What Drove QuoteUnQuote With KK to be India’s Leading Business Podcast to the World?

Why this Blog Now?

I was on a call with Padma Bhushan Awardee Dr. Jagdish Sheth earlier this week to wish him on his 58th Wedding Anniversary. He was the keyman and inspiration behind starting QuoteUnquote . I was updating him on the progress of our of the show. He requested me to share this experience for others to learn and figure out. Hence I am posting this blog.

Visit to the Showroom

In 2008, iPod Mini was launched as a very innovative product by Apple. I was at the Ample Showroom at Forum Mall. The sales person showed me the benefits of iPod Mini that apart from songs there was something call talk shows called Podcasts. I bought the iPod Mini and a Bose headphones. The next 2 years before my I lost my iPod Mini from my car, I was introduced to the world of podcasts. There were no Indian Podcasts back then. So most of the Podcasts I heard during my morning and evening walks were from Harvard, Stanford, MIT and other US Universities on leadership and management.   

The Covid Affected CEO’s Self-Motivational Drive and Mental Roadblocks

Fast forward to April this year, the Covid lockdown and crisis created a sort of a mental road block in the minds of circle of CEOs in India and amongst my peer groups who I was talking with. The uncertainty, lack of experience in crisis management of this sort and driving their people and companies out of this was their deep concerns that they expressed to me one-on-one. This also made me think hard and wonder on the road ahead.

The Vehicle Design Template

One of my weekly board calls with Dr. Jagdish Sheth, I openly shared my feelings and empathy towards my peer group with him. That’s when he recommended to organized a virtual webinar for my peer group of CEOs to which he would address to allay their concerns and provide a road ahead given he was in touch with the PM and other folks in the power center in India. We started off with a Virtual Fireside Chat which he would moderate with a few global thought leaders and himself. That was the birth of our vehicle to address the Indian CEO diaspora. The launch date was set and we burnt our bridges with the world and a brave announcement to invite my circle of CEOs to attend this Virtual Fireside Chat free of cost and openly share their fears.   

The Vehicle Proto Type and Test Drive

 While we set about in motion inviting a few panelist for this Virtual Fireside Chat, we did not have a name of the model. In of our brainstorming sessions we called this QuoteUnQuote. While we could get confirmations with a few thought leaders, their calendar availability led to all sorts of logistics and vehicle assembly issues in our garage production shop. Last minute drop out of our key driver Dr. Sheth, made us think we should abbot the launch or defer it. I took the brave decision to be the back up driver and hosted my dear investment industry Dr. Mark Mobious on QuoteUnQuote. 750 industry CEOs and veterans attended the show. WhatsApp messages poured as feedback from them till late night. It may be believe that the test drive was successful based on the results of the direction it set out the roadblocks in the minds of the CEOs.

The Licensing Issues

One of the editors of a leading media house who had attended the QuoteUnQuote published a summary of our talk without any due reference and credit to QuoteUnQuote. This made me furious. Given the media industry’s blatant misuse and misrepresentation, I called up the Managing Editor of Business Standard and worked out a 4-episode deal to publish in their newspaper to further amplify the content from our virtual shows.    

Further Test Drives

While Dr. Sheth was freeing up his calendar, we went on with a few more test drives with the Gallup Chairman, who I had built up friendship since 2004 when he visited India to make an acquisition and start Gallup India. He had to apologize last moment as he was called on a major TV channel in the US to announce President Trumps approval rating. His replacement, Mohammad Younis, the Editor-in-Chief at Gallup filled up the shoes of the Gallup Chairman and the audience expectations. Dr. Jagdish Sheth followed up with his talk which further delighted the audience and built confidence in the CEOs.

The Virtual Vehicle Model Development and Configuration – Autonomous or Automatic or Manual Gear

By June 2020, the starving event management industry and its corporate sponsors had found a way to engage with their target audience virtually and blatant spamming of emails, SMS and WhatsApp on a daily basis for invites started pouring in. The personal time pressures, work demands and virtual webinar fatigue started to set in with my peer CEOs who yet sent out messages through their executive assistants on the next event to block their calendars. We were just not prepared to run our prototype in its current form to compete with the well-oiled big buck event management industry. On the other hand, requests started pouring in from the PR agencies to take their clients on our panel. This was not the intent or the drive with which we had started out. Our vehicle prototype design needed a drastic remodelling and a new drive. Back to the drawing board.

Uber or Ola?

The Indo-China relations escalations and PM’s Atmanirbhar bugle call was the back drop on which we set out for a model redesign. Uber was an American business model in India while Ola (I was an investor in Taxi For Sure seed stage) an Indian business for Indian, let us believe that our core audience was still the Indian diaspora and an Indian Ola-like though-leader with a global unicorn stature would better empathise with our audience in these increasing complex times rather than a foreigner Uber-like global thought leader to give an outside in view and perspective to issues . After several discussions with my CEO friends and those in advertising, PR, digital media, affirmed our belief that a desi podcast show giving the anytime, anywhere, anybody, anyways and anything experience is the way forward and would be available on-demand like the app-based taxi service to our core audience and also extend to the wider secondary audience.

Does Brand KK’s has the Audience Permission and License to Drive?

Our next challenge was who will be the host to anchor the show. Given the preoccupation of our initial star host, we zeroed into some of the celebrity hosts from the TV channels to take the mantle. However, their exclusivity to their TV Channels or other virtual events did not yield us any potential star anchor. The issue boiled down to can KK do it and carry it forward. It made me wonder if I am capable and would the core audience accept me or see it as a platform that would be a bragging of KK. Internally, I had to search what were my bragging rights to qualify for a successful show host if the podcast had to move ahead and the time pressures and demands on me. I had chaired industry bodies forums which has delivered the Biotech Ignition Grant Policy, Agri Reforms, Social Impact and Financial Reforms. After a few calls with my mentors, CEO club buddies, the consensus was that I should anchor and continue with the shows. After a few YouTube videos on podcasting and inputs from Spotify CEO and his team, I finally took the plunge to create the podcast. Now what do we call it?

Vehicle Brand and Launch

After a few creative iterations and ensuring continuity of QuoteUnQuote the consensus was to name the podcast QuoteUnQuote with KK with KK as the anchor host. For any new vehicle launch you need a you need a celebrity to premiere it. Given the Indo-China cross-border escalations at its peak, I called my dear friend Parag Khanna to come for the show which he gladly consented. The podcast show was launched with a huge India and International acceptance. Given the topic Parag carried, the first podcast delivered us over 1 million impressions. However the intent was for Indians by Indians. Here came the next challenge, how to market and go to more Indians?

Setting Up Indian Vehicle Distributors

There are many Indian podcast platforms. We went and tied up with Aawaz and Zee5 for hosting the show. Over the next few episodes the impressions multiplied 100x for each episode. Potential speaker requests and content request feedback started pouring in.

Periodic Maintenance of our Vehicle and Fuel Top-Up

Blessed with a strong analytics team and a Chief Evangalist Officer, our podcast vehicle came into the garage for drive-worthiness and fuel-top up. Every podcast show gave us insights on how the drive has been and what shifts in the gears are required. Armed with all the information and details from the last 10 episodes, our calendar for the next year and the drive for the 2021 was announced to the world and CNBC-TV18.

The Key Take Aways for any New Podcast Vehicle Launch

The dialogue from Dirty Movie, “Films work on 3 things, entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. However, for podcasts, my dialogue is, “Podcasts drive on 3 things, Content, Context and Commentator.”