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The magazine man

Girish Ramdas, founder of Magzter app. Photo: K. Pichumani

Girish Ramdas, founder of Magzter app. Photo: K. Pichumani  

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Meet Girish Ramdas CEO of Magzter, the digital magazine newsstand and bookstore

Ask Girish Ramdas where he lives and he’ll say, in a suitcase. With his company headquartered in New York and offices in London, Paris and Barcelona, Chennai-based Girish is constantly globe trotting. In the last 12 months, he’s been on the move for 270 days and has travelled to over 40 different countries. In 2013, he was the only Indian invited to speak at The FIPP World Magazine Congress in Rome and this year, he’s once again been invited to address the congress in Toronto. “Many publishers don’t understand the digital medium; they are hundred-year-old companies who don’t connect with the younger audiences and I hope to be the person to tell them what to do,” smiles the 40-year-old.

Girish’s company, Magzter, a digital magazine newsstand and bookstore launched in 2011, has changed the way content is consumed around the world. His made-in-Chennai product has reached 200 countries and currently has 2.5 crore users globally. “We even have two users in Antartica. So obviously, there are a couple of people in a remote research station who use Magzter to read magazines,” says Girish, laughing happily. 

Users can download the app and have paid access to 5,500 magazines from 60 countries, which they can access across devices. In India alone, where people are largely hesitant to pay for content, Magzter has nearly 40 lakh users, contributing to 15 per cent of their global sales. And given that we are a market where the penetration of iPad and tablets are not that high, it’s a substantial number. “It was good business because of the need to go digital; and at that time, there was no global platform for publishers to publish content… We believed it was a big opportunity but we didn’t realise it could be this big so fast.” 

Girish adds that they are working towards making Magzter a reading destination. They’ve launched subscription packages; they are working on family deals for users to “catch ‘em young and watch ‘em grow”; and are offering interactive commercial platforms. He says he’s not sure if he’s always had an understanding of business, though the entrepreneurial bug bit him early in life. “It all started with my dad being in the Civil Services. And he was an honest IAS officer, meaning there was not much money at home.” So, when he was 10 years old, to earn a little extra pocket money for ice-creams and chocolates, he offered to polish his father’s shoes for Rs. 5 everyday. “I figured that if I can earn it, I might as well do that instead of have someone give me the money.” 

At 17, he set up Grafx, a party planning company with a few friends. At a time when DJs were new in Chennai and everyone was excited to party, it worked well. “Anyone who had a party would call us and we used to make a lot of money,” says Girish, adding that they charged Rs. 50,000 for each event, easily making Rs. 2.5 lakh over the course of a month, which, decidedly, was a lot compared to his father’s monthly salary.

When in college, he dabbled in a friend’s problematic poultry business, which he ultimately gave away on lease. In hindsight, he thinks this has worked out well because the land on which the farm is located, which he bought for about Rs. 2 lakhs at the time, is valued at Rs. 50 crore now. “To some extent, 100 per cent of your hard work is only one per cent of what happens. The other 99 per cent is just luck. And I’ve been lucky so far.” 

In 1998, he stepped into the software world and set up singarachennai.com, a web portal for movie-related content. “At that time, if you had anything online, it did well. It was the dot com boom time.” In 2000, he set up a web development portal called Dot Com Infoway with a friend and in the same year, he married Shakthi, who then designed shoes and bags for international designers like Bally, Gabor and Ann Taylor. Their daughter was born in 2005 and by the time their son was on his way two years later, Girish sensed a market need for a Tamil movie magazine because advertisers were looking to connect with the increasing audience for Tamil cinema. And when Galatta magazine launched in 2007, Shakthi took over as editor. 

Two years later, when he launched an app for Galatta, many other magazines and newspapers approached Dot Com Infoway to create apps for their products too. “In 2010, when the iPad was released in India, we charged Rs. 15 lakhs to Rs. 20 lakhs to make these apps because, at that time, not many knew how to design apps.” If so many magazines in India wanted to go digital, he figured there must be a huge opportunity globally. So in 2011, he created Magzter as a separate entity. 

When they started out, however, no one knew about them and basing the company in New York lent a lot of credibility to the start-up. With their office located across the road from top magazine houses like Hearst, Bloomberg, Newsweek and Time, the company and its name grew. Since then, his heart has been in this venture. “In life, you see many opportunities, but you need to focus on what you believe is right. Magzter is exciting and cutting edge.”

Even though work takes up a big chunk of his life, Girish makes sure he takes time out for the things that matter to him. He practises aikido with his children, takes them running and swimming, and plans to teach them rifle shooting, a sport he holds six National gold medals in. And whenever possible, he flies his children out to whichever part of the world he’s in, to spend time with them. If he’s in the city, he gets together with friends to unwind over a game of Counter Strike or Age of Empires. “My wife hates it because the world could end, and I’d still be busy, trying to shoot my way to victory,” grins Girish. 



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Printable version | Feb 20, 2019 11:28:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/the-magazine-man/article7089863.ece

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