What would I look for in an online women’s magazine? Great travel places for those of us with gypsy feet, top tomes in fiction, enticing recipes and restaurants, gadgets that can help women be superwomen, and profiles of those who have shattered the glass ceiling – give or take a few pieces on fashion. And that is why POPxo gets my goat.
The Delhi-based website was launched in 2014 by two women with impeccable credentials – Priyanka Gill, a graduate of King’s College London, and Namrata Bostrom, a former Rhodes Scholar who studied at London Business School. Last month POPxo snapped up US$2 million in funding from top venture capital names IDG Ventures, Kalaari Capital, and 500 Startups.
Targeted at young Indian women, it claims to get over 2.5 million readers every month. “It’s about POP culture, it’s POPular, it’s fun, dynamic, and energetic – all that the modern Indian woman needs.” That’s the promise. But when I click open the website, I am on unexpected terrain.
Discontent with content
The stories on the home page go something like this: “9 signs you’re the most chilled out girlfriend ever”, “7 things his body language reveals (even if he doesn’t)”, “7 amazing bra secrets for girls with bigger boobs”. Phew, this is pop.
What after boobs, bra, and boyfriend? Bollywood, of course. Celebrities sell – so be it POPxo’s write-ups on weddings, or photo features on fitness, or relationship tips, actors and actresses are right up there.
I try another day, and here’s what I see: “Get hairless underarms…By microwaving them”. I swallow hard. I can think of a hundred critical things that Indian women need, but this!
Am I being a moralist or a feminist or some such thing? Indian women battle patriarchal prejudices every day. They get paid less than men at work in big cities like Bangalore, female foetuses get terminated in rich south Delhi neighbourhoods, female infants are killed hours after birth in Punjab and Haryana, girl children are looked upon as a burden as their parents have to pay fat dowries to marry them off, and women face horrifying sexual violence. The issues are endless.
Does the 18- to 30-year-old, who would be a college-goer or a young professional or a newly married housewife, not want to read about reality? I’m curious.
Brains and business behind beauty
POPxo has a clear line: It is about beauty, fashion, lifestyle, and relationships. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else. And it works.
“We discovered articles discussing high-end fashion did work, then we discovered that beauty is always a bigger win than fashion, then found lifestyle, relationships, and stories related to feminine hygiene and sexual health all worked really well,” Namrata was quoted as saying by Forbes.
The founders say they stepped into a space that was waiting to be filled. Women make up 29 percent of internet users in the country. Internet usage among women in urban India is growing at the rate of 39 percent compared to 28 percent among men, according to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International. Before this year is over, India is expected to have 402 million internet users.
Little wonder that there has been growing interest from venture capital firms in digital media. Earlier this year, youth-oriented platform YouthKiAwaaz raised INR 40 million (US$599,000) from Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur-led Quintillion Media.
“The evolution of digital content targeted specifically at the modern Indian woman is both essential and full of potential,” Vani Kola, managing director of Kalaari Capital, said after the firm’s investment in POPxo last month.
The women’s website is striking when the iron is hot. And it sure knows how to use technology.
“We have expanded rapidly, adding a Hindi site, producing our own videos, releasing our mobile app, and massively expanding our social following across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and all the platforms our audience cares about,” Priyanka was quoted as saying by Mint.
It also ties up with brands like Tanishq, Lakme, and Whisper. Not only does that fetch advertising revenue but also engages the woman reader.
Plus, POPxo’s competitors don’t fare any better in terms of content. When I dig into an IDiva or a Femina, what greets me is the same hackneyed glamorous, fluff stuff that most Bollywood movies are made of.
The online avatar of Woman’s Era, which has been around since my grandmother’s time, however, is a bit of a revelation to me. With sections on tech, travel, fiction, theatre, and business, this is what I would say has kept up with the times. And its 2.4 million readers would probably agree.
POPxo’s success perhaps demonstrates that the English and Hindi speaking, 20-something woman in tier-one and tier two cities of India is an aspirant. She aspires to look good on social media and off it. She wants to talk about sex, sexual health, and relationships – subjects that have for long been taboo in India. Which is a great thing.
She wants to feel like a Bollywood celebrity and treat herself like one. She wants her hair to shine and her leather jacket to be perfectly worn, get her manners right and charm the pants off everyone. And that’s a great thing too.
But when I think of the power to transform that POPxo packs in, I think of all those off-line lives that are not beautiful, fashionable, or stylish. That fight battles daily and lose them. And I think of what those lives could be if their stories could be brought online.
I think of notions of beauty that are so uniquely Indian, and whether these need to be stubbed out in the chase for westernised notions of glamor.
And after all this thinking, I think I want to skip the popcorn.
Tech in Asia reached out to POPxo, and then to one its founders, two weeks ago and has yet to hear from them.
This post Bras, boyfriends, Bollywood: why I say boo to this site for modern Indian women appeared first on Tech in Asia.
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