We don’t really have a Big Story that needs explaining today—and think our birthday is the perfect time to share who we are—what we aim to do—and why you’re paying for this damn sub. Also, why you’re the lodestar:)
Editor’s note: Our actual birthday is June 1, but we were worried that there may be a big news story to cover on Wednesday. So we decided to play it safe and get this done a day early.
Written by: Lakshmi Chaudhry, Editor/Founder, Daily Splainer
First, the existential question: Why am I?
Origin story: It all began back in 2011—when I signed to become the co-founder of Firstpost—which quickly became the most successful standalone digital news site in the country. We were the first digital publication to really understand—and exploit—the rise of tech platforms (Twitter, Google News, Facebook) that controlled the distribution of news.
The mantra in the Firstpost newsroom was simple: make the Google News bot happy! The bot loved news sites that published lots and lots of content all the time, 24 hours a day. It would come scroll our site every hour or so—looking for what’s new. It also decided what headline mattered most—according to its own mysterious priority. If your piece was the top-ranked headline on the Google News page, the traffic went through the roof. Disappoint the bot, and your traffic numbers would plummet.
In our newsroom, Chartbeat—which measured real-time traffic—was king. We frantically put together pieces—news wire, curated, original—that matched the bot’s priorities lest those Chartbeat numbers plummeted. And we often republished the same piece—over and over again—with a new headline just to trick the bot into thinking we had new content. Everyone was happy: the bot, editors, their bosses… Everyone except the person who just wanted to know what’s up with the world.
Point to note: When I left Firstpost in 2015, I’d successfully led it to an all-time traffic high of 15 million unique visitors a month. I am proud of many things we achieved, but it came at a cost—which we didn’t dictate but had to pay to succeed.
The doodhwala: Imagine a world where the doodhwala (the tech algo) dictates how the milk is made—what it tastes like, even the bottle that contains it. Not the person who actually drinks the milk. That’s the state of the news industry today. The business model is financed mostly by ads—which require big numbers. Big numbers require keeping the doodhwala happy.
The unhappy result: A news environment overflowing with rubbish content—auto-generated wire copy, clickbait or throwaway curations of some random tweet or photo. Anything to churn out 500 or more words that can be slapped into a story template—long enough to accommodate the various ad slots. All of it carefully written to force you to keep scrolling past the many ads—pop ups included—to get to the information you really want.
The sceptical question: Where does splainer fit in?
When I decided to launch splainer, I made two rules for myself.
One: It will be built ‘user-up.’ We will start with what people need and then create a product that fills those needs. If the end result didn’t look like any other news site or newsletter out there… Well, so be it. We never set out to create a Morning Brew or Skimm or Axios for India.
Two: It will always have a direct relationship with its audience—and will never be dependent on a third-party for distribution or revenue to survive.
The bento box: Every day, we sift through all the noise and rubbish—across nearly 100 sites—and lovingly put together a bento box of news. FYI: some prefer ‘tapas platter’, so feel free to pick your cuisine of choice. I personally think it is more like an old-fashioned hotel breakfast buffet—but am always shouted down:)
The result is what you see everyday in your edition:
- A big headline or issue explained at length so you can understand not just the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’.
- A round-up of key headlines—offered with context and links.
- We link every fact and claim so you never have to worry about the source of the information.
- We never preach, rant or tell you what to think… because why?
- And each edition comes with a big dollop of all that is delightful, intriguing, inspiring and just plain lovely—in nature, art, science, technology or history.
- We want to remind you everyday that the world isn’t the sum of our fears. Also: there is no greater skill of self-preservation than a sense of humour:)
Something to know: We all start working at 7 am to pull the daily edition together. There is no ‘yesterday’ news. We frantically scour the internet so that we have everything you need to be up to date at the very start of the day.
To sum up: You are our sunshine, our only sunshine… okay, fine, how about lodestar? As I said at our birthday bash this weekend, everything we do, we do it for you. Yes, I can’t stop with the cheesy pop songs lol!
The curious question: Who the eff are you?
The bios of the team are handily available on the About Us page. But here’s the more fun stuff you may not know about each of us:
About me: I pretend to totally have my shit together, but most of my days go something like this (yes, I shove in panda vids at the slightest excuse):
Rachel John: I am made up of at least 75% caffeine. And here’s how my early mornings look like:
Nirmal Bhansali: I don’t send heartfelt messages to my friends, I share different links to podcasts, YouTube videos and articles.
Aarthi Ramnath: My daily struggle sort of looks like this:
Anannya Parekh: My last brain cell is book-shaped… Did someone say they like reading?
And this is what a day in the life of the splainer team looks like:
The big question: What else do you have for me?
First, let me revel in everything we achieved over the past twelve months.
The great makeover: We went off to the design salon and came out the other end with a gorgeous new look and feel (thank you, Bull Design). C’mon, we gotta be the prettiest news site in the country… maybe the planet? Lol!
The app: We launched the app and then made it better—thanks to our amazing tech partner Blackcurrant Labs. It has all sorts of cool features including swipe, bookmarks and more. If you have not downloaded it, you’re really missing out. FYI: all our improvements are based on subscriber feedback.
The Advisory: Every Saturday, we drop a goodie bag of music, books, entertainment, art, travel and culture. As with news, our aim is to make it easy to discover what you need—the best things to watch, playlists to listen to, books to read, places to travel etc. So you can fill your world with more delight.
On to what’s up next….
Doubling down on community: We experimented with a fab Red Fort museum tour in December—which was a great success. We’ve found that every event we do is just so much fun because of our subscribers. Example: this is what our subscriber Suchi said about the birthday bash this past weekend:
I had such a great time meeting your team and other subscribers. Meeting strangers on a Saturday night is the last thing I saw myself doing but all of you were so warm and interesting—such a great extension of your voice and brand. And also interesting were your subscribers (generously including myself in that lol).
Here’s the greatest hits reel from that evening:
The upcoming lineup: Since you are all so amazing, we’re planning to create new reasons to bring you all together. These will include:
- Themed dinners that offer an informal convo with someone super-smart over delicious food. We have wonderful partners in the restaurant business lined up—more on that soon.
- Enriching events with fellow women leaders—thanks to our partnership with Ladies Who Lead. See: our recent dinner at LUPA in Bangalore—which included an amazing guest list of women leaders in Bangalore.
- Get-togethers aimed at helping us feel better—in partnership with Champaca and The Thought Co. Our first event around loneliness is coming soon in June.
- More museum tours and art-themed walks.
Something missing: from this list? Ping us at email@example.com to let us know what you’d like. See? Yer the lodestar!
The Advisory 2.0: We want to take the weekend edition to the next level as it’s still a work-in-progress. Here’s some of the stuff we’ve thought of:
- We plan to work closely with independent, mission-driven brands—and promote their products—in our BUY section. We know you care about what you buy and who you buy it from.
- We’re working on guides to stuff you may be curious about—like our wildly popular introduction to Hindustani ragas. Again, be sure to tell us what you’re looking for.
- Our partnerships with MAP and Heritage Lab already offer high quality culture content. We will be offering lots more in-house content on the same—especially around art.
- Also in the works: more high-value travel guides to places in India and beyond.
Talk to us: You’ve been reading the Advisory for more than six months now. Tell us what is working, what you want more of and what is missing entirely.
The really important question: What do you want for your birthday?
Well, if you insist:) We’ve done very well this past year, but still have to do a lot more to achieve the scale and reach we need to thrive. All startups are fragile–especially the media kind. Anything you do to help us grow is one step toward ensuring splainer will be forever.
Gift a sub: The best splainer present is to gift us to someone you like! And each one of them helps! (Just hit ‘gift a friend’ on the subscribe page)
Refer a friend: Each time you share that referral link and say ‘I love splainer’, a new baby sub is born somewhere in the world! The link is in your account page and each daily email.
Buy it bulk: It’s very hard to grow a news product one subscriber at a time. We’d be happy to give generous bulk discounts for your organisation—or extended personal network. Again: email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com.
Become a founding member: When we first started, our founding members helped us build a website, pay salaries and hosting fees etc. Thanks to their support, we now make enough revenue to take care of our daily bills. But we’re still a small company and we need that bit extra to keep growing. Please consider becoming a founding member—or (as some of our founding members have already done) renewing your support this year.
Become an investor: Did you know that all of splainer’s angel investors are subscribers? They help us stay true to our mission—and our audience—without having to ‘pivot’ to meet some arbitrary growth goal. We truly do get by with the help of our friends (again with the cheesy pop songs!). We’re in the middle of our second round so let me know if you want to hop on board. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We really can use your support in this dire funding climate!
The bottomline: Splainer is an all-out effort at creating an audience-driven and -funded authentic product. Will it work? Who knows. But it’s worth trying, yes? Or else we may as well get back to creating more Google bot-friendly news sites. Think I’d rather give up and sleep in instead.