Vuukle: Helping Publishers Manage Comments and Match Readers with Content

Posted in Interviews

*Originally posted on the SoftLayer Blog

I recently had a conversation with Ravi Mittal, the founder of a company called Vuukle. Vuukle is based in New Delhi and has just graduated from Catalyst (which I run in Canada as part of the IBM Global Entrepreneur Program.)

Vuukle actually started out in Silicon Valley—Ravi launched his first product iteration with the goal of trying to source public opinion on the Web. Key to his initial offering was a proprietary algorithm he developed to sort comments in order of credibility—a highly valuable aspect of the product, but something he quickly learnt wasn’t enough value to encompass a product.

Through experiments with Vuukle’s early customers (including the Santa Clara Weekly), a major problem emerged which appeared to pervade the online publishing industry: reader engagement wasn’t sticky enough to compel them to post (and reply to) comments. In order to solve this meta-problem, Vuukle pivoted into a new type of comment publishing system, which helps publishers see engagement through custom analytics.

The major problem Vuukle faces is not unique to just the publishers they service. It’s a pretty large scale global problem, extending beyond news publishers and into all content-based publishing online—so you can imagine how much competition is out there around the globe in this space. When I asked Ravi how he differentiates Vuukle from recently dominant players like Livefyre and Disqus, he offered, “Most customers aren’t using those other services; they have their own commenting systems. If anything, we were pitted against Facebook commenting. In the few cases where Disqus is being used, we’ve seen problems with load times, throttling limits and so on.”

In order to set Vuukle in a class of its own, Ravi and his team – which is globally dispersed, with people in Egypt, the Ukraine, U.S.A., and India—have architected an infrastructure for super-fast load times that work at amazing scale, employing SoftLayer servers in our Singapore and India data centers, as well as working with a third party, ScaleDB, to handle database queries and traffic. Of course, that alone doesn’t give them a unique value proposition; Vuukle truly sets itself apart by dropping publisher costs upfront to a minimal platform access fee and offering a 50/50 revenue share model. Vuukle not only is set up to handle high traffic websites with commenting, but it also promotes user engagement with comments by integrating with actual publishing systems. Vuukle passes traffic between posts and offers editors insights into how readers are commenting, in addition to creating a new revenue stream through comments—from which it sources the majority of its own income.

Interestingly, Ravi’s move from the Valley to India came because of family reasons and ended up being a blessing to the business. Early after his move, he realized that there was a ton of opportunity for Vuukle with the major Indian newspapers that had cobbled together their own infrastructure to power websites. Just a couple years in, Vuukle is powering comments on The Hindu, Deccan Chronicle, and Indian Express, three of the most highly trafficked news websites in the country. To help global adoption amongst all sorts of publishers, Vuukle also offers a free WordPress plugin.

Vuukle seems to have gained traction through Ravi’s hard work chasing customers at home, and he’s proud to be finding success despite being bootstrapped. When questioned about the local startup scene, Ravi said, “Nothing much is unique in the Indian startup ecosystem. [It’s] kind of like a gold rush in India, where founders are hunting for investment before they have a clear market path and products that are market-ready. A lot of copycat businesses [are] launching that are focused on Indian markets (taking models from the States and elsewhere.) Not many patents are being filed in India—not much actual innovation, indicative of a proliferation of large seed round raises (around $1 million) and a lot of startups spend funding on staff they don’t need.”

The future seems bright for Vuukle. Its growth beyond India’s borders will happen soon and will be financed through revenue rather than venture capital rounds, of which Ravi seems quite wary. Now that Vuukle has graduated from Catalyst, I was keen to hear whether the company would still keep the majority of their infrastructure with IBM—it turns out prospective Vuukle customers love hearing that their infrastructure is hosted on our cloud and that a core aspect of Vuukle’s value proposition is the scale and reliability we offer their solution.