. As a part of the acquisition, GolBol’s entire team, including co-founders Shanu Vivek, Karandeep Singh Gujral and Kaushik Mahato, will join VerSe to help multiply the impact of Josh.

Singh says that Josh is very well positioned, because of the number of creators it has. “The business obviously depends on the creator ecosystem. The more creators you have, the more value you bring to brands. Josh’s creator ecosystem is a huge value add and sets us apart from the others.”

Josh’s creator ecosystem is a huge value add and sets us apart from the others.

With its growing popularity, it offers phenomenal opportunities to advertisers. It offers an audience from the middle income population in tier two and tier three cities.

“Most advertising today is available only to English speaking audiences. That’s a very small audience. Josh offers a huge Hindi speaking audience. That audience is in the middle-income and middle-India (tier II and tier III cities). Today, with affordability in these cities increasing, the share of the middle income is also increasing and brands want to reach out to them. Also we need to break that mental barrier that Hindi is not premium. Other platforms offer the tip of the pyramid. While it's valuable for advertisers, those audiences have been chased so much by so many brands that they're tired of that. So the next level of growth for brands is going to come from middle India,” she says.