Roshni Mahtani is ecstatic that her venture theAsianparent has just closed an “8-figure US dollar” Series C funding from some of the world’s leading names, including JD.com, Fosun — a rare feat in a highly-competitive digital media industry. After gaining a wide acceptance in Southeast Asia, the parenting portal is now setting its foot in South Asia and Africa, where Mahtani sees tremendous potential. The Founder and CEO is also bullish about the company’s recently-launched app, which boasts several unique features and has clocked 1.6 million installs.
In this interview, Mahtani talks about her startup journey, the global digital media industry, and theAsianparent’s future plans.
Below are the edited excerpts:
You chose to disclose the funding amount when you raised your last round in May 2018, but this time you chose not to. Why? Is it a strategic move?
We’re proud of the amount raised, as it validates our growth story and hard work. However, some of our investors prefer to keep this number private. What we can disclose is that it’s an eight-figure number.
In the earlier rounds, the investments were raised for your parent Tickled Media. Is this Series C only for theAsianParent or for the group? What is the current valuation of Tickled Media?
Tickled Media is the name of theAsianparent’s holding company. The funds raised in this round will be used to further invest in theAsianparent and our other parenting verticals, rather than other brands under Tickled Media. We are not disclosing the current valuation of our company.
You picked mostly Southeast Asia-based investors for your earlier rounds, but this time you decided to go with Chinese VCs? Any reasons for this? What is the synergy here, especially with Fosun and JD.com?
We were agnostic as to the origins of the funds. What we did was to look for investors who understood the mum and baby industry intimately. Fosun was the perfect lead investor for us due to their deep commitment to the mum and baby space. With regard to JD.Com, we wanted a trusted e-commerce investor as we are launching an initiative in the commerce space in the coming months.
In a recent interview you said theAsianparent would target only Asian parents, but now with this round you are looking expanding to African markets. Why the sudden change in the plans?
My main goal has always been to provide a safe space for mums and babies. Our vision is to help 50 million parents raise happy, healthy, and confident kids. I chose to first start off with Asian parents because I am an Asian parent myself. After building up a base here, and seeing that we’ve actually made an impact on mums and parents, we want to help other mums and parents in other regions like Africa, which has one of the largest growing populations with a high total fertility rate. We believe in going where the babies are!
What does African markets offer to a parenting content business like theAsianparents? Which countries in Africa are you looking to expand to? What opportunities do you see there? How are you going to address the challenges such as language and culture barriers?
For Africa, we will actually be called Africaparent.com. Currently, we are looking at Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. We have hired a local team of African mums and dads who understand the region and cultural nuances of the African parenting market.
How has your expansion into the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam progressing?
We are number one in the Philippines and Malaysia and top three mum and baby player in Vietnam. We hope to become the number one mum platform within this year in Vietnam.
You also recently launched an app on both iOS and Android. What prompted you to launch the app and why it is important? Isn’t challenging to persuade people to download the app, given their phones are already inundated with multiple apps?
We launched theAsianparent app in September 2018. Since then, we have seen 1.6 million app installs. We have over 30,000 app ratings, with an average ranking of 4.8 stars.
We believe the app has accomplished what it has set out to do: to give Asian parents the virtual village they need to help raise healthy, happy, confident children. In their words “I super love the app. It’s good to know that I’m surrounded with people [who have] the same journey as mine. I could say that I could use this more often than FB.”
theAsianparent has long disrupted the online parenting industry by going hyperlocal, available in 11 countries and nine languages. Now it has gone a step further, and made sharing parenting wisdom among modern Asian mums and dads personal.
Stuck between Aunties’ home remedy and overwhelming/conflicting information on Google, the new mum now has another option when baby has a suspicious rash: simply upload the photo on theAsianparent app and ask fellow mums for advice!
Do you produce the content for your sites in-house? Given that parenting is a sensitive topic, how do you manage to produce content that resonates with parents in Asia?
To produce content that resonates with Asian parents is a strategy based 90 per cent on data and 10 per cent on mummy instinct. We pride ourselves in having a world-class content team led by metrics- oriented editors, who not only have a nose for news, but have the discipline to conduct careful research as well as regular analyses of our content’s performance based on analytics, organic search, and social traffic. Culling the data they discover, our editors then create a content lineup for our various content producers composed of writers, graphic designers, and video producers.
We combine old-school editorial tactics with new-school digital media trends. We know where to source good topics, and we frequently refer to various online tools, news sites, social media platforms, as well as our own mum communities. In fact, our own theAsianparent app is a rich source of content for our team. The app’s user-generated content (collected from the app’s Q&A, poll, and photobooth features) not only guarantees topic relevance but also gives us fodder to elicit engaging discussions with our parent community.
While we have our editorial instincts alerting us of the potential virality of a story, we also constantly optimise our content, whether that’s fine-tuning our SEO or applying simple tweaks like replacing featured images or rephrasing captions on social media. We always go back and review in order to improve.
Our edge over other parenting portals is through hyper-localised content. We have 11 versions of theAsianparent, each produced in the local language and is regularly pushing out locally relevant content. We don’t push out a cookie-cutter content lineup for all of our markets to follow.
For instance, confinement may be a widely discussed topic among Singapore mums, but not so among Filipino mums — and hence, a directory on confinement food delivery services will not work for the Philippine audience, but will be quite useful for Singapore.
In short, to answer your question: our content remains relevant because it is thoroughly researched, hyperlocal, and optimised.
How are your other business units (HerStyleAsia, Asian Money Guide, and Nonilo) doing? Do you target the same customers with these platforms?
When I began Tickled Media, particularly theAsianparent, the vision was to positively impact the lives of 20 million Asian families by helping them raise healthy, happy and confident children. I thought if we could just reach 1 per cent of that number, then we’d have done some good. And now we’ve actually crossed 20 million monthly users. I’m floored.
Getting here, we came across many different women. We listened to their struggles and their stories; and it became apparent that there was so much holding them back.
That’s why we created AsianMoneyGuide.com, a career and finance portal for women; HerStyleAsia.com, which looks beyond the stereotypes of what Asian fashion, beauty, and culture are; and Nonilo.com to jumpstart the creative spark in every Asian woman, where she can kicks off her heels, tie her hair up in a messy bun, and get started on whatever makes her – and her alone – happy for that moment.
Our hope is that bringing these topics to light will help Asian women become their best selves. What an honour it would be for us to one day be posting success stories of women whose lives were changed by content we produced.
As per my understanding, text-based digital media is a tough business to be in as generating revenues is quite hard and getting funding is a lot harder. How did you manage to generate revenues, raise massive funding, and grow your business?
I honestly don’t think that true-blue text-based digital media companies exist anymore. If they did, they would be in serious trouble. Fighting to stay relevant has meant building omnichannel brands that deliver multimedia, hyper-localised content across any and every platform, at optimal times. Tough business indeed. But it’s this insistence on producing right content at the right time for Asian women that has had brands supporting us.
Early on we also learned not to put all our eggs in the Google and Facebook basket. Apart from display and content advertising on our sites, we also have a robust market research arm, e-commerce activation, community events, automated revenue, newsletter marketing, collaboration with key opinion leaders (KOLs), theAsianparent app, and soon, our own online store.
As for investors, they believe in what we’ve done, that we have so much else to do, and that we can absolutely succeed in making even more happen. It’s as simple and as monumental as that.
What are your key revenue streams? What advise would you give to someone who plans to start a text-based digital media?
Love your data, get people who are better than you, and study the enigma that is today’s readers. Again, your text has to be excellent, but your delivery has to be on point. It’s not enough to write good articles anymore. You have to put in as much – if not more – effort into getting it to your intended audience.
Are you profitable already?
We internally divide our business into two PNLS. theAsianparent PNL and a new initiative PNL, which includes our new commerce venture and other media properties. theAsianparent is EBITDA positive. Our new businesses are still working toward profitability.
What are your ultimate goal– to become a social network for Asian parents or something else?
Our goal hasn’t changed; but perhaps, it’s expanded a little. A decade ago, we set out to help Asian families raise healthy, happy, confident children. Little did I know then that it would actually involve creating a social network for Asian parents!
Now that we’ve crossed 20 million mums and dads across the region (and counting), we’ve set our sights across the ocean – the Indian Ocean in particular – to Africa, where providing maternal knowledge is tantamount to saving lives.
Along the way, we’ve also gone into verticals (HerStyleAsia.com, AsianMoneyGuide.com, Nonilo.com) that ultimately allow us to reach the Asian woman at every life stage.
At this point, let’s just say that our goal is to help as many women and their families as we can.
In an interview, you said you are not someone who will give up because you want to win and you will not sleep or eat until you win. But how do you deal with adverse situations, failures, disappointments and depression in life?
At the pace things are going and in the industry we’re in, there is no time to grieve or mope over failures and losses. You move on. You do not play the blame game. You figure out how to get out of the sandpit you’re in, and run to the next mountain you have to climb.
You are juggling multiple roles as a mother, as a CEO, and as the wife of another CEO. How do you balance these roles?
I find it important to have a tribe who supports my every role. These are people whom I can rely on, allowing me to focus on what I need to do: such as department heads who will keep the company wheels turning while I tend to my mummy duties, a spouse with whom I can pass the parenting baton back and forth, and extended family and friends, not to mention employing a nanny, who can help watch the kids while I need to put my CEO hat on. I believe being a mum, wife, and CEO is a conscious choice with careful planning and execution, not a juggle. But it’s okay to accept that you can’t have control over all your roles all the time—that’s why having a supportive tribe is crucial.
Are you getting interests from global companies to acquire theAsianparents? Do you plan to exit anytime soon?
If we were getting such interest, we wouldn’t be able to say. But no, an exit plan is not on the horizon.
Also are you looking to acquire any company in Asia and Africa to grow inorganically?
Interesting prospect, we are definitely open to acquiring companies if we find the right team who also believe in our mission of helping parents raise happy, healthy, and confident kids.
Image Credit: theAsianparent