Blazing a trail to give digital reach to news publishers and balanced perspectives to readers around the world.
I first met Gautam through my wife, Fiona. He, his wife Katherine and Fiona were management consultants at Booz & Company some years ago. Since those early days he has led strategy at Fairfax Media and today is Founder and CEO at Inkl, a news service available on iPhone and Android where you pay $15 per month to get access to news from the world’s best publishers. Beyond the magic he’s brought to Inkl, Gautam is also one of AirShr’s co-founders. He’s an incredible founder and here are five questions with him.
So you went to college in the US and then did an MBA at Wharton as part of a career in management consulting before moving into media. Where did the appetite for entrepreneurship start for you?
I’m actually a pretty risk-averse guy so entrepreneurship was definitely not a path I thought I’d take. My decision to set up inkl was entirely because I found myself uniquely qualified (through my work at Fairfax) to tackle what I saw was one of the biggest problems in our society (threats to the transparency and accountability afforded by reliable news coverage) at just the right time (when the industry was on the verge of being disrupted for the second time). For me the entrepreurial approach was just the most logical way to try and solve this problem.
It’s no secret that I’m one of inkl’s biggest fans. You’ve created a marketplace for news publishers to present readers with compelling content everyday. What’s your vision for inkl?
Our vision for inkl is to ensure that readers can quickly and reliably get the world’s most important news. Today that news is buried under a thousand opinions, ads, and tabloid stories, and vies for attention against a growing list of distractions. So our goal is to cut through all this noise and present the most efficient and useful news experience possible. Underlying this is inkl’s novel business model. There our aim is to ensure that reporting the news can continue to be a viable career. On current course most of the world’s news creators are on a path to unprofitability. We’re trying to turn that tide. And yes, it’s every bit as difficult as that sounds.
Many won’t realise that you’re also an AirShr co-founder and that you were helping to build our product at the same time as building the first version of inkl. Both ventures focus on supporting traditional media. How has working on these two big ideas helped you think about building and shipping product?
As you know, I’ve loved being part of the AirShr story and am amazed by what you and Opher have already achieved. It’s definitely been interesting seeing both Inkl and AirShr develop side-by-side. If I were to draw broad conclusions from the experience of both ventures, here’s what I’d say I’ve learned. First, the things you think matter, don’t. Ultimately, the thing that matters most is whether you have developed a product that users need and love. If you can do that, and can be inventive about the rest, it will follow. Starting out, I worried a lot more about competitors, branding and a whole lot of other things that, although important, pale in comparison to getting #userlove. That’s what I obsess over now and what I see as the core of our business. Second, it’s essential to reduce the problem-set. When we first set up AirShr and Inkl, both companies had a huge number of problems to solve. So it was important to work out which ones came first, and essentially ignore the rest. Today, that’s easier and clearer to do – albeit just as important. But in the early days when the situation was a lot more foggy, it was hard to know where to focus. Third, speed. Coming from a more traditional corporate environment I was used to waterfall business plans, 3-week code deployment cycles, and lengthy approval processes. But with startups you don’t know which ideas will stick and which won’t. So you have no choice but to move as fast as you possibly can. This means developing infrastructure that allows you to ship code daily. Metrics that allow you to pick winners and losers from each experiement. And most of all – a culture of experimentation where each person is willing and eager to try (and potentially discard) various ideas.
We both have busy home lives with young kids and professional wives. We’ve spoken about the best ways for us, as founders, to be as mindful and physically fit and healthy as possible. It’s not easy but what have you found to be the most effective techniques to integrate work and home life?
Hahaha, I’ll let you know when I solve this one. In the first two years I just worked like a dog. My strategy then was simply to outrun anyone else who might even think of entering this space. But as you suggest, that’s not really sustainable, especially when you have young kids. So I make sure I’m always there for ‘storytime’ which is absolutely the best part of my day. I also try to minimise work hours over the weekend, or at least to get work done when the family is asleep. But as for excercise, well I should probably just get a standing desk for now. As someone said, your life can consist of Family, Friends, Work, Sleep, or Fitness. But you can only choose three. These days I choose Family, Work, and Sleep. But I’d like to have more time for Fitness so maybe once I’ve worked off the sleep deficit I can get back on the bike.
You meet with a soon-to-be, first-time founder and over coffee she asks “If I had to develop three habits to be a successful founder, what are they?” what would you say?
To be honest I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this because I think every entrepreneur’s experience is different. So my prescription would be just as likely to wreak havoc as it would to help. For me, the things that have worked so far (and bearing in mind that inkl is still far from what you might consider a ‘success’) are: Attacking and confronting the worst that could happen in every situation. I think most of us (including me) tend to avoid the scary stuff but for me it’s been working through that stuff that has been most useful. Being cheap has been useful too – I try not to spend a single dollar of our hard-won investment if I don’t have to. We’re not breaking even as yet, so every dollar I spend comes straight out of our runway. This means it better be worth it.
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