Obituaries in newspapers have long since been the only medium through which people could publicly celebrate death anniversaries of their loved ones. However, sooner or later, with the advent of technology and rising printing costs, an alternative was bound to emerge: a digital portal for dead people. A social networking site for the dead and of the dead. But, is a website that is just dedicated to dead people a viable business idea?
Let’s have a look at one such enterprise.
Shradhanjali.com, founded by Vivek Vyas and Vimal Popat, in 2013, is a portal through which people can share photos, biographies and even reminders for birth and death anniversaries of their loved ones who have expired. Anybody can access these profiles on the internet. While there aren’t any charges for viewing such profiles and posting condolence messages, there is a subscription charge for uploading memories and photos of the person who has passed away. Shradhanjali also accommodates profiles and biographies of celebrities in their respective fields. Some notable figures are Rajesh Khanna, Dhirubhai Ambani, Swami Vivekananda and Nelson Mandela. Condolence messages can also be posted in indigenous languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Gujarati, English, Malayalam, Tamil, Bangla and Kannada.
Having understood this, there are a couple of questions that come to mind. First, why would anyone want to invest their hard earned money in uploading their ancestors online and look at other dead people’s profiles? And second, will such an enterprise ever monetize its idea profitably?
But there is more than what meets the eye.
Recently, IIM-Ahmedabad had conducted an extensive case study on Shradhanjali.com. In the case study, it said, “They (Shradhanjali) have been covered more than 160 times and have made it to the Limca Book of Records and India Book of Records. They have also won the Manthan South West India Award, Big Business Plan by Espark-Viridian, and the Real Diamond of Gujarat award. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, has appreciated the service through a letter addressed to Vivek, stating, “I am glad to know that Trinity Unicepts Pvt. Ltd, at Rajkot, is launching Shradhanjali.com. Keeping the memories alive through an online portal is a memorable effort by the designer of this website.” YourStory’s language festival, Bhasha 2016, also lauded their ideology of doing this great work alongside celebrating our Indian languages.”
Not only that, but Shradhanjali has also received a financial grant from the government of Gujarat. (The amount was not disclosed to the Big Indian)
All of these facts only lead to more confusion and intrigue. After all, is there really a need for a service like this?
Vivek explains, “We are an emotionally connected country as compared to western countries. We are very emotional when it comes to our ancestors. And all of these people cannot afford to pay for obituaries in newspapers. Even the smallest obituary in Times of India will cost you more than Rs.10,000 while you can get a whole year’s subscription at Shrandhanjali.com for Rs.999.”
Having said that, it is futile to compare the reach of the most read newspaper in the country to that of a death portal.
To which Vivek responds, “First, newspapers don’t cover biographies. Second, it is very expensive and has a limited longevity of 24 hours. Third, it is only relevant in a case of immediate death. But when it comes to, say, a 60th anniversary it doesn’t make any sense. And finally, hardly anybody bothers to open the obituary page in the newspaper anyway.”
But why would anybody be interested in visiting other unknown death profiles?
“You are not going to visit the site to see my grandparents’ biographies and I too, will not see your ancestor’s. But there is a huge extended family and friends who are connected to me and who would want to know more about my ancestry. In this way, my kids too can know about my grandparents and great-grand parents as it would always be there on the site.
We are not a death notification website. We are a memory portal, where we can make an archive and store all kind of memories of our ancestry,” answers Vivek.
Explaining his business model Vivek says, “We do not care about traffic as we are an ad free portal. A few clients might find it offensive to see an ad next to their ancestor which is why we refrain from keeping ads. We work on a paid subscription business model.”
What if one stops paying the subscription charges?
Vivek replies, “He will lose editing control of the profile. He won’t be able to add pictures or post additional memories. But the profile will stay forever. It would remain as it is.”
The Big Indian spoke to a few entrepreneurs who have run social networking sites in the past to gain an outer perspective on the firm and the viability of the idea.
An entrepreneur, who wanted to stay anonymous and who also runs an AI powered social network, feels, “I have seen unfortunate deaths in my family and we had to notify people on a short notice. We publish them in newspapers and people send their condolences. This is how it usually works. But with newspapers, not a lot of people read that page. If you could actually build a business service that could convey those messages to your desired audience, it would be great and easy for most people. But it should not be made to look commercial as it is a matter of grief.”
Sharad Seth who runs a social networking site called ‘CommunityZapp’– a platform that creates on-demand communities and networks– believes, “The trend worldwide is moving towards niche social networking sites that belong to a specific purpose. Nowadays every community or activity has a dedicated social networking site. One of the reasons can be seen in the following way. For example, let’s say you are a photographer and you are confused about a filter that best suits the monsoon season. If you discuss it on Facebook, some people might laugh, some people might think you are showing off, some people might have no clue what a filter is. So having such dedicated networking sites is always helpful. Looking at it from a niche perspective, from a need base, because it is a very sensitive and specific type of content, ‘Shradhanjali’ makes sense.”
He further adds, “But looking at it from a user-growth or platform-growth perspective, a question comes to mind. And that is why would people keep coming back to the website? So after one passes away, the relative might feel really sad about the death of his loved one and therefore would want to subscribe to the service, maybe even pay a huge amount. But after a period of time, he gets over the grief and he would not want to go through the memory over and over again. At least, not till the birth anniversary or death anniversary of his relative. So there is no incentive for him to keep coming back. He might also want to withdraw its subscription to move on. So, that is one danger I see in the business model which I think would be an obstacle for the website to be profitable in the long run.”
Sanjeev Sarma, is another entrepreneur who had ventured into an idea similar to Shardhanjali.com. He believes, “There is huge scope for this business. As per my last survey, which was done around 3 years back, the market size for published obituaries was around Rs 300 Cr PA. This figure was only counting mainstream English publications. For local publications and other language publications, there are full chances that such a service may well be sitting on an industry of around 500+ crores per annum.”
Commenting on the need for such kind of businesses, Sanjeev says, “Curiously, this service also seems to be understood as some kind of a compliance story, and may claim that a death certificate along with a published matter in a “reputed” news publication helps speed matters up in banks, etc. where a deceased person’s funds may need to be managed, etc. A lot of lawyers have tie ups with agencies who source such content, and refer customers to them.”
“While most such content is found as part of “classifieds” (obituaries are considered a subset of classifieds), there are also full ads that are published especially when large business houses record a bereavement.”
Speaking about the price point of Shradhanjali.com he adds, “There is no low or high rate for such a service. There is, however, a credibility associated with this. For example, an obituary published in a leading newspaper like the TOI is considered credible. But a website may need to fight a lot to establish credibility in this space.”
On being asked about the profitability of the idea he expresses, “The possibilities of such an idea online, are immense and akin to a full social network in terms of scope and projections.”
So, going back to our initial question of whether it is a viable business idea, it is hard to come up with one definite answer because one would always find contrasting thoughts. Operating with a 700 user-base clearly shows that ‘Shradhanjali.com’ is a fledgling site which is yet to mature. In this case, time can be the only judge to decide if it will ever make it big and creep into the hearts and minds of our country.
Meanwhile, let us know what you think about the business idea in the ‘comment’ section.