Growing to No1, ethically: Maheshwer Peri

07 May,2013


By Ananya Saha


After spending 18 years as the publisher of the Outlook group, Maheshwer Peri launched Pathfinder in 2009 with the aim of making it India’s largest and most credible career counsellor in five years’ time. While still a mentor with Outlook, he has been associated full-time with Pathfinder since April 2012. Mr Peri rewrote the plans for the magazine, closed a publication, injected positive energy and weaned out negative energy.


With an aim to reach students on a platform-agonistic way, Pathfinder’s magazine Careers 360 offerings are available in print, web and mobile. And it is succeeding. The webpage of the magazine has recently overtaken the more established portals, becoming India’s largest education and career portal.


 In a freewheeling conversation with MxMIndia, Maheshwer Peri, Chairman and Founder, Pathfinder Publishing, talks about the publication and the high digital notes it has been striking. And whether his ethical standards have come in the way of advertising.


How has the journey of Careers 360 shaped up?

It has been fantastic for one simple reason: there was no one who was competition. There was no one who approached the genre at all in terms of journalism, content and student. Everything you had in the market till that point in time was marketing or advertorial features that were coming up because there was an advertiser waiting. There was no one who made a model which is to say that student will buy this product, which is suited for the student and not for the institute. From that perspective, it was a complete paradigm shift.

Even today, the content that you see is created because there is an advertiser around. They are advertising and marketing features. This is a first product that has been created with student in our mind. That is why the journey has been good, since there was no one as competition.


Does the magazine attract a different set of advertiser then?

The advertiser had multiple options. In any business, or publishing business, you need to create something that attracts readers. Once the reader is there, the advertiser follows. In any niche, if you are to create content because of which a set of loyal readers follows you, the advertiser follows. They cannot avoid us – that is the stage at which we are.


Has the print run of the magazine increased as well?

The initial print run was very high earlier, of the English and Hindi magazines of Careers 360. It was about 1,80,000 but today we print about 1,30,000-1,40,000 copies. We sell about 1,20,000-1,25,000 copies of which 30,000-40,000 are school and college libraries.


Have you broken even yet?

No. It’s an investment phase. The reason why I think it is a case study… there has never been a case in India that a single stream of content has been monetised over multiple platforms. The articles that we do are backed by data. And that data has to be complete. So we decide how much of that should be put into the magazine, and the balance we put on the web. There are journalists who create content, which is suitable for the magazine, for our almanacs and guidebooks and for the website, and going from there to the physical career workshops that we do.

The challenge is if I were to say if the magazine would break even, it would not. Because I am still going though the phase of seeing how many more platforms I can grow to and keep investing in those platforms also. It is definitely going as per my plans and projections.

On the digital space, we are the No 1 website in the country. One or one-and-a-half-year ago, when I started this journey, I had 4,000 students on the site each day. Today we have guaranteed 100,000+ each single day.

Now the challenge for me is; since I have become the largest website in the country, the largest website has 10 crore of ad revenues and sitting on 5 crore of data. And I do that, yes, I will make money. That is the next step for me. Now that I have got the audience, I will monetise that.


What are the factors responsible for the growth of the web presence of the magazine?

I realized that the content we are creating for the magazine is not being leveraged. It is just limited to the magazine, so for me the challenge is how I invest myself in a way that the content I create can reach out to plenty more audience.

Today 2-2.5 million students come to my portal every month. That is 30 percent of the audience of that category. Today if 1.4 million students have opted for engineering, and one million students have come to my portal, it captures 70-80 percent of the students. For each of the verticals, I need to say that I reach out to more than 30-40 percent students. And that is with the guidebooks, almanacs, counselling workshops, magazine, and digital portal.

If you look at the content creators in the country, we are the largest content creators. There is no one who comes close to even 10 percent of what we do in the marketplace. The reason why student come to us, they have more and enough value to add to their decision-making.


Has the strategy for magazine changes over the year?

Strategy has changed to the extent that the moment we talked about digital. The typical thing that journalist does is goes and collects information, edits it, and puts out a 1,000-word story. This is not exactly career-driven journalism thing here. It is actually lot of data also. We are not just advisors; we are counsellors to the students. And counselling means two-fold integrity for us: financial integrity where no one is able to influence the way I right. The other big part of integrity is that we have covered everything so that student makes an informed decision, which means I have not omitted anything because of lack of research. It is important that the student does not suffer because you did not inform him of a very good option, which he otherwise should have known.


Are you considering any brand extensions in the near future?

Online we have lots of products. There is student space. There is mock counselling on our Engineering page. Each student pays Rs1,499 to take our advice. It is based on the data and information that we have collected in the magazine for our website. If a student comes and asks, ‘I have got a JEE rank of 11,000, what should I do?’ I give him seven options because I have cut off of all colleges in the country, which no one has. All that information that we research, collate is sitting with us. In my opinion, we are the best position advice student what to do. if the student’s choice if for five, I will make it eight. We optimize students’ choices, include one or two that he doesn’t know or remove what I think are bad for him. It is for him to decide where he wants to join, because I am not an agent.


And is the counselling handled in-house?

We have counsellors. We appointed a BPO company in Bangalore, which created all data for us. So the data is for more than 6,000 colleges and it cost a lot of money to create the data. I cannot do the data myself. We have journalists, a set of digital content creators, and data people, which is a BPO, working from Bangalore. Increment in further content creation would take 1x cost to become 1.5-or-1.8x cost. But the 1y of revenue can become 3y. That is the whole objective here: how do you add 10-20 percent investment in cost to add another stream of revenue that gives you one more ‘x’.


You also closed down Competition 360. Why?

When I moved from Outlook, I actually had three publications: Careers 360 English and Hindi and Competition 360. Competition 360 was dealing with competitive exam in the market like Competition Success Review or Pratiyogita Darpan. What I realised was there were many who were doing far better job than me, whereas in career-side, there was no one who was doing it. It is important for me to focus on something that I see as my path. So today my path is that I want to be India’s largest career counsellor; I want to be hand-holder for this country’s biggest student community. The moment that is decided, I am not getting into the job space and competition space. I am not going there because there are people who are already doing wonderful job out there and they will continue to do that. It doesn’t need me.


You’ve been asked this earlier, but in the light of the strides you’ve taken: Outlook was going great guns under your leadership so what prompted you to start Careers 360?

At some level, there are many people who will do Outlook. Aspirationally, Outlook is there. In India, and it has nothing to do with me or Outlook, you will see a lot of people getting into mainstream media or celebrity media. You would not see anyone coming into a morbid area, which is education. It’s standardized and regulated. But if you look at the demographic dividend that India has, the biggest demographic dividend would be when you handhold the students to nurture them otherwise it will become a nightmare. Someone has to handhold them otherwise we are sitting on a time bomb.


What exactly is your role at Outlook now, and has it changed in the past one year?

I am still the Mentor and Publisher. In fact, in March it was to get over but it got extended I am continuing for one more year. Me and my promoters have a fantastic equation. I will not influence that they remove my name. As long as they want, I will be around. Whenever they call me, I will be there. Period.


Who handles the sales and marketing for Careers 360, now? Is it being handled by Outlook still?

There are 4-5 people in my team, two of them were in Outlook. One, I always had arrangement with Outlook that I will never poach a single person from there. And I have stuck to it, and will even going forward. But these were people who were handling Careers 360 in Outlook. And they have moved with me.


What is your next target for Careers 360?

Within the next two years, Careers 360 would be India’s largest career counsellor. I would want to say that about 20 percent of students in India take a decision because Careers 360 influenced them. The day I start influencing the decision, and already we are doing it and handhold the students and also tell the institutes what students think about it: I have done my job. In India, regulators want to control without giving freedom to the private guys and institutions do not want any control. The balance is between them: the regulators need to give bit of freedom while institutes need to understand that their freedom is going to be limited by what regulation would want.

We are aiming to achieve this balance.

In a larger sense, this country has to start invest in its youth. And I hope more mainstream publications understand. Health, religion and education and jobs are the biggest things for people in India. In every mainstream media, these are supplemented by marketing activities. People like us come in because mainstream media has somewhere ignored it.

Apart from the great things that Careers 360 is doing, you are also becoming very ‘activistey’.

As Outlook, whatever I say was Outlook. It was a news media. There is no identity as Maheshwar Peri; it was only an Outlook publication. My view need not be Outlook’s view. In certain positions, you don’t have your own voice. It is the position that carries the voice. And I did not want any confusion between Outlook’s voice and my voice, so I was never active then. I was very conscious of the fact that whatever I speak is going to be taken as voice of Outlook. And now that the burden of Outlook is not with me, I have my own voice, which is what is coming out.


Given your ethical stands on many things, has your advertising suffered?

Yes, but that is again a conscious call. Whenever you take a stand, there are bound to be a set of people who will not stand with you. The current market situation is: I will give you an ad what will you give me in return. Not that is much more prominent in education sector. All these institutions are colleges are looking for ratings and rankings and some kind of coverage. And there are people who do that in the market. But again I say that once you create the content, which makes the reader stick to you, the best of the advertisers cannot avoid you; and then the other follow because the best advertisers are with you. There is a change that you need to crack. It takes a lot of time, perseverance and stamina. That is something I always had. When I launched it, I said I will create a DNA where nobody can change the credibility of the magazine or question the credibility of the magazine.

So initially, when people were saying “Why don’t we have those guys and these guys”, I said, “Let’s create a DNA first, come what may”. It means lot of cost, money, time. But all those things are fine. Once we create the DNA, even when we go out unless we go to a new advertiser, the old advertisers know that they cannot bend us.


Very recently, I went to an advertiser in the northern part of India. He looked at the magazine, and said, “Obviously, we cannot buy you.” So I was very intrigued and asked him what made him say so. He said, “Typically when we give an ad, our ranks are very high. In your magazine, we have given our ads in your magazine, but our ranks are very low.” That is the image that has reached the advertiser, for each time and every time, and I think we have managed to do that.



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One response to “Growing to No1, ethically: Maheshwer Peri”

  1. Careers360 is an amazing bridge between my dream colleges and me. Being a clueless student, I this is the career counselor which has showed me a bright ray of hope. IThank you Careers360!