In late 2006, I had started a service very similar to the idea I just described over SMS – it was called MyToday Dailies (and later MyToday SMS). It was a free subscription service – all one had to do was to SMS – START <channel_name> to subscribe and STOP <channel_name> to unsubscribe. The service grew rapidly – person-to-person, one subscription at a time. At its peak, it had over 4 million subscribers with an average of 2.5 subscriptions per person, and we were sending 12 million SMSes daily. Each subscriber had opted in and could opt-out any time they wanted. It was a true daily delight for people!
I had presented about MyToday at a conference in September 2008 and here is how I summarised it:
To subscribe to any of our 50+ SMS channels – ranging from News to Cricket, from Health Tips to Beauty Tips, from Jokes to the best movies to watch on TV tonight -people just have to send a single SMS. It could not be easier.
Here are some figures that will speak to how HUGE the potential is.
- Our free SMS subscription service, MyToday Dailies, has grown to 3.7 million subscribers in less than 2 years – all via word-of-mouth. We continue to add thousands of new subscribers daily.
- We send 12 million SMS everyday – accounting for 4% of India’s SMS traffic.
The daily SMS we send has become a habit for MILLIONS of people. The right-of-way we have because of that habit we created can now be monetised in various ways: from ads to leads, from paid channels to transactions.
We recently had Nielsen survey over 2,000 subscribers of MyToday. Here are some amazing statistics. The average age of the subscriber base is 25 years. 75% of the 3.7 million subscriber base is less than 30 years. Nearly 80% belong to SEC A and B.
75% of the subscribers read every SMS that they receive. For the vast majority, MyToday has become the primary source of receiving news and information.
Some other posts from that period:
- September 2008 (reflecting on the launch of the service): Doing SMS services was actually going a step backward. But I put my ego aside and decided to give that approach a try. It did come down to a decision I had to make — Go or No Go. Luckily, I chose Go despite some misgivings. And that was how MyToday Dailies was born.
- September 2008: “We grew slowly for the first couple of months. We had started with CRICKET, but then launched some more SMS channels. I remember a picnic we had gone on New Year’s Eve and us celebrating the 10K unique subscriber figure. All growth was happening word-of-mouth. We had done some initial promotion on radio and through flyers, but nothing after that…It was the New Year of 2007 which brought a tremendous surge in growth. And the channel which powered that for us was BIBLE. The word-of-mouth growth for that had to be seen to be believed — every day saw a few thousand subscribers signing up. This was complemented by NEWS and CRICKET (perennial favourites). We also had a few ads in Mumbai local trains up that month. Suddenly, the positive spiral of growth was at work and it was like going back to the early days of some of the websites that I had launched. People loved the fact that the SMSes just came to them — they were casually interested in News or Cricket, and this was a good way to stay updated with what was happening.”
- August 2008: Netcore has succeeded in creating a unique new model of VAS through its award-winning product portfolio ‘MyToday’ (GSMA Mobile Innovation Global awards 2008, Runner-up, ‘True Mobile Startup’ Category). It has created a phenomenally successful direct-to-consumer service, MyToday SMS dailies, building up a subscriber base of over 3.5 million users in less than 2 years. This new ‘digital mass media’ service is currently ad-supported & free to user, demonstrating for the first time that VAS services need not always be paid for by subscribers. Businesses can contribute to generating revenue as well. This new model needs to evolve to a broader definition of VAS wherein a Right of Way is created to a subscriber & businesses pay for that right of way. We believe that subscriptions will be key driver in this ‘VAS 2.0’ paradigm.
The service came to an abrupt halt in 2009 when TRAI increased SMS pricing overnight to combat spam. What was a sub-1 paisa SMS became almost an order of magnitude more expensive. We were sending over 1 crore SMSes daily at that time. We obviously could not spend 10 times more and survive. Our efforts to persuade TRAI that ours was an opt-in service and should not be clubbed with other messages did not work. (On a separate note: this was yet another example of how hard it is to do business in India – regulatory action killed a promising, award-winning service overnight.)
The viral growth of MyToday Dailies (SMS) at that time stayed with me. And in recent times, I wondered if such a service could work in today’s times over email.
Tomorrow: Part 3