Of all the social networks that I have been reviewing Vebbler has stood out for its neat and elegant design along with the required features for a social network. The ‘Made in India’ product which I reviewed recently is being tagged as a private social network.
Founded by a twenty-three year old serial entrepreneur Sahil Bhagat, the Mumbai based startup is currently a team of seven people. While playing around the network I had witnessed some very interesting features which get you the best of the world. While you can decide with whom you want to share your content you can also follow people rather than adding them as a connection.
‘Waves’ is one of the exciting features that keep the user for a longer duration on the network. A right place to be involved in discussions and make new connections. Finally with the social search based on interests, the social network becomes complete.
Although out for just a month, the startup has already got some great response from users. Sharing his thoughts over an email on the same, Sahil said that,
“People are really appreciating the design. People love the waves. They have given us humbling responses not only on Vebbler itself, but across all of social media, including Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and even on tech and digital blogs.”
I had few more questions for the young founder regarding his startup, core features, traction and the road ahead. Please find the edited excerpts of the interview.
Prasant Naidu: Why a social network? Is it like having an Indian social media network or do you really think that the present set of social networks lack something.
Sahil Bhagat: Vebbler is not an ‘India only’ network. It is built with the idea of becoming a global platform of Indian origin for ‘personal networking’. Today, people across the World are radically shifting the way they share and express themselves online. They now understand that there are certain things that you cannot share in large open networks, which you could in more intimate groups.
With parents, teachers, colleagues and even bosses online today, there is a need for an evolved way of connecting and sharing. Vebbler aims to address this problem of blind-sharing (sharing blindly without knowing which end users will be able to see your content) by creating layers for different relationships. We call this the ‘Crowd Layering Model’ and it exists not only in the way we share, but across all features of the site.
PN: How did Vebbler happen since you were associated to another product initially, right? Do talk more about the experiences that it has provided and how the journey has been so far.
SB: A few years ago, I was about to begin work on another social network, called Frogster, which connected people passionate about different causes. I had received an offer for angel funding from a company in New Delhi too, but we could not agree on the negotiations. Due to limited resources then, and my dependence on capital, I was unable to work much on Frogster.
I was still in college at the time, and I used that period to re-model Frogster into a bigger, more scalable idea that had the potential to become a global platform. I spent months trying to create new ideas, re-model old ones and prototype a design that could be well received globally. This process led to Vebbler being born. Right then, I knew that Vebbler would have two core philosophies:
1. It would be personal and intimate.
2. It would be layered.
However, this time I did not start working on Vebbler immediately. I freelanced for a year in graphic design, web design and social media marketing until I had enough money to build a team size of 4 people. That gave me enough capital to get started with the project, and an investment by my father’s company along the way has enabled us to stay self-funded and independent uptil now.
PN: If you could highlight some of the interesting features that would motivate users to browse the network actively.
SB: Clubs – The ability to discretely add a person into one or more layers, depending on how you want to share with him or her, and never worrying about privacy, or the fact that your data can be seen by someone who shouldn’t be seeing it.
Waves – Waves are not just regular hashtags or keywords. Each wave tag has it’s own wave page which enables you to see what people are talking about around the World in real-time. You can also see the popularity of the wave with the Wave-O-Meter as well as related photos, links and videos of that wave tag which have been grabbed from across the Site.
Search – Vebbler’s social search enables you to connect not only with people by name, but also people by interest. So, it’s very easy to connect with Basketball fans from Mumbai or people who watch Game of Thrones. Vebbler also enables you to search for conversations. If you want to see what people are saying about Chennai Express, or waves that have been created about it, you can simply do it.
Photos – Photos are bigger, more visual, and layered with privacy. So you don’t have to be worried that your photos will be tagged or reshared outside your privacy settings, because you control who can tag your photos and to whom they can tag it to.
PN: Design of the social platform has been top notch considering it is not very often to find startups built in India. Your thoughts?
SB: Having a design background, I spent a major part of my time creating clean and visually stunning layouts for the UI. We strongly believe, ‘A great product is not what you make, it’s how you present it’. I think over the last few years, there have been several young and focused startups in India trying to build cool products. However, this is not an easy challenge. The primary reason for that is that India is essentially a service-based market. We hardly build our own products, and consume most products built in the West. What we don’t know is that most of these western products have an Indian running them, either in product development or as part of the core team.
[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”left_pull”]If 2012 was the year of e-Commerce in India, 2013 will be the year of social, and I’m hoping Vebbler will lead that trend.[/pullquote]
Look at the numbers. India is the second largest market for social media user base in the world, after USA. We are the youngest population in the World and 2 out of 3 people who are online are present on social media. With 100 million+ internet users and 60 million+ mobile internet users, we definitely have a very strong scope of building homegrown products that can compete globally.
We definitely have talent, and we are capable of building world-class products. We simply have to nurture the growing product market and create more opportunities for young Internet entrepreneurs in the country to build great things.
PN: How has the response been and any numbers you would want to share.
SB: User response has been overwhelming. People are really appreciating the design. People love the waves. They have given us humbling responses not only on Vebbler itself, but across all of social media, including Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and even on tech and digital blogs. In a month, we have 5000 users from 51 countries and 370 cities. Apparently, it took Twitter 6 months to reach 1000 users and Pinterest 9 months to reach 9000, so I’m hoping we are off to a good start. Now we just have to remain focused and keep pushing forward.
For a product that has been out just for a month and with its clean design and required features, Vebbler could be the Indian social network that we have been missing, though it has a long way to go before we compare it with the big fish.
At present the biggest challenge for the startup is to keep pushing forward and build new features that make the site more dynamic and sticky. Sahil adds that, “We have limited resources, but are working our best to create new things and improve upon old ones, in both web as well as mobile.”
Going further the startup plans to build exciting features for instant communication, for Clubs and for photos. And before I winded up I asked the young man to share a word of advice for people who are building social media platforms and in general too. Sahil signed off with the below thought, “Dream big and be fearless. Remember, everything started as Nothing.”