On this edition of the #InsightsPodcast series, we have our youngest guest so far, Farid Ahsan, Co-founder of ShareChat, the most popular company in the Indian languages, i.e. vernacular, space. It has over 100 million monthly active users, a feat that they have managed to achieve in less than four years.
On this podcast, Farid talks about his early days at IIT, what motivated him to start up, how he and his co-founders came up with the idea for ShareChat, what has helped them scale, and his learnings from the journey so far.
Growing up in six different cities because his father’s job involved regular transfers, Farid became adept at adjusting to new environments and making new friends. At a very early age, he became cognizant of the differences and the commonalities between people of different cultures. He also began to understand the nuances that come with diversity, which lies at the core of ShareChat today.
Farid jokes about the job prospects for his stream, Material Science, not being the best, which meant he had to look at investment banking, consulting, analytics, or joining an early-stage startup as possible career options. Farid did an internship in investment banking, which helped him understand the foundations that made a company successful, but he also realised that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. More on how that came about in the podcast.
Farid sums up his learnings right in the early days in three simple points:
1. It’s not the idea that makes you win. Is your product a ‘good to have’ or a ‘must have’?
2. It’s important to understand how big the opportunity is
3. Executing your vision is key
“A company is much more than a set of features or products, it is a way of building and solving problems,” he says.
He talks about how his team was able to implement some of these learnings. For instance, they shut down their initial venture, ‘Opinio’, a debate platform which they quickly realised was a ‘good to have’ product for a niche customer segment.
Talking about how they stumbled on the idea for ShareChat, Farid shares the story of how his co-founder Ankush Sachdeva figured out an anomaly on Sachin Tendulkar’s Facebook fan page, where a staggering 80,000 people shared their phone numbers so that they could get added to a WhatsApp group.
Farid, Ankush and Bhanu Singh quickly wrote code to create 600 WhatsApp groups and decided to observe user behavior: why were they on WhatsApp, what their problems were, why did they share content on WhatsApp, what was the bragworthy proposition behind sharing content on WhatsApp…and more.
This led them to the core idea that people wanted to find content, were not great at searching for what they wanted, their vocabulary was limited, and this audience was excited about the prospect of interacting with new people. “Group kisi ka bhi ho, dhamaka humara hi hoga, (IT doesn’t matter whose group it is, we’ll be the ones making waves)”, he says, citing the common user mindset.
For the new-age audience who communicate in their own language, the mobile phone with an internet connection has become the gateway to a new world outside their immediate social circle in the past few years. What the trio realised was that, all that this set of people wanted was a platform that helped them with discovery online — and this was what ShareChat was going to be.
Given their success, the strategy has obviously paid off. But between then and now, the road has hardly been an easy one. Farid talks about these and other challenges further in the podcast: Hiring — who are the kind of people they bring on board and why
1. The financial freedom that the ShareChat team has
2. ShareChat’s culture of innovation and experimentation (while keeping things efficient)
3. Optimising the founders’ bandwidth and helping each other grow
He closes with his take on success and how it is achieved. Listen to the podcast for these and other insights.