1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
I am an ex-management consultant turned entrepreneur. I have built 3 successful ventures and successfully sold one – all in the content marketing space. My entrepreneurship story started with GodotMedia – a content creation agency, offering all kinds of content writing and content management services. Being an engineer, I guess building high-quality tech had to happen next, and that’s how my next venture ended up being a machine learning-driven content curation and social media management platform called DrumUp (successfully exited in 2018).
Running Godot Media for over a decade, we realized – while a lot of clients were happy with a managed service (working with an account manager), there were many who wanted to work with writers directly. We also noticed that, while Godot Media had a team of in-house writers, scaling a full time employee model was proving to be difficult, considering a lot of the writers prefered to freelance. These were the two considerations – Narrato – a content ordering platform and freelance writer marketplace, was born out of.
With Narrato, we also wanted to evolve a content ordering and writing process that is both easy and fast. This meant that there should be no lengthy forms to fill and several articles could be requested in one go – which is not the norm with other writer marketplaces. We also wanted to move away from yet another kind of freelancer marketplace model, which required inviting proposals and bidding – a highly time consuming and effort intensive process. In addition, we wanted to offer our customers a suite of useful content tools. And, we wanted to offer all this at an affordable price.
These were the objectives that drove us to build Narrato – a fast and elegant productized service to get content written by the best writer for the job.
Narrato’s initial customers happened to be leads from Godot Media who were looking to work directly with writers and had consequently not chosen Godot Media’s managed offering with a single point of contact. These customers were happy managing their projects on Narrato and gave us a lot of positive feedback in shaping Narrato into a user-friendly and quick platform to work with.
Narrato was launched late last year (2019) and by Mar/April 2020, we were already at a $100,000 ARR, and growing fast MOM. We offer a 4 tiered writing service and pricing to fit all kinds of business and agency budgets.
The Narrato platform also has nifty tools to check for plagiarism and suggest copyright free images for written content (all free of any charge or subscription). And, now we are working on an AI and NLP driven content quality writing assistant, which will go over and above just grammar issues to assess content quality and recommend improvements. We plan to implement the writing assistant for our writers and also offer it as a tool for our customers on Narrato.
In the near future, we plan to expand our content offerings to eBooks and social media content. We also have plans to offer visual content production services as well.
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
As I mentioned above, our first users were relatively easy to get, as we tapped into leads from our agency business. Next came the real challenge – how to maintain a steady flow of registrations and activate customers to start ordering content on Narrato.
We tried to solve it in 2 ways – one by focusing on product related activation and retention tactics, and second, by focusing on inbound and content marketing for Narrato.
Product driven effort: We built a powerful onboarding system including a good email drip campaign to get new customers to place their orders. A key component of this system was offering a very low cost trial (just $1 for the first article), that helped customers get started and discover the power of the platform. This practically free trial sometimes does attract not-so-serious customers, but has given us some of our biggest clients as well. We also offer volume and one-time discounts to spur ordering activity. In addition, we pay close attention to product improvements to give our customers a superior and smooth experience. I don’t think we have fully nailed the UX yet, but we are constantly improving and moving the right direction, and have received some great feedback.
Inbound and content marketing: We are working on building some awesome content on the Narrato blog, which is driving some traffic. In addition we have also been focusing on a lot of partner marketing and cross-promotion efforts, which are yielding great results. We also have a small paid marketing campaign, but our long term goal is to generate all traffic organically.
Retention: We are very product driven in our approach and believe a great product will result in great customer retention. With this in mind, we are investing significant resources in building tech that aids writers to deliver better content. We are also improving our algorithms all the time to get better at matching writers to jobs for the best outcome.
3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?
Managing marketplace dynamics: We are just getting started and have luckily done well so far. But we have also realized over the past few months that marketplace dynamics are a balancing act – there have been months when the content demand was outpacing the active writer supply. However, we were soon able to ramp up our new writer qualification and induction process, which brought the balance back to the system to meet our delivery timeline goals.
Product prioritization: We are constantly working on improving our product and prioritizing which features to build for our customers. This often is not an easy decision, as data and feedback from clients is always a bit blind-sided or biased. And sometimes, all we do is go with our hunch on the next big priority area.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
Prior experience: I think having been in the industry for a long time helped us a lot. Also, experience building DrumUp taught us a lot of things about prioritizing effort, launching the product, gathering team momentum, and marketing. We are building on that experience and going from strength to strength.
Well-thought of team roles and responsibilities: Clearly defining team functions and responsibilities have helped us run a smooth operation. It is for this reason every team member’s primary responsibilities are well thought of and clearly laid out. Being a self-funded company, we still have to manage resources judiciously and team members often pitch beyond their primary responsibilities in limited capacity. This has helped us stay nimble and adaptable.
Extensive use of tech: Tech has been a big enabler – every time we automated something or used tech for a better workflow, we have reaped loads of benefit in terms of efficiency, scale and accuracy. So we strongly incline towards technology solutions as against human processes, wherever possible.
5. What is your advice for those that are starting productized services?
Don’t wait too long before productizing your service if you can. If you think you have a solid model that’s working well across your engagements, start working on automating and creating a process that can be successfully applied again and again.
Also, try not to solve for every customer, and focus on a niche of customers for whom the model works and gets good results. Oftentimes, you get blindsided chasing revenue and pick any and every project that you can. And along the line, as you pick projects that take you away from your productized offering, you end up spending too much time and energy on customized solutions for a small set of customers. This kind of effort is not only short-sighted but severely hampers your growth as a productized offering, which would have scaled faster and easier.
Lastly, investment in technology is critical as you scale your productized service. The technology could be custom developed or picked off the shelf. But without tech, you will find it nearly impossible to scale your service.
6. What are your plans for the future?
We want to offer our customers more content types to order on Narrato including social media content and eBooks, and graphics and videos in the long term.
We also are investing heavily in developing technology that will allow content quality assessment and improvement. Additionally, we are looking at ways in which we can assist our customers through the content life-cycle using technology.
So there are several efforts underway to develop Narrato into a powerful content services and tools platform.