Diksha Dwivedi started AkkarBakkar with the strong belief that anybody can be a writer – that if you have a story to tell, you write it down, and it can be beautiful.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
With its unique real life stories and confessions that spark conversations, AkkarBakkar, launched in 2014, garnered a million page hits within the first two months of its inception. But in 2015, the start-up from India just up and vanished without even a goodbye note.
Now, after a year-long heist, they are back. Better, bolder, and more viral than ever. Within just three weeks of re-launch, AkkarBakkar has reached up to three million unique page views, and they already have a number of international brands scrambling to get sponsored content up on their platform.
Much of the credit for this revival goes to one woman’s resilience. An economics and journalism graduate, an aspiring actor, and also the founder of AkkarBakkar, Diksha Dwivedi talks to INKLINE to discuss her life, career, and the enduring story of her first startup.
INKLINE: Diksha, could you tell us a bit about yourself and how an economics graduate came to found something like AkkarBakkar?
Diksha: So, I did my graduation in economics and then my masters in journalism. My graduation was from Delhi, Shri Ram College of Commerce and I did my masters from Cardiff University. Basically, when I joined SRCC, I just kind of realised (because I joined Dramatics) that theatre is where I want to go. But obviously, theatre and economics didn’t really go together, and I liked acting for that matter. So I was like, should I do acting, should I do journalism and then do acting, or should I just do both together, what should I do? But I definitely didn’t want to work in a space where I was anybody or a nobody.
SRCC is a pretty good college, not everyone gets through it, and now getting through it and completing your three years, you are bound to go for a placement, but I wasn’t interested in placements and wanted to explore more. So that’s how I wanted to choose between acting and journalism. I eventually decided that I can always go do acting after journalism, but I might not be able to come back to studying. My year at Cardiff worked out pretty well actually, considering that I never used to really read that much or even write, before then. The first time I wrote something worth sharing was my statement of purpose for Cardiff.
I joined Yahoo after that and while I was with them I used to freelance a lot, which is when one of the people I was working for as a freelance writer gave me an opportunity to come up with my own idea and kind of experiment with a platform. That is when AkkarBakkar came up.
When we started we just had 2-3 sections. Entertainment, Bakkar – which used to have listicles really (but that is not our forte), and there was Your Story of course. Your Story was always there, where we had confessions from our own reader. Readers or anyone else gives confessions, and we make it beautiful enough or readable enough or impactful enough for people to read it and share it. That was the whole idea, that you can be a writer even if you are not. I’m pretty sure if you have a story to tell and if you write it down, it will be beautiful.
I: You guys were doing very well when you launched back in 2014, why the break?
D: In 2015 we had to kind of take a break for a year because the idea I had in my head was not working out. We didn’t have the tech for what I wanted to achieve and so I was like, okay let me take a break and then get back to it.
It took me a year to find the tech team that gave me the beauty that AkkarBakkar is today. I worked as an Editor-in-chief for another firm during the time, but it was not satisfying enough to have such a great idea in my head and not be able to execute it for myself. I really wanted to get a good team, and I was lucky that I found these two people. They were brilliant, everything that I had in my head they showed it to me on the backend and the frontend. And voila! We’ve crossed around 3 million PV’s in the first three weeks of our re-launch. Now how can I say that the break wasn’t worth it? It so was!
I: Why the name ‘AkkarBakkar’? What does it mean?
D: There was a rhyme we used to sing when we were kids, ‘Akkar bakkar bambay bo, assi nabbe poore sau’, just like ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’.
Basically, when you don’t want to spend money uselessly on marketing, you want a name that will stay in people’s heads anyway. When you see AkkarBakkar you will remember it, I don’t really have to go after you to make you learn the name. I had a list of names that you will know and the domains were available for, but AkkarBakkar sort of clicked because Bakkar kind of means talking, like a slang in Hindi. Every Indian kid would know it and every foreigner would know it eventually.
I: On the back of AkkarBakkar’s re-launch, you published a piece titled ‘Every Stressed 24-Year-Old: Stop For A Minute And Read This’. A very powerful read, in the article you said: “I’m a very successful person for myself.” Can you explain?
D: It depends on what your meaning of success is, right? For me, if I’ve been able to figure out something that you have not been able to figure out in the industry for 10 years, that is success.
I have worked with so many people who have websites, who have ‘viral content’ so to say. But, if you will go to a website that does viral content, they will always say, ‘no we can’t really predict virality’. But what we say as a team at AkkarBakkar is that we can give you virality, we will create it. We will not say that we can’t predict it, we see that we do, we know it. That’s the major difference among websites now, and that’s how we are standing out.
Success for me is not me getting rich. AkkarBakkar was for me like my first baby and I did not give up on it. Which parent gives up on their child just because that child refuses to study or pick up a job? What they can do is say, “You’re grounded”. So even if I took a break it was always a break, I wanted to try it until I succeeded and it turned out to be exactly the kind of success I wanted when we re-launched. I mean I had predicted in a way that it’s worth going all out for, obviously am not promising myself 2 million page views in the first week, but it happened because we created virality and that’s the confidence we have.
So, I think just having the confidence of being in the industry for two years, figuring life out and figuring out what you do best is ‘success’.
I: Could you tell us a bit about the team, also what’s next for AkkarBakkar?
D: It’s three of us, three founders. Myself on the editorial end of things and two rather shy gentlemen who aren’t yet ready to face the limelight. They basically handle everything tech from A to Z, in fact, one of them is also handling our communications. It is obviously a start-up, we would like to take it slow and we would like to do everything we can with a small team, that’s what makes sense.
We already have ads going, we are definitely profitable as we don’t have any marketing expense in the sense. When you boost your posts on Facebook, having a click through rate (CTR) is very important, that is what gives you an edge over all other content available on the Internet. Our CTR’s are as high as 30%, which is very rare. That kind of worked for us to talk to brands who are approaching us, if we can promise the attention their brand needs they come to us.
We are already making money and we are just three weeks old.
We were approached by Child Rights and You, and we’re all ready for the esteemed partnership. They will be giving us real-life stories, and we’ll basically edit them in a way that their content gets attention and they get the donations they need. If their stories reach out to a large audience, the probability of them getting donations increases. These are kinds of brands we are definitely happy to be associated with, we are never going to compromise the type of content we are doing. We already said ‘No’ to a couple of brands because they wanted too many ads, but if we believe in a brand we will go all out for them.
I: What would you say was the most difficult thing you had to go through with AkkarBakkar and what, if anything, came easier than expected?
D: I didn’t expect it to re-launch and do so well in the first week, to be honest it came across as a surprise. But why it happened was that my partners and I didn’t know that our skills worked so good together. It’s like we blend so well, I know my shit and they know theirs, so that was really unexpected. Because in the one year break, I was almost thinking that it might not happen, I might not find the team that will believe in this idea as much as I want them to. That kind of broke me, I had a brilliant idea in my head and I knew that it will work crazy good in this country.
That one year was tough, I had stopped checking emails and Facebook messages because it used to bring me down. I used to get a lot of messages like, ‘when are you coming back’, ‘where are you guys’, ‘where do I confess now’ and ‘can I send you my confessions’. It was heartbreaking.
It was just tough to hear from people, and the feeling of helplessness. Ours was the only platform where you could say anything and we were not there anymore, plus I didn’t give a reason why we had shut shop for a while. That was my bad but we made up for it by posting a love note for our readers as soon as we relaunched last month.
But that one year of break was so worth it, I learned so much, came back with amazing skills as an editor and lot more. Maybe if I had continued the website back in 2015, I wouldn’t have the AkkarBakkar I have today, so I guess these big decisions have to be made at the right time.
I: Finally, what advice would you give to the young twenty-somethings out there to chase their hearts and be successful?
D: What I’ve seen and experienced is that if you believe in something and if you work towards it there is no way you will fail. Even if you fail, I think it’s better than regretting tomorrow that you didn’t do something. Failure would be a better choice always, over regret.
I mean, until you fail you will not know what you are bad at, at the same time you will not know what you are good at. So, it doesn’t make sense to not try something because of the fear of failure.
And every successful person that you see in this world has definitely failed at some point in life. Einstein, Jobs, they all made stupid decisions, but at the end of it who is sitting there and watching the show. If you don’t take that step, then you probably don’t deserve it.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with a desire to explore life through the stories he chases. An engineer who found recluse in the world of words, he is a journalism post-graduate from Cardiff University. He works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.