We are looking for someone who can help run our business functions smoothly. You could be an MBA graduate, an accounts graduate or someone who’s helped other businesses (or organisations) with operations or administration. If you’re passionate about getting things done and wish to gain an all-round understanding of how businesses run, we’d love to have you grow alongside us.
Miranj is a strategic web design and development studio based out of New Delhi. We architect information and design radically simple, future-proof websites. We started out in 2011, and have worked on websites for a variety of clients across domains such as film, conferences, internet advocacy, science & policy outreach, publishing, public interest campaigns, and other design studios. We’ve been speaking, curating and participating in various web conferences around the world. We’ve consciously remained small (between 2 – 4 people), while tackling projects collaboratively with peers and freelancers.
In the last few years all business functions and activities have been single-handedly tackled by one of our co-founders. We’ve reached a point where we need additional hands-on-deck to manage these activities.
You’ll be working on a one-to-one basis with Souvik (our co-founder) and interact with several other stakeholders. In the process, you’ll touch upon various aspects of running a business operation across four broad categories:
- Coordination and Communication: You’ll oversee flow of information with external stakeholders (clients, vendors, collaborators, etc.) incl. handling some of the team communications, organising meetings, managing calendars, etc. You’ll also help produce reports, presentations and documentations.
- Business and Accounts: You’ll be interfacing with our Chartered Accountant (CA) and lawyer to ensure financial & legal governance. This includes overseeing accounting, bookkeeping, expense management, invoicing (incl. driving collections to timely closure), banking and contracting.
- Operations and HR: You’ll managing administrative / operational tasks such as travel, purchases & payments, scouting vendors, office management (post COVID-19), etc. You’ll also assist us with hiring & on-boarding new members, planning and hosting team events (chill sessions, parties, etc.) and find ways to improve team performance, and exploring new digital tools to improve efficiency of our processes.
- Sales and External Initiatives: You’ll help process new project enquiries which include understanding project briefs, determining alignment with our strengths & interests, and assisting with project pitches and proposals. You’ll also take charge of new initiatives & organising external events (such as World IA Day) or executing other marketing activities.
Your work will involve a healthy rotation of all the above. It is not expected that you will stand out at everything on the first day of your job. On the contrary, we’ll give you ample time to learn on the job.
- 1 – 3 years of relevant work experience
- Excellent verbal and written communication skills in English
- Strong interpersonal skills and an ability to interface comfortably with a variety of people through the day
- Comfortable with computers and online tools for communications (email, Slack, WhatsApp, Google Meet, Zoom, etc.) and office suite (Google Drive, Google Sheets, Google Docs, etc.)
- Ability to maintain a high level of discretion and confidentiality
- Well developed organisational and time management skills
- Ability to multitask and prioritise work
- Ability to anticipate next steps and take proactive actions/make judgment calls
- Ability to identify problems in business functions and suggest solutions
Although not a necessity, it’ll be great if you also bring in the following experience—
- Hold a diploma/degree in any business-oriented discipline (accounts, economics, commerce, business administration, etc.)
- Have worked at a small company or studio
- Have interfaced with external stakeholders and clients
- Have worked in a remote setting (co-ordinating over emails, chats, video-calls, etc.)
- Have worked in business development or project management roles
- Have used the following tools: Basecamp, Asana, Slack and Dropbox Paper
- Have a basic knowledge of finance and accounting principles
- Have a working knowledge of Hindi
We believe the following traits will play nicely—
- You are eager to take charge and get stuff done
- You are quick at learning new tools and processes
- You are dedicated, process-oriented and have an attention to detail
- You are highly disciplined, self-motivated and energetic
- You value your commitments at work
- You are open-minded about undertaking a wide variety of operational tasks
- You like sharing ideas on how to make work more fun, meaningful and fulfilling
- You appreciate coffee and love mountains
What’s on offer?
- Opportunity to learn several business functions in a lean, young organisation.
- Monthly team outings which we’re told are fun.
- Medical insurance.
- A culture that values reason and debate over authority; autonomy over control; slow and considered decision-making over fast and hasty; and a healthy work-life balance.
- A healthy compensation, proportionate to the operational smoothness you help us achieve.
Note: In light of the current COVID-19 situation you should have a productive work setup at home. However, please note that this is not a fully remote/desk job. Your will be required to do occasional commutes within New Delhi to visit/co-ordinate between different stakeholders e.g. accountant, bank, vendors, etc.
How to apply?
Just fill out this form. It will ask you for a cover letter, CV and a few basic questions. Do ensure that your cover letter touches upon the following—
- What makes you interested in this job?
- Can you highlight some relevant past job experiences or experiences from college/extra-curricular where you’ve demonstrated organisational qualities?
- What value do you bring in to this job and our organisation?
- What are your hobbies and what do you find interesting outside work?
We shall not discriminate on the basis of caste, race, religion, orientation, gender, physical ability, age, nationality or any such factors. If you belong to any under-represented community we encourage you to send in your application.
Lastly, we’re a small team with limited bandwidth. It may not be feasible for us to respond to each application. If your application is selected for the next round of evaluation we will respond to you within 2 weeks. In case you don’t hear back from us in that timeframe, please consider your application rejected.
If you’d know a suitable candidate for this opening, kindly refer them to us. If the endorsed candidate is successfully hired we’d be happy to share a referral fee of ₹10,000/- for your gesture.
As the pandemic rages through India (and different parts of the world) we’ve all been stuck at home for months on end. Everyone’s skeptical, the mood ain’t great and it’s hard to remain cheerful. Wouldn’t it be great to take a break from 2020 and reflect back on the times when meeting people, attending conferences, travelling and generally being in a happy state of mind were a thing? I decided to do just that and pen another year-in-review post. Yes, it’s 10 full months since the year ended but we posted a delayed review last year as well and now we can call ourselves trendsetters.
2019 was a year of consolidation and gradually stepping forward. We undertook twelve different engagements of varying sizes and evolved throughout the year. Let’s look at some important developments, milestones and highlights for Miranj from 2019.
Helping Organisations Think and Strategise
We started out as a studio with two key skills — building websites, and finishing them on time and within budget. The latter skill is better known as project management.
The first step in any project was understanding the requirements. The process relied heavily on clients knowing what they want and being able to articulate that. We often got frustrated if clients were vague about their requirements because we considered it a pre-requisite for our work. But as we gathered more experience our thoughts evolved from “clients don’t know what they want” to “we need to help them understand their needs”. Back in 2016, this translated into our very first project discovery workshop. The process was rudimentary, relying mostly on frameworks from other workshops we’d participated in previously. But we stuck to it and started conducting workshops before every sizeable project.
Over the years these workshops have undergone several rounds of iteration and have achieved a clear structure — understanding the problem-space, defining the solution-space and finally discussing the execution and project management. We usually conduct the workshop at the client location to ensure representation from as many departments as possible. Then we return to our base for the execution armed with clarity on the goals, priorities and the overall scope of the project. It makes our work more focussed, smoothens the execution process and helps achieve greater impact.
Dominated by Non-Profit Engagements
At Miranj we’re mindful about the projects we take on. Very early in our journey, we wrote about our sweet spot. Gradually we also articulated our purpose. We need to keep reflecting on our experiences and defining what type of work we find meaningful. From the early days we found fulfilment in engaging with folks that work for the society — organisations in the development sector, projects that empower people, individuals who fight for rights, and so on. Gradually we also started working in the academic sector. Over the past 9 years, we have worked with many CSOs, educational institutions and other not-for-profit institutions.
We’ve always had an affinity for the not-for-profit sector. Among all the enquiries that land on our plate these are the ones that make us most excited and give us a strong sense of fulfilment once we’ve completed the project.
2019 was a special year. We hit a new milestone. Our revenue from not-for-profit projects touched nearly 2x our commercial revenue. It’s hard to predict if we’ll be able to repeat this feat in the coming years but we definitely hope we do.
Surprising Cross-Geography Collaborations
At Miranj we spend far more time discussing our craft and honing our skills than thinking about business. We’ve mostly been discovered through word of mouth referrals. Consequently, our projects have been predominantly based in India. But unlike previous years, in 2019 we ended up engaging with clients and collaborators from 6 different countries. This is a significant number for a tiny team like ours. It’s very reassuring to know that somehow people from different parts of the world have managed to stumble upon us. One such email had dropped in from Paul Manem, a web designer-developer based in Cambodia, in late 2018. We were overjoyed to meet someone like him who shared so many of our work ideologies. Last year we ended up collaborating with him on a project and it was a very pleasurable experience.
Massive Technical Upgrades
Sizeable software is rarely rewritten from ground-up. But when it gets rewritten it’s usually a big leap forward on one hand and disruptive on the other. In 2018 Craft CMS made one such jump with Craft 3. Three years and three months in the making, Craft 3 was a completely re-architected piece of software. Big changes, although for the better, are disruptive. All Craft plugins had to be rewritten, and website upgrades needed significant work. In 2019, we undertook the highly technical upgrade of two of our largest websites (IndiaBioscience and Guiding Tech) from Craft 2 to Craft 3. The upgrade to Craft 3 also allowed us to refactor some underlying code and in turn achieve better performance, stability, SEO and authoring experience.
The upgrade to Craft 3 helped us grow a lot in the technical direction. We learned a new PHP framework (Yii2), adopted the Composer package manager, deployed a SiteDiff tool and upgraded all our Craft plugins.
Working with a Big Name
One of our highlights from last year was our work with Azim Premji University. We worked on a new website for the university with the help of two fellow collaborators Shalini Sekhar and Kavya Murthy. Working with the university was a surprisingly enjoyable experience but unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a significant delay on the launch schedule. We are hopeful that it will happen soon. Later in the year we also went on to work with the Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives to help them strategise their future web presence.
We feel quite lucky to have had an opportunity to work with the socially conscious institutions set up by Mr Azim Premji who’s widely regarded as the most generous giver in corporate India. Small teams rarely get to work with such widely recognisable names and hopefully, in the coming years, we’ll get to work with more such reputed institutions.
Dot All 2019
Dot All is an annual international conference on Craft CMS and modern web development. We’ve been participating in this conference every year since its very first edition in 2017. In 2019 Dot All took place in Montréal, Canada between September 18th and 20th. It was an exciting opportunity to hop on a couple of long flights and meet the amazing Craft Community. And of course, visiting a new country.
For Miranj it was a special one since Prateek’s proposal titled “Fortifying Craft for High Traffic” was accepted by the Dot All organisers. Prateek’s talk covered our learnings from the Guiding Tech website i.e. how we’ve optimised a low-powered server to handle millions of visitors each month by strategically caching the website at two places — Nginx (using FastCGI Micro-Caching) and flag-based template caches in Craft CMS. The talk received great reviews from the participants, and generated instant interest among the performance lovers in the community. It was a validation of how much we’ve improved over the years.
Just like every year, the conference was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We grabbed fresh beers, shared dumplings and also went on a walking tour around the old city of Montréal.
The fabulous fifteen tour of #Montréal with @rungta @ademers @souvikdg @marionnewlevant @jamiejenks_ @ryanirelan @mattgrayisok @gaijinity @carriehd @paperskeleton #DotAll19 #craftcms pic.twitter.com/hrwmKAW369— Ben Croker (@ben_pylo) September 22, 2019
World IA Day
World Information Architecture Day (WIAD) is a one-day annual celebration to evangelise the practise of information architecture and is held in dozens of locations across the world. Souvik has been the local organiser for New Delhi since 2018, and together with the help of Abhishek and Namita organised the 2019 edition on 23rd Feb. This was the second year of Miranj supporting WIAD in New Delhi. The event brought together people from various backgrounds — designers, lawyers and architects — to discuss various topics on Information Architecture.
DesignxDesign Exposé 41
DesignxDesign, an initiative by Alliance Française de Delhi and Studio IF, has been nurturing the design and creative community since 2010. Through exposés, round tables, exhibitions and tête-à-têtes the community facilitates conversations among professionals and educators in various fields of design — Architecture/Habitat, Graphic/Communication, Product/Industrial and Apparel/Textile. We were invited to present our work at DesignxDesign Exposé 41 alongside RLDA – an architecture studio based in New Delhi. Incidentally, we were also the first New Media/Digital Design studio to have taken the stage at a DesignxDesign Exposé. The event took place at Alliance Française de Delhi on November 28, 2019.
This was the first time both Prateek and I shared a stage together. We used the opportunity to talk about our philosophy, share how the web is more than just a visual medium and show some of our work spanning several years. You can take a look at our slides on SpeakerDeck. The session was also being broadcasted live on Facebook so there’s a video if you’re interested.
Let’s be honest, we suck at growing our team. It took us 8 years and a few hits and misses (more on this below) to find the right candidate. But now that we have, please meet Archit Chandra who joined our team as a web developer.
Archit is a self-taught web developer who is keen to learn different aspects of web technologies. Before joining Miranj he ran an independent webshop called GreyThink Labs where he created numerous company websites and online news publications. His experience was a great fit for Miranj — not only did he actively work on CMS-based websites but he also had a good understanding of how small creative businesses run. From the get-go, Archit has brought in some fresh opinions in our studio and has always been challenging our ways of doing things. He’s an avid listener of podcasts, loves reading books and is a passionate follower of Chelsea FC.
Reflections are incomplete without acknowledging the low-points. While many of them feel part-and-parcel of running a business a couple of them stand etched in our memories.
The other setback was our first experience of a wrong hire. Miranj has hired only a handful of times and we’re far from mastering the art of hiring (or dealing with bad experiences). It was a repeating cycle of conflict and attempt to resolve issues. Every conversation ended in hope for change but eventually resulted in disappointments. We kept trying for a few months but eventually had to call it off. Letting go of someone is not easy. We’d experienced a lot of uncertainty and guilt a few years back when we had to let go of someone for entirely different reasons. But this time despite knowing that we were making the right decision it still felt bad.
2019 started slow and breezy, turned into a raging mid-year and came to a calm end. Through the year we evolved our services, learned new tools and techniques, entered new technical partnerships and undertook new challenges. It was a year of growth in every possible sense — in our skills, in our experiences, in our revenue, in our service offerings and even our team size. Feels good to have accomplished so much last year.
2019 in Numbers
- Undertook 12 client projects
- Worked with 6 collaborators
- Delivered 2 talks
- Hosted 1 event
- Plugins: 1 new release, 6 updates
- Worked with/in 6 countries
- Worked with 5 non-profit organisations
- 4 co-workers
- 4 workshops
- 1 new team member
Clearly, our in-review posts are published quite late. If you’re curious about what we’re up to this year you need not wait until mid-2021. Earlier this year we started an occasional newsletter. The next edition will be published shortly and we’ll tell you what’s been cooking in 2020. Do subscribe and expect an update soon.
Back around 2013 with every passing project, we were trying to push ourselves to break down websites into small, atomic information pieces, almost in the object-oriented way. The more we pushed ourselves the more we got disappointed by the website tools (and paradigms) that surrounded us. On the one hand, we felt constrained by WordPress’ pervasive Pages and Posts paradigm. It was (and still remains) so ubiquitous that everyone seems comfortable in imagining websites as a collection of hierarchical pages and an accompanying blog. On the other hand, some tools (like Jekyll) supported atomic content pieces by combining data formats like YAML and Markdown, but fell short in extending a reasonable authoring experience. We had reached a point of dreaming up our own custom CMS architecture but stopped short of implementing it since that would be a significant deviation from our core work i.e. designing and developing content-driven websites.
An year later, while working on the Quicksand website, we were desperately looking for a reliable Content Management System (CMS) that could complement our approach while delivering a good authoring experience. That’s when we stumbled upon Craft — an un-opinionated, content-first CMS. It touted several good features but there were a few noteworthy ones which caught our immediate attention:
Flexible Content Modelling
This one hit the nail right on the head. Craft allowed us to deconstruct content into small pieces and build websites bottom-up. We even learned that our object-oriented approach was called Content Modelling. It freed us from existing content paradigms and allowed us to architect the website content uniquely as per project needs.
Every independent piece of content modelled inside Craft can link to any piece of content across the website. Relationships are extremely powerful because not only do they help create cross-references and allow people to navigate to related information, but they greatly cut down redundant data capture. Shared pieces of information can now be independently created once and simply linked/reused in several related places.
This was around the time when design systems were maturing and the Matrix field complemented a modular component-based page design. It enabled the creation of re-usable blocks/patterns which could be included multiple times on a page. Further, the blocks could be moved up or down to re-order content within a page.
It’s very reassuring to be able to review how the content will show up on the website before it’s published. And it’s even more powerful if you can see a live preview as-you-type. That’s exactly what Craft shipped and it reminded us of the experimental interfaces demonstrated by Bret Victor in his talk Inventing on Principle.
Clean Separation of Concerns in Code
Developers crave to focus on one thing at a time – data, business logic or templating. An architecture that cleanly separates these three layers makes the code more resilient, error-free and secure. Not to mention it’s also far more enjoyable to work with.
The Craft team has never beaten around the bush about their security measures. They’d been following all the good practices in the book, published zero-day fixes and diligently updated vulnerability databases. We were re-assured that Craft’s security was taken very seriously by its makers.
One-Time License and Developer Support
Craft was not a free CMS (unlike many popular alternatives) but their pricing was very compelling — reasonable for the value it delivered, affordable for a small business and importantly a one-time fee for perpetual use. We saw this as good thing because it assured us that the product had a sound business model and that they’d likely be around for a long time to come. Also, who doesn’t like developer support from the makers of the product.
Zero-byte (empty) output for fresh CMS installation
If this one sounds trivial, trust us, it’s a profound change. When a CMS does not impose a starter theme but instead comes with zero front-end code, it puts the control right back in the hands of the designer and the developer. The CMS landscape had many firmly established players (WordPress, Drupal and the likes) but Craft was a breath of fresh air in this regard.
Not only did Craft check most of our requirements but it also raised our curiosity and excitement. However, like with any new software, we approached our first few Craft projects with extreme caution. It took us about a year to grow confident in Craft’s versatility, and then we were hooked! Quicksand was our first Craft project and it continues to be running stably today.
Fast forward to late 2018. The Craft team rolled out the Craft Partner Network to bring together agencies from around the globe with proven expertise in Craft. With over 4 years of Craft CMS experience (at that time), our team satisfied the review criteria and we became an official Craft CMS Partner — the first agency from India, and among the earliest set of members from the Asia Pacific region.
Over the years Craft has enabled Miranj to take on several information-dense projects with formidable IA challenges. Craft’s feature set has been steadily expanding and today we’re using it to power some fairly complex use-cases. We leveraged its multi-lingual and multi-site capabilities in MIIT and Forech. In fact, in the latter project we hooked up Google Translate to pull in automated translations for French, German and Spanish (thanks to Craft’s extensible architecture). Our client IndiaBioscience is making great use of the multi-user capability with user groups and fine-grained permissions system to collectively manage their large website. We used Craft’s powerful Twig templates to enable Guiding Tech to syndicate content with external services. Craft also has a growing Plugin Store where one can find many useful extensions for the CMS, including a few that we‘ve built and published. And perhaps the most important of all (and dare I say — our favourite feature of Craft CMS) is the thriving community that is growing steadily in India and around the world. The close-knit community is connected over Discord, Stack Exchange, an annual conference (Dot All) and the Craft Partner Network.
With over six years of Craft experience, we are proud to be at the forefront of its adoption in India and the neighbouring geographies. During this journey we’ve participated in every Dot All Conference and have been invited to present our techniques at the 2018 and 2019 editions. Needless to say, Craft CMS has been a great ally in facilitating our purpose and we couldn’t be happier with our decision to adopt this technology.
If you’d like to learn more about Craft CMS and how it compares with some of the other CMSes out there, join me on June 6th (Saturday) at Content Web — a series of online discussions on content publishing, web design, web development and the business around it.
Miranj is a web design and development studio based out of New Delhi. We architect information and design radically simple, future-proof websites. We started out in 2011, and have worked on websites for a variety of clients across domains such as film, events & conferences, internet advocacy, science outreach, online publishing, public interest campaigns, and other design studios. We attend web conferences in India and around the world, often as a presenter (or curator) sharing our learnings with the community. We’ve consciously remained small (between 2 – 4 people), while tackling projects collaboratively with peers and freelancers.
- Participating in project planning, strategy and estimation
- Information architecture and data modelling, often in the context of a Content Management System (CMS)
- Converting designs into front-end templates that render as responsive, interactive webpages
- Building custom features and plugins that extend CMS functionality
- Auditing code to meet quality standards expected from modern websites, such as SEO, accessibility, security, etc
- Optimising websites for performance through caching, image optimisation and other #perf strategies
- Maintaining, supporting and upgrading past projects (typically, LAMP stack)
- Data migration from one CMS to another
- Documenting your work and communicating with project teams and clients
- Learning and staying on top of web standards, development workflows, coding strategies and other industry best practices
Your work will involve a healthy rotation of all the above. It is not expected that you will stand out at everything on the first day of your job. However, as a full-stack developer, we expect you to be comfortable with—
- collaborating using version control systems (Git or Mercurial)
- writing PHP code using any modern framework (preferably Yii2)
- working with a templating language (preferably Twig)
- using package managers such as Composer, Npm, etc.
- using build tools such as Gulp, Webpack, etc.
- working with different data formats such as YAML, JSON, CSVs, etc.
- working with REST APIs
- using the unix command-line
- installing, developing and deploying a CMS-powered website (e.g. WordPress, Craft CMS, Ghost, Kirby, Statamic, Jekyll, Drupal etc.)
- converting design mockups into modular templates
We believe the following traits will play nicely—
- You favour a long term relationship over a short stint
- You are eager to take charge and get stuff done
- You are open to learning, and have the ability to pick up new technologies by reading documentation & tutorials
- You value your commitments
- You are good at communication, including writing
- You appreciate clean, readable code and honour coding style/standards
- You like sharing ideas on how to make work more fun, meaningful and fulfilling
- You believe that an organisation should be run sustainably and with financial prudence
- You appreciate drinking coffee, watering plants and love mountains
What’s on offer?
- Opportunity to work with modern systems and softwares, with continuous learning.
- Projects that are meaningful and socially-conscious.
- A cool office with a stocked pantry, which doubles up as a cosy co-working space.
- Monthly team meal/outing, which we’re told are fun.
- Annual pilgrimage to the mountains, to rejuvenate from the stresses of work and city life.
- Medical insurance.
- A culture that values reason and debate over authority; autonomy over control; slow and considered decision-making over fast and hasty; and a healthy work-life balance.
- A healthy compensation, proportionate to the value you can bring to us.
Note: In light of the current COVID-19 situation you should have a productive work setup at home. This includes access to broadband internet, laptop and a decent mic/camera to join calls.
How to apply?
Just fill out this form. Point us to 3 or 4 past projects/code-bases that you’re proud of. For each one, mention the project duration, your role, and your contribution. In addition, please share your online presence (such as Twitter, GitHub, LinkedIn, Website/Blog). And oh, do mention your hobbies. We’re curious about what you find interesting outside work.
We do not discriminate on the basis of caste, race, religion, orientation, gender, physical ability, formal education, age, nationality or any such factors. If you belong to any under-represented community we encourage you to send in your application.
If you’d know a suitable candidate for this opening, kindly refer them to us. If the endorsed candidate is successfully hired we’d be happy to share a referral fee of ₹25,000/- for your gesture.
As a web studio, we have always been focused on our core craft of designing and developing websites. Hosting would often be an afterthought and we’d typically suggest clients to go for a shared web host. After all, shared web hosting was inexpensive and did not require much technical oversight. We would guide our clients through the purchase process, deploy our code and bring our engagement to a closure.
This approach worked fine for a few years, but over time we started noticing several drawbacks:
- Server administration is a bit of a blind spot for clients. Some of them have even suffered website data loss because they overlooked renewal reminders.
- Our faith in shared hosting was depleting. Long support wait times, poor performance, being unable to reach our server while some other site on the same shared-host was experiencing a DDoS attack, etc. were frequently souring our experience. Further, the lack of control over server configuration severely limited our ability to install tools or fine-tune the server to meet modern performance benchmarks.
- Modern VPS providers were steadily decreasing prices while matching or eclipsing shared host offerings. They provided better access to hardware and high control over the software.
- Hosting technologies have become more complex in the last decade. It’s no longer just about the hardware (and bandwidth) specifications advertised by the web hosting services. A modern hosting strategy needs a holistically approach considering several aspects such as SSL renewals, reliable outgoing emails, caching, CDN, backups, software updates, and more.
By 2018 these challenges had become important enough for us to actively seek alternatives. We came across many different approaches — unmanaged VPS servers, managed servers, app hosting solutions, etc. However, none struck the right balance between —
- Extending full server control
- Ease of server management
- Reliable, high-frequency backups
Eventually, we decided to get our hands dirty. Based on our experience of setting up the server architecture for Guiding Tech (which receives lots of traffic and high rate of updates), we slowly put together a hosting solution which features:
- High-performance LEMP stack with FastCGI micro-caching
- Automated server-side image compression and optimisation
- Multi-tiered backup strategy — server snapshots, local backups and offsite backups
- Automated monitoring of uptime and server vitals
We launched in 2018, and in the two years since we’ve been providing a highly performant and reliable hosting service to our clients based on the above architecture. Under the hood, we use Digital Ocean VPS nodes and reinforce the software to deal with heavy loads and traffic bursts. Digital Ocean’s developer-friendly infrastructure (and their community documentation) has played an important role in our journey to offer high-quality website hosting. Through this post, I’m happy to also share that we’ve recently joined the Digital Ocean Solutions Partner Program. This brings us even closer to the Digital Ocean community.
The World Information Architecture Day (WIAD) is an annual celebration to evangelise the practice of information architecture. It is held in dozens of locations across the world, including our home city of New Delhi. The global theme for World IA Day 2020 was “The IA Element” — highlighting how IA is integral to achieving the best results.
We celebrated World IA Day 2020 on the 22nd February at The Circle, Huda City Centre. The event featured talks by four speakers touching upon various aspects of information architecture across history and culture, interface design, data journalism and visualisations. Here’s a short round up of each of the talks (with links to the slides) —
Let’s Define IA
The event was kickstarted by Manish Saini, an Information Experience Designer who’s currently working at Cvent. Manish laid the ground work for the event describing how one can relate to information architecture in their work, and how to define the practice of IA. (See Manish’s slides)
Decoding Crafts: Mapping Asia InCH Encyclopedia
The following talk was by Richa Tiwari from Craft Revival Trust. She started off with a brief history about how various craft forms were affected by rapid industrialisation in the 1900s. She further went on to share how her organisation has been mapping the intangible cultural heritage of South Asia into an encyclopedia. (See Richa’s slides)
Humanising Digital Interactions
The third talk was by Vikramaditya Sharma – the founder of Now Form. Vikramaditya made us take a look at the various forms of digital interactions we experience in our life and how these are slowly turning into more natural human interactions, one step at a time. (See Vikramaditya’s slides)
Making Sense of Data in an Indian Newsroom
The last speaker Sriharsha Devulapalli works at Mint. Sriharsha shared several stories and experiences of being a data journalist in India. He went on to explain the process of producing good data stories — right from data collection and cleaning to visualisations. (See Sriharsha’s slides)
We look forward to another year of sharpening our Information Architecture skills.
Three million (and growing) website visitors every month, more than a million subscribers on YouTube, and customers such as Airtel, Amazon and HP — impressive statistics for a company founded by a call centre employee nine years ago.
Miranj has shared a workspace with them, seen Guiding Tech grow, and even played a small role in its journey. Sometime earlier this year, I sat down with Guiding Tech’s founder Abhijeet Mukherjee for a chat about his journey, running an internet business in India, and what the future holds for him and the media industry.
- Prateek Rungta
- Hey Abhijeet. Is it Guiding Tech or Guiding Media? What is it that you folks do, and how do people find you?
- Abhijeet Mukherjee
Hey Prateek. The company which I run is called Guiding Media, and it comprises of a website which is guidingtech.com, and three channels on YouTube. We make content on personal technology, explain technology, help people make purchase decisions when it comes to gadgets and tech, and of course, we also solve tech problems. Basically, we are an evergreen tech content site.
People come to us through Google. They search for issues, they search for help, and that is how they land on our site.
- Where did you come across the idea for Guiding Tech. Was this the very first thing you did, straight out of college?
I never went to college, actually. I did my graduation through correspondence while I was working at call centres, which were a pretty big phenomenon in India then. I’m talking early to mid-2000s. That’s where I learnt that helping people and solving their tech problems is a big market.
I used to work with companies like Wipro and Dell, and I was solving people’s tech problems over the phone. Blogging was just taking off at that time. There were a few tech blogs, but they were still not mainstream.
I knew how to write, and I really wanted to do something on the internet, and most importantly, I wanted to be self-employed. That’s when I decided to start this. I quit my job around 2008 and started a personal blog — it was called Jeet Blog. I started writing tech content. It picked up from there. I also started freelancing for other sites.
After two years of dabbling around and trying a lot of things on the internet, I decided that I should create a long term asset, because this is what I knew. That’s when I started Guiding Tech in 2010. I worked on the site pretty much alone initially, and after two years started bringing people on board. It’s been going on since then and we’ve been growing slowly and steadily.
- Why didn’t you just grow Jeet Blog? Why something else called Guiding Tech?
When I started Jeet Blog, initially it worked well. It got a lot of traffic and everything, but I quickly understood that making money from it was going to be difficult, at least in the short term. Since I had quit my job and I had no savings, I needed money immediately. So I started freelancing for other sites. Jeet Blog went on the back-burner.
In the next 2 years, from 2008 to 2010, I had developed some cushion. That’s when I thought of starting a new brand which is not dependent on my name. I wanted the brand to be independent of me. Since I had some cushion, I knew that I can do with not making money from this for at least a year. That’s how I bought a new domain name and started a new brand.
- And what has the journey been like? Where are you today compared to where you started?
I was doing everything basically – maintaining the site, worrying about the business, how to make money, and of course during the initial years, I was also doing all of the writing, editing, everything. Eventually I started distancing myself from writing because I had to manage the writers and take care of the business. You wouldn’t find my byline on the content. That was the plan from the get-go, because if I had to expand, I needed help with content creation.
I mainly hired writers as freelancers. The internet doesn’t require you to hire locally. As long as you can get the work done, it doesn’t matter where your staff is. We still have a lot of remote employees, but now I have an office and a few people there, primarily because we’re also doing YouTube, and executing that remotely is impossible.
Over the years, my role has evolved to that of a primarily founder or CEO or publisher — someone who supervises, strategises, shares ideas, gives execution plans, delegates a lot of work, and ensures the work is done. Be it in the writing department, or the video production department. And I still continue to deal with the business part myself, be it sales or admin.
- Do you involve yourself in editorial oversight?
- I’ve got an editor, but I am still involved in setting the path, and in editorial strategy. Some of the editorial decisions I continue to make as the editor-in-chief. Not on a daily basis, but definitely few times a month. I’m still involved in editorial oversight, but I do not micro-manage the editorial team anymore.
- Is it fair to call Guiding Tech a media company?
- Yes, it is. Guiding Media is the company name. I’m stressing on this because eventually we might even start non-tech properties. GT is the tech brand of Guiding Media.
- In that case, let’s talk about the media industry. It has seen significant disruption, innovation, and changes in recent years. The internet has completely shackled the old guard. Guiding Tech, however, is a post-2010 company built on the internet, not an old traditional media house. Would it be fair to call you a disruptor of the old media, or have you yourself been around long enough to see media consumption habits change during Guiding Tech’s existence?
Media and content have undergone tremendous changes in the last 8 to 10 years. It was a completely different ballgame when I started. Today everyone is disrupting something while also getting disrupted themselves, because the audience has the power now. The number of people consuming content may not have grown exponentially, but content production has. People who want a piece of the pie have grown, while the piece that you’ll get is getting smaller and smaller.
Content generation used to be the prerogative of a few people — the big media houses. But now everyone can generate content, and that’s what media is. It is content, at the heart of it. When your audience is generating content, sometimes as good or even better than you, then aren’t they too part of the media? That’s what the entire industry is grappling with. It is a crowded space with so many players. How do you survive?
New ideas keep coming up. Yesterday it was ads, today it is subscriptions, tomorrow it will be something else. It’s getting tougher and the road ahead is extremely treacherous; a lot of companies have folded. I think India has been slightly untouched, but it’ll happen here too, sooner or later.
- Can we attribute any of this to the proliferation of smartphones, internet penetration, and networks such as Jio?
Oh yeah. The iPhone started the apps revolution and the mobile content generation revolution. And if you talk about India, Jio has been a total game changer. It has taken YouTube to the rustic heartlands where people may not be educated enough to do a Google search, but are now watching YouTube. These new accessibility options for people across the world have completely changed the game.
Media companies, especially the old ones, are slow. They don’t want to change that fast, and I wouldn’t blame them because grappling with this kind of change when you’ve been operating in one way for decades… is not easy. Everyone’s looking and trying to adapt, but by the time they adapt, more will have changed.
- So how does Guiding Tech not have any Android or iPhone app?
Initially we did not have an app because of lack of resources — creating a good app requires time, money and the right people. For the first few years I wanted to focus on getting the site off the ground and establishing it. Also, I don’t think there was any immediate monetisation model for apps at that point of time. I wasn’t too sure.
When the time came, when I could have gotten an app off the ground, consumption habits had changed. There were way too many apps, and it didn’t make a lot of sense to have a separate GT app because our audience primarily comes through Google search. What I call high-intent micro-moment, wherein at any point during the day if they are looking for something and they want a problem to be solved, they search on Google and land on our site. Guiding Tech is not exactly a site you scroll through at leisure, or one that forms part of your weekend reads. It didn’t make sense to build an app because in order to visit an app, you need to have that kind of intent.
But you never know, we might still do it because at least it is a good branding medium, if nothing else.
- The other factors that you mentioned were Jio enabling internet penetration into the heartlands of India, and YouTube. Are you doing anything to make the most of this new audience?
- Yes, that is why we started a Hindi channel, and that has grown pretty fast, faster than the English channel. It is called GT Hindi and it is on YouTube. We also started GT Gaming which is primarily in Hindi.
- Why do you think the Hindi channel has five times more subscribers than your English channel?
- It is actually more than that. The answer is pretty clear — India has more Hindi speaking audience, or people who speak in regional languages. English speaking audience forms a minuscule part of the entire population. Now that Jio has taken internet to the heartland of the country and YouTube works on it, that audience has grown on YouTube and that is why they are the bigger audience now.
- Let’s talk about India. You have grown up in this country, you’re running your business in this country, but the platform your business runs on — the internet — is a global medium, and you reach a global audience. With that perspective, what is it like running a digital business from India?
It has gotten better over the years. It wasn’t very smooth initially — it is still not very smooth, so to speak. The problem is primarily when it comes to administration, things like taxes, getting refunds, and all that. Guiding Media is primarily an exporter because our international audience is bigger than the Indian audience. Our primary money making source is selling space for ads. And these ads are being run by companies that bill from outside India, like Google Adsense, or any other ad agency. The money comes in dollars, and we also make a lot of payments in dollars which attract reverse taxes and all that. Getting those refunds hasn’t been very easy.
If I were to run this from the US, it would have a better eco-system; finding talent would’ve been easier. Infrastructure too, I guess. We now have really good internet speeds here, probably better than a lot of developed countries, but it was a challenge initially.
- What about the cost of living? I think Delhi — where we are both based out of — is a lot cheaper than a first world country like the US, or somewhere in Europe.
- Absolutely. Being an exporter, that really helps because you earn in Dollars or Pounds, and with the current exchange rate that translates to more amount in Rupees. And if you’re able to hire people from within this country, that translates to better operating margins. I do have people from outside the country on my payroll, but over the years I have tried to shift to hiring staff from India. Finding talent has been a challenge, but there is a clear advantage there. You are able to make better income and you are able to grow the business.
- Who do you consider to be your peers — in India, and internationally?
I think tech is pervasive. Tech content is everywhere. So our peers and competitors are the smallest of tech sites and YouTube channels, as well as the largest media houses. All of them have tech verticals now. Outside the country too, be it a huge site like LifeHacker, or sites like How to Geek or Make Use Of.
I do not consider a specific set of sites as my peers anymore. A YouTub-er working out of his home creating tech content, or a huge media house with a tech media team, they are all our peers or competitors, whichever way you want to put it.
- Let us now shift gears to talk about your primary source of revenue – advertising. How does it all work and bring you money?
We do two kinds of ads. One is programmatic, i.e automated ads that could be from a service like Google Adsense or any other ad agency. We keep trying various agencies from around the world but Google, of course, has been a source of revenue since the start and I think it’ll continue to be for a long time to come.
The other kind is direct or branded content, where we create content around a brand’s USPs and get paid directly from the brand. We have been getting a good amount of branded content lately and that is something we want to focus more on, going forward.
These are the two ways we make money.
- People who encounter ads on the internet don’t usually have a lot of great things to say about the experience. What is your experience as a reader? When consuming content on the internet, do you like seeing ads, do you use an ad blocker?
I don’t use an ad blocker because I would definitely want to see how the ads on my site look, and on other sites as well to see how different companies are trying to innovate around ads. But I get what you’re saying. I think that everyone is responsible for this — the content companies as well as the people who started the programmatic revolution.
Everyone took the audience for granted and they didn’t focus on providing the best experience. That is why audiences developed what we call banner blindness. That is why ad blocker adoption is at an all time high. I don’t know how this will go on from here, but things are changing. IAB has mandated that intrusive ads shouldn’t be adopted. Google has banned pop-ups and said they will block sites that push pop-ups or very intrusive ads. I think that in the recent past, and in some time to come, you will see that the most intrusive ads only exist on very questionable sites. They wouldn’t be a part of the mainstream.
- Two other concerns in recent years — privacy invasion by ads that track you around the internet, and performance impact when you visit a website with a lot of ads using your phone. Are they hurting you? Is the ad industry doing something to cope with that?
- The ad industry is being pushed to do that. Regulation will eventually force the ad networks to prioritise privacy—GDPR is a recent example. I’m not sure how the business will work though because it is heavily dependent on data and re-targeting. When it comes to performance though, we’ve been seeing improvements. The effect on the page load, what I see now versus a year or two ago, it’s been a significant improvement, especially with new technologies like header bidding. It is not perfect, there is a long way to go, but overall I do think that now the ad networks as well as media companies have finally started taking it seriously and they will make innovation in this area a priority.
- Miranj, as you know, builds websites. We work with these things all day and can’t stop obsessing over them. So let’s turn our focus to the GT website, your main asset. What are your thoughts on design? How does it impact your content?
- Design is both how it looks and how it works. How it looks, because there are so many such sites around — how do you stand out? This is where branding plus design matters. How it works, is the user experience. When the audience comes to your content, are they able to go through it smoothly? Is it solving their problem? Is it readable, or watchable, for that matter? Design plays a very important role in all this.
- You have gone through a couple of design revisions — three, maybe? What prompted the redesigns and how has each design iteration impacted Guiding Tech?
There are multiple factors that come into play when I plan a redesign. Of course, being in line with the current trend, and what the audience is getting used to when it comes to consuming any kind of content online, is an important consideration. When, let’s say, Google brings in material design, it is obvious that eventually a huge part of our audience will get used to that. Then our design will become outdated. It is important since the web is changing its dynamic, and it changes fast, that we keep ourselves abreast of that, and change accordingly. That is one factor.
Other than that — innovations and ad networks; maybe we want to try something new which is not possible in our current design; of course, aesthetics also come into play; maybe I have an idea that certain part of the site can look better, and in the current design it is not possible.
- Have you seen your redesigns bring you these benefits — for you, your team, as well as your readers?
- Well the benefits have never been immediate. It takes time. But with each redesign, I have seen incremental benefits. When it comes to how people are spending time on the site and how the perception of the site is growing positively — be it among brands and agencies we work with, or our audience. So incremental improvements are there, and eventually, I think with every redesign I have only gained.
- What about the backend of Guiding Tech?
- We were on WordPress initially, and later switched to Craft, thanks to you. Using a good CMS is extremely important. It makes content creation easier. The primary thing in my mind when it comes to the backend, is the productivity of the editorial team. They should be able to create the best content without worrying about the nitty-gritty of the technology they are working with.
- Say you want to try out a new article format, or you want to try different ways of showing articles — how often do you experiment with the website?
- We usually experiment and incorporate new ideas with each redesign. But we do not do that on an ongoing basis. It would require more resources and a proper tech team. Chances of things going wrong also increase, which would then need fixing. I would certainly want to do these, but we are not there yet. These are the things which bigger media companies do.
- Let’s do some foretelling. Where do you think the content & media industry are headed? Who will be standing strong, say, five years from now? Will there be a grand consolidation, or will the big media houses go away?
I have lots of thoughts on this. First, we have to understand the current state of media and content — who the publishers are, what their monetisation model is. Only then can we predict survival. There was a time when media brands were revered. This was when the internet started. That has completely changed now; I’m seeing that we’re not loyal to any one brand.
The big digital media players — BuzzFeed, Vox etc. and some in India too, are heavily VC funded but not growing at a great pace. If they weren’t VC funded, it would’ve been fine, but that is not the case. For these organisations it is a question of survival, because VCs need those returns. So they’re branching out into all sorts of things — products, events, whatever.
However, I feel like the bigger companies, be it the old guard, or the newer digital players, will survive. A bunch of them will fold, shut shop, and some will be forced by VCs to combine and create a conglomerate; but they will survive. Of course it’ll depend on how well they are able to diversify, because they can’t just survive on advertising, or even subscriptions for that matter.
When it comes to smaller players, it has been pretty clear for them since the get-go — they need to remain sustainable, run a small shop, focus on profits, grow slowly and steadily, and as soon as there is a big change, adapt.
The folks who are in the middle, they are at risk. They know they can’t scale up because they’re seeing how the bigger VC-funded players are getting affected, and for them getting smaller is a challenge, because they will have to, let’s say, fire dozens of employees. I think consolidation will happen at the top end.
- And where is Guiding Media — in the small, middle, or big league?
- I always wanted to scale and grow really big but I have grudgingly admitted that growing that big, especially in the media business after taking funding might not be the best way forward. I’d say, we’re somewhere between small and middle. In the larger scheme of things, I think we are small – we’re not doing news, we are creating focused content, so we have an edge there. If we expand, we might create more niche properties where the focus is well defined and there we will have to see how we can create an audience which we can monetise.
- 2010 to 2019, almost ten years of Guiding Media. Three million plus average monthly visitors, more than a million subscribers on YouTube. Looking back, do you feel you have created that long term asset that you initially wanted to, with Guiding Tech? Do you feel you have ‘made it’, so to speak?
It is an interesting question. I’m not sure I would say that I have made it. I continue to go through existential crisis on — maybe not a daily basis, but definitely a weekly basis. It’s been so long now, and I’m the kind of person who usually gets bored with things quickly. It’s in my nature, I think.
I would say that I have been successful in creating the asset. A moneymaking asset which, if I leave for a month or two, wouldn’t hurt me. Of course if I leave it for long then it will come back to bite me. I have not been very successful in growing it at a huge scale that I might have imagined initially, but then the media landscape changed and I understood that growing at that scale may not be all that lucrative. But what’s next? That question keeps bothering me and that is a question to which I haven’t yet figured out an answer and I’m currently working on that.
- Thank you very much Abhijeet.
- Thanks a lot Prateek. Nice talking to you.