EXCLUSIVE | Joji George of Gonuts: As Fandom soars, we aim to be the trust pipe that connects fans

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Joji George, Co-Founder of GoNuts, is an industry veteran with 20-plus years of experience in media, broadcasting, sports, brand management, entertainment, digital and live events. George and his co-founders launched GoNuts with an aim to bridge the gap between celebrities and their millions of fans.

In this exclusive interview, Joji George speaks about how GoNuts was created, what sets them apart, how they have grown, their expansion plan, and how they intend to utilize the funds they have raised.

Why was GoNuts founded, and how does it work?

As founders, we have all grown on Fandom, albeit, we all have our own cultural icons. Having been with media and entertainment over 20+ years, which include music, television, film, live events and talent management, I personally saw a huge gap in the ability of smaller organisations and consumers at large, to reach stars through a reliable and trusted source.

We all know that the “search” process for talent in our country is ambiguous and opaque. Hence, the start-up was founded with the aim of creating a reliable and trusted pipeline to connect fans to their favourite celebrities and create authentic memorable experiences.

Gonuts offers a unique aggregator platform that allows consumers from across the world to now book personalised video messages from celebrities, through the website and app. The market has shown us numerous case studies outside of greetings and has now also become a reliable source for small and medium enterprises to source talent for their myriad needs.

These personally curated videos make each occasion celebratory and memorable to the recipient and their circle of influence since this is less than 60 secs and can be easily transferred via Whatsapp.

The network effects are incredible, since the video is posted on the social media handle of the recipient, that brings our marketing cost down over a period. From a content perspective, videos from GoNuts are made in a style unique to the platform that is bound to create a memory that lasts forever.

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How are you different from other competitors?

We are positioned as Asia’s largest and most influential platform for human connection and communication. This positioning defines our purpose to bring joy to people and make their lives richer.

Over the last six months, the month-on-month growth of the company, elite clientele, and best cross genre talent, undoubtedly makes GoNuts market leaders in perception and thought leadership.

The exclusive and unique talent on our platform is only here and nowhere else. We are the Home to the stars and this is very different from the “celebrity shoutout platform” that everyone else positioned as.

As Fandom is soaring in India, we aim to be the trusted pipe that connects consumers and corporations across India and the rest of the Indian diaspora globally to celebrities, across genres, across languages and at multi price-points.

We are, by merit of the talent on the platform, premium- both in price and content. We co-create the content with our stars that has become unique to the platform.  We have celebrities from Music, Food/Lifestyle, TV, Movies, Sports, Literature, Motivational speakers etc.

Another USP of the platform is our turnaround time to deliver videos. In many instances, we have turned around videos for our clients in less than thirty minutes. GoNuts is perhaps the only start-up also focused on small and medium enterprises to use the platform to speak to its stakeholders. We also aim to revolutionise corporate human resource connection through how companies talk to its employees and other key stakeholders.

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What are the funding details?

We were are a bootstrapped company, by choice. We were clear that whoever invests in us, are aligned to our vision to make people’s lives richer and create human connection.

We have had many investors keen to invest, but we wanted to wait and showcase our ability to build a bootstrapped company to leadership position before investors come onboard to help take us to the next level.  Gonuts over the last six months has shown healthy growth both in terms of revenue, addition of exclusive artists to the platform and ARPU.

In a totally white space, our vision for the company, strength of the founding team and solid month on month performance through a tough phase of the pandemic, has elicited a very positive response from marquee investors who are now invested in our growth story.

This includes Sweta Rau and Archana Priyadarshini, 9 Unicorns, Angel List, Lets Venture, Mr. Pankaj Chaddah ( Co-Founder Zomato), Mr. Ramakant Sharma ( Co-founder LivSpace), IIM Indore Alumini Fund and Mr. Harshal Morde ( Morde Foods Pvt Ltd).

What is your future outlook and how does GoNuts intents to utilize the funds they have raised?

We have ambitious plans and key milestones we want to reach by the year 2021. In terms of revenue growth, we aim to reach a milestone of $10 million by the end of 2021.

In terms of talent,  we want to get to 5000+ of the most influential and inspirational celebrities by the next financial year and be the unicorn out of India in this category to the rest of the world.

Tell us about GoNuts’ partnership with Chhota Bheem?

The children market is a 5000 Crore market devoid of any personalisation. Gonuts and Green Gold animation have partnered to fill this lacuna by bringing personalisation to animation. With this partnership for the first time globally, India’s most iconic animation character will bring video messaging from children.

Green Gold Animation is a pioneer in creating original Indian animation content will now host Chotta Bheem exclusively on Gonuts. Kids can now expect greetings from Chhota Bheem ranging from birthday & anniversary wishes.

What was the inspiration behind the idea?

The two other Co-Founders Mayank Gupta and Vinamra Pandiya, attended a friend’s child’s birthday party and the discussion centered around what would happen if a popular cartoon character wished the child personally.

Parents were really excited about this idea. This germ of an idea led us to a journey that took shape and form when they met me. Once all of us met, sparks flew, and the company was born in Jan 2020.

How did your previous experience help you, and your partners when GoNuts was launched?

The company is founded by serial entrepreneurs Vinamra Pandiya and Mayank Gupta along with media and entertainment veteran Joji George.

Vinamra Pandiya is IIT-BHU alumnus and a serial entrepreneur. He has started, scaled, failed and exited many start-ups. He has been fortunate of being part of category defining businesses – first with Food-Tech through TastyKhana, funded by marquee international investor – Delivery Hero& sold to FoodPanda and then again with sustainable commerce through Qtrove& raised money from Marquee investors like K Ganesh and then from BCCL – Times Group. GoNuts is his fourth startup. Vinamra was also listed on Fortune 40 under 40 list.

Joji George:  Joji has been a leading name in the media and entertainment space for over 25 years across music, television, sports, branding, and live media. He has served as Managing Director for multiple international organisations like World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), UBM Plc (now Informa Markets)and was CEO at Percept Sports and Entertainment, He has global experience with companies like MTV Asia, Yahoo! and Astro All Asia networks. He is a Wharton fellow and also an alum of the prestigious University of Chicago- Booth School of Business.

Mayank Gupta: Mayank is a B.Tech: MNNIT alumni. His last start up Triplived, was a Marketplace of travel experiences. He has been a Business Mentor at ISB through Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Entrepreneurship Program. He has held IT & Strategy roles at Tech Mahindra & Computer Associates, Mayank specializes in channel partnerships and alliances and has done a program from Chinese University of HK- Chicago Booth in general management.

Explain the process in which one can get the shoutout from the celebrities?

The process to get a shoutout has been finessed. Fans across the world can visit our website, browse their favourite celebrity, and book a request by providing some basic details of the person for whom the video is to be created. We provide script improvements that get their message in the way they intended to convey and also brief our talent to deliver beyond the expectations of the person buying the video for gifting.

The videos are delivered in an average time of 1-2 days. However, in the current situation of lockdown, the response time from celebrities has been reduced and the talent on the platform have been really co-operative to accede to delivering videos in record time for last minute requests.

What are the challenges faced so far? How did you overcome them?

I believe the biggest challenge that also was an opportunity for us, is COVID19 which has changed the normal, like never. However, as they say – the show must go on. When we used to initially discuss our idea with investors, they had so many questions about the success of this idea. However, with the pandemic, as someone said, “What seemed like disruption is now the norm”.

Our aim was to create an alternative revenue model for talent. Initially, we met with resistance and lack of acceptance of the idea, especially with celeb managers. However, now we have celebrities across genres speaking with us excitedly about being a part of Go Nuts. We truly have created a respectable alternative line of income, and we believe this will only grow to significant numbers over time.

We have shown healthy revenue growth even in the time of Covid and many artists have made significant revenue from GoNuts. As far as the company is concerned, we are powering ahead and are extensively hiring to meet our ambitious plans.

How is the business shaping up in times of Covid-19? What has been the impact of Covid on your business?

As mentioned earlier, we are a classic case of a company that seized opportunity in times of adversity. Since we started business right in the middle of COVID crisis, we have grown 3X MoM in the last three months (Mar-May 2020) and  will only increase exponentially as we see higher traffic and engagement. In spite of job cuts and freezes, we are hiring and expanding rapidly.

 We are very focused on creating a solid business with the right fundamentals which will add value to our stakeholders. In terms of top line and bottom-line for the company and as far as results achieved in the last quarter, the future looks extremely bright for us and our stakeholders.

Who is your target audience?

Actually, the target audience is anyone who has a personal relationship with other human beings. We are about human connection and communication using the avatar of celebrities, therefore, the TAM is vast.

That said,  the larger Indian diaspora in Tier 2 and 3 cities is our key target and reaching out to them is our primary goal, as it is still a dream for many to get their name mentioned by their favourite celebrity, let alone see them in a person over their hand phones.

The founders are very connected to the needs and aspirations of this audience from their experience working across small towns in India. Interestingly, the initial set of customers and revenue came from these towns across India, which gave us confidence in the acceptability of the idea and its ability to make people’s lives richer.

How many shoutouts have you done till now?

Over a period of five months we have successfully delivered over 400 shoutouts ranging from birthday’s, anniversary wishes, festive greetings, inspiration, friends’ reunion, to as diverse as reading a poem or roasting a friend.

Please highlight on your journey?

I have over 20 years of experience in media, broadcasting, sports, brand management, entertainment, digital and live events, globally, having worked in leadership roles with leading companies like MTV Asia, Astro plc, Yahoo!, Percept Sports & Entertainment, Sony Music and UBM plc. My last role was as Vice President and General Manager (Country Head) at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for the Indian subcontinent.

I was executive producer of two of the highest selling albums for Sony Music and promoter of some of the biggest live events in India, like, “Independence Rock and the BonJovi- Cross roads to the East Tour. I have been aproducer and Radio Jockey when FM Radio was privatised in India and yes, I did sing for a living with my own rock band called “Short Circuit”

What are the learnings from your journey? How does this bring the as differentiating factor to the start-up?

My learnings across all genres of the media and entertainment business, has helped create an ecosystem that understands talent and how to work for them. Again, given my experience in working closely with many of them, they trust me and, in this business, trust is underrated by many who are not from the industry.

Stakeholders in this industry know me and what is possible for their artists and hence supported us. I am grateful to them for that trust.

What are your medium- and long-term plans?

I believe strongly that the universe conspires to bring you opportunities that are aligned with your deepest passion. I grew in a family that loved the fine arts. Yes, I was blessed to be exposed to many mentors from across the world who taught me their own life experiences that has made me richer in my decision-making ability.

Their strategic thought refined my own thinking to go beyond the obvious. As Richard Bach said, “All the people and events in your life are there because you chose them to be there. What you do with it is upto you”.

As co-founders we believe we have not met without a reason and purpose. My aim is to help us focused on that vision and purpose and leverage each other’s strengths. The plan is to make GoNuts the unicorn out of India to the rest of the world.

I am an optimist of possibility, hence, my wife and I also set up Communicare Education and Training, to support parents and children with special needs through early intervention and prepare them for inclusion into “regular” schools. This is something we both are deeply passionate about, being a parent of a special child. Kavitha runs that independently with her team.

We believe this is our calling and somehow, both, Mayank and Vinamra also feel for the cause of Inclusion of children with special needs. We aim to work to give back to society and this forgotten group of children by advocating and creating an ecosystem for inclusion.

What is the motivation factor for you?

This is a profound question and in my case is not found in people or things but in purpose. My biggest motivation is my faith in the Almighty. There is a verse in the Bible which says, “For I know the plans that I have for you. Plans to prosper you and give you a future and hope”.

All the events and situations in our life is out of our own personal control The pandemic taught us no amount of power or money could isolate anyone.

I believe we have a loving God who knows best and guides us to fulfil the destiny He has for us provided we listen and are humble to accept the course. I don’t call this fatalism. Its understanding your place in the Universe and treading a path to doing something larger than everyday existence.

How do you see the evolution of entertainment industry in future?

The average consumer’s growing affinity to digital platforms is forcing the industry to rethink older paradigms of entertainment consumption and revenue generation across various verticals like music, films, television, and live entertainment. The focus of entertainment providers, as a result of this digital boom, has also shifted from the urban, English-speaking India to the multilingual and extremely diverse Bharat.

To capitalise on these trends, entertainment platforms are revising their strategy to cater their services to a growing number of regional viewers by creating high-quality regional content with significant mass appeal. Businesses have to cater to this new customer who knows what he/ she wants and connect with them.

How this personalized shoutouts from celebrities is going to be relevant in the days to come?

Fandom is on the rise and social media coupled with cheap data has caused an explosive growth in online fan following of celebrities. However, this is limited to a one-way conversation with celebrities. GoNuts, as the leaders in personalised video messaging, and delivering memories.

People have forgotten to communicate, feel, touch and connect at a deeper level. Depression and addiction is considered to be cool. In this age of isolation, we are going back to building meaningful connections, using an engaging avatar of a  celebrity, who can communicate your feelings in a way you would have liked but could not for whatever reason.

Your thoughts, please