MyToday: Magic of Micro Emails (Part 4)

Daily Delights

I had tried multiple variants around MyToday after the SMS service had to shut down a decade ago because of the increase in SMS pricing. There was MyToday Mobs (SMS groups), MyToday mobile portal and MyToday Store (paid SMS subscriptions). All of them failed. For some reason, the “MyToday” word stayed with me – it evokes something that is personal and current. I kept imagining different kinds of consumer services with that name. And that is how the current MyToday idea came to life – merging the microcontent subscriptions idea with email as a delivery channel.

MyToday in its latest avatar is a 2-sided platform – publishers and subscribers. And it is free for both. What binds them together is permission – subscribers voluntarily opting in to content from publishers. Publishers can be media companies, FMCG brands, pharma companies, consumer electronics manufacturers or even political parties – anyone with a message that can be made into small capsules that would be of interest to recipients.

The “free” part for brands is an innovation – no one offers communications free for enterprises. Netcore is perhaps the only email service provider globally who can do this – because of its email experience combined with the lowest operating costs. This is a way to make email more inviting and exciting for businesses and their present and future customers. My hope is that this will open up new vistas for Netcore globally – and help us connect with businesses for their regular email communications also.

MyToday is an experiment – let’s see if it works. It has to spread virally for it to succeed. I will need to build both sides – the publishers and the subscribers. I have started with a small team that publishes content on 20+ channels to begin with. Hopefully, this can interest enough subscribers to get the flywheel going.

For me, the four alluring elements of MyToday are:

  • Push: content is delivered to the inbox – there is no need to visit multiple sites to consume it
  • Microcontent: each message is short and to the point, and thus can be consumed is just a few seconds
  • Curation: each micron is chosen and crafted by a person, rather than aggregation with little regard to what may be important or interesting
  • Variety: multiple options available in a single place, rather than having to go to different sites to discover interesting content

What I like is that I can now stay updated without having to worry about the low signal-to-noise ratio on other sites and channels. I know the most important news at a glance twice a day. I like the thoughtfulness of the daily quote. I am discovering my love for poetry, and learning to like Hindi kavitas. My hope is that each of us will discover something we like – and over time, it becomes a habit. Like MyToday SMS once was.

Tomorrow: Part 5

MyToday: Magic of Micro Emails (Part 3)

Email Power

Email is what Netcore has excelled at over the past 20 years. We had started by setting up Linux-based email servers for corporate customers (as an alternative to the very expensive Microsoft Exchange). A decade later, around 2007-8, we launched an email marketing platform for companies who needed to do mass mailing to their subscribers. A few years later, we added an email API service. Through the years, email has powered Netcore’s growth. Today, Netcore is amongst the top 5 global email platforms, delivering over 10 billion emails a month for its enterprise customers.

Even with the rise of alternate communication and interaction channels (SMS, WhatsApp, push notifications on mobile apps), email’s charm has stayed. For many, their email address is their identity. With the mobile number, the email address is the only other universal option which allows a business to communicate to its customers. The ability to ‘push’ messages direct to an inbox is what makes email so attractive. Of course, this ease has also come with abuse – as spam has risen through the years. Consumer email service providers like Gmail have also risen to the challenge to ensure as clean an inbox as possible.

The alternatives – SMS and WhatsApp – don’t have the same advantages that email has. SMS in India costs almost 10 times that of email. (The SMS inbox is now filled with spam that is very hard to control.) WhatsApp has many constraints for businesses seeking to engage with their customers and is nearly 30 times more expensive than email. The humble email still wins hands down – in terms of cost and convenience.

Email-based communications from businesses is what fills our inbox. Most are long with many different clickable options. At times, we read and act. But many times, we just ignore. This is where I began to wonder – could the ideas that made MyToday SMS a success be applied to email? Short emails that can be read in just a few seconds and which subscribers actually looked forward to. The religious quote (“voice of God”) in the morning, the joke in the evening, the news and market updates during the day, a bedtime story or poem, the health tip, the factoid I did not know – all curated and delivered to my inbox. Without me having to wade through zillions of Twitter noise or website pop-up ads. Simple, clean messages readable in a few seconds that inform and educate.

While we could create a number of such content channels, the brand opportunities were also significant. I would love to get nutritional messages from Amul, health tips from Cipla, gadget updates and usage tips from Samsung, book excerpts from Penguin, OTT recos from Netflix, short news explainers from Indian Express, and more – and I would willingly give my email ID to brands to communicate with me. “Keep them short – and I will give you each 15 seconds of my attention daily.”

And thus was born the idea for the new MyToday – via email.

Tomorrow: Part 4

MyToday: Magic of Micro Emails (Part 2)

MyToday SMS

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

MyToday: Magic of Micro Emails (Part 1)


Imagine getting very short emails from brands you like and trust that inform, educate and delight. These “micro newsletters” (microns, as I term them) can be read in 15-30 seconds unlike the regular emails that we typically get from brands which are full of images, text and links. Think of them like SMSes – you want to see them right away rather than later. The microns are not ad-driven, but content-rich. They could have breaking news, market updates, thoughtful quotes, recipes, health tips, travel recommendations, an excerpt from a poem, a brief on a new topic. The point is that you, as an email subscriber, see them almost as soon as they come. And in that fleeting moment, you are also exposed to the brand. Microns come daily and automatically – at the same time. Their goal? Become a habit in your life.

For a brand, microns are easy to create because they are much shorter. They daily connect with the recipient (customers or prospects) helps foster a closer bond. Emails tend to have a low open rate – which is where microns come in. Because they can be instantly consumed, there is no reason to leave them for later. It is almost like SMSes – we tend to see them as soon as we get them because we know it will only take a few seconds. Email still remains the most inexpensive communication channel – costing a fraction of the cost of sending SMS or WhatsApp. While app notifications have a zero cost to send, they do not have a 100% delivery rate – since many users simply turn off notifications. Useful microns can be shared on WhatsApp or other social media thus creating a potential viral effect and bringing in future customers to the brand.

Now imagine if microns can be made free for brands and with a double opt-in for subscribers – it’s a win-win on both sides. Recipients do not get any spam, while brands can scale the base without worries of cost implications (especially since messages are sent daily). Sounds too good to be true? This is exactly what MyToday aims to do – offer free daily email newsletter subscriptions that are valuable to both consumers and brands. It is the first-of-its-kind 2-sided platform – free for both sides (publishers and subscribers).

There are many questions that can be asked: In a world awash with content on websites, apps and social media, why is a new format – or even more content – needed? Our inboxes (Email, SMS, Whatsapp) are anyways crowded – why fill them up even more? Do we really need to get these microns daily? If everyone starts doing them, won’t that defeat the purpose? How many sources of news, recos and tips do we really need? All good questions that I will address. But before that, we will take a trip down memory lane.

Tomorrow: Part 2

New on hippoBrain, MartechBrain and Prashnam


  • E17: Rachmat Kaimuddin, CEO of Bukalapak (Indonesia)
  • E18: Redickaa Subrammanian, CEO of Resulticks
  • E19: Ajay Shah, Economist and Author
  • E20: Gautam Surath, Senior VP, Starcom
  • E21: Rehan Poncha, Olympian Swimmer
  • E22: Anant Goenka, Indian Express
  • E23: Shruti Rajagopalan, Economist


  • E10: Vishakha Singh on Thinking Skills
  • E11: Deepali Naair on Marketing: Past, Present and Future
  • E12: Bibaswan Banerjee on New Ideas in Personalisation
  • E13: Rahoul Anders on Market Intelligence
  • E14: Rohit Raghav on Product Management Canvas
  • E15 and E16: My conversation with Ajay Row on Entrepreneurial Learnings


  • Insight #5: Most watched channels in Hindi states
  • Insight #6: Youth and the Tiktok Ban
  • Insight #7: BJP’s Free Covid Vaccine promise in Bihar
  • Insight #8: Salaried jobs and Diwali spending
  • Insight #9: When did Bihar’s voters decide who to vote for?
  • Insight #10: On people’s expectations from the Covid vaccine
  • Insight #11: Perception about Nitish Kumar on CM after the Bihar elections

India needs a Debating Culture (Part 12)

Making It Happen

“Deliberation and debate is the way you stir the soul of our democracy.” – Jesse Jackson

There are seven elements which can fuel the rise of debating in India.

First, there needs to be a simple app which can allow people to join or view a debate. The fun lies in watching debates live. So, it almost needs to work like a two-sided market – debaters who get connected with each other through the app, and then the viewers who watch, cheer and vote. Debates can be 1:1 or between teams. To start with, an array of topics can be listed and debaters can express their interest. It is like playing online games against strangers over the Internet. Alternately, a duo or quartet can schedule their debate, and then attract an audience.

Second, the best snippets from the debates need to be edited and amplified via social media. This will create the content factory to counter the propaganda and fake news that is so filling our inboxes. People should be able to see the two sides of the issue, and then decide for themselves. This will also create the debating stars, who will generate their own followers. This is very similar to what happened on Tiktok. The debating app needs to become the new Tiktok to create celebrities out of the best debaters.

Third, make debates as a core element of education, as proposed in Robert Litan’s book. It will make education more exciting and also inculcate the discipline of debating early in kids. It will encourage them to listen to the other side and structure their own thoughts in a coherent manner. In short, a debate-centred education will better prepare them for the real world.

Fourth, there is a need to create leagues, competitions, clubs and societies at multiple levels. This could be in schools, colleges and neighbourhoods. The competitive spirit brings out the best in people. Given that all this is going to happen via the app, it doesn’t have to wait till schools and colleges start. Here too, the lead can be taken from the world of games – and how they have fostered celebrities and communities. If prize money can be found, this can make the entire process even more attractive for participants.

Fifth, we need to make debates mandatory for all electoral contests. People have a right to see and hear the candidates whom they are being asked to vote for in an interactive format. Today, all we can do is to watch them at rallies or in friendly stage-managed interviews. They never have to face their opponents in a debate. This needs to change.

Sixth, the same idea of debating can be applied within corporates also. For key decisions, it would be good to set up teams to argue on both sides of the issue in a structured manner. Many times, it is the ones who speak with loudest who tend to rule the day. What a debate does is to level the playing field – providing all speakers a ‘right of way’ to speak uninterrupted to make their points. A debating culture will help create more openness and better decisions within corporates.

Finally, all of us need to do what I am doing with my group of friends – start a weekly circle of friends with whom we can debate on issues. Instead of just passing around messages on WhatsApp, we all need to become participants. It will be a learning experience – as we think and put forth our points. Our private conversations will be richer embellished by the spirit of debate.

A debating culture can thus be one of the key pillars for building a better discourse, an open society and lead the political and economic revolution India needs.

India needs a Debating Culture (Part 11)

For the Revolution

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.” – Colin Powell

I wrote recently about the revolution India needs.  Here is an excerpt:

If We, the People, are to change India’s destiny in our lifetime to give our children the shot at the prosperity many of us were denied, we have to come together for a single mission – a transformation that gives true freedom to every Indian to pursue life in the way they choose without the overhang of the government. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but a careful study of the causes of prosperity in the Western world will show otherwise. This is the revolution India needs.

What India needs is a people united to create a bottom-up movement to dismantle the corrupt political party system and end the mai-baap Sarkar that pervades our lives. Only then will a new India rise — an  India not steeped in poverty but reaching out for riches, an India not divided by ancestral surnames but united in our individual diversity, an India not searching through history books for its lost glory but powering its way through entrepreneurship to future prosperity.

A revolution might sound disruptive and violent. It is not. Just as technology is helping us buy, learn, connect and communicate, it can help us change our nation. For this a few of us need to first understand that the change is really needed. This is the job of political entrepreneurs. They have to change minds. Only then will the votes change.

The pandemic has shown us how a virus can spread itself from person to person. We need to apply similar thinking about the rules of contagion to spread ideas from person to person. We need to get past the belief that India was, is and will be great. We were not, are not and will not be great – unless we the people actively work to bring about the needed political and economic transformations. This is the revolution India needs – and what some of us have to deliver.

This is where decentralised debating clubs across India come in. They can be the spark that lights the flame of freedom (which every government has worked so hard to extinguish). This is the time when India needs to see new faces and hear new voices. The debating clubs can be the platform for this, the vehicle to give wings to the aspirations of many Indians seeking to do their little acts to change the future in a small way.

Imagine daily duels – not between the anchors in a studio and their handpicked guests, but people like us, using hard research, critical reasoning, well-fashioned arguments and the politeness of the spoken word to change our minds. Is Dhan Vapasi the best treatment for our economic crisis? Is it morally right for a government to discriminate based on religion? What is the right way to free India’s farmers? Is banning apps the right response to China’s aggression? Was the harsh lockdown of April-May the right decision by the government? Should masks be made compulsory in public spaces? There is no limit to the topics to be discussed. What is needed is a mind open to listening and learning.

So, how can a debating culture rise in India?

Tomorrow: Part 12

India needs a Debating Culture (Part 10)

Debate-centred Education

“I think debating in high school and college is most valuable training whether for politics, the law, business or for service on community committees… I wish we had a good deal more debating in our educational institutions than we do now.” — John F. Kennedy

A timely recently published book by Robert Litan, “Resolved: Debate Can Revolutionize Education and Help Save Our Democracy” argues for expanding competitive debating to building a culture of debating in schools.

Debate is much more than just learning how to speak, however. Debate requires both effective listening and the ability to present one’s views on virtually any topic, backed by evidence and logic, and then to defend those views orally when attacked, in real time, in a civil way. In structured debate, there is no name calling or shouting or interrupting, the mode of debate one sees all too often on cable television. Nor are there “flop accounts” on Instagram, which teens have used to debate serious issues but without rules; not surprisingly, those debates have since mirrored the incivility we see in real life and, unfortunately, far too often on the internet.

Perhaps the most important benefit of debate is that it requires learning how to argue to both, or potentially multiple, sides of almost any issue, a skill that fosters critical thinking, empathy, and understanding for other positions, and an understanding of complexity—that most issues and questions in life are not “black” or “white” (in the nonracial sense of these terms), but involve shades of gray. Understanding and appreciating this complexity is important to sharpening critical thinking while in school, but having this skill and experience is essential when students grow up to be voting and, ideally, thinking citizens, to be effective employees in all kinds of jobs, and even as entrepreneurs.

Schools would be a great starting point for building a debating culture. Habits developed early stay for a lifetime. Litan’s book provides very compelling ideas for making debate part of the core curriculum in schools and shifting to debate-centred instruction. Adds Litan:

Adam Grant of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School summarized, perhaps unintentionally, what DCI (debate-centered instruction) is all about when he wrote: “Instead of trying to prevent arguments, we should be modeling courteous conflict and teaching kids how to have healthy disagreements.” He adds the following rules:

  • Frame [the question] as a debate, rather than a conflict.

  • Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.

  • Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.

  • Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them

I also then started thinking about debating clubs and societies in India – combined with digital technology. How would London’s debating societies be if they could be re-invented for the modern mobile era? Imagine watching people going ‘mano a mano’ but with exquisitely crafted arguments designed to persuade and change minds. In today’s India, where most independent institutions have forsaken their role and bowed obsequiously to the political leadership, where Parliament has become a rubber stamp, where the Opposition has singularly failed in its responsibility to act as a watchdog, where the media thrives on the puerile, there is a need for alternative platforms of public discourse and engagement. Could grassroots digital debating clubs play that role?

Tomorrow: Part 11