Earlier this year, when Clubhouse became a global sensation, a three-year-old Indian company called Leher decided to compete head-on with the Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup.
Serial entrepreneur Vikas Malpani started Leher in 2018 along with Atul Jaju, former senior vice president at Goldman Sachs. For the first two years, the company chugged along but didn’t demonstrate significant growth. But Clubhouse’s overnight popularity in 2021 changed that. Malpani decided to emulate Clubhouse’s format and let users create private groups to invite select friends and acquaintances for live conversations.
Now, Leher has over 300,000 users who log on to the platform each month to discuss the startup scene, cryptocurrencies, films, spirituality, religion, and more. It aims to reach the 1 million mark in the next six months. Backed by Orios Venture Partners, Leher was selected for Google’s accelerator program, Google for Startups, in November 2020.
We spoke with Malpani about Leher leveraging Clubhouse’s popularity and its revenue model.
The following interview has been edited and consolidated for clarity and brevity.
KrASIA (Kr): How has Leher evolved since its inception?
Vikas Malpani (VM): At first, Leher was a platform for users to record and share their thoughts. The second iteration was to build a network by allowing users to connect with each other.
Leher was meant to evolve, but we knew the time was not right back in 2018 for such a product. We started working on the private club feature in July last year. We launched the beta version in December and opened it for everyone in early 2021.
There is a huge variety of conversations on the app. A person from a Portuguese village runs a club for live reggae music. On the other end of the spectrum, we have rooms for spiritual discourse.
Kr: How much did Clubhouse’s popularity contribute to Leher’s growth?
VM: Clubhouse created awareness around using audio for socializing. We [Indians] always look at products from the West for validation. That is why people in India started taking this seriously.
You must understand that the first person to create a new product doesn’t always win the race. Sometimes, the second person who validates that idea has a better chance of success.
Both Clubhouse and Twitter are heavily funded companies, but if you compare their products with ours, you will realize Leher is better. Unlike Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, we give our users the freedom to interact using audio as well as video.
Kr: What has been your user acquisition strategy?
VM: We predominantly rely on the startup community. Product managers, founders, and young working professionals who strike up conversations with their peers drive growth for us. They bring new people onto the platform. We think it will take time for this product to reach the masses. Eventually, we want people from smaller cities to use our app, so they can have free-flowing conversations on local as well as global issues.
Kr: What are your plans for monetization?
VM: We want club creators to earn money for their moderation efforts and bringing relevant speakers to their sessions. Since participants come to these clubs to network and engage with thought leaders, they won’t hesitate to pay club moderators for this access. These will be ticketed events, and we will take a small commission.