Yup, you read that right. We’ve not been around for long enough that people are ASKing but we like answering anyway.
Q: Well, then you’d better start with explaining the name…
We knew that was coming! Rest assured, the name has absolutely nothing to do with either the relevant section of the Indian Penal Code or the cannabis subculture in North America. i420 was the number of the apartment that the founders shared after they graduated from college and entered the big bad media world. We advise you to ignore all of the rumours that abound of its reputation as a den of vice amongst young people in the 7 Bungalows locality of Mumbai.
Q: Ok then! What does i420 do?
We’re a “boutique outfit” (sounds so much cooler than ‘garage startup’) specializing in high quality content solutions for audiences, publishers and brands. In fact we believe that on the internet, it’s possible for brands to themselves be publishers and engage their audiences at a much deeper level by providing them with useful, appealing and high quality content.
While we specialize in digital platforms (online, social and mobile), we also execute for OOH, Radio, TV and Print. We started out in Gurgaon in early 2013 and set up our Mumbai office (in the historic Apollo Bunder area) later that year.
Q: So are you guys basically a digital agency? Or maybe even a social media agency?
Not really – we’re not in the media planning/buying business for SEM, SMM, display (and other paid media). We’re not a creative agency either in the sense that designing banners, rich media or text ads isn’t our main offering.
Our primary area of expertise is in helping brands create great platform-agnostic online/social/mobile content properties. Search, Display & Social are all great distribution tools which can be used to drive traffic but they’re not very effective without great content to point that traffic towards.
If a client insists on getting a 360 degree solution, we can (and we do) offer pretty much everything that comes under “digital” in alliance with our trusted network of partners, but our core competence is in developing and executing a great editorial strategy.
Q: This sounds a lot like good old Content Marketing – are you the guys who make ‘microsites’ or blogs?
There are a lot of interchangeable, loosely defined buzzwords out there including Content Marketing, Native Advertising, Brand Journalism, Sponsored Content, Owned Media, Inbound Marketing or whatever term they come up with next on Mashable.com
Platforms, technologies and tools keep changing but great content always stands out. The Michelin Tyre Company did it a century ago in good old print media by creating a travel and food content product with high editorial integrity, which is today a media empire in itself. Our pitch is that on the internet, every brand can aspire to create that kind of credible, niche content product.
The key difference, is that in the offline world, barriers to entry are much higher for brands to become publishers ie. the costs of creation, distribution and editorial expertise may not be worth the time and effort for every company to invest in a product like the Michelin Guide.
In the online world on the other hand, there are ubiquitous platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Youtube where access to audiences can be bought, earned and maintained at relatively low costs.
Importantly, pretty much everyone has access to creation tools that are far superior to propreitary technologies that traditional publishers tend to develop in-house at obscenely high costs. No satellite TV licenses or ink by the barrell!
Q: Aren’t traditional Ad agencies already doing this through their digital arms?
Not really. Most brand marketing teams and their agencies tend to think in terms of the high impact creative or 30-second spot ie. an “ad campaign” approach to engagement and brand building. This is different from publishers who are in the business of figuring out how to keep audiences perpetually engaged with high quality content and programming.
Advertising tends to be about grabbing attention and translates into intrusiveness and often annoyance for online users. Editorial operations however, are geared towards using longer story arcs, well-planned content calendars and a constant search for a new peg or hook that could be of value to readers or viewers.
Our belief is that the online, socially connected world now resembles a relentless 24/7 news cycle where the skill sets of running a newsroom or a wire service are more relevant than traditional advertising tools. Gaining audience trust by becoming a credible source of useful information is now the key.
Q: So you guys bring a publisher’s mindset to the table rather than an agency one?
That’s right. Our founders and vertical heads have backgrounds in journalism and publisher-side operations.
Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan, co-founder & Content Head, is a well-known journalist who used to host business shows on CNBC-TV18 including the prime-time news bulletin India Business Hour. He was founding editor of Tech2.com and also hosted “The Tech 2.0 Show” on CNN-IBN. He was, until August 2012, VP of Specialty Content at Times Internet Ltd where apart from being Managing Editor of the flagship portal Indiatimes.com, he had a P&L responsibility for all the niche content verticals within the company.
Abhijit Agrawal, co-Founder & Business Head, was a journalist at the Financial Express before turning serial entrepreneur. He was part of the founding team at Cactus Communications which grew into Asia’s largest KPO for scientific publishing support. An MBA from Emory University’s Goizueta School of Business, he spent the last 6 years in the US setting up a number of different ventures before deciding to come back and return to his original love – media!
Tara* Kaushal, co-Founder & Head, Lifestyle Vertical is a widely published author, columnist and art director. She has been the editor of BBC Good Homes magazine which she launched in India and currently writes a column for 3 Quarks Daily. She is a recipient of the Laadli Award for media advocacy in 2013 and is a visiting professor of mass media at MET, Mumbai.
Dominic Karunesudas, Head, Tech Vertical has written for a number of leading tech publications with a focus on Cyber Security and enterprise technology. He was the Consulting Editor (Tech) at Indiatimes.com and has been a communications advisor to a number of startups in the InfoSec sector.
Radhika Sharma, Head, Video Vertical is a television producer and host who has anchored and produced shows onCNBC-TV18 and ET NOW. She stars in the popular Youtube channel The Baus Girl and is also a celebrity blogger in the city of Pune.
Q: And what are some of these large projects?
We run the publication Networked India in partnership with Ericsson India to showcase the use of mobility in transforming India’s social and economic fabric. This editorial property has been taken to television as a series and awards on CNN-IBN.
We work with the online edition of The Economic Times as a video partner on a number of projects including this video interview series with the Tech Bosses of India’s leading telecom operators.
In television, we’re helping Capgemini build its brand among potential employees with The Super Techies Show on Times Now & ET Now.
… And it’s not all just tech clients – we’ve run a popular curation site called 5Minute5 which ran in Mumbai Mirror as a column, a magazine about innovation called Beyond Jugaad for a consulting firm and Indian Marketing Review for the Academy of Indian Marketing.
We have experience in the non-profit and social sector with projects such as the World For All calendar featuring top bollywood celebs posing with their stray pets and The Education Alliance, an advocacy resource for policy makers on behalf of The Network for Quality Education.
Q: One last question – if you guys are such awesome digital dudes then why is this site so …
… Plain? Non-fancy? Unimpressive, without any Flash animations, bouncing carousels, social media buttons and awesome high-res image galleries of clipart?
Btw, in case you’re thinking that we turn our nose up at good design, check out this website on your mobile, tablet, widescreen monitor etc. at any magnification and enjoy the responsive experience. Yup, whether it’s form or content – we’re focussed on what really matters to audiences!