On a cool morning in January, I stood in a conference room in front of a dozen people — the founding team of FactorDaily — and tried to explain something that I was still trying to wrap my head around: after less than two months in stealth mode, we had pivoted.
The team had reasons to be worried. After all, our idea for FactorDaily looked nothing like what we had pitched it to them originally. The format, focus, target audience, and almost everything else looked different. People had quit well-paying, stable jobs to join my co-founder, Jayadevan, and I, in our mission (some team members were still serving their notice periods), and the tension in the room was palpable. Disrupting the original premise of our startup now seemed riskier than quitting my job at the Economic Times last year.
It looked suicidal and foolish.
Here’s a sample of the questions we were asked:
“What if you fail?”
“How will you make money?”
“How will you find talent to work with the startup?”
“Facebook, Google, Twitter are killing the media.”
“What’s your Mickey?”
“Are you disrupting for the sake of it?”
“This is the worst time to do a media startup.”
The first question and the last statement sum up the classical startup dilemma that mostly hovers around the fear of failure and when to do it, whether to do it at all. Some of them were blunt questions, and several others were prophetic statements hurled at me every time I attempted to explain why we wanted to do a media startup.
To be honest, I never got offended by these questions. All I can admit after at least one near-death experience and three pivots is that their concerns were very valid.
With every passing question and with every raised eyebrow, our determination to build a world-class digital media startup from India grew stronger. And apart from our own dogged belief in the opportunity to build exactly that from this part of the world, there are several reasons for FactorDaily to finally come alive.
The biggest reason for our faith in building FactorDaily has been its core team that we have been able to bring together almost miraculously. It’s nothing short of a miracle because the core founding team of FactorDaily has been bluntly honest in asking questions and passionately committed to the mission no matter what.
In that room that day, each one of us got disrupted. Our technology co-founder, Titash, had to scrap over month of developing a product, and we, as journalists,had to hesitatingly accept the new realities of storytelling that the internet makes inevitable.
So why are we doing this?
We’re doing this because technology is going mainstream in India. I’m not referring to the country’s software and services industry when I say that. I am referring to the way people in India, across demographics, are applying technology and social tools to get more out of life. It’s very similar to how software is eating the world. And as technology storytellers, we believe this is the best time to make sense of technology disruption, newer companies and people shaping the next big ideas in India.
There’s no better time to be a technology journalist in India. I don’t want to take away from our peers tracking tech in Silicon Valley where cool stuff is born everyday. But India is in the throes of a digital age and our lives our being changed like never before.
The stories that we are seeing around us, especially those triggered by technology, cannot be fitted in the existing frames, and traditional newsrooms that continue to be obsessed with daily news cycles cannot capture these narratives meaningfully anymore.
What will FactorDaily do?
Visual storytelling from the intersection of technology, culture and life in India.
We plan to produce stories that not just celebrate the human ingenuity behind some of technology’s best used cases in India, but also help FactorDaily’s consumers discover newer ways of applying fresh tech ideas in the way they live, work and consume entertainment.
We also believe that newer companies and business sectors taking birth because of technology disruption could use some fresh narrative. Many young potential consumers of our stories we interviewed over past few months looked hungry to learn more about the new payment banks, digital commerce, and companies including Flipkart, Snapdeal, and more.
So we will ask questions, explain these sectors, companies and the people shaping them. And we will do that by practising journalism at the core.
We will do all this with a strong focus on visual storytelling and design to ensure that narratives are not lost in translation and are “picturesque enough for people to remember” as Joseph Pulitzer said.
Technology meets storytelling and design
One of the first learnings for us has been to shed the traditional journalism hat and accept the fact that for effective storytelling, we must be on the same table as technology and design. At FactorDaily, almost everything we do (and we do most of the things on Slack) has elements of technology and design from the very beginning.
Our core team has fewer journalists than a traditional newsroom.
Meet Regina, India’s first newsbot
The questions I listed at the start from sceptics and the well-wishers are still lurking around. What’s changed though is that we have now discovered some really awesome questions that keep us awake at night and make us restless during the day.
“Who is Regina?”
“What can Regina do next?”
“And why is she calling me a fool?”
In her first avatar, Regina started listening to our conversations on Slack, capturing anything with a URL to ensure that it is stored and exposed later for search as an API. And since Titash, our technology co-founder, thought Regina should have a life, he programmed her to have interesting conversations with us.
Titash is now our in-house “bot-man.”
Regina is just the start. As you’ll see in the coming days and weeks, the bots at FactorDaily will push the boundaries by doing interesting things. If I go any further, Titash might just set one of his pet bots on me for divulging too much. So, mum’s the word, but expect some cool stuff going ahead (this awesome Frederic Filloux post on Monday Note validated our ambitions)
Someday, Regina and her peers will take over most of the repetitive and commodity stuff in the areas of storytelling and news. It will free us to focus on pushing the boundaries of journalism and storytelling from this part of the world and help us tell beautiful and impactful stories.
As we get closer to the launch, we will share more details of our founding team and the investors backing us. For now, we’re hard at work to bring you something awesome.
Pankaj Mishra is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FactorDaily. He has previously worked with the Economic Times, Mint, and TechCrunch. Follow him on Twitter at @pankajontech or send him an email.