Startup Spotlight: The Juggernaut
All Things Venture #036
Hey Everyone! Dez here from All Things Venture. We are BACK today, with another Startup Spotlight, and let me tell you - I’m excited to share this one. Granted, I am excited to share every Startup Spotlight with you all but I’m especially excited to share this one because
A) It’s been almost a month since I shared the last Startup Spotlight (lo siento) and…
B) I genuinely believe The Juggernaut has an opportunity to reframe representation in the media/entertainment world AND do well while doing good
Snigdha Sur is the CEO and Founder of The Juggernaut, a content and community platform for global South Asians. Snigdha and her family immigrated to the US when she was three, and her lifelong love of learning has propelled her ever since. Snigdha has a long list of accomplishments, and I think she’s just getting started:
Valedictorian @ Stuyvesant High School
Magna Cum Laude @ Yale
Consulting @ McKinsey
MBA @ Harvard Business School
Solo Founder of The Juggernaut @ YCombinator
Snigdha is nothing if not talented, knows amazing dinner party games, and has a vision to create the BET for South Asians. Yeah, I'll say it again. The BET for South Asians. Love it. If that get you excited right off the back, The Juggernaut is hosting an event two weeks from now. Check it out here. Alright, let’s dive right in.
Snigdha, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, no, that's a great question. So, I'm an ex consultant and I’ve always worked in very, very structured environments. And the thing is, I think I'm also one of those people that gets bored easily, so I’ve always been driven by learning as much as possible. I’m an immigrant, I was born in India and I moved to New York when I was three, and the way I learned to be American was just reading a lot of books at the library, like I would take out the maximum - I think 25 or 35 books from the library a week at a time. I’d just inhale those books, and I used to do the spelling bee and every single time I did something, I was always really driven by learning and trying to be better at something and trying to learn from others around me. And somewhere along the way I developed this idea that I think every single person can be a founder, because I believe everyone has a unique perspective on the world and how the world is solving its current problems and what problems the world has and hasn't solved yet.
What is the Juggernaut, and what led you to founding it?
The Juggernaut is a content company and community for those interested in South Asian culture, history and news around the world. You don’t need to be South Asian to enjoy it. 10% of our subscribers are not South Asian. A lot of our followers on Instagram and our newsletter readers are not South Asian, you just have to be curious about it and you’ll be surprised by what you find.
And yeah, what led me to starting The Juggernaut, so I truly believe anyone can be a founder, and I had a couple of ideas rattling around my brain for a really, really long time, and it sometimes takes that one person to push you to get you going. And for me, that person was my partner at the time who I’m still dating, and he said, “well, what would it take for you to do this? What would it take for you to actually test this?” And nowadays it’s so much easier to test ideas. You can run an ad on Facebook. You can create a newsletter that's free and see if it has attracts an audience. And so that's kind of how I started. I’ve always felt as somebody who was very Indian American or South Asian American, very Bengali American. And I always felt ya know, that I had slipped and camouflaged myself into mainstream American culture, but I never really felt American. I know that sounds really weird, but there was a part of me that thought well there has to be other people like me out there, who have one foot in America and one foot in their homeland and the sub continent and they're just looking for ways to engage with that.
I hung out with one of my friends last week and she was like I need more Indian in my life and she's Indian Canadian, and I’m like yeah - I feel you, that’s why I created the Juggernaut.
So it sounds like identity is core to the foundation of The Juggernaut, and we know that across different identity groups (i.e racial, ethnic, sexuality, etc.) in the US, that these groups are not monoliths. How do you think about embedding the multitudes of identity of the South Asian diaspora into the Juggernaut?
Yeah, that's a great question. That’s the entire reason the juggernaut exists, to point out that we are not a monolith and the way you do that is by making your stories so, so, so specific. For example, one of the specific stories we were excited to commission was from a Dalit scholar and activist. He wrote a story on the mainstream appropriation of Dalit music about how in Bollywood there are actually many songs that have taken elements and style from Dalit culture and Dalit people and, specifically for people who are unaware - many parts of India and the subcontinent, especially the Hindu parts practice the caste system, which means that there’s a specific group of people called Dalits that are considered outside the caste. Some people don’t even consider them to be part of society. So the author we commissioned, he wrote about how he felt that Bollywood was appropriating so many aspects of Dalit culture and then not giving credit where credit is due. We felt like this was a really important story to cover, and a really important story to elevate, and again a very very specific story to show that we, the South Asian community, are not a monolith.
What gets you excited about what you’re doing here in the US? What’s been some of the feedback that they’re giving, and essentially how do you know what you’re building is working?
Such a great question. We take pride in doing customer calls, everyone on The Juggernaut takes customer calls and that’s the best way to get feedback, direct from the customer. So one of the things that we hear from them over and over again, and why we think it’s working, is that people tell us The Juggernaut answers a question they’ve always had, but never knew what the answer was. Or The Juggernaut answers a question I’ve always had, but in a way that is super deep and nuanced. One example is that there’s a very famous Bollywood love triangle, a very famous actor potentially had an affair with one actress, while he was married to another actress. And this was always a story that was told to us as we were kids, by our parents, if we were into Bollywood. We wrote a story on that and that helps people answer those unanswered questions.
The other ways we tell if we’re reaching product market fit is through the famous Sean Ellis test where you send your customers a survey and ask, “how disappointed would you be if we didn’t exist?” and you want to see that very disappointed number to be as close to 40% as possible, and lastly we look at product market fit through retention because we’re a subscriber business. So our 12 month retention is 75%, which believe/know is pretty good.
If you had to describe The Juggernaut as “insert X community” for South Asians, what would it be?
So I actually like to think of us like BET. So when Black Entertainment television came out, it was in the late 1990s. The distribution channel they had then was cable. Everyone thought the founder was crazy. They're like why are you creating a black media brand? And he was like, "What are you talking about? No, we are completely underserved in the market, and I am creating content for my community that I know they need.” And ultimately they sold to Viacom for $2.1B dollars in 2001, which in today’s dollars is like $8 - $10B dollars.
What are some of the challenges you face while building The Juggernaut?
Yeah the current challenge for us, and I hope every founder goes through this challenge, is scaling. Now that we have pretty strong evidence of product market fit, now that we’re at a certain level when things start breaking or you have to rebuild something at a different scale - it opens up a whole new set of problems. So if you’re a lifelong learner, you’ll love being a founder because every single time you’re leveling up you’ll have to keep looking up at the next level. So now we’re at the point where, we have these fantastic marketing contractors, but do we deserve a full time marketer? It’s like you’re asking those types of questions to yourself. We have an amazing full time editor, but do we need another full time editor? Do we deserve a full time writer? You start asking yourself these questions that you might not have budgeted for, but now you’re at a different scale and you gotta swing big.
What advice do you have for any aspiring entrepreneurs?
My advice is always to figure out your own story for what success looks like for you, and to build what that safety net looks like for you. To be very clear here, many founders have many levels of privilege because of the way the funding environment is and the way the networked environment is. At the end of the day, I don’t come from privilege but my resume is privileged, my network is privileged, I have privilege in that way and even though it’s always harder for me to fundraise than let’s say a white male, it totally is I have to add 2x, 3x the convos I still have somehow a foot in the door. So when I think about upcoming founders, I think about, you know go back to the beginning. Every single person can be a founder. If you want to be, and if you think that will give you what success means for you in your life. Right now being a founder is very sexy but maybe you don’t want to be a founder. Go back to your mission statement in life. My mission statement in life is to diversify storytelling, globally. For me, The Juggernaut fits that mission because I’m too tired of waiting for Hollywood, and I’m too tired of The New York Times to go out and make that change.
What a legendary way to end the interview, and on top of that we probably only covered half of the conversation. I am so excited about what Snigdha is building, so if any of that sounded cool to you - go check it out, go to the event, and while you’re at it send All Things Venture around to your tech oriented/entrepreneurial friends! We’d love to share their stories/journey as well and we’re always looking to meet amazing founders. That’s it for this week folks, talk soon!