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To Build Social Media, You Need White Collar Indians

Indians love watercooler gossip. Are workplace connections the best way to build a successful social media business here?

By Soumya Gupta
New Update
indian social media

Apart from Meta, LinkedIn is probably the most successful social media company in India. 

In the financial year 2023, it made Rs 1,873 crore ($225 million) in revenue, up more than 43% year on year, while net profits were Rs 175 crore ($21.1 million), up more than 52% from the year before. Still, it is only a tenth of Meta India’s size by revenue. Globally, LinkedIn made more than $15 billion in revenue, up by just under 10% year on year (pdf). 

LinkedIn does not break down its revenue in India, but it makes most of its money from selling subscriptions through premium plans and from ads (sponsored posts and others) on the platform. With over 120 million LinkedIn users, India is the company’s second-largest market, Ashutosh Gupta, country manager of LinkedIn India told The Impression in email responses.

“Our success in India can be attributed to several key factors,” Gupta said. “...the increasing recognition among our members, especially the youth, of LinkedIn's value in their professional journey is evident in the 73% y-o-y [year-on-year] surge in student sign-ups” 

Besides, LinkedIn has slowly morphed from a jobs website primed for recruiters to being a content creation platform. Apart from inducting power users into the LinkedIn Top Voices program, it has now begun rolling out ‘community top voice’ features that allow even those with relatively less clout to earn skill-based badges for their content. 

“Our commitment to providing AI-powered personalised experiences, such as Top Choice, Job Collections, and AI-Powered LinkedIn Learning has significantly enriched the member experience,” Gupta told The Impression, adding that users were sharing 24% more content year-on-year since these features were introduced. 

LinkedIn occupies a unique position because it combines the stage of a creator-first platform with the kind of user interaction you would expect from a corporate mixer. 

But others are now cottoning on to the lure of this creator-white collar mix. 

Gossipers Anonymous

“Any network can only be created around things you really care about,” says Saumil Tripathi, co-founder of work-focused social media platform Grapevine. “The Indian person cares about work a lot compared to the west. At least, this is my belief. So, if you’re building a social network in the east, work is a very good entry point.” 

Grapevine, just over a year old, counts Peak XV (earlier Sequoia India) among its early backers. Tripathi and his co-founder Jainam Talsania started the company as a side gig with a server called Corporate Chat India on audio messaging app Discord, From there, it has now grown to an app with over 100,000 users. Just like LinkedIn, you sign up for Grapevine with your employer’s details (and a verified work email ID, if you wish). But there’s one big difference: Grapevine lets users hide their true identity. 

Why does that help? “LinkedIn is a stage where you can’t have real conversations,” Tripathi explains. “A lot of conversations there have started to look like those industry events, and Gen Z hates those events. Real conversations are more important to them, and they’re happy to have them online, even with strangers on the internet. Pseudonymity lets you be candid, with checks and balances.” 

Pseudonymity encourages spicier, more frank conversations; in the last year, some of the earliest news of mass layoffs among startups and tech firms has come from Grapevine users who work in these companies. 

But pseudonymity can make it harder to build an ad business. Consider Reddit Inc., the poster child of early, pseudonymous social media. In its draft IPO filing (pdf), the company disclosed it made over $90 million in losses last year as advertisers struggled to figure the platform out. Grapevine still hasn’t started earning revenue, but it’s hoping to offer advertisers an audience of verified, top earning, white collar workers. 

Besides, the platform is building tools aggregating information that professionals studiously avoid in public conversations, such as wages. Grapevine has been mapping their users’ (voluntarily disclosed) salaries across various tech and non-tech roles in India. They now have between 10-11,000 unique data points that, Tripathi says, could be useful for use cases such as negotiating pay as an industry newcomer. Grapevine has also been building private communities, comprising verified users of a single company who can chit-chat with one another exclusively about the goings-on in their firm.

IRL Connection

What if you don’t fuss over advertiser revenue? Instead, you sell access to a select group of professionals, where the appeal is a chance to access top executives in your work circle; not just online, but also in person. 

Ragini Das, co-founder of women’s professional networking platform leap.club, always wanted to have an offline business. But the pandemic forced her fledgling business to move online, first on a basic website, and then on an app. 

“As part of a Rs 30,000 ($360) membership back in 2020, you would get access to coaching, therapy sessions, and other such services,” Das told The Impression. “We started with a basic website and about 30 women then, and scaled up to 500-odd members with an app. That’s when we realised that members have stopped coming for these benefits as much as they’re coming to discover the other really cool women who are on the platform.” 

With that insight, leap.club first rolled out monthly, then annual subscriptions for new members. But despite initial network effects, the company relied on a team of sales executives who contacted and manually onboarded women onto the platform until it grew to about 10,000 members. 

Last year, the company did away with the sales team, fixed its annual base subscription at Rs 2,500 plus taxes ($30) a year, and started running more offline events instead, at an additional price. “We are one of the priciest subscriptions in India,” Das says. “But women were anyway paying additionally for events and to access quality professional networks. We had to find a price that ensures more people get access to leap.club but also filters for people who have high intent.” Meaning users who are serious about being part of a professional women’s network. 

leap.club isn’t making money just yet. In FY23, it made nearly Rs 6 crore in total revenues, nearly 3.5x higher from the previous year. But this came with losses worth Rs 3.38 crore, only about 17% higher year-on-year, per company filings. 

Eventually, Das says, the real money in a social network like this is to run highly coveted events, both for professional upgradation and personal connections via activities like yoga, pickleball, and cocktail parties. In that regard, leap.club is the opposite of Grapevine. But in both cases—whether pseudonymously on the internet or the privacy of an in-person gathering—these new social media networks are hoping to plug the gaps in LinkedIn’s business model. 

But: how big is the business opportunity here? LinkedIn itself is only a tenth of Meta in India, by revenue. Grapevine, for all purposes, is pre-revenue. leap.club’s Das says offline-online networks like hers are most likely to be $100-500 million businesses, not large-scale competitors to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. 

But chasing that kind of scale hasn’t yielded great results for other Indian social media companies. Sharechat, backed by Google, Twitter, and The Times Group among others, has yet to turn profitable. In FY23, it made Rs 540 crore in revenue, up 62% but with a massive net loss worth more than Rs 4,000 crore. Two of its three co-founders quit to start another venture. In this edition of The Impression, I explained what went wrong with Indian Twitter knockoff Koo and how it could not capitalise on tacit support from members of the ruling party. The company is yet to file FY23 financials. Besides, after hunting for a strategic investor or buyer for months, Koo may finally get acquired by rival Dailyhunt, TechCrunch reports 

Instead of scale, it may be wiser to chase profits from a community that has endless time and money to climb the professional ladder, ferret out valuable gossip, or simply spend time mixing drinks with a future mentor.


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