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Indian VCs Not Too Keen To Fund Risky Ventures: Jay Meattle, Founder & CEO, Shareaholic

13 Apr, 2012

Content sharing site Shareaholic, run by Boston and New Delhi-based Shareaholic, Inc., claims to have around 270 million unique users a month from all over the globe. And nearly two million people have downloaded Shareaholic's browser plug-in, which enables content-sharing via Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr or even the traditional e-mail. More than 200,000 websites use Shareaholic tools and all these statistics make it one of the largest networks of long-tail site owners. The company raised $2 million in a seed round funding from a group of investors, including General Catalyst Partners, NextView Ventures, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, Nicole Stata of Boston Seed Capital, Edward Roberts of MIT, Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot and others.

Jay Meattle, the founder and CEO of Shareaholic, speaks to Techcircle.in on the business of sharing and what's hot in this space. He also comments on the recent Instagram acquisition and why India doesn't give the world a Pinterest, a Facebook or any such innovation. Meattle has also co-founded POPSignal, a platform designed to enable communities to highlight and celebrate local area technology startups, entrepreneurs and professionals – both offline and online. Here are the interview excerpts.

Please tell us more about Shareaholic. How did you start it and what was the response?

We are basically a traffic intersection point between publishers, advertisers and social networking sites and that is why it makes sense for them to integrate us. I started Shareaholic back in 2008 as a side project and soon it became really big. Of course, I had a full-time job at that time. But when it became really popular, I gathered my people and we pondered on the idea whether we could make an independent company out of it. And when we actually crossed the 100 million-users mark, I committed myself full time to the project.

How much capital did you put in initially?

Well, initially all I put in was my time but it started burgeoning. At the time we crossed the 100 million mark, we raised some angel funding from a few people we knew. It was around $355,000 and those investors are still with us.

You have recently raised a second round of funding. How has it been utilised? And when would you start looking for fresh funds again?

Well, we have raised around $2 million from a slew of investors and the capital is mostly used for product development. But we are not looking for the next round of funding right now. We have never planned our fundraising beforehand and we are not doing it now either.

What's the market for Shareaholic in India?

Well, these are early days for sure but even then, 10 per cent of our users are from India. It's a nascent market though, due to the Internet usage habits and patterns. So it will take some time to grow here. But we are very optimistic. As more and more people come online, sharing will become popular as it is an essential part of online activities.

What are the current trends in terms of online sharing?

Well, anything worth sharing gets shared and it's bound to continue! These days, people are also sharing a large number of videos. In India, e-mail sharing is still very popular apart from Facebook.

So what will be new from Shareaholic for the Indian market? Do you have any plan to go mobile?

We have a user base of 270 million worldwide and our product is out there for anyone to use. I don't think we will do any customisation for the Indian market. But yes, we do want to spread our reach here. Our site is already mobile-optimised, so that mobile users can easily access it. As for smartphone apps, we might launch one in the next 12 months or so.

What do you think of Facebook's acquisition of Instagram? Would Shareaholic tread the same path?

In my opinion, Facebook needed it. It has always been weak in the mobile domain and the acquisition of the photo-sharing app makes sense for the company. As for Instagram, maybe it's the best for them as well.

At any point of time, Shareaholic will also do whatever is best for our investors. But one can't plan these things. In Instagram also, they got the acquisition offer just a week after their funding. So you see that they didn't plan for it.

How do you plan to market your product?

We have never spent a single rupee on marketing. All our popularity comes from word-of-mouth publicity. In fact, Google, Firefox and Microsoft have been very generous in popularising our product, which is only because they are happy with us. There was a time when Microsoft manufactured millions of computers with Shareaholic pre-installed in those. In India, we plan to push our product and integrate with more publishers and websites. We also want to expand our 4-member India team.

If the latest buzz is Instagram or Pinterest (it can be even Shareaholic) – why doesn't it happen in India?

I am not following the Indian community that closely but I feel that Indian VCs are not very open to the idea of funding risky ventures or ventures which have not come up with a guaranteed revenue model. In the USA, an entrepreneur is initially asked about the users and the market. How money will be made out of that venture is discussed later. But here, they want everything in place beforehand "the business model, customers, revenue, etc. That is the basic difference and once it is taken care of, same things will start happening in India. I am quite sure that there are a lot many innovators here; they only need proper handholding from investors to make it big.