Creator Kit Episode 02: qoohoo’s Vimal Singh Rathore on the Impact of the Pandemic on Creators and Creativity
In this week's episode we talk to the co-founder and CEO of qoohoo, a platform where creators can interact with their most loyal fans and build subscription income.
Each episode of Creator Kit is a deep dive on a particular tool or service that can help you take your creator business to the next level. Creator Kit is presented by HiBeam: we solve comment and DM overload for creators; follow HiBeam on Twitter and subscribe on YouTube for more great content.
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Vimal Singh Rathore is an EdTech entrepreneur turned Creator Economy builder with a deep appreciation for the way that creativity can bring more meaning to the lives of people from all walks of life. As an early employee at Indian edtech giant Unacademy, Vimal saw how technology can create opportunity for learners - and is now working to do the same for creators.
We recently sat down with Vimal to talk about the intersection of edtech and creator tools, the impact of the pandemic on creativity, and the socioeconomic factors that make India an explosively growing market for creator businesses.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the conversation:
1. The pandemic sparked a revival of creativity in India
Being stuck at home (and without a commute taking up hours), many in India turned towards creativity and realized the importance of life outside of work - and that they could be creators too.
Once you obtain a certain income, you really want to devote some time to doing painting, doing yoga, athletics, gardening…all these things are actually the “romance of life”. Now the people are realizing the importance; in the lockdown every one of us were back inside our home; and ONLY work cannot make us survive, we realized. So all of us started writing newsletters, started painting, so now we realized that this is an important part of life. And this actual absolute value is there, but the perceived value of the creators craft is gradually increasing also.
2. Creator subscriptions are following in the footsteps of EdTech
Creator subscriptions are following a path blazed by professional education products (but are priced differently due to a less direct tie to earning potential for those that subscribe).
Understanding the differentiation with the same user who might we be a paid user of, say, $500 a month to an EdTech course, but would like to subscribe to a creators course at say…$50 a month. So there's a huge scale divide (between EdTech and creator products) in terms of the subscription.
3. There will be room for multiple platforms
Creators can add software to fill particular needs. In the case of qoohoo, there is value in maintaining a dialogue with your most loyal fans.
Qoohoo will not be replacing the other platforms, or competing with them. If you are creating courses, such as cohort-based courses on multiple platforms, you can even maintain a community on qoohoo because that can become your source of conversion for future courses.
Vimals favorite creators: Rahul Subramanian and Tanmay Bhat
This is Creator Kit, HiBeam’s podcast series on the tools that help creators thrive. If you enjoyed the conversation and don’t want to miss future episodes, just hit subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or plug our RSS feed in your player of choice. You can also read the full transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, below.
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Jesse: Welcome to creator kit.
Vimal: Thank you, Jess. Thank you for having me here. It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks.
Jesse: Let's maybe start with the product itself, knowing that our audience are creators who are looking to discover new tools to build their creator businesses. Can you give us the 60 second overview of what qoohoo is and how it enables creators?
Vimal: Qoohoo is a community first platform, so we have two, three kinds of products in the Creator Economy one where people can record the content and then sell the courses, and and another can be the type of CBC (Cohort-Based Course), but where qoohoo works is you can form any kind of community and engage with their users the way you want. You can either create multiple subscriptions, you can create a free channel, you can create cohorts and courses out ofyour main community. So itis a mobile based platform for any kind of creators who wish to monetize their community.
Jesse: You guys have launched a number of new courses and programs on the platform. I'm really excited as to talk about those, but I did want to start with an introduction of you.
I know you have a history in I guess I would call it EdTech products. So you've been involved in a number of different companies in the space. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and then we can segue into how you came up with qoohoo.
Vimal: So I was lucky to be the part of EdTech ecosystem andin India when... at an inflection point when internet was you know becoming cheap and mobile devices were penetrating the tier 2, 3 towns of India.
So back in 2016, I started my journey into the startup ecosystem and precisely theEd Tech ecosystem. So I was a researcher in Delhi university. I was pursuing my PHD in biomedical sciences, but I was always passionate about. education, so I joined Unacademy at a very early stage. I was 9th or 10th employee, probably there and first in the content team.
So now Unacademy is a unicorn or more, I think $3, $3.5 Billion valuation. So I was lucky to learn not just about the EdTech tech ecosystem, but about the consumer market, how the different consumers in India work, where do they want to spend time? How do they use a particular application?
So that really shaped my mind because I was not coming from an engineering or a management background. So from a researcher to a person in tech now I would call myself as a person, building products in "consumer tech". So that's qoohoo's lane; it is not exactly the education technology but it is more about consumers and the creators.
Jesse: Awesome. And I know you personally devoted at least a few months to travel and talk to people across many different disciplines and subject areas in your Ed Tech phase, would love to hear briefly what that was all about.
Vimal: So you need to find your place in the ecosystem. You need to go deep down inside (and sometimes outside) the ecosystem to figure out what is actually inspiring you.
So for me, the journey at Unacademy was exciting, but when we solved some of the core problems, it again became an existential issue for me. I wanted to know more problems, more deeper problems. So then I started traveling in India, I'd went to multiple villages, multiple towns; met several government officials, several engineers as well to understand it for the real problem. This huge part… more than 70% of the India is facing. I understood that there was a HUGE thing that can be done. That's when I started building Coursavy, my first startup, which I built for around 20 months, eventually last year in September it got acquired. And now I'm building this.
And so yeah. The journeys is mostly about finding what you really love and whether you are being honest towards your yourself or not. So it was very personal to me.
Jesse: In your travels and conversation, in talking with folks from all walks of life, was the problem that you ran into mainly around access to education? Or cost of education? Or efficiency of the existing models?
What were the things that you discovered that informed that product?
Vimal: There were two, three things which were counter intuitive for me. We heard a lot that small towns have a lot of potential and they want to, you know, go big and achieve their dreams. But this kind of passion was there in just 1% of the people.
Most of them were satisfied going to the government school and doing their own jobs, keeping the small shops, doing farming, So it was not about the access or awareness towards the education. It was awareness as a whole about what you can do with your life. That direction was completely missing. So they were not even aware about what they were missing, actually.
So that was one major philosophical, psychological thing and the real problem was English speaking. English speaking in India is a huge, huge problem. And almost 90% of the people apart from tier one towns, they have fear of speaking English, whether they are speaking Hindi or any other language of India.
So that was another class that they have created in their own mind; that if you can't speak good English, then probably you might not do big things in your life. So that is the consistent behavior that I saw. And so many founders are trying to solve this, but it's a lot that is needed to be done here in this segment.
Jesse: Transitioning to the creator space. I can guess some of the corollaries that you may have found between EdTech and the creator space especially as you were describing the mission or desire to help people achieve their human potential. For me, what's really exciting about the creator space, is that anyone that has a passion about a particular area, and a willingness and an internet connection and a phone can start to build, and in some cases, drive income from that passion and connect with other passionate people. How did you go about transitioning to your current work at qoohoo? What was the inspiration? I know that you are a creator. I know that you're friends with a lot of creators. We'd love to hear a little bit about that.
Vimal: So before answering this question I would like to tell you that in India, the education and the creator space are… the overlap is very less. Or it used to be very less. It is not like that today. Because in India, it's quite famous that if you get into a job it's quite common to see our parents and our elders doing the same job for 35 and 40 years of their life.
Following their own passion, and following this to earn money, has not been quite a thing in India, but we have seen this thing in the West for a long time. Like as a kid, I used to see a lot of foreigners in Delhi coming. And when I used to ask them what they do (for work), some people were doing business management, but they took leave of six months, seven months to travel around the world and follow their passion: opening a restaurant, becoming an artist etc.
But in India it was always a side thing. But in the last four or five years, applications like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram: they have certainly galvanized those aspirations because people with a permanent job can also become a creator. And then once they are seeing the potential of being a creator, the horizon is changing and people are becoming full-time creators.
The COVID situation has catalyzed this growth 10X because now the internet is “the stage” for the creator. So for me, understanding this psychology, that how things are changing is very, very exciting and very insightful, FOMO in EdTech in India is huge. So if you are to take a course, if it has some value, you will really find some users, but creating FOMO in the creator space, it is not something which India as a country is ready for.
But - you need to create the real value by not targeting FOMO, but rather how it is going to change your life: how you can become qualitatively good person after completing an art course or becoming more fit and more healthy after completing this yoga course; how you can edit your photos or edit your videos on a mobile device.
So you need to bring some qualitative change because per capita income in India and developing countries is increasing. So they want to spend more time apart from health, education; and THEN their mental health, their recreation. They are quality of life. So that's where the creator space in India is, is kind of timely.
It is still again, very early, but for me, it is more about the consumer space…understanding the differentiation with the same user who might we be a paid user of say $500 a month to an EdTech course, but would like to subscribe to a creators course at say…$50 a month. So there's a huge scale divide in terms of the subscription that users would like to have.
Jesse: For creators who are curious about that difference in pricing of products or subscriptions that you were describing, is it the case that for EdTech products, they're tied in user's mind to the ability to earn a higher income, and so there's a higher willingness to pay versus creative products, which are less tied to like professional careers and things like that?
Vimal: So in India there are two ways or two types of EdTech product. One is to gear up, particularly for government examinations and school, college. Those were the courses which was sold first in India because they have clear conjugation with parallel or learning in the offline work. Like if you are in your first year, second year, third year, and you are doing an online course that relevance is immediately being reflected in your numbers or in your day to day; as a student you are 70, 80% thinking about your examination and about your course.
If you are finding an EdTech course, where you can probably get a 100% coverage of the anatomy of a human body you will likely subscribe. In India from 2009 to 2014-15 these kinds of courses were big, even government examinations in India is huge. There is more than a 15 million government seats for the examination. That is a huge, huge number. In India, government jobs are considered one of the most secure jobs: once you get it you are set for the next 40 years of your life and you will get pension as well.
Then come these professional courses, like doing a diploma in marketing or advertising, or Google Cloud, you know, AWS, performance marketing...
So these types of things are valid for a very small number of users, which is now rising. But now since the startup boom, these professional courses and their value is increasing because they can enter the company in like a business development job and eventually become a data analyst, and become a data scientist down the line by doing this course. The value association is very, very high in EdTech versus the creator.
BUT…the similar thing is, you know, being the creator and their craft. Once, once you attain a certain income, you really want to devote some time to doing painting, doing yoga, athletics, gardening… all these things are actually the “romance of life”. Now the people are realizing the importance; in the lockdown every one of us were back inside our home and only work cannot make us survive. We realized that. So all of us started writing newsletters, started painting, so now we realized that this is an important part of life. And this actual absolute value is there, but the perceived value of the creators craft is gradually increasing.
And I think it is increasing very very fast.
Jesse: Really, really cool. There's different avenues of creativity, art writing, et cetera. Are those the target creators for qoohoo? Is that where you're starting, with this creative class?
Vimal: What we have seen around, is that very few products are focusing on the community first approach. And they are solving a different problem, like learning outcomes from a cohort based course for example. But in my opinion, I consider a product management or design course as a part of EdTech; cohort based courses are at the overlap of EdTech and the Creator Economy. What we are building is the community first approach, which is not focusing on the EdTech part, but focusing on the creators part. So for example, you can be a Substack writer, you can be a Twitter influencer, you can be an Instagram famous person; and you might not be a live video or a video first creator!
Your text or your memes are famous, and you want to interact with your top followers, whether for free or with different layers of payment, then you can build a community. We are solving the UX of WhatsApp, Telegram and Discord. Because Discord is very complex; Telegram is very spammy sometimes; WhatsApp needs some privacy fixes. And these are not meant for building communities as people are using them. So we have integrated the payment subscription layer, and multiple layers to engage with the community. So for us, the target audiences is anyone who is community first, rather than course first. Because in the course, your audience ends after the course…you won't like engage with them further. But what we want - we are creating a family for the creators where they can continue to stay engaged and eventually launched multiple cohorts and multiple courses out of that community .
Jesse: That aligns with the experience I had when I checked out the app, I, I signed into one of the communities, um, built by, is it Nilmani Parth? The filmmaker? I checked it out. I logged into one of his channels and it was a very conversational experience, which felt very different than, say, a Facebook group. It kind of felt like I was in a chat with a group of friends. And one of those friends happens to be an internationally respected filmmaker who can answer my questions.
Is that, is that the experience that you guys are aiming for on the creator side?
Vimal: Yes. We are building there because that is the most personnel way of engaging, other than just a video first live platform.
Jesse: And then from a creator perspective, these are some sort of my observations as a user. So please redirect me where needed. The opportunities to create multiple channels: some of them can be free, some of them require a monthly subscription. And sort of help individual users connect to the channel that is most valuable to them. And where that channel is a paid channel, that's where the real opportunity to drive scalable income for a creator starts to appear. Is the monetization model for creators mostly a monthly subscription, is it one-off payment for access?
Vimal: We did limited early access that we have given to the creators, monthly subscription is mostly used. But now we have a one-time subscription as well. You can create a one time payment, even for two hours event or three days event or seven days event.
So we are definitely trying with multiple ways. On LinkedIn and Twitter we have been quoted as “a Stripe for creators”. That's the kind of feeling that people are getting from the outside. It does not need any involvement of the qoohoo person to help you to create; it’s as easy as creating a WhatsApp group.
Jesse: Taking that train of thought a little further, what I had experienced as a user is a platform centered around access and the chat experience. Are any of those events happening off platform, or is it one holistic solution that solves everything for the creator.
Vimal: So we have launched a holistic solution for payment within the product for the recorded audio, recorded video, sending voice notes, images, texts within the platform. By the time I think this session will reach the audience we will be able to launch our audio and video platform, which is going to be along by the first week of October. Right now we have integrated two or three different services like Zoom and Google Meet within the product, but they are opening as an instance so users are not going outside the product. But still we are using the API of different services, but the intent is to build audio and video within the product.
Jesse: Awesome. What type of creators are you looking to work with? What type of creators can join the platform today? Where are you in timing overall for listeners that are interested in checking it out?
Vimal: So what I observed is that anyone who is passionate, whether they are starting from the zero, they don't have any social media following, or they have huge followers. Both the categories can kind of start on qoohoo. We have 7 creators who started for the first time on qoohoo and their reason of starting their classes or courses on qoohoo was…Nilmani Parth is one example…why? It was quite easy for them. They need not to share any registration page, any payment page differently, manage their audience on WhatsApp or telecom. It's just happening, everything on a single platform. So for them, it was very, very easy. But for the medium creators, who are earning $1,000 to $5,000 a month, they have already gotten used to the different products, payment from other platforms, management from other platforms live on zoom. So they are quite, are difficult to get convinced. Why? Because they have just tasted their growth. So they want to grow. So I think qoohoo right now in this phase, we are solving for the top creator and the small creator. Medium creators will come on the platform as soon as they're understanding that this product can help them scale.
So as soon as we build more features, they will realize that coming on qoohoo while already earning, we can focus on the craft, qoohoo is helping us for payment management, user management, registration, privacy and every other thing. So that’s the behavior that we have observed. Definitely down the line, once we have opened up the product to everyone, we would like to have all kinds of creators from different categories, building communities. Qoohoo will not be replacing, the other platform, or competing with them. If you are creating courses, the cohort based courses on multiple platforms, you can even maintain a community on qoohoo because that can become your source for the communication and for the conversion for the future courses.
Jesse: Got it. That makes a lot of sense. And it actually aligns with how I've seen creators pick the different types of tools and software that they're using to power their business. And the name of the podcast is Creator Kit because I sort of pictured a creator with a box of different software, you know, three, four or five different platforms in addition to YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, selecting what they want to use often for various point solution type jobs. What we're working on at my company, HiBeam, is a very specific job, which is message management and the ability to prioritize messages for creators and help them with that.
All right. Want to ask you two questions that we ask almost every guest on the podcast. The first is - who is your personal favorite creator? It could be the favorite creator of the week or the favorite creator of all time. All answers are good .
Vimal: So I like, uh, there is one comedian Rahul Subramanian, in India. I like him a lot. Apart from his comedy, I like the way his content is appealing to every class.
His content is very clean, very apolitical. It is pleasing to every class of people. So that's the kind of qualisty that I like. In terms of huge diversification I like Tanmay Bhat, who happens to be our investor as well. Then met. He's the kind of person who can talk about crypto… finance… stocks as well as do game streaming plus comedy.
So in terms of diversification Tanmay is, I think number one on my list, but in terms of how your content can be pleasing to everyone I like Rahul Subramanian a lot.
Jesse: Is he the guy that you did a few YouTube videos with on the qoohoo channel?
Vimal: I think you might have seen Tanmay Bhat.
Jesse: Got it. And for our listeners, we will link out to a couple of the different creators that the Vimal mentioned as well as to some of the content that qoohoo has produced as well. In general, where can people find you? What's the best place to find you? Is it Twitter? Is it the website?
Vimal: Twitter is best, and I would love to get in touch with your listeners and listen to their views on the creator economy and what they're building, how they're approaching the segment.
Jesse: And for people that want to check the product out?
Vimal: They can search on app store; if they want access within the app, they can ask for creators access. So the app is live on both Google Play Store and Apple’s app store. And we are going to launch the next, very big release in the first week of October. That will be very, very delightful for the users as well as the creators.
Jesse: Really excited to be able to talk to you on the show today and wanted to thank you so much for making the time.
Vimal: Thank you. Thank you, Jesse. Thanks a lot.
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