Digital Is On Steroids: Zee Digital's Rohit Chadda

Chadda has managed to overcome the industry perception that ZEE's digital is not strong and proved everyone wrong through persistent modifications

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

The 2010s ushered in an era of digital transformation. Across the spectrum of manufacturing and services, digital publishing, and delivery services, companies have invested billions of dollars to acquire digital capabilities and integrate technology into their businesses. According to a report by IDC, worldwide spending on digital transformation has been $1 trillion in 2019 and this is expected to double by 2022.

Zee Digital/Rohit Chadda

Two decades down the line, in the 2020s, the challenges that have emerged are how to derive a return on the huge investments made hitherto and how to use acquired technologies to overtake and stay ahead of competitors.

The year 2020 threw a curveball that no government, corporate, enterprise, or startup could ever have anticipated. The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic brought countries to a standstill and upended businesses almost overnight. 

According to a McKinsey & Co. report, no event since World War II caused an economic downturn of “quite such scale or scope”, leaving most leaders “deeply uncertain” about what would work and what wouldn’t.

Almost a year later, as we look back, it’s clear that leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs could keep business ecosystems afloat only due to their will, tenacity, and resilience. Now, with the coronavirus vaccine on the horizon, the Indian startup ecosystem is beginning to hope and anticipate a brighter 2021. 

Will companies and startups be able to put the ghost of 2020 to rest and move forward from uncertainty and unpredictability to a stable and somewhat secure future? 

With adversity being known to breed innovation, it comes as no surprise that entrepreneurs worldwide are pivoting within their businesses to navigate the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Revamping business models, restructuring safety protocols, and developing comprehensive digital presences are amongst the changes businesses are required to implement in order to ensure survival. Despite these challenges, entrepreneurs are inherently equipped with the grit and determination necessary to handle the current climate, having fostered innovation long before the onset of a world-altering pandemic.

At the forefront of changing the Indian business landscape heading into 2021 is the effervescent chief executive officer of Zee Digital, Rohit Chadda. 

An investment banker turned business leader told Entrepreneur India that his journey in different genres of lifestyle and all things business makes his concept stand out, and further said, “When I look back on my journey what comes to mind is that so much has happened. For instance, if I talk about my food tech journey, this is where it all began. We build the world's largest food delivery company expanded it to 48 countries and focused on emerging markets where this concept had not even been ever heard of. Essentially, we ended up creating a market where there was none, in fact when you look at the Google search trends of that time, it was Foodpanda that created this trend.” 

After the success of Foodpanda, they said to have realized that they are yet to solve the purpose for restaurant discovery. This is because it was already there, players like Zomato and Yelp, who were already showing us where the restaurants were, menus details, etc. What they solved was the commerce piece in this equation, it allowed the customer to order as well as pay online, and depending on the market they also solved for the delivery experience. 

This helped them realize that just by enabling the customer to pay online they created a big market. Chadda’s experience helped to launch his next venture in the digital payments space, where the idea was to enable delivery payments for everything not just in the food industry. This helped them evolve into an omnichannel payment solution called Ruplee and this pivoted the way to create Paylo. 

After the acquisition of Paylo, he ended up joining ZEE to build the digital business of the group where he launched ZEE5 across the globe which played a pivotal role in transforming the digital space. He built and launched ZEE5 in over 170 countries which made us the first OTT to be launched to that scale. He used this time to transform the digital publishing business as well. We have come a long way in our journey from the ninth position in the market back in 2019 to 2020 where we reached a new milestone of the second position with over 200 million users. 

In the fastest-growing Internet era, Zee Digital has registered impressive growth yearly among the top Indian media publishers. Chadda remarked this growth as “Digital is on steroids!”

As we know the Indian digital media publishing platforms have been gaining momentum and attracting more subscribers than ever before. Joining this wave, the Flagship of Zee entertainment is ruling this space with different verticals in the digital medium by having 31 websites, 20 brands in 12 languages.

Zee Digital claims to have accomplished this first milestone in September last year by crossing 100 million unique monthly visitors and was listed 6th in the information and News category according to ComScore India ranking. Later, in March 2020, it crossed 150 million unique visitors per month, therefore moving to the fourth position. Further, in May 2020, it moved to third position by crossing 185 million unique visitors before finally ranking second in the June 2020 ComScore rankings. Chadda has reasons for this jump from the ninth rank to second in just one year on which he shares, “The change in culture also boils down to the feeling of ownership in the company. A technology and data-driven approach to content and focusing on vernacular languages are key.”

He also adds his secret success mantra and said, “Startups essentially rely on the speed of execution and agility, and it is about quickly adapting to changes. A lot of startups have been able to take on corporate because of this. And this principle is what I implemented in Zee.”

While talking about the highs and lows of his journey, he shared, “While my first successful venture everyone knows about, but little do people know is that I had tried many other things before that, unfortunately, they were not as successful. However, these failed ventures taught me very important lessons that I used in all my ventures henceforth. Hence, while some people may refer to my misadventures as lows in my eyes, they have always been lessons that have helped me build upon them to take them to the highs as people might call them.” 

“In the conventional sense of the word, if I talk about highs, I think expansion of Foodpanda, where within 18 months we expanded it to 48 countries; in fact, we became the fastest growing food delivery company. We received acknowledgment from global media like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal for this achievement,” he commented.

The New-Delhi-based entrepreneur further remarked, “Coming to ZEE, the pandemic was high as well as low for us. It evokes mixed feelings from a personal perspective, however, from a business perspective being in the content business when people can't go out and just consume content worked out in our favor. It is a difficult space to be in yes but then it leaves you with mixed feelings. We transformed the business and made it profitable when most people in the sector had written it off, this was another high. Because ZEE was one of the largest media houses in the country, but we lacked way behind in the digital space. The pandemic helped us to change this perception.”

The serial entrepreneur believes that the road to profitability is a lot of hard work, while driving the team towards a common goal. The adequate use of technology to build process-driven systems for his teams to aid inefficiency, so that his team has a clear understanding of what the audience wants to see, read, and consume. The idea was to build a user experience in such a way that we keep getting returning users. Rather than pushing their content to the readers, they started listening to the users and understanding their preferences so that they can produce content relevant to them.

Hence, they managed to overcome the industry perception that ZEE's digital is not strong and proved everyone wrong through their persistent modifications. This also helped them in getting more revenue. In March 2020, they crossed 150 million unique monthly visitors. Further, in May 2020 they crossed 185 million unique monthly visitors and moved to the third position before finally moving to the second spot in June 2020 in the ComScore rankings among all digital media groups in India. Furthermore, according to the ComScore Ranking June 2020 onwards, they also featured in the top 10 digital companies in India.

He is said to have been determined to provide content to the user that is personalized.

Being a content-driven organization social media is one of the most important ways of distributing content and connecting to its users. With the world moving at a fast pace, the need to be constantly is working in their favor. Social media is not only helping them to share their content with a wider set of masses but also enabling them to understand what is happening around the world at the click of a button. 

He further concludes by giving advice for budding entrepreneurs, “Starting a business begins with an idea, followed by hours of research and reaching out to people that can help. Having a solid concept, well-researched information and a strong network will set your future business up for success. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to challenge yourself. No one else is going to push you, so it’s up to you to do it. Taking risks has a dangerous side, but the opportunities they present often far outweigh the potential dangers. Learn how to identify which risks are worth taking and you will likely become a more successful entrepreneur. And lastly, before you make a financial plan, raise capital, or even choose a name, make sure that there is a customer who would buy your product or use your services. Without a customer, you do not have a business.”