🤝Bridging the gap

#15 - The power of the internet

Hello, Hemant here.

Easy But Hard is a collection of stories of people and incidents that are easily forgotten. Add a tiny bit of fiction to your busy email inbox.

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The 15th story in the series is about how the internet reduces communal divisions. It equalizes opportunities like no other platform. Read on to find out what happens when a startup founder is looking for marketing help.

⌚ Reading time = 7 minutes

Bridging the gap

The doorbell of Amit’s apartment in Bangalore rang. Like any techie who worked from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amit was on a video call. He didn’t open the door the first time the doorbell rang. When it rang the second time, he requested the attendees on the video call to hold on, as he jogged to the door.

As he opened the door, Bhanu stood at the door, wearing a face mask that was hanging under his lips. Amit ran back to his video call while Bhanu went to the bathroom. He sprinkled a few droplets of water on his hands, not caring much for using the hand soap lying beside the washbasin.

He headed to the kitchen and started to knead the dough for making rotis. Despite the earphones plugged into his ears, music from his phone could be heard throughout the kitchen and the living room, where Amit was on his video call.

As Bhanu was rolling the first roti, Amit appeared behind him. He had to scream for Bhanu to notice.

“Yes, yes, I’m listening,” Bhanu smiled.

“Can you come a little early from tomorrow? You come right in the middle of my meetings and I have to come open the door. Every day, you disrupt my flow.”

“Sorry. I can’t.” Bhanu replied while continuing to hum his tune. He flipped the first roti on the tawaa and started to roll the next one.

Bhanu had started cooking for Amit about three months ago. Amit preferred not to have breakfast, so the agreement was that Bhanu would come in around noon to make both lunch and dinner for the day. But these days, Amit had meetings every day around noon.

“In that case…” Amit paused for a moment. “There’s no need to come from tomorrow. I will order food online.” Amit was satisfied with Bhanu’s cooking skills, but Bhanu was erratic about his schedule – he took too many leaves, came whenever he felt like and many-a-times didn’t receive Amit’s calls.

Dealing with Bhanu’s tantrums was the last thing Amit wanted right now. His six-month-old startup was enough to keep him up at night. BuyTube was an app that allowed users to shop online while watching videos. Instead of photos and textual descriptions, sellers had to create videos of their products. Buyers had links in the video itself to finish the purchase.

While the app had seen organic growth in the initial days, the company didn’t have resources to invest in paid marketing. As a result, its growth had stagnated. While Amit had been heavily involved in the design and development of the app earlier on, nowadays he left it to the single engineer in the company. His primary focus nowadays was on marketing – convincing brands and agencies to work with him to bring more users to the platform.

When Bhanu walked in this morning, Amit was on a call with a marketing agency to create online campaigns. Once again, the quoted price was too high for Amit to afford. With this call, Amit had spoken to 13 advertising agencies, all of them quoting a price higher than he could afford. At the current rate, the company’s funding would last for about six more months, after which Amit would need additional investments. If he spent on these ad agencies right now, he would end up reducing the company’s leftover funds to suffice for about three more months.

Since the app was not seeing a large growth, Amit was also worried whether he could find investors who would fund the company.

“But…” Bhanu pleaded. He stopped rolling the roti.

“Sorry, Bhanu. You have been erratic for a long time. I can’t stand it anymore. I have many problems at the startup to worry about already. Who knew marketing would be so hard!”

“Oh, marketing? What kind?” Bhanu asked.

“Nothing much, work-related stuff.”

“Sorry, bhaiya, I will be here sharp at 11:00 am starting tomorrow. Actually, I said I couldn’t come earlier because of my social media accounts. I’m on a schedule of making 2 Tiktok videos every day, so sometimes it occupies my entire morning. From tomorrow, I will go back to making only one video per day, so that I could come here earlier in the morning…”

“Wait, what?” This was the first time Amit was hearing about Bhanu’s Tiktok presence.

“Yeah, I have about 46 thousand followers right now. I need to create content for them every day. My goal is to reach 50 thousand by the end of this week, so…”

“Well, then why do you work here? You know you can earn money from Tiktok, right?”

“I know that but who will tell my mother? She believes that if I have a job, I have a stable income. Everything else is useless. If you kick me out of this job, she might end my Tiktok career too. I need this job to ensure that my Tiktok following continues to grow.”

“Well, then, what should I say…” Amit paused.

“I will be here at 11:00 am starting tomorrow.” Bhanu came back. “Tell me something…” Bhanu reduced the gas burner flame and pulled the now-burnt, black roti aside. He unplugged his earphones and turned himself towards Amit.

“What kind of marketing problems do you face?” He asked.

“You know the app, right? I am not able to find enough users for the app.”

“Maybe…” Bhanu said and became pensive for a moment. Amit took the hint.

“Yes, can you put up a post on your Tiktok account?”

“Sure, but…”

“But, what?”

“I charge Rs 5000 per Tiktok post I make for others. I don’t do a lot of marketing through my account, because I don’t want to lose my followers. I will, one day, start selling something on my own. But…” Bhanu said. Amit was surprised by the clarity Bhanu had around what he wanted to do with all these followers.

“So, are you saying you are not going to post?”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant. I will post, but only if you are paying me.”

“Sure, I can pay you Rs. 5000. But before I spend, can you let me know how many viewers are going to see the post? How many of them are actually going to install the app?”

“Haha, that’s not how it works.” Bhanu chuckled.

“You will have to continuously do this for 2-3 months before you start seeing results. If things go well, you should see a high number of people installing your app eventually.”

“Okay. And how much would you charge for that?”

“Well, if I have to do 20 posts, the cost would be Rs. 1 lakh.”

“See, that’s the problem. I cannot pay that much right now. I need to conserve money so that the company remains operational for a little longer.”

Amit went to the fridge, pulled a bottle of Coke, and poured two glassfuls. He slipped three ice cubes in one and handed it to Bhanu and took the other one for himself without any ice.

“If that is the case, let’s make a deal. Why don’t you give me your company’s stocks? Also, let me join as a permanent employee? I will operate the company’s Tiktok and Instagram accounts, apart from my own Tiktok account. My salary expectation would be far lower than other marketing experts, for sure.”

“But…” While the proposition was logical, Bhanu wasn’t the type of person Amit had expected to hire at his company.

“I know I am inexperienced. I don’t even know proper English,” Bhanu said, “but one thing is for sure – I know how to get an audience to engage.” Hearing no response from Amit, he continued – “you don’t have to respond to me right now. Let me know by tomorrow morning what you think.”

Bhanu finished his glass of coke and went back to making rotis. Amit didn’t have any choice apart from recruiting Bhanu.

P.S. I wrote this story before Tiktok was banned. Instead of changing the story to some other app, I decided to keep it as is. I felt there is a higher sentimental value associated with Tiktok, with so many micro-creators, like Bhanu, dependent on the app for earning their livelihood.

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